Sunday, November 12, 2017

Episode 018: Pontiac’s War

Last week, I talked about a few issues involving religion, taxes, and trade, but no issue seemed more important to colonists than access to new lands.  After all, that was what started the last war.  Colonists were more than ready for more expansion.

New Settlements

In some cases, the new settlers were relatively uncontroversial.  New England settlers moved by the thousands into the Newfoundland areas where the French speaking Acadians had been expelled a few years earlier.  By 1762, there were over 8500 settlers in Nova Scotia, most of them newly settled from New England.

Other settlements not only raised new issues with the Indians but also revived age old conflicts between colonies regarding borders.  In New Hampshire, Gov. Benning Wentworth provided land grants for more than a hundred townships, over 3 million acres, west of the Connecticut River, land which New York claimed for itself and issued competing land claims.  This would lead to fights a few years later that I will discuss in a future episode.

Fort Pitt, Rebuilt on the site of the destroyed French
Fort Duquesne (from Wikipiedia)
Connecticut, which claimed its borders stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean, began to populate new settlements in the Wyoming Valley, the same area that Pennsylvania had left, unofficially at least, to the Eastern Delaware in order to secure the peace.  Other new settlements along the southern shores of the Great Lakes, encroached on Mohawk and other Iroquois lands.  A few settlers even moved out to Detroit and further into the Illinois region, staking claims near former French outposts now manned by the British Army.

Of course, the age old fight over the Ohio valley returned to heavy contention.  The Delaware and other local tribes had assurances through the Treaty of Easton that the British were only there to expel the French. Once the French were gone, the British would pull back to the east side of the Allegheny mountains and leave the land to the local tribes.

Yet the massive building project at Fort Pitt, and the large and growing Pittsburgh community suggested otherwise.  The French were gone and the British were moving in.  This also raised the dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia over which British colonists would be allowed to cheat the Indians out of this land.  The Ohio Company of Virginia renewed its claims to the land. Pennsylvania, with its own valid legal claims and the new road built by Gen. Forbes’ army leading west, also sought to occupy the same territory.

Henry Bouquet
(from Bushy Run Battlefield)
The Ohio Company attempted to appeal to the commander of Fort Pitt, Col. Henry Bouquet, even offering him shares in the company if he helped to assist the Company in its sale of land titles to squatters throughout the region.   Bouquet felt bound by the Treaty of Easton and refused.  It probably did not hurt that Bouquet was already speculating on land in Western Maryland.  Sorry, guys, you cannot settle here in Ohio, but can I interest you in some really nice land over there in Western Maryland?

The Ohio Company also appealed for help back in London.  There, though, the main response was essentially, You know, we’re still fighting a war over here in Europe because of your attempts to settle that same area a few years ago.  We don’t have time to deal with this now.  As a result, there was no organization controlling the settlement. Settlers simply moved into unoccupied land and built cabins.  Occasional British army raids to burn cabins and force out illegal squatters seemed to do little to deter the flow of new settlers.  Ignoring the problem, however, was not a solution.  Doing so would have serious consequences.

Wyoming Valley

Pennsylvania was doing its best to keep settlers from moving into the Wyoming Valley, that Teedyuscung and the Eastern Delaware claimed as their own.  You may recall that Teedyuscung was the Chief who tried and failed to get protection for this land at the conference that eventually led to the Treaty of Easton in 1758, for more background, see Episode 11.

(from Wikipedia)
Connecticut, which had some questionable legal claims to the land, began selling land in the Wyoming Valley to settlers in 1760, even while claims between the Delaware tribes and Pennsylvania colonists were still being supposedly being debated under the Treaty of Easton.  By 1762, more than 150 Connecticut settlers were in the valley, many of them mapping out towns for a movement of 3000 settlers the following year.

Teedyuscung attempted to find diplomatic solutions with the Pennsylvanians and the Iroquois, but neither seemed willing to help.  He then reached out to the Western Delaware in the Ohio Valley, who seemed inclined to help, especially now that they were seeing how the British were breaking similar promises in the Ohio Valley.  As Teedyuscung prepared for a fight when the Connecticut settlers returned in the spring of 1763, a fire broke out in his home and killed him.  There is good evidence that this was no accident.  Mingo Seneca in the area most likely killed him to avoid being dragged into a new unwinnable war against the British over another tribe’s land.  Sadly, Teedyuscung’s death did not prevent war.

