Pontiac or Obwandiyag (c. 1720 – April 20, 1769), was an Ottawa leader who became famous for his role in Pontiac's Rebellion (1763–1766), an American Indian struggle against the British military occupation of the Great Lakes region following the British victory in the French and Indian War. Historians disagree about Pontiac's importance in the war that bears his name. Nineteenth century accounts portrayed him as the mastermind and leader of the revolt, while some subsequent interpretations have depicted him as a local leader with limited overall influence.
The war began in May 1763 when Pontiac and 300 followers attempted to take Fort Detroit by surprise. His plan foiled, Pontiac laid siege to the fort, and was eventually joined by more than 900 warriors from a half-dozen tribes. Meanwhile, messengers spread the word of Pontiac's actions, and the war expanded far beyond Detroit. In July 1763, Pontiac defeated a British detachment at the Battle of Bloody Run, but he was unable to capture the fort. In October he lifted the siege and withdrew to the Illinois country.
Although Pontiac's influence had declined around Detroit because of the unsuccessful siege, he gained stature in the Illinois and Wabash country as he continued to encourage resistance to the British. Seeking to end the war, British officials made Pontiac the focus of their diplomatic efforts. In July 1766, Pontiac made peace with British Superintendent of Indian Affairs Sir William Johnson. The attention which the British paid to Pontiac created resentment among other Indian leaders, particularly because Pontiac claimed far greater authority than he actually possessed. Increasingly ostracized, in 1769 he was assassinated by a Peoria Indian.
There is little reliable information about Pontiac before the war of 1763. He was probably born between 1712 and 1725, perhaps at an Ottawa village on the Detroit or Maumee Rivers. The tribal affiliation of his parents is uncertain. According to an eighteenth century Ottawa tradition, Pontiac's father was an Ottawa and his mother an Ojibwa, although other traditions maintained that one of his parents was a Miami. Pontiac was always identified as an Ottawa by his contemporaries.
Pontiac was an Ottawa war leader by 1747, when he allied himself with New France against a resistance movement led by Nicholas Orontony, a Huron leader. Pontiac continued to support the French during the French and Indian War (1754–1763). Although there is no direct evidence, he possibly took part in the famous French and Indian victory over the Braddock expedition on July 9, 1755.
In one of the earliest accounts of Pontiac, the famous British frontier soldier Robert Rogers claimed to have met with Pontiac in 1760; historians now consider Rogers's story to be unreliable. Rogers wrote a play about Pontiac in 1765 called Ponteach: or the Savages of America, which helped to make Pontiac famous, beginning the process of mythologizing the Ottawa leader.
In a famous council on April 27, 1763, Pontiac urged listeners to rise up against the British.
|British Empire||American Indians|
|~3000 soldiers||~3,500 warriors|
|450 soldiers killed,
2000 civilians killed or captured,
4000 civilians displaced
|~200 warriors killed, possible additional war-related deaths from disease|
|Fort Detroit – Fort Pitt – Bloody Run – Bushy Run – Devil's Hole|
Pontiac's Rebellion was a war launched in 1763 by North American Indians who were dissatisfied with British policies in the Great Lakes region after the British victory in the French and Indian War/Seven Years' War (1754–1763). Warriors from numerous tribes joined the uprising in an effort to drive British soldiers and settlers out of the region. The war began in May 1763 when American Indians, alarmed by policies imposed by British General Jeffrey Amherst, attacked a number of British forts and settlements. Eight forts were destroyed, and hundreds of colonists were killed or captured, with many more fleeing the region. Hostilities came to an end after British Army expeditions in 1764 led to peace negotiations over the next two years. The Indians were unable to drive away the British, but the uprising prompted the British government to modify the policies that had provoked the conflict.
Warfare on the North American frontier was brutal, and the killing of prisoners, the targeting of civilians, and other atrocities were widespread. In what is now perhaps the war's best-known incident, British officers at Fort Pitt attempted to infect the besieging Indians with blankets that had been exposed to smallpox. The ruthlessness of the conflict was a reflection of a growing racial divide between British colonists and American Indians. The British government sought to prevent further racial violence by issuing the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which created a boundary between colonists and Indians.
The conflict is named after its most famous participant; variations include "Pontiac's War" and "Pontiac's Uprising." An early name for the war was the "Kiyasuta and Pontiac War," "Kiaysuta" being an alternate spelling for Guyasuta, an influential Seneca/Mingo leader. The war became widely known as "Pontiac's Conspiracy" after the publication in 1851 of Francis Parkman's The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada.]]
