1763 : Pontiac Attacks Fort Detroit

May 7, 2022 all-day

Chief Pontiac

A Great War Chief of the Three Fires Confederacy and leader of the Anishinabe people. This Chief’s actual name was Boon i wuk, which means “Thunderbirds Landing Upon the Earth.” Today we know of him as Chief Pontiac. Source: Diba Jimooyung. Published by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and the Ziibiwing Cultural Society. Mount Pleasant, Michigan. 2005.

During the 1760’s, Pontiac organized a large alliance of tribes throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois rise up in a war against the British.

He led the efforts that captured 8 out of 11 British Forts between May 16 – June 20, 1763, including:

  • Fort Miami (Fort Wayne, Indiana)
  • Fort Quiatenon (Lafayette, Indiana)
  • Fort St. Joseph (Niles, Michigan)
  • Fort Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Michigan)
  • Fort Sandusky (Sandusky, Ohio)
  • Fort Presque Isle (Erie, Pennsylvania)
  • Fort Verango (Franklin, Pennsylvania)
  • Fort Le Boeulf (Pennsylvania)

Unfortunately, his coalition was unable to capture  Fort Detroit, Fort Niagra, and Fort Pitt.

 Pontiac, the Indian Nations & the British Empire

In the eighteenth century, Michigan was the battleground for several conflicts between Native Americans and Europeans. Pontiac’s Rebellion, fought between 1763 and 1766, was one of the most significant of these wars. Throughout much of the 1700s, the British and the French fought over control of North America. But in 1763 Britain finally defeated France and the French surrendered control of Canada to Britain. The United Kingdom had defeated the French, but not France’s Indian allies. The British soon angered many Native Americans. Where the French had been content to trade and maintain friendly relations with the Indians, the British treated them contemptuously. They built forts in Native American territory, suspended the traditional custom of gift giving, and allowed white settlers to take Native American lands.

Siege of Fort Detroit.jpg

The Siege….

By April of 1763, many Indians felt that it was time to retaliate. A secret council was held near Detroit.

Pontiac conspiracy.jpg

Note: In a famous council on April 28, 1763, Pontiac urged listeners to rise up against the British. (19th century engraving by Alfred Bobbett).

The Odawa chief Pontiac and other Indian leaders agreed to go to war with the British. Pontiac coordinated the plan to attack Detroit with the Ojibwe, Pottawatomie, Wyandot, and other Indian groups. The coalition attacked Fort Detroit on May 7, 1763, but were unable to defeat the garrison, despite beseiging the fort for much of the year.  Nine of the eleven forts they attacked fell.

What made the difference?  Fortunately for the besieged, at the outbreak of hostilities, the schooner Huron and the sloop Michigan, the first British ships built on Lake Erie,  were anchored in front of the fort and their guns were able to keep the Indians at bay on the river side. In addition, even though the Indians were able to capture one convoy of bateaus at Point Pelee and a few others on the Detroit River, the Huron and the Michigan were able to keep the supply lines open and provide protection for another convoy of bateaus.   Without any assistance from the French, Pontiac was forced to give up his siege of Detroit by the end of October when the French refused to come to his aid.

The following year, the British sent an army into Ohio and another into the Great Lakes region. The war continued, but in 1766 Pontiac accepted a peace treaty and was pardoned by the British. Pontiac’s revolt failed to defeat the British Empire, but it did achieve many goals important to Native Americans. The British outlawed new white settlement west of the Appalachian ridge and reinstated the practice of gift giving. Pontiac and the other Native Americans who had fought for their homes and cultures had brought a period of stability and peace to the region.

For more information, see Nathanial Hale, Pontiac’s War: the Great Indian Uprising against the English in 1763, Wynnewood, PA, Hale House, 1973, available at the Central Michigan University Library.

Michigan Historical Calendar, courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.

Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit or Fort Detroit

Additional Sources:

The siege of Detroit in 1763: the Journal of Pontiac’s Conspiracy, and John Rutherfurd’s Narrative of a captivity / Milo Quaife. Also available online to the MSU community.

Pontiac’s War : its causes, course, and consequences / Richard Middleton. New York : Routledge, c2007.

War under heaven : Pontiac, the Indian Nations & the British Empire / Gregory Evans Dowd. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Ernest J. Lajeunesse, The Windsor Border Region: Canada’s Southernmost Frontier (A Collection of Documents).  Toronto: The Champlain Society.

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