written for Genealogy Trails by Mark Walczynski

(This artistic interpretation of Pontiac was painted by John Mix Stanley.
No known authentic images exist)

Pontiac was an Ottawa Indian (known today as Odawa Indians) who was born sometime between 1720 and 1725. He was a well known and influential war chief-a proven war veteran who had recruited and led war parties against enemies many times. During the Seven Years War, also known as the last French and Indian War in North America, Pontiac was a strong ally of the French. The French, however, lost the war and consequently relinquished their holdings, possessions, and forts east of the Mississippi to the British.

Not long after the British took possession of the western French forts they began to infuriate the regional tribes. They did not let the Indians in their forts like the French did, they did not give the Indians trade goods and supplies like the French did, and they built forts without permission of the local tribes. British settlers also began moving into lands that were set aside by British authorities for the Native Americans. These issues angered the western tribes who would soon retaliate against the British.

In 1763 Pontiac, in association with several other major tribal chiefs, masterminded an all out Native American offensive against the British. Historians call this conflict Pontiac's "Rebellion," Pontiac's "Conspiracy," or Pontiac's "War." During this time Pontiac's allies captured all British forts in the west except Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt. They attacked a British sloop and schooner. They ambushed a British supply flotilla that was en route to Detroit. They also attacked British troops at "Bloody Run" and at the "Devils Hole." About four hundred British soldiers were killed during the conflict. British reinforcements dispatched to liberate the western forts combined with the Indian's seasonal hunting obligations brought the Pontiac conflict to an uneventful end.

Conspiracy of Pontiac
Conspiracy of Pontiac.
Artist: Gari Melchers, 1921
Publisher: Detroit Publishing Company
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

After the war Pontiac's village was located on the Maumee River a short distance upstream from today's Toledo, Ohio above a place called Roche de Bout. From there he traveled to Southern Illinois in 1764, 1765, 1766 in an attempt to recruit western tribes to his anti-British crusade. He also traveled to Detroit where he met in council with British agent George Croghan. Unable to revive his war, Pontiac agreed to accept British occupation in 1766.

From autumn of 1764 to the time of his death Pontiac was known to have spent the winter hunting in the on the Maumee above his village and in upper Wabash country. Despite unsubstantiated and uncorroborated reports to the contrary mentioned in nineteenth century books, Pontiac never established a village on the Kankakee River nor did he ever spend the winter hunting in today's Illinois.

It should be noted that although Pontiac was unable to renew his struggle against the British, young warriors and other Indians felt that the war chief's peace with the British was not acceptable either. By 1768 Pontiac had lost an enormous amount of influence with the tribes of the east. But in the distant Illinois Country he was still considered a powerful leader. During the spring of 1769 it was rumored that Pontiac and one hundred fifty canoes of warriors were preparing to attack the Illinois Indians. These reports so worried the Illinois that their chiefs met with British authorities to inquire what they would do to protect them against Pontiac's men.

The most significant historical incident involving Pontiac in Illinois occurred in 1769. In late March of that year, Pontiac and about thirty warriors landed at Cahokia. According to reports Pontiac did not come to fight but came "in peace to trade." Although more unsubstantiated and undocumented nineteenth century accounts state that Pontiac met with former friends and attended a drinking bout, what Pontiac really did during that time is unknown. What is known is that in mid-April Pontiac and a Peoria Indian entered the store of Baynton, Wharton, and Morgan. After conducting business Pontiac left the building followed by the Peoria. Once they were on the street the Peoria clubbed Pontiac in the back of the head and then stabbed him fatally. On April 20, 1769 British Lieutenant Colonel John Wilkins, commandant at Fort de Chartres wrote in his journal, "Receiv'd the account that Pondiac was kill'd at Kahokie by an Indian of that place."