In the twentieth century, some historians argued that Parkman exaggerated the extent of Pontiac's influence in the conflict and that it was therefore misleading to name the war after Pontiac. For example, in 1988 Francis Jennings wrote: "In Francis Parkman's murky mind the backwoods plots emanated from one savage genius, the Ottawa chief Pontiac, and thus they became 'The Conspiracy of Pontiac,' but Pontiac was only a local Ottawa war chief in a 'resistance' involving many tribes." Alternate titles for the war have been proposed, but historians generally continue to refer to the war by the familiar names, with "Pontiac's War" probably the most commonly used. "Pontiac's Conspiracy" is now infrequently used by scholars.
|You think yourselves Masters of this Country, because you have taken it from the French, who, you know, had no Right to it, as it is the Property of us Indians.
—Nimwha, Shawnee diplomat,
to George Croghan, 1768
In the decades before Pontiac's Rebellion, France and Great Britain participated in a series of wars in Europe that also involved the French and Indian Wars in North America. The largest of these wars was the worldwide Seven Years' War, in which France lost New France in North America to Great Britain. Most fighting in the North American theater of the war, generally called the French and Indian War in the United States, came to an end after British General Jeffrey Amherst captured French Montréal in 1760.
British troops proceeded to occupy the various forts in the Ohio Country and Great Lakes region previously garrisoned by the French. Even before the war officially ended with the Treaty of Paris (1763), the British Crown began to implement changes in order to administer its vastly expanded North American territory. While the French had long cultivated alliances among the Indians, the British post-war approach was essentially to treat the Indians as a conquered people. Before long, American Indians who had been allies of the defeated French found themselves increasingly dissatisfied with the British occupation and the new policies imposed by the victors.
Indians involved in Pontiac's Rebellion lived in a vaguely defined region of New France known as the pays d'en haut ("the upper country"), which was claimed by France until the Paris peace treaty of 1763. Indians of the pays d'en haut were from many different tribes. At this time and place, a "tribe" was a linguistic or ethnic group rather than a political unit. No chief spoke for an entire tribe, and no tribe acted in unison. For example, Ottawas did not go to war as a tribe: some Ottawa leaders chose to do so, while other Ottawa leaders denounced the war and stayed clear of the conflict. The tribes of the pays d'en haut consisted of three basic groups.
The first group was the tribes of the Great Lakes region: Ottawas, Ojibwas, Potawatomis, and Hurons. They had long been allied with French habitants, with whom they lived, traded, and intermarried. Great Lakes Indians were alarmed to learn that they were under British sovereignty after the French loss of North America. When a British garrison took possession of Fort Detroit from the French in 1760, local Indians cautioned them that "this country was given by God to the Indians."
The second group was the tribes of the eastern Illinois Country, which included Miamis, Weas, Kickapoos, Mascoutens, and Piankashaws. Like the Great Lakes tribes, these people had a long history of close relations with the French. Throughout the war, the British were unable to project military power into the Illinois Country, which was on the remote western edge of the conflict, and so the Illinois tribes were the last to come to terms with the British.
The third group was the tribes of the Ohio Country: Delawares (Lenape), Shawnees, Wyandots, and Mingos. These people had migrated to the Ohio valley earlier in the century in order to escape British, French, and Iroquois domination elsewhere. Unlike the Great Lakes and Illinois Country tribes, Ohio Indians had no great attachment to the French regime, and had fought alongside the French in the previous war only as a means of driving away the British. They made a separate peace with the British with the understanding that the British Army would withdraw from the Ohio Country. But after the departure of the French, the British strengthened their forts in the region rather than abandon them, and so the Ohioans went to war in 1763 in another attempt to drive out the British.
Outside the pays d'en haut, the influential Iroquois Confederacy mostly did not participate in Pontiac's War because of their alliance with the British, known as the Covenant Chain. However, the westernmost Iroquois nation, the Seneca tribe, had become disaffected with the alliance. As early as 1761, Senecas began to send out war messages to the Great Lakes and Ohio Country tribes, urging them to unite in an attempt to drive out the British. When the war finally came in 1763, many Senecas were quick to take action.
