- James A. Clifton
Dunquat (1740–1789), intertribal leader appointed by the British and the Detroit Hurons in the Ohio country during the revolutionary war and for several years thereafter, was also known as Pomoacan and Petawantakas. Nothing is known about the first decades of Dunquat’s life. Until 1774 he lived in the Hurons’ Brownstown (present-day Michigan) village. He was at first identified as a Huron and later as a Wyandot, although in 1781 he claimed that he was New York Iroquois in origin.
Throughout the war, British officers at Detroit charged Dunquat with the responsibility of mobilizing intertribal opposition to and warfare against the American rebels. He served as their and the Hurons’ principal intermediary (called a “half king”) to the related Wyandot of Sandusky’s plains and neighboring Indian groups.
Once the United States had achieved sovereignty over the region and began pressing for land cessions from western tribes, Dunquat operated with increasing independence from British-Huron influence, becoming more closely identified with Ohio Wyandot interests. Dunquat, acting with and as spokesman for established Wyandot, Shawnee, and Delaware chiefs, confronted and effectively challenged the first Indian policy position of the United States. This abortive theory held that, in defeating Great Britain, Americans had acquired the western country by right of conquest and did not need bilateral negotiations with Indian tribes for land purchases.
Dunquat first appeared on the historical scene about 1774, when he assumed his new political role and moved from Brownstown to join the Wyandot of the Upper Sandusky area. He confronted a complex mix of changing, disparate, often conflicting pressures. These must be emphasized if his later—sometimes seemingly erratic or opportunistic—actions and maneuvers are to be understood.
In 1774 British officials were concerned with capturing the loyalties of the Indian communities in Ohio and western Pennsylvania. After consulting with the Detroit Huron, they appointed Dunquat the half king to the Wyandot, charged with the responsibility of gaining influence over this tribe and their Indian allies. This office-title was an older British invention, first employed by Sir William Johnson among the Six Nations Iroquois of New York. In this development we see the British colonial management of the affairs of native groups by British-appointed chiefs. Hence Dunquat as half king was expected to serve British interests in the growing conflict on the vulnerable Ohio frontier.
However, Dunquat was also a half king on behalf of Sasteretsi, the legitimate principal chief of the Detroit Hurons, styled the king of the Hurons by British officials. In 1774 the Detroit Hurons for three decades had been striving to reassert control over the previously affiliated Wyandot (a closely related Huronian-speaking people), who in the 1740s had severed their political ties with the dominant Hurons and migrated into Ohio. There the emergent Wyandot tribe began developing close overland relationships with Pennsylvania and to some extent New York and Virginia traders and officials. By 1774 this well-established, separate Wyandot alliance to the now rebellious colonies was threatening to British officialdom when frontier warfare loomed. It was also damaging to the prestige of the Hurons, whom Johnson had appointed as what was once called “the umpire tribe” of the Western Confederacy. In effect, Dunquat as a half king was charged with revitalizing the Western Confederacy, particularly with respect to drawing the Wyandots, Delawares, and Shawnees into its orbit, serving both British and Huron interests. This he sometimes to some extent accomplished, with substantial if temporary effect.
Other circumstances also influenced Dunquat. A capable, personally ambitious man who lacked inherited standing in his own community, he sought prestige and advancement through exploiting the position, recognition, and resources given him by colonial officials. Once established in the Wyandot villages on the Sandusky plains, Dunquat became most closely associated with them and the anti-American Delaware chief Captain Pipe. He opposed those other Delawares at first allied to the American rebels, helped organize the forces that interdicted the exposed Fort Laurens, and organized numerous other raids on exposed American frontier settlements. Nonetheless, he deflected the anger of the Ohio hostiles at the supposedly neutral, but generally pro-American, United Brethren (Moravian) missionaries working with the Christianized Delawares. Prompted by the British in 1781, Dunquat forced these pacific Moravian Delawares to abandon their independent mission settlements and to resettle among the Wyandots. Dunquat was at least a witness to the Indians’ defeat, capture, and execution of Colonel William Crawford in 1782.
