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War Under Heaven

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War Under Heaven
Pontiac, The Indian Nations, & The British Empire. By Gregory Evans Dowd. (The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore & London: 2004. Pg. xvi, 360. Illustrations, Maps.) ISBN: 0-8018-7892-6.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - May 23, 2004
The achievements of Indian militants in cooperating with one another over vast distances, eliminating British posts, and preventing definitive British punishment impressed their British opponents. Colonists had worried about intertribal union almost since they first came ashore, and with good reason: the Indians knew as well as anyone else that power could reside in numbers. Identifying intertribal cooperation as a possible threat to colonial security was much easier, though, than preventing it... (Pg. 262.)
Pontiac's War raged from 1763 and 1767. Traditionally, Anglo-centric historians have viewed this war as nothing more than an Indian uprising against British rule. On the surface, they are right. However, this is a simplistic interpretation of a more complex event. In War Under Heaven - Pontiac, The Indian Nations, & The British Empire, Gregory Evans Dowd looks at this old conflict from a new perspective and provides the reader with a more balanced 'take' on the war, its underpinnings, and its consequences.

When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, the French ceded a large tract of land, east of the Mississippi, to the British. Under nominal French rule, the Native Peoples of this area had allied themselves with the French for economic and military purposes. They remained, however, autonomous. When the British took control of the region, they viewed the Native peoples as low-ranking subjects of the British Empire. Subjects who should willingly allow themselves to be subjugated by their new overlords. The Native peoples, were, not surprising, not overly impressed with British arrogance. Where once they had the French courting them, they now had the British trying to subjugate them. So they rebelled...

In this innovative book, Dowd traces the source of the conflict back down to its essential elements - British arrogance and disrespect toward the Native population, and the fears of the Native populations that they were in danger of losing their independence. Taking a balanced approach, Dowd examines the sources of British arrogance, and the anti-Indian mind set of some of the British military leaders that help to fuel the flames of war. He also explains how the French and British interactions with the Native populations differed. For example, the French would offer Indian leaders gifts and tribute, whereas the British refused, outright, to follow this traditional custom. Compelling insights into the major figures involved in the war, such as the Ottawa Chief, Pontiac, who the war is named after, are provided.

In addition to reinterpreting the underlaying causes of the war, Dowd also provides a new interpretation of Indian tactics. For example, rather than the traditional view that the Indians attacked settlements at random, he shows that in reality, they were following a very deliberate plan, concentrating their attacks on settlements along major trade routes. He also explores how the teachings of Neolin, a Delaware prophet, influenced the course of the war. Neolin called for the Indians to return to the old way of living. He felt that their interactions with the whites and their reliance on European goods would utterly destroy the Native peoples. Dowd also looks at the impact that the British's Christian world-view had on their military and political activities. Due consideration is also given to the influence of the Catholic Jesuits.

Throughout War Under Heaven, Dowd endeavors to provide a solid overview of the causes of the Pontiac's War, and the military strategies employed by both sides during the conflict. As important, he examines the long term consequences that the war had on Anglo-Indian relations.

Written in a stimulating narrative style, War Under Heaven will fascinate anyone interested in Indian, Military, or Early American studies. Detailed endnotes that can be used as a starting point for those seeking to delve deeper into this subject are included. In addition, throughout, Dowd has acknowledged where his theories and conclusions about this war differ from earlier historians, and why these differences exist. Compared to more Anglo-centric approaches to the study of Pontiac's War, Dowd includes a wealth of cultural and historical information about the Native peoples involved in the war, including insights into their fundamental religious beliefs and practices, inter-tribal relations, and languages. War Under Heaven is a compelling and insightful book that sheds new light on a important aspect of American History.

Related Reviews:

Never Come to Peace Again, by David Dixon.
Pontiac's Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America.

Cultures in Conflict: The Seven Years' War in North America, edited by Warren R. Hofstra.
A collection of seven essays that explore diverse aspects of the French and Indian War in North America, from various cultural perspectives.

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