A Great Deed of Arms

FOR twenty years, with little respite, Canada had writhed under the scourge of Iroquois war. During a great part of this dark period about the middle of the seventeenth century — the entire French population did not exceed three thousand. What, then, saved them from destruction? In the first place, the settlements were grouped around three fortified posts, Quebec, Three Rivers, and Montreal, which in time of danger gave asylum to the fugitive inhabitants. Again, their assailants were continually distracted by other wars, and never, except at a few spasmodic intervals, were fully in earnest to destroy the Frencli colony. It was indispensable to them. The four upper nations of the league soon became dependent on Canada for supplies ; and all the nations alike appear, at a very early period, to have conceived the policy on which they afterwards distinctly acted, of balancing the rival settlements of the Hudson and the St. Lawrence, the one against the other. They would torture, but not kill. It was but rarely that, in fits of fury, they struck their hatchets at the brain ; and thus the bleeding and gasping colony lingered on in torment.

The seneschal of New France, son of the Governor Lauzon, was surprised and killed on the Island of Orleans, along with seven companions. About the same time, the same fate befell the son of Godefroy, one of the chief inhabitants of Quebec. Outside the fortifications there was no safety for a moment. A universal terror seized the people. A comet appeared above Quebec, and they saw in it a herald of destruction. Their excited imaginations turned natural phenomena into portents and prodigies. A blazing canoe sailed across the sky ; confused cries and lamentations were heard in the air ; and a voice of thunder sounded from mid-heaven.1 The Jesuits despaired for their scattered and persecuted flocks, “Everywhere,” writes their superior, “ we see infants to be saved for heaven, sick and dying to be baptized, adults to be instructed, but everywhere we see the Iroquois, They haunt us like persecuting goblins. They kill our new-made Christians in our arms. If they meet us on the river, they kill us. If they find us in the huts of our Indians, they burn us and them together.” 2 And he appeals urgently for troops to destroy them, as a holy work inspired by God, and needful for his service.

Canada was still a mission, and the influence of the Church was paramount and pervading. To the minds of the harassed and imperilled people, the war with the Iroquois was a war with the myrmidons of Satan. Of the settlers’ cabins scattered along the shores above and below Quebec, many were provided with small iron cannon, made probably by blacksmiths in the colony; but they had also other protectors. In each was an image of the Virgin or some patron saint, and every morning the pious settler kneeled before the shrine to beg the protection of a celestial hand in his perilous labors of the forest or the farm.

When, in the summer of 1658, the young Vicomte d’Argenson came to assume the thankless task of governing the persecuted and poverty-stricken colony, the Iroquois war was at its height. On the day after his arrival, he was washing his hands before seating himself at dinner in the hall of the Château St Louis, when cries of alarm were heard, and he was told that the Iroquois were close at hand. In fact, they were so near than their warwhoops and the screams of their victims could plainly be heard. Argenson left his guests, and with such a following as he could muster at the moment hastened to the rescue ; but the assailants were too nimble for him. The forests which grew at that time around Quebec favored them both in attack and in retreat. After a year or two of experience, he wrote urgently to the court for troops. He adds that, what with the demands of the harvest, and the unmilitary character of many of the settlers, the colony could not furnish more than a hundred men for offensive operations. A vigorous aggressive war, he insists, is absolutely necessary, and this not only to save the colony, but to save the only true faith ; “ for,” to borrow his own words, “it is this colony alone which has the honor to be in the communion of the Holy Church. Everywhere else reigns the doctrine of England or Holland, to which I can give no other name, because there are as many creeds as there are subjects who embrace them. They do not care in the least whether the Iroquois and the other savages of this country have or have not a knowledge of the true God, or else they are so malicious as to inject the venom of their errors into souls incapable of distinguishing the truth of the gospel from the falsehoods of heresy; and hence it is plain that religion has its sole support in the French colony, and that, if this colony is in danger, religion is equally in danger.” 3

