Robert Mackenzie.

America. A history

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The Hurons received with hospitable welcome the black-robed strangers. The priests were able to repay the kindness with services of high value. They taught more effective methods of fortifying the town in which they lived. They promised the help of a few French musketeers against an impending attack by the Iroquois. They cured diseases; they bound up wounds. They gave simple instruction to the young, and gained the hearts of their pupils by gifts of beads and raisins. The elders of the people came to have the faith explained to them: they readily owned that it was a good faith for the French, but they could not be persuaded that it was suitable for the red man. The fathers laboured in hope, and the savages learned to love them. Their gentleness, their courage, their disinterestedness, won respect and confidence, and they had many invitations from chiefs of distant villages to come and live with them. It was feared that the savages regarded them merely as sorcerers of unusual power; and they were constantly applied to for spells, now to give victory in battle, now to destroy grasshoppers. They were held answerable for the weather; they had the credit or the blame of what good or evil fortune befell the tribe. They laboured in deep earnestness; for to them heaven and hell were very real, and very near. The unseen world lay close around them, mingling at every point with the affairs of earth. They were visited by angels; they were withstood by manifest troops of demons. St. Joseph, their patron, held occasional communication with them; even the Virgin herself did not disdain to visit and cheer her servants. Once, as Br?b?uf walked cast down in spirit by threatened war, he saw in the sky, slowly advancing towards the Huron territory, a huge cross, which told him of coming and inevitable doom.

Some of their methods of conversion were exceedingly rude. A letter from Father Garnier has been preserved in which pictures are ordered from France for the spiritual improvement of the Indians. Many representations of souls in perdition are required, with appropriate accompaniment of flames and triumphant demons tearing them with pincers. One picture of saved souls would suffice, and “a picture of Christ without beard.”1414
  The fathers were wise in their generation. The Indians hated beards, and extirpated their own. It was judicious to omit this distasteful feature from all sacred representations.

They were consumed by a zeal for the baptism of little children. At the outset the Indians welcomed this ceremonial, believing that it was a charm to avert sickness and death. But when epidemics wasted them they charged the calamity against the mysterious operations of the fathers, and refused now to permit baptism.

The fathers recognized the hand of Satan in this prohibition, and refused to submit to it. They baptized by stealth. A priest visited the hut where a sick child lay – the mother watching lest he should perform the fatal rite. He would give the child a little sugared water. Slyly and unseen he dips his finger in the water, touches the poor wasted face, mutters the sacramental words, and soon “the little savage is changed into a little angel.”

The missionaries were subjected to hardship such as the human frame could not long endure. They were men accustomed to the comforts and refinements of civilized life; they had tasted the charms of French society in its highest forms. Their associations now were with men sunk till humanity could fall no lower. They followed the tribes in their long winter wanderings in quest of food. They were in perils, often from hunger, from cold, from sudden attack of enemies, from the superstitious fears of those whom they sought to save. They slept on the frozen ground, or, still worse, in a crowded tent, half suffocated by smoke, deafened by noise, sickened by filth. Self-sacrifice more absolute the world has never seen. A love of perishing heathen souls was the impulse which animated them; a deep and solemn enthusiasm upheld them under trials as great as humanity has ever endured. That they were themselves the victims of erring religious belief is most certain; but none the less do their sublime faith, their noble devotedness, and patience and gentleness claim our admiration and our love.

1640 A.D. The Huron Mission had now been established for five years. During those painful years the missionaries had laboured with burning zeal and absolute forgetfulness of self; but they had not achieved any considerable success. The children whom they baptized either died or they grew up in heathenism. There were some adult converts, one or two of whom were of high promise; but the majority were eminently disappointing. Once the infant church suffered a grievous rent by the withdrawal of converts who feared a heaven in which, as they were informed, tobacco would be denied to them. The manners of the nation had experienced no amelioration. No limitation in the number of wives had been conceded to the earnest remonstrances of the missionaries. Captive enemies were still tortured and eaten by the assembled nation. In time, the patient, self-denying labour of the fathers might have won those discouraging savages to the Cross; but a fatal interruption was at hand. A powerful and relentless enemy, bent on extermination, was about to sweep over the Huron territory, involving the savages and their teachers in one common ruin.

