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  • 1763:Pontiac and Paxton
  • Patrick Spero

Jamestown, Matacom, Massachusetts Bay, 1763, Pontiac’s War, Paxton Boys’ Rebellion

There are certain dates that loom large in colonial American history. The year 1607 marked the founding of Jamestown, 1630 the establishment of Massachusetts Bay. In 1676 New Englanders fought Metacom (King Philip), while Bacon’s Rebellion raged in Virginia. The New Englanders’ defeat of Metacom and the Virginian elite’s suppression of Nathanial Bacon and his allies shaped the course of history in both colonies. In 1701 the Iroquois signed the Great Peace of Montreal, which established their military neutrality and would influence Great Britain’s grand strategy in North America for decades; Pennsylvania passed the Frame of Government, which would guide the colony’s government until the Revolution; and Parliament passed the Act of Settlement, which set the pathway for the Hanoverian succession that eventually brought George III to power. In 1754 George Washington faced off with French forces at the Forks of the Ohio, setting in motion a war that would remake global politics, and representatives from various colonies descended on Albany to discuss forming a colonial union. Finally, the Stamp Act Crisis in 1765 began a decade of colonial protests against imperial policies that would eventually lead to American independence.

The year 1763 certainly holds a place among these dates, but its exact significance remains unclear. On the one hand, it was a momentous year for the British Empire. In February, in a peace treaty signed in Paris that brought the war Washington began to a close, France ceded to Great Britain its claims to North America, while the British Empire expanded its hold in other areas of the globe. The peace of 1763, many Britons hoped, would end the decades of warfare and strife that had marked the history of North America up to that point. For many in the colonies and across the Atlantic, the treaty appeared as a new political settlement for the British in North America in which peace alongside control of Canada and the Ohio would usher in a period of stability, growth, and prosperity. [End Page 199]

The essays in this special issue, however, draw a very different picture of 1763. The year remains a turning point that was crucial for the history of North America and the British Empire, but for a very different reason. Rather than marking the end of an era, the year marks the beginning of a period of continued instability as colonists and Native Americans came to terms with this new world created by ‘‘the scratch of a pen’’ at Paris. This special issue of Early American Studies focuses on two events that in recent years have become seminal to historians’ understanding of colonial America: Pontiac’s War, begun in the summer of 1763, and the Paxton Boys’ Rebellion, occurring in December 1763.

The first half of the issue focuses on the causes, course, and consequences of Pontiac’s War. In 1763, just as British diplomats in Europe were celebrating their seizure of the North American interior, a pan-Indian movement opposed to the new British superpower in North America swept across the greater Ohio River Valley and Great Lakes region. The war is named for an Ottawan military leader called Pontiac who began the conflict by spearheading a daring attack on Fort Detroit, but as these essays and many recent historians have shown, the war’s origins rested in widespread dissatisfaction with the British Empire rather than the skills of a single charismatic leader. Pontiac’s attack may have started the war, but several other Indian groups were poised to launch their own separate attacks throughout the Ohio and into Pennsylvania.

These essays tackle Pontiac’s War from a number of perspectives. Georgia Carley’s essay examines Great Britain’s diplomacy toward Native groups in the wake of the Seven Years’ War, focusing especially on how the Board of Trade understood the symbolic use of gift giving. She shows that cutbacks in diplomatic gift giving disillusioned Indian groups already wary of the British in the years before Pontiac’s War. Carley argues that this policy only reminded imperial administrators of the importance of gift giving to...