Among the most interesting memorials of the time are two letters written by Francois Hertel, a youth of eighteen, captured at Three Rivers and carried to the Mohawk towns in the summer of 1661. He belonged to one of the best families of Canada and was the favorite child of his mother, to whom the second of the two letters is addressed. The first is to the Jesuit Le Moyne, who had gone, in July of that year, to Onondaga to effect the release of French prisoners in accordance with the terms of a truce.4 Both letters were written on birchbark : —

MY REVEREND FATHER: — The very day when you left Three Rivers I was captured, at about three in the afternoon, by four Iroquois of the Mohawk tribe. I would not have been taken alive, if, to my sorrow, I had not feared that I was not in a fit state to die. If you came here, my Father, I could have the happiness of confessing to you ; and I do not think they would do you any harm ; and I think that I could return home with you. I pray you to pity my poor mother, who is in great trouble. You know, my Father, how fond she is of me. I have heard from a Frenchman who was taken at Three Rivers on the 1st of August that she is well, and comforts herself with the hope that I shall see you. There are three of us Frenchmen alive here. I commend myself to your good prayers, and particularly to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I pray you, my Father, to say a mass for me. I pray you give my dutiful love to my poor mother, and console her, if it pleases you.

My Father, I beg your blessing on the hand that writes to you, which has one of the fingers burned in the bowl of an Indian pipe, to satisfy the Majesty of God which I have offended. The thumb of the other hand is cut off; but do not tell my mother of it.

My Father, I pray you to honor me with a word from your hand in reply, and tell me if you shall come here before winter.

Your most humble and most obedient servant,


The following is the letter to his mother, sent probably, with the other, to the charge of Le Moyne : —

MY MOST DEAR AND HONORED MOTHER : — I know very well that my capture must have distressed you very much. I ask you to forgive my disobedience. It is my sins that have placed me where I am. I owe my life to your prayers, and those of M. de St. Quentin, and of my sisters. I hope to see you again before winter. I pray you to tell the good brethren of Notre Dame to pray to God and the Holy Virgin for me, my dear mother, and for you and all my sisters.

Your poor


This, no doubt, was the name by which she had called him familiarly when a child. And who was this “ Fanchon,” this devout and tender son of a fond mother ? New England can answer to her cost. When, twenty-nine years later, a band of French and Indians issued from the forest and fell upon the post and settlement of Salmon Falls, it was Francois Hertel who led the attack ; and when the retiring victors were hard pressed by an overwhelming force, it was he who, sword in hand, held the pursuers in check at the bridge of Wooster River and covered the retreat of his men. He was ennobled for his services, and died at the age of eighty, the founder of one of the most distinguished families of Canada.5 To the New England of old he was the abhorred chief of Popish malignants and murdering savages. The New England of to-day will be more just to the brave defender of his country and his faith.

In May, 1660, a party of French Algonquins captured a Wolf, or Mohegan, Indian, naturalized among the Iroquois, brought him to Quebec, and burned him there with their usual atrocity of torture. A modern Catholic writer says that the Jesuits could not save him ; but this is not so. Their influence over the consciences of the colonists was at that time unbounded, and their direct political power was very great. A protest on their part, and that of the newly arrived bishop, who was in their interest, could not have failed of effect. The truth was, they did not care to prevent the torture of prisoners of war, not solely out of that shameful spirit of compliance with the savage humor of the Indian allies of the colony which stains so often the pages of French American history, but also, and perhaps chiefly, from motives purely religious. Torture, in their eyes, seems to have been a blessing in disguise. They thought it good for the soul, and in case of obduracy the surest way of salvation. “We have very rarely indeed,” writes one of them, “seen the burning of an Iroquois without feeling sure that he was on the path to Paradise ; and we never knew one of them to be surely on the path to Paradise without seeing him pass through this fiery punishment.”6 So they let the Wolf burn ; but first, having instructed him after their fashion, they baptized him, and his savage soul flew to heaven out of the fire. “ Is it not,” pursues the same writer, “a marvel to see a wolf changed at one stroke into a lamb, and enter into the fold of Christ, which he came to ravage ? ”

