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Chief Pontiac Signs Peace Treaty with British at Oswego, New York: July 25, 1766

This text comes from our book, From Sea to Shining Sea.

In July 1759, France’s old enemy, the Iroquois Indians, joined the British in successfully attacking Fort Niagara, which lay at the gateway to Lake Erie. The British captured the fortress and so opened the Great Lakes to British control. With both Fort Niagara and Quebec in their hands, the British marched against the French city of Montreal in 1760. British General Amherst completely surrounded Montreal and forced the French governor to surrender on September 8, 1760.

The capture of Montreal ended the fighting between the British and French in North America, but it did not end the French and Indian War. Along the banks of Lake Erie lived the Ottawa Indians.

Colonial possessions of France, Spain, and England after the French and Indian War
Colonial possessions of France, Spain, and England after the French and Indian War

Chief Pontiac, their leader, hated the British. The French had allowed the Indians to practice their ancient ways pretty much undisturbed. But Pontiac knew that under British control his people would lose their lands to English settlers. Chief Pontiac had a plan. In 1762, he sent messengers to all the Indian tribes living between Lake Superior and the lower part of the Mississippi. Bearing red-stained tomahawks and wampum war belts, the messengers carried Pontiac’s call to war. At a meeting of tribal chiefs in April 1763, Pontiac called on all the Indian tribes to unite against the British and drive them out of tribal lands. Pontiac said that in May the united tribes should attack all the British forts from the Mississippi to Lake Superior. When these forts were destroyed, the tribes could go on to destroy all undefended British settlements.

In May, Pontiac launched his bloody plans and almost carried them out. He led his Ottawa and the Ojibwa and Potawattomi tribes against Fort Detroit. Pontiac had hoped to surprise the garrison in the fort, but an Indian girl warned the British commander at Detroit of the attack. So it was that Pontiac on May 9 was forced to lay siege to the fort, in a struggle that lasted for five months. The defenders could not drive the Indians away, nor could the Indians capture the fort. Elsewhere the Indians captured 8 out of 12 British forts and massacred most of their garrisons. When British relief forces marched out to help, the Indians destroyed them all. Pontiac’s Indian allies controlled the frontier.

Chief Pontiac signs a peace treaty with the British
Chief Pontiac signs a peace treaty with the British

In 1763, in the middle of this Indian war, the British and the French signed the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war between them. The treaty gave all of Canada to the British. Except for a few islands off the coast of Newfoundland and in the West Indies, France lost all its New World colonies. Great Britain now ruled New France.

Chief Pontiac had hoped that the French would help him against the British. But when he heard that the French had signed a peace treaty with the British, he knew his cause was hopeless. On July 25, 1766, Pontiac signed a treaty of peace and friendship with the British at Oswego, New York. Pontiac returned to his lands on the Maumee River in Illinois, but he did not live long in peace. In 1769, an Illinois Indian, hired by a British merchant, murdered Pontiac. So angered were other tribes by Pontiac’s death that they attacked and nearly destroyed the Illinois tribe from which the assassin came.

The Lovely Ohio

Pontiac hoped that by war he could keep American English colonial settlers off Indian lands in the “West”—part of which was called Ohio for the great river that defined it. This song, “The Lovely Ohio,” gives one a sense of the hope and optimism that inspired the longing Americans had for the West, for the promise they thought it held for them. The song originated probably in the late 18th century, not long after Pontiac’s ill-starred rebellion.

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