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Together with his brother, Elskwatawa or Tenskwatawa, called the Prophet, in the late 1780s Tecumseh attempted to form an alliance of the Native inhabitants of the upper Midwest and Ohio River valley and Great Lakes area against the expansion of White settlers of the United States of America. The alliance had a number of membership changes, but at one time or another it included representatives from the Shawnee, Canadian Iroquois, Wyandot, Mingo, Ottawa, Chickamauga, Miami, Kickapoo, Lenni Lenape, Ottawa, Ojibway, Potawatomi, Fox, Sauk, and Mascouten nations.
Tecumseh's alliance had its capital at Tippecanoe, just a few miles north of Lafayette, Indiana. In 1811, Tecumseh left Tippecanoe leaving his brother in charge, while he journeyed south to meet with representatives of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Cherokee nations to enlist them in his anti-U.S. alliance. On November 7, 1811, a U.S. force under the command of future President William Henry Harrison attacked Elskwatawa at the Battle of Tippecanoe, wiping out the Native camp and putting an end to Tecumseh's hope of a broad Native alliance.
Tension was mounting between the United States and Great Britain, and the War of 1812 broke out early the following year. Tecumseh took a force of Natives north, where they enlisted as British allies. Tecumseh joined British Major General Sir Isaac Brock to force the surrender of Detroit in August 1812, a major victory for the British. However, Commander Oliver Hazard Perry's victory on Lake Erie, late in the summer of 1813, cut British supply lines and prompted them to withdraw along the Thames Valley. The British burned the public buildings in Detroit and retreated into Upper Canada. Tecumseh followed, fighting rearguard actions to slow the American advance.
The next British commander, Major General Henry Proctor did not have the same working relationship with Tecumseh as the latter had with Brock. Proctor failed to appear at Chatham as expected by the Natives. Harrison crossed into Upper Canada in October, 1813 and won a victory over the British and Natives at the Battle of the Thames near London, Ontario. Tecumseh was killed in the battle and, shortly after, the tribes of his confederacy surrendered to Harrison in Detroit. Despite his defeat, Tecumseh won acolades in Canadian history as a brilliant war chief.
Tradition holds that Tecumseh had cursed his victors and Tecumseh's curse has been a recurring legend seeking to explain the death of a number of Presidents, including Harrison, while in office.
In June 1930, a bronze replica of the figurehead of ship-of-the-line USS Delaware was presented by the Class of 1891 to the United States Naval Academy. This bust, one of the most famous relics on the campus, has been widely identified as Tecumseh. However, when it adorned the American man-of-war, it commemorated not Tecumseh but Tamanend, the revered Delaware chief who welcomed William Penn to America when he arrived in Delaware country on 2 October 1682.
Tecumseh, Michigan, and the ballistic missile submarine USS Tecumseh (SSBN-628) is named after him.
See also Indian Wars.
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