Pontiac's Rebellion

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: North American History

Pontiac's Rebellion

In a famous council on April 27, 1763, Pontiac urged listeners rise up against the British.
Date 1763–1766
Location Great Lakes region of North America
Result Military stalemate; American Indians concede British sovereignty but compel British policy changes
Portage around Niagara Falls ceded by Senecas to the British
British Empire American Indians
Jeffrey Amherst,
Henry Bouquet
450 soldiers killed,
2,000 civilians killed or captured,
4,000 civilians displaced
Pontiac's Rebellion
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 rule in the Great Lakes region after the British victory in the French and Indian War/ Seven Years' War (1754–1763). The uprising, named after the Ottawa leader Chief Pontiac, was 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 war began in May 1763 when American Indians attacked a number of British forts and settlements. Eight forts were destroyed, and hundreds of British colonists were killed or captured, with many more fleeing the region. Hostilities came to an end after British Army expeditions beginning in the summer of 1764 led to peace negotiations over the next two years. The war was a failure for the Indians in that it did not drive away the British, but the uprising prompted the British government to modify policies that had provoked the conflict.

In terms of casualties and numbers of people involved, Pontiac's Rebellion was small by European standards of the era. Warfare on the North American frontier was characteristically brutal, however, 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, with uncertain results. This ruthlessness was a reflection of a growing racial divide between British colonists and American Indians. According to historian David Dixon, "Pontiac's War was unprecedented for its awful violence, as both sides seemed intoxicated with genocidal fanaticism."

Naming the conflict

The conflict is named after its most famous participant, the Ottawa leader Pontiac; 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. Parkman's influential book, the definitive account of the war for nearly a century, is still in print.

In the 20th century, a number of 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, although this remains the subject heading used by the Library of Congress.


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 their native allies and colonies 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 theatre of the war (sometimes called the French and Indian War) 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. 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. 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.

Tribes involved

Indians who played a role in Pontiac's Rebellion were diverse peoples with differing backgrounds and agendas. Most of those who took up arms against the British 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. The natives of the pays d'en haut, primarily speakers of Algonquian languages, consisted of three basic groups.

The first group was the tribes of the Great Lakes region: the Ottawas, Ojibwas, Potawatomis, and Hurons. They had long been allied with French habitants, with whom they lived, traded, and intermarried. Great Lakes Indians valued their relationship with the French, and were stunned to learn that they were suddenly under British sovereignty because of the French loss of North America.

The main area of action in Pontiac's Rebellion.
The main area of action in Pontiac's Rebellion.

The second group was the tribes of the eastern Illinois Country, which included the Miami, Wea, Kickapoo, Mascouten, and Piankashaw. Like the Great Lakes tribes, these people had a long history of close relations with the French. Because the British military had not yet occupied most of the Illinois Country, which was on the western edge of the war, the natives in this region were less motivated to take part in the uprising.

The third group was the tribes of the Ohio Country: the 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 natives 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 in the Treaty of Easton (1758) with the understanding that the British Army would withdraw from the Ohio Country. The British, however, strengthened their forts in the region rather than abandon them, and so the Ohio natives went to war in 1763 in another attempt to drive out the British.

Outside the pays d'en haut, the influential Iroquois Confederacy maintained a strong relationship with the British, and mostly did not participate in Pontiac's War. However, the westernmost Iroquois nation, the Senecas, had become disaffected with the British alliance, and began to send out war messages to the Great Lakes and Ohio Country tribes as early as 1761, urging them to unite in an attempt to drive out the British. The first calls for the war that became Pontiac's Rebellion came not from Pontiac, but from Senecas south of Lake Ontario. When the war finally came, many Senecas were quick to take action.

With the notable exception of the Iroquois Confederacy, the tribes in Pontiac's Rebellion were not centralized political entities. At this time and place, tribe designated a linguistic or ethnic group. Indians of the pays d'en haut lived in scattered, autonomous villages; no chief spoke for an entire tribe, and no tribe acted in unison. For example, Ottawas did not go to war as a tribe: a number of Ottawa war leaders chose to do so, while some other Ottawa leaders denounced the war and stayed clear of the conflict.

