The Iroquois and the
Lower-Canadian Rebellions, 1837-1838.
Department of Anthropology
McGill University, Montréal
Permission for reproduction denied without consent of author
S'inspirant de sources archivistiques ainsi que de concepts théoriques tels que le groupe d'intérêt et l'identité collective, ce mémoire de maîtrise à pour objectif de mieux comprendre les raisons qui ont amené les Iroquois de Kahnawake à collaborer avec les autorités britanniques au cours des Rébellions de 1837-1838. La prise de décision des Iroquois semble avoir été basée sur leur propres interprétations des événements et de leurs relations avec les autorités coloniales, les villages voisins et les Patriotes. Une ANALYSE des contextes culturels, sociaux, économiques et politiques suggère que l'intervention des Iroquois avait pour but de défendre des intérêts collectifs tels que les cadeaux annuels et le territoire. De tels intérêts avaient une valeur symbolique importante comme représentant une identité amérindienne et de Kahnawake , et ce, malgré la présence de factions internes dans la communauté. Enfin, nous proposons que les Iroquois de Kahnawake ont décidé d'intervenir au cours des Rébellions non seulement afin de protéger des intérêts d'ordre économiques mais, aussi, afin d'exprimer et de défendre une identité collective.
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THE KAHNAWAKE IROQUOIS AND THE PATRIOTES
It was during the troubled times of 1837-38 that the Indians of Caughnawaga achieved their bloodless victory, won by their resourcefulness, quickness of mind and cunning. Running through the whole affair is an element of humor that cannot be lost sight of, not withstanding the tragic ending for several [non-Native] participants (The Montreal Standard, 23/10/1926: 41).
The Lower-Canadian Rebellions of 1837-38: a general overview
In 1837, long-standing discontent with British colonial authorities erupted into armed insurrection, as people throughout the District of Montréal forced a stoppage in the province's legislative business and took up arms against the Crown (Greer 1993). Political tensions simmering for the past three decades led to a severe crisis over the issues of provincial revenues, government subsidies and elective representation: on one side, office-holding oligarchies of recent British immigrants; on the other, popular republicans such as Louis-Joseph Papineau and other members of the Parti Patriote guiding
a popular opposition to existing power structures marked by its origins as a French-Canadian ethnic or nationalist movement, with a rhetoric dwelling on the rights of the people -read propertied men-, the dangers of corruption, and the need to defend the independence and prerogatives of the colonial elected Assembly. (Greer 1995: 10)
On 6 March 1837, Lord Russell gave the governor of Lower-Canada power to spend funds without the approval of the Assembly. He also rejected the so-called 92 Resolutions, which were sent to London in 1834 by the Parti Patriote to obtain democratic constitutional reform. This provoked rapid anger throughout reform circles. Local committees were established, popular opposition grew in the countryside, para-military groups intensified propaganda and numerous rallies were organized (Bernard 1996; Greer 1995; Leclerc 1983). Despite initial uncertainties, the Catholic Church joined the anti-rebellion campaign as claims for contraband and revolt increased. On 24 October 1837, Bishop Lartigue of Montréal published the first of his two mandements claiming that insurrection equaled abjuration and atheism, and that the people had no legal and moral rights to rebel against established authorities (Brunet 1973: 83-90; Chabot 1975; Chaussée 1980; Lemieux 1989: 398-402; Majerus 1971). In November, troops led by John Colborne were mobilized to arrest leading agitators and armed confrontations occurred between soldiers and local rebels. In turn, the Patriotes were swiftly dispersed, hundreds of men were jailed and eight leaders were deported to Bermuda (Greer 1993: 137-142; Leclerc 1983: 108-22).
Beaten in 1837, the Patriote movement was reborn the following year with new leaders, a more advanced social program and the promise of American assistance. Blamed for the failure of the first rebellion, L.-J. Papineau was pushed aside by a new leader, Robert Nelson. However, because the former was still popular among the habitants and Patriote agitators, the new leadership used his name as a way of gaining support, a measure which was not opposed by Papineau himself (Ouellet 1979: 630). The summer witnessed the birth of the Société des Frères Chasseurs, whose purpose was to organize a system of secret lodges along military lines that could supply shock troops within the province in combination with an invading force from the United States to overthrow British power in the Canadas (Senior 1985: 155). With the help of secret ceremonies similar to those of masonic societies, the Chasseurs recruited 10 000 members in thirty-five communities (Ouellet 1983: 211). However, when the uprising began in November, 4000 soldiers and volunteers quickly dispersed the Patriotes. By 16 November 1838, the second rebellion had been entirely repressed (map 5). Officials enforced martial law and many arrests were carried out. In the end, twelve people were executed and fifty-eight others were deported (Greer 1993: 344-51; Leclerc 1983: 124-130; Senior 1980: 175-92).
When it touches upon Kahnawake at the time, the existing literature essentially maintains that in 1837-38, the Kahnawake Iroquois expressed a monolithic and gratuitous loyalty to the Crown. By contrast, the archival sources cited below reveal that the intervention of the Iroquois was conducted in a context of conflicting interests, competing claims, and tense relationships which were specific to Kahnawake's internal and external dynamics in the 1830s. In fact, the following linear and detailed narrative of the Rebellions as experienced by the Iroquois reveals a central, fundamental issue: the apparent Patriote threat to Kahnawake's livelihood, territory, and autonomy is the main prism through which the Kahnawakehro:non became increasingly aware of the Lower-Canadian Rebellions.
Kahnawake and the Patriotes in 1837
In the fall of 1837, the people of Kahnawake seemed to be concerned hardly with the start of the Troubles : sources seem to indicate that they were mostly interested in their harvests as well as their upcoming winter hunting trips. Father Marcoux insists that by mid-November, many men had already left for their winter hunting grounds: plusieurs sont déjà partis pour aller hyverner dans les bois; un grand nombre s'apprête à les suivre aux premières neiges, de manière qu'il ne restera que peu d'hommes au village cet hyver (Marcoux to Napier, 17 November 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38755). Many Iroquois had already departed on such hunting trips because la récolte de blé d'Inde ayant encore manqué cette automne, il faut qu'ils marchent pour vivre; autrement ils seraient hors d'état de pouvoir semer ce printems (ibid.). The corn crops had failed again and the Kahnawake people feared that if the men of the community did not go hunting, there would barely be any food at all. As in the case of other regions of Lower Canada which experienced failed harvests during the 1830s (Ouellet 1972), Kahnawake had been in need of grain and potatoes since spring. In May 1837, in response to many requests, officials supplied the community with 500 bushels of wheat, thirty bushels of Indian corn and fifteen bushels of beans and peas (Napier to Hughes, 30 May 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 93: 38424).