Dunquat’s successful execution of his assigned mission of mobilizing armed opposition to the westward advances of American rebels came at great cost both to the Wyandots and to himself personally. The Wyandots started the war with perhaps 200 gunmen. By 1783 about 100 of these survived (many died of disease rather than wounds). Among the casualties were two of Dunquat’s three sons, killed in 1781 by American pursuers after a raid on settlements near Fort Henry. Such heavy losses contributed to the precipitate decline of Dunquat’s standing among both the Hurons and the Wyandots.
Dunquat was conscious of the difficulties facing a small Indian tribe caught between two potent, warring rivals, Great Britain and the United States. Despite his subordination to British agents, whenever the Americans seemed to achieve even temporary ascendancy, as after George Rogers Clark’s successes in the Illinois country, Dunquat made at least apparently conciliatory motions toward American authorities. Moreover, when Britain in effect abandoned its Indian supporters in 1783, with the Treaty of Paris ending the war and recognizing American territorial sovereignty, Dunquat and other Ohio and western Pennsylvania Indian leaders necessarily turned their attention toward making a reasonable peace of their own with the new intrusive power to the East.
Dunquat’s most prominent role in that diplomatic effort came during the negotiation of the 1785 Treaty of Fort McIntosh (which he signed as first among equals). During these negotiations he strenuously opposed American claims of having conquered the tribes. However, he and other leaders agreed in this treaty to peace, some land cessions, and a compromise boundary between the Ohio Indians and American settlements. This compact was vigorously opposed by both Hurons and British, although it certainly reflected the position of the more exposed Wyandots. When in 1786 the British began reasserting their influence by calling a Western Confederacy conference at Brownstown, Dunquat responded to complaints about his behavior by participating actively. Thereafter his standing abruptly declined, and he moved from Upper Sandusky back to the Detroit Hurons’ domain.
There he was reported to have died during the summer of 1788. This date is not entirely certain, for a Doueyenteat helped negotiate and signed the 9 January 1789 Treaty of Fort Harmar. If “Doueyenteat” is one of the numerous alternative spellings of “Dunquat,” then the person Dunquat lived and remained politically active for at least a year after his reported death. Moreover, if Doueyenteat and Dunquat were the same person, then the Treaty of Fort Harmar is further evidence of the decline in his status, for two hereditary, ranking Wyandot clan leaders, Teyandatontec and Cheyawe, were most active in the negotiations and signed this treaty before Dunquat.
On the other hand, the title if not the office of half king of the Wyandots survived Dunquat. His adopted son, Harrouyeou (Cherokee Boy), assumed this title of his own volition and for several years sometimes pretentiously used it, as in the 1795 Treaty of Greenville. However, the several Dunquats of later Wyandot history were different personalities, for the clan names of their deceased were regularly bestowed on successive persons, not necessarily lineal descendants.
Documentation of Dunquat’s life is greatly scattered in British, Canadian, and American national archives and in state, provincial, and local archives as well, sometimes in published form. There is considerable material, for example, in William E. Connelley’s Collected Papers at the Kansas Historical Society; the Lyman Draper Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin; M. St. Clair Clarke and Peter Force, American Archives, vol. 2, ser. 5; Henry Howe, Ohio Historical Collections; Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, vols. 19 and 20; Pennsylvania Archives, vol. 10, ser. 1; Consul Butterfield, Washington-Irving Correspondence (1882); Public Archives of Canada, vol. 1836, record group 10 (Red Series); D. Brymner et al., Report on the Canadian Archives (1872); and The Papers of Sir William Johnson, ed. James Sullivan (1921–1965).
Dunquat is treated in most histories of the Ohio country during the revolutionary era, including Consul W. Butterfield, Expedition against Sandusky (1873); Randolph Downes, Council Fires on the Upper Ohio (1940); Helen H. Tanner, Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History (1986); and the best of these, Richard White, Middle Ground (1991).
- Johnson, Sir William (1715-1774), merchant, land speculator, and royal official among the Iroquois Indians
- Captain Pipe (1725-1794), Delaware chief of the Wolf phratry
- Crawford, William (1732–11 June 1782), soldier
- Clark, George Rogers (19 November 1752–13 February 1818), revolutionary war general and "conqueror of the Northwest"