Skip to Main Content

Pontiac’s Rebellion

Written by: Bill of Rights Institute

By the end of this section, you will:

  • Explain the causes and effects of the Seven Years’ War (the French and Indian War)

Suggested Sequencing

Use this Narrative at the beginning of Chapter 3 to discuss American Indians’ issues with British policies.

In February 1763, delegates from Great Britain, France, and other European nations signed the Peace of 1763 in Paris, ending what was termed the French and Indian War in North America and the Seven Years’ War in Europe. France lost to Britain both Canada and all of its North American territory east of the Mississippi River except New Orleans. The British also gained Florida from the Spanish. However, trouble was brewing on the frontier.

American Indians, most of whom had fought with the French against the British, now began to distance themselves from alliances with Europeans. They wished to drive out colonial settlers who had moved west for land. The British invited hostility when General Jeffrey Amherst decided to reduce gifts to the Indians; these had been a traditional sign of friendship. Most important, the visions of the Delaware prophet Neolin had inspired pan-Indian unity, encouraging American Indians to expel British colonists and soldiers from their lands.

Neolin preached that the Indian nations must stop trading with Europeans, reject all their goods (including weapons), and return to traditional ways. United around the common purpose of expelling the hated British and colonial settlers in the Midwest, American Indians targeted the string of British forts around the Great Lakes in a series of attacks during the spring of 1763. On May 1, the Ottawa chief Pontiac and fifty Indian warriors entered the imposing Fort Detroit, garrisoned by 120 heavily armed British soldiers. The Ottawa men performed a ceremonial dance under the wary gaze of the fort commander, Major Henry Gladwin. Gladwin was right to be suspicious, because the performers were collecting intelligence about the strength of the defenses.

Four days later, Pontiac held a war council with other leaders of the Ottawa, Huron, and Potawatomi tribes, laying a strategy to seize Fort Detroit as part of a general uprising, later known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, against the British and their colonists.

An engraving shows Pontiac speaking to his war council. They sit in a circle around him in the forest.

No contemporary images of Pontiac are known to exist. In this nineteenth-century engraving by Alfred Bobbett, Pontiac urges members of the war council to revolt against the British.

On May 7, Pontiac led his warriors back to the fort armed with hidden weapons. However, an Indian informer had told Gladwin of the impending attack, and the redcoats (so named for the bright red of their uniforms) were armed and ready. Pontiac wisely withdrew and returned the following day with three Ottawa chiefs and a false pledge of peace.

Pontiac and his warriors rowed scores of canoes along the Detroit River and prepared to assault Fort Detroit the next day. The British had sealed it and prepared for a siege. The Indians killed and captured outlying settlers and blockaded the flow of reinforcements and supplies. Pontiac’s force steadily grew to nine hundred warriors, and they killed nearly one hundred British soldiers who were part of a resupply force approaching the fort.

In late May and early June, different groups of Indians assaulted and took several forts along the Great Lakes. At Fort Sandusky on Lake Erie, Huron warriors killed fifteen soldiers and several merchants. At Fort Michilimackinac in Michigan, Chippewa warriors pretended to play lacrosse while friendly Indian women entered the fort with concealed weapons. At one point as the men played, the ball was hurled over the walls of the fort. The warriors pretended to continue their game, running into the fort to retrieve the ball. The distracted guards failed to notice the warriors grabbing weapons as they entered. Soon the thirty-five-man garrison was dead.

A 1775 map of the Great Lakes, showing from left to right

After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, control of the land around the Great Lakes passed from France to Britain. In the spring of 1763, Pontiac and his allies began attacking key forts in the region.

The British responded with equal fervor. General Amherst told his field commanders to make every effort “that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.” He even suggested spreading smallpox among the tribes. Captain Simeon Ecuyer commanded five hundred soldiers at Fort Pitt and gave some parleying American Indians gifts, including blankets from the hospital that might have been infected with smallpox.

On a humid July morning, the Detroit garrison heard the enemy approaching from downriver, and a dozen scouts went to investigate the size of Pontiac’s force. The redcoats quietly paddled through a dense fog but could not clearly make out the Indians they feared were there. As the two sides approached each other and the scouts gripped their weapons, the men from the fort breathed a sigh of relief when they discovered approximately two hundred fifty British reinforcements under the command of Major James Dalyell.

After only two days, the fort’s gates were raised and Dalyell marched his redcoats out in a long column toward Pontiac’s camp. Pontiac divided his four hundred warriors into two groups: One ambushed the front of the column in a semicircle, while the other blocked a British retreat. The British column crumpled under the enemy’s fire. The two sides battled each other in the darkness until, at dawn, the British fought their way back to the safety of the fort. They had suffered fifty casualties and nearly one hundred men had been captured. Dalyell himself was killed in action and his body mutilated. American Indians surrounded the fort, but they did not have the weapons necessary to maintain a traditional European siege. As a result, in August, the British were able to reinforce the fort with sixty more soldiers and eighty barrels of flour.

