Chronicles of America 

Pontiac's Conspiracy

The final provocation which turned the balance and let loose the flood of Indian vengeance against white encroachment was the intelligence, reaching the Ottawas and associated tribes around Detroit in 1763, that the French, at the treaty of Paris, had ceded the Indian lands to the English. These tribes, in common with others, never had been able to appreciate the meaning of ownership of territory as the French and English understood, or intended it. They continued to the last to consider the country occupied by the whites as the property of the Indians and looked upon the French and English merely as sojourners through sufferance on the part of the natives. But the meaning of the white occupancy was gradually dawning upon them and this act of the French, to whom the Ottawa confederacy had been consistently friendly was, in common parlance, "too much for them". Their indignation resolved itself into fury, and their cause found its champion in the great Pontiac, chief of the Ottawas. Pontiac and his remarkable conspiracy, which we are now to consider, present a striking parallel to the Huron chief, Nicolas, and the uprising under his direction some fifteen years previously. The two leaders were remarkably similar in type, while their conspiracies, having the same end in view, were conducted along very much the same lines. Nicolas, a miniature of his great Ottawa prototype, while of inferior caliber to the latter, possessed in a marked degree the qualities and temperament of the Indian, as exemplified Pontiac, in Pontiac. Both were remarkable for their courage and fortitude, cunning and sagacity, treachery and cruelty. Each had as his aim the destruction of the whites in his territory, Pontiac striking at the English and the chain of forts against which, occupied by the French, Nicolas had launched his warriors. The tribes most actively concerned in the uprising were the same, and in both instances Fort Detroit was the center of the most determined attack, Nicolas choosing the warriors of his own Hurons for that particular task, and Pontiac in person leading his Ottawas against its defenders. Its capture, in each case, was frustrated through betrayal of the Indians by members of their own race.

But while Pontiac's conspiracy in these respects is almost a facsimile of the uprising of the Huron chief, its conception, execution and results were on a most gigantic and hitherto undreamed-of scale. Through couriers and messengers, and by his own personal exertions and exhortations, Pontiac had succeeded in quietly enlisting in his support practically all the tribes of the great Algonquin family, as well as some of the Iroquois, particularly the Senecas. Again, as in Nicolas' conspiracy, a simultaneous attack was planned on all the forts and garrisons marked for destruction.

The Ohio tribes, particularly the Wyandots, Miamis, Shawnee and Delawares, had entered the conspiracy with great avidity and were assigned their share in the anticipated destruction. They did their work well, for of the dozen or more English posts selected for destruction, Fort Sandusky was the first to fall. This fort was the first stockade erected by white men on Ohio soil, having been built by the English in 1745. It had much to do with Nicolas' conspiracy and, having been erected with his permission, against the wishes of the French, precipitated the opening of the French and Indian war. Several times destroyed and rebuilt it was, at the time of which we speak, garrisoned by Ensign Pauli, in command of 15 English soldiers. Early in May, 1763, amid apparent peace and quiet on the part of the Wyandots living in the vicinity of the post, was struck the first successful blow of the calamitous movement set on foot by Pontiac. A party of the Indians, feigning friendship, called at the fort, and being known and trusted by Ensign Pauli were permitted to enter. But what purported to be a friendly call was in reality a hostile ruse, and no sooner had entrance been accorded the Indians than they seized Pauli, overpowered the guard and murdered the soldiers of the garrison, as well as all English traders found at the post. After burning the stockade the attacking party carried Pauli captive to Detroit, which was already being besieged by Pontiac and his warriors. There Pauli was listed to be put to death but was saved through the whim of an Ottawa squaw who desired him for a husband. Having no voice in the matter of the selection of his bride, Pauli was forced to yield and accordingly he was "plunged into the river that the white blood might be washed from his veins" and the ceremony performed which made him at once the husband of an Ottawa woman and a warrior of the Ottawa tribe. Pauli subsequently escaped and joined the besieged soldiers in the Detroit stockade.