Before he died he requited their spiritual cares with a startling secret. He told them that eight hundred Iroquois warriors were encamped below Montreal ; that four hundred more, who had wintered on the Ottawa, were on the point of joining them ; and that the united force would swoop upon Quebec, kill the governor, lay waste the town, and then attack Three Rivers and Montreal.7 This time, at least, the Iroquois were in deadly earnest. Quebec was wild with terror. The Ursulincs and the nuns of the Hôtel Dieu took refuge in the strong and extensive building which the Jesuits had just finished, opposite the Parish Church. Its walls and palisades made it easy of defence ; and in its yards and court were lodged the terrified Hurons, as well as the fugitive inhabitants of the neighboring settlements. Others found asylum in the fort, and others in the convent of the Ursulines, which, in place of nuns, was occupied by twenty-four soldiers, who fortified it with redoubts and barricaded the doors and windows. Similar measures of defence were taken at the Hôtel Dieu, and the streets of the Lower Town were strongly barricaded. Everybody was in arms, and the Qui vive of the sentries and patrols resounded all night.

Several days passed, and no Iroquois appeared. The refugees took heart, and began to return to their deserted farms and dwellings. Among the rest was a family consisting of an old woman, her daughter, her son-in-law, and four small children, living near St. Anne, some twenty miles below Quebec. On reaching home the old woman and the man went to their work in the fields, while the mother and children remained in the house. Here they were pounced upon and captured by eight renegade Hurons, Iroquois by adoption, who placed them in their large canoe and paddled up the river with their prize. It was Saturday, a day dedicated to the Virgin ; and the captive mother prayed to her for aid, “ feeling,” writes a Jesuit, “a full conviction that, in passing before Quebec on a Saturday, she would be delivered by the power of this Queen of Heaven.” In fact, as the marauders and their captives glided in the darkness of night by Point Levi, under the shadow of the shore, they were greeted by a volley of musketry from the bushes, and a band of French and Algonquins dashed into the water to seize them. Five of the eight were taken, and the rest shot or drowned. The governor had heard of the descent at St. Anne, and despatched a party to lie in ambush for the authors of it. The Jesuits, it is needless to say, saw a miracle in the result. The Virgin had answered the prayer of her votary. “ Though it is true,” observes the father who records the marvel, “ that, in the volley, she received a mortal wound.” The same shot struck the infant in her arms. The prisoners were taken to Quebec, where four of them were tortured with even more ferocity than had been shown in the case of the unfortunate Wolf.8 Being questioned, they confirmed his story, and expressed great surprise that the Iroquois had not come, adding that they must have stopped to attack Montreal or Three Rivers. Again all Was terror, and again days passed and no enemy appeared. Had the dying converts, so charitably despatched to heaven through fire, sought an unhallowed consolation in scaring the abettors of this torture with a lie ? Not at all. Bating a slight exaggeration, they had told the truth. Where, then, were the Iroquois ? As one small point of steel disarms the lightning of its terrors, so did the heroism of a few intrepid youths divert this storm of war and save Canada from a possible ruin.

In the preceding April, before the designs of the Iroquois were known, a young officer named Daulac, commandant of the garrison of Montreal, asked leave of Maisonneuve, the governor, to lead a party of volunteers against the enemy. His plan was bold to desperation. It was known that Iroquois warriors in great numbers had wintered among the forests of the Ottawa. Daulac proposed to waylay them on their descent of the river, and fight them without regard to disparity of force. The settlers of Montreal had hitherto acted solely on the defensive, for their numbers bad been too small for aggressive war. Of late their strength had been somewhat increased, and Maisonneuve, judging that a display of enterprise and boldness might act as a check on the audacity of the enemy, at length gave his consent.

