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Pontiac Urges Wisconsin Indians to Fight, 1763

By Michael Edmonds
Standards: 8.1, 8.4, 8.5, 8.6, 8.11, 8.12; 12.2, 12.4, 12.5, 12.12, 12.13
Grade Level: Secondary
Topic: Explorers, Traders, and Settlers

Lesson Plan Text:

Introduction: By the time Ottawa chief Pontiac gave the speech cited below, English settlers had been crowding Indians off their ancestral lands and French traders had been exploiting them economically for 150 years. During the brief window after the French surrendered in 1760 but before the English could establish control, Pontiac saw a chance for all the oppressed tribes to rise up together and drive the Europeans into the sea. In the early 1760s he traveled everywhere from Kentucky to Canada enlisting support for his vision. In the summer of 1763 simultaneous attacks across the west did, in fact, drive English troops from outposts such as Green Bay and Mackinaw, but a siege of the main British garrison at Detroit was unsuccessful and Pontiac's campaign ultimately failed.


Background Reading: "Colonialism Transforms Indian Life"

                                 "Background Essay" on the "Journal of Pontiac's Conspiracy, 1763"

Document to Analyze: Pontiac's Speech to Indians at Milwaukee, 1763

Who, What, Where, When, Why: Pontiac was born in a community of Ottawa Indians between 1712 and 1725, probably near Detroit, and fought with the French during the French and Indian War (1755-1763). After the English won that war, a group of Ottawa, Ojibwa, Huron, Potawatomi, and other chiefs from Lake Superior met secretly in 1762 to consider how to oust the English; over the next year they reached out to sympathetic tribes in the region. During this period Pontiac visited Milwaukee (a stronghold known to the English as "those renegates of Milwaukee -- a horrid set of refractory Indians") and delivered the speech related here. It was heard by Menominee Indians, passed orally to Souligny (1785-1864), who spoke it in 1848 in the presence of fur trader Louis Porlier. By the time Porlier wrote it down, Pontiac had been dead for more than a century and 30 years had elapsed since Porlier had heard Souligny deliver it. In tone and substance, however, it is very much like the contemporary transcription made of another Pontiac speech in the "Journal of Pontiac's Conspiracy" linked below.

Related Documents:
Gorrell, James. "Lieut. James Gorrell's journal [1761-1763]" (pp. 36-48)

Grignon, Augustin. "Seventy-two years' recollections of Wisconsin." (pp. 224-228)

"Journal of Pontiac's Conspiracy 1763." (pages 38 and 40)

Student Activities:

1. How do we know what Pontiac said in Milwaukee? What is the evidence? How trustworthy is this evidence?

2. In your own life, what information is so important that you've memorized it and don't need to write it down?  [teachers: birthdays, Social Security number, pledge of allegiance, Lord's Prayer?] What important texts came down to us for centuries through oral tradition? [Homer, Old Testament, nursery rhymes] How reliable are these?

3. What are Pontiac's main points in this speech?

4. What reasons does he give for Wisconsin Indians to join his campaign? In your opinion, are they good reasons? Would you risk your own life for any of them?

5. How does Pontiac's argument relate to modern ideas such as freedom, liberty, national identity, individual conscience, or civic duty? Would you risk your own life for any of these ideas?

6. In another speech, given later in 1763 when his campaign had lost momentum during the siege of Detroit (see pages 38 and 40 of "Journal of Pontiac's Conspiracy"), he made a different argument. What are his main points there? How do they differ from those in the Milwaukee speech?

7. In textbooks this war is often called "Pontiac's Conspiracy" or "Pontiac's Rebellion." What do those names tell you about who wrote the textbooks? About the audiences for whom they were written? Make up two new names for these events that express two different viewpoints, neither of which repeats the values of the traditional names.


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