Potawatomi People

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Armies >> Native American Peoples >> Potawatomi People

Origin and History

The Potawatomi people (literally “those who tend the hearth-fire”) are an Algonquian-speaking group of Native Americans. They initially inhabited the lower peninsula of present-day Michigan. They were traditional allies of the Ojibwe People and Odawa People, with whom they were considered to be the younger brother. Collectively they are known as Anishinaabe (human beings).

In the 1630s, during the Beaver Wars, the Potawatomi were driven out of their traditional territory by the Neutral people, who obtained firearms from the Iroquois Confederacy. As refugees, they gradually migrated to the west side of Lake Michigan in northern Wisconsin and established themselves on the islands at the mouth of Green Bay. In 1642 Jesuits found them living with the Ojibwe in the Sault Sainte-Marie area. In 1652 the Potawatomi, with the Wyandot and Odawa erected the fortified village of Mechingan. In the mid-1650s French traders Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Medart-Chouart de Groseillers spent several months in the Potawatomi village. Impressed with French trade goods, Potawatomis journeyed to Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior where the Odawa had established villages to trade.

In 1667, the population was estimated to be around 4,000 by the French.

Territory of the Potawatomi People - Copyright: Kronoskaf

In 1668 dissatisfied with the Odawa monopoly, Potawatomi traders travelled to Montréal. Here they met the Governor Jean Talon, and traded furs for muskets and other trade goods. At the same time Potawatomi villages were visited by Nicolas Perrot and Toussaint Baudry, two traders from Lake Superior. Perrot described the Potawatomi as being affable, intelligent and of good physical appearance, and the arbiters of inter band disputes. After the visit, the Potawatomi sent runners to the Illinois, Miami, Meskwaki, Sauk and Kickapoo informing them of the availability of French goods at their villages. This attracted many to move their villages closer to them which resulted in, to the dismay of the Potawatomi, an increase in French traders. There was a glut of furs which led to the Potawatomi getting into a dispute with the French over high prices in 1669.

However, through diplomacy Perrot went with Potawatomi delegates to Sault Sainte-Marie along with Sauk, Winnebago and Menominee diplomats and on June 14, 1671 signed an alliance with France which also acknowledged their king (although likely to have been seen in terms of kinship rather than rule as intended). The French official François Daumont, Sieur de Saint Lusson then claimed the whole of the interior of North America for France through the arrogant nonsense that was the Doctrine of Discovery.

In 1670 the Seneca raided into present-day Wisconsin taking 35 Potawatomi captive and disrupting the fur trade. The Potawatomi struck back attacking Iroquois traders and hunters in present-day Michigan. In 1672 the Jesuit Allouez erected a large wooden cross near the Potawatomi village at the foot of Green Bay. This was destroyed by a party of young Potawatomi warriors leaving to attack the Dakota. The raid was a disaster and the Jesuits seized upon this defeat to say that they were being punished. The Jesuits met with increased interest and by 1676 more than 400 had taken part in their water initiation ceremony.

In 1680 the Iroquois retaliated for their 1670 losses by attacking the Illinois. In 1681 the Onondaga told the Governor Frontenac they were planning to carry the war to the Potawatomi but this never materialised. The Potawatomi joined a coalition formed by the French. In 1686 a large Seneca war party attacked a Miami village near present-day Chicago. The Potawatomi rallied the Meskwaki and Mascouten to come to the aid of the Miami. This combined force overtook the Seneca killing many and freeing several Miami.

In 1687 the Potawatomi and other nations joined the French from Montréal and took part in Denonville’s raid on the Seneca. Two years later, the Seneca retaliated at Lachine killing 100 and raiding to the outskirts of Montréal. The French defeat led to anti-French sentiment among the western Lakes nations.

In 1689 the Potawatomi were visited by Perrot who, on behalf of Governor Frontenac, thanked them for their loyalty and urged them to join in renewed attacks on the Iroquois. The Potawatomi responded, and with other lakes nations attacked the Iroquois over the next five years. Hundreds of Seneca were lost and they were forced to abandon outlying villages and shift east.

By 1695 a group of Potawatomi had moved to the Saint-Joseph River in present-day Michigan. In 1696 French policy changed drastically following a decline in the European fur market and due to growing reports of the harmful effects of the liquor trade and abuse of Native American women by the French. In 1698 a royal edict closed the posts, revoked trading licences and prohibited trade with Native Americans except when they visited Montréal. A few missionaries and coureurs de bois continued alone under the threat of being sent to the galleys if caught.

In the same year, part of the Miami, Odawa and Wyandot accepted an offer from the Iroquois to trade with them. However, the Potawatomi, at the urging of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, with their allies attacked an Iroquois party who had been with the Wyandot and killed 30 and captured 32. In 1697 the Potawatomi and their allies killed or captured more than 100 Seneca.

In August 1697 more than 300 Potawatomi, Odawa, Sauk and Wyandot accompanied Cadillac to Montréal to complain about the shortage of trade goods. The Potawatomi diplomat Onanghisse warned Frontenac that his peoples tie with France might break.

