Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Count Frontenac
Chapter VIII Governorship of Marquis of Denonville, 1685 to 1689

THE Marquis de Denonville was sent to Canada to retrieve a difficult and dangerous situation. He was a soldier by profession, and had had thirty years' experience of military life. His courage and honour were alike beyond question. In morals he was irreproachable. He was one of those laymen who are half churchmen ; and on the voyage from France he greatly edified Saint Vallier by the gravity of his conduct and his punctilious observance of all the forms and practices of religion. " He spent," Saint Vallier himself tells us, "nearly all his time in prayer and the reading of good books. The Psalms of David were always in his hands. In all the voyage I never saw him do anything wrong ; and there was nothing in his words or acts which did not show a solid virtue and a consummate prudence, as well in the duties of the Christian life as in the wisdom of this world." Three years later Saint Vallier speaks of him in terms of equal praise, adding that "there is no need to be astonished at the benedictions which God is bestowing upon his government and upon his enterprises against the Indians." Unfortunately, this interpretation of the ways of Providence preceded by just a year the greatest calamity in early Canadian history, the massacre of Lachine.

The three hundred men who were sent out with Denonville were far from constituting, even had their number not been sensibly reduced by fever on the voyage, the reinforcement he required in order to assume the offensive against the Iroquois with any hope of success. He was compelled, therefore, to temporize while making the most earnest appeals for a more liberal supply of troops. To counteract English intrigues among the Five Nations, he sent numerous presents in that direction, and carefully avoided any «acts which could precipitate a conflict. One of the chief perils of the situation was the disaffection produced in the minds of the Lake tribes by the dismal failure of La Barre's expedition of 1684. The only way to regain credit, he says in a despatch to the minister (Seignelay), dated 12th June 1686, is to put a sufficient number of French troops, militia and regulars, into the field to attack and defeat the Iroquois without any assistance from the western allies. He wished to begin building blockhouses for defensive purposes, but was afraid to do so, lest the enemy should consider it a preparation for war. Like La Barre, he entered into correspondence with the governor of New York, Colonel Dongan, but in a more guarded manner. He wrote first simply announcing his appointment to the governorship of Canada. Dongan replied in his usual high-flown manner with many expressions of courtesy. Denonville returned the compliment, and then took occasion to speak of the Senecas and the difficulty of keeping peace with them, inviting Dongan to assist him in protecting the missionaries who were labouring amongst those heathen at the peril of their lives. Dongan, who had been appointed by the Duke of York before he ascended the throne of England as James II, and who, as might be supposed, was a good Catholic, was quite ready to do justice to the personal merits of the missionaries ; but his fidelity to the English Crown made it impossible for him to overlook the fact that they were Frenchmen operating on what he claimed to be English territory. Their influence, he knew, could not fail to be cast in favour of the rival claims of their own people; and his desire was to replace them, as soon as it could conveniently be done, by English priests, who, without being less sound in theological matters, would be more so on the political side.

The two governors were thus playing at cross purposes, and it was not long before all disguise in the matter was set aside. Each was planning the construction of a fort at Niagara for the purpose both of strengthening his influence in the Iroquois country and of shutting the other out of Lake Erie. Dongan heard of Denonville's intention from some coureurs de bois who had deserted to Albany; whereupon he wrote to the French governor to say that he found it hard to believe that a man of his reputation would be so ill-advised as to follow m the footsteps of M. de la Barre, and seek to make trouble by planting a fort on territory clearly belonging to the King of England, and all for the sake of " a little peltry." Denonville replied with more diplomacy than truth that he had no intention of building a fort at Niagara; and expressed in turn his surprise that a gentleman ofDongan's character should "harbour rogues, vagabonds, and thieves," and believe all the silly stories they told him. As the correspondence went on its tone became warmer. Dongan had promised to send back deserters; but he found these men too valuable, and did not keep his promise. Denonville upbraids him for this want of good faith, and also for exciting the Indians by telling them that the French are preparing to attack them. He blamed him also for furnishing the savages with rum to the great detriment of their religious and moral interests; to which Dongan retorted that, in the opinion of Christians, English rum was more wholesome than French brandy.

