"New Friends and Allies:" The Seven Nations of Canada and the beginning of the British Regime, 1759-1763

read at "Land of Many Cultures: A New Canadian History," colloquium in honour of Cornelius J. Jaenen
University of Ottawa, Ottawa, 6 March, 1992

When I was going over this paper last night, I felt that it would be appropriate to begin this paper with some comment on Professor jaenen's work on new France and Amerindians. This is much more difficult than it sounds, because it is self evident, and most of the people here know all about his work anyway.

So I decided instead to talk about what I know of the impact of his work as a scholar and a teacher on a particular community, native students at the University of Ottawa. In the years that I spent here, I worked for part of the time as a marker for professor Jaenen, and thus had the opportunity to listen to the opinions of many of these students. These opinions were uniformly positive. First, because they feel that in his courses the history of Canada's native peoples receives the attention that it deserves; second, that attending his courses and reading his books and articles have made them much more knowledgeable about their own heritage.

when the British invaded the St. Lawrence valley in 1759 and 1760, they entered a region that was occupied by two very different peoples who each had their own customs, their own governments, and their own laws

there were the French and several Amerindian groups who were known collectively as the Seven Nations of Canada

now of these groups, I will be speaking today in particular of the Iroquoians living in villages on the upper St. Lawrence west of Montreal

the Mohawks, of Kanesetake, Kahnawake, Akwesasne, and the Onondaga of Oswegatchie.

you might note that I will be referring to the inhabitants of these villages as Kanesetakes, Kahnawakes or whatever, but that this is a geographical rather than an ethnic designation

using these expressions is much the same as referring to Montréalais or Torontonians

During the French era, the Seven Nations provided an important source of specialized military manpower for their french allies

during most of this period, their decisions regarding anglo-French wars were limited to deciding whether or not to accept french invitations to fight the English

but in the last year of the Seven years' war, they found themselves in a new and precarious situation

Canada had been invaded in the spring of 1759, and by the late summer of that year, it was apparent that the French might lose the war in which case Canada would be occupied by British armies

since these armies would travel through the territory within which the Seven Nations had their villages, this was a matter of great concern

since they could reasonably perceive themselves to be in danger from the British who had displayed considerable ruthlessness against the Acadians in 1755, the civilian population of the government of Quebec in 1759, and Amerindian groups, including the Abenaki of St. Francis, whose village was destroyed by Roger's Rangers in the fall of the that year

so 1759 and 1760, the Seven Nations needed to protect themselves against the possibility of a successful British invasion, while keeping their options open in the event of a french victory

regardless of who won the war, they needed to look out for their own interests

in the spring of 1759, the Seven Nations continued to make major contribution to the French war effort, and their fighters served on the Quebec, Lake champlain and Lake ontario fronts

the British, however, were victorious on each of these fronts, and planned to continue their invasion in the following year

in the summer of that year, Sir William Johnson, the British superintendent of Northern Indians began to make diplomatic preparations for this invasion.

at the same time, the Iroquois of the Six Nations began to look for ways to protect their northern relatives

in September of 1759, the Oswegatchies, the westernmost of the Seven Nations, received a series of messages from Johnson,

they were informed that they should remain neutral in the Anglo-French war, or face destruction

as a result, the Oswegatchies approached the Six Nations and the British with assurances of neutrality

the Kanesetakes and Kahnawakes also sent emissaries to the British, to confirm what they had heard of these negotiations from the Oswegatchies, and to make their own assurances that they would cease to assist the French

neither the British nor the Seven Nations placed complete confidence in these negotiations

the British accepted offers of neutrality, but continued to consider the Seven nations as potential enemies

and as the apprehended British invasion drew nearer, many of the Oswegatchies, the westernmost of the Seven Nations, fled to the relative safety of Montreal

yet both parties refrained from taking hostile action against the other, at least in the Lake Ontario area

