About Pontiac's Rebellion

Pontiac's rebellion is an ideal example of how traditional enemies cooperated to achieve a goal. It is also an example of how the consequences of a conflict may lead to cooperation and further, more serious conflicts.

Chief Pontiac represented one of many tribal leaders who resisted colonial encroachment onto their land. The "rebellion" that spanned 1763-1764 included the Delaware, Iroquois (principally the Seneca's) the Shawnees and the Ottawa to which Pontiac belonged.

It's important to realize that the French and English were very different culturally and ethically in the way the dealt with the Indians. The French found that the more liberal the gifts and range of items they were willing to trade, the more willing the Indians were to work for them. They had no real intention to settle permanently in America, although many did. They supplied their Indians partners with enormous amounts of alcohol that they knew had an addictive effect upon them. Additionally, they didn't seem to fear the proliferation of fire arms and ammunition within the tribes, but regarded guns as a necessary tool for the Indians to get the pelts. The French counted on their Indian allies to help defend them and seemed to form close bonds of friendship and loyalty with many of the people they did business with.

The British, on the other hand, had not established those friendships. They were willing to deal with the Indians on a business-like footing and hoped to establish firm relationships because the Indians got a better deal from them. They were more reluctant to give gifts and barrels of alcohol because they felt that simply muddied the business deal and could be seen as a bribe, rather than a fair and square deal. After the conclusion of the French and War that left the English in possession of all French land, the British General Jeffrey Amherst made the decision to cut off the sale of ammunition, alcohol, and all gifts to the Indians. He saw gifts as bribes, ammunition as dangerous in the hands of their enemies. His opinion was that if the Indians misbehaved, they would be punished. William Johnson, an Englishman accustomed to working with the Indians wrote in 1763:

"I shall not take upon me to point out the Originall Parsimony that the first defection of the Indians can with justice & certainty be attributed, but only observe, as I did in a former letter, that the Indians (whose friendship was never cultivated by the English with that attention, expense & assiduity with which the French obtained their favour) were for many years jealous of our growing power, were repeatedly assured by the French (who were at pains of having many proper emissaries among them) that so soon as we became masters of this country, we should immediately treat them with neglect, hem them in with Posts & Forts, encroach upon their Lands, and finally destroy them. All of which after the reduction of Canada, seemed to appear too clearly to the Indians,
who thereby lost the great advantages resulting from the possession of that which the French formerly had of Posts & Trade in their Country, neither of which they could ever enjoyed but for the notice they took of the Indians, the presents they bestowed so bountifully upon them, however expensive, they wisely foresaw was infinitely cheaper, and much more effectual than keeping a large body of Regular Troops, in their several Countrys."


. . . the current anger and unhappiness of the Indians can be attributed to the fact that the English never cultivated their friendship as the French did with such attention, expense and assiduity in order to gain their favor. The Indians were jealous of the growing power of the English. And the French, who even had their men living and working with the Indians as they hunted, constantly told the Indians that if the English became masters of this country, we would hem them in, put them on reservations and finally destroy them. Now that the French have lost Canada, the Indians have lost all of the advantages they enjoyed when they dealt with the French at their trading posts throughout Canada. They are no longer are getting the generous gifts and high quality goods the French bestowed upon them. The French wisely understood that these gifts were much cheaper and more effective than keeping an army in the country to protect them against us and other enemy tribes.

The Indians had witnessed the amazing immigration of English colonists. They believed that French were there to protect the land against English encroachment. It was obvious to the Indians that the colonists were there to say. As a reaction to Indian hostility, King George sent 10,000 more troops to the colonies o protect the colonists and the British soldiers from the Indians. To cover the costs, the Stamp Act and other various acts were passed.

By 1762, most of the Indian tribes were on at least a business-link relationship with the Europeans and only the western Indians alone remained hostile. The Shawnees, Delawares, and other tribes harassed frontiersmen and their families during the harvest, scalping and killing many. Western parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia were under a constant threat.

Then in January of 1763, the news came to Detroit of the primary peace terms over the French and Indian War. The English would have control. With the French eliminated, the Native Americans were left alone in their fight against colonial aggression. Most of the tribes now felt they must break the English grip before it could become permanent. Pontiac was capable, and ready to assume the role of leader. His call to arms was almost unanimously accepted. He proclaimed that the Indian Nations must strike as one united effort and crush the Europeans before they destroyed the Indians.

In April 1763, and encouraged by Canadian frontiersmen of mixed parentage, several tribes banded together under the leadership of Pontiac in an effort to regain control of the Ohio Valley. Pontiac seems to have appeared out of nowhere, according to French and English records. He is was not mentioned prier to 1763. The first mention of Pontiac, came from Major Henry Gladwin, commander of Detroit, in a report of his post being attacked by Indians under the leadership of Pontiac, an Ottawa chief. What is known of Pontiac is that he was a charismatic orator, and natural leader. His meteoric rise to power proves this. Under the Ottawa chief Pontiac, Native American warriors captured most of the trans-Allegheny forts, with the exception of Fort Pitt.

