Beginning the new book in Francis Parkman’s history of the French in North America. Today’s installment: The Indians of Canada.
Our special project presenting the definitive account of France in Canada by Francis Parkman, one of America’s greatest historians.
Previously on Parkman
Full as they are of dramatic and philosophic interest, bearing strongly on the political destinies of America, and closely involved with the history of its native population, it is wonderful that they have been left so long in obscurity. While the infant colonies of England still clung feebly to the shores of the Atlantic, events deeply ominous to their future were in progress, unknown to them, in the very heart of the continent. It will be seen, in the sequel of this volume, that civil and religious liberty found strange allies in this Western World.
The sources of information concerning the early Jesuits of New France are very copious. During a period of forty years, the Superior of the Mission sent, every summer, long and detailed reports, embodying or accompanied by the reports of his subordinates, to the Provincial of the Order at Paris, where they were annually published, in duodecimo volumes, forming the remarkable series known as the Jesuit Relations. Though the productions of men of scholastic training, they are simple and often crude in style, as might be expected of narratives hastily written in Indian lodges or rude mission-houses in the forest, amid annoyances and interruptions of all kinds. In respect to the value of their contents, they are exceedingly unequal. Modest records of marvelous adventures and sacrifices, and vivid pictures of forest-life, alternate with prolix and monotonous details of the conversion of individual savages, and the praiseworthy deportment of some exemplary neophyte. With regard to the condition and character of the primitive inhabitants of North America, it is impossible to exaggerate their value as an authority. I should add, that the closest examination has left me no doubt that these missionaries wrote in perfect good faith, and that the Relations hold a high place as authentic and trustworthy historical documents. They are very scarce, and no complete collection of them exists in America. The entire series was, however, republished, in 1858, by the Canadian government, in three large octavo volumes.
[Both editions — the old and the new — are cited in the following pages. Where the reference is to the old edition, it is indicated by the name of the publisher (Cramoisy), appended to the citation, in brackets.
In extracts given in the notes, the antiquated orthography and accentuation are preserved.]
These form but a part of the surviving writings of the French-American Jesuits. Many additional reports, memoirs, journals, and letters, official and private, have come down to us; some of which have recently been printed, while others remain in manuscript. Nearly every prominent actor in the scenes to be described has left his own record of events in which he bore part, in the shape of reports to his Superiors or letters to his friends. I have studied and compared these authorities, as well as a great mass of collateral evidence, with more than usual care, striving to secure the greatest possible accuracy of statement, and to reproduce an image of the past with photographic clearness and truth.
The introductory chapter of the volume is independent of the rest; but a knowledge of the facts set forth in it is essential to the full understanding of the narrative which follows.
In the collection of material, I have received valuable aid from Mr. J. G. Shea, Rev. Felix Martin, S.J., the Abbés Laverdičre and H. R. Casgrain, Dr. J. C. Taché, and the late Jacques Viger, Esq.
I propose to devote the next volume of this series to the discovery and occupation by the French of the Valley of the Mississippi.
BOSTON, 1st May, 1867.
America, when it became known to Europeans, was, as it had long been, a scene of wide-spread revolution. North and South, tribe was giving place to tribe, language to language; for the Indian, hopelessly unchanging in respect to individual and social development, was, as regarded tribal relations and local haunts, mutable as the wind. In Canada and the northern section of the United States, the elements of change were especially active. The Indian population which, in 1535, Cartier found at Montreal and Quebec, had disappeared at the opening of the next century, and another race had succeeded, in language and customs widely different; while, in the region now forming the State of New York, a power was rising to a ferocious vitality, which, but for the presence of Europeans, would probably have subjected, absorbed, or exterminated every other Indian community east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio.
The vast tract of wilderness from the Mississippi to the Atlantic, and from the Carolinas to Hudson’s Bay, was divided between two great families of tribes, distinguished by a radical difference of language. A part of Virginia and of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Southeastern New York, New England, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Lower Canada were occupied, so far as occupied at all, by tribes speaking various Algonquin languages and dialects. They extended, moreover, along the shores of the Upper Lakes, and into the dreary Northern wastes beyond. They held Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana, and detached bands ranged the lonely hunting-round of Kentucky.
[The word Algonquin is here used in its broadest signification. It was originally applied to a group of tribes north of the River St. Lawrence. The difference of language between the original Algonquins and the Abenaquis of New England, the Ojibwas of the Great Lakes, or the Illinois of the West, corresponded to the difference between French and Italian, or Italian and Spanish. Each of these languages, again, had its dialects, like those of different provinces of France.]
Like a great island in the midst of the Algonquins lay the country of tribes speaking the generic tongue of the Iroquois. The true Iroquois, or Five Nations, extended through Central New York, from the Hudson to the Genesee. Southward lay the Andastes, on and near the Susquehanna; westward, the Eries, along the southern shore of Lake Erie, and the Neutral Nation, along its northern shore from Niagara towards the Detroit; while the towns of the Hurons lay near the lake to which they have left their name.