In October, when Bishop Lartigue issued his mandement reminding people that Catholic subjects must not revolt against established authorities, Marcoux initially refused to abide by the Bishop's orders and read it to the Kahnawakehro:non. As the curé states,
j'ai hésité de commencer à le traduire pour nos missions [...] avant d'avoir consulté l'autorité. Les sauvages sont très tranquilles, et ignorent absolument les divisions qui nous affligent, de patriotisme et de bureaucratisme. Ce mandement ne pourra leur être expliqué sans les mettre au fait de l'état de la province, et il est à craindre qu'alors, pour faire comme les autres, il ne se forme parmi eux deux partis, comme dans les paroisses. Mon avis à moi, après en avoir pesé les conséquences, serait de les laisser dans leur heureuse ignorance jusqu'à nouvel ordre. (Marcoux to Lartigue, 29 October 1837, ADSJQL 3A-186, my emphasis)
Although the actual extent of Kahnawake's happy ignorance is hard to gauge, Marcoux overestimated the community's isolation. As Allan Greer (1993) comments, in the early days of the Rebellions, widespread anxiety spread to all regions. In this context, no village was isolated from its county, and no county from its district. Nor, for that matter, was Lower Canada as a whole isolated from Upper Canada. Greer suggests that at the time, many choices were made and actions undertaken in response to rapidly changing circumstances (Greer 1995: 6). In Kahnawake's case, less than two weeks after refusing to read Bishop Lartigue's mandement, Marcoux decided to inform the Iroquois about it because, in his own words, les circonstances ont beaucoup changé depuis l'époque de sa sortie (Marcoux to Lartigue, 13 November 1837, ADSJQL 3A-187).
Essentially, Marcoux opted to read the mandement on 13 November because, on that day, the first of many wild rumors spread that Patriotes were invading Kahnawake:
Nous sommes ici dans les transes. Ce matin [13 Novembre 1837], il s'est répandu un bruit que les Canadiens de St. Constant, de la Prairie, et de Chateauguay devaient se rassembler au nombre de mille hommes, et venir détruire le village et tuer tous les sauvages. Cette nuit même (il est dix heures du soir) votre Grandeur peut croire qu'il s'est plus fait d'ouvrage aujourd'hui avec la langue qu'avec les doigts, les aiguilles se sont reposées: plusieurs fois on est venu voir au presbytère si j'y étais, car on disait que j'étais parti, sauvé, et on était prêt à me suivre si c'eut été le cas. (Marcoux to Bourget, 13 Novembre 1837, ADSJQL 3A-187, my emphasis)
The rumor claimed that the rebels were out to kill the Iroquois and seize their seigneury. Interestingly, this next passage from Marcoux's letters seems to indicate that some Iroquois may have been aware of who Papineau was prior to the spread of the first rumors:
On vint avertir que les Patriotes d'alentour devaient venir une certaine nuit le mettre à feu et à sang et chasser tous ceux des sauvages qu'ils ne pourraient pas tuer, pour s'emparer de la seigneurie, que Papineau leur avait, disait-on, donnée, s'ils étaient capables de s'en emparer. (Marcoux to Turgeon, 21 June 1838, AAQ, 26 CP, D-32)
In this context, Marcoux's reading of the mandement may have played a key role in guiding the people of Kahnawake to cooperate with the Crown and not join the insurgents. In fact, as contacts and communication between Iroquois and Patriotes increased, some of the former are said to have initially sympathised with the latter:
Lorsque les troubles ont commencé cet automne ici, il y avait beaucoup de sauvages en faveur de Papineau, plus, je pense, par ignorance qu'autrement. J'ai donc été obligé et dans les conversations particulières et dans mes sermons, de leur faire comprendre notre doctrine là dessus: que la religion catholique ne permettait jamais la révolte, et qu'ils devaient, s'ils en étaient requis, défendre leur gouvernement jusqu'à la mort. Peu de curés ont parlé autant là dessus que moi; je pouvais le faire sans inconvénient; personne ici ne sortait de l'église. Je puis dire que l'ai réussi à les si bien persuader qu'il n'est pas resté un seul sauvage en faveur du parti patriotique. (Marcoux to Turgeon, 21 juin 1838, AAQ, 26 CP, D-32, my emphasis)
Marcoux proudly states that he was capable of eliminating Patriote sympathies by preaching the loyal obligation to defend the government: j'ai prêché sans relâche la fidélité au gouvernement (Marcoux to Coffin, 22 July 1840, AAQ, G. VIII-132). Although he may have exaggerated the extent of his role and influence, it is possible that he gradually led some Kahnawake residents into thinking that opposition to the Crown was unwise.
But, above all, the context of suspicion and fear from which the people of Kahnawake came to be more aware of the Rebellions led to the formation of an atmosphere of the deepest distrust (Greer 1993: 348) between Kahnawakehro:non and Patriotes. For instance, the first report of a rebel invasion is said to have rendered the Kahnawakehro:non quite nervous. Indeed, on the day of the feared invasion, many started preparing bags and supplies to flee Kahnawake: chacun commençait à faire ses paquets pour se sauver (Marcoux to Turgeon, 21 June 1838, AAQ, 26 CP, D-32). Also, Marcoux recounts that on that night, tout le village a été sur pied pendant la nuit, les uns avec des fusils, les autres avec des lances, des couteaux, des bâtons (Marcoux to Napier, 17 Novembre 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38754). The Patriotes thus seem to have been rapidly seen by the Iroquois as direct threats to their territory. James Hughes, the Superintendent of Indians Affairs for the District of Montréal, even wrote that one full week following the spread of the first false report, the Iroquois clearly expressed to him the fear of losing their seigneury to the Patriotes, or Papineau's People :
About a week ago [...] three chiefs of the Iroquois Tribe of Caughnawaga [...] came to this office, and in the course of conversation, they informed me that there was a report in their village, which they could not trace to the bottom, that the whites in their environs, alias the Patriots or Papineau's people as they style them, had threatened to pay them no rents and that they would soon become possessors of their lands. (Hughes to Napier, 25 November 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38811, my emphasis)
In a much similar way, Marcoux emphazised to fellow clergymen and government officials that the Patriotes disent aux sauvages que Papineau leur a donné la seigneurie, qu'ils peuvent les détruire ou les chasser (Marcoux to Bourget, 13 November 1837, ADSJQL 3A-187) and that the Patriotes jettent des yeux d'envie sur les terrains sauvages et ne cachent pas qu'ils les convoitent, leurs terres à eux étant toutes démunies de bois (Marcoux to Napier, 17 November 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38754). In this context, Marcoux also rejected the idea that Natives might help fight the Patriotes and claimed that getting the Iroquois to exit Kahnawake to fight the insurgents would leave their community open to an attack. Insisting that the Iroquois had been repeatedly threatened by the Patriotes and that Kahnawake's male inhabitants were not des soldats à gage , Marcoux stated:
la meilleure politique serait de ne point employer les sauvages dans la guerre civile, si elle a lieu. [...] Il est certain, Monsieur, que si l'on obligeait les sauvages d'aller en parti soit à Montréal, soit ailleurs, les femmes et les enfants qui resteraient au village seraient massacrés par les patriotes et les maisons incendiées. J'en ai entendu assez de mes propres oreilles dans les paroisses voisines pour affirmer ce que j'avance. [...] Je ne vois aucun avantage pour le gouvernement d'exiger le service des sauvages dans la présente circonstance, à moins qu'il ne veuille les anéantir pour toujours. Je ne tiendrais pas ce langage s'il s'agissait de combattre un ennemi éloigné, comme il est arrivé dans les dernières guerres avec les Américains, parce qu'alors, les villages étant dans l'intérieur de la Province, se trouvaient gardés tout naturellement par les localités qui les entourent. Mais aujourd'hui, exiger qu'une centaine d'hommes (c'est tout au plus ce qu'on pourra trouver dans le village jusqu'au printems) puissent faire face à des milliers d'ennemis qui sont à leur porte, quand même ils seraient bien armés et organisés, ne serait-ce pas les conduire de sang froid à la boucherie? (Marcoux to Napier, 17 Novembre 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38754-6, Marcoux's emphasis)
The curé argued that it would be in the interests of Kahnawake to adopt une stricte neutralité, car les Patriotes leurs ont déjà plusieurs fois fait des menaces (Marcoux to Napier, 3 December 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38849). He insisted that using Kahnawake men would be devastating because their territory est tout entouré de Patriotes, qui n'attendent qu'un prétexte pour venir apporter la guerre et ses suites déplorables (ibid.).