By 1698 Potawatomi villages were established at Manitowoc and Milwaukee in present day Wisconsin. This migration continued and resulted in the majority of Potawatomi moving from Green Bay. In July 1701, with Onanghisse and Winamac as their spokesmen, the Potawatomi attended the Great Peace in Montréal. A treaty was made between them and the Iroquois and a prisoner exchange arranged. With the peace large numbers left Green Bay to join their kin in the Saint-Joseph River valley.

In 1710-1711 a party of over a thousand Meskwaki, Mascouten and Kickapoo moved to Détroit at the invitation of Jaques-Charles Renaud Dubuisson, the commandant of the post.

From 1712 to 1716, the Potawatomi took part in the First Fox War in the French alliance. In 1712 the Mascouten, allied with the Meskwaki (Fox) established a village in Potawatomi hunting territory on the upper St Joseph River. The Potawatomi with the Odawa from Grand River attacked the village, killing 50. When the Meskwaki and their allies at Détroit learnt of the raid they besieged the French fort, Fort Pontchartrain (near present-day Détroit). In May the fort was relieved when a large force from the west under the Potawatomi Captain Mackisabe (Eagle) arrived. The Meskwaki and Mascouten then found themselves under siege. This lasted for 19 days, until they broke out under the cover of a storm The Potawatomi under Mackisabe and their allies pursued them for four days. Overtaking them, the women and children were spared but the warriors who surrendered were burned. Returning from Montréal, Mackisabe and Winamac learnt that Meskwaki, Mascouten and Kickapoo warriors were raiding trade routes, people afraid to leave villages for fear of being attacked. Most of the Potawatomi moved, following Winamac to Détroit establishing a village near the Wyandot. The Potawatomi readily joined the French in their campaigns, fighting a battle against the Kickapoo and Mascouten in present day Wisconsin in November 1715 and taking part in the successful campaign against the Meskwaki fort at Little Butte des Morts Lake the following year. Most Potawatomi had moved to join Winamac and by 1718 had become the most populous people at Détroit.

By 1717 continuing shortages of trade goods led to the Potawatomi accepting the Miami invitation to trade with the British at Albany. En route, on Lake Ontario they met Alphonse de Tonty going west to take command at Détroit. Convinced of his sincerity, they turned back, whilst others went to Montréal to meet Governor Vaudreuil to air their grievances. Prices of trade goods were lowered and the request for a fort on the Saint-Joseph River granted, which was erected in 1718. This attracted Potawatomi people back to the region.

In 1720 Meskwaki warriors attacked a Potawatomi hunting camp near present-day Chicago, capturing two, one of which was Winimac’s son. Although freed by the Kickapoo and Mascouten, the Potawatomi were incensed. They wanted to retaliate but Tonty advised against it while he tried diplomatic means of obtaining peace.

From 1728 to 1737, the Potawatomi fought in the Second Fox War. Vaudreuil’s successor as governor, de Beauharnois decided the British were at the root of the Meskwaki attacks, abandoned any mediation and adopted a policy of genocide. Following an unsuccessful French expedition, Beauharnois gathered allied nations in Montréal. On August 4, 1730 the Potawatomi led by Madouche, with the Kickapoo and Mascouten, came to the aid of the Illinois in besieging the Meskwaki at the Grand Prairie. Further Potawatomi arrived, along with French troops and further indigenous reinforcements on August 10. More Potawatomi along with Miami and Wyandot warriors arrived on September 1. On the night of September 8, the Meskwaki broke out of the siege during a storm. They were pursued and overtaken. The Potawatomi and their allies killed 200 men and 300 women and children with the remaining women and children taken prisoner.

Following this the Potawatomi argued for leniency for the surviving Meskwaki. In the fall they provided corn for the Meskwaki to survive the winter and refused to prosecute war against Meskwaki villages in present-day Wisconsin.

In 1732 Potawatomi warriors, who had not taken part in the massacre, joined the Odawa and Wyandot in attacking a small fortified Meskwaki village in northern Illinois. The siege was half-hearted and abandoned as the Meskwaki promised to surrender to the French sometime in the future. In 1735 the Potawatomi continued to plead with the French to show mercy to the Meskwaki and the St. Joseph Potawatomi refused to take part in a French expedition against the Meskwaki and Sauk in present-day Iowa. A few Détroit Potawatomi joined but deserted before reaching Iowa.

In 1736, with the failure of the expedition the Potawatomi increased their efforts to bring peace between the Meskwaki and French, and welcomed Sauks into their village the following year. Winimac led a delegation of Potawatomi, Odawa, Winnebago and Menominee to Montréal to plead the Meskwaki and Sauk cause, to stop the war and free their prisoners. Beauharnois agreed.

