- Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac's Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America
David Dixon's new monograph joins William R. Nester's Haughty Conquerors (2000) and Gregory Dowd's War under Heaven (2002) in a growing body of new scholarship on Pontiac's War. Impatient with what he describes as "largely interpretive" works more concerned with the "Indian perspective" than "the British and American military, political, and social experiences" (xi), Dixon sets out to provide a corrective that integrates this Native American conflict into the broader context of late colonial and revolutionary America. While Dixon succeeds in providing a detailed, thoroughly researched, and coherent narrative of Pontiac's War, his interpretive analysis of the war's significance is unconvincing.
Dixon begins his account of Pontiac's War in 1758, when the British secured the withdrawal of many Great Lakes and Ohio Valley Algonquian Native American warriors from active support of the French by means of a promise to depart from the trans-Appalachian region after the conquest of Fort Duquesne. The failure of the British to keep that promise sowed the seeds of an Indian war that witnessed fifteen months of active hostilities between 1763 and 1764, eliminated or forced the abandonment of nine interior forts, and cost the lives of an estimated two thousand Anglo-American settlers and four hundred British soldiers. Dixon reiterates the standard contemporary interpretation of the several factors underlying the development of the conflict between 1758 and 1763: land encroachment, indigenous "revitalization" movements calling [End Page 125] for pan-national unity and action, and British Commander in Chief Jeffery Amherst's decision to cut off diplomatic "presents" to allied Native American peoples in peacetime. While the author eschews an explicit attempt to assess the relative significance of these respective causes, he does overstate the "rapaciousness" (72) of the British for Indian land prior to 1763. The military takings he describes (such as the Niagara portage) tended to be targeted specifically for strategic purposes. The interior forts established during this period were thinly garrisoned and left light "footprints." With the exceptions of Detroit and Fort Pitt, these wooden outposts were as much hostages to the Native American communities surrounding them as they were symbols of British occupation. The initial influx of settlers into the Susquehanna Valley, while a matter of great concern for the region's Native American people, did not amount by 1763 to "a suffering press of English attempting to root themselves in the land that the tribes claimed" (72).
Considered in light of the scholarship published in the last twenty years, Dixon breaks no significant new archival ground in his study, but his extended accounts of key battles, such as Bushy Run (184–98) are well crafted and valuable. The author is also unusually attentive to the complex role of French settlers in the conflict, detailing their multiple and shifting collaborations with Native Americans and British at different times. Some shortcomings with the narrative remain, however. Stereotypical descriptions of Native American warriors are regrettably common in this book. When not "lurking" (145), Indians are often found "prowling" (108, 139, 163) or "swooping down" (3, 23, 202) on their unsuspecting enemies. Additionally, the author misapprehends the role of the Iroquois Confederacy in the conflict, accepting as historical fact Sir William Johnson's claimed successes in employing them as his personal goon squad to bring the Ohio Valley nations to heel (218–20). Finally, Dixon's claims that Pontiac's War was "unprecedented for its awful violence" and that both the Native American peoples and the British engaged in it were "intoxicated with genocidal fanaticism" (xiii) are inconsistent with his own portrayals of the kindness shown by some Ohio Valley Native Americans to certain settlers during the early months of the conflict (140) and of the almost bloodless "punitive" expeditions of John Bradstreet and Henry Bouquet in 1764 (227–42).
The author devotes seven chapters to a narrative of the origins...