The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America - Walter R. Borneman (2006)

BOOK THREE. Prelude to Revolution (1760–1763)

19. A MATTER UNRESOLVED

As important as the Treaty of Paris was to restoring world order, another document emerged from the year 1763 that was arguably to have an even greater impact on the future of the British Empire, particularly its North American colonies. On July 4, 1763—once again the date was to prove an ironic coincidence—instructions were sent to all colonial governors in North America forbidding settlements west of the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. Under penalty of dismissal, the governors were further restrained from making any grants of such lands. Three months later, these instructions were incorporated into what came to be called the Proclamation of 1763. In the end, about all the Proclamation of 1763 would prove was that in Great Britain’s rush to bring order to its newly won empire, it had left one thorny matter unresolved.

Ostensibly, the Proclamation of 1763 was calculated to reduce friction with Indians in those territories recently won from France. In reality, however, it failed to appease the Indians and also served to frustrate westward-looking colonists from New York to the Carolinas. The royal decree created three new colonies: East and West Florida, just won from Spain; and what Great Britain would call Quebec, essentially all of New France north of Lake Champlain and downstream on the Saint Lawrence from near Montreal.

All land between these new colonies on the north and south, the crest of the Appalachian Mountains on the east, and the Mississippi River on the west—including the hard-won Great Lakes and Ohio River valley—was designated a vast Indian reserve. British forts would be maintained in this territory and transient traders allowed, but permanent settlement was prohibited. Any British subjects then living west of the Appalachians were to “remove themselves from such settlements.”

That, of course, was not going to happen. It was utterly unthinkable to most colonials that British regulars who had just won New France would now be used to keep them out of territory they had coveted since George Washington walked into Fort Le Boeuf. But before any evictions could be undertaken—indeed, even before news of the proclamation reached the Ohio River country—a host of Indian nations had taken matters into their own hands to oust their new British landlords.

And “landlords,” it seemed to the Indians, was only too true and too distasteful a characterization. What had happened, the Delaware and other nations wondered, to the promises of the Treaty of Easton? Not only were the British fortifying old French posts such as Fort Detroit, but they were also building new ones. Most alarming of all was the permanent community rapidly rising in the shadow of Fort Pitt. Something had to be done.1

It was Francis Parkman who originally characterized the Indian attacks of the summer of 1763 as the “conspiracy of Pontiac.” Indeed, such was the title of Parkman’s volume on the subject, penned more than a century after the actual events. Subsequent historians embraced this characterization and embedded it in a chain of Native American unrest running from Roanoke to Wounded Knee. How much the Ottawa chief Pontiac was the central player—as opposed to merely a key player—continues to be debated.

What does seem clear is that a Delaware prophet or holy man, Neolin, had a vision that called on all Indian nations to reject their dependence on European-Americans—French or British—through an avoidance of trade, a return to ritual warfare and diets, and the gradual abandonment of European-made goods. The Seneca, led by Kaiaghshota, took this vision one step farther and plotted for the outright ouster of their British landlords. In doing so, the Seneca broke with their brethren in the Six Nations who remained friendly to the British only because of the influence of Sir William Johnson. But the Seneca found allies in the Indian nations farther west that traditionally had been more closely allied with the French. Among these were the Ottawa, Huron, Potowatomie, and Chippewa.

North America, circa 1763

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The British manner of dealing with these nations of the Great Lakes country was far more arrogant and self-righteous than the more genial camaraderie of the French. The British took their right to occupy Indian territory as a matter of course. But the real incendiary factor proved to be Jeffery Amherst’s decision to stop the long-established custom of presents. Announced in 1760, Amherst’s policy of eliminating cash outlays for gifts was taken to the extreme after the French surrendered. The Ottawa, Huron, Potowatomie, and Chippewa around Detroit, “long accustomed to French finery for their women,” were now cut off from any trade goods. Failing to heed the warnings of the dying John Forbes, Amherst stubbornly insisted that all Indians trade for their merchandise on the basis of a published schedule of prices.2

Enter Pontiac. Little is known of his early life, but learned speculation suggests that he was part Ottawa, and part Chippewa, and about forty years of age in 1763. His place of birth is also a mystery, although it may have been in the Ottawa village across the river from what was then the French outpost of Detroit. Certainly, Pontiac seems to have considered this area his home territory. It has long been suggested that Pontiac led Ottawa warriors from the Detroit area and participated in Braddock’s Defeat, but even Parkman was careful not to state this as unequivocal fact. Ottawa warriors played a large role in the massacre at Fort William Henry, but again there is no hard evidence of Pontiac’s presence there.

