In my last post I discussed the dangers my Quebec ancestors faced from the Iroquois confederacy and, in particular, the life of my Huron ancestors Nicolas/Arendanki, Jeanne/Otrih8handet and their daughter Catherine/Anenantha, who is my direct ancestor along two separate family lines.
But these were by no means my only 17th-century ancestors whose lives were cut short by the Iroquois, and I’d like to share their stories with you.
My 9G Grandfather Pierre Gareman immigrated from France about 1639 along with his wife Madeleine Charlot and their first two children, Florence (my 8G grandmother) and Nicole. Pierre was engaged to work at Portneuf, but the Iroquois threat there drove them to take refuge at the Jesuit mission at Sillery, where daughter Marguerite was born and baptized in 1639. By 1643, the family was at Trois-Rivières, where son Charles was born and baptized. After another futile attempt to develop their employer’s seigneury at Portneuf, the family settled at Cap Rouge (now part of Quebec city).
On 10 June 1653 the Iroquois attacked, killing a neighbor and capturing Pierre and his 10-year-old son Charles. Pierre was killed, doubtless in a most unpleasant fashion, and his remains were found the following year at Trois-Rivières and given Christian burial on 25 July. But Charles?
For more than twenty years it was assumed that 10-year-old Charles had been likewise killed, but in June 1677 he showed up, very much alive, in Quebec, with an Oneida wife and an infant daughter, who was duly baptized and then turned over to the Ursuline convent to be raised. Charles and his wife then disappeared back into the wilderness and there is no record of them ever having been seen again by any white person; the daughter died in 1683.
One of my 8G Grandfathers, Louis Guimont, was rather famous in his all-too-brief lifetime. Born in France about 1625, he married Jeanne Bitouset, a “Fille à Marrier” (a young woman brought from France to become a wife of a settler before the formal “Filles du Roi” program began in 1663). Louis and Jeanne settled at Beaupré, near Quebec city, and in 1658, despite a very painful back (a problem with which I can sincerely sympathize), he braced himself to place 3 heavy stones into the foundation of the new church at Beaupré and “suddenly found himself healed.” This was the first miracle attributed to Ste-Anne at Beaupré, which became (and still is) a major site of pilgrimage, particularly for the sick. Louis himself undoubtedly believed his healing was a miracle, and he was notable for his religious devotion during the brief remainder of his life.
Louis was one of the hapless habitants of Beaupré captured by the Iroquois on 18 June, 1661. His constant praying during the ordeal completely enraged his captors. According to fellow captive Joseph Hébert, who managed to smuggle some letters written on bark back to family in Quebec: “He was beaten with sticks and iron rods. They beat him so much that he died from the blows, but nonetheless, he did not stop praying to God, so incessantly that the Iroquois, enraged to see his lips moving in prayer, cut off both his upper and lower lips. Was that a horrible sight to see! And nonetheless he did not stop praying, which so angered the Iroquois that they tore his heart from his chest while he was still alive and threw it in his face.” Two of Louis’s children, Joseph and Louise, are my direct ancestors, along different lines.
The infamous Massacre of Lachine, on the stormy night of 4 to 5 August 1689, was the beginning of several days of horror on the Île-Montréal. A huge Iroquois war party (estimated at 1,500 warriors) attacked the village, slaughtering or burning alive many of its inhabitants and capturing many others. Soon the entire Île-Montréal was overrun by the Iroquois, and two of my 8G grandparents, Pierre Dagenais dit Lepine and his wife Anne Brandon, habitants at Rivière-des-Prairies, were among the victims. Pierre was killed on 9 August; the curé found his body and gave it a hasty burial on the spot. Given the circumstances, it is understandable that the curé forgot to record the burial in the register, but he did later insert a loose page in the register recording this act. The loose page eventually fell out and for many years the fate of Pierre was unknown. However, the lost loose page turned up later in the judiciary archives of Joliette, so we now know what happened to him and when. There is a public park name Parc Pierre-Dagenais-Dit-Lepine in present-day Montreal.
As for Pierre's wife Anne Brandon, her precise fate is unknown, but she disappeared the same night her husband was killed and was never seen again. She may have been captured; she may have been killed but her body was never found—or at least, never identified. (Many victims, including women and children, were burned alive and therefore were unidentifiable.) Since her exact fate was not known, her children’s subsequent marriage records do not state that she is dead. In fact, it is possible that she was taken alive back to Iroquois country and survived for many years.