General Amherst, the British commander-in-chief in North America, was in overall charge of administering policy towards American Indians, which involved both military matters and regulation of the fur trade. Amherst believed that with France out of the picture, the Indians would have no other choice than to accept British rule. He also believed that they were incapable of offering any serious resistance to the British Army, and therefore, of the 8000 troops under his command in North America, only about 500 were stationed in the region where the war erupted. Amherst and officers such as Major Henry Gladwin, commander at Fort Detroit, made little effort to conceal their contempt for the natives. Indians involved in the uprising frequently complained that the British treated them no better than slaves or dogs.
Additional Indian resentment resulted from Amherst's decision in February 1761 to cut back on the gifts given to the Indians. Gift giving had been an integral part of the relationship between the French and the tribes of the pays d'en haut. Following an American Indian custom which carried important symbolic meaning, the French gave presents (such as guns, knives, tobacco, and clothing) to village chiefs, who in turn redistributed these gifts to their people. By this process, the village chiefs gained stature among their people, and were thus able to maintain the alliance with the French. Amherst considered this process to be a form of bribery that was no longer necessary, especially since he was under pressure to cut expenses after the costly war with France. Many Indians regarded this change in policy as an insult and an indication that the British looked upon them as conquered people rather than as allies.
Amherst also began to restrict the amount of ammunition and gunpowder that traders could sell to Indians. While the French had always made these supplies available, Amherst did not trust the natives, particularly after the "Cherokee Rebellion" of 1761, in which Cherokee warriors took up arms against their former British allies. The Cherokee war effort had collapsed because of a shortage of gunpowder, and so Amherst hoped that future uprisings could be prevented by limiting the distribution of gunpowder. This created resentment and hardship because gunpowder and ammunition were needed by native men to provide food for their families and skins for the fur trade. Many Indians began to believe that the British were disarming them as a prelude to making war upon them. Sir William Johnson, the Superintendent of the Indian Department, tried to warn Amherst of the dangers of cutting back on presents and gunpowder, to no avail.
Land was also an issue in the coming of the war. While the French colonists had always been relatively few, there seemed to be no end of settlers in the British colonies. Shawnees and Delawares in the Ohio Country had been displaced by British colonists in the east, and this motivated their involvement in the war. On the other hand, Indians in the Great Lakes region and the Illinois Country had not been greatly affected by white settlement, although they were aware of the experiences of tribes in the east. Historian Gregory Dowd argues that most American Indians involved in Pontiac's Rebellion were not immediately threatened with displacement by white settlers, and that historians have therefore overemphasized British colonial expansion as a cause of the war. Dowd believes that the presence, attitude, and policies of the British Army, which the Indians found threatening and insulting, were more important factors.
Also contributing to the outbreak of war was a religious awakening which swept through Indian settlements in the early 1760s. The movement was fed by discontent with the British, as well as food shortages and epidemic disease. The most influential individual in this phenomenon was Neolin, known as the "Delaware Prophet," who called upon Indians to shun the trade goods, alcohol, and weapons of the whites. Merging elements from Christianity into traditional religious beliefs, Neolin told listeners that the Master of Life was displeased with the Indians for taking up the bad habits of the white men, and that the British posed a threat to their very existence. "If you suffer the English among you," said Neolin, "you are dead men. Sickness, smallpox, and their poison [alcohol] will destroy you entirely." It was a powerful message for a people whose world was being changed by forces that seemed beyond their control.
Although fighting in Pontiac's Rebellion began in 1763, rumors reached British officials as early as 1761 that discontented American Indians were planning an attack. Senecas of the Ohio Country (Mingos) circulated messages ("war belts" made of wampum) which called for the tribes to form a confederacy and drive away the British. The Mingos, led by Guyasuta and Tahaiadoris, were concerned about being surrounded by British forts. Similar war belts originated from Detroit and the Illinois Country. The Indians were not unified, however, and in June 1761, natives at Detroit informed the British commander of the Seneca plot. After William Johnson held a large council with the tribes at Detroit in September 1761 a tenuous peace was maintained, but war belts continued to circulate. Violence finally erupted after the Indians learned in early 1763 of the imminent French cession of the pays d'en haut to the British.
