Pontiac’s War and the Paxton Boys by Andrew Hart
October 13, 2010, 6:45 pm
Filed under: history

In 1763, a bunch of American Indians were annoyed at British General Jeffrey Amherst (of namesake college fame; he had previously risen to prominence during the French and Indian Wars as the primary British assault leader on the fort at Louisbourg).  Amherst limited the number of gifts that the British gave Native Americans and strictly regulated the amount of gunpowder that the Brits sold to them.

These policies led to tension that boiled over into war.  The tribes that fought against the British were largely divided into three groups: those in the Great Lakes regions, which was known then as the “pays d’haut” or “Upper Country,” which included the Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Huron; those in Illinois Country, like the Miami and Kickapoo; and those in Ohio Country, like the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo.  Pontiac was a Huron chief.  The Iroquois Confederation, which was allied with the British in the Covenant Chain, largely did not participate.

The war began when Pontiac convinced a number of warriors from the Upper Country to besiege Fort Detroit, which was located at the present-day location of its namesake Michigan city.  The Brits learned of the plans and repelled the attack, but failed to consolidate their victory in the ensuing Battle of Bloody Run, which was a triumph for Pontiac.

After Pontiac escaped British hands at Bloody Run, he urged his followers to attack smaller forts.  Forts Sandusky, St. Joseph, Miami, and Ouiatenon, all in present-day northern Ohio, fell.  In Ohio Country, Forts Presque Isle, Le Boeuf, and Venango all fell.  In far northern Michigan, Pontiac’s troops controlled the ridiculously named Fort Michilimackinac.

Shawnee attacking Fort Pitt encountered substantial resistance and besieged the stronghold.  An outbreak of smallpox among the besieged inhabitants of the fort gave Amherst and British Colonel Henry Bouquet and  the idea of using the smallpox-blanket strategy to ethnically cleanse the American Indian populace.  While evidence suggests that Amherst did attempt to wipe out populaces of both hostile and neutral Native American populaces, it is not clear whether it worked.

The Indian troops broke off the Siege of Fort Pitt to intercept a group of Colonel Bouquet’s forces in what came to be the Battle of Bushy Run.  Bouquet won a decisive victory.

Just over a month later, a force of Indian warriors attacked a supply train along the Niagara Falls portage, and then routed two companies sent from Fort Niagara.  Around seventy traders and troops were killed in this so-called Devil’s Hole Massacre.

Sometime during the winter of 1763, a group of men around the area of Paxton, in western Pennsylvania, decided that the British and colonial governments weren’t doing enough to ensure their safety.  So they took “justice” into their own hands, forming the “Paxton Boys” vigilante group.  Much to the chagrin of governor John Penn and noted Pennsylvanian Benjamin Franklin, the Paxton Boys massacred twenty Susquehannocks, fourteen of whom were in jail in protective custody.

In the summer of 1763, Amherst was replaced in command with Major General Thomas Gage.  Gage secured the Treaty of Fort Niagara with some of the warring Senecas, and proceeded to order two expeditions to combat Pontiac, led by Bouquet and John Bradstreet.

Bradstreet negotiated a treaty at Presque Isle that greatly angered both Gage and Bouquet because of the unilateral liberties that Bradstreet took in coming up with it.  Bradstreet also chopped up a peace belt before negotiations, which disgusted most of the Native American negotiators.

Eventually, Pontiac signed a treaty with the British at Fort Ontario, which concluded the war without any cessions or territorial changes.  The British decided that the war signaled that colonial and native populaces should be kept apart, and thus issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 in the aftermath of the war.  The Proclamation forbade pioneers from moving past the Appalachian Mountains, and would set the stage for future violence.


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