In the meantime, the Potawatomi had raided and been counter-raided by the Chickasaw. In the spring of 1738, the Wyandot had made a unilateral peace with the Chickasaw and Cherokee and warned the Potawatomi, Odawa and Ojibwe to no longer support the French in their campaigns against the southern nations. The Three Fires denounced the Wyandot accusing them of planning to attack the French. To thwart them the Potawatomi, Odawa and Ojibwe sent a 17 strong war party south but, on their way, passed two groups of Wyandot who had warned the Catawba. Warned, the Catawba then ambushed the war party. Only one Odawa survived and returning to Détroit reported the ambush; the Odawa threatened to go to war with the Wyandot. Fearing the Potawatomi and Ojibwe would join the Odawa, the Wyandot fled Détroit, finally settling at Sandusky. During the 1740s, particularly after French trade was blocked by the English in King George’s War (1742-1748), British traders increasingly moved into the Ohio country with cheaper goods than that of the French. The French relied on the Potawatomi to drive them away. Remaining loyal to their alliance, Potawatomi warriors from both St Joseph and Détroit raided New England and Saratoga. The Wyandot tried to rally various nations to drive the French out of the Upper Great Lakes area with the attack planned for August 1747. As many warriors were away the Potawatomi hesitated about coming to the assistance of Paul Joseph le Moyne, Chevalier de Longueuil, the commandant at Détroit against a potential Wyandot attack. However, the threat petered out and came to nothing.

In 1747 the Miami led a protest against the French trading system and established Pickawillany (present-day Piqua, Ohio) on a site just below the junction of Loramie Creek and the Great Miami River, at the beginning of one of the portages to the St Mary River. The site was easily reached by British traders. The action for the French threatened a break from their alliance. The Potawatomi refused to partake and persuaded Miamis living in on the Tippecanoe River in present-day Indiana not to move to Pickawillany. Although a few Potawatomi did trade with the British they refused to be allied to the British.

During the winter of 1750-1751 a French expedition against Pickawillany was planned. When it reached Détroit, it consisted of one French officer and 50 Nipissing and Algonquin warriors. Dismayed the Potawatomi and Odawa refused to join but pledged to join a similar expedition the following spring if the force was more sizeable. Meanwhile a smallpox epidemic swept through Potawatomi and Odawa villages near Détroit killing 80 people. In June 1752, a few Détroit Potawatomi warriors took part in the French expeditions led by Charles de Langlade that destroyed Pickawillany. The returning warriors flushed with success restored any doubt in French military power.

In 1751 St Joseph Potawatomi warriors had been part of war party that attacked the Peoria Illinois. Then in the summer of 1752 Chicago Potawatomi warriors with a large force of many nations attacked the Illinois villages of Cahokia and Michigamea.

In 1754 Louis Coulon de Villers expedition proceeded down the Allegheny River reaching for Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio on June 26. Subsequently the French and allied Native Americans defeated Washington’s Virginians at Fort Necessity.

Role during the War

1755

In the early summer of 1755, many Potawatomi warriors from all villages, Chicago, St Joseph and Détroit, arrived in numbers at Fort Duquesne. General Braddock with a force of 1,400 regulars and provincials led an expedition against Fort Duquesne, approaching the fort from the south-east with the objective of taking it from the French. On July 8 the army was reported to the French by scouts. The French commandant, Sieur de Contrecoeur admonished the Native Americans to attack but the Détroit Potawatomi refused – the reason is unknown but probably the result of a portentous dream – but said that they would gladly do so on the following day. Others agreed. On July 9, the British had forded to Monongahela River. From there, they took part in the Ambush on the Monongahela, where they attacked along the flanks of the British column winning the day.

Following their success, many Détroit Potawatomi warriors raided British settlements in what is now Pennsylvania and Virginia. In October, French officials at Détroit reported that the Potawatomi had killed or captured 120 British squatters.

1756

During the summer of 1756 French officials arranged a peace between the Chicago and St Joseph Potawatomi and the Illinois.

In late August, a large party of Potawatomi and Odawa arrived in Montréal, bringing their families whilst the warriors raided the British. Governor Vaudreuil assured them that the women and children would be provided for. Vaudreuil exhorted them to attack the British to which the Potawatomi sang their war songs. They told the governor: ‘We are famished; give us fresh meat; we wish to eat the English; dispatch us quickly.’

On September 29, a band of Potawatomi warriors arrived at Fort Carillon to take part in operations on Lake Champlain. They told the French officers that they were more reliable than the indigenous warriors from the Saint-Laurent were. They agreed to ascend Lake Saint Sacrement (George) and ambush parties between Fort Edward and Albany. Bougainville observed that the Potawatomi were different in their councils than others, their orators not making their speech all at once, each sentence translated. They left on the evening of October 2. On October 6 a scout of one of each of a mixed party, a Potawatomi, Abenaki, Nipissing and Frenchman ran into an outpost, and the Abenaki was killed. The scouts rejoined the main body near Twin Rocks (half-way between Carillon and the south end of the lake), the Potawatomi and Nipissing giving the Abenaki two wampum belts to wipe away the feeling of the loss. The whole then retraced their steps without stopping 7 or 8 leagues. A council was held which as a result the Abenaki, the [[Iroquois except two and all the Canadiens and Troupes de la Marine returned to Carillon. The Potawatomi and Nipissing, 19 men in all, with Ensign Jean-Baptiste de Langis de Monegron (Langy) remained with the intention of flanking the British post, to find out what it was, a simple reconnaissance, a larger force or fort building at the end of the bay on Chicot River, or one that covered the road between Fort Edward and Fort William Henry. On October 15 at Carillon, no news of their Potawatomi kin forthcoming, their holy man ran a shaking hut ceremony to learn of their fate. The spirit foretold that the party would return shortly with scalps and prisoners. On October 18, he repeated the ceremony. After which he brought Montcalm a stick with 16 notches and 4 crosses which said they had left 16 days ago, had made a coup 4 days ago and they would return that day with scalps and prisoners. Bougainville noted that at 3 p.m. the Potawatomi arrived bringing back a prisoner who had been taken a few leagues away from Albany. On October 22, these warriors left Carillon for Montréal, intending to return at Carillon with their families for the winter.