In response to the rumors of Patriote invasions, Marcoux as well as the council of chiefs adopted a certain course of action which eventually resulted in government intervention. The day following the first report, the curé is said to have sent a delegation of Iroquois chiefs to the village of La Prairie and other communities so that they may assert a claim of political neutrality, and, in so doing, warn the insurgents not to attack Kahnawake:
J'ai envoyé ce matin quelques chefs du côté de La Prairie pour informer les Patriotes que les sauvages d'après l'ordre du gouvernement ne devaient pas prendre parti dans la présente lutte, car autrement toutes les nations d'en haut descendraient pour aider leurs frères, on ne pourra plus les arrêter. Je pense que cela fera effet et qu'on nous laissera tranquille. (Marcoux to Bourget, 13 November 1837, ADSJQL 3A-187)
Kahnawake chiefs were also sent to St. Constant and Châteauguay. The Patriotes responded that if the Iroquois did not intervene, they had nothing to fear (Marcoux to Napier, 17 November 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38845). Marcoux even told chiefs that they had better go to the Captains of the [loyalist] Militia and tell them they wished to live in peace and quietness, that they would not meddle in the busyness (Hughes to Napier, 25 November 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38812). However, according to Superintendent James Hughes, three chiefs did not follow Marcoux's suggestions. As Hughes states:
I asked them if they had followed their Missionnary's advice. They answered no! I then told them not to do it on any account whatever, that I would in a very few days be with them, to give them a Parole from their Father at Québec, which I had done at the other Indian villages, and would also tell them my Opinions of the subject. I arrived at the village of Caughnawaga on the 22nd instant, assembled a Council. (ibid.: 38812)
In turn, inspired by the words of A. Acheson, Lord of Gosford, the Governor-General of British North America from 1835 to 1838, Hughes presented a Parole to six of the grand chiefs and the majority of the council members and warriors. This Parole was purposely pronouced in French, as many of the Iroquois understand it perfectly. Interpreted word for word in the Iroquois language by interpreter Bernard St. Germain, this speach reads as follows:
Mes Frères et mes Enfants,
Me voilà encore une fois parmi vous; je serais venu plus vite, mais mes Enfants a mon retour de Lac ou j'ai été pour Equipper vos Freres j'ai trouvé un ordre pour me rendre a Quebec, votre Père le Gouverneur en chef [Lord Gosford], que j'ai eu l'honneur de voir m'a demandé des nouvelles de ses Enfants Sauvages. Je lui ai dis que ses Enfants se portaient touts bien, et qu'ils le saluaient de tout leurs coeurs. Il me dit, cela me fait plaisir et je leurs envoie beaucoup de remerciements. Mais, me dit-il, j'ai entendu dire, peut-être par quelques mauvaises langues, qu'une partie de mes Enfants, occasionnes par quelques mauvais conseils qu'ils recevoient de quelques Traitres, commencent à s'ecarter de leur chemin. Dites moi si c'est le cas ou non? J'ai repondu à Votre Père, que je ne doutais nullement qu'il y avait quelques mauvais oiseaux noirs qui vous criaient dans les oreilles, et tachoient par des promesses sucrées, de vous rendre aussi Traitres comme eux-mêmes. Mais que tous ses Enfants sauvages que j'avois vu depuis peu paroissent beaucoup peinés des dissensions qui existaient entre une partie des Blancs et le Gouvernement. Mais que pour eux, ils ne paraissoient Loyals et Bon sujets, et qu'ils Priaient leur Pere a Quebec d'entretenir aucunes mauvaises pensées de ses Enfants sauvages du Lac. Qu'ils regardoient leurs Père comme le Representant de leur Reine. Qu'ils avoient été toujours fidel au Gouvernement. Que ce n'etoit du Gouvernement qu'ils pouvaient esperer aucune Protection; qu'ils avoient déjà versés leur sang pour leurs Rois, Et qu'ils seroient toujours pret d'en faire autant pour leurs Jeune Mere, La Reine. [...] Après que j'avois mes Enfants, livrés les parolles de vos Freres du Lac a votre Pere a Quebec, il me repondit qu'ils ne pouvoit se fier aux rapports qui courroient, qu'il avoit trop bonne opinion de ses Enfants sauvages. Allez, dit-il, voilà l'hyver qui approche, portez une couverte et un morceau de drap à mes Enfans sauvages des autres villages. Dites l'eux les Parolles qui m'ont été Envoyé par leurs Freres et de leur courage, que Je ne doutais jamais de leurs loyauté et de leurs courage, qu'ils sont des Gens des Bois, qu'ils ont le coeur bien placé, et que je suis persuadé que mes Enfants des autres vilages, ont les memes sentiments que mes Enfants du Lac, Et qu'ils auront les oreilles bien bouchées aux cris de ses mauvais oiseaux, qui essayent peut-etre a les Desbaucher pour les rendre aussi Traitres et malheureux comme eux memes.
Dites a Mes Enfants qu'ils restent en paix chez eux, qu'ils ayent soin de leurs femmes et Enfants, que pour le present je n'ai point besoin de leurs services. Mais je pris mes Enfants de n'endurer aucunes insultes de ces Traitres et Rebels en question. Si mes Enfants sauvages sont le moindrement menaces ou maltraités par ces Traitres et Rebelles, qu'ils m'avertissent Et ils peuvent se fier sur la Protection de leurs Père.
Et dites l'eux aussi, si un jour a venir, j'ai besoin de leurs services, je suis persuadé qu'ils jetteront le cri de joie et qu'ils seront prets a se rendre au premier commandement.
Vous aimez votre Religion mes Enfants (c'est moi [Hughes] maintenant qui vous addresse), vous faites Bien. Votre Curé doit absolument vous avoir annoncé a la fin du mois passé, de sa Chaire, le Mandement de votre Reverend Pere sa seigneurie l'Eveque de Tellemesse [Lartigue]. Ecoutez les avis que vous donne votre Pere l'Eveque, suivez les, et soyez persuadé que vous serai dans le chemin droit.
Mes Enfants, je n'ai a present plus a vous dire. Vous avez Ecoutez mes Parolles. Maintenant, donnez moi en des votres. Dites moi sans Cachette, s'il y a de vos freres ici, dans le vilage, assez simples de s'avoir laissé debaucher, s'il y en a nommez les. Et dites moi si vous connaissez celui, ou ceux qui ont essayés a les Rendre Traitres et Rebelles. Voux Etes hommes, ne craignez rien, et ne me cachez rien. S'il y en a des pareils Traitres, il faut les punir, tot ou tard.
The chief Kanasontie got up and spoke for the whole, and they all sanctioned what he said. Father, we know of none among us that have strayed from the beaten path; we are now, what we have always been, we have no one but our Father to look up to for Protection, our sentiments are the same as those of our Brothers at the Lake [Kanesatake]. Our Father tells us to keep quiet, we obey him, and when called upon, it is our duty as his children, to listen to his words. We were told as we informed you at your house that we were threatened by the Traitors. But none of them have as yet Insulted us. If they do, you shall hear of it. (as cited in a letter by Hughes to Napier, 22 November 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38813-6, emphasis added)
As with previous speeches given by Hughes to the Iroquois people of Kanesatake, the words quoted above were intended to remind the Kahnawake Iroquois that they had always been loyal to the Crown and that the authorities expected that loyalty to their generous and protective British Father would continue. Through Hughes, Gosford informed the Kahnawakehro:non that the government knew that some Patriotes has threatened them and that some had even tried to rally Native people to the rebel side. In response, Gosford's words and blankets were meant to secure Kahnawake's loyalty by reminding the Iroquois that paternal protection and material benefits can only come from the government, not the malheureux Traitres et Rebelles. Hughes also wished to find out if, as in Akwesasne's case, people in Kahnawake had been tempted to join the rebel cause. Hughes also encouraged the Iroquois to listen to the church, an indispensable partner in the authorities' quest to halt any uprising. Grand Chief Martin Tekanasontie responded to Hughes by stating that the village would follow official orders and alert British authorities if they were attacked ( insulted ) by Patriotes. He also indicated that if the need of Native assistance should arise, the Kahnawakehro:non would cooperate with the Crown. Following a series of similar conferences, essentially aimed to establish military alliances with Indians on the eve of a feared civil war, Hughes concluded that the Indians of all the villages I have visited appear to be loyal and good subjects, except a few insignificant fellows at St. Regis [...], and were most grateful for their presents (Hughes to Napier, 22 November 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38812).
Near the end of November, soldiers were trooped in and around Kahnawake. On the 28th, people from Châteauguay walking through Kahnawake were arrested by what seems to have been a picquet of troops at the Indian village (Montreal Daily Star 14/01/1888: 5). Moreover, some Kahnawake residents were now carefully monitoring the area for any signs of disloyal actions. On the 29th, Kahnawake war chief Ignace Kaneratahere Delisle testified against several people from the Châteauguay area qui ont fait tout dans leurs pouvoirs pour inciter les habitants a prendre les Armes contre le Gouvernement (I. Delisle, ANQM 1837-38, no. 870).
Following confrontations between Patriotes and British soldiers at St. Denis and St. Charles in November 1837 (Leclerc 1983: 109-110), 300 Patriotes from St. Eustache mobilized. Led by Amury Girod, they assembled on the morning of 30 November to march on the Iroquois village of Kanesatake to obtain arms and désarmer les sauvages (G. Spenard, ANQM 1837-38, no. 767). Upon their arrival, they pillaged a Hudson's Bay Company storehouse and took eight muskets, three barrels of musket balls and a cannon which was used by the Indians for firing salutes. They also plundered the storeshed belonging to the priest and secured a barrel of pork and ammunition (ibid.; Girod 1924).
In Kanesatake, Girod obtained permission to speak with an Iroquois chief. This conversation has been cited in Girod's journal (Girod 1924) and elsewhere (Gabriel-Doxtater and Van des Hende 1995; Leclerc 1983; Trudel 1991). The unnamed chief expressed his wish to remain neutral ( we wish to remain as we are ) and refused to lend or sell his guns and cannons to the Patriotes. The anonymous chief concluded by stating: Brother, I will not interfere in this dispute between you and Your Father, defend Your rights, and when I hear the thunder of your arms, I will consider in my breast whether I am not obliged to assist you (in Girod 1924: 377-8). Yet, the next day, the Kanesateke chiefs gave their cannon to the St. Andrew's Loyalist Volunteers (Greer 1993: 321).
A second version of this event is provided by François Bertrand, who was brought over to serve as interpreter. In his view, this is a peu près the talk which took place:
Girod: Veux-tu être un de nos amis?
Sauvage: Je veux bien être ton ami mais ne pas remuer.
Girod: Pourquoi ne veux-tu pas remuer?
Sauvage: Vous autres êtes mes [frères] mais j'ai un père (voulant dire le Roi) je vous aime bien mais j'aime mieux mon père [...]
Girod: Veux-tu nous prêter les canons que vous avez [...]?
Sauvage: Nous n'en avons qu'un que notre père nous a donné pour s'en servir dans des fêtes, je ne veux point le prêter.
Girod: Où est votre canon?
Sauvage: Je n'en sais rien, j'arrive de la chasse.
Girod: Tu est bon père, j'en convient (sic) mais il a de mauvais sujets qui te trichent sur les couvertes et les présents.
Sauvage: Je suis content de ce que mon père me donne.
Girod: Ne serais-tu pas plus content d'être avec nous, si tu nous joignais nous te donnerions du terrain? (my emphasis)
Sauvage: Je suis bien comme je suis, je ne veux point de changement.
(voluntary examination of François Bertrand, ANQM 1837-38, no. 736)
As in the version found in Girod's journal, the unnamed chief refused to help the Patriotes. However, in the latter text, the chief clearly reminded the insurgent leader that he was satisfied with his British father although the recent quantity of presents had been unsatisfactory. Also, it is very interesting to see that Girod used the issue of land as a means of obtaining Native support. Indeed, in seeking to gain Kanesatake's assistance, Girod did not mention the advantages of having an elective legislative council as well as other political aspirations animating the Patriotes. Instead, the Patriote leader tried to gather Kanesatake's support by making a relatively empty promise that he would give more terrain to the Indians if they actively joined the insurgents.
Recent work at the National Archives of Canada has led me to a third and much different account of the same incident. According to this source, on the day of Girod's march on Kanesatake, there was a rumor in Kahnawake that the Patriotes of St.Eustache
had invaded the Indian village of the Lake of Two Mountains [Kanesatake], that a battle had taken place and that Indians and Rebels had fallen in the contest, that the Rebels had been victorious, had pillaged the village and taken away three pieces of cannon. (Hughes to Napier, 5 December 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38822)
To clear all doubts and fears, Superintendent Hughes sent Kahnawake war chief Ignace Kaneratahere Delisle to verify the state of Kanesatake and obtain an accurate account of what had occurred there. According to what Delisle was told by the people he spoke to,
on the 30th [...] about 350 armed men, most of them on horse back, entered the village [...]. On their arrival, [...] they [...[ called for the chiefs and Indians, who were only sixteen in number (the whole of the rest, owing to the failure of their crops of Indian Corn, having resorted to their hunting grounds) and already assembled with their arms. The Indian women were also mostly armed with knives and axes under their blankets. One of the leaders of the Rebels demanded of the chiefs to deliver up all their ammunition, as well as their arms. The chief, Onarahison (a brave fellow) told him that the Indians had arms and ammunition given to them by their Great Father the King to support themselves and families and that they could not think of giving [them] up. The Rebels then demanded of the Chief to deliver up their cannon, that they had come for the special purpose of taking them and that they must give it up. Onarahison said yes we have got a cannon, a gift from our Father the Earl of Dalhousie to salute our officers when they visit us. We value our cannon and will never give it up but with our lives. You have come here, at this moment, because you know that we were but few and that all our brothers were gone to their hunting grounds to live? You wish and think that you can frighten us, but you are mistaken. Few as we are, we are not to be intimidated. Before you pillage us, you must kill us. Your numbers are great and you can easily do it. But think of the future and depend upon it. If you do us harm, you will repent it, we will be revenged. (account as told by Delisle and cited by Hughes to Napier, 5 December 1837, NAC RG10 vol 94: 38823-4, Hughes' emphasis)
The Patriotes replied: keep your cannon and be quiet at home and take care that you do not give up your cannon to our Enemies (ibid.). After pillaging shoresheds and attempting to disarm the local priest and British officers living in the village (ibid.: 38824), the Patriotes later returned to Onarahison, who had sent for them. He remarked that he had sent
for you (Patriotes) to tell you not to come back again to frighten our women and children, we do not molest you and what is your business with us? We are Indians. If you Whites have quarrels, settle them amongst yourselves. Do not come and trouble us. (ibid.: 388244, my emphasis)
The Patriote leaders replied: If you Indians keep quiet at home, [and not] [...] interfere in this busyness, we will leave you in Peace. Onarahison answered: I can promise nothing. I am a Child, my hands are tied, I am under the laws of my Great Father and that of the Council of the Seven Fires -Caughnawaga-, whatever takes place must be decided there. (ibid.: 38825, my emphasis). Overall, according to James Hughes' interpretation of Ignace Delisle's account, in response to warnings not to get involved, the Kanesatake chief expressed a simultaneous attachment to the Seven Fires of Canada and the British Crown. Further, the chief indicated that a decision by Kahnawake chiefs or his Father could be final and may certainly shape decisions taken in Kanesatake ( I am a Child, my hands are tied ). Onarahison nonetheless expressed his Native identity ( we are Indians ) and maintained that he did not wish to join either side involved in the conflict.