in the late summer of 1760, as the British Army under Jeffery Amherst assembled on the south shore of Lake Ontario to invade Canada, leaders of the Seven Nations travelled to Oswegatchie to await the British and prepare to take appropriate diplomatic measures to secure the safety of their communities

in August, when Amherst began his advance down the upper St. Lawrence, the Iroquois formally proposed to the Seven Nations that they remain neutral during the coming campaign

this was accepted by the representatives of the Seven nations, and word of this decision was passed by the Iroquois to the British

even as the British besieged fort Lévis, a French outpost downstream from Oswegatchie, a neutrality agreement was negotiated between the British and the 7 nations

yet behind the allied lines, a British victory was not quite a foregone conclusion

the French had defeated a British force under James Murray at Quebec in the spring of 1760

although it was conventional military operations, almost three hundred Amerindians from the Seven Nations took part in the campaign

even in the late summer, some French leaders continued to hope that if their frontier forts could hold out, it was at lest possible that they might be able to hold on to the montreal area for another year

they were convinced that the Seven Nations would support them in this effort

in mid-august, the French sent a request for military assistance to the Seven Nations

by 21 August, a force of four hundred warriors had assembled at fort St Jean

the french proposed that these warriors join in an operation to relieve the siege of fort Ile aux noix, at the head of Lake champlain

rather than accepting or refusing this invitation, the Amerindians met in council and set the conditions under which they would participate

these conditions were such that it would appear that the Amerindians were only prepared to fight if they were convinced that the operation had a reasonable chance of success

they asked first that the French provide 5000 soldiers, which was then impossible...

... and second, that before committing themselves, they would make their own assessment of British strength, which would take time, and put off the moment when they would have to make a definite commitment

but before any final decision regarding participation in this expedition could be reached, word arrived that the Iroquois had agreed to mediate between the British and the Seven Nations, and almost all of the four hundred warriors left Fort St. jean and withdrew towards Kahnawake

the governor general, however, continued to speak well of the Seven Nations, who, in his opinion, remained firmly attached to the French, but had been intimidated by the British

on 2 September, he continued to believe that an Amerindian force would still be willing to fight alongside the French

on that day, he invited the warriors of the Seven Nations to La Prairie

once again, his invitation was accepted

there, François de Lévis, the commander of the French forces in Canada, proposed that the Amerindians join with his entire force for a final attack upon the British

their responses in this council convinced the French that they were quite prepared to fight under these circumstances

yet just when Lévis was certain that he had persuaded them to join this expedition, word arrived that the English had accepted the neutrality proposed by the Iroquois to the Seven Nations

with their status changed from combatants to neutrals, the Amerindians left immediately, leaving Levis and his officers standing there all alone

a few days later, this force of Hurons and Iroquois made contact with the nearest British force at Longueuil

Montreal capitulated on 7 September, 1760

on 15 and 16 September, the Seven Nations met with the British, at Kahnawake and converted neutrality into alliance

this conference was considered by an Daniel Claus, who would shortly become the representative of the Indian Department in Canada, to be the equivalent for the Amerindians of the capitulation of montreal for the french

it was quite different, of course, in that it involved alliance, not surrender

now given Professor Jaenen's interest in Canada's ethnocultural diversity, I should point out that Claus was neither British nor French, but a German who had emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1749

for the purposes of this colloque, I'm just sorry that he wasn't Belgian

under this agreement ...

the Seven Nations and the British were to be friends and live in harmony

all British prisoners were to be returned

the Seven Nations would provide military support to the British upon request

they were to remain in undisturbed possession of their lands

they were to be allowed free access to albany to trade

these terms were satisfactory to both parties

for the remainder of 1760, harmony prevailed

and in january of 1761, Claus reported that conditions were as calm as one would expect in time of peace

however, in the course of that year, two major problems surfaced

first, the articles of the treaty regarding freedom of movement and cross border shopping were broken by the British

rather than being allowed to travel freely, members of the Seven Nations were required to apply for a pass to allow them to travel to albany

