Monday, October 31, 2005

Ponteach (Pontiac)

October 30, 1763: On this date, Pontiac informed Major Henry Gladwin, Commander at Fort Detroit, that he wanted peace and to end the fighting.


Pontiac's Uprising

By 1762, 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, the news came to Detroit of the primary peace terms. The English would continue to 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 excepted. The Nations most strike as one, and crush the whites before they destroyed the Indians.

In April 1763, 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, comes 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 him, 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. But now the French had been defeated in North America, and the English were in control of all the inland posts. Once there, they had begun to treat the Indians, not as friends, but as conquered people. To add to this, the French along the Mississippi, had been proclaiming that the lands would return to French control after peace agreements were written. After all that had been the way of the last war.

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, a strong fortification, garrisoned by two companies of Royal Americans and one company of Queens Rangers. Cannon were mounted in the corner blockhouses and two schooners were anchored at the water gate. Pontiac, knowing 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, would kill Gladwin and his men. The Indians would carry sawed off muskets under their blankets in order to accomplish this. Although Gladwin allowed the dance, he had his men armed and alert. Pontiac's plan could only fail, so the dance was completed, and the Indians withdrew.

Now Pontiac would have 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, the lives of he and 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 the 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 Detroit. Here he was burned to death, in sight of the fort.

Fort St. Joseph's, 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 mother's 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 thereafter, 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 Chippewa!) 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 Cuyler's 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 fort's 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 officer's quarters, in order to safely set fire to the blockhouse. Though the blockhouse was scorched badly, the English managed to extinguish the flames. Due to his belief that the Indians would soon be able to dig under the blockhouse and burn it, Christie opened negotiations. He was told through an interpreter that he had 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, is 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 is 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.


Ponteach (Pontiac), Odawa c 1720-1769

Pontiac was a man of medium build and dark complexion who highly valued personal fidelity. If Pontiac owed a debt, he would scratch a promissory note on birch bark with his sign, the otter. The notes were always redeemed. He was an early ally of the French in 1755, at Fort Duquesne, now the site of Pittsburgh, along with an allied force of Ottawas, Ojibwas, Hurons, and Delawares. He played a major role in the French defeat of English general Braddock in 1755 during the opening battles of what came to be known as the French and Indian War. Pontiac was probably born along the Maumee River in northern Ohio of an Ottawa father and a Chippewa mother. He married Kantuckeegan and had two sons, Otussa and Shegenaba. Pontiac held no hereditary chieftainship among the Ottawas, but by about 1760, his oratorical skills and reputed courage as a warrior had raised him to leadership.

By 1763, Pontiac had also formed military alliances with eighteen other Native peoples from the Mississippi River to Lake Ontario. After the British defeat of the French in 1763, Pontiac found himself faced on the southern shore of Lake Erie with an english force that included Robert Roger's legendary Rangers, who were self-trained as forest warriors. Rogers told Pontiac that the land he occupied was now British, having been ceded by France, and that his force was taking possession of French forts. Pontiac said that while the French might have surrendered, his people had not. After four days of negotiations, Rogers agreed with Pontiac's point of view. Rogers was allowed to continue to the former French fort on the present-day site of Detroit. Power was transferred as hundreds of Indians watched. Rogers and Pontiac became friends. Pontiac now looked forward to peaceful trade with the British, but when Rogers left the area, fur traders began swindling the Indians, getting them addicted to cheap liquor. Pontiac sent a belt of red wampum - signifying the taking up of arms - as far east as the Iroquois Confederacy then southward along the Mississippi. He appealed for alliance, telling assembled chiefs of each nation he visited that if they did not unify and resist colonization, the English would flood them like waves of an endless sea. By spring 1763, a general uprising had been planned by the combined forces of the Ottawa, Huron, Delaware, Seneca, and Shawnee. On May 9, each tribe was to attack the closest English fort. Pontiac's plan was betrayed to the commander of the British fort at Detroit by an Ojibwa woman named Catherine. Pontiac laid siege to Fort Duquesne at Detroit, and other members of the alliance carried out their respective roles. An appeal to the French for help fell on deaf ears, since they had been defeated. After a siege that lasted through the winter and into spring of 1764, the fort received outside reinforcements, tipping the balance against Pontiac after fifteen month.

After the rebellion ended, settlers swarmed into the Ohio Valley in increasing numbers, and the prestige of the old leader began to disintegrate. Pontiac now counseled peace. The younger warriors were said to have shamed him, possibly beating him physically in their frustration. With a small band of family and friends, Pontiac was forced to leave his home village and move to Illinois. On April 20, 1769, Pontiac was murdered in Cahokia, Illinois. According to one account, he was stabbed by a Peoria Indian who may have been bribed with a barrel of whiskey by an English trader named Williamson.

A statue memorializing Pontiac now stands in the lobby of City Hall in Pontiac, Michigan. (Pontiac, after whom General Motors named a long-lived automobile model, tried to erect a Native confederacy that would block Euro-American immigration into the Old Northwest.).



  1. Hmmm. I'm confused. I thought that Pontiac lost the fort in Detroit due to smallpox blankets that were given to the warriors surrounding the fort (by the Brits).

  2. AnonymousJuly 05, 2006

    Nope that was Fort Pitt. Henry Bouquet distributed the blankets to the besiegers after an outbreak within the fort. It affected the Shawnees the most. The ailing men returned to their towns in central Ohio and the epidemic decimated the the population.

    Pontiac's siege was broken when Detroit was successfully resupplied by ships out of Niagra. The Ojibwa and Pottowattomie abandoned the siege shortly after that and Pontiac had no choice but to come to terms with Gladwin.

  3. hello my name is william alex green
    i am 15 years old

    i am a desendent from pontac
    and most of these stories are lies
    poniac was murdererd by his brother
    in a fight over whiskey pontac won the fight over whiskey but was killed that night

    pontac also had never had his picture taken and if had u would of been killed
    pontiac was the chief of the three fires and had the chacne to take over with many other tribes

    he was one of the most powerfullest native americans over nations

    he was so powerful not even astic warriors would come up to fight