The threatened invasion of thousands of Connecticut settlers into the Wyoming Valley did not happen, due to fear of Indian reprisals. A small hard core group of about 40 Connecticut settlers remained.  Teedyuscung’s son, Captain Bull, raided this settlement in revenge for his father’s death.  His warrior took most of the settlers taken prisoner, but cruelly tortured, scalped and killed ten of them to send a message to future potential settlers.  The Delaware would not tolerate British settlement of the Wyoming Valley.

The message sent by the usually peaceful Eastern Delaware expressed a sentiment that tribes across the continent were beginning to make clear.  They were not happy about the continuing encroachments on their land.  Without being able to play off the French and British against one another, they would either have to rise up and fight, or go quietly into the night.  Almost all tribes chose to fight, in a previously unseen level of cooperation against the Europeans and their colonists.

By 1762, Indian Agent William Johnson was hearing warnings about a wide ranging Indian uprising.  Tribes from eastern Pennsylvania and as far west as the Mississippi River were up in arms about the British settlers pouring onto their lands.  They thought they had an understanding with the British.  Once the French were gone, the British would pull out and leave them alone.  It appeared now the British were saying to them, I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further. If the midwest tribes did not want to end up like the east coast tribes (dead, forced further west, or living on increasingly smaller reserves) they would have to push back.  Throughout 1761 and 1762, tribal grumbling turned into planning and preparation for massive resistance.  In the spring of 1763, everyone seemed to be waiting for someone to make the first move.

Initial Uprising

On May 7, 1763, Ottawa Chief Pontiac led a band of Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Wyandot to attack Fort Detroit, and its garrison of about 125 British regulars. An initial attempt to seize the Fort by surprise failed, so the Indians began a siege.  While they could not breach the walls, they prevented any attempt to reinforce or resupply the fort for months.  On May 28, they ambushed and massacred a supply convoy on its way to Detroit.  About two-thirds of the 96 men were killed or captured.  Some men escaped and returned to Fort Niagara.  Warriors took the captives to Fort Detroit, where they tortured, killed, and mutilated the bodies in front of Fort’s defenders.

Chief Pontiac
(artist's conception)
(from Wikipedia)
Within weeks of the attack on Fort Detroit, different tribes attacked more than a dozen forts all over the continent.  On May 16, Wyandot warriors requested entrance to hold a council at Fort Sandusky in modern day Ohio.  Once inside, the warriors massacred the small 15 soldier garrison, along several British traders who happened to be there.  The Wyandot scalped the dead and burned down the fort.

Just over a week later on May 25, the Potawatomi gained access to Fort. St. Joseph in Michigan using the same strategy.  Again, they killed and scalped the small garrison.  On May 27, another group of Potawatomi killed the commander of Fort Miami (modern Fort Wayne, Indiana) and captured the small garrison.

On June 1, a group of Weas, Kickapoos, and Mascoutens attacked Fort Ouiatenon, near modern Lafayette, Indiana, asked for a council then captured the 20 man garrison. There, the local tribes were on pretty good terms with the garrison. They actually apologized to the commander, saying they had been pressured to participate in the uprising.  They did not kill the garrison but kept them prisoner.

Map of Forts attacked in Pontiac's War (from Emerson Kent)
Next on June 2, the Ojibwa and Sauk played a game of stickball (similar to lacrosse) outside of Fort Michilimackinac (in northern Michigan) as the local British garrison watched.  One Indian hit the ball through the gate of the fort.  They players rushed in, grabbed weapons that native women had smuggled in ahead of time, and captured the fort.  In the fight, 15 of the 35 man garrison were killed.  Indians would torture and kill five more of their prisoners.

From June 16-19, the three former French forts in present day northwest Pennsylvania fell.  The Seneca took Fort Venango, killing the 12 man garrison.  They allowed the commander to live so he could write down their grievances.  Once he completed the document, they burned him at the stake.  Next, Fort Le Boeuf fell, although much of the small garrison escaped to Fort Pitt.  Finally, about 250 Ottawa, Ojibwa, Wyandot, and Seneca warriors surrounded Fort Presque Isle, which held out for two days.  The garrison of about 50 soldiers surrendered after being promised safe passage to Fort Pitt.  As soon as they left the fort, the warriors massacred them.

Siege of Fort Pitt

Fort Pitt was the largest outpost in the region.  It had about 230 solders, about half regulars, half militia, too large to be taken by surprise.  In late May, Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo, and Seneca attacked the surrounding farms and villages, killing some and sending hundreds of civilians to take refuge in the fort.  A large force attacked the fort directly on June 22, but could not overcome the defenses.