The war began at Fort Detroit under the leadership of Pontiac, and quickly spread throughout the region. Eight British forts were taken; others, including Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt, were unsuccessfully besieged. Francis Parkman's 1851 book The Conspiracy of Pontiac portrayed these attacks as a coordinated operation planned by Pontiac. Parkman's interpretation remains well known, but other historians have since argued that there is no clear evidence that the attacks were part of a master plan or overall "conspiracy." The prevailing view among scholars today is that, rather than being planned in advance, the uprising spread as word of Pontiac's actions at Detroit traveled throughout the pays d'en haut, inspiring already discontented Indians to join the revolt. The attacks on British forts were not simultaneous: most Ohio Indians did not enter the war until nearly a month after the beginning of Pontiac's siege at Detroit.
Parkman also believed that Pontiac's War had been secretly instigated by French colonists who were stirring up the Indians in order to make trouble for the British. This belief was widely held by British officials at the time, but subsequent historians have found no evidence of official French involvement in the uprising. (The rumor of French instigation arose in part because French war belts from the Seven Years' War were still in circulation in some Indian villages.) Rather than the French stirring up the Indians, some historians now argue that the Indians were trying to stir up the French. Pontiac and other native leaders frequently spoke of the imminent return of French power and the revival of the Franco-Indian alliance; Pontiac even flew a French flag in his village. All of this was apparently intended to inspire the French to rejoin the struggle against the British. Although some French colonists and traders supported the uprising, the war was initiated and conducted by American Indians who had Indian—not French—objectives.
On April 27, 1763, Pontiac spoke at a council about ten miles below the settlement of Detroit. Using the teachings of Neolin to inspire his listeners, Pontiac convinced a number of Ottawas, Ojibwas, Potawatomis, and Hurons to join him in an attempt to seize Fort Detroit. On May 1, Pontiac visited the fort with 50 Ottawas in order to assess the strength of the garrison. According to a French chronicler, in a second council Pontiac proclaimed:
It is important for us, my brothers, that we exterminate from our lands this nation which seeks only to destroy us. You see as well as I that we can no longer supply our needs, as we have done from our brothers, the French…. Therefore, my brothers, we must all swear their destruction and wait no longer. Nothing prevents us; they are few in numbers, and we can accomplish it.
Hoping to take the stronghold by surprise, on May 7 Pontiac entered Fort Detroit with about 300 men carrying concealed weapons. The British had learned of Pontiac's plan, however, and were armed and ready. His strategy foiled, Pontiac withdrew after a brief council and, two days later, laid siege to the fort. Pontiac and his allies killed all of the English soldiers and settlers they could find outside of the fort, including women and children. One of the soldiers was ritually cannibalized, as was the custom in some Great Lakes Indian cultures. The violence was directed at the British; French colonists were generally left alone. Eventually more than 900 warriors from a half-dozen tribes joined the siege.
After receiving reinforcements, the British attempted to make a surprise attack on Pontiac's encampment. But Pontiac was ready and waiting, and defeated them at the Battle of Bloody Run on July 31, 1763. Nevertheless, the situation at Fort Detroit remained a stalemate, and Pontiac's influence among his followers began to wane. Groups of Indians began to abandon the siege, some of them making peace with the British before departing. On October 31, 1763, finally convinced that the French in Illinois would not come to his aid at Detroit, Pontiac lifted the siege and removed to the Maumee River, where he continued his efforts to rally resistance against the British.
Before other British outposts had learned about Pontiac's siege at Detroit, Indians captured five small forts in a series of attacks between May 16 and June 2. The first to be taken was Fort Sandusky, a small blockhouse on the shore of Lake Erie. It had been built in 1761 by order of General Amherst, despite the objections of local Wyandots, who in 1762 warned the commander that they would soon burn it down. On May 16, 1763, a group of Wyandots gained entry under the pretense of holding a council, the same stratagem that had failed in Detroit nine days earlier. They seized the commander and killed the other 15 soldiers. British traders at the fort were also killed, among the first of about 100 traders who were killed in the early stages of the war. The dead were scalped and the fort—as the Wyandots had warned a year earlier—was burned to the ground.
Fort St. Joseph (the site of present-day Niles, Michigan) was captured on May 25, 1763, by the same method as at Sandusky. The commander was seized by Potawatomis, and most of the 15-man garrison was killed outright. Fort Miami (on the site of present Fort Wayne, Indiana) was the third fort to fall. On May 27, 1763, the commander was lured out of the fort by his Indian mistress and shot dead by Miami Indians. The nine-man garrison surrendered after the fort was surrounded.
