Pontiac’s Rebellion and Its History

Introduction

The Pontiac’s Rebellion is an uprising of Native American Indians who were unsatisfied with British colonial politics. The participants were several tribes who lived in the territories in the Great Lakes region and the modern states of Illinois and Ohio, which were controlled by the French before the Seven Years War. The uprising was named after the leader of the Ottawa Pontiac tribe, one of the leaders of the Indians who opposed the British.

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The Outbreak

Active hostilities began in 1763, which occurred immediately after the end of the French-Indian War, the North American Seven Years War, 1754–1763, and were provoked by the commander of the British army1. The captain was called General Amherst, and he considered the Indians to be conquered by the people. In May 1763, the Indians attacked a large number of British forts and settlements2. Eight of these fortifications were burned, hundreds of English colonists who arrived in the new territories were captured or killed, and the rest fled to the east.

By 1764, the uprising was largely suppressed, but negotiations with the Indian tribes continued for another two years3. This event led to a formal ban on British colonists from seizing the lands of the Indians west of the Appalachian Mountains. During the suppression of the uprising by the British, biological weapons were first used in North America. By the order of General Amherst, Indians in Fort Pitt were given blankets infected with the smallpox virus.

The uprising of Pontiac was not the only Indian intervention against the British. In 1761, the Cherokee tribe, which participated in the French-Indian War on the side of the British, also opposed their former allies and became hostile against them, without entering into an alliance with the French4. Therefore, General Amherst and his subordinates considered the Indians as unreliable allies and disobedient subjects of the British crown. The Cherokee uprising was suppressed due to the fact that the Indians lacked gunpowder, and the British command took measures to stop the trade in weapons and ammunition with the Indians.

Since the Indians could only buy firearms from the whites, and after the French troops left, they could only receive them from the British, these measures were perceived as preparations for war. In addition, trade restrictions made it difficult for Indians to hunt and extract furs, their main export commodity. In 1761, Amherst ordered that the annual gifts in the form of knives, tobacco, and clothing be stopped by the Indians, which was also perceived as a sign of the end of the friendship5. Amherst believed that without the support of the French, the Indians did not constitute a military force, although from his own eight-thousand-strong army in the Great Lakes region there were nearly 500 soldiers and officers6.

Pontiac

Pontiac was an important historical figure in the history of North America at a time when conquered, fallen, and abandoned New France seemed lost forever, but one man seemed to be still ready to fight for it. Pontiac was born between 1712 and 1725, presumably in a village of the Ottawa tribe7. In 1736, 200 Ottawa and Ojibwa warriors asked the French authorities to be brought to Montreal to fight the English8. In 1752, a contingent of 240 Canadians and Outaouais attacked the village of Pickawillany9. This village, in spite of alliances and treaties, allowed the English to trade on their territory.

Pontiac may have been part of the group that put an end to these seditious activities. In 1755 and the following years, the British attacked Fort Duquesne10. 1000 Amerindian allies, 300 Outaouais de Detroit, which was probably part of Pontiac, and 700 from Michilimackinac were added to the French garrison that defended the fort. The victorious allies inflicted a terrible defeat on their British aggressors.

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In 1757 Pontiac informed Pecaudy de Contrecoeur at Fort Duquesne that the English had tried to deceive him by telling him that Quebec had been captured11. Pontiac declared that he had resisted these advances, and did not fail to remind Contrecoeur of the advantageous promises made to the friends of the French cause. In 1758, several Outaouais of Detroit were still fighting against the English near Fort Duquesne that the French had been forced to abandon on November 24th12. After the capture of Louisburg, Ile Royale, Fort Carillon and, the British victory seemed more and more inevitable. The British held a meeting with the Ottawas in August 1759, and two of the tribal leaders were present to assert their goodwill towards the English13. It is important to note that Pontiac was not present at this meeting. Thus, the village of Pontiac was so divided on the issue that many of the Ottawas who wanted to ally with England had to leave the town to go.

The Revolt

A mission to occupy the French forts sent by General Amherst met the opposition of the Indians. Supported by other tribal chiefs, the Ottawa war chief Pontiac rebelled. Intelligently, he understood that the English would be more dangerous for the Indians than had the French, who, because of their small establishment, coveted only a few lands. In May 5 of 1763, Pontiac called the Amerindian nations Outaouais, Hurons, and Potawatomi to the war against the English, by besieging the forts of the interior now occupied by the English14. Pontiac and two of the Potawatomi chiefs forced farmers to supply their men with food, which did nothing to increase their popularity among Canadians.