The first documented mention of Pontiac’s activities has to do with a speech he gave at Fort Duquesne, probably in 1757. Recognized as a chief of the Ottawa, Pontiac reported the efforts of George Croghan to lure the western Indians to the British side and professed his loyalty to the French, no doubt in expectation of presents. Parkman wrote that Pontiac’s first documented appearance was three years later when he greeted Major Rogers on the southern shores of Lake Erie as Rogers was headed west to receive the surrender of Fort Detroit. Rogers’s original journal makes no mention of the encounter, and Parkman chose to recount the version given in Rogers’s later writings, which seems to have been Rogers’s embellishment after Pontiac had become well known.3

Whatever his earlier activities, by the fall of 1762 Pontiac was chafing under Amherst’s “no gifts” policy and clearly held some measure of influence among the Ottawa, Huron, Potowatomie, and Chippewa in the vicinity of Detroit. Parkman’s assertion that Pontiac “sent out ambassadors to the different nations” calling for concerted strikes against all British posts the following spring is, however, an inflation of his role. For one thing, the Seneca were already well into preparations for an attack against Fort Niagara on their own. Indeed, even among Pontiac’s own Ottawa, there had been dissension, and the Ottawa whom Major Rogers encountered on Lake Erie were a pro-British faction that had abandoned the Detroit villages.

But it is also clear that Pontiac’s zeal to defend both his homeland and the now lost French cause made him a powerful voice in the western Great Lakes country. His rhetoric, delivered by beads of wampum, probably urged attacks against British posts in western Ohio, Indiana, and southern Michigan in the spring of 1763. On May 16, tiny Fort Sandusky on Lake Erie became the first British post to fall when neighboring Huron captured its commander by deception and killed its fifteen-man garrison. The attackers also killed a number of merchants and made off with their trade goods. Garrisons of similar size at Fort Saint Joseph (present-day Niles, Michigan), Fort Miami (present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana), and Fort Ouiatenon (present-day Layfayette, Indiana, on the Wabash River) fell to similar attacks.

Then on June 2, a band of Chippewa—who, like the Seneca, appear to have been acting independently—staged an enthusiastic lacrosse game outside Fort Michilimackinac at the Straits of Mackinac. The heretofore friendly Chippewa whooped and hollered and made a great show. Soldiers and officers alike from the thirty-five-man garrison gathered outside the open fort gates to watch. As the game progressed, Chippewa squaws casually sauntered into the fort with weapons hidden under their blankets. When an apparently errant shot sent the leather ball sailing over the fort walls, the warriors ran through the gates and followed the play. Once inside, they grabbed the hidden weapons and proceeded to slaughter nearly the entire British garrison. French traders at the post were not harmed.

To the east, Delaware and Shawnee warriors attacked settlements on the Monongahela and later laid siege to Fort Pitt. Seneca spread similar terror on the Allegheny; captured the smaller forts of Venango, Le Boeuf, and Presque Isle; and threatened to lay siege to Fort Niagara. In one month, the vaunted British military presence had almost disappeared west of the Appalachians. That left Fort Detroit.4

Regardless his role in the larger strategy, it made sense that Pontiac should concentrate his individual efforts against Fort Detroit. Not only was Fort Detroit in his immediate locale, it was also the hub of several smaller posts stretching from the Wabash north to Michilimackinac. Only Fort Niagara and Fort Pitt were of greater strategic value to the British west of the Appalachians.

Fort Detroit’s commander was Major Henry Gladwin. Pontiac’s presence at the Monongahela against Braddock might be open to question, but Gladwin had the scars to show that he had been there as a young lieutenant. Subsequently, he had acquitted himself well in Gage’s newly raised light infantry regiment and served with Amherst’s advance against Montreal. Amherst dispatched Gladwin westward in the summer of 1761 to assume command at Detroit and see to the permanent garrisoning of the other posts.