Thirty-two years had passed since those ill-judged expeditions in which Champlain had given help to the Hurons against the Iroquois. The unforgiving savages had never forgotten the wrong. A new generation inherited the feud, and was at length prepared to exact the fitting vengeance. The Iroquois had trading relations with the Dutchmen of Albany on the Hudson, who had supplied them with fire-arms. About one-half of their warriors were now armed with muskets, and were able to use them. 1642 A.D. They overran the country of the Hurons; they infested the neighbourhood of the French settlements. Boundless forests stretched all around; on the great river forest trees on both sides dipped their branches in the stream. When Frenchmen travelled in the woods for a little distance from their homes, they were set upon by the lurking savages and often slain; when they sailed on the river, hostile canoes shot out from ambush. No man now could safely hunt or fish or till his ground. The Iroquois attacked in overwhelming force the towns of their Huron enemies; forced the inadequate defences; burned the palisades and wooden huts; slaughtered with indescribable tortures the wretched inhabitants. In one of these towns they found Br?b?uf and one of his companions. They bound the ill-fated missionaries to stakes; they hung around their necks collars of red-hot iron; they poured boiling water on their heads; they cut stripes of flesh from their quivering limbs and ate them in their sight. To the last Br?b?uf cheered with hopes of heaven the native converts who shared his agony. And thus was gained the crown of martyrdom for which, in the fervour of their enthusiasm, these good men had long yearned.

In a few years the Huron nation was extinct; famine and small-pox swept off those whom the Iroquois spared. The Huron Mission was closed by the extirpation of the race for whom it was founded. Many of the missionaries perished; some returned to France. Their labour seemed to have been in vain; their years of toil and suffering had left no trace. It was their design to change the savages of Canada into good Catholics, industrious farmers, loyal subjects of France. If they had been successful, Canada would have attracted a more copious immigration, and a New France might have been solidly established on the American continent. The feudal system would have cumbered the earth for generations longer; Catholicism, the irreconcilable enemy to freedom of thought and to human progress, would have overspread and blighted the valley of the St. Lawrence. For once the fierce Iroquois were the allies and vindicators of liberty. Their cruel arms gave a new course to Canadian history. They frustrated plans whose success would have wedded Northern America to despotism in Church and in State. They prepared a way for the conquest of New France by the English, and thus helped, influentially, to establish free institutions over those vast regions which lie to the northward of the Great Lakes.


The discovery of the Mississippi by Ferdinand de Soto was not immediately productive of benefit. For nearly a century and a half after this ill-fated explorer slept beneath the waters which he had been the first to cross, the “Father of Rivers” continued to flow through unpeopled solitudes, unvisited by civilized men. The French possessed the valley of the St. Lawrence. The English had thriving settlements on the Atlantic sea-board; but the Alleghany Mountains, which shut them in on the west, allowed room for the growth of many years, and there was yet therefore no reason to seek wider limits. The valley of the Mississippi remained a hunting-ground for the savages who had long possessed it.

In course of years it became evident that England and France must settle by conflict their claims upon the American continent. The English still maintained their right, originating in discovery, to all the territory occupied by the French; and from time to time they sent out expeditions to re-assert by invasion the dormant claim. To the French, magnificent possibilities offered themselves. The whole enormous line of the Mississippi and its tributaries, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, could be seized and held; a military settlement could secure the mouth of the river; the English could be hemmed in between the Alleghanies and the ocean, and the increase of their settlements frustrated.

1671 A.D. Nicholas Perrot, a French officer, met, on the King’s business, a gathering of Indian delegates, at a point near the northern extremity of Lake Michigan. There he was told of a vast river, called by some Mechasep?, by others Mississippi. In what direction it flowed the savages could not tell, but they were sure it did not flow either to the north or to the east. The acute Frenchman readily perceived that this mysterious stream must discharge its waters into the Pacific or into the Gulf of Mexico, and that in either case its control must be of high value to France.

