chief of the Ottawa tribe

~1720 - 1769

Pontiac was a chief of the Ottawa tribe, and an important American Indian leader during the 1760's. Pontiac tried to unite the tribes of the Great Lakes area and of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys in order to maintain Indian control of those regions.

During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Pontiac led his tribe in fighting with the French against the British. But he opposed the claims of both sides to the territory west of the Allegheny Mountains. After the British achieved major victories over the French in 1760, they sent a small force to take over the abandoned French forts near the Great Lakes. Pontiac let the British pass through the area. But after he got promises of help from French traders and officers, he made plans with other tribes of the region to attack the posts.

In the spring of 1763, the tribes captured nine British forts in what became known as Pontiac's War. Pontiac led the attack on Fort Pontchartrain, at what is now Detroit. He besieged the post for about five months. However, France sent no help to Pontiac and his forces, and the Indians could not continue the war without more guns and ammunition.

Pontiac was probably born in northern Ohio. He became a priest of a religious group called the Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine, Society. Pontiac agreed with the Indian holy man known as the Delaware Prophet, who preached that Indians should abandon all trade with white people. Pontiac was mysteriously killed at an Indian religious center located in Cahokia, Ill.

Contributor: Rhoda R. Gilman, M.A., Research Associate, Minnesota Historical Society.
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