The French and Indian War and the Conspiracy of Pontiac

The primary cause of the French and Indian War, control over the Ohio Valley, was in itself a concern to the native peoples of that region, as the outcome of the struggle would determine in large part the future of the tribes living there. Several of the tribes of the trans-Appalachian, such as the Delawares and Shawnees, were refugees from English colonial pressures east of the mountains. The tribes of the Ohio Valley perhaps suffered the most from British victory, since that outcome encouraged more English settlers to cross the Appalachians and begin competing with Amerindians for land, despite the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The fact that many of these tribes supported the French during the war did not help their cause. But even Amerindian allies of the British found themselves facing a growing threat from English settlers, as the Cherokees discovered in the late 1750s.1

I think it is a fair assessment that no Amerindian tribes benefitted in any meaningful and long-lasting way from the English victory in the French and Indian War, and that view would not necessarily change if the French had been victorious. Most of the tribes had benefitted in some way from the competition between the two colonial powers, and had used trade and border skirmishes to play one side against the other in attempts to gain useful advantages over their traditional native foes. The Six Nations appeared to have gained some advantages in that they were given by the English certain powers over the Shawnees and Delawares after Pontiac’s Rebellion. But even these advantages were illusory, since the Iroquois and all other tribes in the eastern half of North America were now living in exclusively British territory.2

I believe it was this British hegemony in eastern North America that was the primary trigger of Pontiac’s Rebellion. Pontiac recognized that without another colonial power present to balance the British, the Amerindians were at the mercy of only English settlers and traders. He and other Amerindians longed to return to “the best of the world they had just lost.”3 I do not believe that Pontiac’s goals were realistic, nor do I believe that they could be obtained through war, and for the same fundamental reason: during the decades of French-English struggle for domination of North America, warfare on this continent had been transformed from the low-intensity, guerilla fighting characteristic of the native peoples to traditional European siege warfare. Without cannons, Pontiac and his followers were simply unable to defeat the entrenched English positions at Forts Detroit, Pitt, and elsewhere.4


1. Carl Waldman, Atlas of the North American Indian, 3rd ed. (New York: Checkmark Books, 2009), 137-40; Ian K. Steele, Warpaths: Invasions of North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 179-82.

2. Steele, Warpaths, 244-5.

3. Ibid., 237.

4. Ibid., 221-2.

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