Meanwhile, Pontiac and his following of Ottawas, Pottawattomies, Ojibways and Wyandots, foiled in their attempt to gain admission to Fort Detroit through false pretensions of friendship and thus to overpower the garrison, as the Wyandots had done at Sandusky, were laying siege thereto. They expected to be able, through the use of Indian strategy, "flaming arrows" and firebrands to dislodge the English, or failing in this to starve out the defenders. As a last resort, Pontiac believed that the French could be prevailed upon to come to his assistance, once the siege was well under way and the prospect favorable for their reoccupation of the country wrested from them by the English.

On the day fixed for the attack Pontiac, with a few of his trusted accomplices, called at the fort where Major Henry Gladwyn, in command, permitted them to enter. Pontiac proffered the pipe of peace and professed the warmest feelings of friendship toward the English. All this was of a part with the treachery perpetrated at Sandusky and elsewhere, but Major Gladwyn had received a warning from a friendly Ottawa, and when Pontiac gave the prearranged signal, following which, acting in conjunction with those remaining outside the fort his party were to fall upon the unsuspecting whites, it was answered by the clash of English arms and the beating of English drums. Pontiac, knowing that his plan was foiled, took his departure in illy concealed dismay. Several times he attempted to carry out his design of taking the English by surprise, and when hopes of this were lost openly began the siege of the fort.

Pontiac's siege of Detroit, the most remarkable in the annals of Indian warfare, must be passed over lightly. Lack of space and the purpose of this outline confine us to occurrences more closely connected with Ohio proper. Suffice it to say that after a siege lasting six months — from May 1 to November 1, 1763 — during which the Indians employed every strategy and deception known to their cunning, Pontiac was forced to desist Detroit had proved too strong for him, and he retired from the field to renew his activities elsewhere. Fort Niagara, on Lake Ontario, and Fort Pitt, at the forks of the Ohio, like wise proved too much for the attackers; but aside from these three, all others of the chain of strongholds which stretched from the headwaters of the Ohio along the lakes to the Mississippi, and which the English had so recently wrested from the French, fell before the concerted attack of the Indians.

During the remainder of the year 1763 and the early part of 1764, the Indians concentrated their efforts on a series of depredations against the border settlements, spreading consternation among the inhabitants.

The spring of 1764 found the Indians of Pontiac's alliance continuing their forays and depredations against the border settlements of the whites, and the English planning to crush their power and bring them to their knees. To accomplish this it was decided to send two separate expeditions against the Indians of the harassed western country, the one, under Col. John Bradstreet, to chastise those contiguous to Lake Erie, and the second, under Col. Henry Bouquet, to conquer and subdue the tribes of the interior.

The story of these expeditions, aside from recording an important historic event, is an unusual illustration of native Indian character and diplomacy. Furthermore, it furnishes a striking example of the extent to which success in dealing with the American natives depended upon the character of their opponents.

Starting from Albany and traveling by way of the Great Lakes, Col. Bradstreet and his command of upward of 2,000 men reached Fort Niagara, where the Niagara river enters Lake Ontario, in June, 1764. There he found assembled more than 2,000 members of the various Indian tribes, who at the summons of Sir William Johnson, the English Indian agent, had come to meet him. At the conclave which followed, after the usual ceremonies attending such occasions, and the distribution of goods and presents to the amount of many thousands of dollars, the assembled Indians concluded peace with Bradstreet.