1673 A.D. An exploring party, composed of six men and furnished with two slight bark canoes, undertook the search. They ascended the Fox River from the point where it enters Lake Michigan; they crossed a narrow isthmus; and launching upon the River Wisconsin, they floated easily downwards till they came out upon the magnificent waters of the Mississippi. Their joy was great: the banks of the river seemed to their gladdened eyes rich and beautiful; the trees were taller than they had ever seen before; wild cattle in vast herds roamed over the flowery meadows of this romantic land. For many days the adventurers followed the course of the river. They came where the Missouri joins its waters to those of the Mississippi. They passed the Ohio and the Arkansas, and looked with wonder upon the vast torrents which reinforced the mighty river. They satisfied themselves that the Mississippi fell into the Gulf of Mexico; and then, mistrusting the good-will of the Spaniards, they turned back and toilsomely reascended the stream.

1680 A.D. Some years later, a young and energetic Frenchman – Sieur de la Salle – completed the work which these explorers had begun. The hope entertained by Columbus, that he would discover a better route to the East, had only now, after two hundred years of disappointment, begun to fade out of the hearts of his followers, and it was still eagerly cherished by La Salle. He traversed the Mississippi from the mouth of the Illinois River to the Gulf. He saw the vast and dreary swamps which lie around the outlet of the Mississippi. He erected a shield bearing the arms of France; he claimed the enormous region from the Alleghany Mountains to the Pacific, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, as the possession of the French King.

For a full half century France took no action to secure the vast possession which she claimed. The later years of Louis XIV. were full of disaster. England, persuaded by King William that French ambition was a standing menace to Europe, waged wars which brought France to the verge of ruin. Her colonial possessions could receive little care when France was fighting for existence in Europe. 1746 A.D. A wise Governor of Canada – the Compte de la Galissonni?re – perceived the rapid growth of the English settlements and the growing danger to France which their superior strength involved. He proposed that the line of the Mississippi should be fortified, and that ten thousand peasants should be sent out to form settlements on the banks of the great lakes and rivers. In time, the growing strength of these settlements would give to France secure possession of the valley of the Mississippi; while the English colonists, confined within the narrow region eastward of the Alleghany Mountains, must lie exposed to the damaging assault of their more powerful neighbours. So reasoned the Governor; but his words gained no attention from the pre-occupied Government of France. To the utmost of his means he sought to carry out the policy which would preserve for France her vast American possessions. He endeavoured to exclude English traders, and to persuade the Indians to adopt a similar course. He marked out the confines of French territory by leaden plates bearing the arms of France, sunk in the earth or nailed upon trees. He brought a few settlers from Nova Scotia. But all his efforts were in vain. The Anglo-Saxons were the appointed rulers of the American continent; and the time was near when, brushing aside the obstruction offered by Frenchmen and by Indians, they were to enter into full possession of their magnificent heritage.


The first English settlement which became permanent in Virginia was founded in 1606. Seven years later – while the settlement was still struggling for existence – the colonists began to form purposes of aggression against their still feebler neighbours in the far north. It was their custom to send annually to the great banks of Newfoundland a fleet of fishing-boats under convoy of an armed ship. Once the commander of this escort was a warlike person named Samuel Argall, whose lofty aims could not be restricted to the narrow sphere which had been assigned to him. While the boats which were his charge industriously plied their calling, Argall turned his thoughts to the larger pursuit of national aggrandizement. 1613 A.D. He affirmed the right of England to all the lands in his neighbourhood. The French had an armed vessel on the coast: Argall attacked and captured her. The French had formed a very feeble settlement on Penobscot Bay: Argall landed and laid in ruins the few buildings which composed it. He crammed seventeen of his prisoners into an open boat and turned them adrift at sea. The others were carried to Jamestown, where they came near to being hanged as pirates.

