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The Last of the Huron

 Native American Nations | The Jesuits in North America                   


Iroquois bullets and tomahawks had killed the Huron by hundreds, but famine and disease had killed incomparably more. The miseries of the starving crowd on Isle St. Joseph had been shared in an equal degree by smaller bands, who had wintered in remote and secret retreats of the wilderness. Of those who survived that season of death, many were so weakened that they could not endure the hardships of a wandering life, which was new to them. The Huron lived by agriculture; their fields and crops were destroyed, and they were so hunted from place to place that they could rarely till the soil. Game was very scarce; and, without agriculture, the country could support only a scanty and scattered population like that which maintained a struggling existence in the wilderness of the lower St. Lawrence. The mortality among the exiles was prodigious.

It is a matter of some interest to trace the fortunes of the shattered fragments of a nation once prosperous, and, in its own eyes and those of its neighbors, powerful and great. None were left alive within their ancient domain. Some had sought refuge among the Neutral and the Erie, and shared the disasters which soon overwhelmed those tribes; others succeeded in reaching the Andastes; while the inhabitants of two towns, St. Michel and St. Jean Baptiste, had recourse to an expedient which seems equally strange and desperate, but which was in accordance with Indian practices. They contrived to open a communication with the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois, and promised to change their nationality and turn Seneca as the price of their lives. The victors accepted the proposal; and the inhabitants of these two towns, joined by a few other Huron, migrated in a body to the Seneca country. They were not distributed among different villages, but were allowed to form a town by themselves, where they were afterwards joined by some prisoners of the Neutral Nation. They identified themselves with the Iroquois in all but religion,--holding so fast to their faith, that, eighteen years after, a Jesuit missionary found that many of them were still good Catholics.

[Compare Relation, 1651, 4; 1660, 14, 28; and 1670, 69. The Huron town among the Seneca was called Gandougaraé. Father Fremin was here in 1668, and gives an account of his visit in the Relation of 1670.]

The division of the Huron called the Tobacco Nation, favored by their isolated position among mountains, had held their ground longer than the rest; but at length they, too, were compelled to fly, together with such other Huron as had taken refuge with them. They made their way northward, and settled on the Island of Michilimackinac, where they were joined by the Ottawa, who, with other Algonquins, had been driven by fear of the Iroquois from the western shores of Lake Huron and the banks of the River Ottawa. At Michilimackinac the Huron and their allies were again attacked by the Iroquois, and, after remaining several years, they made another remove, and took possession of the islands at the mouth of the Green Bay of Lake Michigan. Even here their old enemy did not leave them in peace; whereupon they fortified themselves on the main-land, and afterwards migrated southward and westward. This brought them in contact with the Illinois, an Algonquin people, at that time very numerous, but who, like many other tribes at this epoch, were doomed to a rapid diminution from wars with other savage nations. Continuing their migration westward, the Huron and Ottawa reached the Mississippi, where they fell in with the Sioux. They soon quarreled with those fierce children of the prairie, who drove them from their country. They retreated to the south-western extremity of Lake Superior, and settled on Point Saint Esprit, or Shagwamigon Point, near the Islands of the Twelve Apostles. As the Sioux continued to harass them, they left this place about the year 1671, and returned to Michilimackinac, where they settled, not on the island, but on the neighboring Point St. Ignace, now Graham's Point, on the north side of the strait. The greater part of them afterwards removed thence to Detroit and Sandusky, where they lived under the name of Wyandots until within the present century, maintaining a marked influence over the surrounding Algonquins. They bore an active part, on the side of the French, in the war which ended in the reduction of Canada; and they were the most formidable enemies of the English in the Indian war under Pontiac. [See "History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac."] The government of the United States at length removed them to reserves on the western frontier, where a remnant of them may still be found. Thus it appears that the Wyandot, whose name is so conspicuous in the history of our border wars, are descendants of the ancient Huron, and chiefly of that portion of them called the Tobacco Nation.

[The migrations of this band of the Hurons may be traced by detached passages and incidental remarks in the Relations of 1654, 1660, 1667, 1670, 1671, and 1672. Nicolas Perrot, in his chapter, Deffaitte et Füitte des Hurons chassés de leur Pays, and in the chapter following, gives a long and rather confused account of their movements and adventures. See also La Poterie, Histoire de l'Amérique Septentrionale, II. 51-56. According to the Relation of 1670, the Hurons, when living at Shagwamigon Point, numbered about fifteen hundred souls.]