Thomas Gage, the military governor of Montreal, granted their first requests, then refused to provide any more passes, on the grounds that he wanted to stamp out contraband trade between Quebec and Albany

the Kahnawake protested to both Claus and Johnson

who obtained the intervention of the British commander in chief

by 1762, the situation had eased

but in 1764, following the outbreak of war between the British and the amerindians of the west, the British once again attempted to enforce controls on the movement of the Seven Nations

when travelling, they were required to present a pass at each British post

Akwesasnes who attempted to travel past the British fort at the Cedars, just west of Montreal were even fired upon

they were halted, by soldiers who extorted provisions from them before allowing the Amerindians to continue

or arrested, and taken to montreal

these measures appear to have been allowed to lapse after the return of peace in the west

as well as attempts to limit their freedom of movement the Amerindians of Canada also had to endure violent and abusive treatment at the hands of British soldiers, especially the officers and men of the 44th regiment, which was billeted near Kahnawake

the men of the 44th, who were veterans of braddock's defeat at the hands of an Amerindian force, had been forced to surrender to a franco-Amerindian force at Oswego and had been defeated at Carillon, may have harboured grudges against amerindians

they attacked Amerindians in town...

robbed them and their homes...

and assaulted kahnawakes who would not carry them on their sleighs

Claus attempted to intervene, and even secured severe punishment for soldiers "once or twice"

but he also blamed the Kahnawake, not for provoking these incidents, but for going into montreal where they might come into contact with soldiers

he continually stressed at meetings that future violence would be their own fault, since they had been forewarned to avoid soldiers

episodes like this caused considerable concern among the Seven Nations, who both protested vigorously, and wondered just how well their new alliance with the British was going to work out

in 1773, the Kanesetakes, in presence of Kahnawakes, declared that:

"at the Surrender of Canada they were promised by Sir William Johnson on behalf of his Majesty to enjoy the same Privileges they did under the French government, and perhaps greater, but they were now convinced of the contrary.

yet most of the complaints of the Iroquois in the Montreal area concerned a policy imposed by Gage, the local governor, not the British government...

and the behaviour of a single regiment and the garrison of one small outpost

most of meetings between Claus and the Seven Nations, dealt not with complaints, but the small change of alliance, the conferring of medals, distribution of presents, covering the dead, and so on

the Seven Nations did not participate actively in the anti-British coalition in 1763...

and, under the terms of the agreement of 1760, gave limited military and diplomatic support to the British

unlike British, the Seven Nations carefully adhered to the terms of their new alliance

the new relationship of the Seven Nations of Canada with the British was not entirely satisfactory

the Seven years' war had cost them their strongest ally, and began the process that would eventually lead to the loss of their hunting grounds, if not their farmlands

but they had managed to make the best of a bad situation

overall, although subjected to both petty harassment and some fairly serious problems the Seven Nations of Canada had been successful regarding their major concern in 1760...

they had obtained a peaceful transition from the British to the French era.

faced with a potentially disastrous confrontation with the invading British, the Seven Nations of Canada created a situation in which, if the French won, they had been with them all the way, and demonstrated their support at the Battle of Ste. Foy and the defence of Montreal in 1760

in spite of assurances to the British of neutrality, whenever the French asked for fighters, they responded positively

on the other hand, if the british won, the Seven Nations had negotiated neutrality in august of 1760, and had subsequently refrained from actually fighting alongside the French

they managed to put off the final decision until the very last moment, when three large British armies about to converge on montreal

the French of Canada had been defeated, conquered, occupied, and converted into British subjects

the Amerindians with whom they shared the St. lawrence valley, had successfully negotiated first neutrality, then alliance, with the invaders

they had converted themselves from enemies of the British into "new friends and allies."

but had the campaign in 1760 gone the other way, they would have remained the old friends and allies of the French.



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Copyright © 1992, 2001 D. Peter MacLeod

The bottom center image is a detail from David Rickman, Eastern Woodland Indians, middle of the eighteenth century, Department of National Defence.