Thus early and thus lawlessly opened the strife which was to close, a century and a half later, with the victory of the English on the Heights of Abraham and the expulsion of French rule from the American continent. During the greater portion of that time England and France were at war, and the infant settlements of Acadie and Canada formed a natural prey to English adventurers. 1628 A.D. King James bestowed Acadie upon a countryman whom he befriended, and this new proprietor sent out a fleet to establish his claims. The lawless commander of this expedition did not scruple, in a time of peace, to possess himself of Quebec. Three times the English took Acadie: once they held it jointly with France for eleven years; then they restored it. 1713 A.D. Finally, it became theirs by the Treaty of Utrecht, and was henceforth known as Nova Scotia. As the New England colonies increased in strength they waged independent war with Canada. 1664 A.D. A little farther on the English conquered New York, and gradually extended their occupation northward to the Great Lakes. The Frenchmen of the St. Lawrence were their natural enemies. The English sought to possess themselves of the Canadian fur trade, and to that end made alliance with the Iroquois Indians, who were then a controlling power in the valley of the Hudson. There were perpetual border wars – cruel and wasteful. Often the Englishmen of New York attacked the Frenchmen of Canada; still more frequently they stimulated the Indians to hostility. Always there was strife, which made the colonies weak, and often threatened their extinction. It was not at first that England cared to possess Canada; it was rather that she could not witness the undisturbed possession by France of any territory which France seemed to prize.

As years passed and the enormous value to European Powers of the American continent was more fully discovered, the inevitable conflict awakened fiercer passions and called forth more energetic effort. The English were resolute to frequent the valley of the Ohio for trading purposes; the French were resolute to prevent them. Governors of the English colonies, scorning the authority of France, granted licences to traders; when traders bearing such licences appeared on the banks of the Ohio, they were arrested and their goods were confiscated. The English highly resented these injuries. Attempts were made to reach a pacific adjustment of disputes, and commissioners met for that purpose. But the temper of both nations was adverse to negotiation; the questions which divided them were too momentous. It was the destiny of a continent which the rival powers now debated. Men have not even yet found that the peaceable settlement of such questions is possible.

The English colonies had increased rapidly, and now contained a population upwards of a million. From France there had been almost no voluntary emigration, and the valley of the St. Lawrence was peopled to the extent of only sixty-five thousand. The English were strong enough to trample out their rivals. But they were scattered at vast distances, and conflicting opinions hindered them from uniting their strength. 1754 A.D. And France, at this time, began to send out copious military stores and reinforcements, as if in preparation for immediate aggression. The two countries were still at peace, but the inevitable conflict was seen to be at hand. The English Governors begged earnestly for the help of regular soldiers, in whose prowess they had unbounded confidence. Two regiments were granted to their prayers, and they themselves provided a strong body of bold but imperfectly disciplined troops. They were too powerful to wait for the coming of the enemy. A campaign was designed whose success would have shaken the foundations of French authority on the continent. One army under General Braddock was to cross the Alleghany Mountains and destroy Fort du Quesne, the centre of French power on the Ohio. Two armies would operate against the French forts on the Great Lakes; yet another force moved against the French settlements in the Bay of Fundy. To crown the whole, a British fleet cruised off the banks of Newfoundland watching the proceedings of a rival force.

1755 A.D. Ruin, speedy and complete, overwhelmed the unwisely-guided armament which followed General Braddock through the Virginian forests.1515
  See page 77.

In the north there were fought desperate and bloody battles. The English forced on board their ships three thousand French peasants – peaceful inhabitants of Nova Scotia – and scattered them among the southern colonies. The Indian allies of the French surprised many lonely hamlets, slaughtered many women and children, tortured to death many fighting-men. The English fleet captured two French ships. But no decisive advantage was gained on either side. The problem of American destiny was solving itself according to the customary methods – by the desolation of the land, by the slaughter and the anguish of its inhabitants; but the results of this bloody campaign did not perceptibly hasten the solution after which men so painfully groped.

During the next two years success was mainly with the French. The English were without competent leadership. An experienced and skilled officer – the Marquis de Montcalm – commanded the French, and gained important advantage over his adversaries. He took Fort William Henry, and his allies massacred the garrison. He took and destroyed two English forts on Lake Ontario. He made for himself at Ticonderoga a position which barred the English from access to the western lakes. The war had lasted for nearly three years; and Canada not merely kept her own, but, with greatly inferior resources, was able to hold her powerful enemy on the defensive.

But now the impatient English shook off the imbecile Government under which this shame had been incurred, and the strong hand of William Pitt assumed direction of the war. 1757 A.D. When England took up in earnest the work of conquest, France could offer but feeble resistance. The Canadians were few in number, and weakened by discontent and dissension. Their defensive power lay in a few inconsiderable forts, a few thousand French soldiers, and five ships of war. The insignificance of their resources had been concealed by the skilful leadership of Montcalm.

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