In the Illinois Country, Fort Ouiatenon (about five miles southwest of present Lafayette, Indiana) was taken by Weas, Kickapoos, and Mascoutens on June 1, 1763. Soldiers were lured outside for a council, and the entire 20-man garrison was taken captive without bloodshed. The Indians around Fort Ouiatenon had good relations with the British garrison, but emissaries from Pontiac at Detroit had convinced them to strike. The warriors apologized to the commander for taking the fort, saying that "they were obliged to do it by the other Nations." In contrast with other forts, at Ouiatenon the British captives were not killed.
The fifth fort to fall, Fort Michilimackinac (present Mackinaw City, Michigan), was the largest fort taken by surprise. On June 2, 1763, local Ojibwas staged a game of stickball (a forerunner of lacrosse) with visiting Sauks. The soldiers watched the game, as they had done on previous occasions. The ball was hit through the open gate of the fort; the teams rushed in and were then handed weapons which had been smuggled into the fort by Indian women. About 15 men of the 35-man garrison were killed in the struggle; five more were later tortured to death.
Three forts in the Ohio Country were taken in a second wave of attacks in mid-June. Fort Venango (near the site of the present Franklin, Pennsylvania) was taken around June 16, 1763, by Senecas. The entire 12-man garrison was killed outright, except for the commander, who was made to write down the grievances of the Senecas; he was then burned at the stake. Fort Le Boeuf (on the site of Waterford, Pennsylvania) was attacked on June 18, possibly by the same Senecas who had destroyed Fort Venango. Most of the twelve-man garrison escaped to Fort Pitt.
The eighth and final fort to fall, Fort Presque Isle (on the site of Erie, Pennsylvania), was surrounded by about 250 Ottawas, Ojibwas, Wyandots, and Senecas on the night of June 19, 1763. After holding out for two days, the garrison of about 30 to 60 men surrendered on the condition that they could return to Fort Pitt. Most were instead killed after emerging from the fort.
Colonists in western Pennsylvania fled to the safety of Fort Pitt after the outbreak of the war. Nearly 550 people crowded inside, including more than 200 women and children. Simeon Ecuyer, the Swiss-born British officer in command, wrote that "We are so crowded in the fort that I fear disease…; the smallpox is among us." Fort Pitt was attacked on June 22, 1763, primarily by Delawares. Too strong to be taken by force, the fort was kept under siege throughout July. Meanwhile, Delaware and Shawnee war parties raided deep into Pennsylvania, taking captives and killing unknown numbers of settlers. Two smaller strongholds that linked Fort Pitt to the east, Fort Bedford and Fort Ligonier, were sporadically fired upon throughout the conflict, but were never taken.
For Amherst, who before the war had dismissed the possibility that the Indians would offer any effective resistance to British rule, the military situation over the summer became increasingly grim. He wrote his subordinates, instructing them that captured enemy Indians should "immediately be put to death." To Colonel Henry Bouquet at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who was preparing to lead an expedition to relieve Fort Pitt, Amherst made the following proposal on about June 29, 1763: "Could it not be contrived to send the small pox among the disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them."
Bouquet agreed, replying to Amherst on July 13, 1763: "I will try to inoculate the bastards with some blankets that may fall into their hands, and take care not to get the disease myself." Amherst responded favorably on July 16, 1763: "You will do well to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race."
As it turned out, officers at the besieged Fort Pitt had already attempted to do what Amherst and Bouquet were still discussing, apparently without having been ordered to do so by Amherst or Bouquet. During a parley at Fort Pitt on June 24, 1763, Ecuyer gave representatives of the besieging Delawares two blankets and a handkerchief that had been exposed to smallpox, hoping to spread the disease to the Indians in order to end the siege.
It is uncertain whether the British successfully infected the Indians. Because many American Indians died from smallpox during Pontiac's Rebellion, some historians concluded that the attempt was successful, but many scholars now doubt that conclusion. One reason is that the outbreak of smallpox among the Ohio Indians apparently preceded the blanket incident. Furthermore, the Indians outside Fort Pitt kept up the siege for more than a month after receiving the blankets, apparently unaffected by any outbreak of disease. (The two Delaware chiefs who handled the blankets were in good health a month later as well.) Finally, because the disease was already in the area, it may have reached Indian villages through a number of vectors. Eyewitnesses reported that native warriors contracted the disease after attacking infected white settlements, and they may have spread the disease upon their return home. For these reasons, historian David Dixon concludes that "the Indians may well have received the dreaded disease from a number of sources, but infected blankets from Fort Pitt was not one of them."
