War under Heaven
Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire
The 1763 Treaty of Paris ceded much of the continent east of the Mississippi to Great Britain, a claim which the Indian nations of the Great Lakes, who suddenly found themselves under British rule, considered outrageous. Unlike the French, with whom Great Lakes Indians had formed an alliance of convenience, the British entered the upper Great Lakes in a spirit of conquest. British officers on the frontier keenly felt the need to assert their assumed superiority over both Native Americans and European settlers. At the same time, Indian leaders expected appropriate tokens of British regard, gifts the British refused to give. It is this issue of respect that, according to Gregory Dowd, lies at the root of the war the Ottawa chief Pontiac and his alliance of Great Lakes Indians waged on the British Empire between 1763 and 1767.
In War under Heaven, Dowd boldly reinterprets the causes and consequences of Pontiac's War. Where previous Anglocentric histories have ascribed this dramatic uprising to disputes over trade and land, this groundbreaking work traces the conflict back to status: both the low regard in which the British held the Indians and the concern among Native American leaders about their people's standing—and their sovereignty—in the eyes of the British. Pontiac's War also embodied a clash of world views, and Dowd examines the central role that Indian cultural practices and beliefs played in the conflict, explores the political and military culture of the British Empire which informed the attitudes its servants had toward Indians, provides deft and insightful portraits of Pontiac and his British adversaries, and offers a detailed analysis of the military and diplomatic strategies of both sides. Imaginatively conceived and compellingly told, War under Heaven redefines our understanding of Anglo-Indian relations in the colonial period.
About the Author
Gregory Evans Dowd is a professor of history and American Culture and the director of Native American Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is the author of Groundless: Rumors, Legends, and Hoaxes on the Early American Frontier and A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745–1815, also available from Johns Hopkins.
"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... His explication of both sides' strategies and tactics in the ferocious struggle is both sober and gripping. And, in perhaps his most original contribution, he skillfully uses the perforce meager evidence to analyze the religious dimensions of the Indians' resistance. A stylish writer with a talent for compression, Dowd engages and advances while making the lines of those debates clear to the general reader. His book is the best account of its subject."
"Masterful and nuanced... Dowd is especially original in his analysis of the war's legacy. Its prime lesson, its ambiguity, was part of a larger crisis of empire... [Pontiac's War] rippled far into the American future. This tightly written and engaging history brings it alive and lifts it convincingly to its proper place as a turning point in the continental story."
"Dowd draws on his considerable expertise of eighteenth-century Native American resistance movements to construct a detailed retelling of the rebellion... Dowd gives us a fine history."
"Provocatively written and masterfully researched, Dowd's important new monograph... challenges much of the recent scholarship on the conflict, offering a bold new interpretation that links this Indian war with broader themes in Atlantic and Native American History... Merits the attention of all students of early American history."
"Among historians of early America, the consensus in recent years has been to underplay Pontiac's role as a visionary patriot chief but at the same time to elevate the conflict that bears his name from a 'rebellion' to an all-out war that stopped British imperial expansion in its tracks, at least temporarily. Gregory Evans Dowd provides a thoughtful, expertly researched articulation of that consensus in his new book, which is certain to supplant Howard Peckham's Pontiac and the Indian Uprising as the definitive scholarly account of the conflict... This fine book raises important questions about how we should situate Pontiac's War (or Rebellion, if you like) in the larger story of Britain's eighteenth-century imperial expansion and U.S. empire building to this day."
"Dowd strips away the mythology that has long clouded the reputation of this accomplished Ottawa leader. At the same time, Dowd brilliantly demonstrates that the conflict between the British and the various unified Indian nations was not over land or trade but rather British respect of Indian sovereignty... An elegantly written ethnohistorical study."
"Dowd's arguments are convincing, his prose is accessible and vibrant, the research is prodigious, and War under Heaven will occupy an important place in the historiography of the pays d'en haut... An important and gripping work of history."
"Dowd does an excellent job of placing the war in the context of Indians' spirituality... a beautifully written and well-researched book."