On the afternoon of Sunday, May 1, 1763, Pontiac and forty or fifty of his best warriors appeared at the east gate of Fort Detroit. Gladwin treated them cordially, if somewhat cautiously, and the visitors undoubtedly used the occasion to reconnoiter the garrison under the guise of a ceremonial dance. Four days later, Pontiac held a war council with his own Ottawa and neighboring Huron and Potawatomi. The result was a plan whereby Pontiac would enter the fort in friendship with sixty warriors carrying hidden weapons. Other warriors would surround the fort and cut it off from any nearby reinforcements. When Pontiac gave the signal, bedlam would ensue and Gladwin’s soldiers would be caught by surprise.

But there were flaws in Pontiac’s plan. First, Fort Detroit held a much larger garrison than those smaller posts soon to be captured by similar ruses. Exact figures are unknown, but estimates suggest that it numbered about 120. Second, Major Gladwin was no dupe and after eight years in North American campaigns may well have suspected something amiss. Finally, there was the matter of an informant. At some point, Gladwin learned of Pontiac’s planned deception.

Just who the informant was has long been one of history’s little mysteries. Gladwin himself acknowledged the existence of such a source in his subsequent report to Amherst, saying, “I was luckily informed the night before” of the scheme. In one of the most romanticized versions, an Indian princess is in love with Gladwin and warns him. In other versions there are informers from among the locals—both Indians and French—as well as English traders who may have stumbled on the plan. In fact, Gladwin may have had more than one informant, and he would have been less than the officer he was if he had not suspected something on his own.

So, when Pontiac and his warriors entered the fort on May 7, 1763, they were the ones to be surprised. Gladwin’s little garrison was turned out and fully armed on the parade ground. Gladwin still greeted his guest cordially, but Pontiac knew that his ruse would not work and retreated. The following day, he returned with only three Ottawa chiefs and attempted to dissuade Gladwin from believing in any ulterior motives. Tomorrow, Pontiac told Gladwin, he would return with all of his warriors to show their respect. Pontiac may have felt that the guile worked, but Gladwin simply doubled his guard.

The next day, May 9, Pontiac led a flotilla of sixty-five canoes from the Ottawa town on the eastern side of the Detroit River. When he found the fort’s gates closed and learned that Gladwin would permit only a few of his chiefs to accompany him inside, Pontiac at last knew that more than guile would be needed to carry Fort Detroit. Enraged, he returned to his village and divided his forces into raiding parties. If the fort could not be taken by ruse, he would destroy all the settlers around it and cut off any reinforcement. The first settlers to be killed were a Mrs. Turnbull and her two sons, who lived in a farmhouse about a mile from the fort.5

For the next two and a half months, a state of siege existed at Fort Detroit and its environs. This was certainly not the classic European siege involving trench warfare that had enveloped Fort William Henry and Louisbourg. Rather, it was a game of cat and mouse, in which Pontiac’s warriors maintained a deadly encirclement and frequently pounced on parties that dared to sortie from the fort for reconnaissance or supplies.

Most dramatically, a force of almost 100 men bound for Fort Detroit was caught unaware of the hostilities and cut to pieces near the mouth of the Detroit River. But this had little strategic effect on Gladwin’s well-stocked garrison. Through the summer, Pontiac failed to draw the noose tighter and refrained from a frontal assault. Such an assault might well have taken the fort, but at a loss of life to the Ottawa and their allies that would have been unacceptable in Indian warfare. For his part, Gladwin used two vessels in the Detroit River to bombard the Ottawa camp.

All this changed on the morning of July 28, when British sentries heard gunfire coming from the Huron camp downriver. At first, Gladwin suspected that Pontiac was finally beginning a major frontal assault. A dozen volunteers slipped out of the water gate of the fort and quietly paddled off in a bateau to reconnoiter the threat.

The river was cloaked in a thick fog, and the sounds of a large flotilla coming upriver could be heard long before anything was visible. Suddenly, one small vessel emerged from the fog, and then another and another. But these were not Pontiac’s war canoes. Instead, they proved to be a fleet of bateaux, twenty-two in all, filled with red-coated British soldiers. Under the command of Captain James Dalyell, a reinforcement of 260 men—more than double the number of Major Gladwin’s beleaguered garrison and including a contingent of rangers commanded by Robert Rogers himself—had reached Detroit. As the rising sun broke through the fog, the soldiers lining the walls of the fort raised a hearty cheer of welcome.