On August 1, 1763, most of the Indians broke off the siege at Fort Pitt in order to intercept 500 British troops marching to the fort under Colonel Bouquet. On August 5, these two forces met at the Battle of Bushy Run. Although his force suffered heavy casualties, Bouquet fought off the attack and relieved Fort Pitt on August 20, bringing the siege to an end. His victory at Bushy Run was celebrated in the British colonies—church bells rang through the night in Philadelphia—and praised by King George.
This victory was soon followed by a costly defeat. Fort Niagara, one of the most important western forts, was not assaulted, but on September 14, 1763, at least 300 Senecas, Ottawas, and Ojibwas attacked a supply train along the Niagara Falls portage. Two companies sent from Fort Niagara to rescue the supply train were also defeated. More than 70 soldiers and teamsters were killed in these actions, which Anglo-Americans called the "Devil's Hole Massacre," the deadliest engagement for British soldiers during the war.
The violence and terror of Pontiac's War convinced many western Pennsylvanians that their government was not doing enough to protect them. This discontent was manifest most seriously in an uprising led by a vigilante group that came to be known as the Paxton Boys, so-called because they were primarily from the area around the Pennsylvania village of Paxton (or Paxtang). The Paxtonians turned their anger towards American Indians—many of them Christians—who lived peacefully in small enclaves in the midst of white Pennsylvania settlements. Prompted by rumors that an Indian war party had been seen at the Indian village of Conestoga, on December 14, 1763, a group of more than 50 Paxton Boys marched on the village and murdered the six Susquehannocks they found there. Pennsylvania officials placed the remaining 14 Susquehannocks in protective custody in Lancaster, but on December 27 the Paxton Boys broke into the jail and slaughtered them. Governor John Penn issued bounties for the arrest of the murderers, but no one came forward to identify them.
The Paxton Boys then set their sights on other Indians living within eastern Pennsylvania, many of whom fled to Philadelphia for protection. Several hundred Paxtonians marched on Philadelphia in January 1764, where the presence of British troops and Philadelphia militia prevented them from doing more violence. Benjamin Franklin, who had helped organize the local militia, negotiated with the Paxton leaders and brought an end to the immediate crisis. Afterwards, Franklin published a scathing indictment of the Paxton Boys. "If an Indian injures me," he asked, "does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians?"
American Indian raids on frontier settlements escalated in the spring and summer of 1764. The hardest hit colony that year was Virginia, where more than 100 settlers were killed. On May 26 in Maryland, 15 colonists working in a field near Fort Cumberland were killed. On June 14, about 13 settlers near Fort Loudoun in Pennsylvania were killed and their homes burned. The most notorious raid occurred on July 26, when four Delaware warriors killed and scalped a school teacher and ten children in what is now Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Incidents such as these prompted the Pennsylvania Assembly, with the approval of Governor Penn, to reintroduce the scalp bounties offered during the French and Indian War, which paid money for every enemy Indian killed above the age of ten, including women.
General Amherst, held responsible for the uprising by the Board of Trade, was recalled to London in August 1763 and replaced by Major General Thomas Gage. In 1764, Gage sent two expeditions into the west to crush the rebellion, rescue British prisoners, and arrest the Indians responsible for the war. According to historian Fred Anderson, Gage's campaign, which had been designed by Amherst, prolonged the war for more than a year because it focused on punishing the Indians rather than ending the war. Gage's one significant departure from Amherst's plan was to allow William Johnson to conduct a peace treaty at Niagara, giving those Indians who were ready to "bury the hatchet" a chance to do so.
From July to August 1764, Johnson conducted a treaty at Fort Niagara with about 2000 Indians in attendance, primarily Iroquois. Although most Iroquois had stayed out of the war, Senecas from the Genesee River valley had taken up arms against the British, and Johnson worked to bring them back into the Covenant Chain alliance. As restitution for the Devil's Hole ambush, the Senecas were compelled to cede the strategically important Niagara portage to the British. Johnson even convinced the Iroquois to send a war party against the Ohio Indians. This Iroquois expedition captured a number of Delawares and destroyed abandoned Delaware and Shawnee towns in the Susquehanna Valley, but otherwise the Iroquois did not contribute to the war effort as much as Johnson had desired.
Having secured the area around Fort Niagara, the British launched two military expeditions into the west. The first expedition, led by Colonel John Bradstreet, was to travel by boat across Lake Erie and reinforce Detroit. Bradstreet was to subdue the Indians around Detroit before marching south into the Ohio Country. The second expedition, commanded by Colonel Bouquet, was to march west from Fort Pitt and form a second front in the Ohio Country.