"The story Dowd tells is a complicated one, and that he is able to present it in only 275 pages of text is an amazing feat. He not only presents sophisticated analyses of the Indian cultures of the Great Lakes region, of British Imperial culture as manifested on the North American frontier, and provides several succinct biographies and background information about leaders on both sides,—not to mention the best hisoriography of Pontiac's life to date—he does so in away that is useful and accessible to both a scholarly and a general readership."
"An insightful account of military operations in what would later be termed 'the Old Northwest territories'... The author provides an analytic treatment, discussing the implications, consequences, and problems created by the Anglo-American victory, and is not afraid to point out and wrestle with difficult problems in historiography and interpretation."
"Based on exhaustive research, this is the most thorough and judicious study of the Indian uprising, encompassing all its ramifications."
"An eventful and comprehensive account of the reasons for and implications of Pontiac's War... Dowd weaves a richly textured and complicated tapestry of the North American frontier in the period between the end of the Seven Years' War and the American Revolution."
"In his superb new book, Dowd has restored Pontiac as a preeminent figure in the uprisings while recasting his leadership qualities in Ottawa terms... A thoughtful, balanced, judicious response to a generation of rich scholarship in Native American history and imperial-Indian relations... This is a masterful work of scholarship that deserves a wide readership... Artfully crafted and gracefully written, this book will long endure, both as the best account we have of Pontiac's War and as an important contribution to the lively debate about the place of Native Americans in the British empire."
"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's complex analytical position results in one of the most complete syntheses of documents related to Pontiac and his war."
"Dowd continues his excellent scholarship of earlier years in reconstructing the movements and motives of Native peoples."
"[War under Heaven] provides a very deep look not only at the man, but the war, Native American politics and strategy, and British indian policy."
"Like the best ethnohistorians, Dowd attempts to explain native motives and actions in native terms... the extent of Dowd's research and his thoughtful interpretations of key points in this colonial conflict should ensure that War Under Heaven becomes the definitive study of Pontiac's War."
"Dowd offers a brilliant reinterpretation of the causes and consequences of Pontiac's War... [His] study transcends old debates about the character of Pontiac himself to reveal the cultural, social, and political context within which the war occurred. Along the way, he crafts a bold argument about the place of Indian peoples within the first British Empire."
"Most readers will likely accept as convincing (perhaps even definitive) Dowd's explanation of the war's origins. His description of the conflict's military and diplomatic history will likewise earn well-deserved praise for its eloquence and concision. For a single work to synthesize such a broad and complex movement with such clarity is a rare and most impressive accomplishment."
"Especially welcome... Dowd has constructed a powerful new narrative that has the interpretive force to dislodge the reign of Richard White's now classic and much emulated Middle Ground... sensitive and ultimately persuasive treatment of the religious background and significance of Pontiac's movement... Dowd's War Under Heaven is ultimately a deeper story... and one that goes farther than any recent work in reshaping the narrative not only of colonial-Indian relations, but also of the dynamics of empire in pre-Revolutionary America and the position of Indian peoples in the new nation."
"The best modern re-telling of the Indian-British conflict known as Pontiac's War... Dowd makes another significant addition to early American history."
"Dowd provides a detailed treatment of the resulting warfare and its impact upon the empire and its subjects."
"Dowd's [book] points in the direction of a Native Studies that takes full account of and that is fully accountable to Native peoples."
"An up-to-date ethnohistorical study of the war called Pontiac's is long overdue. Gregory Dowd has provided a masterful narrative and analysis of the war, grounded in deep research and insightful readings of the primary sources. He offers an important new interpretation of the conflict, showing how the British and Indian nations understood the war as a struggle for social and political status within the empire. War under Heaven represents a major contribution to understanding eighteenth-century America."
"A striking achievement. Massively researched and beautifully written, it demolishes old stereotypes of Pontiac as some crazed, if nobly doomed, genius resisting the inevitable triumph of European civilization. Just as effectively, it challenges recent scholarship to argue that the provocations for 'the war called Pontiac's' were not the result of mere ignorance or arrogance but instead revealed fundamental tendencies of British policy. Placing native actors at center stage and exploring large questions about the legal structures through which imperialism rationalized itself, this book confirms Dowd's status as one of the leading historians of colonial North America."
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