The French and Iroquois Wars, which were fought from 1642 to 1698 were various battles that came about because the Iroquois tribe wanting to expand their territory. They were seeking to serve as middlemen between other Native American tribes and the French in order to facilitate the fur trade in the area.
That is why that series of battles is sometimes known as the Beaver Wars, or simply the Iroquois Wars. The Mohawk tribe dominated the Iroquois Confederation at that time. They fought against both the French and other Native American tribes, particularly the Algonquin tribes.
It was one of the bloodiest North American wars. The result was that many eastern tribes were forced to move to the Mississippi River’s west and tribal alliances were forever changed.
The New Netherland Colony’s Dutch residents were originally on the side of the Iroquois, but that later changed. Between that change and the fact that the French soon realized they would need the assistance of the Iroquois to fend off the English, the war came to an end.
How the Conflict Began
In the middle of the 1600s, the beaver were rapidly disappearing from the Iroquois land, which is a major part of what sparked the first conflicts. That land included portions of what is now New York, including the part to the Hudson River’s west and to Lake Ontario’s south. They were surrounded by tribes that spoke the Algonquian language in Ohio County, which was to the west, as well as the Iroquoian-speaking Huron tribe. That tribe was located to their north, near the St. Lawrence River. In the 1620s a Dutch trading post was established in the Hudson Valley area, and the Mohawks and the rest of the Iroquois began to depend on that post for European goods, including firearms. However, the beaver population suffered because of those firearms. So, by 1640, there were almost none left in the region. That led to the fur trade moving further north, towards the territory of the Huron tribe, which was located near the St. Lawrence River. They traded actively with the residence of New France, in Canada. The Iroquois tribe thought of themselves as being more advanced than the surrounding tribes. However, they felt threatened by the fact that other tribes were controlling the fur trade. So, they made a major effort to expand their controlled lands. In the early 1600s, the relations between the French and Iroquois were strained, at best. In 1609, three Iroquois chiefs were killed by Samuel de Champlain and a group of Algonquins. Between that time and 1640, the Iroquois traded on a regular basis with the Dutch, giving them access to European weapons. Originally, they were only trying to control the fur trade, but the conflicts soon turned bloody and deadly.
When the Iroquois attacked some villages along St. Lawrence that were occupied by the Huron tribe, which occurred in the 1640s, it marked the beginning of the war. The Huron tribe, who were trading with the French, had been driven to the north by 1649. At that point, the Ottawa tribe began trading with the French in their place. The Iroquois started to attack the French directly at the start of the 1650s. However, the Onondaga, the Oneida, and other Iroquois tribes did remain peaceful at first. Nevertheless, the Mohawk tribe wanted to fight the French, and they controlled those other tribes. So, after Chief Canaqueese failed to negotiate a treaty, the Iroquois began attacks in New France, near the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain, blockading Montreal in the process. War parties generally invaded farms late at night, scalping and slaughtering the residents. However, some prisoners were taken. Those prisoners were often children and women, who were absorbed into the tribe, while adult male prisoners were often tortured and then killed. The residents of New France were constantly scared of those raids, even though they didn’t happen on a daily basis. Those who stood up to the Indian attacks are often immortalized in stories that are passed down through the generations. For example, Dollard Des Ormeaux is well known for standing up to attackers at Long Sault in May of 1660. He died in that attack, but he saved Montreal from being taken. Another memorable attack was that of Indians on the family farm of Madeleine de Verchères in 1692. She was only 14 at the time, but she led her family’s defense in the attack.
The Western Expansion of the Iroquois
As the Iroquois moved northward, they also expanded their territory westward to the Great Lakes region. As of 1650, their territory ran from St. Lawrence down to Virginia Colony. They had also forced the Shawnee tribe to leave Ohio Country. They also took control of Illinois Country all the way to the Mississippi River in the west. The Lakota and other eastern tribes were forced by the Iroquois to move west beyond the Mississippi River. They became nomadic tribes who moved across the Great Plains. More tribes and refugees moved towards the Great Lakes and got into fights with other tribes who were already living in that area.
The French Counterattack
When French reinforcements arrived in the form of the Carignan-Salières Regiment in the 1660s, they became the first uniformed soldiers in Canada. Around that time, the Dutch, who had been siding with the Iroquois, found themselves pushed out of New Netherlands by the English. Those two things together gave the French the upper hand for the first time. In 1666, the Viceroy of New France was Alexandre de Prouville, the “Marquis de Tracy.” That year, he led a group of French troops that attacked the homeland of the Iroquois. They didn’t make much headway during that attack, but they were able to capture Chief Canaqueese. That same group went down the Richelieu in September of that same year to attack Iroquois territory again. However, they couldn’t find any Iroquois warriors to attack. Instead, they burned homes and crops along the way. As a result, many of the Iroquois died of starvation when winter came Peace eventually came for a generation, when the Iroquois sued for it. However, the peaceful colony that the settlers had established in the area was forever changed by Carignan-Salieres soldiers who decided to stay and settle in the colony. They used rough speech and often had poor manners, disrupting the peace of the colony. Some of the soldiers left in 1667, when temporary peace was established. At that time, a militia was formed by the colony. Each man who was at least 16 and no older than 65 was given a weapon and ammunition for it. They were also obligated to join the military service, if needed. The only exceptions were some public officials and all members of the clergy.
The Continuation of the War
In 1683, Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac was the governor of the colony. He wanted to build his fortune by taking over the fur trade in the west. However, that interfered with the interests of the Iroquois tribe. That started the war again, and it didn’t end until the decade after that. A small troop from the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, or the French Navy, augmented the local militia in 1683, when the war resumed. That naval group served for the longest amount of time of any military group in New France. Over the years, they became integrated with the colony. Essentially, they brought Canadian practices to the colony, which somewhat makes them Canada’s first professional military unit, even though they were technically not in Canada. The social elite in the colony sought Officers’ commissions in both the Compagnie Franches and the militia. They participated in la petite guerre, which was a method by which they dressed like the Algonquins, who fought by their side. Then they went through the forests silently, sneaking up silently on enemy settlements and attacking them violently. That was the same sort of warfare used against them by the Iroquois in previous years. One major attack was in 1690. It took place at Schenectady, in what is now New York. Two more attacks took place that year in Portland, Maine and Salmon Falls, New Hampshire. Those who were attacked were either captured or killed.
The Great Peace
In 1698, peace was established between the Iroquois and the French. The Iroquois had seen themselves as the scapegoats in a war that was really between the English and the French. The French were willing to establish peace in order to essentially use the Iroquois land as a buffer between themselves and the English, who were living in the southern region. In 1701 the Grande Paix, or Great Peace, treaty was signed in Montreal. English and French representatives signed it, as well as 39 Indian chiefs. As part of the treaty, the Iroquois allowed Great Lakes refugees to go back to the east. They also agreed to stop raiding settlements. Shortly thereafter, the Shawnee got the lower Allegheny River and Ohio Country back and peace reigned in the region.
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