Fewer gifts, more white settlers helped unite native tribes in Battle of Bushy Run
By Chris Foreman
Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Editor's Note: To provide context for the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Bushy Run, the Penn-Trafford Star is publishing a two-part series describing some events leading up to the battle and a recap of the battle itself on Aug. 5 and 6 in 1763. Today, the Star reports on the ongoing conflict between the British and the Native Americans before the battle based on interviews with Jack Giblin, who was the state's site administrator for Bushy Run Battlefield from 1988 to 2001, and Frank Cassell, a colonial historian who was president of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg from 1997 to 2007. The battlefield is along Route 993 in Penn Township. The second part recounts the battle itself.
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After nine years of war, the signing of a treaty in Paris in February 1763 formally ended fighting between the British and French in what became known in the U.S. as the French and Indian War.
Although the two European powers were now at peace, the pact had no bearing on the tensions in North America between the British and Native American tribes, some of which were French allies. The native forces didn't grasp the ramifications of the negotiated peace.
“The defeat of the French ... was not seen by the Indians as their defeat,” Cassell said. “It's pretty clear they didn't understand what was happening and that the French were abandoning them.”
Some native nations harbored growing resentment toward the British despite an agreement some chiefs had reached with the British five years earlier. The British were supposed to recognize Native American rights to land west of the Allegheny Mountains, but colonial squatters ignored that ban and settled there anyway, Giblin said.
The actions of British Gen. Jeffrey Amherst, who Giblin said had a low opinion of Native Americans, didn't help relations.
Commanding a drawn-down army but tasked with defending a vast territory that included former French forts, Amherst cut off diplomatic gifts to tribes that greatly reduced the access to alcohol as well as the gunpowder that they now relied upon to hunt.
The French had prioritized gifts in their negotiations with the Indians, but Amherst thought they were a waste of money.
The increasing bitterness enabled Pontiac, a chief of the Ottawa tribe, to create a confederacy of tribes — tribes that often weren't on good terms with one another — to attack white settlers.
“It's very hard for these tribes to cooperate together, and if it hadn't been for the stupidity of Gen. Amherst, my guess is it wouldn't have happened,” Cassell said.
Pontiac's Rebellion began with an attack on Fort Detroit on May 9, 1763, and soon moved into Pennsylvania.
The June 22 siege on Fort Pitt — which was the largest British fort on the continent — severed the settlers' line of communication with Amherst for a month, but it also took a toll on native warriors who had to rely on items taken from seized forts to restock.
“When they laid siege on Fort Pitt, that really depleted their ability to fight,” Giblin said.
Moving west across Pennsylvania to help relieve Fort Pitt, about 500 soldiers led by Col. Henry Bouquet arrived at Fort Ligonier on Aug. 2 to rest and transfer provisions.
A day earlier, the natives, who learned of Bouquet's approaching troops, let up on Fort Pitt and headed east.
Pontiac's warriors and Bouquet's men would collide in modern-day Harrison City on Aug. 5.
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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