The Pontiac Rebellion 1763

After the British defeated the French, and Britain claimed control over all French lands in North America, the coming of the British administration caused a huge rupture in the relationship between whites and First Nations peoples in the Great Lakes part of North America.

The Algonquian-speaking First Peoples who lived here had been allies and trading partners of the French. They called themselves the Anishinaabe. The French and English called them the Hurons and Neutrals.

The Indians had liked the French; they married into the local tribal community; they were interested mostly in trading, not in bringing in settlers and taking over the land; they would pay yearly tribute in goods and gifts. They were reliable in bringing in trading goods at a decent price.

All that changed when the French (who had been defeated by the British) had to abandon their trading posts on the Great Lakes to the English.

The English upset the First Nations people, because:

  • they cut off the annual tribute of gifts and trade goods which people had come to rely on

  • they jumped up the price on new trade goods

  • they frowned on mixing with, or marrying into, the native community

  • they were intent on bringing in settlers, not traders, to occupy the new lands

  • there was also a new harshness in the manner that accompanied the new Governor-General to North America, Sir Jeffrey Amherst, who actually pronounced that extermination of the indigenous population was the best policy.

Written contemporary accounts even support the view that he ordered the distribution of small pox infected blankets among the Indian population.

Alexander Henry, a merchant from Montreal, was the first Englishman to venture into the Upper Great lakes region after the French forts were abandoned, and detected the growing anger among the Indians. The Anisinaabeg told him neither he, nor the English had jurisdiction over the forts or the lands abandoned by the French.

The rapidly deteriorating situation was harnessed by Chief Pontiac, right a leader of the Ottawa tribe who mobilized the widespread anger among the tribes to launch a rebellion and take back the forts and expel British influence over Indian lands around the Great Lakes.

In the spring of 1763, Pontiac' warriors simultaneously attacked forts around Lakes Erie and Huron, and captured eight posts.

Pontiac put Detroit under siege for over a year. It led to bloody battles as British units tried to put down the uprising and recapture the forts.

But with the coming of winter, the tribesmen drifted off to their hunting grounds; they had to feed their families. The revolt fizzled out over the next year.

Painter - Charles Bird King 1837

Painter - Charles Bird King 1837

Painter - Charles Bird King 1837
The Treaty of Niagara, 1764 Mystery Man!

In July, 1764, Sir William Johnson met for several days with more that 1500 Anishnaabeg chiefs and warriors at Niagara Falls.  The result - an alliance of friendship between the Anisinaabeg and the British, sealed by the delivery of 2 wampum belts.

Sir William Johnson assured them he was not interested in stealing their land. 

"My children, I clothe your land, you see that Wampum before me, the body of my words, in this the spirit of my words shall remain, it shall never be removed, this will be your Mat the eastern Corner of which I myself will occupy, the Indians being my adopted children their life shall never sink in poverty." (the mat refers to the country of the Anisinaabe)  (Darlene Johnson p. 14)

The 24 Nations belt represents the 24 Anishinaabeg nations pulling a boat laden with presents across the ocean to supply the nations with the necessities of life.

The two Treaty of Niagara belts, and the promises they represent, are the basis of the British Anishnaabe Treaty Alliance.

Another treaty was signed at Detroit the same year, with the totemic marks of several chiefs.

The American Revolution a few years later wiped out the British promise to reserve American lands, but in Canada, the Proclamation became the basis of the treaty process.

Another portrait of Chief Pontiac. Compare this one with the earlier one in headdress. Are these the same man?

Portraits of famous Indians of the 18th and early 19th century are hard to authenticate. Tecumseh is another chief of which an authentic portrait cannot be verified with absolute certainty.

Which is why we should be grateful to George Catlin, Paul Kane, and Charles Bird King for having provided authentic portraits of First Peoples some 150 years ago.

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Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 2007