While this correspondence was going on, both governors were doing their best to. win over the Indians of the lake region. If these could be drawn into an alliance with the Iroquois, so that their trade should pass through the Iroquois country to the English, not only would the French lose the most profitable part of their traffic, but their political position would be seriously endangered, in fact would become untenable. There was much in the arrangement from a business point of view to recommend it to the savage mind. The English paid better prices for goods, and gave their merchandise at lower prices; and, if their traders once had free access to the lake region, the effects of their more liberal dealing would be felt in every wigwam. Against this highly practical consideration was to be set a certain hereditary distrust of the Iroquois on the part of the Huron and Ottawa tribes, to which might be added the personal influence of the French missionaries and a few noted French leaders. The situation was for some time a most doubtful one; but in the end it was not the economic argument that triumphed.

In the winter of 1685-6, a Dutchman, named Johannes Rooseboom, had set out from Albany, by Dongan's directions, with a party of armed traders in eleven canoes, filled with English goods, to trade in the Upper Lakes. There was no resistance to their progress; and after trading most successfully, and to the great satisfaction of the Indians, they returned in safety. This was encouragement for a larger expedition the following year; so, in the fall of 1686, the same adventurer set out with a similar party in twenty canoes. On this occasion they were to winter with the Senecas and resume their journey in the spring, accompanied by fifty men, who were to come from Albany under the charge of a Scots officer named M'Gregory, and a band of Iroquois; the whole party to be under M'Gregory's command. The intention was to form a general treaty of trade and alliance with the tribes that hitherto had been under the domination of the French.

This was a bold step to take, and shows Dongan in the light of an early advocate of the policy of " Forward." It was too bold. Fortunately for Denonville, he had in the early summer of 1686 sent an order to Du Lhut, then at Michili-mackinac, to fortify a post at the outlet of Lake Huron, which that capable and zealous officer lost no time in doing. On hearing of the projected expedition, the governor was greatly incensed. He wrote to Dongan in strong terms, and at the same time laid the matter before the minister, declaring that it would be better to have open war with the English than to be in constant danger from their intrigues. A favourite plan of his was that Louis XIV should buy the colony of New York from James II, as he had previously bought Dunkirk from Charles II. The idea was not taken up by the French court, and there is much reason to doubt whether, with the best will in the world, the English king could have transferred the colony to France. It would have been an easy thing to send out orders, but it would have been quite a different thing to get them obeyed. In the New World men were already learning to put a very wide construction upon their civil rights; and, as far the larger portion of the population were of the reformed faith in one or other of its branches, they would certainly have made strong objection to being handed over to the tender mercies of the monarch who, at this very moment, was extirpating Protestanism in his own kingdom by the cruelest forms of persecution! The appeal to Dongan drew forth from that worthy the declaration that, in his belief, it was " as lawful for the English as for the French to trade with the remotest Indians." He denied, however, that he had incited the Iroquois to acts of aggression, and protested, in regard to the deserters, that he would much rather " such rascalls and bankrouts " would stay in their own country, and that Denonville was welcome to send for them. Negotiations, however, were going on at this time between the English and French courts in relation to affairs in America; and both Denonville and Dongan re^ ceived injunctions, to cultivate peaceful relations with one another pending the settlement of all matters in dispute by a joint commission.

If Dongan was preparing to trespass upon French rights in the region of the Great Lakes, Denonville himself was acting with even less scruple in another direction. For several years before this, the Hudson's Bay Company, under the charter granted to them by Charles II in the year 1670, had been trading to the bay from which they derived their name, and had established a number of posts along its shores. The charter had been granted in perfect good faith, as the region in question, which had been discovered and explored by navigators sailing under the English flag, Cabot, Hudson, Baffin, and Davis, was regarded as English territory. It is true that a memoir prepared by M. de Calli&res, Governor of Montreal, for the minister of marine and colonies,1mentions proceedings taken at different times by governors of Canada, between the years 1656 and 1663, to bring the country under French sovereignty; but there is nothing to show that any attempt was made at settlement or even at trading on the coast. The Hudson's Bay Company, on the other hand, had from the date of its charter, not to mention earlier operations, been carrying on trade, and establishing posts in that region without any remonstrance from the French government, and without disturbance of any kind until the year 1682, in the early winter of which two Frenchmen, named Radisson and Des Groseilliers, sailed into Hudson's Bay with two vessels, and took possession of a fort which the English had established near the mouth of the Nelson River. The explanation given by these parties was that they were acting on behalf of the "Compagnie Franchise de la Baie du Nord de Canada," which had previously formed establishments some distance up that river, and that finding that some English had begun to erect dwellings on an island at the mouth of the river, they had forced them to retire, considering their own claim to the river and its outlet the better.