Amherst's Indian policy

A British hero of the Seven Years' War, General Jeffrey Amherst's postwar policies helped to provoke another war.
A British hero of the Seven Years' War, General Jeffrey Amherst's postwar policies helped to provoke another war.

General Amherst was in overall charge of administering British policy towards American Indians, which involved both military matters as well as 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 the Indians were incapable of offering any serious resistance to the British Army, and therefore, of the 8,000 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 order, in February 1761, to cut back on the gifts traditionally 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, 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, however, 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 war with France. Many Indians regarded this change in policy as a insult as well as 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 Indians, particularly after the Anglo-Cherokee War 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; Amherst hoped that limiting supplies would prevent future uprisings. Gunpowder and ammunition were essential to the Indians, however, because males hunted in order to provide food for their families and to procure skins for the fur trade. Many American 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 and religion

Land was also an issue in the coming of the war. While the French colonists had always been relatively few in number, 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 much 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 changing by forces that seemed to be beyond their control.

Outbreak of war, 1763

Pontiac has often been imagined by artists, as in this 19th century painting by John Mix Stanley, but no authentic portraits are known to exist.
Pontiac has often been imagined by artists, as in this 19th century painting by John Mix Stanley, but no authentic portraits are known to exist.

Although fighting in Pontiac's Rebellion began in 1763, as early as 1761 British officials had heard rumors that discontented American Indians were planning a surprise attack. Senecas of the Ohio Country (Mingos) were circulating 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 Sir William Johnson's diplomatic efforts helped to maintain a tenuous peace. 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 local 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 The Conspiracy of Pontiac portrayed these attacks as a coordinated operation planned in advance 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 single master plan. They argue that it is more likely that that the war evolved spontaneously, with Pontiac's actions at Detroit inspiring other discontented Indians to attack the British. Most Ohio Indians, for example, did not enter the war until about a month after the beginning of Pontiac's siege. Because of the war belts that had been circulating, Pontiac knew that he was a part of a wider movement, but his personal leadership did not extend beyond the Detroit region.

Parkman also asserted 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 there is 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.

Siege of Fort Detroit

On April 27, 1763, Pontiac spoke at a council about 10 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. According to a French chronicler, 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.

On May 7, Pontiac entered the fort with about 300 men who were carrying concealed weapons, hoping to take the stronghold by surprise. 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. A number of British soldiers and civilians in the area outside the fort were captured or killed; one of the soldiers was ritually cannibalized, as was the custom in some Great Lakes Indian cultures. The violence was directed only at the British: French colonists were generally left alone. Eventually more than 900 warriors from a half-dozen tribes joined the siege.

Forts and battles of Pontiac's War
Forts and battles of Pontiac's War

After receiving reinforcements, the British attempted to make a surprise attack on Pontiac's encampment. Pontiac was ready and waiting, however, 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, Pontiac lifted the siege and removed to the Maumee River, where he continued his efforts to rally resistance against the British.

Small forts taken

Before word had spread to other British outposts of Pontiac's siege at Detroit, Indians captured five small forts in a series of attacks between May 16 and June 2. The first fort to be taken was Fort Sandusky, on the shore of Lake Erie. The small blockhouse had been built in 1761 by order of General Amherst, despite the objections of local Indians, who regarded it as a threat. On May 16, 1763, a group of Wyandots gained entry to the fort 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 fifteen-man garrison. A number of British traders were put to death as well, and the fort was burned.

Fort St. Joseph (on the site of the present 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 fifteen-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 5 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 twenty-man garrison was taken captive without bloodshed. The warriors apologized to the commander for taking the fort, saying that "they were Obliged to do it by the other Nations."

The fifth fort to fall, Fort Michilimackinac (present Mackinaw City, Michigan), was the largest fort taken by surprise. On June 4, 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 previously smuggled into the fort by Indian women. About fifteen men of the 35 man garrison were killed in the struggle; five more were later executed.