But increased numbers would not necessarily increase tactical acumen. Captain Dalyell was not cut from the same cloth as Major Gladwin, although his credentials were similar. Dalyell had entered service in North America in 1756 as a young lieutenant with the Royal Americans. Like Gladwin, Dalyell served with Gage’s Eightieth Regiment of Light Infantry and by now should have been well versed in wilderness warfare.

But Dalyell had ambitions that had carried him into Amherst’s inner circle as an aide-de-camp. Well aware of the general’s increasing frustration with the news coming from the west, Dalyell saw the mission to relieve Fort Detroit and crush Pontiac as a way to promotion and greater glory. After arriving at Fort Detroit and resting his men for only two days, Dalyell urged an immediate attack on Pontiac’s most recent encampment two miles to the north.

Nominally, of course, Major Gladwin remained in command of Fort Detroit. Gladwin strongly opposed such an offensive operation, preferring to let the dwindling summer wear out the patience of Pontiac’s Huron and Potowatomi allies—some of whom were already showing signs of defection. But Dalyell flaunted his close ties to Amherst and insisted on an attack in force. At last Gladwin relented and approved a sortie in which Dalyell led most of the men he had brought with him. Major Rogers, who should have either known better or led the whole assault himself, went with the force.

In the early hours of July 31, 1763, Dalyell and his troops moved out of the east gate of Fort Detroit and marched two abreast up the river road toward Pontiac’s camp. Two bateaux, each mounted with a swivel gun, shadowed the column from the river. A mile and a half from the fort, the long line formed into platoons with advance and rear guards, but the force was still spread out in a long column as it approached a narrow wooden bridge over Parent’s Creek. Such a form of advance shows how little some British regulars—Dalyell most of all—had learned since Braddock’s defeat. One can only wonder what Rogers thought of it.

Pontiac, of course, was hardly caught by surprise. Instead, he had assembled more than 400 warriors—mostly Ottawa and Chippewa—and divided them into two groups. Two hundred fifty warriors watched silently from the woods, and as Dalyell’s column passed by, they positioned themselves across the road to cut off its retreat back to the fort. Pontiac and 160 others hid themselves in a semicircle on the far side of the bridge. Pontiac’s strategy was clearly to surround and annihilate as many of his enemies as possible.

Inexplicably, Dalyell’s advance guard “tramped noisily over the planks” and then were hit by a hail of musket fire from the concealed warriors. As the advance guard crumpled, the main body, consisting of several hundred troops, was exposed to a withering fire from three sides, reminiscent of that day on the Monongahela. What on earth had Dalyell been thinking? Now, sounds from the rear of his force indicated that he was surrounded. At the first sound of the ambush, only Major Rogers had the presence of mind to scurry some of his rangers to the protection of a nearby farmhouse and effectively turn it into a blockhouse from which to anchor one flank.

As the moonlight slowly turned to dawn, a furious battle continued. Dalyell, though fighting bravely, seemed uncertain whether to press forward or fight a retreat back to Fort Detroit. Finally, he chose the latter and personally led a charge to drive through the warriors blocking the escape route back to the fort. The effort cost Dalyell his life, but saved what remained of his troops.

With Rogers covering the retreat from his improvised blockhouse and then falling back himself, the tattered force stumbled back to Fort Detroit. Dalyell and nineteen men were dead and at least forty others wounded. Pontiac’s losses are unknown but are said to have been seven killed and a dozen wounded. Several of the dead British soldiers fell into Parent’s Creek and turned its waters red with their blood. Henceforth, the stream has been known as Bloody Run.

Despite Dalyell’s tactical blunder, the battle of Bloody Run was hardly a great strategic victory for Pontiac. First, he had failed to annihilate the British force, and as a result Gladwin’s garrison stood greatly reinforced. A week later, the schooner Huron arrived with sixty more men and eighty barrels of provisions. Clearly, Fort Detroit still stood firm. Absent a frontal attack, which Pontiac had refused to make even when he held overwhelming superiority, there was no alternative but to continue his loosely enveloping siege.6

Meanwhile, a veteran of Forbes’s Road, Colonel Henry Bouquet, was marching to the relief of Fort Pitt. He had been in Philadelphia arranging for supplies when he first received reports of trouble not only at the forks but also as far east as Fort Bedford at Raystown. Bouquet was certainly well acquainted with the logistics of the supply line between Philadelphia and Fort Pitt, as well as the internal politics of the Pennsylvania legislature, which now once again spent crucial weeks debating the merits of raising provincial companies to aid in the campaign.

