French and Iroquois Wars

The French and Iroquois Wars, also called the Iroquois Wars or the Beaver Wars, commonly refer to a brutal series of conflicts fought in the mid-17th century in eastern North America. The Iroquois sought to expand their territory and monopolize the fur trade and the trade between European markets and the tribes of the western Great Lakes region. The conflict pitted the nations of the Iroquois Confederation, led by the dominant Mohawk, against the largely Algonquian-speaking tribes of the Great Lakes region.

The wars were extremely brutal and are considered one of the bloodiest series of conflicts in the history of North America. The resultant enlargement of Iroquois territory realigned the tribal geography of North America, destroying several large tribal confederacies—including the Hurons, Neutrals, Eries, and Susquehannocks—and pushing other eastern tribes west of the Mississippi River. The Ohio country and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan were virtually emptied of Native people, as refugees fled west to escape Iroquois warriors. (This region would be repopulated by these Ohio people not long after, although generally in multi-ethnic indigenous "republics" rather than homogenous, discrete "tribes".)

Both Algonquian and Iroquoian societies were greatly disturbed by these wars. The conflict subsided with the loss by the Iroquois of their Dutch allies in the New Netherland colony, and with a growing French desire to seek the Iroquois as an ally against English encroachment. Subsequently, the Iroquois became trading partners with the British, which was a crucial component of later British expansion.


Written records for the St. Lawrence valley begin with the voyages of Jacques Cartier in the 1540s. Cartier tells of encounters with the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, also known as the Stadaconans or Laurentians, occupying several fortified villages, including Stadacona and Hochelaga. Cartier records that the Stadaconans were at war with another tribe known as the Toudamans who had destroyed one of their forts the previous year, resulting in 200 deaths. Continental wars and politics distracted further French efforts at colonization in the St. Lawrence Valley until the beginning of the 17th century. When the French returned, they were surprised to find that the sites of both Stadacona and Hochelaga were abandoned—completely destroyed by an unknown enemy.

Some historians have attempted to implicate the Iroquois Confederacy in the destruction of Stadacona and Hochelaga, but there is little evidence to support that claim. Iroquois oral tradition, as recorded in the "Jesuit Relations", speaks of a draining war between the Mohawk Iroquois and an alliance of the Susquehannocks and Algonquins sometime between 1580 and 1600. Thus, when the French reappeared on the scene in 1601, the St. Lawrence Valley had already witnessed generations of blood-feud-style warfare. Indeed, when Samuel de Champlain landed at Tadoussac on the St. Lawrence, he and his small company of French adventurers were almost immediately recruited by the Montagnais, Algonquins and Hurons to assist them in attacking their enemies.

Before 1603, Champlain had formed an offensive alliance against the Iroquois. Its rational was commercial, the Canadian Indians were the French source of peltry and the Iroquois interfered with that trade. The first encounter was a battle in 1609 fought on Champlain's initiative. He wrote "I had come with no other intention than to make war" [Jennings, p. 42] . Champlain fought in the company of his Algonquin allies a pitched battle with the Iroquois on the shores of Lake Champlain. Champlain himself killed three Iroquois chiefs with an arquebus. In 1610, Champlain and his arquebus-wielding French companions helped the Algonquins and Hurons defeat a large Iroquois raiding party. In 1615, Champlain joined a Huron raiding party and took part in a siege on an Iroquois town, probably among the Onondagas. The extended attack ultimately failed, and Champlain was injured in the attempt. [Bruce G. Trigger: The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660 (McGill-Queen's University Press; Kingston and Montreal; 1987; ISBN 0-7735-0626-8 pp.312-315)] At the time of the conflict, the Iroquois inhabited a region of present-day New York south of Lake Ontario and west of the Hudson River. The Iroquois lands comprised an ethnic island, surrounded on all sides by Algonquian-speaking Nations, including the Shawnee to the west in the Ohio Country, as well as by Iroquoian-speaking Huron on the north along the St. Lawrence River, who were not part of the Iroquois Confederation.

In 1628, after the Mohawks defeated the Mahicans and had established a monopoly of trade with the Dutch at Fort Orange,New Netherland, the Iroquois, and in particular the Mohawk, had come to rely on the trade for the purchase of firearms and other European goods. By the 1630s, the Iroquois had become fully armed with European weaponry through their trade with the Dutch, and they began to use their growing expertise with the arquebus to good effect in their continuing wars with the Algonquins, Hurons, and other traditional enemies. The French, meanwhile, had outlawed the trading of firearms to their native allies, though arquebuses were occasionally given as gifts to individuals who converted to Christianity. Although the initial focus of the Iroquois attacks were their traditional enemies (the Algonquins, Mahicans, Montagnais, and Hurons), the alliance of these tribes with the French quickly brought the Iroquois into fierce and bloody conflict with the European colonists themselves.