The details of my 7G Grandfather Pierre Forcier’s death have not survived. He and a neighbor, Jacques Vacher, were killed by the Iroquois in the area of their parish, St-François-du-Lac, on 18 May 1690, according to the record of their burial the following day. The Iroquois were making frequent raids in Quebec in this time frame, and the curé who buried the two bodies was doubtless fully occupied with worrying about when the next attack would happen and trying to comfort the terrified members of his congregation; it’s understandable, if frustrating for Pierre’s descendants, that he didn’t record more than the barest detail in recording the deaths of these two men. On the other hand, perhaps it’s better that we don’t know more details . . .
Less than 2 months later, also at St-François-du-Lac, my 8G Grandparents Paul Hus and Jeanne Baillargeon had to bury their 6-year-old son Paul, killed by an Iroquois war party. (The couple gave the same name to a son born in 1702.)
Another 8G grandfather, Jean LaVallée dit Petit, a member of the local militia, was killed by the Iroquois on 12 Jun 1692 near Montréal and buried the same day. No further details are recorded.
My 8G Grandparents Jean Deniau or Deneau and Hélène Daudin were both “tués par les Iroquois” on 12 August 1695 at Boucherville. Again, no details about their deaths were recorded. Their son-in-law, my 7G Grandfather Alexandre Lacoste dit Languedoc, was a witness to their burial later that same day. I do hope his wife Marguerite, my 7G Grandmother, did not have to see the (doubtless mutilated) corpses of her parents.
The Iroquois were not making these attacks on the settlers in Quebec out of sheer cussedness: they had a definite goal. They and their English and Dutch allies in this era shared a desire to monopolize the fur trade: the Iroquois wanted to force all other Indian groups to sell their furs through the Iroquois rather than deal directly with any white traders; the white traders were happy to have the Iroquois deliver the furs instead of having to go out themselves and deal with the people who had trapped the animals and cured the pelts. The Iroquois preferred to deal with the Dutch and English because they supplied them with guns (the French, as a general rule, did not give guns to Indians in this era) and naturally didn’t want to see their rivals equally well-armed. Given the constant hostility among the French, the English, and the Dutch, the Iroquois realized that the French could very well begin supplying guns to their native allies; therefore they wanted to cut off the direct lines of trade between other tribes and the French settlers of Quebec.
In addition, during the last 4 decades of the 1600s, the reason the French endured so many Iroquois attacks was that the Iroquois were desperate to drive out the French from the mid-1660s on—or at least eliminate the French as players in the fur trade. Why? Because the coveted beaver and other animals with valuable furs were growing very scarce in Iroquois territory, and the Iroquois were unable to gain direct access to the vast resources of the Lake Superior region, due to a catastrophic setback they’d suffered in 1662, when they had tried to seize control of that area. Since the tale was passed down orally, there are numerous versions of it with somewhat differing details. Here’s my own synopsis of that event:
1662: Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior, not far from Sault Ste Marie. A large war party of Iroquois (how large depends on who is telling the story—at least about 100 warriors, perhaps 200, some estimates as high as 500) was encamped there. One version says that their presence was reported by the sole survivor of an Ojibwe encampment which had been attacked and otherwise annihilated by that war party. The survivor is said to have spread the news of the common and imminent menace to other bands, and the Ojibwe, the Odawa (Ottawa), and their allies in the area resolved to stop the invasion before it went further. Other versions merely say that the Iroquois were “discovered”.
In any case, a war party was quickly gathered to repel the invaders, since no one doubted that the Iroquois had hostile intentions. The Ojibwe and their allies took advantage of a fortuitous rainy night to creep undetected right up to the edges of the Iroquois encampment. They attacked at dawn. The Iroquois were either completely annihilated or, as one version of the story has it, one humiliated Iroquois was deliberately allowed to live and return home, so that the rest of the Iroquois could know of the disaster and of the firm intention and ability of the inhabitants of the Lake Superior area to repel any further attempts at incursion. Certainly the Iroquois made no more attempts to get a foothold at Lake Superior. The place of the massacre became known as Nadowegoning, “place of Iroquois bones,” because for at least a century later, the bleached and decaying remains of the Iroquois were all over the place. It is now known as Iroquois Point.
The ancestors I’ve discussed who suffered and died at the hands of the Iroquois are not the only family members of mine who were victims. There is, for example, the remarkable case of Anne Baillargeon . . . But that’s another story.