Sunday, November 19, 2017

Episode 019: Suppressing the Indians

Throughout the summer of 1763, in what became known as Pontiac’s War, Indian tribes all across the northwest rose up to destroy British forts and settlements.  Warriors launched attacks all across western New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and what is today Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. The British were ignoring promises to keep settlers east of the Allegheny mountains.  Without the French to act as a counterweight, the Indians realized they needed to go to war if they wanted to protect their lands.  Last week, I went over all the major attacks over the course of the summer, often killing and mutilating without mercy, taking no prisoners, and wiping out soldiers and civilians alike.

While their ferocity destroyed settlements and spread fear, Indians never seemed to be able to maintain a sustained war over time.  Warriors needed to return home to feed their families. Pontiac and his allies had hoped to encourage the French to rejoin the fight once they saw the Indians in full scale war against the British.  But the few French garrisons still along the Mississippi were already planning to leave.

Alone and without a European power to provide arms and ammunition, even united tribes could not sustain a war footing.  They could not remain in battle for more than a few months.  As summer turned to fall, and the fighting season ended, many warriors simply returned home.

Paxton Boys

By winter 1763, the Indian threat in Pennsylvania had been neutralized, yet anti-Indian sentiment flourished.  In December, a mob from Paxton, Pennsylvania raided a nearby village of Christianized Indians who has played no role in the uprising.  Some from Paxton accused them of providing aid to Indians who had participated in earlier raids.  It seems more likely though that their fears had given rise to the attitude that the only good Indian was a dead Indian.  They massacred and scalped six Indians who they found sitting in their cabins.

Paxton Massacre (artist's conception from 1841)
(from Indian Country Today)
Amid further threats, officials took 16 Susquehannock men, women, and children into protective custody to prevent their massacre.  The Paxton vigilantes were undeterred.  Two weeks later, they attacked the Lancaster jail where the Indians were being held in protective custody.  The  killed, scalped, and dismembered the bodies of the Indian men, women, and children.

In January 1764, 250 Paxton vigilantes marched on Philadelphia to demand further government action against the Indians.  Instead, they found that most Philadelphians were shocked and appalled by their actions.  They ended up providing the legislature with a list of grievances and returning home.  Although the violence ended, no one was ever prosecuted for the murder of the Indians, despite some attempts by the Governor to find the perpetrators.

Amherst Responds to the Uprising

It took months for Gen. Amherst to receive intelligence on the attacks on distant outposts and to appreciate its enormity.  Once he did, he had no intention of working out a diplomatic solution.  These attacks required a harsh response.  As he assembled armies to counter the uprising, Amherst issued orders that no Indians be taken prisoner.  As with the Cherokee uprising a few years earlier, he ordered any captured Indians from tribes involved in the uprising to be executed on the spot.

Gen. Jeffery Amherst
(from Dictionary Canadian Biography)

When Amherst heard about Fort Pitt’s use of biological warfare in spreading smallpox to the warriors, he approved reimbursement costs for the smallpox infested blankets and recommended that same plan to other officers.  As one officer writing to Amherst put it, he wished “to extirpate that Vermine from a Country they have forfeited, and with it all Claim to the Rights of Humanity.”  The Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 was still more than two centuries in the future.  In the 1760’s use of smallpox as a weapon did not seem to be an issue for much of anyone.

I should also add that many have considered it racist that the British used smallpox as a weapon against the Native American tribes.  However, as we will see in future episodes, they seemed equally willing to use it against the rebels during the Revolution.  It just was not quite as effective as many Patriots got inoculations.

Although many tribes rose up in this fight, the Iroquois remained loyal British allies, with the exception of some Seneca who had been involved in the Devil’s Hole Massacre.  William Johnson, who lived among the Iroquois, was able to maintain the loyalty of most of the Six Nations throughout the uprising.  Johnson attempted to get Amherst to make use of the loyal Iroquois, who believed they had the power to suppress the Indian uprising in the Ohio Valley, at least enough to bring them to the bargaining table.

