Potawatomi People

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Origin and History

The Potawatomi people (literally “those who tend the hearth-fire”) are an Algonquian-speaking group of Native Americans. They initially inhabited the lower peninsula of present-day Michigan. They were traditional allies of the Chippewa People and Odawa People, with whom they probably share common ancestry. By 1658, the Potawatomi were estimated to number around 3,000.

In the 1630s, during the Beaver Wars, the Potawatomi People were driven out of their traditional territory. They gradually migrated to the west side of Lake Michigan in northern Wisconsin.

In 1658, the Potawatomi were estimated to number around 3,000.

By 1665, the Potawatomi People were living west of Lake Michigan in the Door Peninsula, east of present-day Green Bay. They tended large fields of corn, beans, and squash. In 1667, the population was estimated to 4,000.

Throughout the French and Indian Wars (1689-1763), the Potawatomi people were unfailing allies of the French.

From 1687, the Potawatomi People gradually migrated southwards along the west shore of Lake Michigan, reaching the region of present-day Chicago around 1695. A band also settled near the French mission on the Saint-Joseph River. From 1701, groups of Potawatomi moved near the French Fort Pontchartrain (near present-day Detroit).

By 1716, most Potawatomi bands inhabited the region between Milwaukee and Detroit. From 1712 to 1716, they took part in the First Fox War in the French alliance. From 1728 to 1737, they also fought in the Second Fox War.

In 1763, after the defeat of the French and the occupation of their former forts on the Great Lakes by British troops, the Potawatomi people took part in Pontiac’s Rebellion against Great Britain. The uprising was finally quenched.

In 1769, the Potawatomi people allied themselves with other Native American peoples to fight the Illinois People and drive them out of their initial territory.

During the War of the American Independence (1775-83), the Potawatomi People sided with Great Britain. In 1812, they took part in Tecumseh’s War. After several rebellions, most Potawatomi families migrated west of the Mississippi River. They were gradually displaced towards Kansas, and later to Oklahoma.

Role during the War

On September 29, 1756, a band of 18 Potawatomi warriors arrived at Fort Carillon to take part in operations on Lake Champlain. On October 22, these warriors left Carillon for Montréal, intending to return at Carillon with their families for the winter.

On January 3, 1757 the French sent 20 Canadiens and 40 Native American warriors (Iroquois and Potawatomis) under the command of M. De Langlade to reinforce the garrison of Fort Carillon (present-day Ticonderoga). On April 25, 10 Iroquois, and some Odawa and Potawatomi warriors left Montréal to raid the region of Fort William Henry. On May 5, a few Potawatomi warriors, who had wintered at Montréal, left for Détroit. On July 19 at 4:00 p.m., 80 Potawatomi warriors arrived at Carillon to take part in the French expedition against Fort William Henry. By July 20, some 90 Potawatomi warriors formed part of Marin’s Brigade. During that campaign, the Potawatomi warriors contracted smallpox and brought back the disease to their villages that winter. The ensuing smallpox epidemic forced many Native American peoples out of the war.

On July 7, 1759, 110 Potawatomi warriors arrived at Québec to take part in the defence of the town and headed directly to the camp at Beauport.


During wartime, warriors shaved their heads, keeping only a scalplock to which they added an upright roach of porcupine hair with an eagle feather. Their war paints were red and black.

N. B.: We have been unable to find more descriptions of the dress of this Native American people that would distinguish them from other peoples. If you can suggest sources documenting such characteristics, please do not hesitate to contact us with your suggestions.


Sulzman, Lee: Potawatomi History

Waldman, Carl: Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Revised Edition, pp. 200-201

Wikipedia – Potawatomi

N.B.: the section Role during the War is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.