Siege of Fort Pitt
- For the 1885 action in the Canadian North-West Rebellion, see the Battle of Fort Pitt
|Siege of Fort Pitt|
|Part of Pontiac's Rebellion|
"A Plan of the New Fort at Pitts-Burgh", drawn by cartographer John Rocque and published in 1765.
|Ohio Country natives||Great Britain|
|Commanders and leaders|
The Siege of Fort Pitt took place in 1763 in what is now the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. The siege was a part of Pontiac's Rebellion, an effort by American Indians to drive the British out of the Ohio Country and back across the Appalachian Mountains. The Indian effort to capture Fort Pitt ultimately failed.
Fort Pitt was built in 1758 during the French and Indian War, on the site of what was previously Fort Duquesne. The French abandoned and destroyed Fort Duquesne in November 1758 with the approach of General John Forbes's expedition. The Forbes expedition was successful in part because of the Treaty of Easton, in which area American Indians agreed to end their alliance with the French. American Indians—primarily Delawares and Shawnees—made this agreement with the understanding that the British military would leave the area after the war. The Indians wanted a trading post, but they did not want a British fort, or a British garrison, near their villages. The British, however, built Fort Pitt larger and stronger than Fort Duquesne had been.
In May 1763, Pontiac's Rebellion began at Fort Detroit. After Indians around Pittsburgh heard the news, they attacked Fort Pitt on June 22, 1763. Too strong to be taken by force, the fort was kept under siege throughout July. Meanwhile, Delaware and Shawnee war parties raided deep into the Pennsylvania settlements, taking captives and killing unknown numbers of men, women, and children. Panicked settlers fled eastwards.
For General Jeffrey Amherst, who before the war had dismissed the possibility that the Indians would offer any effective resistance to British rule, the military situation over the summer became increasingly grim. He wrote his subordinates and instructed them not to take any Indian prisoners.
The siege didn't let up until August 1, 1763, when most of the Indians broke off from Fort Pitt in order to intercept a body of 500 British troops marching to the fort under Colonel Henry Bouquet. On August 5, these two forces met at the Battle of Bushy Run. Bouquet fought off the attack and relieved Fort Pitt on August 20.
Blankets with smallpox
On June 29, 1763, a week after the siege began, Bouquet was preparing to lead an expedition to relieve Fort Pitt when he received a letter from Amherst making the following proposal: "Could it not be contrived to Send the Small Pox among those Disaffected Tribes of Indians? We must, on this occasion, Use Every Stratagem in our power to Reduce them."
Bouquet agreed, writing back to Amherst on July 13, 1763: "I will try to inocculate the Indians by means of Blankets that may fall in their hands, taking care however not to get the disease myself." Amherst responded favorably on July 16, 1763: "You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blanketts, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execreble Race."
As it turned out, however, officers at the besieged Fort Pitt had already exposed the Indians in just the manner Amherst and Bouquet were discussing. During a parley at Fort Pitt on June 24, 1763, Captain Simeon Ecuyer gave representatives of the besieging Delawares two blankets and a handkerchief from the smallpox ward "out of regard to them" after the Delawares pledged to renew their friendship. While the exact meaning of his phrase was unclear, a later invoice appears to clearly establish the purpose was transmittal of smallpox.
Indians in the area did indeed contract smallpox. However, some historians have noted that it is impossible to verify how many people (if any) contracted the disease as a result of the Fort Pitt incident; the disease was already in the area and may have reached the Indians through other vectors. Indeed, even before the blankets had been handed over, the disease may have been spread to the Indians by native warriors returning from attacks on infected white settlements. So while it is certain that these British soldiers attempted to intentionally infect Indians with smallpox, it is uncertain whether or not their attempt was successful.
- ^ Peckham, p. 226; Anderson, p. 542; 809n.
- ^ Anderson, p. 809n.
- ^ Anderson, p. 809n.
- ^ Anderson, pp. 541–2; McConnell, p. 195; Dowd, War Under Heaven, p. 190.
- ^ Harpster, pp. 99, 103-4.
- ^ Fenn, paragraph 4.
- ^ Fenn, paragraph 5.
- Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. New York: Knopf, 2000. ISBN 0-375-40642-5.
- Dixon, David. Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac's Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8061-3656-1.
- Dowd, Gregory Evans. War Under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, & the British Empire. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8018-7079-8.
- Fenn, Elizabeth A. Biological Warfare in Eighteenth-Century North America: Beyond Jeffery Amherst. The Journal of American History, Vol. 86, No. 4, March, 2000. link
- Harpster, John W. Pen Pictures of Early Western Pennsylvania University of Pittsburgh Press, 1938
- McConnell, Michael N. A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its Peoples, 1724-1774. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
- Peckham, Howard H. Pontiac and the Indian Uprising. University of Chicago Press, 1947.
- "Colonial Germ Warfare", article from Colonial Williamsburg Journal