Pontiac’s Resistance Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A pan-Indian uprising led by Ottawa chief Pontiac presented the greatest threat to British expansion before the American Revolution.

Summary of Event

By signing the Paris, Peace of (1763) Peace of Paris on February 10, 1763, Great Britain and France concluded the French and Indian War (1754-1763) French and Indian War, nearly a decade of battle for empire in North America. Victorious, Great Britain British Empire;in North America[North America] then had to decide how to organize its vast new territories, embracing Canada and the area lying between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River. At issue in these trans-Appalachian lands were the rights, vital interests, profits, and responsibilities of the remaining Frenchmen, fur traders and trappers, British governors and colonials with claims to these territories, land speculators, the British army, and, not least, American Indians. A plan to separate trans-Appalachia from eastern British colonies and keep out settlers had been recommended by the second earl of Shelburne, then president of Britain’s board of trade. Shelburne had hoped that his plan would be implemented by 1767, but despite amounting political pressure for Parliament to act on imperial reorganization, nothing was done until Shelburne had left office. What determined his successor’s action and his issuance of the Proclamation of 1763 Proclamation of 1763 was an indigenous uprising and the siege of the British fort at Detroit by a little-known Ottawa Ottawas war chief, Pontiac. American Indian-British conflicts[American Indian British conflicts] British-American Indian conflicts[British American Indian conflicts] [kw]Pontiac’s Resistance (May 8, 1763-July 24, 1766) [kw]Resistance, Pontiac’s (May 8, 1763-July 24, 1766) Pontiac’s Resistance (1763-1766)[Pontiacs Resistance] Indigenous revolts;North America [g]American colonies;May 8, 1763-July 24, 1766: Pontiac’s Resistance[1700] [g]Canada;May 8, 1763-July 24, 1766: Pontiac’s Resistance[1700] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May 8, 1763-July 24, 1766: Pontiac’s Resistance[1700] Pontiac (c. 1720-1769) Amherst, Lord Gladwin, Henry Johnson, William Shelburne, second earl of

A large, imposing figure, Pontiac was born in present-day northern Ohio, the son of an Ottawa father and a Chippewa (Ojibwa) mother. Although he married several times (as was customary), only one of his wives and two sons have been identified. Esteemed for his strategic skills and his intelligence, he had become a war chief by 1755, when he was in his mid-thirties. The Ottawa, like most of their neighbors, were traders who had profited from close relationships with the French and who, therefore, fought with French forces in America during the French and Indian War. Pontiac had fought with the French when they defeated British troops commanded by General Braddock at Fort Pitt in western Pennsylvania.

France’s defeat, sealed by the Peace of Paris, proved disastrous to indigenous peoples of the frontier, Frontier;American who were constrained thereafter to deal with the British. Contrary to the intent of the Proclamation of 1763, colonial settlers poured across the Appalachians into American Indian territories. In addition, Lord Amherst, commander in chief of British forces, discontinued bestowing on the tribes gifts and supplies, the most important of which was gunpowder. During the war, Amherst had also provided alcohol to the Indians, but he refused to dispense it at war’s end. Thus, genuine hardship from a lack of gunpowder, which curtailed their hunting and disrupted their fur trade; an unslaked addiction to alcohol; discomfort from the diminution of other supplies; and increasing European encroachments on their lands furnished many Great Lakes tribes with serious grievances against the British.

On April 27, 1763, Pontiac convened a general war council in order to finalize war plans that envisaged a wholesale assault on British forts along the frontier. His call to arms solicited support from Chippewas Chippewas, Lenni Lenapes Lenni Lenapes (Delawares), Hurons Hurons, Illinois Illinois Confederacy Illinois, Kickapoos Kickapoos, Miamis Miamis, Mingos Mingos, Potawatomis Potawatomis, Senecas Senecas, and Shawnees Shawnees. On May 8, 1763, he and three hundred warriors—mostly his own tribesmen, along with Chippewas and Potawatomis—entered Fort Detroit, weapons concealed and ready to strike. Previously alerted to Pontiac’s intentions, however, Major Henry Gladwin foiled Pontiac’s attack from within and the Indians put Gladwin’s fort under what became a six-month siege. Within weeks, every British fort west of Niagara was destroyed: Forts Sandusky, St. Joseph, Miami, Quiatenon, Venango, Le Boeuf, Michilimackinac, Edward Augustus, and Presque Isle. Forts in the Monongahela Valley, such as Fort Ligonier, were attacked. Only Fort Pitt and Fort Detroit survived. Before the winter of 1763, the British had suffered costly ambushes such as one outside Detroit at Blood Ridge and counted two thousand casualties overall.