The introduction of firearms, however, had accelerated the decline of the beaver population such that by 1640 the animal had largely disappeared from the Hudson Valley. Some historians have argued that the wars were accelerated by the growing scarcity of the beaver in the lands controlled by the Iroquois in the middle 17th century. The center of the fur trade thus shifted northward to the colder regions along the St. Lawrence River, controlled by the Hurons, who were the close trading partners of the French in New France. The Iroquois found themselves displaced in the fur trade by other nations in the region. Threatened by disease and with a declining population, the Iroquois began an aggressive campaign to expand their area of control.

Iroquois attacks in New France

In 1641, the Mohawks traveled to Trois Rivieres in New France to propose peace with the French and their allied tribes and requested that the French set up a trading post in Iroquoia. Governor Montmagny rejected this proposal because it would imply abandonment of their Huron allies.

The war began in earnest in the early 1640s with Iroquois attacks on frontier Wyandot villages along the St. Lawrence River,Fact|date=July 2008 with the intent of disrupting the Wyandot trade with the French. In 1648, the Dutch authorized the direct sale of guns to the Mohawks rather than through traders, after which four hundred guns were promptly sold. In 1649, the Iroquois launched a devastating attack into the heart of Wyandot territory, destroying several key villages and killing hundreds, if not thousands,Fact|date=July 2008 amongst whom were the Jesuit missionaries Jean Brebeuf, Charles Garnier, and Gabriel Lallemant—all of whom are considered martyrs of the Roman Catholic Church. Following these attacks, the remaining Wyandot dispersed to seek assistance from the Anishinaabek Confederacy in the Great Lakes, leaving the Oodaawaa Nation OttawaFact|date=July 2008 to later fill the vacuum in the fur trade with the French. It seemsWho|date=July 2008 the Iroquois motive for this attack was to remove the Huron's special relationship with New France.

In the early 1650s, the Iroquois began attacking the French. Some of the Iroquois Nations, notably the Oneida and Onondaga, had peaceful relations with the French but were under control of the Mohawk, who were the strongest nation in the Confederation and were hostile to the French presence. After a failed peace treaty negotiated by Chief Canaqueese, Iroquois war parties moved north into New France along the Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River, attacking and blockading Montreal. Typically a raid on an isolated farm or settlement consisted of a war party moving swiftly and silently through the woods, swooping down suddenly, and wielding a tomahawk and a scalping knife to attack the inhabitants. In some cases, prisoners were brought back to the Iroquois homelands. In the case of women and children, prisoners were incorporated into the nation.

Although such raids were by no means constant, when they occurred they were terrifying to the inhabitants of New France, and the colonists initially felt helpless to prevent them. Some of the heroes of French-Canadian folk memory are of individuals who stood up to such attacks, such as Dollard des Ormeaux, who died in May 1660 while resisting an Iroquois raiding force at the Long Sault at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and the Ottawa Rivers. He succeeded in saving Montreal by his sacrifice. Another such hero was Madeleine de Verchères, who in 1692 at age 14 led the defense of her family farm against Iroquois attack.

Iroquois expansion in the west

At the same time that the Iroquois were attacking northward, they also began a major expansion to the west along Great Lakes. By 1650, they controlled a region of North America extending from the Virginia Colony in the south up to the St. Lawrence. In the west, the Iroquois engaged in a wide-ranging campaign of conquest. Led by the Senecas, Iroquois war parties first destroyed the Attawandaron, or Neutral Nation, located in southern Ontario. They next annihilated another sizable confederacy known as the Eries or "Nation of the Cat" who had occupied the shores of Lake Erie. Then, they drove the Algonquin-speaking Shawnee out of the Ohio Country and seized control of the Illinois Country as far west as the Mississippi River. [ [ The French and Iroquois Wars 1642-1698 ] ]

As a result of Iroquois expansion and war with the Anishinaabek Confederacy, eastern Nations such as the Lakota were pushed across the Mississippi onto the Great Plains, adopting the nomadic lifestyle for which they later became well known. Other refugees flooded the Great Lakes area, resulting in a conflict with existing nations in the region. The vast majority of the fighting was between the Anishininaabek Confederacy and the Iroquois Confederacy. One of the last great battles was fought on what is now called Wasaga Beach.Fact|date=July 2007

French counterattack

The tide of war began to turn in the mid 1660s with the arrival of a small contingent of regular troops from France, the brown-uniformed Carignan-Salières Regiment—the first group of uniformed professional soldiers to set foot on what is today Canadian soil. At the same time, the Dutch allies of the Iroquois lost control of the New Netherland colony to the English in the south.

