Ottawa Chief



Pontiac was a man of medium build and dark complexion who highly valued personal fidelity.

If Pontiac owed a debt, he would scratch a promissory note on birch bark with his sign, the otter. The notes were always redeemed.

He was an early ally of the French in 1755, at Fort Duquesne, now the site of Pittsburgh, along with an allied force of Ottawas, Ojibwas, Hurons, and Delawares.

He played a major role in the French defeat of English general Braddock in 1755 during the opening battles of what came to be known as the French and Indian War.

Pontiac was probably born along the Maumee River in northern Ohio of an Ottawa father and a Chippewa mother.

He married Kantuckeegan and had two sons, Otussa and Shegenaba.

Pontiac held no hereditary chieftainship among the Ottawas, but by about 1760, his oratorical skills and reputed courage as a warrior had raised him to leadership.

By 1763, Pontiac had also formed military alliances with eighteen other Native peoples from the Mississippi River to Lake Ontario.

After the British defeat of the French in 1763, Pontiac found himself faced on the southern shore of Lake Erie with an english force that included Robert Roger's legendary Rangers, who were self-trained as forest warriors.

Rogers told Pontiac that the land he occupied was now British, having been ceded by France, and that his force was taking possession of French forts.

Pontiac said that while the French might have surrendered, his people had not.

After four days of negotiations, Rogers agreed with Pontiac's point of view.

Rogers was allowed to continue to the former French fort on the present-day site of Detroit.

Power was transferred as hundreds of Indians watched.

Rogers and Pontiac became friends.

Pontiac now looked forward to peaceful trade with the British, but when Rogers left the area, fur traders began swindling the Indians, getting them addicted to cheap liquor.

Pontiac sent a belt of red wampum - signifying the taking up of arms - as far east as the Iroquois Confederacy then southward along the Mississippi.

He appealed for alliance, telling assembled chiefs of each nation he visited that if they did not unify and resist colonization, the English would flood them like waves of an endless sea.

By spring 1763, a general uprising had been planned by the combined forces of the Ottawa, Huron, Delaware, Seneca, and Shawnee.

On May 9, each tribe was to attack the closest English fort.

Pontiac's plan was betrayed to the commander of the British fort at Detroit by an Ojibwa woman named Catherine.

Pontiac laid siege to Fort Duquesne at Detroit, and other members of the alliance carried out their respective roles.

An appeal to the French for help fell on deaf ears, since they had been defeated.

After a siege that lasted through the winter and into spring of 1764, the fort received outside reinforcements, tipping the balance against Pontiac after fifteen month.

After the rebellion ended, settlers swarmed into the Ohio Valley in increasing numbers, and the prestige of the old leader began to disintegrate. Pontiac now counseled peace.

The younger warriors were said to have shamed him, possibly beating him physically in their frustration.

With a small band of family and friends, Pontiac was forced to leave his home village and move to Illinois.

On April 20, 1769, Pontiac was murdered in Cahokia, Illinois. According to one account, he was stabbed by a Peoria Indian who may have been bribed with a barrel of whiskey by an English trader named Williamson.

A statue memorializing Pontiac now stands in the lobby of City Hall in Pontiac, Michigan. ( Pontiac, after whom General Motors named a long-lived automobile model, tried to erect a Native confederacy that would block Euro-American immigration into the Old Northwest ).





Pontiac's Rebellion




Tumb of Chief Pontiac