History of Michigan from 1763-1776: Events & Disputes

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the history of Michigan between 1763-1776. We will examine French-British tension, Pontiac's War, and other key themes and developments in Michigan history during this time.

Michigan and British-French Rivalry

Ask someone from Michigan where exactly they live, and they might raise their hand and point to a spot as if it were a map. Yep, Michigan is the state shaped like a glove. Michigan has a fascinating history. The object of French, British, and eventually American desire, Michigan has been at the center of dispute at various times throughout the 18th and 19th century. In this lesson we will look specifically at Michigan history in the years leading up to the American Revolution.

But first we need some context. Throughout the 17th and 18th century, Great Britain and France competed for dominance in central and northern North America. Spain had secured dominance over what is now Mexico, and some portions of what is now the southern United States, but the heartland of North American remained contested between Great Britain and France. British-French tension was particularly strong in the frontier regions west of the Appalachian Mountains, in the Great Lakes region, and in parts of Canada. What we know as Michigan was settled by the French. In fact, Detroit was founded at the beginning of the 18th century as a fort to prevent the British from creeping westward into French territory.

French map of the Michigan region from the 18th century.

British-French rivalry led to the French and Indian War, also called the Seven Year's War, fought between 1754-1763. Don't be confused by the name of the war: in this war, the French and various Native American groups allied themselves against the British and American colonists. So it wasn't the French and the 'Indians' fighting one another; they were allies. The French and Indian War basically began as a dispute between Britain and France over control of the Ohio River Valley. The British won the war, and under the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the French were forced to cede regions east of the Mississippi River to Britain. This included Michigan.

Pontiac's War

White Europeans weren't the only ones living in Michigan. Native American groups had gotten along fairly well with the French, but things were different with the British. Numerous Native American groups became dissatisfied with British governance, and launched an uprising that has come to be known as Pontiac's War, or sometimes Pontiac's Rebellion. This war took place between 1763-1766, and was fought between a confederation of Native American tribes and the British. Ottawa chief, Pontiac, played a major role as the leader in this conflict. Violence began when Pontiac's forces attacked Fort Detroit in 1763. Soon the conflict spread throughout the region.

Ottawa chief Pontiac is depicted here wielding a hatchet.

Most historians regard the British as the winners of the conflict, although in many respects the war ended as a stalemate. In the aftermath of war, Native American territory was ceded to the British, and the British maintained their authority in the region, but the conflict did prompt a change in British policies toward Native Americans. The British became convinced that whites and Native Americans should not live side by side, and in October 1763, issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

This map depicts the division established by the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

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