1757

On January 3, 1757 the French sent 20 Canadiens and 40 Native American warriors (Iroquois and Potawatomis) under the command of M. De Langlade to reinforce the garrison of Fort Carillon (present-day Ticonderoga). On April 25, 10 Iroquois, and some Odawa and Potawatomi warriors left Montréal to raid the region of Fort William Henry. On May 5, a few Potawatomi warriors, who had wintered at Montréal, left for Détroit. Many of the Détroit Potawatomi warriors preferred to raid into what is now Virginia.


On July 19 at 4:00 p.m., 80 St. Joseph Potawatomi warriors arrived at Carillon to take part in the French expedition against Fort William Henry. By July 20, some 90 Potawatomi warriors formed part of Marin’s Brigade. On the morning of July 21, the Odawa came to Montcalm asking for ‘two sets of equipment’ which they wished to make spiritual offering. One had dreamt Lake Saint-Sacrement was covered with the British. Colonel John Parker and the New Jersey ‘Blues’, a provincial battalion, had been sent out by Colonel Monroe commanding at Fort William Henry to scout Fort Carillon. They were discovered and Odawa warriors, forming the majority of Langlade’s force, of 400 Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawatomi and 50 French soldiers and Milices Canadiennes, were sent out to intercept them. Two canoe loads of Odawa scouting, catching sight of the provincials, were fired upon by them, killing one Odawa and wounding a ‘captain’. This resulted in several Odawa going home to grieve. However, on the following day July 23, Langlade’s force successfully ambushed the New Jersey ‘Blues’ at Sabbath Day Point whilst in 20 whale boats rowing up Lac Saint-Sacrement. The New Jersey provincials lost 280 men as casualties or captured out of total of 359 men. One warrior was slightly wounded.

On July 28, Bougainville listed 70 Potawatomi from St Joseph and 18 from Détroit being present at Carillon. On July 30, several indigenous youths being bored and peevish, the food also being bad, killed four oxen on top of the 14 killed the previous day. The Potawatomi did not take part in the incident, which they called an insult to their ‘father’.

On August 1, Montcalm and his army set off up Lac Saint-Sacrement towards Fort William Henry. The Potawatomi were led by Millouisllyny, Ouakousy (Fox), Nanaquiba (Water Moccasin), Oybischagamé, and Nerionvois. On August 4, the French began the Siege of Fort William Henry and the retrenchment outside the fort. During the siege, the Potawatomi, along with the rest of the Native American force and the Milice formed an observation screen from the edge of the woods to the south of the fort and retrenchment blocking the road to Fort Edward. On August 9, Colonel Monroe surrendered the fort and was permitted to leave. The following morning the British marched out to Fort Edward. The rear of the column consisting provincials and rangers was briefly assaulted by aggrieved [[Abenakis. Some Potawatomi may have harassed the column. During that campaign, some Potawatomi warriors contracted smallpox and brought back the disease to their villages that winter. It was reported at Saint-Joseph in August 1757.

1758

The smallpox epidemic hit the Saint-Joseph Potawatomi hard between March and May, and was probably the cause of their non-appearance in 1758 along with the shortage of trade goods, including gun powder. Nanaquiba and Nerionvois survived. Few journeyed eastward.

A small war party of Détroit Potawatomi raided into present-day Pennsylvania.

1759

In June 1759, a Détroit Potawatomi war party attacked a British supply train in what is now western Pennsylvania causing 40 casualties. Meanwhile Potawatomi, along with Odawa and Ojibwe warriors went to Fort Niagara, where Captain Pouchot was attempting to defend against a force of British, led by General John Prideaux, and Iroquois. In late June the Potawatomi served as scouts, reporting on the advance of Prideaux’s force and carrying requests for reinforcements to the Forts Venango and Presque Isle. Although the Iroquois tried to detach them from the French cause the Potawatomi refused, stating their fathers had always been friends with the French and they would not break the alliance.

In mid-July after Prideaux’s army surrounded Fort Niagara, many Potawatomi slipped away to guide a French relief force from Venango and Presque Isle. Although Prideaux had been accidentality killed when a shell exploded prematurely, on July 24 William Johnson sent a force to meet the relief column which was defeated at La Belle-Famille, south of the fort. The Potawatomi and their allies agreeing with the Iroquois that they did not have a quarrel with each other (only a few Illinois, Osage and Ojibwe still pledged to fight) escaped by retreating along the shores of Lake Erie.

On July 7, 110 Potawatomi warriors arrived at Québec to take part in the defence of the town and headed directly to the camp at Beauport.

