Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Pontiac

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PONTIAC, chief of the Ottawas, b. on Ottawa river about 1720; d. in Cahokia, Ill., in 1769. He was the son of an Ojibway woman, and, as the Ottawas were in alliance with the Ojibways and Pottawattamies, he became the principal chief of the three tribes. In 1746, with his warriors, he defended the French at Detroit against an attack by some of the northern tribes, and in 1755 he is believed to have led the Ottawas at Braddock's defeat. After the surrender of Quebec, Maj. Robert Rogers, of New Hampshire, was sent to take possession of the western forts, under the treaty of Paris, but in November, 1760, while encamped at the place where the city of Cleveland now stands, he was visited by Pontiac, who objected to his further invasion of the territory. Finding, however, that the French had been driven from Canada, he acquiesced in the surrender of Detroit, and persuaded 400 Detroit Indians, who were lying in ambush, to relinquish their design of cutting off the English. While this action was doubtless in good faith, still he hated the English and soon began to plan their extermination. In 1762 he sent messengers with a red-stained tomahawk and a wampum war-belt, who visited every tribe between the Ottawa and the lower Mississippi, all of whom joined in the conspiracy. The end of May was determined upon as the time when each tribe was to dispose of the garrison of the nearest fort, and then all were to attack the settlements. A great council was held near Detroit on 27 April, 1763, when Pontiac delivered an oration, in which the wrongs and indignities that the Indians had suffered at the hands of the English were recounted, and their own extermination was prophesied. He also told them of a tradition, which he could hardly have invented, that a Delaware Indian had been admitted into the presence of the Great Spirit, who told him his race must return to the customs and weapons of their ancestors, throw away the implements they had acquired from the white man, abstain from whiskey, and take up the hatchet against the English, “these dogs dressed in red, who have come to rob you of your hunting-grounds and drive away the game.” The taking of Detroit was to be his special task, and the 7th of May was appointed for the attack; but the plot was disclosed to the commander of the post by an Indian girl, and in consequence Pontiac found the garrison prepared. Foiled in his original intention, on 12 May he surrounded Detroit with his Indians; but he was unable to keep a close siege, and the garrison received food from the Canadian settlers. The latter likewise supplied the Indians, in return for which they received promissory notes drawn on birch-bark and signed with the figure of an otter, all of which it is said were subsequently redeemed. Supplies and re-enforcements were sent to Detroit by way of Lake Erie, in schooners; but these were captured by the Indians, who compelled the prisoners to row them to Detroit in hope of taking the garrison by stratagem, but the Indians, concealed in the bottom of the boat, were discovered before a landing could be effected. Subsequently another schooner, filled with supplies and ammunition, succeeded in reaching the fort, and this vessel the Indians repeatedly tried to destroy by means of tire-rafts. The English now believed themselves sufficiently strong to make an attack upon the Indian camp, and 250 men, on the night of 31 July, set out for that purpose; but Pontiac had been advised of this intention by the Canadians, and, waiting until the English had advanced sufficiently, opened fire on them from all sides. In this fight, which is known as that of Bloody Bridge, 59 of the English were killed or wounded. A desultory warfare continued until 12 Oct., when the siege was raised and Pontiac retired into the country that borders Maumee river, where he vainly endeavored to organize another movement. Although Pontiac failed in the most important action of the conspiracy, still Fort Sandusky, Fort St. Joseph, Fort Miami, Fort Ouatanon, Mackinaw, Presque Isle, Fort Le Bœuf, and Fort Venango were taken and their garrisons were massacred, while unsuccessful attacks were made elsewhere. The English soon sent troops against the Indians, and succeeded in pacifying most of the tribes, so that, during the summer of 1766, a meeting of Indian chiefs, including Pontiac, was held in Oswego, where a treaty was concluded with Sir William Johnson. Although Pontiac's conspiracy failed in its grand object, still it had resulted in the capture and destruction of eight out of the twelve fortified posts that were attacked, generally by the massacre of their garrisons, it had destroyed several costly English expeditions, and had carried terror and desolation into some of the most fertile valleys on the frontiers of civilization. In 1769 a Kaskaskia Indian, being bribed with a barrel of liquor and promise of additional reward, followed Pontiac into the forest and there murdered him. See Francis Parkman's “History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac and the War of the North American Tribes against the English Colonies after the Conquest of Canada” (Boston, 1851), also Franklin B. Hough's “Diary of the Siege of Detroit in the War with Pontiac” (Albany, 1860).