Soldier, colonial official. Stuart was born on September 25, 1718, in Inverness, Scotland, the son of John and Christian Stuart. As a youth, he joined the Royal Navy, and his ship circumnavigated the globe between 1740 and 1744. By 1748 Stuart had amassed sufficient capital to relocate to Britain’s North American colonies, and he eventually settled in Charleston. During his time in South Carolina, he served as a fire master, a tax assessor, and an assemblyman. As a militia captain, in 1759 Stuart was assigned to Fort Loudoun in East Tennessee among the Overhill Cherokees, and he was the only officer spared following the capitulation of the fort to the Cherokees in August 1760.
Having gained notoriety by his escape, Stuart was named superintendent of Indian affairs for the Southern District by General Edward Braddock in January 1762. At first Stuart operated out of Charleston. His initial job was to familiarize the southern Indians with the Proclamation Line of 1763, which was supposed to keep English settlers east of the Appalachian Mountains. Stuart met with leaders of the various tribes at Augusta, Georgia, in December 1763. The Treaty of Augusta both recognized the eastern boundary of the Cherokees and established a 225-square-mile reservation for the Catawbas.
In response to the unfair practices employed in the highly competitive Indian trade, Stuart pursued policies designed to promote Anglo-Indian stability. Stuart’s new position and authority placed both the licensure of Indian traders and the transfer of Indian lands under his control, superceding four decades of control by South Carolina’s colonial government. Some officials complained about Stuart’s enlarged powers. Thomas Boone, governor of South Carolina, wrote to the Board of Trade in 1764 with the suggestion that Stuart should be made subordinate to the governor and council of each colony. The biographer J. Russell Snapp noted that Stuart’s Indian policies, often made at the expense of profitable trade or land acquisition, insured that colonial Americans and their British rulers would eventually clash.
The advent of the Revolutionary War made Stuart’s job more difficult. The Charleston Sons of Liberty suspected that Stuart, a Loyalist, opposed their agenda and was using the southern tribes against patriots as early as the summer of 1775. Carolina patriots forced Stuart out of his Charleston base to Florida, although they kept his family as hostages to ensure Stuart’s good behavior.
During the war, the patriots organized their own Indian agents, one of which, George Galphin, came into conflict with Stuart regularly. In the fall of 1775 Galphin met with Creeks and told them that their friend John Stuart was old and sick and could not be counted on by them for much longer. By late 1775 Stuart authorized his own Indian agents to treat patriot agents such as Galphin as rebels and to arrest them when possible. He also began organizing Indian tribes for war, an action that solidified opposition to the British and further escalated the conflict in the southern interior. But Stuart did not live to see the end of the war. He died on March 21, 1779, in Pensacola, West Florida.
Alden, John Richard. John Stuart and the Southern Colonial Frontier: A Study of Indian Relations, War, Trade, and Land Problems in the Southern Wilderness, 1754–1775. 1944. Reprint, New York: Gordian, 1966.
Snapp, J. Russell. John Stuart and the Struggle for Empire on the Southern Frontier. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996.