Following this event, which greatly contributed to enhancing Kahnawake's mistrust for the Patriotes, Duncan Campbell Napier, Lower Canada's Superintendent General of Indian Affairs (Leighton 1977), issued a letter of appraisal and conduct which stated:
His Excellency highly approves of the Conduct of his Red Children on this occasion and desires that you will exhort them to continue [to be] faithful to their Great Father, who will not abandon them while they obey his injunctions and will punish those who molest and ill treat them. You will be pleased to caution the Indians generally that they are not to give up their arms and ammunition to any person unless directed to do so by their Father at Quebec. (letter to Walcott, 7 December 1837, ANQM 1837-38, no. 668)
The orders were thus very clear; fearing that Patriotes might gather Native support, Indians were ordered not to give up their arms to the rebels and to remain quiet in their villages unless their assistance would be needed by the government.
On 9 December 1837, British authorities decided to install a large garrison of troops in Kahnawake for the purpose of establishing surveillance posts overlooking the St. Lawrence. However, such a measure was unsuccessful due to Marcoux's opposition to having British soldiers in Kahnawake. Fearing he would lose control over his Indians, the curé recalled an incident during the War of 1812 when Americans attacked British troops stationed in Akwesasne. He argued that placing soldiers in Kahnawake would incite the Patriotes to attack the village: une compagnie de soldats ici, quant même elle serait de cinquante hommes, pourrait en attirer plusieurs cents des Paroisses voisines et [causerait] un massacre (Marcoux to Napier, 10 December 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38855). Instead, he suggested installing several guard posts in Lachine (ibid.). Hughes criticized Marcoux's opposition to government proposals and noted that the curé's ideas were laughable (Hughes to Napier, 10 December 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38856).
On 13 December, Kahnawake as well as the British Army headquarters in Montréal were once again shaken by rumors of Patriote invasion. No sooner had British troops marched out to St. Eustache to disperse the Patriotes assembling there than a report was received that insurgents were within three miles of Lachine (Senior 1985: 127). According to John Fraser, an observer who shouldered his musket at the time (Fraser 1890: 73), there was a great scare on that night. A horseman of the Lachine Troop of Cavalry received information that the rebels have escaped from St. Eustache, and are reported advancing in force on Lachine, to capture the arms there for the frontier volunteers (ibid.: 56). Fraser states that, as a result, there was a wild hurrying on the streets of Montréal. To arms, was the cry, the rebels are at hand! (ibid.). As rumors spread that Montréal itself would be invaded, Colonel Wilgress quickly had this note sent to Kahnawake:
To the first Chief of the Indians of Caughnawaga. You are hereby directed immediately to bring over to Lachine all the effective men you can collect, with all the arms in your possession. (Wilgress to Kahnawake chiefs, 13 December 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38830)
In turn, sur cet ordre, ils (Iroquois) ont amené une partie du village de l'autre côté, avec leurs fusils (Marcoux to Hughes, 14 December 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38850-3). Senior accounts that two hundred Indian warriors immediately crossed the St. Lawrence (Senior 1985: 127). According to Fraser, who was quite impressed with the scene,
the river was literally covered with Indian canoes; every warrior in Caughnawaga was crossing to join the Lachine Brigade. The cheer of welcome from that little band of volunteers, which greeted the arrival of the Indian warriors, and their wild war-whoop in response, was a sound, a sight, and a scene, the like of which will never again be seen or heard in this Province. (Fraser 1890: 60)
However, the report was a false one and a few short hours later, the Iroquois men from Kahnawake quickly returned to their village (ibid.: 58-61).
Other sources tell a more nuanced story. Once the young men were ready to depart for Lachine, Kahnawake resident and ferry operator George de Lorimier swiftly ordered them out of his boats (Eustache Oraquatiron, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2406). Marcoux writes:
On vint de Lachine demander les sauvages avec leurs armes. Ils partirent donc en grand nombre, emmenant tous les canots de Lorimier. Ils voulaient prendre aussi les bateaux, mais il (de Lorimier) les en empêcha, en disant que Mr. Brown de Beauharnois lui avait envoyé des ordres de tenir ses bateaux prêts pour le lendemain matin, afin de traverser plusieurs compagnies de miliciens qui devaient aller prendre des armes à Lachine. Il leur ajouta que peut-être, il n'était pas prudent pour eux de marcher sans avoir un ordre de leur surintendant. (Marcoux to J.-V. Quiblier, 5 February 1838, APSS).
Overall, George de Lorimier refused to lend his boats to the members of the expedition because he had already reserved them for Mr. Brown of Beauharnois, who intended to provide loyalist militiamen with guns and provisions in the next few days. Father Marcoux agreed with this action because he felt that by leaving for Lachine, the young men were placing their village in a vulnerable position:
George de Lorimier leur (Indians) a dit qu'ils ne devaient pas partir ainsi sur la voix du premier venu, qu'ils n'avoient d'ordre de recevoir que de vous (Hughes). Il leur a dit ce que je leur [aurait] dit moi-même si j'eusse été averti, car si le premier venu prend les commandes [...], les commandements seront contradictores et ne causeront que du désordre, et de la confusion. Les jeunes gens, pour avoir un fusil [...] [ont] sacrifier leur village. [...] On a dit aux Sauvages de rester tranquille chez eux, pour protéger leurs femmes, leurs enfants, et leurs animaux [...] [Ils] sont menacés [...] s'ils quittent le village, pour aller se battre ailleurs. Ces menaces ont encore été répétées ici avant hier, par un Patriote qui s'en allait à Chateaugay. Il est bien vrai que le gouvernement peut les indemniser de leurs pertes, mais les femmes et les Enfants qui seroient victimes de l'imprudence de laisser le village sans défense, qui les leurs rendrait? (Marcoux to Hughes, 14 December 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38850-3, my emphasis)
Marcoux also stated that George de Lorimier was not well liked by many people, including James Hughes, and that had this not been the case, he could have helped reduce the state of confusion in the village by being the only person in Kahnawake to receive and transmit government orders (ibid.). Yet Hughes accounts that despite George de Lorimier's claims, the chiefs, accompanied by [war chief] Ignace [Delisle], harangued the young men and brought over 120 men (Hughes to Napier, 14 December 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38851). Praising Delisle, Hughes holds that over 40 were armed, the rest had no guns (ibid.). In his opinion, many more would have crossed if George de Lorimier [had not] ordered them (young men) out of the bateaux (ibid.).