This was the beginning of trouble. The French king in writing to La Barre on the subject authorized him to check, as far as possible, English encroachments in that quarter. In the spring of 1684 he writes again, and says that he has had a further communication from the English ambassador in regard to the proceedings of Radisson and Des Groseilliers, and that, while he is anxious not to give the English king any cause of complaint, he still thinks it desirable that the English should not be allowed to establish themselves on the Nelson River. La Barre was therefore to make a proposal to the English commandant in Hudson's Bay that no new establishments should be formed there by either French or English. This was at the very least an acknowledgment of the status quo. Nevertheless, a charter having been granted by the French king in the following year to a Canadian company authorizing it to trade on the Bourbon River, called in previous correspondence the Nelson, Denonville chose to consider that fact a warrant for making a general attack on the English in the bay. While his discussion with Dongan was in progress in the summer of 1686, he organized an expedition of about a hundred picked men, thirty being regular soldiers, and placed it under the command of a very capable officer, the Chevalier de Troyes, assigning to him as lieutenants three sons of Charles Le Moyne, of Montreal: Iberville, Ste. TMkne, and Maricourt The difficulties of the overland route were most formidable, but Troyes surmounted them with the loss of only one man. He did not attempt any negotiation with the English, nor send any summons to surrender, but fell upon Port Hayes, the first to which he came, in the dead of night, and captured it without difficulty, the garrison being totally unprepared to resist an attack. At this point there does not appear to have been any loss of life; but at Fort Rupert, which was similarly attacked at night, three of the occupants were killed, and two were wounded. Three more men were killed on the "same night on board a vessel anchored near the shore. When the assailants reached Fort Albany, held by a garrison of thirty men, they found that their coming had been anticipated, but, with the aid of cannon captured in the other forts, they had little difficulty in forcing a surrender. Leaving Maricourt in command at the bay, Troyes returned to Quebec. The English captured in this buccaneer fashion were sent home in one of their own vessels which happened to arrive opportunely for the purpose.

Denonville had succeeded in' arousing the French government to the importance of proceeding vigorously against the Iroquois. Eight hundred men were sent out to him in the spring of 1687, which, with about eight hundred already in the colony, made the force at his disposal quite a formidable one. In the summer of the previous year there had been a change of intendant. M. de Meulles had been recalled, and a new man, Bochart de Champigny, sent out in his place. As the appointment of the latter was made as early as April 1686, it may be surmised that Denonville, shortly after arriving in the country, signified to the king that he and Meulles were not adapted to work together satisfactorily. Meulles was certainly far from having the fervent piety of the governor; and it may not improbably have been some difference of opinion or policy arising out of this fact that caused his recall. His successor was a man conspicuously devoted to the church; and Denonville in his despatches praises him in high terms. Having now the necessary force at his command, and being zealously seconded in all his views by the new intendant, the governor determined not to let the summer of 1687 pass without undertaking his long meditated campaign against the Iroquois. While preparing for war, however, he talked of peace, in the hope of taking the enemy unawares. So far did he carry his dissimulation that he completely misled the colonists, so that, when they discovered that war was intended, they manifested a strong indisposition to respond to the call to arms. There were enough regular soldiers, they said, in the country to meet all military requirements. Denonville was too well advised, however, to dream of taking a force of regulars into the woods, unsupported by militia accustomed to the country and familiar with the methods of Indian warfare. He therefore issued a special proclamation, which the vicars-general, in the absence of the bishop, supported by a mandement, with the result that the inhabitants, accustomed to yield to authority, furnished the quota of men required, about eight hundred.

The more effectually to throw the Iroquois off their guard, the governor had instructed his chief agent amongst them, Father Lamberville, a man in whom they had perfect confidence, to invite them to a friendly conference at Fort Frontenac. The good father was kept completely in the dark as to what was really intended, and was allowed to continue his solicitations to the Indians to attend the conference up to the moment when all disguise was thrown off. He was still with them when they discovered that they had been deceived; and, had it not been for the unbounded faith they had learnt to place in the good priest's word, they would certainly have put him to death with torture as a traitor. As it was they charged the deception entirely on Denonville, who, in this case, had certainly carried craft to very dangerous, not to say indefensible, lengths.

