Pontiac was an Ottawa Indian chief and intertribal leader who organized the Indian resistance to British control in the aftermath of the French and Indian War in North America. The Indian resistance, known as Pontiac’s War (1763–1764), gave rise to one of the first examples of siege money in America.
The French defeat in the French and Indian War had left the Great Lakes area in control of the British, who were less hospitable to the Indians. The Indians also discovered that the British were the thin edge of the wedge of an aggressive settler movement. As friction developed between the British and the Indians, Pontiac organized virtually every Indian tribe from Lake Superior to the lower Mississippi and launched a coordinated
and simultaneous assault against 12 British forts in the area. Each tribe attacked the nearest British fort, and
Pontiac laid siege to the fort at Detroit.
Pontiac’s siege of Detroit lasted from May through October, and, unlike the assaults on most of the other forts, ended in failure. Nevertheless, while the siege was in process, Pontiac had recourse to an interesting experiment in money. In October, Pontiac issued “notes” in payment for supplies his warriors needed to
continue the siege. These notes were none other than pieces of birch bark. Each bark note bore two images, an image of the item that Pontiac wanted to purchase with it, and a figure representing the otter, which he adopted as his totem or hieroglyphic signature. Apparently, Pontiac fulfilled his commitment to redeem all the notes after the war, and the notes were withdrawn from circulation, but the details of how this was done
Pontiac’s confederation of Indian tribes achieved a momentary success, but in 1766, Pontiac, seeing the
inevitable superiority of the British, negotiated a peace treaty. His expedient of bark money probably indicates how far European practices had influenced the Indians rather than the evolution of ancient Indian practices. The French trappers and hunters, who still had strong connections with the Indians, had agitated against the British, and the bark notes bear a striking resemblance to various sorts of token money or inconvertible
paper money that governments often issue during wartime. By the time of Pontiac’s War, the British colonies had issued vast quantities of paper money to finance the French and Indian War.
See also: Siege Money
Del Mar, Alexander. 1899/1968. The History of Money in America.
Parkman, Francis. 1899/1933. The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada.