People of Detroit:
Ottawa Chief Pontiac
As with most Native Americans from this time, little can be confirmed about the notorious Ottawa Chief Pontiac. He was likely born around 1720. Some sources say he was born near Detroit; others say he was born near Defiance, Ontario (Stark). Some sources say he was the son of an Ojibwa Woman and an Ottawa man; some say his mother was Ottawa and his father was Ojibwa; others say he was of another tribe (possibly Catawba) and was taken prisoner and later adopted by the Ottawa tribe; various sources refer to Pontiac as Algonquin or Miami.
Pontiac may have been born in the Ottawa village that was, at the time, located in the Detroit area. It is also possible that he was born in or near what is now Defiance, Ohio. Sources also vary about the date of Pontiac's birth -- some say he was born as early as 1703, some say he was born as late as 1725.
Whatever his origins, he remains history's the most infamous Ottawa.
Pontiac wanted to end the rule of the white man and reclaim his and his peoples' land. He planned to bring all tribes within a 200,000 square mile area together to form an army to defeat the British and take back tribal lands. He formulated the plan at a grand council in April 1763. The plan was to be carried out in May of 1763. Pontiac and 60 other chiefs would wage an attack simultaneously against Fort Detroit, as well as, forts at Green Bay, Mackinac, Sandusky, and St. Joseph.
The Attack on Detroit
Pontiac himself led the attack on Fort Detroit. He began by setting up a camp on the farm of Baptiste Meloche near the site of the present day Riverfront Lofts on East Jefferson. On May 8, 1763, he and his team of warriors and chiefs, requested and gained entrance to the Council House through the east gate of the fort. The men all had blankets draped over their shoulders, hiding their sawed-off (filed off) shotguns. Pontiac had a wampum belt that he was to present to Major Gladwin, the commandant of Fort Detroit, as a bogus gesture of friendship and goodwill. The actual handing over of the belt was to communicate whether or not the attack should go forward. If Pontiac offered the belt facing one way, the men were to attack, if the belt faced the other way, they were not to attack.
Gladwin had been warned of the attack and was thus prepared. Before Pontiac and his men had a chance to reveal their weapons, Gladwin's men revealed theirs. Pontiac feigned offense claiming that he was there is peace, but the damage to the plan was done.
While the plan was thwarted, the attack was far from over. Two days later, Pontiac tried to enter the fort again. When he was denied entrance, he and his men began a brutal assault against the British which lasted 153 days. One of the first acts taken by the Native Americans was the destroying of the houses on Belle Isle and the murder of Belle Isle resident James Fisher and his family. Among other alleged murder victims was Sir Robert Davers and a survey team he was leading; a widow and her two children; and former commandant, Donald Campbell, who had gone to try to negotiate a peace with Pontiac.
Gladwin and the villagers closed the fort and made plans for their defense. He sent men out to burn houses and other structures so that they would have a clear view of any Native American advance and to eliminate possible cover. The French population outside the stockade was divided, with some helping the Native Americans and others helping to get supplies in the stockade.
Pontiac and his forces did their best to make sure no supplies got into the fort, knowing that eventually its occupants would starve to death. That kept watch on the fort and killed anyone found outside attempting to procure supplies. As a sort of psychological warfare, bodies of Pontiac's victims were often scalped and mutilated, then put on display.
On May 28, Lieutenant Abraham Cuyler of the Queen's Rangers, stopped at Point Pelee to camp overnight. They were on their way to Detroit with supplies from Niagara. Unaware of the attack on Detroit, the group was an easy target for a faction of Pontiac's army. Nearly half of the 96 members of Cuyler's party escaped in boats. Fifty men were taken prisoner.
Two days later, the Natives and their captives sailed toward their camp. When they were in the vicinity of the fort, 4 of the soldiers attacked their captors and swam toward shore with some of the supplies. The remaining soldiers were taken to Pontiac's fort where they, along with other captives already at the camp, were murdered. Their mutilated bodies were floated downstream on logs for the settlers to see.
On July 29, a supply convoy made safely it up the river to Fort Detroit. The group included Captain Dalzell, 260 men from the 60th Foot Regiment, and Major Robert Rogers and his rangers.
Upon arrival, Dalzell convinced Major Gladwin to allow him to take his men an mount an offensive against Pontiac and his men. Gladwin reluctantly agreed, and on July 30 Dalzell and 250 soldiers and rangers headed out what is now East Jefferson Avenue toward Pontiac's camp.
The road to the camp was peppered with Pontiac's lookouts, as well as, French sympathizers. Pontiac was made aware of the advance long before the soldiers arrived.
When the first of Dalzell's men crossed a small foot bridge over Parent's creek (approximately where the Player's Club is on East Jefferson today), warriors from Pontiac's army ambushed them. Dalzell was shot. The others turned back in confusion. Majors Rogers led some men to various buildings on the farm of Jacques Campau. From there, rescue teams were sent to retrieve any survivors. In all, only about 90 of the soldiers and rangers survived. Legend has it that so much blood was spilled into Parent Creek that it ran red, thus earning the name "Bloody Run". The incident is hence known as the Battle of Bloody Run.
No further excursions were made from the fort. The inhabitants received ample supplies from two vessels, Huron and Michigan. Pontiac tried to destroy the ships, as they interfered with his plans to starve the villagers, but he failed.
Pontiac didn't let go of his determination to take Fort Detroit until October of 1763 when news peace treaty between the British and French had reached the village. The treaty meant that the French could no longer help the natives. As many of Pontiac's allies had gone back to their own territories and normal life by this time, his forces were depleted to the extent that there was no point in continuing. On October 31, 1763, Pontiac sent a message to Gladwin, asking for an agreement of peace. Gladwin forwarded the message to General Amherst, explaining to Pontiac that he lacked the authority to make such a peace. Pontiac and his people returned to their ancestral home on the Maumee River.
Detroit was the only fort west of Niagara that wasn't destroyed by Pontiac's plans. All the others, Green Bay, Mackinac, Sandusky, and St. Joseph, were captured and destroyed.
The Attack on Michilimackinac
While Pontiac led his team against Detroit, his compatriots went after Fort Michilimackinac. The Native Americans started a ball game outside the fort. Captain Etherington (who would later become commandant at Detroit) and a Lieutenant Leslie stood by to watch the game. The plan was to "accidentally" knock the ball into the fort, and thus gain admittance to retrieve it. The plan was a success and all but thirteen of the men in the garrison were killed. Etherington and Leslie were taken prisoner and eventually delivered to Montreal.
Pontiac's Life After the Attacks Against the British Posts
In 1765, for reasons unknown, Pontiac gave a plot of riverfront land (800 feet wide) to Doctor George Christian Anthon. Official record of the deed transfer exists in the records of notary Philip Dejean, but Pontiac's less than cordial relationship with the settlers makes his motives suspect. Some speculate that the doctor may have simply helped Pontiac in some way.
On July 23, 1767, Pontiac signed a peace treaty. In 1769, a Kaskaskian killed Pontiac by striking him in the back of the head with a hatchet.