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 twelve-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 June 19, 1763. After holding out for two days, the garrison of approximately sixty men surrendered on the condition that they could return to Fort Pitt. Most were instead killed after emerging from the fort.

Siege of Fort Pitt

Fort Pitt, with a garrison of 330 men (and over 200 women and children inside), was attacked on June 22, 1763, primarily by Delaware (Lenape) Indians. Too strong to be taken by force, the fort was kept under siege throughout July. Meanwhile, Delaware and Shawnee war parties raided deep into the Pennsylvania settlements, taking captives and killing unknown numbers of men, women, and children who were living on what was Indian land a generation earlier. Panicked settlers fled eastwards.

For General 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 29 June 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 13 July 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 16 July 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, however, 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 24 June 1763, the commander at Fort Pitt 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. This was not the first time that a crude form of biological warfare had been attempted in the region: in 1761, American Indians had attempted to poison the well at Fort Ligonier using an animal carcass.

It is uncertain whether or not the British attempt to infect the Indians with smallpox was successful. Many American Indians died from smallpox during Pontiac's Rebellion, and so some historians have concluded that the attempt was successful. Many scholars now doubt that conclusion, however. 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 infected blankets, apparently unaffected by any outbreak of disease. (The two Delaware chiefs who handled the infected blankets were in good health a month later as well.) And 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."

Bushy Run and Devil's Hole

Charge of the Highlanders at the Battle of Bushy Run.
Charge of the Highlanders at the Battle of Bushy Run.

On August 1, 1763, most of the Indians broke off the siege at Fort Pitt in order to intercept a body of 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.

The British Army victory was soon followed by a costly defeat, however. 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. About seventy-two soldiers and wagoners were killed in these actions (estimates vary), which Anglo-Americans called the " Devil's Hole Massacre", the deadliest engagement for British soldiers during the war.

Paxton Boys and continued raids

Massacre of the Indians at Lancaster by the Paxton Boys in 1763, lithograph published in Events in Indian History (John Wimer, 1841).
Massacre of the Indians at Lancaster by the Paxton Boys in 1763, lithograph published in Events in Indian History (John Wimer, 1841).

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 fifty Paxton Boys marched on the village and murdered the six Susquehannocks they found there. The remaining fourteen Susquehannocks were placed in protective custody in Lancaster in order to protect them from the Paxton mob. This failed: on December 27, Paxton Boys broke into the workhouse at Lancaster and brutally 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 then 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.

American Indian raids on frontier settlements escalated in the spring and summer of 1764. On May 26 near Fort Cumberland (Maryland), 15 whites working in a field were killed. On June 14, around 13 settlers near Fort Loudoun (Pennsylvania) were killed and their homes burned. The most notorious raid of this type 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 previously offered during the French and Indian War, which paid money for every enemy Indian killed above the age of ten, including women.

British response, 1764–1766

After 1763, major combat in Pontiac's War was effectively over, although raids against settlers had continued into the following year. American Indians had won a number of victories in 1763, but the large forts remained in British hands. Civilians had been driven from the region by the thousands, but the military conflict was a stalemate.

General Amherst, held responsible for the uprising by the Board of Trade, was recalled to London in August 1763. He was replaced by Major General Thomas Gage, who paid more attention to William Johnson's advice regarding Indian policy. There was a shift in overall approach, as Gage and Johnson worked to bring an end to the conflict through diplomatic as well as military means. Having failed to drive out the British, many Indian leaders were also ready to negotiate, especially since they were running low on ammunition and were weakened by disease.

Fort Niagara treaty

From July to August 1764, Johnson conducted a treaty at Fort Niagara with about 2,000 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.

Expeditions of Bradstreet and Bouquet

Bouquet's negotiations are depicted in this 1766 engraving based on a painting by Benjamin West. The Indian orator holds a belt of wampum in his hand, essential for diplomacy in the Eastern Woodlands.
Bouquet's negotiations are depicted in this 1766 engraving based on a painting by Benjamin West. The Indian orator holds a belt of wampum in his hand, essential for diplomacy in the Eastern Woodlands.