The expedition as organized by Denonville consisted of four companies of regulars, men who had been some time in the country, and four of militia, making in all fifteen hundred Frenchmen, to whom were added five hundred mission Indians, Christian in name, but scarcely less savage in instinct than their unreclaimed brethren of the forest. The regulars were commanded by their own officers, amongst whom we recognize Troyes, the hero of the Hudson's Bay exploit. The militia were led by four notable seigneurs, Berthier, Lavaltrie, Grandville, and Le Moyne de Longueuil, brother of the three Le Moynes who had accompanied Troyes. All the French troops were placed under the general command of Callieres, Governor of Montreal, a very capable officer. M. de Vaudreuil, who had just come out from France as commander of the king's forces, accompanied the expedition in the capacity of chief-of-staff to the governor. The troops that he brought with him were left behind to take care of the country in the absence of its other defenders.

Starting from Montreal on the 13th June 1687, the expedition, after encountering the usual perils and fatigues of the St. Lawrence route, and losing one or two men in the rapids, arrived at Fort Frontenac on the 1st July. Here news was received of a reinforcement on which the governor had not permitted himself to count. In October of the previous year orders had been sent to the commanders in the West to rally the Indians of that region for another movement against the Iroquois. As Denonville well knew, there were serious difficulties in the way. The fiasco of 1684 had left a deplorable impression on the minds of the Lake tribes, whose loyalty was being further undermined by the pleasing prospect of trade with the English. These arguments, however, did not weigh with the Illinois, the latest victims of Iroquois barbarity; and Tonty in charge at Fort St. Louis, who had been notified with the others, had little trouble in getting a couple of hundred of them to follow him to Detroit on the way to Niagara. Nicolas Perrot in like manner raised a contingent among the tribes to the west of Lake Michigan, and, passing by way of Michilimackinac, joined his efforts to those of La Durantaye who had been labouring all winter to win over the dissatisfied Hurons and Ottawas. The Hurons were at last persuaded to move ; but the Ottawas still refused, and La Durantaye and the Hurons started for Detroit, the first place of rendezvous, without them. Scarcely had they left Michilimackinac when they fell in with a number of the canoes which Dongan had sent to trade in the lakes. La Durantaye at once summoned the intruders to surrender; and, as he seemed to have a formidable force with him, the summons was obeyed. The commander distributed most of the goods among his Indian followers to their great delight, and sent some barrels of rum to the Ottawas in the hope that it would incline them to follow. It is difficult to say what did influence the minds of these savages; but in a few days they set out, taking, however, a route of their own by way of the Georgian Bay and overland to what is now Toronto. Perrot and his men went to Detroit, and from that point he and the others conducted their respective commands to Niagara, arriving there just about the same time that Denonville's force reached Fort Frontenac.

The gratification of the governor on learning that this important reinforcement had arrived just in the nick of time may be imagined. He sent word to the commanders to proceed to Ironde-quoit Bay, the entrance to the Seneca country; and, conducting his force thither, saw the western men approaching just as he himself was about to land. Such a concentration, on the same day, of troops brought from as far east as Quebec, and from as far west as the sources of the Mississippi, was indeed remarkable. It seemed on this occasion at least as if everything was destined to go well.

Denonville had now nearly three thousand men under his command. Forming a camp and erecting temporary fortifications on the point of land which shuts in Irondequoit Bay from Lake Ontario, he left four hundred men at that place to guard supplies, and arranged his army in marching order. The van was led by La Durantaye, Du Lhut and Tonty with their coureurs de bois, about two hundred in number. On their left were the mission Indians, and on their right the Lake and other western tribes—a wild and motley gathering of, for the most part, naked savages, made hideous with paint and horns and tails. Separated from these by a short interval, the main body of the army followed, regulars and militia in alternate companies. A broad trail ran southwards to the heart of the Seneca country, but on either side was a dense bush in which enemies might well be concealed. The first day a distance of about ten miles was covered. It was mid-July, the heat was intense, the flies were outrageous, and the men were burdened with thirteen days' provisions in addition to their arms and ammunition. On the second day, as they were drawing near to the first fortified habitation of the enemy, whom they supposed to be awaiting them behind their defences, the advance guard was vigorously attacked both in front and rear by a foe as yet invisible. The Senecas had supposed that the advance guard, coureurs de bois and Indians, constituted the entire army, but learnt their error when those making the rear attack found themselves, as they soon did, between two fires.

