Hoosier Dusty Files - June 01, 1763 - Capture of Fort Ouiatenon

A Year of Indiana History - 2016
A Year of Indiana History - 2016

June 01, 1763 - Capture of Fort Ouiatenon
Pontiac's plan to drive the British out of North America received an additional boost when a band of Wea, Kickapoo and Mascouten captured Fort Ouiatenon without firing a shot.
Fort Ouiatenon
The French, in their bid to control North America, built Fort Ouiatenon in 1717, making it the first European structure in what would become the State of Indiana. They named it Ouiatenon, a Wea word meaning "place of the whirlpool." The French encouraged the growth of the fort as a trading post for the local tribes. It soon became one of the more important trading posts in the region, perhaps having as many as 2000 - 3000 inhabitants. Its location, about eighteen miles below the mouth of the Tippecanoe River and about five miles south of the current city of Lafayette, was opposite a large Wea village on the banks of the Wabash River. French fur traders descended the Wabash River once a year to trade goods that the natives needed for the furs they had gathered. Many of these traders remained in the village, often described as the finest trading post in the upper country. The village inside the stockade consisted of a double row of ten houses, chapel, blacksmith shop and trading places. Outside the walls almost ninety houses stood.  During the approximately forty-year period of French occupation, the French and the natives coexisted in relative peace.
The French and Indian War Ends the Peace
The French and Indian War (1754 - 1763) ended this tranquil period. The French, as per terms of the Treaty of Paris, abandoned the fort when they departed North America at the wars conclusion. The British did not develop the same close relationship with the natives that the French had. The new policies of the British caused unrest among the natives. As a result of the policies developed by British General Jeffery Amherst, Pontiac began his rebellion.
Pontiac's Rebellion began because of British Major General Jeffrey Amherst's policies after the French defeat and abandonment of North America after the French and Indian War ended in 1763.
Jeffrey Amherst (January 29, 1717– August 3, 1797)
Born to Kentish lawyer Jeffrey Amherst and Elizabeth Kerrill Amherst near Sevenoaks, England, Jeffrey Amherst served as page to the Duke of Dorset as a young boy. He joined the Grenadier Guards in 1735 and saw extensive action during the War of the Austrian Succession. During the Seven Years War, he received an appointment as commander-in-chief of the British army in North America in the North American version, the French and Indian Wars. He played a prominent role in the battle to subdue Louisburg and Fort Ticonderoga. His greatest achievement during that war was his campaign to capture Montreal. This English victory ended the French presence in North America. As a reward for his achievements, he received the post of governor-general of British North America. He held this title until 1763.
Excerpted from the Author's books:
American History A Day at A Time - July
A Year of Colonial American Frontier History
Amherst's Policy Change Angers Amerindian Tribes
The French had a policy of bestowing generous gifts to the native tribes that inhabited their regions. By giving these gifts, they honored Amerindian traditions and thus showed them respect. The gifts included guns, knives, tobacco, and clothing. The gifts had deep symbolic meaning to the natives. When the British forced the French from Canada, they moved their troops in. Amherst did not try to hide the contempt he felt for the tribes. He cut back on the gifts and restricted the supply of gunpowder and ammunition. This enraged the natives as the weapons made it easier for the tribes to obtain the food they needed during their hunting forays. Additionally, intermarriage between the natives and British, which had been encouraged between the French, was discouraged between the natives and the British.
Pontiac or Obwandiyag (c. 1720 – April 20, 1769)
Historians know little about the Ottawa chief Pontiac. He first surfaced in history during 1763 when he led an uprising against the British. He managed to put together an alliance of various native tribes and lead a rebellion against the British known as Pontiac's Uprising or Pontiac's War.
The Alliance
On April 7, 1763, Pontiac held a great council on the Ecorse River in current Michigan. The tribes that attended included the Ottawa, Ojibwa, and Pottawatomie,  Huron, Miami, Wea, Kickapoo, Mascouten, Piankashaw, Delaware (Lenape), Shawnee, Wyandot, and Mingo tribes. Pontiac urged the tribes to take united action to drive the British from the Ohio River Valley and Great Lakes regions. Fed by the exhortations of the Delaware prophet Neolin, who preached that unless the natives drove the British out, disease and famine would plague them, the natives were receptive to Pontiac's pleas for unity. He exhorted them to shun the white man's trade goods, alcohol and culture and return to traditional native values. An epidemic of smallpox and food shortages drove the natives to believe this message. During the council, Pontiac urged the native tribes to unite and drive the British out. Pontiac had a plan to achieve this grand vision.
The Plan
Pontiac drew up a plan that involved closely spaced, multiple attacks on the eleven British forts that existed in the region. Pontiac first struck against Fort Detroit on May 7, 1763. His plan to take the fort failed, however it succeeded at other locations. During the uprising, the natives managed to take nine out of the eleven British outposts in the region.
Fort Miami Taken
The first fort to fall was Fort Sandusky on Lake Erie on May 16. They captured Fort St. Joseph in Michigan on May 25. The third fort, Fort Miamis at the junction of the St. Mary's, St. Joseph's and Maumee Rivers fell on May 27. The natives induced the fort commander’s mistress, a native woman, to lure him out of the fort. The warriors killed him. The nine-man garrison surrendered after the death of the commander.
Capture of Fort Ouiatenon
Lieutenant Edward Jenkins occupied the fort in 1761 for the British. The British garrison of nine men occupied the fort until June 1, 1763. The natives took the fort by surprise by simply walking into the fort and taking the British soldiers prisoners. Only the intervention of the French occupying the village saved the British soldier’s lives.
The American Period
An American force commanded by Captain Leonard Helm captured the fort during the action initiated by George Rogers Clark in 1778 in the American Revolution. The British recaptured the fort in December, 1778, however the Americans again took the fort the following year. After the Revolution, the Americans did not use the fort. The natives took it over and used it to stage raids against the Americans. President George Washington ordered the fort destroyed. This was accomplished in May 1791. The fort has been restored and is the site of an annual festival called the Feast of the Hunters' Moon in October. To visit the restored fort and get information about the festival, contact:
Tippecanoe County Historical Association
1001 South Street
Lafayette, IN 47901
(765) 476-8411
General Information: mail@tippecanoehistory.org
Feast Information: feastinfo@tippecanoehistory.org
Library Information: library@tippecanoehistory.org
Visitors may visit a replica of Fort Ouiatenon constructed by Dr. Richard B. Wetherill in 1930. Archeologists have located the actual site of the fort about a mile downstream. The National Register of Historic Places has listed the actual location of the fort in 1970.  The eighteen-acre park is open on weekends from May through September.
Historic Fort Ouiatenon Park
3129 S River Rd
West Lafayette, IN 47906
(765) 476-8411

Indiana possesses a rich history that is fun to read and learn. This Hoosier Dusty Files is in an easy to read “this day in history format” and includes articles from the author's A Year in Indiana History series. Visitors may read the articles as they appear or purchase the book:
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning