June 2, 1763 Pontiac’s War

Benjamin Franklin may have had the last word on the collectivist nonsense which afflicts to this day, when he asked “If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians?”

The Seven Years War, experienced in the American Colonies as the French and Indian War, ended in 1763 with France ceding vast swaths of territory to the British.

Unlike their English counterparts, the French had cultivated friendships with their Indian allies.  Many had married native women and been adopted into tribes.  There were annual gifts of blankets, firearms and other European manufactured goods.  The British under North American Governor-General Lord Jeffrey Amherst ceased such gifts, treating indigenous populations with contempt as English fortifications were built and settlers moved into traditional native lands.

The first grumblings among the tribes coalesced around a native visionary known only as the “Delaware Prophet”, who preached for a return to traditional ways and a rejection of the British.  The cause was taken up by the Ottawa chieftain Pontiac (c.1720-1769).  A powerful speaker, Pontiac’s message resonated with the Delaware, Seneca, Chippewa, Miami, Potawotomi and Huron, among others.  The full-scale uprising known as “Pontiac’s Rebellion” broke out in May, 1763.

Pontiac's_warIndigenous nations of the time divided more along ethnic and linguistic rather than political lines, so there was no monolithic policy among the tribes.  At least one British fort was taken with profuse apologies by the Indians, who explained that it was the other nations making them do it.

The brutality of the period was anything but one-sided.  The British “gift” of smallpox-infected blankets wasn’t the first instance of biological warfare in history, but this may be one of the nastier ones.

The siege of Fort Detroit beginning on May 7 was ultimately unsuccessful, but a series of attacks on smaller fortifications beginning two weeks later would all result in Indian victories. The fifth and largest of these fortifications, Fort Michilimackinac in present-day Mackinaw City, Michigan, was the largest such fort, and it was taken by surprise.

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Siege of Fort Detroit

Local Ojibwas staged a game of baaga’adowe on June 2, (an early form of lacrosse), with the visiting Sauks in front of the fort.

Native American stickball had many variations, but the object was to hit a stake or other object with a “ball”. The ball was a stone wrapped in leather, handled with one or sometimes two sticks. There could be up to several hundred contestants to a team, and the defenders could employ any means they could think of to get at the ball, including hacking, slashing or any form of physical assault. Lacerations and broken bones were commonplace.  It wasn’t unheard of that stickball players died on the field. The defending team could likewise employ any method they liked to keep the opposing team off of the ball carrier.  The game took place on a field that could range from 500 yards to several miles.

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Soldiers at Fort Michilimackinac enjoyed the game, as they had on earlier occasions. When the ball was hit through the open gate, both teams rushed in as native women handed out weapons previously smuggled into the fort. Fifteen of the 35-man garrison were killed in the ensuing struggle.  Five others were tortured to death.

Three more forts were taken in a second wave of attacks, when survivors took to the shelter of Fort Pitt, in Western Pennsylvania.

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Here’s when the chapter is written, about the smallpox blankets.  The episode has taken on aspects of legend and remains the subject for debate, to this day.

Smallpox had broken out at this time, among the besieged garrison at Fort Pitt.  At a June 24 parlay, Captain Simeon Ecuyer, a 22-year veteran Swiss mercenary in the British service, gave besieging Lenape warriors several items taken from smallpox patients.  Ecuyer wrote that “We gave them two blankets and a handkerchief out of the smallpox hospital”. Captain William Trent of the garrison militia later wrote in his journal: “I hope it will have the desired effect.”

This appears to be the only documented case of such a tactic, but the stratagem was by no means disapproved. The use of smallpox infected items was discussed in positive terms between Amherst and another Swiss mercenary, Colonel Henry Bouquet, but the siege at Fort Pitt was ended by more conventional means.

Hudson-bay-blankets-vintageSome sixty to eighty Ohio valley Indians died of the disease following the Fort Pitt episode, but the outbreak appears isolated.  Meanwhile, Indian warriors had looted clothing from some 2,000 outlying settlers they had killed or abducted.