Meantime, however, no little confusion had been caused in the ranks of the invaders; and Denonville and his principal officers had to exercise all their powers of command to prevent a panic. As soon as confidence was restored, the vigorous firing of the French and their allies put the enemy to flight. "The Canadians," says Charlevoix, " fought with their accustomed bravery; but the regular troops did themselves little credit in the whole campaign." "What can one do with such men ?" wrote Denonville in a despatch to the minister. On the Canadian side five militiamen, one regular soldier and five Indians were killed, and about an equal number, according to Denonville's statement, were wounded. The Senecas left twenty-seven dead upon the field. Their wounded they succeeded in carrying off; to have abandoned them would have meant to leave them to torture at the hands of the hostile Indians. As it was, the victory was followed by horrible scenes of cannibalism, in which the Ottawas, who, in the fight had showed marked cowardice, took the principal part.

This engagement, which has been localized as having occurred near the village of Victor, some fifteen miles south-east of the city of Rochester, N. Y., was the only one of the campaign. Not meeting again with the enemy, the army spent some days in burning the Seneca habitations, in which large quantities of grain were stored, and in destroying the standing crops. When this had been accomplished, they retraced their steps to their fortified camp on the lake shore. Already the army was getting into bad shape; the Indians were deserting and the French were falling sick through eating too abundantly of green corn and fresh pork; the latter article of diet being furnished by herds of swine kept by the Senecas. Despatching the sick in bateaux to Fort Frontenac^ Denonville conducted the rest of his troops to Niagara in order to carry out the long-cherished design, which, in his correspondence with Dongan, he had disavowed, of erecting a fort at that point. This only occupied a few days; and on the 3rd August he was able to set out on the return journey, after detaching one hundred men to garrison the fort, which he placed under the command of M. de Troyes. Proceeding further up the lake to a point where it narrows, he crossed over to the north shore, and so made his way to Fort Frontenac, and thence to Montreal, where he arrived on the 13th of the month. The campaign, as Parkman observes, was but half a success; it certainly fell short of being what Abb£ Gosselin calls it, "une victoire eclatante." The Senecas had been put to flight; and their dwellings had been destroyed, together with their stores of food; but their loss in men was not serious, and they could rely on the neighbouring Cayugas and Onondagas to tide them over a season of distress. Denonville writes, indeed, that they were succoured by the English. At the same time the injury they had received sank deep into minds not prone to forgive.

An incident which happened before the expedition set out from Fort Frontenac tended greatly to aggravate the situation. It had been intimated to Denonville in a despatch from the French government that the king desired to have some captured Iroquois sent over to France for service in the galleys, as it was understood that they were muscular fellows, well fitted for such work. Champigny, who left Montreal with Denonville, went ahead of the expedition with a few light canoes, in order to make arrangements for its reception at Fort Frontenac. Finding at that place a number of Iroquois, chiefly Onondagas, who, relying on Denonville's professions of peace, had come thither for trade or conference, and being anxious to show his zeal for his royal master, he did not hesitate to make them prisoners. The savages had their wives and children with them, a sure sign that they had come with friendly intent This circumstance did not weigh with the intendant, nor was he influenced by the tears and entreaties of the families of the captured men. He doubtless thought that the formidable force which the governor was leading would strike such terror into the hearts of the Iroquois nation as to put anything in the way of reprisals quite out of the question : in any case there was advantage for himself in obeying the mandate of the king. What kind of a service it was for which the unfortunate captives were destined may be learnt from a description given by a careful French writer: "Chained in gangs of six, with no clothing save a loose short jacket, devoured by itch and vermin, shoeless and stockingless, the galley slaves toiled for ten hours consecutively at a rate of exertion which one would hardly have believed a man could endure for one hour. They were indeed in luck when they were not made to work twenty-four hours consecutively, with nothing to sustain their strength but a biscuit steeped in wine, which was put into their mouths, so that they should not have to stop rowing. If their galley began to lose ground the petty officers would rain curses on their heads and blows on their backs. Many a time, when the puce was being forced under a blazing Mediterranean sun, some poor wretch would sink down dead on his bench. In such a case his companions would pass on his body, throw it overboard, and that was all."

