Path To The American Revolution: Pontiac’s Rebellion
Pontiac’s Rebellion is the first of many events, organizations, and pieces of legislation, in the aftermath of the French and Indian War, that would lead to the Constitution including:
- Committees of Correspondence
- Pontiac’s Rebellion
- Sugar Act
- Quartering Act
- Stamp Act
- Declaratory Act
- Townshend Acts
- Boston Massacre
- Tea Act
- Boston Tea Party
- Intolerable Acts
- Continental Congress
- Common Sense by Thomas Paine
- Declaration of Independence
Pontiac’s War, also known as Pontiac’s Conspiracy or Pontiac’s Rebellion, was launched in 1763 by a loose confederation of American Indian tribes. These groups were primarily from the Great Lakes region, the Illinois Country, and Ohio Country, and were dissatisfied with British policies in the Great Lakes region following the French and Indian War (1754–1763). Warriors from numerous tribes joined the uprising in an effort to drive British soldiers and settlers out of the region. The war is named after Odawa leader Pontiac, the most prominent of many Indian leaders in the conflict.
The war began in May 1763 when Native Americans were offended by the policies of British General Jeffery Amherst and attacked a number of British forts and settlements. Eight forts were destroyed and hundreds of colonists were killed, captured, or fled the region. Hostilities came to an end after British Army expeditions in 1764 led to peace negotiations over the next two years. The Native Americans were unable to drive away the British, but the uprising prompted the British government to modify the policies that originally provoked the conflict.
In the decades before Pontiac’s Rebellion, France and Great Britain participated in a series of wars in Europe while also fighting the French and Indian Wars in America. The result of the latter was the french loss of New France to Great Britain. The British colonists made peace with the Shawnee and Lenape Native Americans in 1758 with the Treaty of Easton where The British promised not to settle beyond the ridge of the Allegheny Mountains. This was a demarcation which the English king confirmed in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Most fighting in the French and Indian War came to an end after British General Jeffrey Amherst captured Montreal in 1760.
British troops proceeded to occupy the various forts in the Ohio Country and Great Lakes region previously garrisoned by the French. Even before the war officially ended with the Treaty of Paris (1763), the British Crown began to implement changes in order to administer its vastly expanded American territory. The French had long cultivated alliances among certain of the Indian tribes, but the British post-war approach was essentially to treat the Native Americans as a conquered people.Before long, Native Americans who had been French allies found themselves increasingly dissatisfied with the British occupation and their new policies.
The total loss of life resulting from Pontiac’s War is unknown. About 400 British soldiers were killed in action and perhaps 50 were captured and tortured to death. George Croghan estimated that 2,000 settlers had been killed or captured, a figure sometimes repeated as 2,000 settlers killed. The violence compelled approximately 4,000 settlers from Pennsylvania and Virginia to flee their homes. Native American losses went mostly unrecorded.
Pontiac’s War has traditionally been portrayed as a defeat for the Native Americans, but scholars now usually view it as a military stalemate: while the Native Americans had failed to drive away the British, the British were unable to conquer the Native Americans. Negotiation and accommodation, rather than success on the battlefield, ultimately brought an end to the war. The Native Americans had in fact won a victory of sorts by compelling the British government to abandon Amherst’s policies and instead create a relationship with the Native Americans modeled on the Franco-Native alliance.
French and Indian War Unsettled
Relations between British colonists and Native Americans, which had been severely strained during the French and Indian War, reached a new low during Pontiac’s Rebellion. According to historian David Dixon, “Pontiac’s War was unprecedented for its awful violence, as both sides seemed intoxicated with genocidal fanaticism.”
Historian Daniel Richter characterizes the Native attempt to drive out the British, and the effort of the Paxton Boys to eliminate Native Americans from their midst, as parallel examples of ethnic cleansing. People on both sides of the conflict had come to the conclusion that colonists and Native Americans were inherently different and could not live with each other. According to Richter, the war saw the emergence of “the novel idea that all Native people were ‘Indians,’ that all Euro-Americans were ‘Whites,’ and that all on one side must unite to destroy the other.”
The British government also came to the conclusion that colonists and Native Americans must be kept apart. On October 7, 1763, the Crown issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, an effort to reorganize British North America after the Treaty of Paris. The Proclamation, already in the works when Pontiac’s War erupted, was hurriedly issued after news of the uprising reached London. Officials drew a boundary line between the British colonies along the seaboard, and Native American lands west of the Allegheny Ridge (i.e., the Eastern Divide), creating a vast ‘Indian Reserve’ that stretched from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi River and from Florida to Quebec. It thus confirmed the antebellum demarcation that had been set by the Treaty of Easton in 1758. By forbidding colonists from trespassing on Native lands, the British government hoped to avoid more conflicts like Pontiac’s Rebellion. “The Royal Proclamation,” writes historian Colin Calloway, “reflected the notion that segregation not interaction should characterize Indian-white relations.”
The effects of Pontiac’s War were long-lasting. Because the Proclamation officially recognized that indigenous people had certain rights to the lands they occupied, it has been called the Native Americans’ “Bill of Rights”, and still informs the relationship between the Canadian government and First Nations. For British colonists and land speculators, however, the Proclamation seemed to deny them the fruits of victory—western lands—that had been won in the war with France. The resentment which this created undermined colonial attachment to the Empire, contributing to the coming of the American Revolution. According to Colin Calloway, “Pontiac’s Revolt was not the last American war for independence—American colonists launched a rather more successful effort a dozen years later, prompted in part by the measures the British government took to try to prevent another war like Pontiac’s.”
For Native Americans, Pontiac’s War demonstrated the possibilities of pan-tribal cooperation in resisting Anglo-American colonial expansion. Although the conflict divided tribes and villages, the war also saw the first extensive multi-tribal resistance to European colonization in North America, and was the first war between Europeans and Native North Americans that did not end in complete defeat for the Native Americans. The Proclamation of 1763 ultimately did not prevent British colonists and land speculators from expanding westward, and so Native Americans found it necessary to form new resistance movements. Beginning with conferences hosted by Shawnees in 1767, in the following decades leaders such as Joseph Brant, Alexander McGillivray, Blue Jacket, and Tecumseh would attempt to forge confederacies that would revive the resistance efforts of Pontiac’s War.
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