On August 4, Delaware and Shawnee warriors besieged Fort Pitt at the forks of the Ohio River in modern-day Pittsburgh. Hearing a relief column was on its way, the warriors quietly broke the siege and slipped through the woods to set an ambush. When the two tribes gave war whoops and fired their muskets into the approaching column, Colonel Henry Bouquet arranged his four hundred sixty redcoats into a defensive circle around their bulky provisions. They fought under the blistering heat of the day and through the night. During the morning, part of the British force appeared to withdraw, but it was only a feint. The Delaware and Shawnee warriors fell for the ruse and followed. The British battered the enemy with several volleys and a bayonet charge. The two tribes lost many warriors, including a Delaware chief, and retreated. The British limped into Fort Pitt a few days later.

Eventually, Pontiac and his people broke off the siege at Fort Detroit to hunt in preparation for the upcoming winter. The British continued to hold Forts Detroit and Pitt, but the American Indians successfully attacked Fort Niagara and prevented additional reinforcements and supplies from reaching the fort. Sir William Johnson convened a peace conference at Fort Niagara the following summer, promising the Six Nations control over the Ohio country and some rival tribes. Colonel Bouquet and fifteen hundred soldiers marched into the Ohio country as a show of force to compel the American Indians to accept the offer. Pontiac’s Rebellion had failed to achieve its objective, although it did win the Indians a brief reprieve from further intrusion into the frontier.

In October, the British government sought to end the conflict once and for all. The king approved the Royal Proclamation of 1763, reserving the territory stretching from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River for the American Indian tribes. To prevent further bloodshed and costly wars on the frontier, colonists were banned from crossing the new boundary line, which followed the crest of the Appalachians from north of Maine all the way south to Georgia. The British stationed ten thousand troops on this frontier to enforce the proclamation.

Some colonists saw the proclamation line as a betrayal. Many had sacrificed their homes, husbands, and sons in the 1754-1763 war against France and its Indian allies. They also considered the line early proof of British tyranny and viewed the standing army on North American territory as a threat to their traditional rights as Englishmen. Land speculators were equally concerned about their investments and right to property. Backwoods settlers simply ignored the edict and squatted on western territory. Meanwhile, the British were deeply in debt and began considering ways to tax the colonists to pay for the army.

Review Questions

1. Which of the following is true about the American Indian warriors during Pontiac’s Rebellion?

  1. American Indians changed their fighting tactics to match those of the trained British, fighting in organized lines and groups.
  2. American Indians were heavily outnumbered because many British troops had remained stationed in the West after the recent end of the Seven Years’ War.
  3. American Indians used guerrilla war tactics to defeat the organized British troops.
  4. American Indians avoided British forts and fought only in the wilderness.

2. Which of the following best describes the effects of the Royal Proclamation of 1763?

  1. It forbade colonists from settling too far from British control along the frontier.
  2. It reserved a portion of the British colonial landholdings for American Indians, to prevent future conflict.
  3. It set in motion the colonial desire to eradicate all American Indians from British lands.
  4. It served as a peace treaty between France and Britain, ultimately ending the French and Indian War.

3. Which of the following best describes the context of Pontiac’s Rebellion?

  1. The colonists were upset about the taxes levied on them by the British Parliament.
  2. The American Indians were worried about the consequences of their allies, the French, being forced from the area as a result of the imperial war.
  3. Frontier settlers were unhappy with their lack of representation in coastal governments.
  4. Increased communication between settlers in different colonies prompted them to launch an offensive attack on American Indian groups in the Ohio River Valley.

4. One reason Pontiac’s Rebellion was initially successful was

  1. Chief Pontiac allied with multiple American Indian groups to resist British encroachment
  2. British popular support at home was very low for the continued use of force in the Americas
  3. the redcoats remained very well organized and trained, resulting in an unbeatable military force
  4. American Indian groups targeted settlements that were well fortified and highly populated

5. Which of the following did not occur during Pontiac’s Rebellion?

  1. The British government hoped to settle the conflict by restricting colonists’ westward movement.
  2. American Indian groups used guerilla tactics to resist the highly trained British military.
  3. American Indian tribes made alliances based on local needs and circumstances, not necessarily a unified identity.
  4. Europeans generally treated the American Indians with respect for their personal beliefs and culture.