Bradstreet set out from Fort Schlosser in early August 1764 with about 1200 soldiers and a large contingent of Indian allies enlisted by Sir William Johnson. Bradstreet felt that he did not have enough troops to subdue enemy Indians by force, and so when strong winds on Lake Erie forced him to stop at Presque Isle on August 12, he decided to negotiate a treaty with a delegation of Ohio Indians led by Guyasuta. Bradstreet exceeded his authority by conducting a peace treaty rather than a simple truce, and by agreeing to halt Bouquet's expedition, which had not yet left Fort Pitt. Gage, Johnson, and Bouquet were outraged when they learned what Bradstreet had done. Gage rejected the treaty, believing that Bradstreet had been duped into abandoning his offensive in the Ohio Country. Gage may have been correct: the Ohio Indians did not return prisoners as promised in a second meeting with Bradstreet in September, and some Shawnees were trying to enlist French aid in order to continue the war.
Bradstreet continued westward, as yet unaware that his unauthorized diplomacy was angering his superiors. He reached Fort Detroit on August 26, where he negotiated another treaty. In an attempt to discredit Pontiac, who was not present, Bradstreet chopped up a peace belt the Ottawa leader had sent to the meeting. According to historian Richard White, "such an act, roughly equivalent to a European ambassador's urinating on a proposed treaty, had shocked and offended the gathered Indians." Bradstreet also claimed that the Indians had accepted British sovereignty as a result of his negotiations, but Johnson believed that this had not been fully explained to the Indians and that further councils would be needed. Although Bradstreet had successfully reinforced and reoccupied British forts in the region, his diplomacy proved to be controversial and inconclusive.
Colonel Bouquet, delayed in Pennsylvania while mustering the militia, finally set out from Fort Pitt on October 3, 1764, with 1150 men. He marched to the Muskingum River in the Ohio Country, within striking distance of a number of native villages. Now that treaties had been negotiated at Fort Niagara and Fort Detroit, the Ohio Indians were isolated and, with some exceptions, ready to make peace. In a council which began on October 17, Bouquet demanded that the Ohio Indians return all captives, including those not yet returned from the French and Indian War. Guyasuta and other leaders reluctantly handed over more than 200 captives, many of whom had been adopted into Indian families. Because not all of the captives were present, the Indians were compelled to surrender hostages as a guarantee that the other captives would be returned. The Ohio Indians agreed to attend a more formal peace conference with William Johnson, which was finalized in July 1765.
Although the military conflict essentially ended with the 1764 expeditions, Indians still called for resistance in the Illinois Country, where British troops had yet to take possession of Fort de Chartres from the French. A Shawnee war chief named Charlot Kaské emerged as the most strident anti-British leader in the region, temporarily surpassing Pontiac in influence. Kaské traveled as far south as New Orleans in an effort to enlist French aid against the British.
In 1765, the British decided that the occupation of the Illinois Country could only be accomplished by diplomatic means. British officials focused on Pontiac, who had become less militant after hearing of Bouquet's truce with the Ohio Country Indians. Johnson's deputy George Croghan traveled to the Illinois Country in the summer of 1765, and although he was injured along the way in an attack by Kickapoos and Mascoutens, he managed to meet and negotiate with Pontiac. While Charlot Kaské wanted to burn Croghan at the stake, Pontiac urged moderation and agreed to travel to New York, where he made a formal treaty with William Johnson at Fort Ontario on July 25, 1766. It was hardly a surrender: no lands were ceded, no prisoners returned, and no hostages were taken. Rather than accept British sovereignty, Kaské left British territory by crossing the Mississippi River with other French and Indian refugees.
The total loss of life resulting from Pontiac's Rebellion is unknown. About 400 British soldiers were killed in action and perhaps 50 were captured and tortured to death. George Croghan estimated that 2000 settlers had been killed or captured, a figure sometimes repeated as 2000 settlers killed. The violence compelled approximately 4,000 settlers from Pennsylvania and Virginia to flee their homes. American Indian losses went mostly unrecorded, but it has been estimated that about 200 warriors were killed in battle, with additional war-related deaths if germ warfare initiated at Fort Pitt was successful.
