Learn Our Arts and Ways of Life: George Washington and the Civilization of Native Americans

Richard Harless

Advisor: Rosemarie Zagarri, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Christopher Hamner, Tamara Harvey

October 17, 2012, 01:00 PM to 10:00 AM


During his entire adult life George Washington had contact with Native Americans. His first encounter as a teenager left him with the impression that they were nothing more than an "ignorant people." As a young man in his twenties, as he fought with and against Indians during the French and Indian War, he gained a grudging respect for their fighting abilities. During the American Revolution, Washington made it clear that he welcomed Indian allies but would destroy Native enemies. He ended that conflict with a nascent compassion for the plight of Native Americans as they attempted to persevere in the face of the onslaught of white settlers into the trans-Appalachian west. As president, he sought to implement a program that he  believed would enable Indians to survive in a white-dominated culture. He would "civilize" Indians by teaching them techniques of agriculture and providing the implements of husbandry that would enable them to become proficient farmers. Despite his worthy intentions, he discovered that his government did not have the resources needed to protect the Indian land on which the civilization program would be implemented. This dissertation is the first scholarly attempt to trace the life-long development of Washington's attitudes toward Native Americans. I show the evolution of his thoughts and policies as he attempted to apply the same principles of justice and equality to Native Americans as were applied to white Americans.