In January 1666, the French invaded the Iroquois homeland, led by the aristocrat Alexandre de Prouville the "Marquis de Tracy" and viceroy of New France. Although the invasion was abortive, they took Chief Canaqueese prisoner. In September, they proceeded down the Richelieu River and marched through Iroquois territory a second time. Unable to find an Iroquois army, they resorted to burning their crops and homes. Many Iroquois died from starvation in the following winter.

The Iroquois sued for peace, which lasted a generation. In the meantime, many from the Carignan-Salieres regiment stayed on in the colony as settlers, significantly altering the colonial demography. They were, after all, hardened veteran soldiers, who before coming to Canada had fought the Turks. They were rough in manners and speech, and any hope that local churchmen might have had of fostering a quiet, pietistic society on the banks of the St. Lawrence evaporated. After the departure of the Carignan-Salières regiment in 1667, with the Iroquois temporarily pacified, the colony's administrators at last took steps to form an effective militia organization. Now all men in the colony between the ages of 16 and 65 (excluding the clergy and certain public officials) were issued a musket and ammunition and became liable for military service.

Resumption of the war

The war between the French and Iroquois resumed in 1683 after the Governor Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, attempted to enrich his own fortune by pursuing the western fur-trade with a new aggressiveness, which adversely affected the growing activities of the Iroquois in this area. This time the war lasted ten years and was as bloody as the first.

With renewal of hostilities the local militia was stiffened after 1683 by a small force of regular troops of the French navy, the "Compagnies Franches de la Marine". The latter were to constitute the longest-serving unit of French regular force troops in New France. The men came to identify themselves with the colony over the years, while the officer corps became completely Canadianized. Thus in a sense these troops can be identified as Canada's first standing professional armed force. Officers' commissions both in the militia and in the Compagnie Franches became much coveted positions amongst the socially eminent of the colony. The militia together with members of the Compagnie Franches, dressed in the manner of their Algonquin Indian allies, came to specialize in that swift and mobile brand of warfare termed "la petite guerre", that was characterized by long and silent expeditions through the forests and sudden and violent descents upon enemy encampments and settlements—the same kind of warfare that was practiced against them by the Iroquois.

During King William's War, the French urged the Indians to attack the English colonial settlements. Some of the most notable of these raids in 1690 were the Schenectady massacre in the Province of New York, Salmon Falls, New Hampshire, and Portland, Maine. As in the Iroquois raids, the inhabitants were either indiscriminately slaughtered or carried away captive.

Great Peace

Finally in 1698, increasingly seeing themselves as the convenient scapegoat in what was essentially an English-inspired war,Fact|date=July 2008 the Iroquois sued for peace ending the wars. The French, meanwhile, were eager to have the Iroquois as a bulwark between New France and the English to the south. The peace treaty, "Great Peace of Montreal" was signed in 1701 in Montreal by 39 Indian chiefs, the French and the English. In the treaty, the Iroquois agreed to stop marauding and to allow refugees from the Great Lakes to return east. The Shawnee eventually regained control of the Ohio Country and the lower Allegheny River.

ee also

*Military history of France
*Military history of Canada
*Fox Wars
*Oka Crisis



* Jennings, Francis, "The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire", 1984, ISBN 0393017192


*cite book | author=Salvucci, Claudio R. and Anthony P. Schiavo, Jr. | title=Iroquois Wars II: Excerpts from the Jesuit Relations and Other Primary Sources | publisher=Evolution Publishing | location=Bristol, PA | year=2003 | id=ISBN 1-889758-34-5
*cite book | author=Schiavo, Jr., Anthony P. and Claudio R. Salvucci | title=Iroquois Wars I: Excerpts from the Jesuit Relations and Primary Sources 1535-1650 | publisher=Evolution Publishing | location=Bristol, PA | year=2003 | id=ISBN 1-889758-37-X

External links

* [ Timeline of the Iroquois Wars (1533-1650)]

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