The Impact of Pontiac's Rebellion

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  • 0:04 Pontiac's Rebellion
  • 1:03 The Roots of Resistance
  • 2:09 A United Stand
  • 3:05 Impacts of the Rebellion
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Pontiac's Rebellion occurred when tensions between the various peoples living around the British colonies in North America snapped. In this lesson, we'll explore this volatile moment and see how it was handled by all involved.

Pontiac's Rebellion

The history of the relationship between the Euro-American governments and Amerindian people of the United States, those of indigenous descent, has been a roller coaster of highs and lows as very different groups of people interacted in various ways. In fact, this struggle was one of the defining characteristics of the colonial period.

Different groups tried different strategies of dealing with their neighbors. The French tried to work with Amerindian groups, but the British tried to push them away. The Cherokee tried to adopt European practices, but the Mohawk were more resistant. Each of these approaches had substantial impacts on colonial life. Some actually managed to redefine colonial expectations. That was the case with Pontiac's Rebellion, a 1763 uprising of various allied Amerindian nations against British incursion. Warfare was just one of many strategies employed by Amerindians in dealing with the British, but in the case of Pontiac's Rebellion, it certainly managed to make the British pay attention.

The Roots of Resistance

Pontiac's Rebellion started in 1763. So what happened in the mid-18th century that sparked a violent uprising? From 1754 to 1763, the empires of Europe were engaged in the fight for North America, called the French and Indian War. British colonists, along with British soldiers and Amerindian allies fought against the colonists, soldiers, and Amerindian allies of New France, which was basically Canada.

In 1763, the British and French signed the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the war and handing over control of New France to Great Britain. This was a major shift in world power and colonial life. The French were more interested in trade than true colonialism, so they generally treated Amerindian peoples of New France as trade partners. The British treated them as conquered people and, upon taking control of New France, they imposed restrictions on the rights of Amerindians to bear arms and prepared to send in droves of British families to settle on Amerindian land. Once again, various Amerindian nations would have to decide how to deal with new European policies. Some tried diplomacy. Some turned to religion. Some took a more radical approach.

A United Stand

As early as 1761, several groups of Amerindian peoples were already starting to clash with the British, and small rebellions were breaking out. But individual groups were not proving highly effective against the British troops. Then in 1763, Pontiac, a leader of the Ottawa people, organized several of the Amerindian nations in the Ohio River Valley into a loose confederation of allies. Together, they believed they had the strength needed to fight the British, and in May of 1763 the confederacy launched a surprise attack on the British Fort Detroit. Pontiac failed to capture the fort, but word of his actions spread, and frustrated Amerindians flocked to his army. Pontiac's army had mixed success against the British in 1763, sometimes winning and sometimes losing, but the British were tired of warfare after the French and Indian War. So they tried to deal with Pontiac diplomatically, singing a treaty with the Amerindian leader at Fort Ontario in 1766.

Impacts of the Rebellion

Historians still debate the significance of Pontiac's Rebellion. While the British first claimed it as a victory for their empire, it was, realistically, a military stalemate. Nevertheless, the British did try and use the situation to their advantage. The war against Pontiac's confederacy provided an excuse to renew important treaties with other Amerindian nations that did not share Pontiac's goals, most notably several of the Iroquois groups. The British had been dealing with the Iroquois-speaking groups on the East Coast for roughly a century and saw this as a chance to play off of the existing hostility between the powerful Iroquois and other groups to try and form new alliances.

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