Iroquois of Canada
Origin and History
In 1665, three tribes (Oneida, Cayuga and Seneca) of the Iroquois Confederacy made peace with the French. In 1666, the French launched an offensive against the two remaining tribes (Mohawk and Oneida), burning crops and several villages. In 1667, these two tribes signed a peace treaty with the French and agreed to allow missionaries to visit their villages.
In 1680, the French Crown gave the estates of Sault Saint-Louis (present-day Kahnawake), on the south shore of the Saint-Laurent River near Montréal, to the Jesuit missionaries. At that time, diplomatic relations between the French settlers and the Iroquois Confederacy were slowly deteriorating, and the Jesuits induced Catholic converts, mostly Mohawks, to relocate in Canada, near Montréal.
During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713), aka Queen Anne’s War, the Iroquois of Canada took part in raids against New England settlements and traded captives. Younger children and women were sometimes adopted and assimilated into the tribe.
In 1717, the French Crown granted the Mohawk a tract of land 14.5 km long by 14.5 km on Lake Deux-Montagnes, just west of Montréal. The settlement, known as Oka or Kanesatake, was a Catholic mission supervised by the Sulpicians. It initially counted 300 Christian Mohawk, about 100 Algonquin, and approximately 250 Nipissing peoples.
In 1749, the French Abbé Piquet established the mission of La Présentation (near present-day Ogdensburg/NY) near the mouth of the Oswegatchie River. The mission attracted Native Americans, mostly Onondaga) for the fur trade. They converted to Catholicism. By 1755, there were 3,000 Iroquois living at La Présentation.
In the mid-1750s, about 30 families of Kanesatake led by chiefs John and Zachariah Tarbell, migrated about 100 km upstream along the Saint-Laurent River to Akwesasne. In 1755, the Jesuits established the mission of Saint-Régis among these Native Americans.
Role during the War
In the first years of the Seven Years’ War, the Iroquois of Canada fought alongside the French against the British. They took part in most expeditions on Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario.
On July 9, 1755, about 230 Native American warriors from the mission villages took part in the ambush of Braddock’s forces on the Monongahela.
In February and March 1756, some 128 Native American warriors from the mission villages took part in the French expedition against Fort Bull. The expeditionary force led by M. de Léry was guided by Oratory, an Oneida from La Présentation. On July 23, during the operations on Lake Champlain, a number of Iroquois warriors from Canada formed part of Lévis’ forces at Carillon. On August 7, another party of 25 Iroquois warriors arrived at Carillon from Montréal. On September 4, 150 Iroquois warriors arrived from Sault-Saint-Louis. On September 11, a party of 300 Native American warriors (Iroquois, Chippewas and Ottawas) arrived at Carillon. On September 16 at 6:00 p.m., 100 Canadiens and 400 Native American warriors under Captain de la Perrière embarked aboard 34 canoes at Contrecoeur’s camp for an expedition in the direction of Fort Edward and Fort William Henry (Malartic mentions 600 Native American warriors (Iroquois, Abenakis and Ottawas) and 200 Canadiens). On September 22, 24 Iroquois and Nipissing warriors arrived at Carillon.
In January 1757, 350 Native American warriors from the mission villages joined Rigaud’s winter expedition against Fort William Henry. The Iroquois warriors from Sault Saint-Louis were part on the third division, while those of Deux-Montagnes were assigned to the fourth division. In June, about 800 Iroquois warriors from Canada joined the army preparing to lay siege to Fort William Henry. By July 20, 258 warriors from Sault-Saint-Louis and 81 from Deux-Montagnes formed part of Longueuil's Brigade. Meanwhile, on July 24 on Lake Champlain, 277 Iroquois warriors of Canada arrived at Fort Carillon. In November, Iroquois warriors of La Présentation took part in the raid on the Mohawk River.
On March 12, 1758, some 200 Native American warriors from the mission villages (mostly Iroquois) took part in the Skirmish of Snow Shoes where the Iroquois lost 7 men killed and 15 wounded. On March 28, the Iroquois contingent arrived at Sault Saint-Louis.
In September 1759, Iroquois warriors from Deux-Montagnes and La Présentation joined La Corne's forces posted near the rapids of the Saint-Laurent River.
The bodies and faces of Iroquois men were heavily tattooed with geometric designs and their noses and ears were pieced with rings made up of wampum or silver. On the warpath, the faces and bodies of the warriors were painted half red, half black.
Men usually shaved most of their hair, leaving only a tuft of hair in the centre. The Mohawks had one or two long lock hanging down, the rest of the head was shaven with the exception of a streak of hair from the forehead to the neck.
Headdress: a cap called the gustoweh made of either buckskin or cloth tied to wood splints and decorated with feathers was often worn by men. Each nation could be identified by the number and positioning:
- the Mohawk: three upright eagle feathers
- the Oneida: two upright feathers and one down
- the Onondaga: one feather pointing upward and another pointing down
- the Cayuga: a single feather at a forty-five degree angle
- the Seneca: a single feather pointing up
- the Tuscarora: no distinguishing feathers
N.B.: chiefs wore headdresses made of deer antler.
Breechcloth: a leather belt with a rectangle of red or blue duffel cloth pulled under it, front and rear. Leather could also be used in place of duffel cloth.
Moccasins: deer-skin moccasins rising several cm above the ankle. They were decorated with porcupine quills or beads in various patterns.
Ammunition pouch: buckskin pouch with straps over the shoulder .
Belts carrying a powder horn and a tomahawk.
A quilled case carrying a knife was worn around the neck.
N.B.: silver armbands and gorgets were popular accessories
During colder months, warriors wore leggings in addition to the items of the summer dress:
- a shirt made of broadcloth
- a buckskin coat
- leggings made of broadcloth (they were fastened to the belt of the breechcloth)
- moccasins made of bear skins with the fur turned inside
- mittens from beaver and bear furs
Bows and arrows with flint tips were the traditional weapons of Iroquois warriors. Quivers were made from corn husks. Wooden shields and war clubs were also used. By mid XVIIIth century metal knives and hatchets were common, as well as tomahawks with iron blades.
By the 1630s, most Iroquois warriors had European firearms.
Waldman, Carl: Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Revised Edition, pp. 103-108
N.B.: the section Role during the War is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.