On July 26 a 2,000-man British scouting party searched for a river crossing above the Montmorency Falls led by General Wolfe personally. As the British slowly moved through the forest cover along the river, they were totally unaware that they were being watched by Charles Langlade and 400 Native Americans. Potentially Potawatomi warriors were part of this force. They lay in ambush whilst reinforcements were sent for. After laying undetected for five hours and none forthcoming, losing patience with the French, the Native Americans fired a volley. The British panicked and fled but were rallied by their officers and counter-attacked. The Native Americans evaded back across the stream. Fifty-five British soldiers had been killed and wounded. Wolfe abandoned attempts to cross above Montmorency Falls.

By August, many warriors from the Détroit Potawatomi, believed the French had lost the conflict. George Croghan, a British trader and Indian agent, met with representatives from eight nations at Pittsburgh (Duquesne) including eight diplomats from the Potawatomi led by Opewas. None of the Potawatomi formally spoke at the conference but watched as each of the other nations made peace with the British before returning to Détroit.

1760

In the winter of 1759/1760, the Détroit Potawatomi sent runners to the British in Pennsylvania to send traders to their villages. The French officers at Détroit opposed this but could do nothing. The Potawatomi were in desperate need of powder. Warriors continued to meet the British in Pittsburgh, asking for traders and gifts (to establish a relationship). Croghan told them that the British would soon occupy the Great Lakes to, ‘... protect and lay open and free and interrupted Trade for You and for all Nations.’ In August, Wabanum (White Dog) and four other Potawatomi warriors attended a multinational conference at Pittsburgh where they informed Croghan that they would welcome the British to present-day Michigan.

In November, a British expedition commanded by Robert Rogers arrived in Détroit. On December 3, British officers met with the Potawatomi, Odawa and Wyandot. Croghan assured the Potawatomi that British traders would operate at Détroit as long as there was peace. They were asked to give up their British captives and were then introduced to the British commandant Captain Donald Campbell, who requested that they supply meat for the garrison in exchange for powder and lead. On December 4, Achoneave of the Wyandot spoke for all three nations assuring that they would give back the captives except those who refused to return. The following day, Nerionvois opened a conference asking the British to supply low-priced trade goods, that he would treat all European inhabitants as his brothers and requested that in the following spring a formal peace be made with all nations.

In December Campbell wrote to Henry Bouquet, a fellow officer: ‘The Indians here are in great distress for want of ammunition.’ He gave what he could spare.

1761

The Saint-Joseph and Chicago Potawatomi had not visited Croghan or gone to Détroit and remained relatively untouched by the British presence. The winter prevented Rogers from occupying the Lake Michigan posts. Although the French garrison left Fort Saint-Joseph and moved to Illinois, remaining French traders settled among the Potawatomi continued to exert an anti-British influence.

In the spring, Seneca overtures to attack the British in the Ohio and Lakes country to the Potawatomi fell on deaf ears. The Potawatomi were grateful for Campbell’s limited generosity.

On July 3 the Potawatomi and their allies met with two Seneca leaders and urged them to attack the British. The Seneca were informed on the following day that they wished to deliver their answer in the presence of Campbell. The Seneca plan collapsed. Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern District, arrived in Détroit in September to ratify the peace between the western nations and the British.

The British soon fell short of Potawatomi expectations, presuming similar relations to that they had with the French, who treated them as equals and entertaining them as honoured guests worthy of great respect and deference. In September, Sir Jeffrey Amherst was appointed Governor General of British North America and authorised to carry out Indian Policy. which included reducing the costs of trade goods and the ceasing of giving presents, a cultural act of goodwill. There was already lack of trade goods in the Lakes and Ohio country and this policy angered Native Americans, going against the agreed treaty. He also withheld the sale of gunpowder and lead, where families depended on hunting and pelts for trading.

By early October, Captain Henry Balfour reached Fort St. Joseph, left a garrison of 15 men under the command of Ensign Schlosser and returned to Détroit. Although they welcomed the garrison, the Potawatomi did not welcome British traders into their villages. They were still supplied by the French via Illinois. Many resented the British presence in their territory.

1762

In January 1762, Amherst issued further orders limiting presents to nations and for his officers to suppress the rum trade. Despite this Campbell continued to share trade goods and ammunition with the Potawatomi. However, Major Henry Gladwin arrived to take command of Détroit. He shared Amherst’s negative views; he refused to give presents and would not have the fort’s smith repair guns. He had infuriated Native Americans calling them ‘Hogs and other names, and telling them to get along.’

In August, Thomas Hutchins, a British Indian agent, reached St. Joseph but failed to distribute the customary presents and rum to the Potawatomi, a serious breach of etiquette. The Potawatomi asked him why he had no presents ‘to keep their women and children from the cold.’ In reply Hutchins expounded the benefits of British Indian policy but saw ‘great uneasiness’ amongst the Potawatomi. He left the following day.

If the British did not act like ritual fathers or brothers then they were potential enemies. Famine and epidemic, rife at the time, coupled with British trade policy, created the Potawatomi image of the British as enemies, a malevolent people bound neither by kinship not ritual obligations. War belts were being distributed including from Détroit.