Siege of Fort Pitt (artist's conception)
(from Wikimedia)
Two days later, the Delaware Chief Turtleheart met with two militia officers.  Turtleheart pointed out that Fort Pitt remained the only Fort standing and demanded they surrender before Indian reinforcements arrived to wipe out the fort and its garrison.  Having heard what happened to other garrisons who had surrendered, the soldiers decided to take their chances in the fort.  They did, however, give Turtleheart a few gifts as a gesture of goodwill: two blankets and a handkerchief, taken directly from the smallpox hospital in the fort.

The siege continued for another month.  On July 26, the Fort Commander Capt. Ecuyer met with several of the besieging chiefs.  Again, they attempted to get the garrison to agree to leave their land.  Ecuyer told them he could hold out for years and had no intention of leaving.  Fighting continued in earnest, leaving several more killed and wounded on both sides.  On Aug. 1, the bulk of Indians besieging the fort left after hearing a relief column was approaching.

Battle of Bushy Run

Col. Henry Bouquet led a relief column of about 500 soldiers to break the siege of Fort Pitt.  Bouquet had left Fort Ligonier and was marching his force up the Forbes Road.  An experienced officer, he was expecting an ambush, and would not be disappointed.

Seneca Chief Guyasuta (sometimes spelled Keyashuta) led a multi tribal force of Indians, by some estimates as many as 500 warriors to ambush the relief column.  On August 5, about a mile from the Bushy Run Station, Guyasuta’s warriors attacked the column.  They had chosen the battlefield to their advantage.  The British were in a gully between two hills.  The hills had forests for cover, allowing the Indians to fire on the troops, then melt away when the soldiers tried to charge the tree line and engage them.  The attack could have easily become a massacre like that of Gen. Braddock at the beginning of the war.

But this was not the beginning of the war, and Bouquet was no Braddock.  Bouquet and his men were now experienced Indian fighters.  His soldiers, two regiments of Scottish soldiers (44th Blackwatch and the 77th Highlanders) joined by a largely American Regiment, the 60th Royal Americans, were all experienced veterans of the French and Indian wars.  The 60th carried tomahawks rather than swords for hand to hand fighting.

Battle of Bushy Run (artist's conception)
By Robert Griffing (from Mohican Press)
Bouquet rallied his men into a defensive formation and spent the first few hours of battle moving in a slow retreat up a hill to a more defensible position.  Fighting continued until dark when the British were able to spend a sleepless night throwing up a defensive stockade on top of the hill. The next morning, fighting resumed.

Indians typically left open an avenue of retreat.  If the enemy took it, the Indians could then run down the fleeing soldiers and kill them more easily than if they remained in their defensive positions.  Bouquet saw the path left open for a retreat and ordered several companies to pull out and head for the tree line.  Seeing the retreat, the Indians assaulted the remaining lines, expecting to find a few holdouts to massacre.  Instead, they found a wall of soldiers who fired on them at close range, then charged for hand to hand combat.  At the same time, the soldiers who had retreated, came around the hill and attacked the Indians from the other side.

The result was chaos for the Indians.  Most of them fled the battlefield and were not able to regroup for another attack.  Bouquet and his men spent the next three days making their way to Fort Pitt where they were able to relieve the garrison.

The battle of Bushy Run was a hard one.  The British took about 25% casualties, 125 men dead, wounded or missing.  The Indians are estimated to have taken about half as many casualties. The British, however, had routed the Indians and broken the siege on Fort Pitt.  It was, for the most part, the end of the uprising in the east.

Fort Detroit

Fort Detroit, the first fort hit remained under siege.  More than 900 warriors from at least six different tribes had joined Pontiac in the siege of the Fort.  The 120 man garrison was weakening from wounds and illness but continued to hold out through the summer.

Upon hearing of the siege, Gen. Amherst allowed his aide-de-camp Cap. James Dalyell to lead a relief force of 260 soldiers.  Amazingly, Dalyell was able to make it to Detroit and enter the fort in late July without any serious engagement of the besieging Indians.  His use of a contingent of Rangers under Maj. Robert Rogers as scouts probably contributed to this success.

Siege of Fort Detroit (artist's conception)
By Frederick Remington (from Wikimedia)
Once inside the fort, Dalyell proposed to use his soldiers to raid Pontiac’s camp and lift the siege.  The more experienced commander, Maj. Henry Gladwin thought the raid was a mistake.  However, he was not confident enough to forbid Capt. Dalyell from leading the raid.  Attacking a superior force of 900 warriors with a group of 260 men, fighting on the Indians’ territory might seem like a big mistake.  But many such “mistakes” often turned into glorious victories for the successful officer who went against conventional wisdom.  That, unfortunately, was not the case for Capt. Dalyell.  His force of 260 soldiers met Pontiac and more than 400 warriors. Dalyell was killed in the ensuing battle as were several dozen of his men.  The bulk of the force retreated back to the safety of Fort Detroit where the siege continued.