Even though Johnson and these same Iroquois had proven their value to Amherst during his Montreal Campaign in 1760, he refused to make use of them.  Instead, he continued his policy of destruction, killing all enemy Indians, burning their villages, destroying their food supplies and spreading smallpox among them. Once the Indian forces had used up their ammunition and supplies, unable to obtain more, Amherst believed he could defeat the warriors in a war of attrition.

Amherst was not the first commander to earn the scorn of Sir William Johnson.  Like others before him, he would pay the price as Johnson contacted his friends in London to criticize the commander’s policies that were only exacerbating and extending the war.  In August, Amherst was recalled back to London and Gen. Thomas Gage took command.

Amherst had been requesting for years to be relieved of command.  With the war over, there was little glory in commanding North America.  He wanted to return to Britain.  Now overseeing an all out Indian war, officials in London decided that maybe it was time for new leadership.  Again, like most Generals brought home in defeat, Amherst would move on to better things. He had been appointed Governor of Virginia in 1759 and continued to hold that post until 1768.  He only lost that job after officials decided that having been Governor for nine years, it might be nice if he actually visited the colony.  When he declined, London appointed a new Governor. Amherst would eventually be promoted to full General and later Field Marshall.  He would also join the King’s Privy Council and become a Baron.  But in 1763, Amherst left America, never to return.

Gen. Thomas Gage

I’ve mentioned the new North American Commander, Thomas Gage, a few times before.  But now with his first command, and given his future importance to the story, I should probably give a little more background. Gage was the son a Viscount, but as the second son, he likely would never inherit a title or property.  Instead, Gage had joined the army at the age of 20 to fight in the War of Austrian Succession.  He returned to Britain to help put down the Jacobite Rebellion, participating in the slaughter of Scottish rebels at the infamous Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Thomas Gage
(from Wikimedia)
A few years later he shipped off for North America, serving under Braddock and alongside George Washington in 1755.  For most of the French and Indian War, Gage could not get in a position to prove himself in battle.  He was part of the relief force to Fort Oswego, that arrived too late.  He was part of Gen. Loudoun’s mission to take Louisbourg, which simply turned around and did not fight a battle.  Gage did finally see battle again at the first failed attempt to take Fort Carillon, in which he was wounded in 1758.  While recuperating, he went to New Jersey to recruit a new regiment of colonists.  There, he found time to marry a local Jersey Girl, Margaret Kemble, and start a family in America.

He continued to serve throughout the French and Indian War, serving under Gen. Amherst when he defeated the French in Canada in 1760.  Yet when Amherst decided that Gage acted with too much caution in failing to attack a small French outpost, he gave Gage a position in the rear during the final assault on Montreal.  After the city fell, Amherst gave him an administrative job as the military governor of Montreal.

When officials recalled Amherst in 1763, Gage became the new North American Commander. Because Amherst had only been “recalled for consultation” and Gage made temporary commander, Gage may not have felt confident significantly altering Amherst’s plans for 1764.  Gage, therefore, went forward with Amherst’s plans to defeat all the tribes militarily with only about 8000 regulars left in America.

Treaty of Fort Niagara

Gage did allow Johnson to negotiate a treaty between the loyal Iroquois and the renegade Seneca who has taken part in the uprising.  The Seneca signed the Treaty of Fort Niagara bringing them back into the British fold.

Sketch of Ft. Niagara by Wm. Johnson in 1758
(from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)
The Treaty negotiations at Fort Niagara, made clear that most of the Ohio Valley tribes were also ready to settle. By the summer of 1764, it was clear to all tribes that the French had no intention of re-engaging in North America.  The natives were on their own, and would remain dependent on the British for trade.  Smallpox had also decimated many tribes throughout the winter of 1763-64.  This may have been in part the result of British attempts to start such an epidemic, or more likely the inevitable result when Indians came into increased contact with Europeans and each other.  Although the meeting at Fort Niagara was primarily for the purpose of bringing the Seneca back under the Iroquois fold, representatives from 24 different tribes attended.  They received gifts from the British and expressed a desire to end hostilities.

