Academic journal article Michigan Historical Review

After the Conquest: Michilimackinac, a Borderland in Transition, 1760-1763

Academic journal article Michigan Historical Review

After the Conquest: Michilimackinac, a Borderland in Transition, 1760-1763

Article excerpt

On the morning of June 2, 1763, opposing teams of Ojibwe and Sac warriors played a game of baggatiway or lacrosse outside the land gate of Fort Michilimackinac. The Ojibwe used the contest as a ruse to surprise British officers and soldiers who had gathered to watch the action. When a ball was thrown over the palisade, some players raced into the fort where they killed one British officer, twenty enlisted men, and one trader; in addition, they took as their prisoners two officers, fifteen soldiers, and two traders. The Ojibwe plundered the traders' goods, but they left French-Canadian bystanders unharmed. (1) Ojibwe mistrust and fear of British policies and behavior that began with the French surrender of Montreal to Gen. Jeffery Amherst on September 8, 1760, led to this violence. And these hostilities at the fort meant that the Ojibwe and other Native Peoples still needed to negotiate their relationship with British officials if a lasting peace were ever to be realized.

An analysis of events beginning with the arrival of British troops and merchants in September 1761 shows that the Indians, French, and British struggled to redefine the economic and diplomatic boundaries within a vast borderland surrounding Michilimackinac in the aftermath of the British conquest of Canada. Frontier regions are incubators for friction, and in this case the war between France and Great Britain had not yet really ended for the people in the Michilimackinac borderland. French troops remained in Illinois; and the full impact of the Treaty of Paris agreed to by Great Britain and France in February 1763, ending the Seven Years' War, had not yet been felt at Michilimackinac. Thus, unresolved issues burst into violence in June 1763.

With the fall of Montreal the French and Indian War ended in Canada and the eastern English colonies, but peace in the Michilimackinac borderland awaited British negotiation with the Indian nations of the western Great Lakes. Under pressure from Whitehall to reduce expenses, (2) Gen. Jeffery Amherst, the commander in chief of the British Army in North America, devised a simple policy for the pays d'en haut, also known as the upper country--make peace and carry on a fair, free fur trade. (3) By May 1763, however, a viable peace still remained elusive and violence broke out in what historians commonly refer to as Pontiac's Uprising or Pontiac's War. Between May 16 and June 19, Indians captured English posts at Sandusky (Sandusky, Ohio), St. Joseph (Niles, Mich.), Miami (Fort Wayne, Ind.), Ouiatanon (Lafayette, Ind.), Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.), Venango (Franklin, Pa.), Le Boeuf (Waterford, Pa.), and Presque Isle (Erie, Pa.). British garrisons, however, held Fort Detroit, Fort Niagara, and Fort Pitt, which enabled Britain to prevent the Indians from winning the war. (4) At least three factors converged at Michilimackinac that motivated the Ojibwe to strike at the British. First, Amherst attempted to dictate the terms of a lasting peace to the Indians rather than negotiate alliances, which would be sustained by the recurrent councils and exchanges of gifts that were required to keep the peace on an ongoing basis. Second, the Indians nations of the pays d'en haut, who had fought valiantly alongside the French and Canadian armies, faced internal disunity and nasty intertribal conflicts, as well as the effects of disease on their people and the disruption of the fur trade. Third, the longstanding rivalry between the French and the English persisted, in part because the Seven Years' War had not yet clearly ended. Many Canadians took an oath of allegiance to King George, but some of them tried to keep Englishmen out of the fur trade. British officers' mistrust of the French created tensions in the pays d'en haut that undermined both the peace and the trade. Jay Gitlin points out that "the withdrawal of the French Empire from the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley in 1763 should not be equated with the sudden disappearance of local French interests. …

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