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A Warrior's Death

For the week of Monday October 2, 2000

On October 5, 1813, Tecumseh, Shawnee leader and ally of the British in the War of 1812, was killed at the battle of Moraviantown in present-day Thamesville, Ontario.

Tecumseh

Tecumseh
© Drawn by F. Bridgen / LAC / C-16744

Born in 1768 in what is now Ohio, Tecumseh, whose name means either "shooting star" or "panther crouching in wait," grew up in a period of turmoil. While the British defined Aboriginal lands in the Quebec Act of 1774, Americans continued to expand beyond these boundaries. By 1805, more than 30 million acres had been relinquished by the First Nations people, weakening the foundations of their societies.

Tecumseh and his brother, the visionary Prophet, dreamed of forming a strong Aboriginal confederation. While the Prophet prompted a religious reaction against American and European expansion, Tecumseh spread his message of military unity to various First Nations. He also argued for common ownership of all Aboriginal territory, so that no land could be sold without the consent of all members. Between 1809 and 1812, western bands such as the Potawatomis, the Ojibwas, the Ottawas and the Shawnees joined.

When the War of 1812 was declared, the Native confederacy allied with the British against the Americans. The early successes at Fort Michilimackinac and Fort Detroit inspired more Aboriginal people to join, and, by April 1813, Tecumseh led 1200 warriors. Yet even with this large force and British help, Tecumseh was unable to take Fort Meigs, which withstood two sieges. Morale began to flag as losses were accompanied by heavy casualties.

Death of Tecumseh

Death of Tecumseh
©  LAC / C-21304

Eventually, the British army was forced to draw back. Unwilling to relinquish the land that had been gained, Tecumseh turned to face the Americans at the battle of Moraviantown. At the first attack, most of the demoralized British troops withdrew, leaving 500 Aboriginal warriors to face 3000 Americans. During the battle, Tecumseh was mortally wounded. His death marked a major setback to the Aboriginal peoples' ongoing struggle to maintain their cultural way of life.

Often portrayed as a heroic and tragic figure, Tecumseh was designated a person of national historic significance in 1931. A memorial plaque has been erected at the site of Tecumseh's last stand in Thamesville, Ontario.

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