Stories from PA History
The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania
The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania
Chapter Four: Pontiac's Rebellion

In June 1763, the British garrison at markerFort Pitt found itself under siege, but not by the French. Indeed, the French presence at the Forks of the Ohio had been erased by the construction of this large British post, and the settler community of markerPittsburgh growing around it. The danger now came from the native inhabitants of the land, the Delawares, Shawnee, and Senecas who had warned the British not to make themselves too comfortable at the Forks of the Ohio.
In June of 1763, as Pontiac's War swept across the area, a British garrison of 150 men and 600 settlers were under siege at Fort Pitt.
In June of 1763, as Pontiac's War swept across the area, a British garrison...

During the month-long siege of Fort Pitt, 600 settlers took refuge within its walls, and smallpox soon broke out among them. The fort's commander, Captain Simeon Ecuyer, wrote to his commanding officer Colonel Henry Bouquet in Philadelphia about the epidemic, and Bouquet informed General Amherst, the British Army's commander-in-chief in North America, in New York City. Independently of any orders from Bouquet or Amherst, Ecuyer and William Trent, a fur trader also present inside the fort, distributed blankets from their smallpox hospital to two Delaware Indians during one of their parlays. Amherst and Bouquet, unaware of Ecuyer's and Trent's actions, discussed similar measures in their correspondence as Bouquet marched an army west to relieve Fort Pitt. "Could it not be contrived to Send the Small Pox among those Disaffected Tribes of Indians?" Amherst wrote from New York, "We must, on this occasion, Use Every Stratagem in our power to Reduce them." marker [original documents] Subsequent correspondence does not reveal if Bouquet actually followed up on this suggestion once he arrived at Fort Pitt in August, but the events of June and July 1763 do make one thing clear: the British were willing to use biological warfare against their Indian enemies.

The Indians also raised the intensity of their warfare against the British. According to the Indians, the British had failed to keep promises they had made at the Easton Treaty in 1758. Instead of securing the Indians in their possession of the Ohio Country, the British had built their own string of forts in the footsteps of the French. Nor did the British prove to be as generous allies as the French. Unlike the French who had made gift giving a central part of their Indian diplomacy, Amherst failed to act as a "father" to the Indians. Instead, he ordered his subordinates to stop making diplomatic presents to the Indians once the French had been defeated, and he severely reduced the amount of gunpowder and ammunition made available to them in trade.

By spring 1763, Indians throughout the Great Lakes and Ohio Country were profoundly disillusioned with the British, and Ottawa war chief Pontiac sparked a widespread native resistance movement by attacking Fort Detroit. In rapid succession, British posts on the Pennsylvania frontier came under attack from Ohio Country Indians inspired, but not commanded, by Pontiac. Forts markerPresque Isle, markerVenango, and markerLeBoeuf fell easily, their garrisons killed or dispersed. markerFort Ligonier managed to resist Indian assault and thus helped the British keep open the Forbes Road.

The Fort Pitt smallpox episode is just one example of the degree of hatred that animated both sides during Pontiac's Rebellion. Once celebrated by colonists and Indians alike for its peaceful intercultural relations, Pennsylvania had become a killing ground in which each side became convinced that its future rested on extirpating the other. Indians raided British posts and settlements in the Ohio Country and Wyoming Valley, burning homesteads, taking captives, and torturing and murdering soldiers and civilians. British colonists and soldiers retaliated with equal brutality, launching punitive expeditions into Indian country and refusing to recognize any distinctions between peaceful Indians and hostile ones.

The most grievous example of the colonists' all-out war on Pennsylvania's Indians occurred in late 1763 in Lancaster County. Angered by Indian raids on settlements across the Pennsylvania frontier, a group of colonists from Paxton in present-day Dauphin County destroyed the markerConestoga Indian Town and systematically murdered its inhabitants. Convinced that Quakers in Philadelphia were harboring other Indians, the Paxton Boys, now swollen in size to several hundred men, marched on that city in January 1764, threatening to kill any Indians and their Quaker protectors that they found there. The timely intervention of Benjamin Franklin prevented further violence, but William Penn's dream of peaceful coexistence between Indians and colonists evaporated in the endorsement that the Paxton Boys' actions received from many of their fellow Pennsylvanians, who refused to arrest or prosecute anyone for the murder of the Conestogas.

Two military campaigns brought Pontiac's Rebellion to an end in Pennsylvania. In summer 1763, Bouquet marched an army from Carlisle to the Forks of the Ohio along the Forbes Road, and after the markerBattle of Bushy Run, forced the Indians to abandon their siege of Fort Pitt. The following year, Bouquet led a punitive expedition against the Delawares and Shawnee in the Ohio Country. His show of force brought them to terms, and in a series of councils held on the Muskingum River in modern southeastern Ohio, the Indians agreed to surrender more than 300 captives.
Colonel Henry Bouquet led a relief column towards Fort Pitt. The column was ambushed near Bushy Run Station, but after a two-day battle, illustrated here, Bouquet was victorious, and forced the Indians to abandon their siege of Fort Pitt.
One Mile to Bushy Run Station, by Robert Griffing.

By the treaty that ended the Seven Years' War in 1763, the British took over from the French a vast inland empire in North America that included Canada, the Great Lakes, and the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys. In an effort to govern and keep peace in that territory, the British Crown formulated the Proclamation Line of 1763, which created a border between colonial and Indian populations that ran north-to-south along the Allegheny Mountains. The Ohio Country fell west of this line, making it Indian Territory, but the pressure of western land speculation, migration, and settlement continued to push the de facto border between colonists and Indians west.

In 1768, British Indian Superintendent William Johnson hosted a treaty at Fort Stanwix in New York to settle a more permanent boundary between colonists and Indians, but the overbearing influence of land speculators (including Johnson himself) hardly made this border fairer than the last one. Land cessions made by the Iroquois, the nominal native rulers of the Ohio Country, at the Fort Stanwix Treaty formally dispossessed many of the Ohio Indians, who had been expecting British agents like Johnson to keep the tide of colonists at bay.

As the 1760s gave way to the Revolutionary Era, the irrevocable changes that the Seven Years' War had caused in western Pennsylvania were evident to natives and newcomers alike. The Ohio Indians would continue to fight for but never again be secure in the possession of their homelands. Settlers would continue to pour into the Ohio Country, but they would not know peace there until the late 1790s. Nor would Pennsylvania ever recover its reputation as a haven from European-Indian violence. The Quaker colony's singular heritage in this regard was another casualty of the Seven Years' War.

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