By October, both sides were ready for an end to the siege.  Gladwin’s garrison was pretty close to starvation, as food rations were almost entirely gone.  At the same time, Pontiac’s warriors were not interested in sitting around all winter watching a stubborn fort.  They were ready to call it quits and go home.  Pontiac had hoped his uprising would encourage the French, still in the Mississippi Valley to support his cause and reclaim the land.  After receiving word that the French would not help (as they had already agreed to the secret plan to hand over the Mississippi Valley to the Spanish) support for the siege faded.  On October 31, Pontiac lifted his siege, and headed further south, looking for easier targets for his warriors to acquire booty and war trophies.

Devil’s Hole

The key to prior French and now British control of the inland areas was the ability to bring resources from outside into the region.  The most effective way to do that was over the Great Lakes.  To get supplies Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, they would have to go down the Niagara River.  Many astute readers may be aware that the Niagara river has a rather large waterfall that makes shipping difficult.

Niagara Portage
(from HistoricBuffalo)
The French at Fort Niagara made use of an Indian trail to bypass the Niagara falls and carry supplies overland to Lake Erie.  They had retained the goodwill of the local Seneca by providing jobs porting supplies down the road from one lake to the other.  When the British took Fort Niagara, the Seneca continued to do this work.

The Seneca part of the Iroquois Confederacy, which remained allied with Britain while most other tribes had gone to war.  In 1763, though, the British began to widen the Seneca’s portage trail between Niagara and Erie so that they could carry supplies in wagons.  The Seneca, who saw their jobs being replaced by British teamsters, did not react well.  On September 14, a band of over 300 Seneca warriors ambushed a wagon train at a point on the trail known as Devil's Hole, killing or capturing 21 of 24 men.

Two companies of British soldiers nearby rushed to rescue the wagon train.  However, they ran into an ambush themselves, with more than 80 of the 130 soldiers killed.  The remainder fled back to Fort Niagara.  The Indians apparently massacred and scalped the remaining dead and wounded.  They never took Fort Niagara, but they did prevent any supplies from reaching the western forts via the Great Lakes for the remainder of the war.

Next week: The British army and colonists put down the uprising with a vengeance.

Next Episode 19: Suppressing the Indians

Previous Episode 17: Parsons Cause, Bishops, and Trade

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Further Reading


Henry Bouquet:

Chief Teedyuscung:

Chief Turtleheart:


Pontiac’s Rebellion:

Battle of Bushy Run:

Benjamin Franklin’s account of the Paxton massacres:

Another good podcast on this topic from the Native American perspective:

A Journal Of An Indian Captivity During Pontiac’s Rebellion In The Year 1763, By Mr John Rutherfurd, Afterward Captain, 42nd Highland RegimentAmerican Heritage Magazine, Vol. 9 Issue 3, (April 1958):

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

The Ohio Company of Virginia and the Westward Movement, 1748-1792, by Kenneth Bailey (1939).

The Orderly Book of Colonel Henry Bouquet's Expedition Against the Ohio Indians 1764, by Henry Bouquet (published 1960).

The Journal of Jeffery Amherst, Recording the military career of General Amherst in America from 1758 to 1763, by Jeffery Amherst (John Clarence, ed.)

The History of Canada, Vol. 5, by William Kingsford (1887)

Jeffery Amherst; a Biography, by Lawrence Shaw Mayo, (1916)

The War Chief of the Ottawas; a Chronicle of the Pontiac War, by Thomas Guthrie Marquis, (1915)

The Indian wars of Pennsylvania, by C. Hale Sipe (1929)

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Anderson, Fred Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Dowd, Gregory Evens War Under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2004.

Middleton, Richad Pontiac's War: Its Causes, Course and Consequences, Routledge, 2007.

Nester, William Haughty Conquerors: Amherst and the Great Indian Uprising of 1763, Praeger, 2000.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


  1. I would suggest revisiting the Devil's Hole section of your article. Consider looking closer at the original documents.

  2. Just found your site and podcast. I'm really enjoying it. I'm only on ep18 but I'm definitely planning to listen to all of it. Might take me some time, lol I'm a huge history buff and The American Revolution is one of my favorite time periods. I love all the detail you go into. Very well done, thank you for doing this.

  3. Just discovered this podcast not too long ago and really appreciate all of it. The smallest details are amazing and I’m learning so much that school never taught us. Thank you for this. I plan on listening to all of it