In 1762 a Lenape prophet named Neolin expounded a message of transformation, to return to their ancestral ways and to give up European goods. His teachings spread throughout the Ohio nations and influenced the Odawa leader Obwandiyag (Pontiac) who made the message specifically anti-British and greatly tempered Neolin’s rejection of European ways. In October, George Croghan received reports of French emissaries in native dress attending a secret council at the Odawa village near Détroit met with the leaders and war captains of the Potawatomi, Odawa, Wyandot and Ojibwe. The Odawa rather than the Wyandot had taken precedence at Détroit. Messengers were sent out to other nations but the Odawa kept the Six Nations Iroquois in the dark. In the late winter preparations for war began.

1763

In the May of 1763, the Potawatomi under Nerionvois were part of the force that besieged Détroit to start the war to expel the British intruders from their lands.

Dress

In 1718 Jacques-Charles de Sabrevois visited the Détroit Potawatomi. ‘This nation is well clothed, like our savages resident at Montréal. The only occupation of the men is to hunt and to adorn themselves. They use a great deal of Vermillion. They use many buffalo Robes, highly ornamented, to cover themselves in winter; and in summer they wear Red or blue cloth. In summer they Play a great deal at lacrosse, twenty or more on each side. Their bat [crosse] is a sort of small racket, and The ball with which they Play Is of very Heavy wood, a little larger than the balls we use in Tennis. When they Play, they Are entirely naked; they have only a breech-clout, and Shoes of deer-skin. Their bodies are painted all over with all Kinds of colours. There are some who paint their bodies with white clay, applying it to resemble silver lace sewed on all the seams of a coat; and, at a distance, one would take it for silver lace.’

At the time of writing there is no specific written description of Potawatomi dress for the Seven Years War period known to the author, although they were present in gatherings observed by recorders. They are likely to have followed the general Anishinaabe fashion of the region. Bougainville stated in June 1757 that he saw, ‘... no difference in their dress, ornaments, dances and songs of these different nations. They are naked save for a breechclout, and painted black, red, blue, etc. Their heads are shaved and feather ornament them. In their lengthened ear [lobes] are rings of brass wire. They have beaver skins for covering, and carry lances, arrows and quivers made of buffalo skin.’ However, he was able to distinguish between the music of the Odawa and the Winnebago (a Siouan speaking nation from the western Great Lakes).

Hair

Pierre Pouchot writing generically of the indigenous men he observed at Niagara wrote: ‘They do not wear their hair longer than a priest’s calotte, cut an inch long, covered with grease and powdered with vermillion in the middle. They leave tow locks of hair, which they fasten by two silver clasps of a finger’s length, or in a queue made with a border of porcupine quills.’

Headdress

It is likely that feathers and other items were worn in the scalplock according to the man’s spiritual experiences. Pouchot noted that: ‘They arrange therein [in their hair] also, some feathers of birds, forming a kind of tuft.’

A circular roach of red dyed deer hair and porcupine guard secured with a bone spreader may have been worn. It is fixed to the head by passing a scalp braid through the spreader and secured with a wooden pin to the head. Mounted in on the spreader was a bone or wood socket into which a single eagle feather was fixed so that it could revolve with the wearer’s movement.

Headbands decorated with quillwork with upright feathers were likely to have been worn by some men for special occasions. Turbans of otter fur may also have been worn at such times.

Tattoo and Paint

Tattooing of the face and body was practiced as an alternative to painting. Tattoos in the form of some animal, such as an eagle, a snake or other figure were ingrained with powdered charcoal. Linear patterns were also used extensively. The French soldier J.C. B. stated that: ‘Many... are accustomed to tattoo the whole body.’ He goes on to state: ‘He dips the points [of the needles] in the colour desired, which is prepared from alder charcoal or gunpowder; from red earth or vermillion; or blue, green and the like; all bright colours.’

Bougainville writing in 1756 observed: ‘We marched through the woods in several files, the Indians almost naked, all in black and red war paint.’

J. C. B. observed that: ‘Others are satisfied with painting the face and body in different colours, first rubbing themselves with bear grease, and then daubing on black, red blue and green’ and ‘They painted themselves red and black, then sang the war song’ and ‘They do this by dipping their fingers in the colour with which they want to paint their faces in every direction, forming stripes across and down the face.’

Ears and Nose

Pouchot stated that: ‘When a young man has been to war, he cuts the border of his ears, and attached a piece if lead so that the weight may elongate the cartilage, forming an opening large enough to put in a mitasse [legging] rolled up. They put in brass wire around, and in the circumference they put in tufts of coloured hair or feathers. Their ears come down to their shoulders, and float there as they walk. When they travel in woods, they put a band around the forehead to keep the ears from being torn in the thickets. They do not keep their ears till they become wise, because quarrelling while drunk, they tear them, so that before getting far along in life loose them entirely. They pierce the cartilage of the nose, and put in a little ring with a triangle of silver, which falls down before the mouth.’

Ornaments, Necklaces and Neck Pouches

Necklaces of wampum, imitation wampum or glass beads were likely to have been worn. Pendants could have consisted of large shells or silverwork such as French coins with the king’s head, cross of Lorraine or a crucifix. In the French and Indian War period, Pierre Pouchot stated that men, ‘… wear around the neck, a collar pendent like our order of knighthood [probably referring to the gorget worn by army officers at that period].