Adam Daulac, Sieur des Ormeaux, was a young man of good family, who had come to the colony three years before, at the age of twenty-two. He had held some military command in France, though in what rank does not appear. It was said that he had been involved in some affair which made him anxious to wipe out the memory of the past by a noteworthy exploit ; and he had been busy for some time among the young men of Montreal, inviting them to join him in the enterprise he meditated. Sixteen of them caught his spirit, struck hands with him, and pledged their word. They bound themselves by oath to accept no quarter ; and, having gained Maisonneuve’s consent, they made their wills, confessed, and received the sacraments. As they kneeled for the last time before the altar in the chapel of the Hôtel Dieu, that sturdy little population of pious Indian-fighters gazed on them with enthusiasm, not unmixed with an envy which had in it nothing ignoble. Some of the chief men of Montreal, with the brave Charles Le Moyne at their head, begged them to wait till the spring sowing was over, that they might join them ; but Daulac refused. He was jealous of the glory and the danger, and he wished to command, which he could not have done had Le Moyne been present.

The spirit of the enterprise was purely mediæval. The enthusiasm of honor, the enthusiasm of adventure, and the enthusiasm of faith were its motive forces. Daulac was a knight of the early crusades among the forests and savages of the New World. Yet the incidents of this exotic heroism are definite and clear as a tale of yesterday. The names, ages, and occupations of the seventeen young men may still be read on the ancient register of the parish of Montreal ; and the notarial acts of that year, preserved in the records of the city, contain minute accounts of such property as each of them possessed. The three eldest were of twenty-eight, thirty, and thirty-one years respectively. The age of the rest varied from twenty-one to twenty-seven. They were of various callings, — soldiers, armorers, locksmiths, lime-burners, or settlers without trades. The greater number had come to the colony with Maisonneuve, in 1653.

After a solemn farewell they embarked in several canoes well supplied with arms and ammunition. They were very indifferent canoe-men ; and it is said that they lost a week in vain attempts to pass the swift current of St. Anne, at the head of the Island of Montreal. At length they were more successful, and entering the mouth of the Ottawa, crossed the Lake of Two Mountains and slowly advanced against the current.

Meanwhile, forty warriors of that remnant of the Hurons who, in spile of Iroquois persecutions, still lingered at Quebec, had set out on a war-party, led by the brave and wily Etienne Annahotaha, their most noted chief. They stopped by the way at Three Rivers, where they found a band of Christian Algonquins under a chief named Mituvemeg. Annahotaha challenged him to a trial of courage, and it was agreed that they should meet at Montreal, where they were likely to find a speedy opportunity of putting their mettle to the test. Thither, accordingly, they repaired; the Algonquin with three followers, and the Huron with thirty-nine.

It was not long before they learned the departure of Daulac and his companions. “ For,” observes the honest Dollier de Casson, “ the principal fault of our Frenchmen is to talk too much.” The wish seized them to share the adventure ; and, to that end, the Huron chief asked the governor for a letter to Daulac, to serve as credentials. Maisonneuve hesitated. His faith in Huron valor was not great, and he feared the proposed alliance. Nevertheless, he at length yielded so far as to give Annahotaha a letter in which Daulac was told to accept or reject the proffered reinforcement, as he should see fit. The Hurons and Algonquins now embarked and paddled in pursuit of the seventeen Frenchmen.

They, meanwhile, had passed with difficulty the swift current at Carillon, and about the first of May reached the foot of the more formidable rapid called the hong Sault, where a tumult of waters, foaming among ledges and bowlders, barred the onward way. It was needless to go farther. The Iroquois were sure to pass the Sault, and could be fought here as well as elsewhere. Just below the rapid, where the forests sloped gently to the shore, among the bushes and stumps of the rough clearing made in constructing it, stood a palisade fort, the work of an Algonquin war-party in the past autumn. It was a mere enclosure of trunks of small trees planted in a circle, and was already ruinous. Such as it was, the Frenchmen took possession of it. Their first care, one would think, should have been to repair and strengthen it; but this they seem not to have done; possibly, in the exaltation of their minds, they scorned such precaution. They made their fires, and slung their kettles on the neighboring shore ; and here they were soon joined by the Hurons and Algonquins. Daulac, it seems, made no objection to their company, and they all bivouacked together. Morning and noon and night, they prayed in three different tongues ; and when, at sunset, the long reach of forests on the farther shore basked peacefully in the level rays, the rapids joined their hoarse music to the notes of their evening hymn.

