THE SIEGE OF DETROIT
At the time of the Pontiac outbreak there were in the vicinity of Fort Detroit between one thousand and two thousand white inhabitants. Yet the place was little more than a wilderness post. The settlers were cut off from civilization and learned news of the great world outside only in the spring, when the traders’ boats came with supplies. They were out of touch with Montreal and Quebec, and it was difficult for them to realize that they were subjects of the hated king of England. They had not lost their confidence that the armies of France would yet be victorious and sweep the British from the Great Lakes, and in this opinion they were strengthened by traders from the Mississippi, who came among them. But the change of rulers had made little difference in their lives. The majority of them were employed by traders, and the better class contentedly cultivated their narrow farms and traded with the Indians who periodically visited them.
The settlement was widely scattered, extending along the east shore of the Detroit river for about eight miles from Lake St Clair, and along the west shore for about six miles, four above and two below the fort. On either side of the river the fertile fields and the long row of whitewashed, low-built houses, with their gardens and orchards of apple and pear trees, fenced about with rounded pickets, presented a picture of peace and plenty. The summers of the inhabitants were enlivened by the visits of the Indians and the traders; and in winter they light-heartedly whiled away the tedious hours with gossip and dance and feast, like the habitants along the Richelieu and the St Lawrence.
The militia of the settlement, as we have seen, had been deprived of their arms at the taking over of Detroit by Robert Rogers; and for the most part the settlers maintained a stolid attitude towards their conquerors, from whom they suffered no hardship and whose rule was not galling. The British had nothing to fear from them. But the Indians were a force to be reckoned with. There were three Indian villages in the vicinity—the Wyandot, on the east side of the river, opposite the fort; the Ottawa, five miles above, opposite Ile au Cochon (Belle Isle); and the Potawatomi about two miles below the fort on the west shore. The Ottawas here could muster 200 warriors, the Potawatomis about 150, and the Wyandots 250, while near at hand were the Chippewas, 320 strong. Pontiac, although head chief of the Ottawas, did not live in the village, but had his wigwam on Ile a la Peche, at the outlet of Lake St Clair, a spot where whitefish abounded. Here he dwelt with his squaws and papooses, not in ‘grandeur,’ but in squalid savagery. Between the Indians and the French there existed a most friendly relationship; many of the habitants, indeed, having Indian wives.