Fearful that their entire frontier would collapse, the British counterattacked. By late fall, tribal resistance weakened, as the Indians were not used to protracted warfare and lacked the measure of aid they had expected from the French. At Fort Pitt, blankets distributed by the fort commander, Captain Simon Ecuyer, infected besieging Indians and produced a devastating smallpox Smallpox;as weapon[weapon] epidemic, while another of Amherst’s commanders tracked the Indians with English hunting dogs. In late autumn, Pontiac lifted the siege of Detroit, although elsewhere some Indian forces continued fighting throughout 1764. Other tribes, however, had concluded peace treaties with Colonel John Bradstreet at Presque Isle as early as August, 1763. By July, 1765, Pontiac had entered peace negotiations that resulted in a treaty signed with the British at Oswego on July 24, 1766, a treaty under which he was pardoned.

Following his pardon, Pontiac was received with hostility by neighbors in his Maumee River village, and he, his family, and a handful of supporters were driven out by tribe members who wanted resistance to continue. While at a trading post in Cahokia Cahokia (Illinois), Pontiac was murdered in April, 1769, by Black Dog, a Peoria Indian whom the British may have paid in hopes of forestalling future rebellions.


In the aftermath of Pontiac’s Resistance, the British, apprehensive about a renewal of American Indian resistance, altered their Indian policy. They abandoned their Indian posts everywhere in the West, except at Detroit, Michilimackinac, and Niagara, and cross-mountain trade was placed again in colonial hands. British authorities, seeking to remove yet another cause of Indian grievances, renewed the practice of favoring tribes with sumptuous gifts. Unable to stem the tide of European settlers into trans-Appalachian tribal lands, as the Proclamation of 1763 was intended to do, British representative William Johnson negotiated a new boundary with Iroquois leaders at Fort Stanwix in September, 1768. This line was drawn farther west, in hopes of lessening chances of friction between the Indians and the settlers. Britain’s concerns over American Indian affairs soon gave way to coping with rising resistance among its own colonials.

In retrospect, Pontiac’s pan-Indian alliance represented the greatest threat mounted by American Indians against Great Britain’s New World expansion prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. It dramatically launched American Indian resistance to white civilization, resistance that subsequently included uprisings by Little Turtle’s War (1790-1794)[Little Turtles War] Little Turtle (1790-1794) and by Tecumseh Tecumseh (1809-1811) and, during the last three decades of the nineteenth century, drew the U.S. military into the lengthiest and most numerous succession of campaigns in its history, ending with the Wounded Knee, Battle of (1890) Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dowd, Gregory Evans. War Under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. Dowd reinterprets the causes and consequences of Pontiac’s resistance. He maintains that the issue of status was the root of the conflict: The British held American Indians in low regard, and American Indian leaders believed the British failed to treat them with appropriate respect.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hawke, David. The Colonial Experience. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966. Chapter 13 brilliantly places Pontiac’s resistance in the context of Great Britain’s halting steps toward imperial reorganization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leach, Douglas E. Arms for Empire: A Military History of the British Colonies in North America, 1607-1763. New York: Macmillan, 1973. A formidable study that details the increasingly impossible task Great Britain faced in trying to devise an effective military defense for a vast colonial empire against France and Spain, British colonists, and American Indians. The latter chapters provide excellent background on Pontiac’s resistance.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">________. “Colonial Indian Wars.” In History of Indian-White Relations, edited by Wilcomb B. Washburn. Vol. 4 in Handbook of North American Indians. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988. More specific in its focus than Leach’s earlier study, this article combines British and American Indian politics and perspectives in the context of colonial wars.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nester, William R.“Haughty Conquerors”: Amherst and the Great Indian Uprising of 1763. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2000. A history of Pontiac’s resistance. Nester describes the causes and battles of the war and American Indian victory. He also explains how, within a generation after this victory, another group of settlers and another war would take away much of what the Indians had won.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parkman, Francis. The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War After the Conquest of Canada. 7th ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1874. Despite minor inaccuracies, this remains the classic study of the subject. Based on original documents and written by one of the greatest of American historians.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Peckham, Howard. Pontiac and the Indian Uprising. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1947. Corrects Parkman’s inaccuracies, updates the subject, and provides fresh insights into American Indian attitudes.

French and Indian War

Cherokee War

Peace of Paris

Proclamation of 1763

Lord Dunmore’s War

Indian Delegation Meets with Congress

Fort Stanwix Treaty

Little Turtle’s War

Code of Handsome Lake

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Lord Amherst; Joseph Brant; Thomas Gage; George III; William Howe; Little Turtle; Alexander McGillivray; Louis-Joseph de Montcalm; Lord North; Thanadelthur; James Wolfe. Pontiac’s Resistance (1763-1766)[Pontiacs Resistance] Indigenous revolts;North America

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