Finally, it was with two decidedly understrength regiments of Highlanders, a battalion of Royal Americans, and a company of rangers—some 460 men—that Bouquet marched west from Carlisle on July 18, 1763, without Pennsylvania troops. “Though I feel myself utterly abandoned by the very people I am ordered to protect,” wrote Bouquet, “I shall do my utmost to save them from destruction.”7

And destruction was what Amherst had told Bouquet to visit on his foes. The commander in chief was already frustrated by his lengthy stay in North America, and his normally calm demeanor rapidly turned to impatience and then rage as reports of the fall of one post after another streamed into his headquarters in New York. Take no prisoners, Amherst advised Bouquet, only to learn from Bouquet in return that Le Boeuf, Venango, and Presque Isle had also fallen.

Then, Amherst made an even more startling suggestion to his field commander. “Could it not be contrived,” the general asked, “to send the small pox among the disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every strategem in our power to reduce them.” Bouquet replied that he would do so, and there is evidence that blankets infected with smallpox were distributed to Indians in parleys at Fort Pitt even before Bouquet’s relief force arrived.8

What level of enthusiasm Bouquet, always the good soldier, brought to this tactic is open to question, in part because Bouquet had issued orders supporting the Treaty of Easton and prohibiting certain settlements even before the Proclamation of 1763. Fortunately for Amherst, Bouquet’s strict sense of duty in this regard also made him immune to certain temptations of the frontier. Bouquet flatly rejected an offer of 25,000 acres from the Ohio Company—an outright bribe—if he would overlook the establishment of certain settlements on the Ohio by families from Virginia and Maryland.9

Leaving some of his small force to strengthen the garrison at Fort Bedford, Bouquet moved westward to Fort Ligonier. Here, there was no recent news from beleaguered Fort Pitt, only forty miles away. In fact, the last week of July had seen a ferocious attack against Fort Pitt that had tried to take it by storm. Not only was this frontal attack in contrast to the tactics Pontiac was applying at Detroit, but the siege of Fort Pitt was also a much tighter noose. By August 1, the Delaware and Shawnee attackers had dug rifle pits along the river and were sniping at soldiers on the parapets.

Having no firm intelligence of this but nonetheless surmising Pitt’s plight, Bouquet elected to leave his heavy wagons and ammunition train at Fort Ligonier and hurry toward the forks with 300 men and 340 horses loaded with flour. At first glance, it seemed a move similar to Braddock’s division of command and hasty rush forward eight years before. Fort Pitt’s attackers heard of Bouquet’s advance and broke off their siege to lay an ambush for his column about twenty miles west of Fort Ligonier on the hills above a small stream called Bushy Run.

On the afternoon of August 4, 1763, Delaware and Shawnee warriors attacked the advance units of Bouquet’s command. Sensing far more than a skirmish, the colonel deployed his troops into a circle and ordered them to use the heavy flour sacks for cover. All spent a generally unpleasant night. The following morning, the attack was renewed with increased vigor, but far from feeling surrounded, the seasoned Bouquet had a trick or two up his sleeve. He ordered two companies of light infantry to fall back from their position at the head of his circled position. Thinking it was a retreat, the Delaware and Shawnee followed them.