Pontiac's War has traditionally been portrayed as a defeat for the Indians, but scholars now usually view it as a military stalemate: while the Indians had failed to drive away the British, the British were unable to conquer the Indians. Negotiation and accommodation, rather than success on the battlefield, ultimately brought an end to the war. The Indians had in fact won a victory of sorts by compelling the British government to abandon Amherst's policies and instead create a relationship with the Indians modeled on the Franco-Indian alliance.
Relations between British colonists and American Indians, which had been severely strained during the French and Indian War, reached a new low during Pontiac's Rebellion. According to historian David Dixon, "Pontiac's War was unprecedented for its awful violence, as both sides seemed intoxicated with genocidal fanaticism." Historian Daniel Richter characterizes the Indian attempt to drive out the British, and the effort of the Paxton Boys to eliminate Indians from their midst, as parallel examples of ethnic cleansing. People on both sides of the conflict had come to the conclusion that colonists and natives were inherently different and could not live with each other. According to Richter, the war saw the emergence of "the novel idea that all Native people were 'Indians,' that all Euro-Americans were 'Whites,' and that all on one side must unite to destroy the other."
The British government also came to the conclusion that colonists and Indians must be kept apart. On October 7, 1763, the Crown issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, an effort to reorganize British North America after the Treaty of Paris. The Proclamation, already in the works when Pontiac's Rebellion erupted, was hurriedly issued after news of the uprising reached London. Officials drew a boundary line between the British colonies and American Indian lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, creating a vast Indian Reserve that stretched from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River and from Florida to Newfoundland. By forbidding colonists from trespassing on Indian lands, the British government hoped to avoid more conflicts like Pontiac's Rebellion. "The Royal Proclamation," writes historian Colin Calloway, "reflected the notion that segregation not interaction should characterize Indian-white relations."
The effects of Pontiac's War were long-lasting. Because the Proclamation officially recognized that indigenous people had certain rights to the lands they occupied, it has been called the Indians' "Bill of Rights," and still informs the relationship between the Canadian government and First Nations. For British colonists and land speculators, however, the Proclamation seemed to deny them the fruits of victory—western lands—that had been won in the war with France. The resentment which this created undermined colonial attachment to the Empire, contributing to the coming of the American Revolution. According to Colin Calloway, "Pontiac's Revolt was not the last American war for independence—American colonists launched a rather more successful effort a dozen years later, prompted in part by the measures the British government took to try to prevent another war like Pontiac's."
For American Indians, Pontiac's War demonstrated the possibilities of pan-tribal cooperation in resisting Anglo-American colonial expansion. Although the conflict divided tribes and villages, the war also saw the first extensive multi-tribal resistance to European colonization in North America, and the first war between Europeans and American Indians that did not end in complete defeat for the Indians. The Proclamation of 1763 ultimately did not prevent British colonists and land speculators from expanding westward, and so Indians found it necessary to form new resistance movements. Beginning with conferences hosted by Shawnees in 1767, in the following decades leaders such as Joseph Brant, Alexander McGillivray, Blue Jacket, and Tecumseh would attempt to forge confederacies that would revive the resistance efforts of Pontiac's War.
After the failure to capture Fort Detroit in 1763, Pontiac withdrew to the Illinois Country, where he continued to encourage militant resistance to British occupation. Although the British had successfully pacified the uprising in the Ohio Country, British military dominance was tenuous, and they decided to negotiate with the troublesome Ottawa leader. Pontiac met with the British superintendent of Indian affairs Sir William Johnson on July 25, 1766, at Oswego, New York, and formally ended hostilities.
This attention paid to Pontiac by the British Crown encouraged him to assert more power among the Indians of the region than he actually possessed. Local rivalries flared up, and in 1768 he was forced to leave his Ottawa village on the Maumee River. Returning to the Illinois Country, Pontiac was murdered on April 20, 1769, at the French village of Cahokia (nearly opposite St. Louis, Missouri) by a Peoria Indian, perhaps in retaliation for an earlier attack by Pontiac. According to a story recorded by historian Francis Parkman in The Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851), a terrible war of retaliation against the Peorias resulted from Pontiac's murder. Although this legend is still sometimes repeated, there is no evidence that there were any reprisals for Pontiac's murder.
The city of Pontiac, Michigan was named for him, as well as cities in Illinois and Quebec. Pontiac is also the name of a popular General Motors automobile brand.
His great-nephew was Shabbona (1775 – 1859), who became chief of the Potawatomi tribe in Illinois.
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