Reproduction of an illustration depicting Pontiac, an Ottawa chief.
Pontiac was born circa 1720. His father was an Ottawa Native American, and his mother was a Chippewa. His family raised Pontiac as an Ottawa, although he had numerous friends among his mother's people. Little is known of his early years. He probably traded with the French merchants that moved into modern-day Michigan and Ohio in the late 1600s and 1700s. By 1755, he had become an important leader of the Ottawas.
Pontiac subscribed to the religious beliefs of Neolin, a prophet among the Delaware Native Americans during the 1760s. Neolin encouraged his fellow natives to forsake all English goods and customs. He felt that the natives' dependence on these items had infuriated their gods. The reason why the Native Americans in the Ohio Country currently suffered at the hands of the English was because they had forgotten the true ways of their people. European ways would condemn the natives to the natives' equivalent of eternal suffering. Natives had to separate from European ways and not become dependent on them. Although Neolin urged the natives to reject all European customs, missionaries from the Moravian Church heavily influenced his views of the Great Spirit.
Pontiac concurred with Neolin's views but also felt the Native Americans had to remain militarily strong to drive the Europeans out of the Ohio Country. This became especially important with conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763. The Treaty of Paris (1763) turned all French lands in North America over to the English. Native Americans feared the loss of their traditional ally and also believed that British settlers would flood the Ohio Country. To prevent the incursion of whites, Pontiac and the Ottawas encouraged Ohio Country natives to rise up in 1763. The Ottawas attacked Fort Detroit in May 1763. Many people today view this as the beginning of Pontiac's Rebellion. The Shawnee natives, the Munsee natives, the Wyandot natives, the Seneca natives, and the Delaware natives also raided English settlements in the Ohio Country and in western Pennsylvania during 1763. In the autumn of 1764, the English military took the offensive against the natives. Colonel John Bradstreet and Colonel Henry Bouquet each launched invasions of the Ohio Country from Pennsylvania. Both men were successful in subduing the native population.
Pontiac's Rebellion essentially ended in the autumn of 1764, but Pontiac did not formally surrender to the English until July 1766. The English promised him no harm as long as he agreed never to wage war against the British again. Pontiac spent the remainder of his life with his family on the banks of the Maumee River. In 1769, a Native American murdered Pontiac. It is not clear why he was killed. The English may have paid a man to kill Pontiac to deprive the Ottawas of one of their leaders. On the other hand, it may have been the work of a group of Native Americans who were upset with Pontiac's refusal to wage war against the English. Pontiac's death, like most of his life, remains a mystery. His dream of a united Native American front against the Europeans did not end with him. Other native leaders, such as Tecumseh and Little Turtle, would also try to form Native American confederations to stop the westward expansion of white settlers in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
- Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.