In the Siege of Detroit, Pontiac had 300 warriors but did not give the "signal" to attack (07 MAY 1763 before the actual siege started). I have found references that a wampum belt was involved in the signal; however, I've been unable to find what the signal was. Knowing a bit about the cultural rituals, I suspect that the signal would have been subtle.

Does anyone have a reference for this signal?

1 Answer 1


An article in a book on the History of Macomb County, Michigan from 1882 agrees with your connection to the wampum belt (emphasis mine):

There is legend that a beautiful Chippewa girl well known to Gladwyn divulged to him scheme which the Indians had in view namely that the next day Pontiac come to the fort with sixty of his chiefs each armed with a gun cut short hidden under his blanket that Pontiac would demand a council deliver a speech offer a peace belt of wampum holding it in a reversed position as the signal for attack; that the chiefs sitting upon the ground would then spring up and fire upon the officers and the Indians out in the streets would next fall upon the garrison and kill every Englishman but spare all the French

We can get a little more information about this belt from the History of the Indian Tribes of the United States, by Henry Schoolcraft. On pg. 244 Schoolcraft discusses this (emphasis mine):

But an attack was not his first move he aimed to take the fort by a laid plot which was in effect to visit the commandant at his quarters accompanied a limited number of assassins bearing concealed weapons to smoke with him the of peace and to present him with a formal address which was to be accompanied by a belt of wampum the most solemn and honored custom in Indian diplomacy This was worked on one side with white and on the other with green beads finished his speech with the white side turned towards his auditor the reversal of it in his hands to the green side was to be the signal of attack

Schoolcraft cites the Pontiac Manuscript as his source for information about the belt. This primary source is described at the University of Michigan site:

The Robert Navarre Journal of the Pontiac Conspiracy is a manuscript transcription of the original French account of Pontiac's siege of Detroit in 1763. The journal describes in great detail affairs on both sides of the conflict between May 7 and July 31, 1763, providing an eyewitness account from within the fort, as well as intelligence, news, and rumors of Pontiac's activities.

Some digital copies of this source can be found here. (note this is handwritten and in French)

Another source which offers some insights into this event would be by Francis Parkman, The conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the conquest of Canada . (He has an interesting note pointing out variations on the identity and fate of the 'heroine' of the story.)

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