Six years earlier, native Americans ignored terms of surrender negotiated between their French allies and English at Fort McHenry in upstate New York, and broke into the garrison hospital, killing and scalping a number of patients.  At least some of these were suffering from smallpox.  The episode reportedly touched off an outbreak among native populations.

The siege of Fort Pitt culminated in a bloody fight on August 5, when an incoming relief force of some 500 troops met the Indian besieging force at the bloody Battle of Bushy Run.

Battle of Bushy Run
Battle of Bushy Run, August 5, 1763

All the while, Delaware and Shawnee war bands raided deep into Pennsylvania territory. Panicked settlers fled eastward, as unknown numbers of men, women and children were killed or taken captive.   The “Paxton Boys”, a group of Scots-Irish frontiersman from the modern-day Harrisburg area,  murdered some twenty Conestoga, a mostly Christian band of subsistence hunters and farmers who had nothing whatever to do with the fighting.

Many of these peaceful Indians fled east to Philadelphia for protection.  Several hundred Paxton residents marched on the city in January, 1764.

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1841 lithograph depicts the massacre of Conestoga Indians by the “Paxton Boys”, in December 1763

The presence of British troops and Philadelphia militia prevented further violence, as Benjamin Franklin met with leaders of the two sides to negotiate an end to the crisis. Mr. Franklin may have had the last word on the collectivist nonsense which afflicts to this day, when he asked “If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians?”

Pontiac’s Rebellion ended in a draw, in 1765.  The savagery inflicted on both sides meant that segregation and not interaction, would characterize relations between Indians and whites.

1_2929243The British Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763, drew a line between the British colonies and Indian lands, creating a vast Indian Reserve stretching from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River and from Florida to Newfoundland. For the Indian Nations, this was the first time that a multi-tribal effort had been launched against British expansion, the first time such an effort had not ended in defeat.

The British government had hoped through such a proclamation to avoid conflicts like Pontiac’s Rebellion, but the decree had the effect of alienating colonists against the Crown.

For native Americans, the terrible smallpox epidemic of 1837 – ’38 all but wiped out the Mandan and decimated the Arikara and Hidatsa, Missouri River bands who farmed corn, beans & squash and hunted buffalo only as a sideline.  Estimates of the number killed in the epidemic range from 17,200 to an implausible high of 150,000, merging with the blanket episode of seventy-five years earlier and spawning a narrative of deliberate white genocide against indigenous Americans.

Smaller bands of isolated plains Indians were less hard hit, tipping the balance and forever altering the world’s ideas of what American Indians, looked like.  Works Progress Administration murals from the 1930s depict Pilgrims interacting with coastal tribesmen, wearing Sioux war bonnets and war shirts decorated with glass beads. No Lenape, Wampanoag, Pokanoket or Nauset of the time would have so much as recognized such an outfit, let alone dress that way.

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May 25, 1738  That Other war between the States

The problem comes about when you realize that 40° north latitude is north of Philadelphia, well into territory controlled by the Maryland colony.

The Pennsylvania Charter of 1681 specifies the southern boundary of the colony to be “A circle drawne at twelve miles distance from New Castle Northward and Westward unto the beginning of the fortieth degree of Northern Latitude, and then by a streight Line Westward“.

The problem comes about when you realize that 40° north latitude is north of Philadelphia, well into territory controlled by the Maryland colony.

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Maryland insisted on the boundary as drawn by the Charter, while Pennsylvania proposed a boundary near 39°36′, creating a disputed zone of some 28 miles.

In 1726, Quaker minister John Wright began a “ferry” service across the Susquehanna River. Starting as a pair of dugout canoes, “Pennsylvania Dutch” farmers were soon settling the Conejohela Valley on the eastern border between Maryland and Pennsylvania.

cresap2Business was good.  By 1730, Wright had applied for a ferry license. With Lord Baltimore fearing a loss of control in the area (read – taxes), Maryland resident Thomas Cresap established a second ferry service up the river. Maryland granted Cresap some 500 acres along the west bank, serenely unconcerned that much of the area was already inhabited by Pennsylvania farmers.