When Ragueneau and his party left Isle St. Joseph for Quebec, the greater number of the Huron chose to remain. They took possession of the stone fort which the French had abandoned, and where, with reasonable vigilance, they could maintain themselves against attack. In the succeeding autumn a small Iroquois war-party had the audacity to cross over to the island, and build a fort of felled trees in the woods. The Huron attacked them; but the invaders made so fierce a defense, that they kept their assailants at bay, and at length retreated with little or no loss. Soon after, a much larger band of Onondaga Iroquois, approaching undiscovered, built a fort on the main-land, opposite the island, but concealed from sight in the forest. Here they waited to waylay any party of Huron who might venture ashore. A Huron war chief, named Étienne Annaotaha, whose life is described as a succession of conflicts and adventures, and who is said to have been always in luck, landed with a few companions, and fell into an ambuscade of the Iroquois. He prepared to defend himself, when they called out to him, that they came not as enemies, but as friends, and that they brought wampum-belts and presents to persuade the Huron to forget the past, go back with them to their country, become their adopted countrymen, and live with them as one nation. Étienne suspected treachery, but concealed his distrust, and advanced towards the Iroquois with an air of the utmost confidence. They received him with open arms, and pressed him to accept their invitation; but he replied, that there were older and wiser men among the Huron, whose counsels all the people followed, and that they ought to lay the proposal before them. He proceeded to advise them to keep him as a hostage, and send over his companions, with some of their chiefs, to open the negotiation. His apparent frankness completely deceived them; and they insisted that he himself should go to the Huron village, while his companions remained as hostages. He set out accordingly with three of the principal Iroquois.

When he reached the village, he gave the whoop of one who brings good tidings, and proclaimed with a loud voice that the hearts of their enemies had changed, that the Iroquois would become their countrymen and brothers, and that they should exchange their miseries for a life of peace and plenty in a fertile and prosperous land. The whole Huron population, full of joyful excitement, crowded about him and the three envoys, who were conducted to the principal lodge, and feasted on the best that the village could supply. Étienne seized the opportunity to take aside four or five of the principal chiefs, and secretly tell them his suspicions that the Iroquois were plotting to compass their destruction under cover of overtures of peace; and he proposed that they should meet treachery with treachery. He then explained his plan, which was highly approved by his auditors, who begged him to charge himself with the execution of it. Étienne now caused criers to proclaim through the village that every one should get ready to emigrate in a few days to the country of their new friends. The squaws began their preparations at once, and all was bustle and alacrity; for the Huron themselves were no less deceived than were the Iroquois envoys.

During one or two succeeding days, many messages and visits passed between the Huron and the Iroquois, whose confidence was such, that thirty-seven of their best warriors at length came over in a body to the Huron village. Étienne's time had come. He and the chiefs who were in the secret gave the word to the Huron warriors, who, at a signal, raised the war-whoop, rushed upon their visitors, and cut them to pieces. One of them, who lingered for a time, owned before he died that Étienne's suspicions were just, and that they had designed nothing less than the massacre or capture of all the Huron. Three of the Iroquois, immediately before the slaughter began, had received from Étienne a warning of their danger in time to make their escape. The year before, he had been captured, with Brébeuf and Lalemant, at the town of St. Louis, and had owed his life to these three warriors, to whom he now paid back the debt of gratitude. They carried tidings of what had befallen to their countrymen on the main-land, who, aghast at the catastrophe, fled homeward in a panic.

[Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1651, 5, 6. Le Mercier, in the Relation of 1654, preserves the speech of a Huron chief, in which he speaks of this affair, and adds some particulars not mentioned by Ragueneau. He gives thirty-four as the number killed.]

Here was a sweet morsel of vengeance. The miseries of the Huron were lighted up with a brief gleam of joy; but it behooved them to make a timely retreat from their island before the Iroquois came to exact a bloody retribution. Towards spring, while the lake was still frozen, many of them escaped on the ice, while another party afterwards followed in canoes. A few, who had neither strength to walk nor canoes to transport them, perforce remained behind, and were soon massacred by the Iroquois. The fugitives directed their course to the Grand Manitoulin Island, where they remained for a short time, and then, to the number of about four hundred, descended the Ottawa, and rejoined their countrymen who had gone to Quebec the year before.