But at this parley the Delawares and Shawnee of Ohio were not present. Sullen and morose, the fires of hatred which had prompted them to participate in the great conspiracy of the preceding summer still glowing, they had refused to proceed to the scene of the conference at Fort Niagara. From their towns on the Scioto and Muskingum, however, they sent word to Bradstreet that they were willing to make peace — not because they were in any way fearful of the English, whom they "regarded as old women" — but out of pity for their (the English) sufferings. A few days later when Bradstreet, proceeding westward with his army, arrived at Presque Isle (Erie, Pa.) he found awaiting him a deputation of ten Indians from the Delawares and Shawnee, who ostensibly had come to accede to his demands and to make peace with the English. This diplomatic ruse, part of a plan to deceive the English commander, and by "sidetracking" his intended plans, to gain time for the tribesmen in their preparations for hostilities, was completely successful. The gullible Bradstreet, completely "taken in", agreed to the proposal of the delegates that he desist in further attempts at chastisement, on condition that the Indians deliver at Lower Sandusky, within 25 days, all white prisoners, abandon all claim to English posts in their country, and grant the English the right to erect trading posts wherever their interests demanded.

Felicitating himself upon the ease with which he had brought the Ohio tribes to his terms, Bradstreet proceeded to Sandusky Bay where he arrived late in August. His instructions had provided that from this point he was to proceed against the Miamis, Ottawas and Wyandots in that vicinity, but once more the clever deceit of the natives effected a postponement of action. On their proposal and promise that they should follow him to Detroit and there enter into a treaty of peace, Bradstreet proceeded with his army to the relief of that post. Arrived at Detroit he entered into negotiations with the neighboring tribes, comprising the Ojibways, Sacs, Pottawattomies, Hurons, as well as representatives of the Miamis, Wyandots and Shawnee. Pardons were granted to the Indians for their recent depredations, and in return the tribesmen pledged themselves to accept the sovereignty of the King of England over their territory, and to call him "father" in acknowledgment thereof.

His work at Detroit completed Bradstreet in September returned to Sandusky, where he expected the chiefs of the Delawares and Shawnee to assemble in accordance with the promise made him by the supposed delegates. In order to meet them earlier, he proceeded up the Sandusky river to the site of the city of Fremont, but only straggling individuals and bands of Indians made their appearance. Finally, after a month spent in a futile effort to bring the tribes into a conference, Bradstreet abandoned his plans for proceeding southward where he was to join with the expedition headed by Bouquet, and sailed away toward Albany. Indian cunning and duplicity, taking advantage of Bradstreet's credence, had made of his campaign around Sandusky a veritable farce with little or nothing of accomplishment to its credit.

The results of the second expedition, fortunately for the English, were very different. Col. Henry Bouquet with an army of 1,500 men, left Fort Pitt on October 2, and marching through the wilderness of western Pennsylvania crossed the river into Ohio Advancing westward to the Muskingum, Bouquet established his headquarters a few miles above the site of Coshocton on the Muskingum (Tuscarawas) river. Here, at his Camp, No. 13, Bouquet succeeded in assembling the chiefs of the Shawnee, Delawares and Senecas, who so recently had evaded every effort on the part of Col. Bradstreet to bring them to Sandusky. But the tribesmen had not forgotten how Bouquet, little more than a year previously had, in connection with the attack on Fort Pitt, defeated the Indians at their own game and thus in winning "one of the greatest victories in western Indian warfare", had blasted the hopes of Pontiac's conspiracy.

Their wholesome respect for Bouquet, backed by the material prestige of his army, fully equipped and ready for the work at hand, had the desired effect and the chiefs, now humble and contrite, were glad to accede to his demands. Without mincing words Bouquet tersely informed the Indians of his terms and gave them two weeks' time in which to deliver to him all white captives in their possession.

In the meantime Bouquet pushed forward with his army to the site of the city of Coshocton, where "Camp 16" was established and where he awaited the compliance of the Indians. He had not long to wait. From all sections came the chiefs with their captives — Wyandots, Ottawas and Senecas from northward toward Lake Erie; Shawnee from the Scioto, and Delawares from the nearby towns. In all, more than 200 captives, mostly Pennsylvanians and Virginians captured during the preceding wars and forays, were surrendered to the English. The meeting of friends and relatives thus separated for years, as portrayed in the historic accounts of the event, are most pathetic and dramatic.

After arranging for a council to be held the following spring, Bouquet, his mission an unqualified success, on October 18, 1764, began the return march to Fort Pitt.

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