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Pontiac’s War

1763–1766

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Synopsis

The 1763 Treaty of Paris which concluded the Seven Years War, marked the end of France’s colonial empire in North America. Their departure drastically altered the balance of the power in eastern North America and imperilled their Indigenous allies. Nations like the Odawa, Ojibwe, Shawnee and Mingo, had lost a powerful ally who could check British expansion into their land and provide them with General Jeffery Amherst, Commander in Chief of British forces in CanadaGeneral Jeffery Amherst, Commander in Chief of British forces in Canada firearms. The Commander and Chief of Britain’s occupation forces, Jeffery Amherst, took advantage of this weakness by pursuing a policy which would reduce Indigenous power in the Ohio Country and the Great Lakes. Amherst first banned the sale of firearms to the First Nations, then began building forts inside Indigenous territory. In face of this existential threat, First Nations leaders like Odawa chief Pontiac and Mingo chief Guyasuta decided to act before they were too weak to resist.

Pontiac used his charisma and diplomatic skills to create a coalition of First Nations which he hoped could stand against the British Empire. On April 27 1763, Pontiac put his message of armed resistance into practice when he attempted to take Fort Detroit. Despite being repulsed and forced into a siege, Pontiac’s example inspired a general uprising of Indigenous peoples across the region. By June 22, eight British forts had been destroyed and Guyasuta had Fort Pitt, present day Pittsburgh, under siege. Jeffery Amherst’s belligerent policies had been designed to pacify the First Nations, instead they provoked a war which the British Army was not ready to fight.

Location

Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, northwest New York

Map usaPennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, northwest New York
Conflict Category: Regional War

Combatants

Pontiac’s Confederacy

A huge coalition whose members included the Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi, Mingo, Miami, Wendat and the Seneca. Led by Odawa Chief Pontiac and Mingo Chief Guyasuta, the Confederacy’s main objective was to stop American settlers from seizing their land and remove the British Army from their territories.

vs.

Great Britain

After France’s defeat in the Seven Years War, an overstretched British military was forced with the unenviable task of policing and occupying vast swaths of Indigenous and French territory. The First Nations of the Great Lakes, who had yet to suffer the full effects war, posed a significant threat to British dominion over North America.

Allies

Pontiac’s Confederacy

  • Lenape
  • Shawnee
  • Wabash Confederacy
vs.
vs.

Great Britain

  • Oneida
  • Onandaga
  • Tuscarora
  • Cayuga
  • Mohawks
Po 013 204 the battle of bushy run lr

Pivotal Battle

The Battle of Bushy Run — August 5 - 6 1736
August 5 - 6 1736

After suffering a string of embarrassing defeats at the hands of Pontiac’s coalition during the spring and summer of 1763, the British army launched a two-pronged attack against the First Nations sieges of Detroit and Fort Pitt. The first column, led by Captain James Dalyell, attacked Pontiac’s siege of Detroit on July 31. This force was swiftly defeated and forced into a desperate retreat. The second column, led by Henry Bouquet, was ambushed by warriors under Guyasuta at a place called Bushy Run. Bouquet’s force, composed mostly of elite Scottish Highland regiments, stood their ground and fought until nightfall. The following day, Bouquet laid a trap for Guyasuta’s warriors by feigning a break in his lines, when the warriors charged, they were met by a volley of musket fire and charging Highlanders. Using swords and bayonets, the Highlanders inflicted severe casualties on the stunned warriors. In the face of these heavy losses, Guyasuta decided to retreat.

Aftermath

Guyasuta’s defeat at Bushy Run forced him to abandon the siege of Fort Pitt. This decision proved to be a crippling blow the First Nations resistance. Pontiac and Guyasuta’s followers largely avoided open battle with the British army and reverted to a guerrilla strategy of ambushing troops and raiding American settlers. Just as Guyasuta had, Pontiac was chose to abandon his siege of Detroit and retreat into the wilderness. By the summer of 1764 Guyasuta and most of the nations in the Ohio Country signed a peace agreement. Pontiac held out for another two years before he too signed a peace agreement. Pontiac would later be murdered over a personal grudge in 1769.

Even though Great Britain was victorious, the chaos Pontiac and Guyasuta unleashed had taught them a vital lesson: the First Nations would violently resist any attempts to displace them.

During the height of the violence, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. In it, the Crown declared all lands south of the Great Lakes and East of the Appalachian mountains were part of “The Indian Reserve.” The Royal Proclamation still has legal authority in Canada, where it is the legal basis for all Indigenous land claims.

Notable Commanders

Chief Pontiac of the Odawa
Chief Pontiac of the Odawa

Pontiac’s Confederacy
Chief Pontiac

Known by his Odawa followers as Obwandiyag, Pontiac was the first of several visionary First Nations leaders who attempted to create a pan-Indigenous alliance which could prevent American expansion into the Great Lakes and Ohio Country. A veteran of the Seven Years War, Pontiac was a keen strategic mind who used subterfuge and stealth to limit his casualties.

Swiss born British officer Henry Bouquet
Swiss born British officer Henry Bouquet

Great Britain
Henry Bouquet

A Swiss soldier who started his military career in the Netherlands, Bouquet entered the British army during the Seven Years War. After proving himself as an able soldier, Bouquet swiftly rose through the ranks. At the start of Pontiac’s War, Bouquet commanded Fort Pitt and led the expedition to relieve it from Guyasuta’s siege. His victory at the Battle of Bushy Run turned the tide of the war.

Key Weapons

Weapons are a central part of war. Explore the selections below to learn about the weapons used in this conflict.
Land Pattern Musket
Land Pattern Musket
Land Pattern Musket

Land Pattern Musket

The weapon which forged the British Empire, this .75 calibre musket was nicknamed “the Brown Bess” by British infantry.

Basket Hilt Sword
Basket Hilt Sword
Basket Hilt Sword

Basket Hilt Sword

The chosen weapon the Scottish warrior during the 17th and 18th centuries, it could stab, hack limbs and crush an enemy’s skull with the iron basket hilt.

Tomahawk
Tomahawk
Tomahawk

Tomahawk

Despite being created in the 1600s, Tomahawks are still carried into battle by Canada’s special forces.

Bow
Bow
Bow

Bow

The oldest weapon in mankind’s arsenal, even the arrival of firearms did not banish the bow from North American battles.

Gunstock War Club
Gunstock War Club
Gunstock War Club

Gunstock War Club

A fusion of traditional Indigenous club designs and European metalworking, the Gunstock war club was from 16th to the 19th centuries across most of North America.

Ball Headed Club
Ball Headed Club
Ball Headed Club

Ball Headed Club

Carried by Haudenosaunee warriors for at least a century before Europeans arrived, the Ball Headed Club was used in combat as late as the War of 1812.

Kentucky Rifle
Kentucky Rifle
Kentucky Rifle

Kentucky Rifle

This Pennsylvania designed rifle, with its trademark long, grooved barrel designed for accuracy, saw extensive use on the Kentucky frontier and during the American Revolution.

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