6. What was the British colonial reaction to the Proclamation Line?

  1. Many felt the British had sided with American Indians and did not recognize the needs of the British colonists.
  2. Colonists were willing to adhere to the law and fully respected the authority of the British government.
  3. The influx of British redcoats made the colonists feel safe and secure in their frontier settlements.
  4. Most wanted to ally with American Indian groups and were frustrated by this prohibiting of advancement and communication

7. Which of the following was the primary method of warfare during Pontiac’s Rebellion?

  1. British and American Indian groups advanced toward each other on open battlefields.
  2. American Indians took temporary control of British outposts throughout the Ohio River Valley.
  3. Naval warfare on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers pitted canoes against frigates.
  4. Honorable rules of war ensured fair treatment of captives, and a cordial relationship was cultivated.

Free Response Questions

  1. Briefly describe the relationship between the Seven Years’ War and Pontiac’s Rebellion. How are the two events connected?
  2. Should Pontiac’s Rebellion be considered a “rebellion,” as it is known by most historians today? Justify your answer, and if you believe it should not be called a “rebellion,” propose a new name for this event.
  3. Was the Royal Proclamation of 1763 a fair settlement of American Indians’ grievances that led to Pontiac’s Rebellion? Explain your reasoning.
  4. How could the Royal Proclamation of 1763 lead to future problems in the British colonies? Provide specific examples in your response.

AP Practice Questions

A map that shows the vertical line drawn from Lake Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico by the Royal Proclamation of 1763. On the left of the line is the label

The line drawn by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 from Lake Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico is known as the Proclamation Line of 1763.

Refer to the map provided.

1. The Proclamation Line of 1763

  1. expanded the size of the British colonies in North America
  2. cut the colonists off from land that had previously been open to settlement
  3. forced American Indians to move beyond the Mississippi River
  4. gave up all the gains the British had acquired from the French and Indian War

2. Which of the following is true about the settlement of the area west of the line established by the Proclamation of 1763 after Pontiac’s Rebellion?

  1. Colonists began to settle in the area because it was now British territory.
  2. Colonists fled the territory because the land was now entirely reserved for American Indians.
  3. American Indians were removed from all British colonies and forced to move onto this land.
  4. Colonists who had previously settled in this land refused to leave, creating more tension within the British colonies.

3. Which of the following best describes the significance of Pontiac’s Rebellion and its connection with the Proclamation of 1763?

  1. The establishment of the proclamation line created animosity between the British government and colonists.
  2. Pontiac’s Rebellion demonstrated the inability of the British soldiers to drive all French influence from such a vast territory.
  3. British and colonial American soldiers learned new war tactics from the guerilla-style fighting of this conflict.
  4. More than any other event, Pontiac’s Rebellion demonstrated the ongoing conflict among the French, American Indians, and the British after the Seven Years’ War.

“It is important for us my brothers that we exterminate from our land this nation which only seeks to kill us. . . . When I go to the English chief to tell him that some of our comrades are dead . . . he makes fun of me and you. When I ask him for something for our sick, he refuses, and tells me he has no need of us. You can well see by that that he seeks our ruin. . . . There is no more time to lose, and when the English shall be defeated . . . we shall cut off the passage so that they cannot come back to our country.”

Pontiac, Ottawa Chief, May 1763

Refer to the excerpt provided.

4. One important consequence of the belief expressed in the excerpt was

  1. slaves from the colonies escaped to Maroon Communities in the West
  2. American Indian tribes allied with each other to try to defeat the British
  3. women came to the defense of Pontiac and donated family money to his cause
  4. negotiations were opened with Colonists and violent conflict was avoided

5. The sentiments expressed in the excerpt provided most directly caused which of the following events?

  1. The American Revolution was fought shortly thereafter against the American Indian tribes in the Ohio River Valley.
  2. The French and Indian War was fought in competition for the territory west of the Mississippi.
  3. An uprising of American Indians challenged British frontier forces and resulted in concessions that angered the colonists.
  4. King Philip’s War was fought in New England to resist the encroachment and cruelty of British colonists.

6. Which of the following events in U.S. history is most similar to the excerpt provided?

  1. Vesey’s Rebellion pitted free and enslaved peoples against white families in a southern city.
  2. The Bread Riots highlighted the lack of supplies during war available to families and created chaos and violence.
  3. The Battle of Tippecanoe pitted U.S. citizens against the Shawnee tribe over the Indiana territory.
  4. The Seneca Falls Convention promoted the rights of women despite an oppressive society.

Primary Sources

Pontiac Calls for War, 1763.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763. October 7, 1763.

Suggested Resources

Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. New York: Vintage, 2000.

Borneman, Walter R. The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America. New York: Harper, 2006.

Calloway, Colin G. The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Dowd, Gregory Evans. War under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2002.

Fowler, William M. Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763.New York: Walker, 2005.

Holton, Woody. Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Jennings, Francis. Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America. New York: Norton, 1988.

Shannon, Timothy J. The Seven Years’ War in North America: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford, 2014.

Related Content