In the next days, the people of Kahnawake gradually returned to their daily lives and did not hear of Papineau's People until the following November. Yet relations between the Iroquois and most of their non-Native neighbors did not improve for the better. For instance, as a result of the 1837 insurrection, Kahnawake chiefs were not able to collect their rents from the Canadian settlers living on the seigneury of Sault-Saint-Louis. To the great displeasure of the village council, this frustrating state of affairs persisted until 1838 (J. Baby to Napier, 14 December 1837, NAC RG10 vol. 94: 38834).
Kahnawake and the Patriotes in 1838
Following the defeat of the Patriotes in December 1837, new insurgent leaders initiated work on a second uprising. On 3 November 1838, Patriote leader Robert Nelson arrived in Napierville and issued a declaration of independence. In an attempt to obtain Native support, Nelson claimed that the Indians shall no longer be under any civil disqualification, but shall enjoy the same rights as all other citizens of Lower Canada (in Great Britain 1969c: 250; see also Bernard 1988: 302). However, this article seems to have gone completely unnoticed by the Native communities of Lower Canada.
On the night of 3 November, Patriotes assembled in places such as Beauharnois, Baker's Camp, St-Constant, Lacolle, and Châteauguay. The exceptionally thick Châteauguay Patriotes (Greer 1993: 348) were led and assembled by Joseph-Narcisse Cardinal, Joseph Duquet and François-Maurice Lepailleur. The first was a notary and was well known by Father Marcoux, who once described him as follows: ecuïer notaire, membre du Parlement pour le comté de LaPrairie, et, ce qui vous le doit recommander par dessus toutes choses, Patriotissime (Marcoux to Turgeon, 12 Novembre 1833, ADSJQL 3A-143). Indeed, Cardinal had been an aggressive Patriote since the early 1830s and had been instrumental in the organization of the second uprising. Cardinal was also very familiar with Kahnawake resident Jarvis McComber (Great Britain 1839: 30) as well as with interpreter Bernard St-Germain: Cardinal had married St-Germain's daughter Eugénie in 1831 (Lorimier 1988a: 161). Joseph Duquet, a law student (Filteau 1988), was known by Kahnawake residents Jarvis McComber and Charles Giasson. Duquet also knew Ignace Delisle, from whom he purchased hay (Rochon 1988: 135). Lepailleur, a bailiff from Châteauguay, was known by George de Lorimier, Ignace Delisle and Jacques Teronhiahere (Great Britain 1839: 33; 46).
Overall, the Châteauguay Patriotes agreed among themselves that some men would disarm and capture local loyalists and bureaucrats while others would attempt to persuade the neighboring people of Kahnawake to provide weapons or remain neutral (Boissery 1995: 56). Following the Kahnawake expedition, the Patriotes would march on Beauharnois, and, with other insurgent companies, attack the LaPrairie military barracks (Leclerc 1983; Senior 1985). Moreover, it is said that the insurgents intended to march on the village of Kahnawake for these three additional reasons:
1) By disarming the Iroquois and taking their weapons, they could gain Native support or, at least, obtain guns which they badly needed. Also, fearing they would be attacked by Indians, they could neutralize them. Indeed, wild rumors and reports that les sauvages viennent circulated massively in the area on 3 November 1838 (Greer 1993: 348). As a result, many Patriotes believed that the Indians were coming against us, so we wished to get their arms (testimony of P. Reid, in Great Britain 1839: 42).
2) Some sources seem to indicate that the Patriotes' march on Kahnawake was central to the entire uprising. Nicolas Rousselle, a member of the expedition, testified that he heard from Cardinal and others that le but de cette expédition était de prendre les armes des Sauvages et s'emparer de ce poste (ANQM 1837-38, no. 2270). Narcisse Bruyère similarly testified that en nous rendant au Sault St. Louis, je demandai à Cardinal ce qu'ils entendait faire. Ils m'a dit alors qu'il voulait s'emparer de quelque place et y déclarer l'Indépendance afin qu'ensuite les Américains passent plus librement (ANQM 1837-38, no. 2246). In the same vein, historian Robert Sellar accounts that
Cardinal told his followers that their American friends objected coming to their assistance until they had achieved some success which would give them the status of combatants. If, said Cardinal, the Americans come now and are captured, they would be hanged as murderers; if they come after we have obtained the standing of belligerents and are captured, they will be treated as prisoners of war, and so he saw in the disarming of the Indians and the capture of their village more than a merely prudential step. (Sellar 1888: 571, my emphasis)
Thus upon obtaining arms and ammunitions, the Patriotes may have intended to seize and secure Kahnawake as an independent region. In Cardinal's affidavit, essentially aimed at downplaying his role as the leader of the Kahnawake expedition, it is stated that un rassemblement devait avoir lieu le soir dans ce village (deposition of Joseph N. Cardinal, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2795). Was ce village supposed to be Kahnawake?
3) Sources hint at the possibility that the Patriotes had been assured of Kahnawake's assistance by government interpreter Bernard St-Germain (Parent 1984: 97). Two Lachine residents testified that St. Germain once said that he would prefer the American System of Government to the British Government and that he would join the Americans with the Patriots as he was sure they would gain the Country and that he thought they would be better off (A. Duquette and C. St-Denis, ANQM 1837-38: 1059). Marcoux stated that
c'est par son conseil [St.Germain] que les Patriotes de Chateauguay sont venus [...] prendre le village. Il était en conseil avec eux dans la nuit de samedi avec ce dimanche. [...] [Il] leur a donné cet avis, en ajoutant que la moitié des sauvages étaient patriotes et qu'ils se joindraient à eux. [...] Tout se trouve maintenant expliqué: les nombreux voyages que St. Germain a fait (sic) depuis l'été à Chateauguay, toujours la nuit, constatant sa sympathie avec les rebelles, qui assurent qu'il a prêté le même serment qu'eux. (Marcoux to Lartigue, 12 November 1838, ADSJQL 3A-201)
Even his good friend and collegue James Hughes wrote about the interpreter in a negative light: Entre nous, I have every reason to suppose that our friend was concerned in the plot, or at least knew about it. It is said that he wished and sold the Chiefs, as much as to deliver up their arms (Hughes to Napier, 17 November 1838, NAC RG10 vol. 96: 39773). In the hours following the march on Kahnawake, St-Germain was arrested and brought over to the courts to face charges of high treason. However, he was quickly released. Indeed, the interpreter did not stay locked up very long as James Hughes got him acquitted (Marcoux to Lartigue, 16 November 1838, ADSJQL 3A-202; Marcoux to Turgeon, 28 December 1838, AAQ, 26 CP, D-48).