The Indian attackers were quickly counterattacked as planned by musket volleys on both sides and a deadly bayonet charge. Those warriors who escaped the circle retreated in confusion, leaving among their dead the Delaware chief Tesekumme, who had been their chief negotiator. Five days later, Bouquet and his men marched into Fort Pitt badly battered but unopposed. The power of the Ohio Indians was far from destroyed, but Fort Pitt would remain in British hands for the coming winter.10

As it turned out, Fort Detroit, too, would remain in British hands. “The enemy are masters of the country, the season far advanced,” Gladwin reported to Amherst early in October, “not a stick of fire wood in the garrison, and but little provisions.” But Pontiac was also short of supplies. As the autumn days grew shorter, more and more of his warriors slipped away to hunt and prepare for the winter. Finally, the Ottawa chief gave up the siege of Detroit and went south himself.11

So it was that as the year 1763 ended, the British found themselves with a tenuous grip on the Great Lakes country, and the pivotal posts of Niagara, Pitt, and Detroit. By the following spring, Jeffery Amherst was finally back in England, but Thomas Gage would carry out his former superior’s charge to strike firmly against all Indians who had dared to defy him. Sir William Johnson convened a peace conference at Fort Niagara in July 1764; and then the old bateau man John Bradstreet, now a major general, led a force of 1,400 west to reinforce Detroit.

Meanwhile, the stalwart Henry Bouquet embarked with 1,500 men—including the long-awaited Pennsylvania provincials—on a similar mission west from Fort Pitt. Leaving on October 3, 1764, incredibly late in the season, Bouquet circled through what is now southern Ohio and momentarily established peace with the Ohio Indians under threat of burning their villages. “We have visibly brought upon us this Indian war by being too saving of a few presents to the savages which properly distributed would certainly have prevented it,” Bouquet reported to Gage. But nothing could prevent the rush of westward expansion into the vast lands called an “Indian reserve.” This unresolved matter, as well as Bradstreet’s and Bouquet’s expeditions of 1764, were far more a prelude to the next era than a conclusion to the previous one.12

Whether one characterizes the Indian attacks of 1763 as a grand conspiracy or—more nobly—part of a Native American war for independence, armed conflicts between Indians and European settlers would continue in North America until a place called Wounded Knee, a century and a quarter later. France, Great Britain, and Spain might fight over the continent and decree its ownership among themselves, but in hindsight there can be little doubt who were the real losers in the French and Indian War.

But if Native Americans were disgruntled in the wake of the war, colonials in the thirteen colonies—seventeen colonies if one counted Nova Scotia and the new additions of East and West Florida and Quebec—soon found that they had their own reasons to be disgruntled. The presence of British regulars actually increased after the war, and their quartering in private homes when there was no impending threat became a source of contention. Taxes were levied—without representation—to pay for the costs of William Pitt’s global war. Most grating of all, being forced to pay for his majesty’s conquests, the colonials were now denied a share in the rewards by the prohibition of settlement west of the Appalachians. In some respects, it was almost worse than if they were still encircled by the French.

In the end, there was one more casualty of the war. In the spring of 1758, as Jeffery Amherst hastened to Louisbourg to do William Pitt’s bidding, Pitt had assured him that he could return to England as soon as practical. But there had always been some exigency to prevent it. Finally, in the fall of 1763—five and a half years after Amherst had left his wife and home in England—the general received permission to return “as soon as the Indian uprising was disposed of.” Such a disposition would prove subjective, of course, but in November 1763, Major General Jeffery Amherst made the determination that it was over and embarked for England, turning over his position as commander in chief of British forces in North America to Thomas Gage, now a major general.

Amherst had definitely overstayed his welcome in North America, but what he found in England was both personally and professionally devastating. His beloved wife, Jane, had gone insane during his long absence and would die within a few months. His country estate at Riverhead was a shambles. Halfheartedly, he soon razed it to build a house nearby called Montreal, but this gave him little solace. Professionally, there were no accolades, no parades, no parliamentary testimonials such as had greeted the coffin of his young protégé, James Wolfe. “A new king was on the throne, a new ministry in power, and Amherst’s brilliant victories of 1759 and 1760 belonged to a war now ended. Instead, the Indian revolt in the West was in the news, and Amherst was pointed out as the general who had failed to subdue it.”13

Writing to a close friend, Amherst confessed, “I may tell you for your own information only, that I have no thought of returning to America.” Fifteen years later, George III summoned Amherst to Saint James Palace. The king’s North American colonies were in revolt. “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne had just lost one British army at Saratoga and Lord William Howe, who had once led the way for Wolfe onto the Plains of Abraham, was bottled up in Philadelphia with another. Once again, Amherst’s king appointed him commander in chief of British forces in North America. This time, Jeffery Amherst politely but firmly declined.14