Chief Pontiac

Chief Pontiac was born in the early 1720s in present-day Ohio. His father was a member of the Ottawa Indians, and his mother was Chippewa. He had numerous friends among both tribes. Very little is known of his childhood, but Pontiac's widespread fame began when he became chief of the Ottawas at age thirty-five.

Indian leaders like Chief Pontiac opposed British settlement. He hoped to rid Indian land of the English, saying that "these dogs dressed in red have come to rob you of your hunting grounds and drive away the game." A great council was held near Detroit on 27 April, 1763, when Pontiac gave a speech in which the indignities that the Indians had suffered at the hands of the English were recounted. He also reminded them of tradition. Pontiac believed that his race must return to the customs and weapons of their ancestors, throw away the implements they had acquired from the white man, abstain from whiskey, and take up the hatchet against the English.

Pontiac brought together many tribes and organized a series of attacks now known as Pontiac's Rebellion or Pontiac's Conspiracy. In 1762 he sent messengers with a red stained tomahawk and a wampum war belt, who visited every tribe between the Ottawa and the lower Mississippi, all who joined in the conspiracy. Each tribe was to dispose of the garrison at the nearest fort, and then all were to attack the settlements. But the plot was disclosed to the commander of the post by an Indian girl, and to his surprise Pontiac found the garrison well-prepared. The British held out for months, and finally Pontiac surrendered. Pontiac’s rebellion was put down.

After a truce the next year, the conflict was over, but only temporarily. The failure of Pontiac's rebellion marked the end of the Algonquian Confederacy. After the failure to capture Fort Detroit in 1763, Pontiac withdrew to the Illinois Country, where he continued to encourage resistance. Although the British had successfully quieted the uprising in the Ohio Country, British military dominance was tenuous, and they decided to negotiate with the chief. Pontiac met with the British superintendent of Indian affairs Sir William Johnson on July 25, 1766, at Oswego, New York, and formally ended all hostilities.

Even though Pontiac's conspiracy failed in its main goal, it still managed to boast the capture and destruction of eight out of the twelve fortified posts that were attacked. It had also destroyed several costly English expeditions, and had carried terror into some of the most fertile valleys on the frontiers of civilization. In 1769 a Kaskaskia Indian, who was offered a bribe of liquor and additional reward, followed Pontiac into the forest near Cahokia and murdered him there. Various rumors quickly spread about Pontiac's death, including one that the British had hired his assassin. Pontiac's burial place is unknown, and may have been at Cahokia, but evidence and tradition tells us that he was buried in St. Louis.

Under Pontiac's leadership, the Algonquian-speaking tribes of the Northwest formed a league similar to the Iroquois Confederacy. Pontiac became famous for his role in Pontiac's Rebellion, although some historians disagree about Pontiac's importance in the war that bears his name. Nineteenth century accounts portrayed him as the mastermind and leader of the revolt, while other interpretations have depicted him as a local leader with limited overall influence. The city of Pontiac, Michigan was named for him, as well as the town of Pontiac, Illinois and a region/municipality bordering the Ottawa River in the province of Quebec. Pontiac was also the name of a popular General Motors automobile brand. Chief Pontiac may not have had the most influence in battle, but he helped stir the hearts of his people and was a great influential Indian leader in the Woodlands region.

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