Conspiracy to Kill the French
When they had time to
converse with the French at Onondaga, he learned the fate of those left behind
just after their departure from Montreal. The group behind them did embark
after Radisson's expedition had left, following close behind them all the way
to the fort. When that had arrived at the island where the massacre of the six
French had taken place, they had found a Huron woman half starved from hunger.
She had watched Radisson's group pass and then had scourged the area for
leftover food but could find only grapes. She had resolved to face her own
death until they noticed her hiding in a hollowed-out tree trunk. The Jesuit
father, seeing that she was a converted Christian, took special care of her
until she saw a man load his gun. She was convinced that she was going to be
killed and ran off again. They could not find her and continued on their way to
Now that the original group
was reunited at their appointed destination, there were many French who were
keen on returning to Quebec because of a strong feeling of suspicion and
mistrust among them towards the Iroquois. After six weeks of recovering from
the fever that had hit them at the camp, thirteen Frenchmen and one Jesuit
father decided to return. Radisson was part of the party that would take them
part of the way back. It was a somewhat tearful farewell as everyone was aware
of the potential perils they faced journeying back to the safety of the colony.
On the way back to Onondaga,
Radisson's escort group stopped off at an Iroquois village and heard that three
renegade Hurons had found the starving woman. Not seeing that she was of their
own nation, they stripped her naked, as was their custom when finding someone
lost in the woods, and brought her to the Jesuit father who had first found her
some time before. The blackrobe was living in this village and he considered it
a miracle of God that she had been found again. But despite the special
attention the father gave her, the Iroquois who traveled from Montreal with the
Frenchmen took her as their slave.
During the six days Radisson
stayed in this village, there was another incident among these Iroquois. There
was a man who was warned for his insolence because he had not conferred with
the chief of the village. The man had taken two women as slaves that included
the women's two children. As was custom among them, any captives must be
presented to the council so the chief can decide what to do with them. This man
chose not to consult with the council so the elders confronted him.
"Who are these slaves," they
"They're mine," he answered.
The man's uncle replied to him.
"Nephew, you must know that
all slaves, men as well as women, are first brought before the council, and we
alone dispose of them." The uncle gave a nod to some soldiers who stood nearby,
and they took the two women and knocked them in the head, murdering them. One
of the soldiers took the child, put his foot on the child's head, grabbed the
child's legs with his hands and then turned the body so that the head was
twisted off from the body. Another soldier took the other child from its
mother's breast by the feet and knocked its head against the trunk of a tree.
During his time living among the Iroquois, Radisson had seen others like these
captives slain because they could not serve properly or because children
hindered their mothers from working hard.
Just before Radisson's
escort group planned to leave the village that was five miles from the French
fort, they heard about the Huron who had escaped from the massacre on the
island. After suffering in the forests from hunger and privation for many
weeks, he had arrived in the village and spoke of wrathful revenge against the
French, especially against the Jesuit fathers. He said that fathers had
betrayed the Hurons, and that he would bestow the same upon them if he ever met
a Frenchman again. He thanked heaven that he was still alive and warned the
Iroquois not to let the French build a fort in their country. He reminded them
what had happened to the Nation of the Stags who had let the French build a
fort in their country only to be decimated by disease, which was the result of
their sorcery. In a society that had an insatiable thirst for war, Radisson was
concerned to hear these words so close to where he was now living in Onondaga.
They were barely into autumn
when Radisson and some other Frenchmen heard that the Iroquois were conspiring
treason against the French. They learned that the Iroquois planned to raise an
army of 500 men from their own nation as well as warriors from the Anojot
to assist them. They believed they could take the fort with ease because they
were esteemed to be the best fighters of all the Indian nations, and because if
they made a concerted effort to appease the French by giving them gifts and
keeping the peace it could be a surprise attack. Most of the French didn't know
the Iroquois language but since Radisson understood both the language and
customs, he knew they were preparing for an assault. Their daily exercises were
feasting, singing war songs, throwing their hatchets and breaking kettles.
"We must resolve to be on
our guard being in the middle of our enemy's land," he said to his countrymen.
"For this purpose we must begin to make provisions for the future." Radisson
caught wind that a group of Anojot was marching toward their fort to
declare open war on the French. He knew this tribe often attacked Frenchmen
around Montreal who wandered off too far from the safety of the settlement. He
saw the only sensible thing they could do was to leave, but the problem was
that they had no boats.
The French who were in the
fort had their spies in the villages that surrounded Onondaga, many of whom
were the Jesuit priests who administered to the natives at their own peril.
Radisson too visited the elders at the council by giving gifts and hearing from
them bits and pieces of information that gave the French a good idea that the
council had discussed the problem of the French, and thus wanted to ask some
questions directly to the Jesuit fathers, who they regarded as sorcerers and
medicine men. From these answers they would make a decision about what would
happen to the French.
Knowing that the Iroquois
were planning on a visit to the fort, they prepared to hide the evidence that
they were building boats. They built a double floor in the hall of the fort to
build the ship so that the Onandoga, being ignorant of their way of building,
could not take any notice of their cunning. It was successful so they continued
to build the boats without their knowledge, making an effort to keep up
relations with the Iroquois in the meantime. These boats were big so only two
were required to transport the entire population of the fort. (The boats were
based on the measurements stated in the Old Testament when Noah was given the
precise measurements for the ark. Proportionally decressing these measurements,
the boats would have a large bottom that would be big enough to carry everyone
from the fort as well as their things). It was Radisson's opinion that the
Iroquois wouldn't suspect their plan because Quebec was too far and too
difficult to reach, being full of rapids and swift rivers.