The Seneca did agree in the final treaty signed on August 1, 1764, to pledge loyalty to the British.  They were also forced to give up their monopoly over the Niagara portage as the price for their attacks.

Bradstreet Expedition

At the same time Johnson was negotiating the Fort Niagara Treaty, Gen. Gage was executing Amherst’s orders to strike at the heart of the Indian rebellion militarily.  By this time though, everyone seemed to have lost their thirst for blood.

John Bradstreet
(from Wikimedia)
The first prong of this now half-hearted invasion called for Col. John Bradstreet to leave Fort Schlosser in Western New York, sail across Lake Erie with a force of 1200 men, subdue all the Indians along the way, and eventually reinforce Fort Detroit.  This is the same Col. Bradstreet who led the raid on Fort Frontenac back in 1758. Ever since then, he had been sitting in a cushy quartermaster job in New York.  It is not clear if he wanted this new combat role, but it is clear he did not see any good way to use 1200 men to lead a path of destruction through thousands of angry warriors across hundreds of miles.  Fortunately for Bradstreet, the Indians did not see much point in fighting any more either.

When he landed near Fort Presque, ten Indians representing Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo, and Munsee tribes approached under a flag of truce.  He provided terms requiring they cease all hostility, return all prisoners, and agree to send Fort Pitt any Indians who continued to attack soldiers or civilians

As he continued along the way, he offered similar terms to the tribes he encountered, directing them to attend a summit that he would hold in Detroit in September.  Bradstreet, though, was not authorized to enter into treaties on behalf of Britain.  His orders were to suppress any opposition and perhaps arrange for a temporary ceasefire.  It was not until late September, after Bradstreet had relieved the garrison at Fort Detroit and held his summit with the tribes that Gen. Gage’s letters finally caught up with him telling him he had far exceeded his authorization and to stop making peace terms with the tribes.

In any event, the Detroit meeting was a disaster even before Gage’s letters arrived.  Pontiac refused to attend.  Bradstreet insulted the rest of the Indians by using a hatchet to chop up the peace belt that Pontiac had sent.  Ignoring Gage’s orders to march inland and attack various tribes (which would have been suicide), Bradstreet tried to return via Lake Erie, only to be run ashore by storms.  Without enough boats, much of his contingent, including all the Indian auxiliaries he had with him, had to travel by foot overland back to Fort Niagara without proper supplies. Many of them died from from exposure or starvation along the way.  Even worse, the tribes which had agreed to end the war and to return prisoners neither stopped their attacks nor actually returned any prisoners.

Bouquet Expedition

As Bradstreet was returning in October, Col. Bouquet was setting out from Fort Pitt on his own expedition into the Ohio Valley.

Henry Bouquet
(from Bushy Run Battlefield)
Bouquet had started late and moved slowly.  His experience at Bushy Run the year earlier made him cautious of ambush.

After setting up a defensive stockade, Bouquet met with area chiefs and offered terms similar to Bradstreet’s.  He made clear, however, that any final treaty would have to be made with William Johnson back in New York.  Several tribes actually brought them about 200 British prisoners with promises to return more to Fort Pitt in the spring.

By the end of November, Bouquet arrived back at Fort Pitt convinced that hostilities were coming to an end, at least in the Ohio Valley.  Further west, in the Illinois territory, Pontiac and another more hawkish Chief named Kaské continued to make war on any British they could find.  They captured several small diplomatic parties. Kaské wanted to torture and kill them, while Pontiac decided to allow them to return, indicating he was at least ready to talk peace.

Treaty with Pontiac

Facing a new, expensive and difficult offensive in Illinois in 1765, Gage reached out to Pontiac hoping to find a diplomatic solution.  He sent George Croghan, the Indian trader from Pennsylvania who had worked with Washington’s first incursion into Ohio back in 1754 and who had continued to trade with the Indians and establish British settlements through the intervening years.

