The Wea were an Algonquian-speaking people living in the Ohio Valley with the Miami and the Piankashaw when Europeans first encountered them. Like other Indian nations, they have a long history but their European-recorded history is fairly short.
In 1650, when the European invaders first encountered them, the population of the Miami, including the Wea and the Piankashaw, in the Ohio Valley was estimated at 4,500. The largest of the Wea settlements at this time as Ouiatenon.
In 1658, the Mascouten and the Wea established a mixed village near Green Bay, Wisconsin. Two years later, they moved their village to the Fox River portage south of Lake Winnebago. The village at Green Bay was too exposed to attack by the Iroquois. In spite of this move, in 1665 the village was attacked by the Iroquois.
In 1750, the Wea under the leadership of Le Comte settle at Old Briton’s Miami village of Pickawillany in present-day Ohio. The Wea felt that they had been ignored by the French and Pickawillany served as a British trading post. The following year, the Wea and the Piankashaw signed a treaty with the British and accepted an alliance with the Pennsylvania colony.
In 1764, the population of the Miami, including the Wea and Piankashaw, was estimated at 1,750 which was a decrease from a population of 4,500 in 1650.
During the American Revolution, the Miami, knowing that the loss of their lands would be a consequence of an American victory, allied themselves with the British. Initially, the Wea declared their neutrality, but later joined with the Miami to oppose the Americans.
In 1791, the Miami under the leadership of Little Turtle and the Shawnee under the leadership of Blue Jacket attacked the encampment of the new territorial governor. In a battle that lasted for about three hours, the Americans were defeated. In their retreat they left behind 630 dead and 283 wounded. While this was a major defeat for the American military, there was retaliation by both the army and by militia groups. Since the Wea were a part of the Miami, part of this retaliation focused on them.
President George Washington ordered the Brigadier General of Kentucky to lead a punitive expedition against the Wea settlements. The American forces—33 officers and 760 mounted Kentucky volunteers—attacked Ouiatenon. The Wea were caught unaware and panic ensued. The Americans captured 41 women and children, burned the village, and destroyed several hundred acres of growing corn.
The following year, Henry Knox, the Secretary of War, sent a letter to the Indians in the Old Northwest Territory addressing their concerns that the United States wants to drive them out:
“We should be greatly gratified with the opportunity of imparting to you all of the blessings of civilized life, of teaching you how to cultivate the earth, and raise corn; to raise oxen, sheep, and other domestic animals; to build comfortable houses, and to educate your children, so as ever to dwell upon the land.”
Knox, like many Americans both at the time and still today, was apparently unaware that the Indians had been farming for many centuries and that their agricultural surpluses had supported the early European colonists.
In 1805, in the Old Northwest Territory, the Wyandot, Chippewa, Ottawa, Munsee, Delaware, Shawnee, Potawatomi, Miami, Eel River, and Wea gave up claims to land in Ohio and Indiana. The negotiations were undertaken on behalf of the Connecticut Land Company, in spite of the fact that negotiations for land by private companies or states was not allowed under federal law.
The Wea migrated from Illinois to Missouri in 1820.
Treaties were signed in Washington, D.C. in 1854 with the Otoe, Missouria, Omaha, Delaware, Shawnee, Peoria, Piankashaw, Wea, and Miami. As a result of these treaties, the tribes ceded nearly 14 million acres to the United States.
In 1854, the Wea and the Piankashaw formally merged with the remnants of the Illinois tribes and became the Confederated Peoria. After this time, the Wea ceased to exist as a separate and independent tribe.
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