Pierre Pouchot wrote: ‘They wear around the neck, a collar pendant like our order of knighthood. At the end is a plate of silver, as large as a saucer, or shell of the same size, or a disc of wampum.’ A tobacco pouch could also have been worn around the neck and in which was kept a man’s personal pipe. The tobacco pouch made of the skins of animals with the hairy side turned outwards. Slit pouches of animal skins were also worn over the belt. John Rutherford noted that: ‘When they are all dead, they scalped them and took the skin off their arms to make tobacco pouches... leaving the first joints of the fingers by ways of tassels.’

‘The Indians are fond of wearing rings upon all their fingers.’

Broaches of silver, replacing those of copper or brass, became increasingly abundant through the 18th century in adorning clothing and available at Détroit. There were several designs of broach. The simplest and most numerous was a ring across which a tongue extended like a buckle. This is affixed to cloth by pinching the material up so that the tongue penetrates it twice and when drawn back holds it firmly in place. Smaller ones can often line the edges of breechclouts, etc. whilst those of larger diameter decorated the upper body of shirts. Another very common broach fixed in the same manner is a circular ornate disc perforated with punched out or embossed regular patterns which can have embossed or crenulated edges sometimes known as a round buckle.

Pouchot stated that: ‘The forearm is ornamented with silver broaches, three or four fingers wide, and the arms by a kind of wristlets made of wampum or coloured porcupine quills with fringes of leather above and below.’

Breechclout and Apron

Bougainville writing of Michilimackinac men in June 1757 commented that: ‘They go naked except for a breechclout. Their bearing is noble and proud.’

Pierre Pouchot stated that: ‘The men... wear a breech-cloth which is a quarter of an ell of cloth, which they pass under their thighs, crossing before and behind upon a belt around the waist. Sometimes this cloth is embroidered. When they travel, to avoid being chafed by the cloth, they put it on simply as an apron before them.’

J.C.B. recorded that ‘The loincloth is made of deerskin or cloth obtained from Europeans. It is a quarter or third cloth that the men wind between their legs. The piece of cloth is held in place around the hips with a cord. The two ends of the loincloth are folded over in front and in the back, with the end in front longer than the one in the back.’

Leggings

Potawatomi men wore half leggings which were fitted tightly to the leg with double flaps or wings hanging feely down the outside. Some had a single flap at the back with the front stitched on the inside forming the outer seam of the legging. Each flap was decorated with ribbon, edge beading, moose hair embroidery, broaches and braid. Obviously, these were for best wear and that on the trail plain half or full leggings of blue or red cloth, or buckskin would be worn. Alexander Henry was given leggings of scarlet cloth in 1763, which was the ‘favourite fashion’.

Pierre Pouchot recorded, ‘Their stockings are a kind of gaiter, made of flannel cloth fringed with red, white or blue. The gaiter is sewed up following the shape of the leg, with four fingers breadth of stuff outside of the seam. The strip is bordered with ribbons of different colours, mingled with designs in glass beads, which forms a very pleasing effect, especially when the leg is not too short and thick, which is rarely seen among them.’

Garters

Pierre Pouchot observed that, generically, ‘... they wear garters of beads [probably loomed wampum in geometric patterns of white and dark blue black], or porcupine quills [in red, black, blue, yellow and white], bordered four fingers wide, which are tied on the legs.’ Garters were also made of woven woollen fibres typically dyed red with white bead patterns incorporated into the weave. J.C. B. noted that garters could also be timed with little bells, ‘... or with small pieces of copper three or four lignes in length, made like the ends of shoelaces but widened to a cornet shape [cones]. They are attached so closely that they touch and make a sound that can be heard from afar when the man or woman is wearing them in motion.’

Moccasins

Moccasins were made of smoked buckskin with a puckered centre seam along the instep. They had cuffs split at the back (women’s moccasins were made with a single cuff around the ankle). A two-piece moccasin style with a separate vamp, may also have been worn. They are fastened under the cuff and tied at the instep with a thong. During the winter moccasins are made larger so that they could be lined with rabbit skin, moose hair and or old blanket and the cuffs wrapped up around the ankles. Snow shoes were worn during the winter.

Pouchot described moccasins being, ‘... a kind of slipper made of stag or deerskin tanned like goat skin and very soft. On top of the foot it is laced and covered with fringe, and at the ankle it is two fingers wide, and also bordered with porcupine quills dyed different colours, and furnished with little pendants of copper having tufts of coloured hair, and with little bells, which tinkle s they walk... They also have shoes for winter use formed like laced boots, which are very good...’ The decorative moccasin is obviously used for best wear. Several pairs of moccasin may be taken when going to war, spare pairs being used a pouches to carry rations such as pemmican.

Shirts

A European shirt, cut in contemporary European fashion, obtained from French traders and perhaps from itinerant English sources from the 1740s, was also popular and could be daubed with grease and paint to waterproof it over the shoulders. Pierre Pouchot wrote, generically, ‘Their clothing is a shirt, that is cut for men... They never take them off until they are used up or time, and finally they become black from use. We may judge from this, that the consumption is very great, as they never wash them. They ordinarily take off their garments upon going to bed.’ However, the shirt would also be taken off when bathing daily and before entering combat, when it was likely to be tied around the waist.