What happened after Pontiac's death has been embellished and misrepresented by historians and others for over two hundred years. To find out what really happened we must examine period documents. These documents include reports, letters, and other correspondences of people who lived in Illinois at that time. From Wilkins' personal journal we learn that the colonel ordered Pontiac's body "inter'd in the Indian manner;" to counter rumors circulated by the French in the area that the English conspired to kill the chief. We also know for certain that the Illinois Indians, all of whom lived in settlements along the Mississippi in Southern Illinois and Missouri, and the British believed that Pontiac's allies would retaliate against the Illinois. Fearing retribution, the Illinois Indians left their camps and moved next to the British Fort de Chartres. There they were safe from the firestorm they believed was immanent. For the next several months the Illinois dispatched scouts to spy the waterways leading to Southern Illinois to watch for the approaching enemy. But months passed and no Indian army ever arrived in the Illinois Country. Until 1772, the year Wilkins left the Illinois Country the Illinois Indians met frequently with the British command at the fort and also received gifts from them. With the exception of three clerks that were killed at the trade post where Pontiac was slain, only a few small scattered ambushes were perpetrated Illinois Indians and the British during this time. None of these, however, had anything to do with the murder of Pontiac. The Illinois Indians continued to live in the Mississippi Valley until 1832 when they sold their remaining lands in Illinois to the United States Government. Neither they or any part of them were exterminated at Starved Rock after Pontiac's death. This story, known as the Legend of Starved Rock, is based on a real and well documented event that occurred in 1722.


- Alvord, Clarence and Carter, Clarence, "The Critical Period 1763-1765," in Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, vol. X (1915, Springfield, Illinois)
- Alvord, Clarence and Clarence Carter (eds.), "The New Regime 1765-1767" Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, vol. XI, (Springfield 1916).
- Alvord, Clarence and Clarence Carter (eds.), "Trade and Politics 1767-1769," Collections of the Illinois Historical Library, vol. XVI, British Series vol. 3, (1921, Springfield, Illinois).
- Mereness, Newton D. (ed.), Travels in the American Colonies, (New York, 1916) found in the American Memory website.
- Murray, William; Illinois and Ouabache Land Companies [1803], "Account of the Proceedings of the Illinois and Ouabache Land Companies. In Persuance of Their Purchases Made of the Independent Natives, July 5th 1773 and October, 1775" (Philadelphia: William Duane) Permission: Northern Illinois University [Wabash:1803] found in the Illinois Historical Digitization Project.
- Peckham, Howard H., Pontiac and the Indian Uprising, (Wayne State university Press, Detroit 1994 reprint of 1947 work).
- Ohio Valley-Great Lakes Ethnohistory Archives: Miami Collection, (Indiana University) online.
- Thwaites, Reuben Gold, Wisconsin Historical Collections, (State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, 1908) vol. XVIII.
- Thwaites, Reuben G. (ed.) Wisconsin Historical Collections, vol. XVII (Madison, Wisconsin, 1906).
- Alvord, Clarence and Carter, Clarence, "The Critical Period 1763-1765," in Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, vol. X (1915, Springfield, Illinois)
- Alvord, Clarence and Clarence Carter (eds.), "The New Regime 1765-1767" Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, vol. XI, (Springfield 1916).
- Alvord, Clarence and Clarence Carter (eds.), "Trade and Politics 1767-1769," Collections of the Illinois Historical Library, vol. XVI, British Series vol. 3, (1921, Springfield, Illinois).


The first actual settlement of Will county is credited to the Ottawa chief, Pontiac, and the remnant of his tribe, who, after the Franco-British war, selected the country in the vicinity of Wilmington for his principal village, and there located in 1764-5. In 1769 he was killed by a chief of the Illinois—Kineboo—during the council of Joliet Mound, held that year. In this Indian village the first full-blood Indian friend of the whites—Shabbonee—was born about 1776. Although an Ottawa, he married a daughter of the Pottawatomie chief, Spotka, at the mouth of Fox river. At that village he was declared chief of the Pottawatomies, and shortly after removed the tribe to the head of Big Indian creek, in DeKalb county. In 1807 he visited Tecumseh, which visit was returned in 1810. In 1811 he was present at the council of Vincennes, presided over by General Harrison. In 1812 the couriers of Tecumseh arrived in Illinois offering largesses to the tribes who would aid the British against the United States. Shabbonee resisted the offer until the fall of 1812, when he and twenty-two of his warriors left to aid Tecumseh. He was present at the battle of the Thames, in Canada, as was also Billy Caldwell (or Sanganash). During the Winnebago and Black Hawk war he rendered incalculable good to the settlers, and died regretted in Grundy county, July 17, 1859. His wife, Pokanoka, was drowned in Mazen creek, Grundy county, November 30, 1864. [Source: "Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois", 1901., Transcribed by K. Torp]

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