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 1,200 soldiers and a large contingent of Indian allies enlisted by William Johnson. Bradstreet felt that he did not have enough troops to subdue enemy Indians by force, 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.

Because many children taken as captives had been adopted into Indian families, their forced return often resulted in emotional scenes, as shown in this 1765 engraving based on a painting by Benjamin West.
Because many children taken as captives had been adopted into Indian families, their forced return often resulted in emotional scenes, as shown in this 1765 engraving based on a painting by Benjamin West.

Colonel Bouquet, delayed in Pennsylvania while mustering the militia, finally set out from Fort Pitt on October 3, 1764, with 1,150 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 17 October, 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.

Treaty with Pontiac

In 1765 the British decided that the occupation of the former French forts further west in the Illinois Country could only be accomplished by diplomatic—not military—means. Johnson's deputy George Croghan traveled to the Illinois Country that summer, and although he was injured along the way in an attack by Kickapoo and Mascouten warriors, he managed to meet and negotiate with Pontiac. British officials were under the mistaken notion that Pontiac had more power than he actually possessed; paradoxically, by making Pontiac the focus of their diplomatic efforts, they greatly increased his stature. Pontiac, now certain that the French would not come to his aid, agreed to travel to New York, where he made a more formal treaty with William Johnson on 25 July 1766 at Fort Ontario. It was hardly a surrender: no lands were ceded, no prisoners returned, and no hostages were taken.


The total loss of life resulting from Pontiac's Rebellion is unknown. About 450 British soldiers were killed in the fighting; no reliable figures exist for the number of American Indian losses. The violence compelled approximately 4,000 white settlers from Pennsylvania and Virginia to flee their homes. George Croghan estimated that 2,000 white settlers had been killed or captured, a figure that has often been repeated as 2,000 settlers killed. Gregory Dowd writes that Croghan's figure "cannot be taken seriously" because the estimate was a "wild guess" made by Croghan while he was in London. Historian Daniel Richter characterizes Pontiac's War, as well as the actions of the Paxton Boys, as examples of ethnic cleansing.

On October 7, 1763, the British government issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. It is sometimes written that the Proclamation was a response to Pontiac's War, but this is only partially correct. The proclamation was part of an effort to reorganize British North America after the Treaty of Paris, and the policies contained in the proclamation were already in the works when Pontiac's War erupted. The outbreak of the war hastened the process.

The most significant aspect of the proclamation was that it drew a boundary line between the British colonies and American Indian lands west of the Appalachians. Some Crown officials wanted to limit colonial westward expansion because expansion threatened to undermine the Empire's economic relationship with the colonies. Others wanted the colonies to expand, but in a more peaceful and orderly fashion. These expansionists supported a boundary line in order to temporarily halt westward migration until a better expansion policy could be devised—one that would not provoke expensive wars with American Indians.

British colonists and land speculators generally resented the Proclamation of 1763 because many of the colonies had extensive land claims in the west. Many landless colonists hoped to settle in the west themselves, and land speculators (including some in Great Britain) looked upon the west as a source of potential wealth. Although the success of the British Empire in the Seven Years' War was a source of pride for many in the British colonies, the proclamation served to undermine colonial attachment to the Empire.

In the coming years, many in the colonies resisted the new taxation that was imposed by the Crown—taxes that were intended to pay for the wars that had been fought to secure North America for the British Empire. Royal officials regarded the colonists as ungrateful for refusing to help pay for the army that had protected them during the "Indian uprising." Pontiac's War and the Proclamation of 1763 were thus contributing factors to the coming of the American Revolution.

After the American Revolutionary War, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 became a dead letter in the United States, but continued to govern the cession of aboriginal land in British North America, especially Upper Canada and Rupert's Land. The proclamation forms the basis of land claims of aboriginal peoples in Canada ( First Nations, Inuit, and Métis).

For North American Indians, Pontiac's War demonstrated the possibilities of pan-tribal cooperation to repel Anglo-American colonial expansion. Subsequent 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.

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