Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia





[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



Pontiac . An Ottawa chief, born about 1720, probably on Maumee r., Ohio, about the mouth of the Auglaize. Though his paternity is not positively established, it is most likely that his father was an Ottawa chief and his mother a Chippewa woman. J. Wimer (Events in Ind. Hist ., 155, 1842) says that as early as 1746 he commanded the Indians - mostly Ottawa - who defended Detroit against the attack of the northern tribes. It is supposed he led the Ottawa and Chippewa warriors at Braddock's defeat. He first appears prominently in history at his meeting with Maj. Robert Rogers, in 1760, at the place where Cleveland, Ohio, now stands. This officer had been despatched to take possession of Detroit on behalf of the British. Pontiac objected to the further invasion of the territory, but, learning that the French had been defeated in Canada, consented to the surrender of Detroit to the British, and was the means of preventing an attack on the latter by a body of Indians at the mouth of the strait. That which gives him most prominence in history and forms the chief episode of his life is the plan he devised for a general uprising of the Indians and the destruction of the forts and settlements of the British. He was for a time disposed to be on terms of friendship with the British and consented to acknowledge King George, but only as an "uncle," not as a superior. Failing to receive the recognition he considered his due as a great sovereign, and being deceived by the rumour that the French were preparing for the reconquest of their American possessions, he resolved to put his scheme into operation. Having brought to his aid most of the tribes N. W. of the Ohio, his plan was to make a sudden attack on all the British posts on the lakes at once - at St. Joseph, Ouiatenon, Michilimackinac, and Detroit - as well as on the Miami and Sandusky, and also attack the forts at Niagara, Presqu'isle, Le Boeuf, Venango, and Pitt (Du Quesne). The taking of Detroit was to be his special task. The end of May 1763 was the appointed time when each tribe was to attack the nearest fort and, after killing the garrison, to fall on the adjacent settlements. It was not long before the posts at Sandusky, St. Joseph, Miami (Ft. Wayne), Ouiatenon, Michilimackinac, Presqu'isle, Le Boeuf and Venango were taken and the garrison in most cases massacred; but the main points, Detroit and Ft. Pitt, were successfully defended and the Indians forced to raise the siege. This was a severe blow to Pontiac, but his hopes were finally crushed by the receipt of a letter from M. Neyon, commander of Ft. Chartres, advising him to desist from further warfare, as peace had been concluded between France and Great Britain . However, unwilling to abandon entirely his hope of driving back the British, he made an attempt to incite the tribes along the Mississippi to join in another effort. Being unsuccessful in this attempt, he finally made peace at Detroit, Aug. 17, 1765. In 1769 he attended a drinking carousal at Cahokia, Ill., where he was murdered by a Kaskaskia Indian. Pontiac, if not fully the equal of Tecumseh, stands closely second to him in strength of mind and breadth of comprehension.


Consult Parkman, Conspiracy of Pontiac ; Randall, " Pontiac 's Conspiracy", in Ohio Archaeol. and Hist. Quar., Oct. 1903; Hough, Diary of the Siege of Detroit in the War with Pontiac , 1860. [Consult the biography of Pontiac at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography to see the current view on the role of Pontiac and for an extensive bibliography.]


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 388-389.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College