Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.



CHAMPLAIN, the single-hearted founder of the little colony was dead, but Canada must long suffer for his adventurous meddling in the wars of the Five Nations. In 1653 these almost irresistible warriors threatened Canada at every point, and many were the prayers, fasts, penances, and vows offered for the safety of the miserable little colony. All was plundered and burned outside of fortifications. The outposts of Montreal and Three Rivers were invested. The former, with a garrison of twenty-six Frenchmen, was attacked by two hundred Iroquois; at the latter post some six hundred Mohawks, determined on revenge for the death of a famous chief, beleagured the fort. Around Quebec Itself there was no safety. The Jesuit Poncet, taking with him a man named Franchetot, was going to the relief of a poor woman who could not get her patch of corn harvested. They fell into the hands of the Iroquois, and were both carried oft. Thirty-two Frenchmen followed to rescue them, but, nearing Three Rivers and finding it besieged by the Mohawks, they threw themselves into the fort, to the joy of the garrison and rage of the besiegers.

For a short time the colony was granted a respite. A deputation of Onondaga chiefs, begged admittance to Montreal, and there concluded a treaty of peace. To the pious inmates this was a miracle caused by the direct interposition of Heaven; but a more commonplace reason could be found for it. The western tribes of the Five Nations were now making war on the Eries, "whom they afterwards totally exterminated. And " one war at a time," said the Iroquois, wiser than some more civilized nations.

Meantime Father Poncet was dragged through the woods, sleeping on damp ground, suffering from colic as he waded in water waist-deep, and with a blistered foot and a benunbed leg. Worst of all, the savages snatched from him the little case which he wore containing sacred relics and scattered them to the winds. He consoled himself, however, with some religious pictures. He hid them in the bushes, fearing to let the savages see them lest they should laugh at him.

Arrived at the lower town of the Mohawks, the Jesuit and Franchetot were stripped of their clothes and forced to run the gauntlet between rows of cruel savages, each aiming to deal the hardest blow at their victims. The poor Jesuit was then placed on a bark scaffold and surrounded by his torturers. It began to rain, however, and, the torture being postponed, Poncet was taken into a cabin. But the dull hours must be whiled away. The Jesuit was made to sing, dance, and go through various performances for the amusement of his captors. But, according to a literal translation of the narrator, the poor man " did not succeed to their liking in these monkeries," and would have been put to death if a young Huron prisoner had not offered himself to "sing, dance, and make wry faces in place of the father, who had never learned the trade."

Franchetot was burned, and Poncet also was still destined for the stake. A hideous one-eyed Indian began his tortures by calling a Mohawk child of four or five years of age and giving him a knife with which to cut one of the father's finger's off. Father Poncet, believing his martyrdom to be at hand, sang the Vexilla Regis while this operation was performed. Everything is prepared, the Jesuit is to be burned, when an Indian squaw steps forward and says that she adopts this man in place of a dead brother. The torturers immediately desist. This is strictly according to Indian custom. Some impulse occasionally moved an Indian accustomed to delight in barbarous torments to save the life of a doomed prisoner. It was also customary among the Five Nations, after they had sufficiently glutted their frenzy of revenge, to adopt the remaining captives, scattering them around among the tribes, and thus replenishing their population, drained as it was by constant war.

Poor Father Poncet, who was, he thinks, unworthy of martyrdom, was nevertheless doomed to be made ridiculous. He must now see himself dressed in leggins, moccasins, and dirty shirt, and masquerade as an Iroquois warrior. After some three months among the Mohawks, peace had been concluded, the French in their treaty had especially provided for the return of Poncet, and the Jesuit found himself again engaged in the hard duties of a wilderness mission.

An Indian peace is always more or less uncertain. The old chiefs and wiser warriors may have honest intentions, but they have little control over the restless young braves, who must win their laurels or else remain insignificant in council and in courtship. Thus an irruption is apt at any time to break out involving the whole tribe. The Iroquois would not be satisfied until they had exterminated the Hurons. The Mohawks and Onondagas both laid plans to entice the remnant of these people into their own nations, that they might murder the warriors and increase their own numbers by the adoption of the women and children.

When the Mohawks had returned Poncet, they took occasion to secretly invite the Hurons, in the friendliest manner, to move to their towns. These doomed Indians knew well what this meant. They came to the French in terror for advice. But the struggling colony could not help them. It was doubtful whether she could save herself from the clutches of these terrible people. The Hurons promised to comply, but meanwhile put off the time of their removal under various excuses.

The Onondagas, more wily still, invited, or rather commanded, the French to plant a Jesuit colony in their midst, hoping thus to draw the Hurons, who loved the missionaries, into their towns. Now it was the Frenchmen's turn to look aghast. But the brave missionaries turned to this as a new field of labor, braving martyrdom, and hoping to cultivate a lasting peace between the Six Nations and France. The French agreed to the proposition of the Onondagas, but began by sending as an experimental ambassador Father Simon Le Moyne into the country of the Six Nations.

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