Pontiac fought for land

Ottawa chief saw opening to try to regain what had been lost to white settlers


Just after the French and Indians War between 1756 and 1763 another war started in what later became the Northwest Territory of the United States.

The 1763 Treaty of Paris ending the French and Indian War is the reason people in Illinois speak English instead of French. The French who basically got along with the Indians were now in retreat from several North American holdings although in many cases the forts released into British hands were not manned to withstand an Indian attack.

Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa saw an opening to try to restore the lands to the Native Americans. Pontiac had two messages to give to his supposedly new masters.

He said, “They came with the bible and their religion, stole our land, crushed our spirit and now they tell us to be thankful to the lord for being saved.” He also pointed out the French surrendering to the British had nothing to do with the native Indians. The French had not conquered the Indians so the British should not assume the Indians were submissive to the new order.

After parleying and uniting many of the Indian tribes of the Ohio Valley and along the Great Lakes, Pontiac laid out a plan to capture or destroy the old French forts now in British hands, along with the better manned forts like Detroit and Pitt. Concentrated attacks took place simultaneously and most of the forts were taken with the exception of Detroit, Niagara and Pitt.

Pontiac was not enamored by the rule of the British especially under the leadership of Field Marshall Jeffrey Amherst. Pontiac sent the British a belt of wampum in 1764 signifying he was ready to talk peace, but the British destroyed the offering and there was no peace pipe smoked at that time.

The final battle of the Pontiac Conspiracy took place in early August of 1763 after the Treaty of Paris was signed in February. Pontiac and his attackers failed to take Fort Detroit but eight other forts were taken and rendered useless to the British. Attacks were not confined to the forts and many settlers were killed or driven out of the Ohio Valley.

Captain Ecuyer at Fort Pitt did get a message out that 1,500 soldiers and settlers were trapped inside Fort Pitt with the Indian forces laying siege outside the walls. Ecuyer’s message arrived at Fort Ligonier and General Amherst placed Colonel Henry Bouquet in charge of a relief effort.

The relief column of British fighting men included the dreaded Highlanders, rangers and frontiersman well taught in the ways of combat. Fighting started in an area near Bushy Fork Crossing. The Indians mounted a harassment campaign by attacking and then disappearing into the woods as the British fought back.

Bouquet’s force sought high ground on top of a hill and established a flour sack fort where they held out the rest of the day. The Indians refused to cross the open space to the hill and mostly stayed in the woods picking off the British.

An escape route was discovered the next day when a gap in appeared in the Indians’ lines. It it was only a ruse and the Indians ran across open ground to charge the area they thought was poorly defended. The British expected this and cut down many warriors. The troops who appeared to be leaving doubled back and viciously attacked using their rifles and their most fearsome weapons, the tomahawk and bayonet. The battle ended with the Indians returning home and the victorious troops entering and saving Ft. Pitt.

That winter Pontiac gave up the siege of Fort Detroit and only a few skirmishes were undertaken. Bouquet was prepared to meet the Indians in battle near Coshocton, Ohio, but the Indians reconsidered and in October 1764 sued for peace. Pontiac, though, went further west looking for support from the French and the Illinois Indian Tribes.

In 1765, Sir William Johnson, the Indian Commissioner for the British tried his hand at creating a real treaty with the Indians. He sent Colonel George Croghan down the Ohio to meet with Pontiac to discuss peace. Croghan was captured by the Kickapoo and transported to Fort Ouitanon on the Wabash River. He was a very skilled diplomat and soon the Wea Indians, who had control of Ouitanon let him travel freely through Indian Territory. He sought Pontiac with the help of a small contingent of men and Indian scouts. A meeting was arranged at an area known as Hickory Grove, which is still on the map as Palermo, that was a crossroads of Indian trails.

A long time ago in 1765, a significant event happened right here in Edgar County that puts us on the map as far as recorded history is concerned. There is an area designated as the meeting place that eventually brought the Pontiac Rebellion to a close.

The area is identified by a marker on state Route 1 north of Chrisman and a sign post on Route 49 straight west of there about 14 miles. In between, just north of Hume is a better marked monument that designates the meeting place and the location of Hickory Grove or Palermo. Palermo, the town is now gone, but the location holds a place in history.