Nevertheless, the revolt raged for more than a month in the North American countries. In May, ten English ships were captured by the Outaouais with their crews and provisions. Fort Miami and St. Joseph fell into Illinois and Miami hands. Fort Yesatanon was captured by the Weas, Mascoutens, and Kickapoos while the Ojibwa captured Fort Michilimackinac15. The Sénécas, the Delawares, Amherst, who at first underestimated the Amerindians, ordered troops to march to Fort Detroit to crush the rebels. Pontiac made a last-ditch attempt to win Canadians over to his cause, and Zacharie Chiquot and about 300 young men agreed to join him16. However, several other French commanders decided to ally themselves with the English. Native warriors sowed terror for five weeks before attacking “Fort Detroit” where they will fail.

Meanwhile, in New York, General Amherst was completely overwhelmed by events. Enraged against Pontiac and his allies, Amherst allowed his men to swap infested blankets of smallpox to the Amerindians in order to be exterminated by the disease, a first in the annals of biological warfare. Several documents indicate that the maneuver took place and was a success. The disease soon wreaked havoc among Amerindians in the region.

Pontiac remained with Arkansas and continued to preach the rebellion with a Shawnee chief by the name of Charlot Kaske. He was now fond of the project of a great confederation of North and South Indian tribes that could stand up to the English invader. But after the last refusal of New Orleans to send reinforcements, Pontiac finally agreed to sign peace with England. The first conference took place at Ouiatanon in July 176517. Pontiac declared that he would sign the agreement only on the condition that the British did not invade the territory. He explained that the conquest of the French forts did not give England the right to own the land and to colonize it as it pleased. The French had come to live among the Amerindians as brothers and not as lords. Pontiac added that France had never conquered them, and had never bought their lands, so they returned to them by right. Peace was signed in the presence of the Ottawas, Ojibwa, Huron, and Potawatomi.

On April 20, 1769, Pontiac went to barter Cahokia, where a young Peoria warrior named Pihi or Black Dog accompanied him. When they left the trading post, Pihi knocked weakened Pontiac. Thus, the great chief fell down, and Pihi wounded him18. The assassination of Pontiac put an end to the life of a fierce warrior and marked the beginning of a legend. Although his rebellion proved to be a failure, the example of Pontiac inspired many of his successors in their resistance to European domination.

The Uprising

Before Pontiac’s death, there were besieged forts and battle sites during his uprising on April 27, 176319. Pontiac spoke at the council of Indian leaders near Fort Detroit and called on them to storm the English settlement. On May 1, he personally visited the fort to assess the forces of the local garrison, after which he declared that they would easily cope with the enemy20. On May 7, Pontiac attempted to attack Fort Detroit with 300 soldiers suddenly, but the English commander, Major Gladwin, was warned by someone about the upcoming attack, and the first assault was repulsed21. Later, the Indians slaughtered all Englishmen in the district, including women and children, and the fort was besieged by a detachment of 900 Indians of six different tribes. One of the captured English soldiers was eaten during the ritual by local cannibals22. The Indians did not touch the remaining French farmers in the region.

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In July 1763, English forces were defeated and destroyed, while attempting to attack Pontiac’s camp 23. However, the Indians failed to take the fort, and in October, Pontiac was forced to lift the siege. The given situation was vastly different in other rebel areas. Between May 16 and June 2, five small English forts and their garrisons were not informed of the uprising and they were burned down, where hundreds of Englishmen were killed or captured24. The largest of the burned forts was guarded by 35 soldiers, and 15 of them were killed immediately, and five more were tortured in captivity. In mid-June, three more forts in the Ohio River region were destroyed, and part of their defenders escaped to Fort Pitt25. The garrison of the eighth ruined fort withstood a two-day attack and surrendered on the condition that the Indians would let him go to Fort Pitt, but most of this detachment was destroyed the route.

From the territories west of Pennsylvania, the colonists fled to Fort Pitt, where about 550 people gathered, of whom 200 were women and children. Among them were patients with smallpox, which, due to the crowded population, was threatened with an epidemic. The fort was attacked on June 22, but it withstood a lengthy siege and was released by a detachment sent to the rescue of Colonel Bouquet26. The fortifications closest to him also withstood, but their besieged garrisons were not able to prevent the raids of the Indians into the depths of the territories inhabited by the British. During the Bushy Run battle on August 5, 1763, a detachment of 500 fighters of the Buk suffered losses but smashed the Indians forces of to meet him and approached Fort Pitt on August 2027.

