The Sixty Years’ War by TJ Linzy
This website is designed to support my upcoming book on the Sixty Years’ War. (final title not yet confirmed).
The term ‘Sixty Years’ War’ is an important, new conceptualization of the conflicts around the North American Great Lakes region between 1754 and 1814 which previously had been seen as a series of individual conflicts and considered largely from the European-colonial or American perspective. The term emerged out of a 1998 conference at Bowling Green State University. I will expand the definition geographically and time-shift it by an additional few months to include the first quarter of 1815. The era has traditionally been viewed as the Seven Years’ War (known as the French and Indian War in the British North American colonies and later the U.S.A.), the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. There were a series of Indian conflicts that existed within these wars, but also sporadically in between them. However, if one views the native occupants as a single entity as the thirteen colonies often are, the war melds into a much more coherent single conflict with sporadic cease-fires as participants enter, exit and re-enter in various alliances. Furthermore, if one views the geography as a key component of the origination of the conflicts, the concept of the Sixty Years’ War may be the only way to examine this period comprehensively.
I will expand the geographical focus on the Great Lakes to include all of the midwest between the Appalachian Mountains chain to the Mississippi River and from the Great Lakes down to the Gulf of Mexico. This long funnel shaped slice of North America is characterized by its waters, which made it unusually fertile and which provided communication links to the outside world, either through the St Lawrence River in the north or through the ports of New Orleans, Mobile, and Pensacola on the Gulf of Mexico in the south. These communication links held the key to this massive area before the colonial road networks were established back over the Appalachian Mountains to the east coast seaports. Crucially, the routes going to the Gulf were open year round, whereas the routes going through the St. Lawrence River were often frozen shut from November to April. Additionally, somewhat counter-intuitively, there were localities in the upper Ohio Valley, less than one-hundred miles from Lake Michigan or Lake Erie that would require long portages to get to the Great Lakes, but had unbroken riverine access to New Orleans. Therefore, areas that seem linked to the Great Lakes by proximity actually were closer to the Gulf of Mexico in some strategic and commercial calculations. Furthermore, the Indians of the Gulf south and the Great Lakes area had historical and familial connections that made a confederacy and concerted action more than just a theoretical possibility. Like the very different southern and northern British colonies before the American Revolutionary War, these Indian nations did not need to establish a formal union or even agree on all of the particulars of a confederacy to act in their combined self-interest. Nor, like the American states in the lead up to the War of 1812, did they always need to agree on when, how, and with whom they would go to war to be considered an aggregated historical entity. Furthermore, the area has special distinction, if one accepts that the area could have had several different futures with Indian, French, Spanish, or British control or even as an independent nation.
Looking at this area from the Indian perspective, the traditionally named wars in the midwest from 1754 to 1815 make little sense. In each war, various tribes of Indians interchanged foes and allies in a quest to maintain their sovereignty over their portion of the midwest. In the confusing world of European alliances in aid of imperial ambition, all the Indians could perceive was that the Europeans, then the Americans, were fighting over land that they had no right to in the first instance. One could argue that the British, French, and Spanish did not view the wars as one strategic engagement over the midwest, but one could just as forcefully argue that the Indians, and the Americans for that matter, did not see the wars the way the Europeans saw them either.
David Curtis Skaggs gives an overview of the era in the introduction of a collection of essays from the 1998 Bowling Green State University conference entitled The Sixty Years’ War for the Great Lakes, 1754-1814. Skaggs argues that one should view it in the way Thucydides viewed the Peloponnesian War, not as a series of individual wars, but as an ongoing strategic encounter to determine if the Spartans or Athenians would rule Greece. If one can view the vast midwest area as an important piece of geography as it existed in the era, without the benefit of hindsight and its eventual subsumption into the U.S.A., it can be seen as a strategic encounter rather than individual wars.