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Chief Pontiac

Pontiac (circa 1720 - 1769), Native American chief of the Ottawa tribe and leader in Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763 - 1764, was born between 1712 and 1720, probably on the Maumee River, near the mouth of the Auglaize. His father was an Ottawa, and his mother an Ojibwa. By 1755 he had become a chief of the Ottawa and a leader of the loose confederacy of the Ottawa, Potawatomi and Ojibwa. He was an ally of France and possibly commanded the Ottawa in the defeat (9 July 1755) of General Edward Braddock.

In November 1760 Pontiac met Major Robert Rogers, then on his way to occupy Michilimackinac and other forts surrendered by the French, and agreed to let the English troops pass unmolested on condition that he should be treated with respect by the British. Like other Indians, he soon realized the difference between French and English rule -- that the Indians were no longer welcomed at the forts and that they would ultimately be deprived of their hunting-grounds by encroaching English settlements. French hunters and traders encouraged Indian disaffection with vague promises of help from France; in 1762 an Indian "prophet", Neolin, among the Delawares on the Muskingum River preached a union of the Indians to expel the English; and in that year (as in 1761) there were abortive conspiracies to massacre the English garrisons of Detroit, Fort Niagara and Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).

Pontiac seems to have been chief of a magic association (the Metai), and he took advantage of the religious fervour and the general unrest among the Indians to organize in the winter of 1762 - 1763 a simultaneous attack on the English forts to be made in May 1763 at a certain phase of the moon. On 27 April 1763, before a meeting near Detroit of delegates from most of the Algonquian tribes, he outlined his plans (see Pontiac's War). On 7 May 1763, with 60 warriors, he attempted unsuccessfully to gain admission to Detroit, which then had a garrison of about 160 under Major Henry Gladwin [1730-1791); and then besieged the fort from 9 May to the end of October. On 28 May reinforcements from Fort Niagara were ambushed near the mouth of the Detroit. In June the Wyandot and Potawatomi withdrew from the siege, but on 29 July they attacked reinforcements (280 men, including 20 of Rogers's rangers) from Fort Niagara under Captain James Dalyell (or Dalzell), who, however, reached the fort, and in spite of Gladwin's opposition on 31 July attacked Pontiac's camp, but was ambushed on Bloody Run and was killed, nearly 60 others being killed or wounded. On 12 October 1763 the Potawatomi, Ojibwa and Wyandot made peace with the English; with the Ottawa Pontiac continued the siege until 30 October, when he learned from Neyon de la Valliere, commandant of Fort Chartres (among the Illinois tribe) that he would not be aided by the French. Pontiac then withdrew to the Maumee.

Fort Pitt with a garrison of 330 men under Captain Simeon Eciiyer was attacked on 22 June 1763 and was besieged from 27 July to 1 August, when the Indians withdrew to meet a relief expedition of 500 men, mostly Highlanders, under Colonel Henry Bouquet. Bouquet had set out from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on 18 July, and relieved Fort Ligonier (on the site of the borough of Ligonier, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania) on 2 August, but was surprised on 5 August, and fought (5 and 6 August 1763) the battle of Bushy Run (25 miles southest of Fort Pitt), finally flanking and routing the Indians after tricking them by a feinted retreat of a part of his force. Bouquet reached Fort Pitt on 20 August 1763.

At Michilimackinac (Mackinac), Michigan, on 4 June 1763, the Indians gained admission to the fort by a trick, killed nearly a score of the garrison and captured the remainder, including Captain George Etherington, the commander, besides several English traders, including Alexander Henry. Some of the captives were seized by the Ottawa, who had taken no part in the attack; a part of these were released, and reached Montreal on 13 August 1763. Seven of the prisoners kept by the Ojibwa were killed in cold blood by one of their chiefs.

Fort Sandusky (on the site of Sandusky, Ohio) was taken on 16 May 1763 by Wyandot; and Fort St Joseph (on the site of the present Niles, Michigan) was captured on 25 May 1763 and some of its garrison were massacred, the others with the commandant, Ensign Schlosser, being taken to Detroit and exchanged for Indian prisoners.

On 27 May 1763 Fort Miami (on the site of Fort Wayne, Indiana) surrendered to the Indians after its commander, Ensign Holmes, had been treacherously killed.

Fort Ouiatanon (about 5 miles south-west of the present Lafayette, Indiana) and Fort Presque Isle (on the site of Erie, Pennsylvania) were taken by the Indians on 1 June 1763 and 16 June 1763 respectively; and Fort Le Boeuf (on the site of Waterford, Pennsylvania) was surprised on 19 June, but its garrison escaped, and seven (out of 13) got safely to Fort Pitt.

Fort Venango (near the site of the present Venango, Pennsylvania) was taken and burnt about the same time by some Senecass (the only Iroquois in the conspiracy), who massacred the garrison and later burned the commander, Lieutenant Gordon.

About 500 Senecas on 14 September 1763 surprised a wagon train, escorted by 24 soldiers, from Fort Schlosser (2 miles above Niagara Falls), drove most of them over the brink of the Devil's Hole (below the cataract), and then nearly annihilated a party from Fort Niagara sent to the rescue.

In 1763, although the main attacks on Detroit and Fort Pitt had failed, nearly every minor fort attacked was captured, about 200 settlers and traders were killed, and in property destroyed or plundered the English lost about £100,000, the greatest loss in men and property being in western Pennsylvania.

In June 1764 Colonel John Bradstreet led about 1200 men from Albany, New York to Fort Niagara, where at a great gathering of the Indians several treaties were made in July 1764; in August 1764 he made at Presque Isle a treaty (afterwards annulled by General Thomas Gage) with some Delaware and Shawnee chiefs; and in September made treaties (both unsatisfactory) with the Wyandot, Ottawa and Miami tribes at Sandusky, and with various chiefs at Detroit. He sent Captain Howard to occupy the forts at Michilimackinac, Green Bay, Wisconsin and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Captain Morris up the Maumee River, where he conferred with Pontiac, and then to Fort Miami, where he narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Miami; and with his men Bradstreet returned to Oswego, New York in November, having accomplished little of value.

An expedition of 1500 men under Colonel Bouquet left Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in August 1764, and near the site of the present Tuscarawas, Ohio, induced the Indians to release their prisoners and to stop fighting - the practical end of the conspiracy.

Pontiac himself made submission to Sir William Johnson on 25 July 1766 at Oswego. In April 1769 he was murdered, when drunk, at Cahokia, Illinois (nearly opposite St. Louis, Missouri) by a Kaskaskia Indian bribed by an English trader; and he was buried near the St. Louis Fort. His death occasioned a bitter war in which a remnant of the Illinois tribe was practically annihilated in 1770 at Starved Rock (between the present Ottawa and La Salle, Illinois), by the Potawatomi, who had been followers of Pontiac.

See Francis Parkman, The Conspiracy of Pontiac (2 vols., Boston, 1851; 10th ed., 1896).