In a day or two their scouts came in with tidings that two Iroquois canoes were coming down the Sault. Daulac had time to set his men in ambush among the bushes at a point where he thought the strangers likely to land. He judged aright. The canoes, bearing five Iroquois, approached, and were met by a volley fired with such precipitation that one or more of them escaped the shot, fled into the forest, and told this mischance to their main body, two hundred in number, on the river above. A fleet of canoes suddenly appeared, bounding down the rapids, filled with warriors eager for revenge. The allies had barely time to escape to their fort, leaving their kettles still slung over the fires. The Iroquois made a hasty and desultory attack, and were quickly repulsed. On this, they opened a parley, hoping, no doubt, to gain some advantage by surprise. Failing in this, they set themselves, after their custom on such occasions, to building a rude fort of their own in the neighboring forest.

This gave the French a breathingtime, and they used it for strengthening their defences. Being provided with tools, they planted a row of stakes within their palisade, to form a double fence, and filled the intervening space with earth and stones to the height of a man, leaving some twenty loopholes, at each of which three marksmen were stationed. Their work was still unfinished when the Iroquois were upon them again. They had broken to pieces the birch canoes of the French and their allies, and, kindling the bark, rushed up to pile it blazing against the palisade; but so brisk and steady a fire met them that they recoiled and at last gave way. They came out again, and again were driven back, leaving many of their number on the ground, among them the principal chief of the Senecas.. Some of the French dashed out, and, covered by the fire of their comrades, hacked off his head, and stuck it on the palisade, while the Iroquois howled in a frenzy of helpless rage. They tried another attack, and were beaten off a third time.

This dashed their spirits, and they sent a canoe to call to their aid five hundred of their warriors, who were mustered near the mouth of the Richelieu. It was these whom, but for this untoward check, they were on their way to join for a combined attack on Quebec, Three Rivers, and Montreal. It was maddening to see their grand project thwarted by a few French and Indians ensconced in a paltry redoubt, scarcely better than a cattle-pen ; but they were forced to digest the affront as best they might.

Meanwhile, crouched behind trees and logs, they beset the fort, harassing its defenders day and night with a sputtering fire, and a constant menace of attack. Thus five days passed. Hunger, thirst, and want of sleep wrought fatally on the strength of the French and their allies, who, pent up together in their narrow prison, fought and prayed by turns. Deprived as they were of water, they could not swallow the crushed Indian corn, or hominy,” which was their only food. Some of them, under cover of a brisk fire, ran down to the river and filled such small vessels as they had ; but this pittance only tantalized their thirst. They dug a hole in the fort, and were rewarded at last by a little muddy water oozing through the clay.

Among the assailants were a number of Hurons, adopted by the Iroquois and fighting on their side. These renegades now shouted to their countrymen in the fort, telling them that a fresh army was close at hand, that they would soon be attacked by seven or eight hundred warriors, and that their only hope was in joining the Iroquois, who would receive them as friends. Annahotaha’s followers, half dead with thirst and famine, listened to their seducers, took the bait, and, one, two, or three at a time, climbed the palisade, and ran over to the enemy, amid the hootings and execrations of those whom they deserted. Their chief stood firm ; and when he saw his nephew, La Monche, join the other fugitives, he fired his pistol at him in a rage. The four Algonquins, who had no mercy to hope for, stood fast with the courage of despair.

On the fifth day an uproar of unearthly yells from seven hundred savage throats, mingled with a clattering din of musketry, told the Frenchmen that the expected reinforcement had come ; and soon, in the forest and on the clearing, a crowd of warriors mustered for the attack. Knowing from the Huron deserters the weakness of their enemy, they had no doubt of an easy victory. They advanced cautiously, as was usual with them before their blood was up, screeching, leaping from side to side, and firing as they came on ; but the French were at their posts, and every loophole darted its tongue of fire. Besides muskets, they had heavy musketoons, of large calibre, which, scattering scraps of lead and iron among the throng of savages, often maimed several of them at one discharge. The Iroquois, astonished at the persistent vigor of the defence, fell back discomfited. The fire of the French, who were themselves completely under cover, had told upon them with deadly effect. Three days more wore away in a series of futile attacks, made with little concert or vigor ; and during all this time Daulac and his men, reeling with exhaustion, fought and prayed as before, sure of a martyr’s reward.