The events leading up to Pontiac's rise were many. In the past, Indians had been able to keep the whites off balance, by playing one nation against the other. Now that the French had been defeated in North America, the English were in control of all the inland posts. Once there, they began to treat the Indians, not as friends, but as conquered people. To add to this the French along the Mississippi, had been declaring that those lands would return to French control after peace agreements were written.

By May, each delegate had returned to his nation, ready to the regional objective given him. Pontiac himself would take the most important objective, Detroit. Detroit was a strong fortification, garrisoned by two companies of Royal Americans and one company of Queens Rangers. Cannons were mounted in the corner blockhouses and two schooners were anchored at the water gate.

Pontiac, knowing that the Indian temperament would not tolerate a long siege, attempted to take the fort by subterfuge. He sent word to Major Gladwin, that the Indians wished to stage a calumet dance at his headquarters to pledge English-Indian friendship. Once inside the walls of the fort, Pontiac and his men, planned to kill Gladwin and his men. The Indians planned to carry sawed off muskets under their blankets in order to accomplish this. Although Gladwin allowed the dance, he had his men armed and on alert. Pontiacs plan failed, the dance was completed, and the Indians withdrew.

Pontiac's only option was to put the fort under siege. Warriors rushed from the surrounding woods and began firing on the fort. Gladwin was sent the message that if he surrendered now, his life and the lives of his men would be spared. But if he chose to fight, all would be killed. Gladwin declined to surrender, but sent his second in command, Lieutenant Donald Campbell, and Lieutenant George McDougal, to Pontiac under a flag of truce. In order to convince both the Indians and Gladwin of his determination, Pontiac took the men captive.

Almost simultaneously, the Indians attacked and took possession of forts Le Boeuf, Venango, Presque Isle, Sandusky, La Baie, and outposts on the Saint Joseph River, Miami River, the Ouibache (Wabash) River and at Michilimackinac. All the garrisons at these forts were weak and were dependent on the Indians for supplies. Fort Niagara was not attacked, but Forts Pitt and Detroit were blockaded and exposed to Indian attack.

Fort Sandusky, under the command of Ensign Christopher Paully, was the first to fall. The garrison was murdered, the fort burned, and Paully was taken captive to moved to Detroit. Here he was burned to death, in sight of the fort.

Fort St. Josephs, was the next to fall on May 25. Recently built and staffed by a garrison of fourteen men, under Ensign Francis Schlosser, it was easily taken. Eleven of the garrison were killed. Schlosser and three surviving soldiers were taken to Detroit and exchanged for some Potawatomi prisoners Gladwin had been holding.

This was followed by the capture of Fort Miami ( Ft. Wayne, In. ), commanded by Ensign Robert Holmes. Holmes was tempted to follow his Indian mistress to her mothers wigwam. When he was clear of the fort, he was shot down. His sergeant, hearing the shot, ran out to give aid. He was also killed. Holmes head was thrown over the wall of the fort. A French trader, soon called out to the garrison that they would be spared if they surrendered. Leaderless and terrified, they opened the gates only to be massacred. Only six were spared to later be burned at the stake.

Fort Quiatanon, the most distant and isolated English post, was next to fall. Lieutenant Edward Jenkins, commander, knew there could be no hope of any reinforcements. This time, some French traders intervened to help. With their help, a surrender was negotiated, and although the fort was burned, the lives of every member of the command were spared.

Next came Fort Michilimackinac. Surrounded by Indians who had always hated the English, Major George Etherington still felt secure in the strength of his garrison. So it was that on June 4th, teams of Chippawa and Sauk began a game of lacrosse near the fort. Etherington and some off duty soldiers left the fort to watch the game. As the game progressed, a prearranged signal was given and the ball was kicked into the open gates of the fort. Then the players rushed towards the gates, where Indian women handed them weapons they had concealed under blankets. Once armed, the ballplayers continued through the gates, killing every soldier and English trader they could. Only Major Etherington, Lieutenant William Leslie, and some twenty men survived the initial attack. They were stripped and tied to trees, while the Indians decided what should be done with them.

Shortly there after, a group of Ottawa appeared. Finding the fort taken, and no spoils left for them, they demanded they be given the captives. After much debate, the Ottawa were given Etherington, Leslie, and eleven of the soldiers. So it went for many fearful days, until they were released. A council that included a delegation of Sioux had been held to decided their fate, and the Sioux had persuaded the Ottawa to spare the English. "Not because we love the English, but because we hate the Chippawa!) The English were allowed to return to Montreal.

Fort Presque Isle was lost on June 18th. This was a wooden stockade with a blockhouse on one corner, commanded by Ensign John Christie with a garrison of twenty one men, plus six of Lieutenant Cuylers men, making a total of twenty eight men. On June 15th, Indians appeared, and immediately began a very un-Indian-like siege. The tribesmen built a log screens, and hiding behind them, advanced the fort. Using this cover the Indians began a heavy fire on the fort. Christie was forced to pull back to the blockhouse.

