The British Period
The French and Indian War ended with the defeat of
the French by the British. With the ratification of the
Treaty of Paris in February, 1763, French colonial
possessions in North America passed to England. In the minds
of Native Americans, the land "owned" by the French in
Indian country was merely the land on which the French
posts stood. In other words, the French owned small parcels of
lands which they had purchased or which were given to them by the
Native Americans. The Indians did not believe for a moment
that the French owned (in the European sense) most of the interior of the North
American continent, including Canada. And at that point,
what the French believed themselves became irrelevent. The
British believed that the French had passsed them de jure
title to the land. When the Indians became aware of this,
they were not pleased.
The appointment of Sir Jeffrey Amherst to oversee Indian
affairs was, to say the least, a mistake. An overweight patrician
who had no concept of the cultures and folkways of native peoples,
Amherst was the penultimate colonist: at once arrogant, rude,
supercilious, and condescending. Fortunately for the British, two
men who were quite knowledgeable about the Native peoples were on staff.
Sir William Johnson whom the Iroquois called "Warregiwhey"
was Indian agent and his deputy was George Croghan who was
well-known to the Ohio Valley nations and respected. Unfortuanetly,
Johnson and Croghan were saddled with the racist, colonialist
policies of Amherst.
The Matter of Presents
Amherst ordered his agents in the field not to give the
customary "presents" to the Indians. This gift-giving, Amherst explained,
was simply buying "good behavior." It was also expensive.
Not surprisingly, the Indians looked at matters differently.
They didn't see the presentation of trade goods to them as
gifts. Rather it was a combination of tribute and rent.
This tribute was an expected part of doing business with
sovereign people in their own nations. When Amherst cut
out "presents," it was akin to the tenant informing the
landlord that no more rent would be forthcoming.
Lead and Powder
Another of Amherst's brilliant ideas was that commanders in
the field should not give or trade to the Indians guns,
lead, or gun powder. This, according to Sir Jeffrey, was to reduce the ability of
the native people to make war. However, since the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes
tribes all relied to a greater or lesser degree on hunting,
the impact on Indian families and communities was both
immediate and disasterous. Native men who had grown up with
firearms rather than traditional weapons had the
greatest difficulty feeding their families. Starvation
threatened many bands, which was just fine with Sir Jeffery.
Some British commanders such as Henry Gladwin at Detroit gave the
Indians such powder and lead as he could afford to give out of
his own stock but this was far too little to meet the overwhelming
need. The fuse had been lit by Amherst's repressive
policies. The explosion was near at hand.
Born in 1720 in what is now northern Ohio, Pontiac rose to
a position of prominence among his people the Ottawa. He was a
fearsome warrior who identified strongly with the French. At
the conclusion of the French and Indian War, Pontiac was not
ready to accept English rule over Indian lands. He considered
the British to be both arrogant and presumptuous. He was, of course,
In order to oust the British from the Great Lakes country,
Pontiac formed an alliance of tribes from all over the region.
These included his Ottawas, the Chippewa, the Miami, the Fox,
the Wyandots, and others. If the Illini were present at the beginning,
they were not present in great numbers. Each nation was to rise simultaneously against
the British post in their own country. Pontiac himself would
lead the attack on Fort Detroit. The Chippewa would rise
against the British at Michillimacinac. Others would rise against
the forts at Presque Isle, St. Joseph, Miami, and Edward Augustus.
All would strike when Pontiac gave the word.
The uprising came off as planned. All of the smaller forts
were captured or surrendered. Only Detroit held out.
According to legend, Major Gladwin had been warned by
someone of the coming attack. There has been much
speculation about who warned the commander but most
sources point to Catherine, a Native-American woman.
Others suggest Jacques Duperon Baby, one of the Frenchmen
in Pontiac's confidence. Whoever warned Gladwin,
he had the good sense to heed it. Pontiac's surprise attack (with
guns sawed off and hidden under squaw's clothes) was frustrated.
The Indian coalition settled in for a siege.
As history records, the British outlasted the Indians. Although Pontiac sent
messengers to Fort de Chartres in the Illinois Country and
emplored the French to come to his aid, de Villiers, in
recognition of the Treaty of Paris, refused to come. Perhaps
a few Illini warriors joined in the siege but they did not
have a meaningful military presence at Detroit. In time,
groups of warriors drifted away until at last the siege
was ended. In 1766, Pontiac made peace with the British.
This caused a great deal of anger among the Illini, because
of their attachment to the French, and the Kickapoo, because
of their hatred of the British. The Illinois position
was certainly questionable, given that they had not supported Pontiac at Detroit
in any meaningful way. Later in council, Pontiac reputedly quarreled
with Matachinga, a Peoria Chief whose name means "Black
Dog" and stabbed him, although not fatally. Even some
Ottawa openly defied Pontiac. Pontiac's star was at its nadir.
Pontiac In The Illinois Country
Pontiac's dream of an Indian confederation that would oust
the British from Indian lands did not die at Detroit. Still
considering himself loyal to the French, Pontiac went among
the Illinois, themselves French allies of long-standing.
Perhaps there he would find men with hearts similar to his
own who would join him in his fight against the British. Perhaps the differences between the Ottawa and
the Illini could be set aside to concentrate on the struggle against
the common enemy, the British.
The Death of Pontiac
In 1769, Pontiac was in Cahokia, the busy village of the
Cahokia tribe of the Illini Confederation. The village now
had a British trading post rather than a French store. The
Union Jack, rather than the Fleur de Lys, flew over that post.
Under the noses of the British, Pontiac would meet with the
Illinois and perhaps things this time would work out better.
The Death of Pontiac
An ambitious young Illinois warrior named Pini attached himself to Pontiac.
He followed the great leader everywhere he went, attending to his
every whim. At first suspicious, Pontiac's bodyguards soon
grew accustomed to the fawning young man. They had doubtless
seen many other such young warriors attracted to their leader.
But they did not know that Pini was the nephew of Matachinga, the
Peoria chief whom Pontiac had wounded.
One day as Pontiac stepped down from the British trader's store,
Pini struck him with a tomahawk in the back of the head.
Pontiac sank to the ground. Pini then stabbed Pontiac to
be sure that he was dead. Then Pini fled. Pontiac, him who
had dreamed of Native Americans united and controlling their
own lands and destiny, lay dead in a dirt street outside a
British trading post. Overhead, the Union Jack snapped in
Back to the
Illini Confederation main page.
- Alvord, C.W. The Illinois Country 1673-1818., Chicago, 1965.
- Eckert, Allen. The Conquerors(Complete citation forthcoming)
- Scott, James, The Illinois Nation. Streator Historical Society, Streator, IL, 1973.
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