[To the above general statements there was, in the first half of the seventeenth century, but one exception worth notice. A detached branch of the Dahcotah stock, the Winnebago, was established south of Green Bay, on Lake Michigan, in the midst of Algonquins; and small Dahcotah bands had also planted themselves on the eastern side of the Mississippi, nearly in the same latitude.
There was another branch of the Iroquois in the Carolinas, consisting of the Tuscaroras and kindred bands. In 1716 they were joined to the Five Nations.]
Of the Algonquin populations, the densest, despite a recent epidemic which had swept them off by thousands, was in New England. Here were Mohicans, Pequots, Narragansetts, Wampanoags, Massachusetts, Penacooks, thorns in the side of the Puritan. On the whole, these savages were favorable specimens of the Algonquin stock, belonging to that section of it which tilled the soil, and was thus in some measure spared the extremes of misery and degradation to which the wandering hunter tribes were often reduced. They owed much, also, to the bounty of the sea, and hence they tended towards the coast; which, before the epidemic, Champlain and Smith had seen at many points studded with wigwams and waving with harvests of maize. Fear, too, drove, them eastward; for the Iroquois pursued them with an inveterate enmity. Some paid yearly tribute to their tyrants, while others were still subject to their inroads, flying in terror at the sound of the Mohawk war-cry. Westward, the population thinned rapidly; northward, it soon disappeared. Northern New Hampshire, the whole of Vermont, and Western Massachusetts had no human tenants but the roving hunter or prowling warrior.
We have said that this group of tribes was relatively very populous; yet it is more than doubtful whether all of them united, had union been possible, could have mustered eight thousand fighting men. To speak further of them is needless, for they were not within the scope of the Jesuit labors. The heresy of heresies had planted itself among them; and it was for the apostle Eliot, not the Jesuit, to essay their conversion.
[These Indians, the Armouchiquois of the old French writers, were in a state of chronic war with the tribes of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Champlain, on his voyage of 1603, heard strange accounts of them. The following is literally rendered from the first narrative of that heroic, but credulous explorer.
“They are savages of shape altogether monstrous: for their heads are small, their bodies short, and their arms thin as a skeleton, as are also their thighs; but their legs are stout and long, and all of one size, and, when they are seated on their heels, their knees rise more than half a foot above their heads, which seems a thing strange and against Nature. Nevertheless, they are active and bold, and they have the best country on all the coast towards Acadia.” — Des Sauvages, f. 84.
This story may match that of the great city of Norembega, on the Penobscot, with its population of dwarfs, as related by Jean Alphonse.]
Landing at Boston, three years before a solitude, let the traveler push northward, pass the River Piscataqua and the Penacooks, and cross the River Saco. Here, a change of dialect would indicate a different tribe, or group of tribes. These were the Abenaquis, found chiefly along the course of the Kennebec and other rivers, on whose banks they raised their rude harvests, and whose streams they ascended to hunt the moose and bear in the forest desert of Northern Maine, or descended to fish in the neighboring sea.
[The Tarratines of New-England writers were the Abenaquis, or a portion of them.]
Crossing the Penobscot, one found a visible descent in the scale of humanity. Eastern Maine and the whole of New Brunswick were occupied by a race called Etchemins, to whom agriculture was unknown, though the sea, prolific of fish, lobsters, and seals, greatly lightened their miseries. The Souriquois, or Micmacs, of Nova Scotia, closely resembled them in habits and condition. From Nova Scotia to the St. Lawrence, there was no population worthy of the name. From the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario, the southern border of the great river had no tenants but hunters. Northward, between the St. Lawrence and Hudson’s Bay, roamed the scattered hordes of the Papinachois, Bersiamites, and others, included by the French under the general name of Montagnais. When, in spring, the French trading-ships arrived and anchored in the port of Tadoussac, they gathered from far and near, toiling painfully through the desolation of forests, mustering by hundreds at the point of traffic, and setting up their bark wigwams along the strand of that wild harbor. They were of the lowest Algonquin type. Their ordinary sustenance was derived from the chase; though often, goaded by deadly famine, they would subsist on roots, the bark and buds of trees, or the foulest offal; and in extremity, even cannibalism was not rare among them.
Ascending the St. Lawrence, it was seldom that the sight of a human form gave relief to the loneliness, until, at Quebec, the roar of Champlain’s cannon from the verge of the cliff announced that the savage prologue of the American drama was drawing to a close, and that the civilization of Europe was advancing on the scene. Ascending farther, all was solitude, except at Three Rivers, a noted place of trade, where a few Algonquins of the tribe called Atticamegues might possibly be seen.
– The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century by Francis Parkman
More Indians of Canada next week.
The below is from Francis Parkman’s Introduction.
If, at times, it may seem that range has been allowed to fancy, it is so in appearance only; since the minutest details of narrative or description rest on authentic documents or on personal observation.
Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them, he must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.
With respect to that special research which, if inadequate, is still in the most emphatic sense indispensable, it has been the writer’s aim to exhaust the existing material of every subject treated. While it would be folly to claim success in such an attempt, he has reason to hope that, so far at least as relates to the present volume, nothing of much importance has escaped him. With respect to the general preparation just alluded to, he has long been too fond of his theme to neglect any means within his reach of making his conception of it distinct and true.