The total number of Indians sent home to France to be consigned to this fate was thirty-five. They were at Fort Frontenac as captives, bound helplessly to posts when Denonville's army passed through, and an eye-witness, the Baron La Hontan, tells how he saw the mission Indians torturing the poor creatures by burning their fingers in the bowls of their pipes. He tried to interfere, but was censured for doing so, and put under arrest. The leaders, doubtless, thought they could not afford to put their Indian allies out of humour by interfering with their amusements.3 The wrong done in this matter seems to have created a far more bitter feeling in the minds of the Iroquois than the open war on the Senecas. The Oneidas retaliated by torturing a Jesuit father named Millet, and would in the end have put him to death if an Indian woman had not interceded for him and adopted him as her son. The temper of the savages generally, in spite of the campaign, was far from being a submissive one ; and Denonville himself within a month of his return to Quebec came to the conclusion that another punitive expedition would be necessary before a solid peace could be obtained. He therefore wrote home asking that eight hundred additional troops should be supplied to him, observing that his Indian allies were not to be depended on, and that the Canadians were not at all zealous for military service. His opinion was that he should have a force of not less than three or four thousand men at his disposal for two years. The French government did not agree with him on this point. The troops could not be spared, and the king thought that it ought to be possible to arrange matters by negotiation. There were those, indeed, in Canada who thought the whole war had been unnecessary; certainly, for some time before the Senecas were attacked, they were not acting on the aggressive. The Iroquois tribes generally had been impressed by the fact that the military forces of the colony had been considerably augmented ; and the character of the governor himself, who seemed to possess much more firmness and resolution than his immediate predecessor, had more or less influenced them in favour of peace. Had Denonville made the most of these advantages, and shown in addition a disposition to act with good faith, it is altogether probable a satisfactory peace could have been arranged without resort to war.

However, the mischief had been done. All the Iroquois tribes had been angered, and the hives were ominously buzzing. Acts of reprisal became frequent. Even the immediate neighbourhood of Fort Frontenac was not secure, for during the following winter a woman and three soldiers were carried off within gunshot of its walls. The Onondagas who effected these captures stated expressly that they were made in retaliation for those so treacherously made by Champigny. The captives were not put to death, but were held as hostages, which gave them an opportunity of appealing to Dongan. That worthy was not at all sorry that his rival had got himself into trouble; and answered the appeal by saying that he could not do anything for them till Fort Niagara, unjustly planted by their governor on English territory, had been evacuated. On the last day of the year Denonville sent to Albany an able negotiator in the person of Father Vaillant, Jesuit, but with no satisfactory result. The only terms on which Dongan would consent to use his influence in favour of peace were that the prisoners sent to France for the galleys should be restored; that the mission Indians at Laprairie and the Montreal Mountain should be sent back to the Iroquois country to which they originally belonged; that Forts Niagara and Frontenac should be razed; and that the goods captured by the French from English traders on the Upper Lakes should be restored. Scarcely had Vaillant left Albany on his return when Dongan summoned representatives of the tribes, and, acquainting them with the terms he had demanded, asked for their ratification, which was readily granted. He told the chiefs not to bury the hatchet, but simply to lay it in the grass where they could get it if it was wanted, and meantime to post themselves along the lines of communication to the French country.

The advice was promptly taken. Some bands operated along the St. Lawrence, others along the Richelieu. Early in the season of 1688 a convoy had been sent to revictual Forts Frontenac and Niagara. It passed up the river safely, but on its return it was attacked, though greatly superior in force, by a party of twenty-five or thirty Indians, who killed eight men, and took one prisoner. Other raids more or less destructive were made at Chambly, St. Ours, Contrecceur, and even as far east as Riviére du Loup. In the face of these attacks a sort of lethargy seemed to have seized upon the colonists, making them slow to defend themselves even when the conditions were in their favour. In other respects also the state of affairs was one of great depression. The war had been costly and burdensome; and, owing to the withdrawal of so many men from the work of the fields, agriculture had greatly suffered. The pillaging carried on by scattered bands of Iroquois made matters still worse. Beggars began to be numerous in the streets of Quebec and Montreal. It is interesting to note that mendicity was not looked upon with favour in those days, and that praiseworthy attempts were made to regulate it and restrain it within the narrowest possible limits. Charitable ladies undertook to inquire into cases of ostensible want so as to distinguish those which merited relief from others which might proceed from idleness or misconduct. M. de Saint Vallier, who had returned to France in the autumn of 1687, came back as bishop in August of the following year. He brought with him two hundred copies of his work on The Present State of the Church in Canada, written by him after his arrival in France, and published at Paris in March 1688, in which, as already seen, a glowing tribute was paid to the piety of the Canadian people. Instead, however, of distributing this work in the country, as he had doubtless intended, he virtually suppressed it; and, in almost his first episcopal utterances, told the people that the troubles and distresses from which they were suffering were the result of their lukewarmness in religious matters. The statement was not received in the most submissive spirit. There were some who said that the mundane causes of the sad plight in which the country found itself were only too apparent, and that it was not necessary to look further.

