By 1763 the Detroit River was dotted with French homesteads. This pioneer community had slowly grown over the previous fifty years and there had always been good relations with the surrounding First Nations. In fact most of the French families just wanted to remain neutral in this conflict. It must be remembered that Pontiac and his First Nation allies considered themselves to be at war with the British. They still considered the French to be their allies and the French settlers to be their friends.
However, when the war broke out the warriors indiscriminately began to kill their livestock and confiscate their goods. The French settlers asked for a council with Pontiac and it was granted. They complained bitterly explaining the disastrous consequences this policy had upon them and begged him to put a stop to it. He promised them he would under the condition that if the First Nations needed anything to support the continuation of the war they should give it up upon being asked to do so. They agreed. After this council the warriors ceased to trouble the settlers without the permission of their chiefs. They were allowed to continue going about their business during the week as well as go to mass on Sunday unmolested.
When the captured bataux arrived at the Ottawa encampment above the fort Pontiac secured the supplies and stowed them away. A French woman named Deriviere had been expecting a trunk to arrive for her in that shipment. It contained personal goods and clothes and she was distraught that it had been lost. She convinced the interpreter Mr. Labutte to escort her from the fort to the Ottawa camp where she told Pontiac of her dilemma. He had the confiscated goods searched and Miss Diriviere’s missing trunk was found. It was returned to her with no objections.
Most of June was spent keeping the fort under siege. The warriors continually roamed near the stockade in small parties either shooting at the fort or the ship anchored in the river. The British would return fire but neither was of any consequence. Attempts were made by the warriors to set fire to both the fort and the ship but they failed.
In one instance a cart was loaded with combustibles, lit on fire and pushed full speed at the fort’s pickets. The cart was let go when they reached a point just out of range of gunfire but the cart flipped over before it reached its target. In another instance two rafts were loaded with combustibles tied together with a long length of rope and floated toward the British ship anchored in the river just off the fort. The rafts were let go about 20 rods off the ship’s bow. The idea was that the current would carry the two rafts, one on each side of the ship’s bow, and set the ship ablaze. But the British saw the danger approaching, raised their anchor and moved out into the river just as the two rafts floated passed a few yards off their port side.
Lieutenant McDougal made a decision to try to escape back to the safety of the fort. There were no guards at the house where he and Major Campbell were being kept but there were groups of warriors always moving about just outside the homestead. Major Campbell decided not to go with him but approved of his plan. The young lieutenant executed his plan successfully making his way back to the fort. His older superior remained Pontiac’s captive at the house of Mr. Meloche.
The armed sloop Beaver was sent to Niagara for reinforcements and it returned with 300 troops and some supplies. This was the only relief Fort Detroit received. Some of the French settlers secretly sympathized with the British. They would float canoes filled with supplies downriver during the night. A lantern would be lit just as they reached the fort as a signal to the garrison to come out and retrieve the supplies. These things made the strategy of starving out the garrison next to impossible.
During one of the warriors’ sorties a Chippewa chief was shot and killed. The body was retrieved by a French volunteer who was fighting for the British. He desecrated the chief’s body by scalping it and cutting it into pieces. The young chief happened to be the nephew of Wasson the leading war chief from Saginaw. He was livid and the rest of the Saginaw Chippewa were enraged. They raced to the house where Major Campbell was being held and demanded his life for the life of Wasson’s nephew. This was in accordance with First Nations’ custom. The act upon the dead chief was so grievous that Pontiac could not intervene. Campbell was turned over. He was immediately taken out, tortured by having his lips cut off, shot dead with arrows then cut into pieces. Campbell was not only a commanding officer but the cousin of his replacement Major Gladwin. This whole episode had now turned personal on both sides and could only lead to many more unnecessary deaths!
NEXT WEEK: The Beaver War 1763 – Part 7