These united parties, joined from time to time by a few other fugitives, formed a settlement on land belonging to the Jesuits, near the south-western extremity of the Isle of Orleans, immediately below Quebec. Here the Jesuits built a fort, like that on Isle St. Joseph, with a chapel, and a small house for the missionaries, while the bark dwellings of the Huron were clustered around the protecting ramparts.1 Tools and seeds were given them, and they were encouraged to cultivate the soil. Gradually they rallied from their dejection, and the mission settlement was beginning to wear an appearance of thrift, when, in 1656, the Iroquois made a descent upon them, and carried off a large number of captives, under the very cannon of Quebec; the French not daring to fire upon the invaders, lest they should take revenge upon the Jesuits who were at that time in their country. This calamity was, four years after, followed by another, when the best of the Huron warriors, including their leader, the crafty and valiant Étienne Annaotaha, were slain, fighting side by side with the French, in the desperate conflict of the Long Sault. [Relation, 1660 (anonymous), 14.]

The attenuated colony, replenished by some straggling bands of the same nation, and still numbering several hundred persons, was removed to Quebec after the inroad in 1656, and lodged in a square inclosure of palisades close to the fort. [In a plan of Quebec of 1660, the "Fort des Huron" is laid down on a spot adjoining the north side of the present Place d'Armes.] Here they remained about ten years, when, the danger of the times having diminished, they were again removed to a place called Notre-Dame de Foy, now Ste. Foi, three or four miles west of Quebec. Six years after, when the soil was impoverished and the wood in the neighborhood exhausted, they again changed their abode, and, under the auspices of the Jesuits, who owned the land, settled at Old Lorette, nine miles from Quebec.

Chaumonot was at this time their missionary. It may be remembered that he had professed special devotion to Our Lady of Loretto, who, in his boyhood, had cured him, as he believed, of a distressing malady. [See ante, chapter 9 (p. 102).] He had always cherished the idea of building a chapel in honor of her in Canada, after the model of the Holy House of Loretto,--which, as all the world knows, is the house wherein Saint Joseph dwelt with his virgin spouse, and which angels bore through the air from the Holy Land to Italy, where it remains an object of pilgrimage to this day. Chaumonot opened his plan to his brother Jesuits, who were delighted with it, and the chapel was begun at once, not without the intervention of miracle to aid in raising the necessary funds. It was built of brick, like its original, of which it was an exact facsimile; and it stood in the centre of a quadrangle, the four sides of which were formed by the bark dwellings of the Huron, ranged with perfect order in straight lines. Hither came many pilgrims from Quebec and more distant settlements, and here Our Lady granted to her suppliants, says Chaumonot, many miraculous favors, insomuch that "it would require an entire book to describe them all."

["Les grâces qu'on y obtient par l'entremise de la Mère de Dieu vont jusqu'au miracle. Comme il faudroit composer un livre entier pour décrire toutes ces faveurs extraordinaires, je n'en rapporterai que deux, ayant été témoin oculaire de l'une et propre sujet de l'autre."--Vie, 95.

The removal from Notre-Dame de Foy took place at the end of 1673, and the chapel was finished in the following year. Compare Vie de Chaumonot with Dablon, Relation, 1672-73, p. 21; and Ibid., Relation 1673-79, p. 259.]

But the Huron were not destined to remain permanently even here; for, before the end of the century, they removed to a place four miles distant, now called New Lorette, or Indian Lorette. It was a wild spot, covered with the primitive forest, and seamed by a deep and tortuous ravine, where the St. Charles foams, white as a snow-drift, over the black ledges, and where the sunlight struggles through matted boughs of the pine and fir, to bask for brief moments on the mossy rocks or flash on the hurrying waters. On a plateau beside the torrent, another chapel was built to Our Lady, and another Huron town sprang up; and here, to this day, the tourist finds the remnant of a lost people, harmless weavers of baskets and sewers of moccasins, the Huron blood fast bleaching out of them, as, with every generation, they mingle and fade away in the French population around.

[An interesting account of a visit to Indian Lorette in 1721 will be found in the Journal Historique of Charlevoix. Kalm, in his Travels in North America, describes its condition in 1749. See also Le Beau, Aventures, I. 103; who, however, can hardly be regarded as an authority.]

1 The site of the fort was the estate now known as "La Terre du Fort," near the landing of the steam ferry. In 1856, Mr. N. H. Bowen, a resident near the spot, in making some excavations, found a solid stone wall five feet thick, which, there can be little doubt, was that of the work in question. This wall was originally crowned with palisades. See Bowen, Historical Sketch of the Isle of Orleans, 25.]

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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867

Jesuits in North America


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