At Détroit clothing (probably including cloth too) formed 75.58% of all trader’s expenditure between 1715 and 1760. Shirts were usually of linen or muslin usually in white or plain colours. Some of the most requested fabrics included cotton, chintz and calico in bright prints. Shirts could also have front and cuff ruffles.

Blankets and Coats

Alexander Henry wrote that: ‘Over all, I was to wear a scarlet blanket or mantle...’ Trade blankets, usually of blue or red woollen cloth, and skin robes were worn for warmth.

Pierre Pouchot wrote: ‘Both men and women wear a blanket on their shoulders, either of wool which they buy from the Europeans or of cloth or prepared skins... Those of wool, are blankets made in Normandy of very fine wool, and better than those supplied by the English, which are coarser... For men prefer to wear capotes or a kind of laced coat, with a false cap on the border, the sides held with buttons, and further adorned with blue, yellow and red feathers. They have never been willing to wear breeches...’

During the 18th century European dress continued to be sought by some principal men as a symbol of their role amongst their people, particularly when dealing with Europeans who would have recognised the status of the wearer by his dress. Hats and coats (but not breeches) of European origin and of higher quality marked men as diplomatic mediators. For the Odawa these were likely to have been obtained from the French at Détroit and Michilimackinac These are likely to have been in a military style in blue, red or yellow unlined woollen fabric, about 40” long and laced with fine brass wire.

Armament

Pierre Pouchot described generically the equipment carried by Native American men. ‘The men wear a belt about six inches wide, made of wool of different colour, which the Indian women make very neatly, of flaming designs. They hung to this belt their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which is the skin of an otter, beaver, cat or bird taken off whole and tanned, into which they put their pipe tobacco and steel. They have also a pocket hanging like a wallet, for carrying their balls and lead for hunting or war. They have an ox horn with a shoulder strap for carrying powder. Their knife is hung in a sheaf from the neck, and falls upon the breast. They also have a crooked knife or a curved sword, and they make great use of this.’

By the beginning of the 18th century the standard trade musket that armed the Potawatomi was manufactured in France at the Tulle arsenal. The .62 calibre ‘fusil de chasse’ or hunting musket has a 44-inch octagon-to-round barrel and the lock plate is marked with the name of the arsenal spelt as TVLLE. After 1745 the ‘V’ changed to a ‘U’. Characteristically the stock had a drooped ‘cow’s foot’ butt. From the 1740’s the Détroit Potawatomi may have obtained some firearms from Euro-American traders based in Pennsylvania. These trade guns were short, light flintlock muskets of .66 or smaller calibre, called fusils, fuzee or fuke and were approximately similar to the later ‘Northwest gun’.

A powder horn and a shot pouch would have been worn over the shoulder and high up under the arm to minimise them flapping about whilst moving. Shot pouches were often made of woven fibre with white bead patterns woven into the threads; bags of black dyed skin with quillwork and white bead edging with a fringe of metal cones filled with red dyed deer hair. The panel of these bags could be decorated with quilled geometric designs and with images of thunderbirds or underwater panthers. Straps were of woven fibre or loomed imitation or real wampum. A knife was carried in a sheaf, often decorated with geometric quillwork, hung around the neck.

A tomahawk or warclub was carried stuffed through a belt or sash at the back or on the hip. Woven woollen sashes were wrapped twice around the waist with the fringe hanging down before. Pouchot describes, ‘The men wear a belt about six inches wide, made of wool of different colours, which the Indian women make very neatly, with flaming designs. They hung to this belt their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which is the skin of an otter beaver, cat or bird, taken off whole and tanned, into which they put their pipe tobacco and steel. They have also a pocket like a wallet, for carrying their balls and lead for hunting and war. They carry their mirror and tomahawk upon their hips.’

References

Apthorp, Kirrily, As Good as an Army: Mapping Smallpox during the Seven Years’ War in North America, Bachelor of Liberal Studies (Honours) in History, University of Sydney, October 2011.

Dunnigan, Brian L., Siege -1759: The Campaign Against Niagara, Youngstown: Old Fort Niagara Association, Inc., 1996, pp.85.

Edmunds, R. David, The Potawatomis: Keepers of the Fire, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.

Edmunds, R. David and Joseph L, Peyser, The Fox Wars: The Mesquakie Challenge to New France, Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1993.

Hamilton, Edward P., [trans], Adventure in the Wilderness: The American Journal of Louis Antoine de Bougainville 1756-1760. Norman: University Press, 1964.

Hartman, Sheryl, Indian Clothing of the Great Lakes: 1740-1840, Ogden: Eagle’s View Publishing Company, 1988, pp.63-103.

Pouchot, Pierre, Memoir Upon the Late War in North America, Between the French and English, 1755-60. Volume II, Alpha Editions, 2021, pp. 49, 189-191.

Thwaites, Reuben G., The French Regime in Wisconsin, Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Part 1, pp.366-367.

Acknowledgements

Larry Burrows for a major overhaul of the initial article