As the night advanced, about 200 Châteauguay men were assembled to march on Kahnawake. About sixty had guns (P. Reid, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2252) whereas many others were given swords, sticks or farming instruments. The ones holding guns were handed between three and ten cartridges of powder (A. Boursier, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2242; N. Rousselle, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2270). At two o'clock in the morning, the Patriotes were ready to march. To encourage the men, some of whom may have been forced out of their homes by threats that they would be killed or that their houses and barns would be burned down (various affidavits and depositions, ANQM 1837-38, nos. 2242, 2243, 2244, 2246, 2247, 2257, 2263, 2265, 2266, 2305), Patriote leaders started chanting au sault, au sault! (N. Rousselle, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2269), and allons, allons, au sault, au sault, allons désarmer les sauvages! (A. Couillard, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2310). Yet according to Nicolas Rousselle, who was part of the Patriotes' expedition and whose testimony was meant to downplay his involvement,
il n'y avoit que deux ou trois qui criaient ainsi. Bien des gens [ont] demandé alors ce que c'étoit que l'on voulait faire, en disant que le temps étoit bien mauvais et que l'on avoit pas manger. La réponse étoit qu'au Sault, on trouverait de quoi manger. Une bonne partie [...] des gens ne voulaient pas grouiller mais on leur dit qu'il fallait absolument qu'ils vinrent à marcher et que si on ne le fit pas, on se trouvoit en danger et on leur faisoit bien d'autres menaces; alors la plus grande partie sont partis pour se rendre au Sault et le déclarant étoit de ceux qui marchoit tout en voulant déserter s'il trouveroit le moyen. (ANQM 1837-38, no. 2269, my emphasis)
Despite threats that people who would leave the ranks would be shot, many hungry, cold and tired peasants like Louis Denaut escaped in the woods (L. Denaut, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2244). At the same time, as Patriotes departed for Kahnawake, Châteauguay resident Robert Findlay jumped out of a back window of his house and made it to Kahnawake, where he secured a boat to cross over to Montreal and alert the authorities (R. Findlay, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2398: Senior 1985: 171). According to Sellar, Findlay told the Indians of the rising, got them to ferry him over to Lachine (Sellar 1888: 570). Even if Findlay did warn some Iroquois, his report does not seem to have spread as the village remained sound asleep until sunrise.
Kahnawake oral history accounts that a local unnamed woman searching the bushes for her lost cow saw the Patriotes and alerted the community. As one written version holds:
On the Sunday morning of November 4, 1838, a group of Mohawk people were meeting in a chapel on the Chateauguay road. This chapel still stands in Kahnawake today. It was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The Patriotes from Chateauguay intended to surround the chapel and capture all of the men meeting inside. The Patriotes were planning to hold these men hostage in exchange for the guns and ammunition in Kahnawake. The Patriotes would have been successful except for an old Mohawk woman. This woman was walking down the road to Chateauguay looking for a lost cow. She happened to see the Patriotes approaching, armed as if for an attack. There were sixty four Patriotes in all. She rushed back to the chapel and warned all of the men who had assembled there. The Patriotes were armed with sticks and pikes and clubs. The Kahnawake men had muskets. The warriors left the church and set up an ambush by the front of the church entrance. When the force of forty Kahnawake men surrounded the French, the Patriotes immediately surrendered. Eleven others were captured later on in the day...The Kahnawake men took the Patriotes prisoners, bound them with cords and delivered them to a jail in Montreal. (Blanchard 1980: 320)
A second version of this story is provided by Mohawk historian Johnny Beauvais.
The most revealing patriot lack of judgment was their ill-fated sneak raid on Kahnawake [...]. There are several versions of this raid, but we will recount the account that we find most plausible. The Mohawks were in church; it is implied in the old chapel on the hill. We do not agree because that building is too small to contain the large contingent of churchgoers at that time. They had to be in the old church which was replaced by the present one in the 1840s. The Patriots were discovered approaching our town with their primitive arms by a woman searching for her cow in the outer edge of the village, and she scurried back to warn the congregation [...]. The Kahnawake men quickly disarmed the intruders. The Patriots claimed they came to parley but the Mohawks did not accept that a parley be initiated by lurking about and arrive as an armed intrusion. Their annoyance prompted them to tie the prisoners and take the seventy-five prisoners to the Lachine garrison by canoe. (Beauvais 1994: 19)
Interestingly, I have found many non-Native accounts that provide a similar story involving an anonymous woman looking for her cow.
1) Stating that the Iroquois were assembling in the church and not in a small chapel, Father Joseph Marcoux provided this account in a letter he wrote on 7 November 1838.
Dimanche matin (4 November 1838), jour des Patrons du Diocèse, à neuf heures du matin, le monde dans l'Église et le célébrant tout habillé pour commencer, on voit accourir une femme qui cherchait sa vache dans le bois depuis le matin. Elle rapporte qu'elle a vu en chemin se dirigeant vers le village, une masse compacte d'hommes armés, qui lui a paru être de plusieurs cents. En un clin d'oeil, l'Église est évacuée, et chacun de courir à son fusil et à sa hache et de prendre le chemin de la commune. (Marcoux to Turgeon, 7 November 1838, AAQ, 26 CP, D-43)
2) The same story was reported by the newspaper Le Canadien on 9 November 1838.
[...] une femme du village étant à la recherche d'une vache égarée, découvrit dans le bois un parti nombreux d'hommes armés, et en donna avis aux Sauvages qui étaient à la messe. Ils sortirent aussitôt, se saisirent de toutes les armes qu'ils purent se procurer, telles que fusils, cassetêtes et fourches, et poussant des cris de guerre, ils chargèrent leurs ennemis, qui prirent aussitôt la fuite, en jetant leurs armes. Soixante cinq furent faits prisonniers. (Le Canadien 9/11/1839: 1)
3) James Hughes, praising war chief Ignace Kaneratahere Delisle and identifying the Iroquois as our Brown Boys , wrote the following account on 15 November 1838.
Of all the transactions that have taken place here, the most noble [...] was performed by our Brown Boys of Caughnawaga, with Ignace Kaneratahere at their head. [...] On Sunday last the 4th instant about 8 o'clock as mass was beginning, many people having got into the church, it appears that a woman who has lost a cow the day previous was in search of her, scouring about the bushes for that purpose, she heard the bell that the cow had round her neck. The brush wood being thick she got on a stone fence, to see if she could discover her, but instead of seeing her cow, she saw about one hundred rebels, near the chapel sitting in the bushes; luckily she was not seen by them Brigands, she immediately returned to the village, [and] gave the alarm. (Hughes to Napier, NAC RG10 vol. 96: 39772, my emphasis)
4) On 3 December 1838, Kahnawake resident Jacques Sohahio testified under oath
that on Sunday the fourth day of November 1838 at about nine o'clock am, a report was spread in the said village of Caughnawaga, that a large force of armed Rebels had been seen near the Chapel situated about fifteen acres from the village, by a woman who was in search of a cow. (testimony of Jacques Sohahio, 3 December 1838, NAC RG10 vol. 96: 39801)
5) Similarly, in 1847, a British army officer by the name of John Richardson wrote in his travel journal Eight Years in Canada that while
the Indians [...] were attending their morning service utterly ignorant of the rebellion that had commenced, a squaw who had gone into the woods in search of a stray cow, fancied as she approached a particular spot where she perceived the glimmering of arms. She looked more closely, and with that keenness of glance for which the Indian is remarkable, [...] she discovered that her impression was correct, for she now distinctly saw several men moving cautiously among the trees, while others were lying down apparently in ambush. With characteristic presence of mind, she affected not to have seen anything extraordinary, but continued her way, diverging gradually from the part, yet seemingly in search of some lost object. In this manner she continued to make such a circuit that brought her at once near the church, and out of the view of those whom she had so opportunely discovered. She now entered the building and apprised the Indians of the danger that threatened them. (Richardson 1847: 61)
In this case, a mid-nineteenth century writer generalized the noble character of the Indian race and drew upon stereotypes of the day to describe a specific event.