Indians often adopted captured English children, and their return by order of Colonel Bouquet was often accompanied by emotional scenes. In September, in the area of Fort Niagara, the Indians seized a wagon train heading for the fort and defeated British troops trying to defend it. On the British side, 70 people died, which was considered the bloodiest battle of the Pontiac uprising28. With the onset of winter, the Indians ceased hostilities, but in the following 1764, their raids continued, including in the territories long settled by the British, in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland (28). General Amherst, who was considered responsible for the bloodshed, was removed from command and recalled to London. General Gage, who replaced him, sent two expeditions to Ohio under the supervision of Bouquet and Bradstreet.

The detachment of Colonel Bradstreet consisted of about 1,200 soldiers and had a large reinforcement of Allied Indian tribes. Cage proceeded to the Lake Erie area and reached Fort Detroit in August 176429. Nearby forts were rebuilt again, and the rebels tended toward peace through negotiations, in which their influential leader took part on the part of the Indians. The Bouquet detachment of 1150 people came out of Fort Pitt in October 176430. In the course of negotiations with local tribes, Colonel Bouquet, in particular, demanded that the Indians return all prisoners, including those adopted by Indian families.

Peace with the Indians, who lived in the Mississippi Basin, was concluded only in July of 1766. Here, the leaders could still count on the supply of weapons from New Orleans, which remained in the hands of the Spaniards, and Pontiac retreated there himself31. Not relying on military success, the British sent their representatives to Pontiac for negotiations, which lasted for a year. The British managed to conclude a peace treaty with Pontiac. Later, the Indians left the Mississippi River, which became the boundary of the British possessions.

Aftermath

Both in the Seven Years’ War and the War of Independence, the Indians, who were in danger of invading the colonists into their lands, listened to the demagogic promises of the agents of the metropolis. Some tribes, therefore, strongly opposed the rebel colonies and provided assistance to the royal troops32. However, speeches of colonists could not have a significant impact on the course of events, especially since some of the tribes interested in trading with the colonists took the side of the colonies. Most of the tribes in the given region generally remained neutral.

Before the War of Independence, which led to the separation of every American colony on the continent from England, except Canada, large unions of Indian tribes could retain their lands and freedom. Americans used contradictions between the colonial powers and later between the English colonies and the metropolis. However, at that point, they were one on one with the strongest opponent, which was the centralized state of the United States. Americans did not need the help of the Indians and was interested in seizing Indian lands33. After the war of independence, the Western Indian lands were declared public property, where Congress began the distribution even before the end of the war.

The Constitution of 1787 consolidated the gains of the American bourgeois revolution, especially those of them that were beneficial to the bourgeoisie and large planters slave owners34. Thus, neither Blacks nor Indians received voting rights alongside women. Numerous qualifications closed the road to the ballot box for many thousands of working people. The constitution included a clause on allowing blacks to enter the United States for twenty years, which was beneficial to slave owners. Expressing the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie, the constitution led to the strengthening of the central government, but at the same time, it also provided broad powers to the states. These territories had their own legislative bodies, their constitutions, and their civil codes.

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The war of independence was a severe conflict, and its revolutionary progressive value for that time was great. This war destroyed the dependence of the thirteen North American colonies on England, and at the same time opened up broad opportunities for the development of capitalism in the United States. The war of independence and the bourgeois revolution in North America influenced the revolutionary movement in other countries, and these events were the decisive stage in the formation of the American nation.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, the colonization of Spanish, England, and Canadian possessions continued, and they were further settled35. However, it is important to note that these colonies appeared in Alaska and California. As for the United States, after their separation from England and the formation of an independent state, the process of colonization of their territory by European nations ceased. For a long time, the United States remained in great economic dependence on the leading European states up to and including the civil war, but the new country now itself continued to colonize North America. The development of Western lands acquired the most considerable importance in economic growth, and indeed in the whole life of the country. European immigrants who regularly replenished the population of the country took part in this colonization.

Outcome

The exact losses of the conflicting parties during the hostilities cannot be established. According to modern estimates, about 3,500 Indian soldiers and up to 3,000 British soldiers participated in them36. Of these, some 400 troops were killed and about 50 tortured in captivity. Nearly 2000 English settlers were also killed or missing, about 4,000 more colonists in Virginia and Pennsylvania were left homeless37. Indian casualties are estimated at 200 people, but their victims among civilians are not evaluable.

As a result of the uprising, the British were forced to suspend the colonization of the territories conquered from the French and to guarantee the Indians the right to their lands. According to the royal proclamation of 1763, also called the “Bill of Rights of the Indians,” an Indian reservation was formed all over from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, where whites were forbidden to settle or buy land38. This act is still taken into account in relations between the Canadian government and the indigenous people of America.