In the course of the summer of 1688, while Denonville had still under consideration the unpalatable terms proposed by Dongan, he received at Montreal, through the useful mediation of Father Lamberville, a visit from La Barre's old friend, the famous Onondaga orator, Big Mouth, who brought with him six other warriors. As on the occasion of his meeting with the former governor, Big Mouth occupied a strong position, and made the most of it. He had been holding back his own people, he said; otherwise they would have swarmed down on the colony and destroyed it. The conditions of peace which he proposed were those already outlined by Dongan; and he wanted an answer in four days. Denonville told him that he was prepared to treat for peace if the tribes would send delegates to Montreal duly empowered for that purpose. Big Mouth promised that this should be done, and meantime signed a treaty of neutrality. Denonville had by this time brought himself to the point of agreeing to abandon Fort Niagara, the garrison of which had been reduced by sickness from about a hundred men to ten or twelve, and with which, moreover, he found it impossible to maintain satisfactory communication. He had also been forced to give way as regards the captives sent to France, and had written asking that as many of them as survived might be sent out; suggesting at the same time that, to produce as good an effect as possible, they should be decently clothed. These were the principal points, and he hoped to be able to make peace without any further concessions.

The negotiations, however, were destined to be badly wrecked. The Indian allies, Hurons and Algonquins, had only too good reason to suspect that the peace would not include them. Big Mouth had been ominously non-committal on that point. It was doubtless remembered that, when La Barre had made peace with the Iroquois, he had abandoned the Illinois to their mercy. A leading Huron, Ivondiaronk, or the Rat, by name, determined that there should be no peace if he could help it. He was at Fort Frontenac with a party of forty warriors when he heard that negotiations for peace were in progress and that delegates from the Five Nations were expected to arrive in a few days. His plan was at once formed. Pretending to have set out with his party for Michilimackinac, he really paddled over to La Famine, placed himself in ambush in the path of the delegates, and waited their coming. It was four or five days before they appeared, and no sooner were they within gun shot than the Huron party fired. One chieftain was killed outright; several were wounded; the rest, all but one who escaped wounded, and made his way to Fort Frontenac, were captured. The captives in great indignation explained to the Rat the mission they were on, when the wily Huron expressed the most profound regret, saying that the French had sent him out on the war-path, and had never given him the slightest hint that peace negotiations were in progress. He was eloquent in denouncing the bad faith of Onontio, and at once let his captives go. True, the warrior who had escaped heard a very-different story at Fort Frontenac—that the Rat had been specially informed of the negotiations, and had professed that he was starting for home ; nevertheless, as the Rat expected, the peace was killed. The party attacked had consisted of some men of consequence who were preceding the delegates to give assurance to the governor that the latter would soon be at hand. They never came. Other thoughts now occupied the Iroquois mind.

For months there was an ominous calm. The winter of 1688-9 passed without incident, and so did the following summer. Marauding on the part of the Iroquois had so entirely ceased, that the opinion began to prevail in the colony that the enemy had lost courage, and were no longer disposed for war. Some rumours, it is true, reached the governor that mischief was brewing, but he paid little heed to them: no special measures of defence whatever were taken. A strange kind of somnolence seems to have crept over almost the entire population. The intendant, in a despatch written just about this time (6th November 1688), after speaking of the disastrous effect of brandy drinking upon the Indians, goes on to say : " The Canadians also ruin their health thereby ; and, as the greater number of these drink a large quantity of it early in the morning, they are incapable of doing anything the remainder of the day." It may safely be assumed that the morning potations were indulged in without prejudice to a tolerably free use of the bottle in the evening. It is remarkable that so serious a judgment upon the habits of the people should have preceded by only a few months a striking and fatal example of their unreadiness and incapacity.

