War Under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, & the British Empire
by Gregory Evans Dowd
A review by Benjamin Schwarz
The Plains Indians dominate the popular imagination, but the most creative books
on the history of Native Americans -- from the epics of Francis
Parkman (still the greatest literary artist among American historians) to
the more recent works of Francis
Jennings and Richard
White -- have focused on economic and cultural relations, diplomacy, and warfare
among the eastern and midwestern Indian tribes and the British, French, and Americans.
Dowd's account of Pontiac's War examines the nearly three-year intertribal uprising,
begun in 1763, against the British -- a conflict ranging over what is now Pennsylvania
to Arkansas, Wisconsin to South Carolina. Shifting from councils at frontier outposts
to deliberations at Whitehall, Dowd elucidates the contradictions in British policy
toward Indian sovereignty that helped ignite the conflict (contradictions, he
convincingly argues, that continued to define and confound relations between the
United States and Native American tribes). His explication of both sides' strategies
and tactics in this ferocious struggle (the British used smallpox as a biological
weapon against the Delaware; the Indians used terror against settlers to disrupt
the British forces' supply lines) is both sober and gripping. And, in perhaps
his most original contribution, he skillfully uses the perforce meager evidence
to analyze the religious dimension of the Indians' resistance. A stylish writer
with a talent for compression, Dowd engages and advances scholarly debates while
making the lines of those debates clear to the general reader. His book is the
best account of its subject. Dowd shows how cunning British diplomacy exploited
divisions among the tribes to stem the uprising, but the contest for the lands
from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi wasn't really decided until the United
States crushed Tecumseh's pan-tribal uprising in 1813. Readers wanting to put
Pontiac's War in its widest context should pair this elegant book with White's
Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815.
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