Among the English colonists, he gave rise to disintegration of the British army to guarantee their interests in the territories, in the conquest of which the colonists took an active part during the French-Indian war39. In addition, the terror carried out by Indian raids in the rear of the British troops gave rise to the desire of the colonists to arm themselves and form detachments of the Vigilantes for self-defense. Thus, in the territory of Pennsylvania, incidents of ethnic cleansing were observed, during which gangs of colonists massacred Indians living among the white population.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the threat from the Indians forced the British government to leave a significant contingent of armed forces in the American colonies, for which the colonists were levied with additional taxes. These taxes also caused discontent among the colonists and were one of the reasons for the American revolution that followed soon after. The further increase in tensions between the Indians and the colonists, in turn, prompted the Indians to continue resistance, for which the leaders of the Indians in their struggle with the Americans often turned to Britain for help.

Bibliography

Carley, Georgia. “Cost, Commodity, and Gift: The Board of Trade’s Conceptualization of British–Native American Gift Giving during Pontiac’s War.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14, no. 2 (2016): 203-224.

Crouch, Christian A. “The Black City: African and Indian Exchanges in Pontiac’s Upper Country.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14, no. 2 (2016): 284-318.

O’Brien, Greg. “Louisiana History.” The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 58, no. 4 (2017): 478-480.

Otis, Melissa. “A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World.” American Studies 54, no. 1 (2015): 151-152.

Spero, Patrick. “1763: Pontiac and Paxton.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14, no. 2 (2016): 199-202.

Steele, Ian K. “The End of New France: Falling with Gravity.” Reviews in American History 44, no. 1 (2016): 70-76.

Sturtevant, Andrew. “Indigenous Politics in Pontiac’s War.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History 1, no. 1 (2018): 2-31.

Footnotes

  1. Patrick Spero, “1763: Pontiac and Paxton,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14, no. 2 (2016): 200.
  2. Melissa Otis, “A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World,” American Studies 54, no. 1 (2015): 152.
  3. Greg O’Brien, “Louisiana History,” The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 58, no. 4 (2017): 479.
  4. Ian Kenneth Steele, “The End of New France: Falling with Gravity,” Reviews in American History 44, no. 1 (2016): 73.
  5. Andrew Sturtevant, “Indigenous Politics in Pontiac’s War,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History 1, no. 1 (2018): 17.
  6. Christian Ayne Crouch, “The Black City: African and Indian Exchanges in Pontiac’s Upper Country,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14, no. 2 (2016): 293.
  7. Georgia Carley, “Cost, Commodity, and Gift: The Board of Trade’s Conceptualization of British–Native American Gift Giving during Pontiac’s War,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14, no. 2 (2016): 219.
  8. Patrick, “1763: Pontiac and Paxton,” 201.
  9. Carley, “Cost, Commodity, and Gift,” 217.
  10. Otis, “A Generation Removed,” 151.
  11. Crouch, “The Black City,” 301.
  12. Sturtevant, “Indigenous Politics in Pontiac’s,” 22.
  13. Ibid., 19.
  14. O’Brien, “Louisiana History,” 479.
  15. Steele, “The End of New,” 74.
  16. Otis, “A Generation Removed,” 152.
  17. Steele, “The End of New,” 75.
  18. Sturtevant, “Indigenous Politics in Pontiac’s,” 5.
  19. Carley, “Cost, Commodity, and Gift,” 206.
  20. Spero, “1763: Pontiac and Paxton,” 201.
  21. O’Brien, “Louisiana History,” 480.
  22. Sturtevant, “Indigenous Politics in Pontiac’s,” 23.
  23. Carley, “Cost, Commodity, and Gift,” 214.
  24. Ibid., 218.
  25. Crouch, “The Black City,” 306.
  26. Sturtevant, “Indigenous Politics in Pontiac’s,” 30.
  27. Ibid., 28.
  28. Steele, “The End of New,” 76.
  29. O’Brien, “Louisiana History,” 478.
  30. Otis, “A Generation Removed,” 152.
  31. Spero, “1763: Pontiac and Paxton,” 202.
  32. Crouch, “The Black City,” 298.
  33. Otis, “A Generation Removed,” 151.
  34. Steele, “The End of New,” 71.
  35. Sturtevant, “Indigenous Politics in Pontiac’s,” 9.
  36. Carley, “Cost, Commodity, and Gift,” 209.
  37. Otis, “A Generation Removed,” 152.
  38. Steele, “The End of New,” 72.
  39. Spero, “1763: Pontiac and Paxton,” 199.
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