Under Attack

When Champlain joined the Algonquin raid against the Iroquois and won by use of muskets which the Iroquois did not have, he couldn’t have known the terrible consequences. In 1615, he travelled deep into the Lake Huron region where he befriended the Huron who were strategically located between the east, west and northern Algonquins on a prime trading route. They soon became middlemen, channeling thousand of beaver pelts each year into the hands of the French. Champlain came to believe that the Huron could hold off the Iroquois.

By 1640 though, the Iroquois had made alliances with the fur-seeking Dutch who were operating along the Hudson River. Now armed with muskets, they began raiding Huron villages deep in the woodlands until in 1649, they finally overwhelmed the Huron. After this they launched another attack on the neighbouring Tobacco tribe who was, like the Huron, against the Iroquois. A nation of 30,000 people lay in devastation with many being taken as slaves or adopted into the League. The adoptees swelled the ranks of Iroquois and created new warriors.  With the defeat of the Hurons, the Iroquois gained control of the fur trade, playing the English and French against each other. Attacks on the French settlements came hard and fast.

By this time, the Compagnie des Cents Associes, still reeling from the effects of the Kirke brothers occupation, was on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1645, a group of leading settlers were granted control over the fur trading rights of the company and renamed it the “Compangie des Habitants”. The Compagnie des Cents Associes would retain ownership of New France but the new company  would be responsible for the costs of administering the colony. That meant paying the governor and military officers, maintaining the forts and garrisons, the upkeep of the clergy and being responsible for bringing twenty male and female settlers over each year.

At this time, there were only 600 residents in the French colony for although life in France may have been hard, there was little economic incentive for the people to come. That along with the various hardships and tales of the “wild men of the woods” would keep the population down. This is not to mention the fact that the persecuted Huguenots would find no shelter in Quebec.

In March of 1649, the Iroquois attacked a small Huron village killing or capturing most of it’s 400 inhabitants. They tortured the captive priests, believing them to be responsible for the destruction of their country. Being familiar with the baptism of dying children, they baptized the priests, Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lelement with boiling water over and over again and after longs hours of torture, finally executed them. However, the fall of the Huron aided the life of the tiny colony. Now, the colony’s farmers would be the suppliers of food to the northern Algonquins instead of the Hurons. After the 1650’s the engages began to stay past their required 3 year contracts. By 1653, the coureurs de bois replaced the Huron as middlemen in the fur trade, bringing furs from their camp with the Ottawas on the Great Lakes into New France. Among these men were Radisson and Groselliers, explorers of the Great Lakes up to the far end of Lake Superior.


Map of the Beaver Wars- Francis Jennings

By 1653 New France was almost on the verge of collapse from the Iroquois attacks. 32 settlers had been killed and 22 captured, leaving only 50 to hold Montreal. Even further north in Quebec and Trois Rivieres, the settlers were afraid to go out for fear of being ambushed. After a 5 year truce, the attacks commenced again in 1658 but by this time, the population had increased greatly and the men had learned guerilla warfare themselves. When Louis XIV came to power in 1663 he decided that he would not take a loss on the potentially lucrative colony. He disbanded the Compagnie de Cents Associes and established the Carignan-Salières Regiment to gain control of the Iroquois. He brought the Filles de Roi to Quebec, girls who had been orphaned to balance the population and of course, increase it. The goverment was reformed with the Governor and Intendent now being controlled by France. The Bishop was no longer the supreme power in New France. The 1666 census showed an increase in population to 3,215.

My 6th great-aunt, Marie Beauchamp is recorded as dying in Montreal in 1652. She would have been only 14, having arrived a long while before her brothers, Jacques and Jean who arrived in 1659 and 1666. What she was doing there and how she died is a matter of conjecture and would need some research. She may have been a ward of the famous Marguerite Bourgeoys, teaching sister. Why would her parents send her off? She is recorded as being buried at Notre Dame in Montreal.

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