The Indians, sensing the troops were massed in the blockhouse, gained entrance to the stockade. This gave the Indians control of the forts water supply, the well. The English were forced to dig a tunnel to reach the well. The Indians in turn dug a tunnel to site near the officers quarters, in order to safely set fire to the blockhouse. Though the blockhouse is scorched badly, the English manage to extinguish the flames.

Because he believed that the Indians would soon be able to dig under the blockhouse and burn it, Christie opened negotiations. He is told through an interpreter that he has until morning to decide: surrender or die. He decided to surrender. The entire garrison was taken prisoner to Detroit, to be displayed to the garrison there. Christie was later exchanged, and lived to face a Court Martial for his quick surrender. He was testified against by some of his own men that survived.

June 19th, Fort Le Boeuf, garrisoned by thirteen men under command of Ensign George Price, was approached by Indians attempting to enter under the guise of needing a kettle to cook meat. The Indians are turned away, only to gain control of a nearby stone cellar. From this cover, they proceed to shoot fire-arrows at the fort. By nightfall, the roof of the fort was ablaze. Fearing they would be trapped under the collapsing roof beams, the English cut a hole in the wall opposite the Indians. While the Indians thought them near death, Price and the eleven surviving men escaped into the forest. Eventually they made their way to Fort Pitt.

The story of the fall of Venango is short and sad. It was a new, strong fort under the command of Lieutenant Francis Gordon. On June 18th, a party of Seneca approached the fort. Seeing the Indians and thinking them friendly, since they were Iroquois, he ordered the gate to be opened. Not a man lived to tell the tale. It was later told by the Seneca, all were massacred save Price. Him they managed by slow torture, to keep alive until late the next day.

Sir Jeffery Amherst, the British commander-in-chief, dispatched troops led by Captain James Dalyell, his aid-de-camp, to reinforce Niagara and Detroit. After a contingent took off for Niagara, the remainder continued on to Detroit, where they arrived on July 30th. Dalyell left the fort there with 250 men on July 31st to to engage the Indians in the region. The British were confronted by a superior force of Indians causing them to retreat, but not before Captain Dalyell and nineteen soldiers were killed.

Colonel Henry Bouquet was dispatched with troops to relieve Fort Pitt. Fort Ligonier, which contained provisions for the relief of Fort Pitt, was also in danger. Two companies of light infantry sent to reinforce Fort Ligonier were joined by troops from Fort Bedford, thus negating any plan of Indian attack.

Bouquet assembled his troops at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and marched to Fort Bedford, arriving on July 25th. When the Indians learned of his presence, they raised their siege of Fort Pitt and concentrated their forces for an attack on the British troops. Bouquet moved his troops to Fort Ligonier on July 10th. After leaving stores there, he proceeded toward Fort Pitt. They stopped at Bushy Run, a creek to the east of Fort Pitt, to refresh the men and horses and on the night of August 4th set out for their destination.

The following day the advance guard was attacked by Indians from one side of the road. More troops were sent to the area of attack and drove the Indians back. The Indians continued to attack, however, at several points through the day and eventually surrounded the whole British force. Bouquet then opened up his files and moved some of the troops to make it appear as if they were retreating. The Indians, sensing an advantage, proceeded to attack, at which point the British troops closed in from the flanks. The remaining troops turned and met the Indians head-on, causing them to flee. The British returned to their encampment at Bushy Run, where the Indians attacked and were again dispersed. With the defeat of the Indians at Bushy Run the British continued to Fort Pitt unimpeded and replenished that post.

On September 3rd a schooner carrying provisions from Niagara entered the Detroit River. That evening it was attacked by some 350 Indians in canoes. While the fighting was fierce, the Indians were soon repelled and the provisions delivered to the starving garrison

Major Henry Gladwin, at Detroit continued to trade blows with the Indians. The schooner Huron, which was bringing supplies to the fort, anchored at the mouth of the river. Indians attacked the vessel, but failed to capture it and suffered heavy casualties. The Indians led by Pontiac lost their enthusiasm for battle because of the lack of significant victories and the deaths of several chiefs. Pontiac was forced to capitulate on October 31, 1763

King George III wanted to establish a stronger government in the Colonies but he also wanted to keep peace with the Indians. He issued the Proclamation of 1763 that gave the land west of the Appalachian Mountains to the Indians for their Hunting Grounds. Any colonists who were already settled in this area were forced to return to the eastern side of the Appalachians. The territory given to the Indians was not to be a part of any colony and the colonists could not buy or trade for land in that area. This made a boundary limiting the colonists to the east side of the Appalachians. King George III did not realize how much territory he was giving the Indians.

The Indian conflicts that were instigated by Pontiac brought a temporary abatement to the fear of white encroachment and a period of business cooperation. It also gave the British government a reason to bring in over 100,000 new troops and to better control the independent colonists. The additional troops also enabled the British to enforce new taxes and formed a strong military basis when the colonists declared their independence.

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