Cresap went to these farmers and began collecting “quit-rents”, (an early form of property tax) for the government in Maryland. Pennsylvania authorities responded by issuing “tickets” to settlers which, while not granting immediate title, amounted to an “IOU” of title under Pennsylvania jurisdiction.

When Cresap and his ferry worker were thrown overboard by two Pennsylvanian farmers, probably over a debt, Cresap took the matter to Pennsylvania authorities for justice. After the magistrate said that he couldn’t expect justice in his court because he was a “liver in Maryland”, Cresap filed charges with Maryland authorities, claiming that, as a Maryland resident, he was no longer bound by Pennsylvania law.

Cresap and his gang members began confiscating York and Lancaster county properties as early as 1734, handing them over to supporters. Maryland militia crossed colonial borders twice in 1736, and Pennsylvania militia were quick to respond.

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Thomas Cresap

When the Lancaster county Sheriff arrived with a posse to arrest Cresap at his home, Cresap fired through the door, striking and mortally wounding deputy Knowles Daunt. When Daunt died of his wounds, Pennsylvania Governor Patrick Gordon demanded that Maryland arrest Cresap for murder.

Samuel Ogle, Governor of Maryland, responded by naming Cresap a captain of the Maryland militia.

Cresap resumed and expanded his raids, destroying barns and shooting livestock. Sheriff Samuel Smith raised a posse to arrest him in November. When the Pennsylvanians set his cabin on fire, Cresap ran for the river. Grabbing him before he could launch a boat, Cresap shoved one of them overboard, shouting, “Cresap’s getting away!”, whereupon the other deputies proceeded to pound their colleague with oars until one of them discovered the ruse.

Cresap was taken to Lancaster, where he decked the blacksmith who had come to put him in shackles. He was finally subdued and hauled off to Philadelphia in chains, but even then the man was anything but broken. “Damn it”, he said, looking around, “this is one of the prettiest towns in Maryland!”

DSCN8422-1Maryland authorities petitioned George II, King of Great Britain and Ireland, imploring the King to restore order among his subjects. King George’s proclamation of August 18, 1737 instructed the governments of both colonies to cease hostilities. When that failed to stop the fighting, the Crown organized direct negotiations between the two. Peace was signed in London on May 25, 1738, the agreement providing for an exchange of prisoners and a provisional boundary to be drawn fifteen miles south of the southernmost home in Philadelphia, and mandating that neither Maryland nor Pennsylvania “permit or suffer any Tumults Riots or other Outragious Disorders to be committed on the Borders of their respective Provinces.”

So ended the “Conojocular War”, the bloody eight-year conflict between Philadelphia and surrounding area and sometimes referred to as “Cresap’s War”. The matter was settled once and for all, when Penns and Calverts, each descendants of their colonial founders,  hired surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to establish the modern boundary in 1767. Today, the area in conflict is part of York County, Pennsylvania.

And now you know where that line comes from.

Afterward: During the French & Indian Wars of the 1750s Thomas Cresap and a party of 100 pursued an Indian war band over the present-day Savage Mountain and onto the next. Along with the party marched a free black man, a frontiersman known only as “Nemesis”. A fierce fight ensued on May 28, 1756.  Nemesis, described only as “large and powerfully built”, fought bravely, but lost his life. He was buried on the site, where Cresap named the mountain in his honor. “Negro Mountain”, the long ridge of the Allegheny Mountains stretching from Deep Creek Lake in Maryland, north to the Casselman River in Pennsylvania, stands to this day as his monument. Feature image, top of page, the painting “Shades of Death” by artist Lee Teter, depicts Colonel Thomas Cresap comforting the mortally wounded, heroic frontiersman.

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