The uncertain, vacillating temper common to all Indians now began to declare itself. Some of the Iroquois were for going home. Others revolted at the thought, anddeclared that it would be an eternal disgrace to lose so many men at the hands of so paltry an enemy, and yet fail to take revenge. It was resolved to make a general assault, and volunteers were called for to lead the attack. , After the custom on such occasions, bundles of small sticks were thrown upon the ground, and those picked them up who dared, thus accepting the gage of battle and enrolling themselves in the forlorn hope. No precaution was neglected. Large and heavy shields four or five feet high were made by lashing together three split logs with the aid of crossbars. Covering themselves with these mantelets, the chosen band advanced, followed by the motley throng of warriors. In spite of a brisk fire, they reached the palisade, and, crouching below the range of shot, hewed furiously with their hatchets to cut their way through. The rest followed close, and swarmed like angry hornets around the little fort, hacking and tearing to get in.

Daulac had crammed a large rnusketoon with powder and plugged up the muzzle. Lighting the fuse inserted in it, he tried to throw it over the barrier, to burst like a grenade among the crowd of savages without; but it struck the ragged top of one of the palisades, fell back among the Frenchmen and exploded, killing and wounding several of them, and nearly blinding others. In the confusion that followed, the Iroquois got possession of the loopholes, and, thrusting in their guns, fired on those within. In a moment more, they had torn a breach in the palisade; but, nerved with the energy of desperation, Daulac and his followers sprang to defend it. Another breach was made, and then another. Daulac was struck dead, but the survivors kept up the fight. With a sword or a hatchet in one hand and a knife in the other, they threw themselves against the throng of enemies, striking and stabbing with the fury of madmen; till the Iroquois, despairing of taking them alive, fired volley after volley and shot them down. All was over, and a burst of triumphant yells proclaimed the dear-bought victory.

Searching the pile of corpses, they found four Frenchmen still breathing. Three had scarcely a spark of life, and, as no time was to be lost, they burned them on the spot. The fourth, less fortunate, seemed likely to survive, and they reserved him for future torments. As for the Huron deserters, their cowardice profited them little. The victors, regardless of their promises, fell upon them, burned some on the spot, and carried the rest to their villages for a similar fate. Five of them had the good fortune to escape, and it was from them, aided by admissions made long afterwards by the Iroquois themselves, that the French of Canada derived all their knowledge of this glorious disaster.

To the colony it proved a salvation. The Iroquois had had fighting enough. If seventeen Frenchmen, four Algonquins, and one Huron, behind a picket fence, could hold seven hundred warriors at bay so long, what might they expect from many such, fighting behind walls of stone ? For that year they thought no more of capturing Quebec and Montreal, but went home dejected and amazed, to howl over their losses and nurse their dashed courage for a day of vengeance.

Francis Parkman.

  1. Marie de l’Inearnation, Lettre, September, 1661.
  2. Relation, 1660 (anonymous), 3.
  3. Papiers d' Argenson ; Mèmoire sur le sujet de la guerre des Iroquois, 1659, (1660?) MS.
  4. Journal des Jésuites, p. 300.
  5. His letters of nobility, dated 1716, will be found in Daniel’s Histoire des Grandes Familles Francoises du Canada, p. 404.
  6. Relation, 1660, p. 31.
  7. Marie de l’lncarnation, Lettre, 25 Juin, 1660.
  8. The torturers were Christian Algonquins, converts of the Jesuits. Chaumonot, who was present to give spiritual aid to the sufferers, describes the scene with horrible minuteness. “ I could not,” he says, “deliver them from their torments.” Perhaps not; but it is certain that the Jesuits as a body, with or without the bishop, could have prevented the atrocity, had they seen fit. They sometimes taught their converts to pray for their enemies. It would have been well bad they taught them not to torture them. I can recall but one instance in which they did so. The prayers for enemies were always for a spiritual, not a temporal, good. The fathers held the body in slight account, and cared little what happened to it.