Negotiations with Henry Bouquet
(from Wikimedia)
In Illinois, Kaské attempted to burn Croghan at the stake.  Pontiac, however, saw continuing war as pointless, spared Croghan and agreed to travel to New York.  He and Johnson signed a treaty at Fort Ontario on July 25, 1766.  The Treaty only announced a general acceptance of British sovereignty.  It did not cede any land to the British nor even return prisoners.  Even that was too much for Kaské, who crossed the Mississippi with other refugees who refused to live under British rule.

Conclusion of the War

Pontiac is sometimes credited with leading this entire effort.   It seems clear though that he was among a group of many chiefs representing many tribes coordinating this effort against the British.  Pontiac was merely the first to act.  Pontiac’s War, sometimes called a rebellion, uprising, or conspiracy, was the first concerted effort by almost all tribes to halt the advancement of Europeans across North America.  At best, it slowed things for a few years.  It did convince the British that the native tribes were a force to be reckoned with and could not be taken for granted.

If anything, Pontiac’s decision to end the fighting humiliated him among tribes who still wanted to fight.  He lived in relative isolation for the next few years, before a Peoria Indian murdered him for unknown reasons.

Following the end of the fighting, Britain decided to renew its tradition of providing annual gifts to the various tribes, and making more of an effort to keep settlers out of western Indian lands.  The British also eliminated many of the smaller western forts, and only kept a few of the larger ones, like Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt.

Royal Proclamation of 1763

The same year the uprising began, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which largely forbade any British settlements west of the Allegheny Mountains, providing a reserve stretching the length of the Continent from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi River for use of the Indians.
Royal Proclamation of 1763
(from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)

The Proclamation which was based largely on the agreements of the 1758 Treaty of Easton, was under preparation even before the news of Pontiac’s War reached London.  The news probably did speed up its release and distribution.

The Proclamation by itself, however, did little.  The Indians had no reason to believe yet another piece of paper with promises on it.  It probably added something to those already predisposed to end the violence.  However, few tribes seemed to put much faith in it.

On the other side, the colonies were outraged that they would be barred from the land over which they had just fought a whole war to obtain.  Why exactly did we just spend millions of pounds and sacrifice thousands of lives to give the Indians a private reserve? It helped stoke the frustration colonists felt over having virtually no say over major policy questions.  The war ended up for many being another one where the colonists sacrificed greatly only to see London give away any gains they had made.

One reason the colonists did not get too outraged about it is that most of them figured it would be treated much like most other edicts from London.  The colonists would largely ignore it and eventually it would go away entirely.  As Washington wrote in a letter to a friend also involved in land speculation, “I can never look upon that Proclamation in any other light (but this I say between ourselves) than as a temporary expedient to quiet the Minds of the Indians and must fail of course in a few years…”  In other words, whatever the King said, western colonial expansion could not be stopped.

Once it became clear that British policy would not permit a settlement boom in the west, Gage decided to reduce the military presence as well.  He abandoned several of the smaller outpost that had been easily overrun.  Troops in larger forts such as Fort Pitt or Fort Detroit were reduced to a few dozen soldiers, not even enough to maintain upkeep on the Fort, let alone defend it if ever attacked again.  The main purpose of maintaining any soldiers at all was simply to keep guard on the valuable canon left in the forts.  The military presence throughout the Ohio Valley, the Illinois valley and the Great Lakes region fell to around 350 Regulars.  With the region at peace, more soldiers only incurred unnecessary costs for the government.  The military essentially pulled out and went home.  I’m sure that won’t cause any future problems.

Next week: Britain starts looking for way to pay back its war debts, and looks to the colonies to help pay the bill.  It passes the Sugar Act and the Currency Act of 1764.

Next Episode 20: Sugar Act and Currency Act of 1764

Previous Episode 18: Pontiac's War

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Further Reading


Pontiac’s Rebellion

Benjamin Franklin’s account of the Paxton massacres:

Sir Jeffrey Amherst:

Thomas Gage:

Henry Bouquet:

George Croghan:

Treaty of Fort Niagara

Royal Proclamation of 1763:

Royal Proclamation of 1763 (full text):

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.

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