Fleeing the Fort
The French planned to flee
the fort in the spring when the ice had melted. They were able to get through
the winter with some scares, as there were a few skirmishes involving guards at
the fort but nothing that couldn't be healed with a few gifts.
Radisson's familiarity with
the psychology and culture of the Iroquois nation gave him the idea of how they
would escape. Since he could hold a tune, he secured a guitar for him to play
during the feast since the Indians valued music in any form. He devised a plan
whereby all the Iroquois of the surrounding villages would be invited to a
great feast to emphasize that they had no greater friends than the French. All
were invited and all accepted to attend the feast. Those of the fort made sure
that the Jesuit father and two Frenchmen who lived a distance from the fort
were included in this feast because this Jesuit father was part of the escape
plan. After two days of feasting and singing, the Indians departed and with
them the two Frenchmen and the Jesuit priest, but the priest feigned a fall and
pretended to break his arm. Thus he was transported into the fort where they
made a plaster cast for him and ordered to remain there in bed to recover.
Since the Indians loved the padre, many came to the fort to visit him and give
him gifts to encourage him to heal. The two Frenchmen also visited the priest
at the fort crying for his safe return to health, but they were not part of the
plot. This added to the realism of the plan, and was a crucial reason the
Indians did not suspect anything.
Such as the situation was,
the French resolved to have another feast that would act as a decoy to their
departure. This feast was to mark the successful recovery of the Jesuit father,
as the elders sent messengers daily to check up on how he was doing. When the
boats were ready and the French at the fort were all packed with their bundles
for the journey, they sent word that the priest was well and that the feast was
to celebrate his return to good health. No Indians were allowed into the fort
the day of thee feast because of the preparations. They were told they couldn't
enter because it was French custom "not to show the splendor of their banquets
before they were presented at the table."
Once the trumpets sounded there were nothing but outcries and the
clapping of hands as large kettles full of beaten Indian corn dressed with
minced meat was served. All attended the big banquet and were encouraged to
sing and dance so that it was done with gusto. The French made a point of
keeping them awake just as the bird-catcher teaches the bird to sing and not
fly away. The wisest began his speech, thanking heaven for the food and the
French who are so generous.
"They eat as many as wolves,
having eyes bigger then bellies," he said. The next course are kettles full of
broiled ducks and buzzards, and turtles that had been caught in their fishing
nets. They hooped and exclaimed at the victuals and gorged on the fowl. Then
came the fish and eels and salmon and carps, which gave them new stomach. Were
they to burst, here they would show their courage." A number of the French
entertained them with singing and dancing, as was their custom. But finally the
main course arrived: venison with bear oil and thickened flour. (Bear oil was
actually bear root, the sedative bears eat before hibernating for the winter
The feasting was having an
affect on most of the natives present. One beat his belly and another shook his
head, and another made funny faces, while others moved their eyes up and down
as another tightened his mouth to keep in what he had eaten. Anything to endure
the feast. Radisson played guitar to make it a special occasion.
"Cheer up like brave men,"
said the Frenchmen, who were beginning to fall asleep. "If your sleep overcomes
you, you must awake! Come, sound the drum! Is it not now to strum the guitar?
Come, make a noise! Trumpet blow and make thy cheeks swell, to make the belly
The French competed to see
who could make the greatest noise. But finally the wild men cannot endure
anymore. Postures began to slouch.
"Skenon!" they cry
out. "Enough! We can bear no more!"
"Hunnay!" replied the
Frenchmen. "We are going. We are weary and will sleep also."
"Be it so!" replied the
exhausted Iroquois. They left the Iroquois sleeping and quietly returned to the
fort a short distance away. There they tied the rope at the gate where the sentry
stood to the foot of a hog.
There were a total of 53
French who were in the two big boats and canoes leaving Onondaga. When they
left in their boats the water had frozen overnight so the going was tough to
break the ice with their staves to push through. The ice ended when they
reached the mouth of the small river where they went down with the current of a
bigger river until they eventually reached Lake Ontario. They kept watch but
did not see any Iroquois chasing them in revenge. Radisson was to learn later
that the Iroquois rested for seven days before discovering their absence. Every
time they went to the fort and rang the bell it tugged on the hog that was
still tied to the rope.
They passed what Radisson
now called "the isle of murder" where the Huron woman was found half-starved.
They all knew it was the island because the Huron woman was with them. (She had
been asked days before to join them because she was Christian). They had bad
weather during their journey back to New France. Since it was much colder going
north, the ice was hazardous for them to navigate. One of their vessels ran
aground but they were able to free it up and guide it to a small natural
harbor. Of the four in the canoe, three died of hypothermia trying to swim
ashore but one survived.
Six weeks passed by the time
they reached Montreal. There was still a lot of ice and the going was very
rough but they were able to make it through the troublesome spots and there
rested among their countrymen in Montreal. It was the end of March by the time
their pains were over and had reached Quebec. For Radisson, 14 days later he
was back in Three Rivers where he was reunited with his family and his
brother-in-law Grosseilliers. There he only remained a month until he left with
Grosseilliers for a voyage into the interior of the New World that was to
change the course of history.