6) Without citing his sources, historian Louis N. Carrier provided this account in 1877:
Le dimanche, 4 novembre, une sauvagesse de Caughnawaga qui était à la recherche de sa vache, dans un bois, près du village, aperçut un nombre considérable d'hommes armés cachés dans ce bois, et se disposant à surprendre les sauvages durant la messe. Immédiatement, sans éveiller l'attention des hommes embusqués, elle s'en retourna au village et annonça sa découverte aux sauvages rassemblés dans l'église pour le service divin. Aussitôt, ils sortirent de l'église, saisirent les armes qui leur tombèrent sous la main, des mousquets, des haches, des tomahawks, des barres de fer, etc., etc., et poussant leur cri de guerre, ils firent une charge si prompte et si furieuse sur la bande d'hommes armés qu'ils les mirent en fuite; la confusion fut telle qu'ils firent 64 prisonniers. (Carrier 1877: 112)
7) Sellar, who wrongfully identifies George de Lorimier as the head-chief , wrote that a woman looking for her cow saved the village: she, young and fleet of foot, fled with the intelligence that there were armed men entering the bush. A brave was sent out as a scout and he speedily returned, confirming the girl's statement (Sellar 1888: 572).
8) As with Borthwick (1898: 61) and Kingsford, who provides a short section entitled Attack on Caughnawaga (1898: 167), historian and priest E. J. Devine has stated that
forty [Patriotes], armed with sticks and pikes, set out for the Indian village, where they arrived at sunrise. They halted in [...] the vicinity and sent five of the chiefmen to sound the dispositions of the Indians. While those envoys were employed in urging the Indians to lend them their guns, a squaw caught sight of the rest of the patriots and ran frightened to the village to relate what she had seen. (Devine 1922: 360)
9) An historical article by writer Silas Salt published in the Standard of Montréal in October 1926 accounts that a squaw that was looking for her cow saw the Patriotes hiding in the trees and warned the community. The braves then seized their muskets and tomahawks and coming with war-whoop, they threatened the rebels with destruction unless they came forward and surrendered (Standard, 23/10/1926: 41). In some cases, this version of the event is ridiculed. For instance, author P. Rochon writes:
chacun des participants, aussi bien chez les Indiens que chez les Patriotes, a sa version des événements qui se sont déroulés à Caughnawaga, le matin du 4 novembre 1838. Il y a même une légende qui veut que ce soit une vieille Indienne, cherchant sa vache, perdu dans les bois environnants, qui aurait aperçu les Patriotes, s'avançant armés vers le village, et aurait donné l'alerte aux siens. On ne nous dit pas si elle a retrouvé sa vache. La seule chose dont on soit certain, c'est qu'il ne s'est pas tiré un seul coup de feu, d'un côté comme de l'autre, ce matin-là. (Rochon 1988: 134)
In other cases, a different version is provided. For example, John Fraser accounts that
in the early morning of Sunday, the 4th, the patriots of Chateauguay marched in force on Caughnawaga to disarm the Indians. The Indians were then attending early mass in a small chapel half a mile behind the village. The chapel was surrounded by the patriots. They said they came to parley. The Indians expressed surprise that friends should come armed, and asked them to pile their arms preparatory to a friendly talk. The innocent patriots piled their arms; they were immediately taken possession of by the Indians. (Fraser 1890: 75)
Although the Native and non-Native accounts cited above are interesting and insightful, they provide only part of the story, as there are numerous contradictions and obscurities concerning locations, actions, actors, and intentions. Moreover, despite the recent and slightly more detailed works of Boissery (1995), Greenwood (1980), Greer (1993), Parent (1984), and Senior (1985), most retellings of this specific event simply fall into the traditional account as originally provided by contemporary observers and the Report of the State Trials (Great Britain 1839). Even if this latter reference is essential in retracing events as well as the specific role played by some Kahnawake residents, secondary sources discussing this event essentially state that on 4 November 1838, sixty-four or seventy-five Patriotes marching on Kahnawake were lured into the village, caught and sent to Montréal. Over the years, this account has been repeated word for word by non-Native historians without any new data on the Iroquois' own interpretations as well as on the events which occurred immediately before and after that actual Patriote raid.
Overall, the description of events as provided below tends to show that as a result of the tense context in which the Iroquois became well aware of the Rebellions, the Patriote march on Kahnawake was immediately conceived by the Iroquois as an attack on their lands and lives. It also seems to illustrate that by the time the second insurrection got underway, the tense Kahnawake-Patriote relations of the previous year severely deteriorated. Finally, the many archival sources I have documented tend to indicate that the previous accounts of events which occurred on that day as they have been told until now by the people of Kahnawake and non-Native historians is incomplete in detail and context.
Sources seem to indicate that, in a general way, the people of Kahnawake were not aware of the Patriotes' march on their village. While some residents were getting ready for church or were tending their animals and workshops, war chief Ignace K. Delisle was conducting a meeting with other chiefs. Interestingly, the people present at this meeting agreed that they did not have any news from Montréal (Great Britain 1839: 34). At around five o'clock in the morning, about two hours before the arrival of the Patriotes in the Kahnawake woods, Pierre Tehaquonte and eleven other Iroquois young men left their village with the intention of taking down two rafts from Châteauguay. Ignorant of the ongoing events, they stopped at the house of Sançon , a Châteauguay tavern keeper, where seven of them secured the loan of a canoe. The others walked to another tavern keeper's house, Dalton , who informed them that all is now stopt, [...] this is the day the troubles are to commence (P. Tehaquonte, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2403). The Iroquois went back to Sançon's house, where the others were waiting. Subsequently, however, the twelve unarmed young men were swiftly overtaken by several Patriotes and
persuaded to go into the House, where they were told they were prisoners. The Rebels were constantly assembling there with arms, after having kept the twelve Iroquois for the space of about an hour, they released ten and kept Pierre Tehaquonte and [another], [...], and they remained at Sançon's two days during which time they were well treated and well fed. (P. Tehaquonte, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2403)
After being moved to another building and, eventually, to the Rebel guard House near the church of Chateaugay (ibid.), Tehaquonte and his companion were set free on the seventh of November. They were kept as prisoners for three days (ibid.).
At seven o'clock in the morning, Patriotes arrived at the outskirts of Kahnawake and slowly positioned themselves in the woods next to an old stone chapel which was unoccupied at the time (Marcoux to Lartigue, 4 November 1838, ADSJQL 3A-200). Pierre Reid, a member of the group, accounts that the Patriotes had left Châteauguay au nombre de 150, on s'est rendu près du village du Sault; on fit halte à une petite distance du village le long d'un bois de manière à ne pas être vus du village (ANQM 1837-38, no. 2252). However, as a result of many desertions, they now numbered between seventy-five and one hundred (depositions, ANQM 1837-38, no. 2246, 2247, 2251, 2266, 2305, 2310). Following quiet discussions, the Patriotes agreed that while the majority of the men would stay in the woods, Cardinal and Duquet, as well as Ignace Giasson, Joseph Meloche and Narcisse Bruyère, three other members of the expedition, would enter the village claiming to buy hay from war chief Ignace Delisle or to re