The night of the 4th August 1689 was dark and stormy with rain and hail. It was just such a night as might serve to cover the approach of a stealthy foe ; and the foe, vengeful and relentless, was at hand. Fourteen hundred Iroquois had descended the St. Lawrence and taken up their station on the south side • of the Lake St. Louis, opposite Lachine. About midnight, amid the darkness and the noise of the elements, they crossed the lake, and, landing, posted themselves in small bands close to the dwellings of the slumbering inhabitants. An hour or so before daybreak, a war-whoop, the preconcerted signal, was raised. Instantly a thousand savage throats gave forth the dismal howl; and then began the work of slaughter that made " the massacre of Lachine " a name of terror for generations. The account of the disaster given by Charlevoix, who puts the number of the slain at two hundred, has been generally followed by later writers; but there is fortunately reason to believe that the massacre was much less in extent, and perhaps somewhat less horrible in character, than the reverend father represents.

Judge Girouard, who has gone into the matter in a most careful and painstaking manner, places the number of persons killed at Lachine—men, women, and children—at twenty-four. The place was defended by three forts, all of which had garrisons; but from these no help seems to have been afforded to the wretched inhabitants. The torch did its work as well as the tomahawk, and fifty-six houses were burnt. There were some regular troops—about two hundred—under an officer named Subercase, encamped about three miles off. A shot from one of the forts gave the alarm, and Subercase with his men marched to the scene of action. Many of the Indians had inebriated themselves with brandy seized in the houses of the inhabitants ; and it is probable that, had they been promptly and vigorously attacked, they might have been defeated with heavy loss. Subercase was just on the point of leading his men against them, when M. de Vaudreuil, acting-governor of Montreal in the absence of M. de Calli&res who had gone to France, appeared on the scene with formal and positive orders from M. de Denonville, who, as ill-luck would have it, was at Montreal, to remain strictly on the defensive. Subercase was extremely indignant, and felt strongly tempted to disobey; but the instinct of subordination prevailed, and he remained inactive. The Indians meanwhile dispersed themselves over the Island of Montreal, killing, capturing, burning, and meeting with little or no resistance.

A really circumstantial and consistent account of the whole occurrence is lacking; and it is therefore uncertain how long the Iroquois remained in the neighbourhood. The probability would seem to be that the main body retreated with their prisoners and booty after a brief campaign, but that some bands of warriors stayed behind for further pillage. On the 13th of November a bloody raid was made on the settlement at La Chesnaye, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, some twenty miles below Montreal; all the houses were burnt, and the majority of the inhabitants either killed or captured. The total number of persons killed elsewhere than at Lachine is estimated by Judge Girouard, who has endeavoured to trace the names in the parish registers, at forty-two, making, with the twenty-four killed at Lachine, a total of sixty-six. As regards the number of captives, the same authority, whose careful methods inspire much confidence, accepts the statement of Belmont, who places it at ninety. We read that, when the savages left Lachine, which they did without any attempt being made from the forts to harass their retreat, they crossed Lake St. Louis, and, encamping on the opposite shore, lit their fires and began to torture their prisoners. Torture, there can be no doubt, was sufficiently congenial to the Iroquois nature; and yet there is room for doubt whether there is sufficient warrant for the highly coloured narrative which has become the popular legend on this subject. It was usual with the Iroquois to carry their captives with them into their villages ; and it is known that they did this with at least the great majority of those whom they secured on the Island of Montreal, for many of them were alive years afterwards. Moreover had there been many burnings on the south shore of Lake St. Louis, the same pious care which caused the re-burial a few years later (1694) of the remains of the victims of the Lachine massacre would have been extended to any that might have been found on the site of the last encampment. There is no record of the discovery of any such remains or of their burial or re-burial. It is true that some burnings of captives occurred in the Iroquois villages; still it is some satisfaction to think that the calamity as a whole was not on the scale that tradition has represented.

It is related that as the savages paddled away from the Lachine shore, they called out: "Onontio, you deceived us; now we have deceived you." The last days of Onontio, in his official capacity at least, were at hand. The king had decided early in the year that he was not the man to support a falling state or rescue an imperilled community, and had offered the position again to Count Frontenac notwithstanding the many troubles that had marked that gallant soldier's former tenure of office. Evidently, with all his faults of temper, he had at least impressed himself on the king as a man who could be relied on in the hour of danger. Denonville's last act was one which strikingly illustrated the condition of feebleness and dejection into which he had fallen. Dongan and the Iroquois had demanded the abandonment of Fort Frontenac. Denonville now determined that this was the only course to follow, and accordingly sent orders to the garrison to blow up the walls, destroy the stores, and make the best of their way to Montreal.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus