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The Life of Radisson
Chapter Eleven

Escape to Fort Orange

The time finally came during late August when he left with his hatchet and knife into the woods to get some wood to fortify a better defense of the village. Radisson asked his brother if he wanted to come with him but he was busy courting a girl whose father happened to be French. He left for the woods at eight o'clock in the morning alone without any provisions and immediately fled towards the Dutch fort along the well-worn trail that the traders took. He followed the direction of the trail but kept off of it, very determined not to be discovered as he very well knew what lay in store for him if he was caught. He ran all day and all night without any food, becoming completely exhausted by the break of day. But the fear of death was what made him overcome his fatigue. The blue sky and the fresh air invigorated him throughout the second day until late afternoon when he came to a clearing in the woods and found a man chopping wood. He saw Radisson as a Mohawk because of the style of his hair and so brought him to his house assuming that he wanted to trade beaver pelts.

"My beaver pelts are hidden nearby," he said to the man. "I can get them tomorrow morning." Since it was late in the day the man trusted his word and fed him some food.

"I am Mohawk but I lived among the French for a while," Radisson told the man, choosing to play his hand close to his chest. "And I have something very important to tell the governor." The man thought for some moments and then gave him paper and a pen to write down what he pleased. The man was surprised to see a savage able to write.

"I will personally take it to the governor for you tonight," said the man. Upon receiving the written message from Radisson, he promised to make haste to the fort and return promptly, agreeing not to tell anyone of his being there. The fort was only two short miles away.

When the man was gone, his wife showed him good countenance and appeared to offer herself to him, but he refused for fear of being ensnared, especially when he was so close to escape. During the night he heard some Indians singing nearby, which scared Radisson out of his mind. He was convinced they were from his village and were about to seize him. This enticed him to declare to the woman that his nation would kill him because he loved the French and the Flemish more than they, and that he had resolved to remain with the French. Thus understanding his fear, she hid him behind some sacks of wheat in a corner for the better part of an hour until the noise stopped.

A little later that same night the man returned with four Frenchmen, one of whom was the man who had first met him during his last visit to the fort.

"Very happy to see you again," said the Frenchman. "Here, take this suit." He handed him a suit in order to disguise himself against any Iroquois spotting him as he traveled the two miles to the safety of the fort. He didn't have anything to give the couple that had taken him in to thank them for their help in saving him from torture and death.

Radisson didn't encounter any Indians on the way to the fort and was greeted warmly the next day by the governor. From his French, he assumed the governor of the Dutch fort was a Frenchman. The governor was generous by giving Radisson European clothes. It was on this day that he met the Jesuit priest Father Noncet, a blackrobe who wrote of his encounter with this young Frenchman who had been living among the Indians. The priest absolved Radisson of his sins and showed him great compassion that Radisson valued and needed during his three-day stay within the fort. There were many Mohawks from his village who came to the fort looking for Radisson three days after he had arrived, including his mother, brother and sisters. If his father had been there, he would have looked harder and been more determined to find him, so he was grateful for his absence.

"Orinha!" yelled his sisters, parading up and down the streets. "Orinha we want you to come home!" they persisted, lamenting at his absence. Many wondered how and why they loved him so much, as they could not appreciate the bond that had developed during his year and a half captivity.

The governor bid him off to a bigger town in the Dutch colony called New Amsterdam, where three weeks later he disembarked for Holland. After six weeks at sea and some boisterous weather, Pierre-Esprit Radisson arrived in Amsterdam on January 4th, 1654. From there he went to his hometown of Rochelle in France where he stayed for the winter and then left on a ship for New France to join his family in the spring.



Chapter Twelve

Becoming an Interpreter for the Jesuits

Radisson was happy to return to his family and countrymen in New France. They had long thought he was dead so seeing him when he arrived in Three Rivers caused them all to celebrate and to look at each other in thankfulness to the Lord for his safe delivery from two years of danger. Radisson lived a domestic life in Three Rivers helping his family farm and build their homestead for a couple of years but the wanderlust that had spurred him on to walk nine miles west of the village that day hunting with his two friends soon began to surface. The beautiful country he had seen while living as a Mohawk and the adventure he had had caused him restlessness, often dreaming of a life outside the confines of European sensability and the limitations of small town living.

In his absence peace had been made with the Iroquois nation, which was the reason why he did not stay long with his family. The French had recently established a "new plantation" in the upper country of the Iroquois in Onondaga country, some 120 miles north of the low country where he had spent his time as captive with the Mohawks. He realized that he had developed a deep love and respect for the people who had taken him in, and his desire to be among them again was too great to quell. It was still a great distance from the village and people of his adopted village in the low country so he wouldn't likely run into his old family, but the languages were so similar between the upper and lower countries of the Iroquois nation that he could understand them.

During this time the Jesuit priests were embarking on a concerted effort to convert the natives to the Christian doctrine in these parts, so Radisson offered his services as guide and interpreter to the blackrobes to aid them in their pursuit. As was their custom, they kindly accepted his offer. A mission with Father Paul Ragueneau was departing in the spring of 1657 so he was once again off to the land of the Iroquois except this time he was going on his own free will.

It was during this period while waiting for the mission to commence to Onandoga that Radisson learned from the Hurons living in Three Rivers about some of their history, which had traditionally been handed down by word of mouth. He learned of a river that led to a great saltwater lake in the north. Radisson was told when the first group of Hurons traveled north into the dense forests to hunt, that winter came sooner than expected and they were forced to take to the water and find a waterway back to whence they came as it would save them time. Soon this group hit mountains of ice and lost many boats but persevered along the river towards the rising sun, eventually finding an opening that led to Hudson Bay, the great saltwater sea. They hugged the coastline until they found a river leading southeast, moving swiftly before the cold slowed them down. It was here the Hurons encountered tribes of Indians whose language they had never heard. They learned that they were enemies of the Iroquois, which gave them favor in the eyes of the Huron. Having a mutual enemy, this unknown tribe north of the far-eastern shores of the St. Lawrence River gave them shelter and food during the winter before the warmer weather returned and they were able to reach the St. Lawrence River and paddle back to their homeland around modern-day Lake Huron.

Radisson learned that the 1649 massacre of Hurons by the Iroquois had left the Hurons severely devastated. Their numbers, once as high as thirty thousand, were now less than one thousand that the Iroquois lost no time to invade their lands for trapping beaver. For the most part the Hurons were assimilated into neighboring tribes, with many moving to New France. The early Jesuits had converted the Hurons to Christianity beginning in 1625 at the Jesuit mission in Midland on Georgian Bay, which had established a long alliance between the two peoples. 

The Iroquois made peace in 1654 with the Hurons but not the Algonquin nation, so when Radisson embarked on his role as interpreter for the Jesuit mission, they had to go to Montreal. This was due to the fact that many Algonquin tribes lived among the French so the Iroquois that would bring the French Missionaries to Onandoga refused to travel to enemy territory. Montreal had become the farthest outpost of the French colony at the time.

When the time came to commence the mission, Radisson had been in Montreal for 15 days waiting for their Iroquois guides to take them into their country when an incident happened that would have grave consequences. Just before reaching the shores of Montreal where the French and the Hurons were waiting for them, one of the Iroquois canoes shipwrecked and sank, leading to the drowning of seven men. The Iroquois immediately sat down to have a council about the incident and initially decided that they should extract revenge against the French and the Hurons when back on their own land because it was them who they were coming for. Then there was debate about the French. Since they now had a fort in their country and had a "strong guard" that could "cause affairs" for them, they decided to revenge only the Hurons.

When they arrived in Montreal their speech was contrary to their intent, promising friendship to all those who they escorted to Onondaga. They exchanged gifts and then set out to find some more canoes because the Hurons who had come to Montreal had taken a French ship. Thereupon thirty boats were secured for the trip since the group numbered about eighty Iroquois, one hundred Huron women and twelve Huron men, and twenty French with two of these twenty being Jesuit priests.

The going was tough the first day due to all the supplies they brought with them. Camping on the shores of the St. Lawrence, the Iroquois were impatient so about thirty of their number left the camp for Quebec to make war against the Algonquin that were there. It was right after the war party of Iroquois left that the remaining Iroquois decided not to carry the Jesuit's "merchandise" and therefore left it behind. The French were obliged to remain behind with one Jesuit priest and his gear, and Radisson and the other Jesuit father kept onwards with their journey. Those left behind were to bring the goods with them later. There were now only about forty French and Huron in the group now traveling with the Iroquois.

It was when they reached Lake St. Francis that the Hurons began to suspect what the Iroquois planned to do with them because they always consulted and held council privately and apart from them. Three men and two women left for the safety of Quebec, leaving the rest of the group (about seven Frenchmen) with the Iroquois. As they left they could be heard singing as they paddled down the middle of the river in a canoe full of the booty the Iroquois had expected to acquire for themselves. The frustrated Iroquois could do nothing because they feared that the remaining thirty-five could also leave. They resolved to carry out their revenge at a prearranged place that happened as follows.

The Iroquois sent about twenty Huron men and women in two of their boats early in the morning towards an island with the remaining Frenchmen and Hurons to follow in boats paddled by Iroquois. Radisson, who was with three Iroquois and one Huron in his boat, noticed that the Iroquois paddled with a posture as if they were going to war. When the flotilla arrived on the rocky shores of the island, one of the Iroquois in Radisson's boat loaded his weapons. Both he and the Huron saw this but neither dreamed of the tragedy that was at hand. With their hatchets the three Iroquois bludgeoned the Huron who was with Radisson. He was completely taken unawares. The Huron, who was still alive, was then shot with a musket. The Huron fell at Radisson's heels and soon his feet were swimming in Huron blood.

"Have courage," said the Iroquois captain to Radisson. "Nothing will happen to you and your countrymen. This is between us and the Huron." He thanked God that he knew some of this lower country Iroquois dialect because if he hadn't he would have been terrified.

Despite being on the other side of the island and cut off by a dense forest, the other Huron could not but help overhear the gunshots and screams. So after the Iroquois pushed the corpse into the water and then all went to the other side of the island, the eight remaining Huron men were ready to defend themselves and their women with their weapons in hand.

"This is as it should be," said the Iroquois captain to his men. "The Huron are brave to draw arms to protect their women." The Iroquois then moved up on an overlooking hil while the Hurons were made to build camp. The Jesuit priest was comforting the Huron women when the Iroquois came bursting out of the woods covered in war paint. Radisson watched, knowing the Huron men would all be slain.

The leader of the Iroquois group approached the captain of the Hurons, a mighty warrior who had killed many Iroquois plain for all to see by the tattoo etchings covering his legs. He was known by both the Huron and the Iroquois as "captain."

"Brother, cheer up," he said to the Huron captain, "and assure yourself you shall not be killed like dogs. You art both man and captain, as I myself am, and will die fighting to defending yourself and your women." The Hurons behind the captain let out a terrible noise when they heard this, and then the captain took hold of the necklace that was around the neck of the Iroquois captain.

"You will not be killed by another hand then by mine," he said, looking the Iroquois warrior straight in the eye. At that instant the cruel Iroquois fell upon the Hurons, as many as wolves, with hatchets, swords and daggers, killing as many as there were, save only one man. The Huron captain was able to kill one Iroquois with his hatchet before himself being killed. The one man that survived was an old man who, seeing that there was no way the Hurons could win, saved the lives of a few Iroquois by stopping some of the Hurons from killing them. This act of decency towards the Iroquois saved his life. Being good to the enemy was something that the Iroquois respected.

All the dead bodies were pushed into the water, and then the Huron women were rounded up. Radisson admired the women for their deep silence, looking to the ground with their coverlets upon their heads with not a sigh heard. Two hours passed until a council was called.

The Jesuit father, treated as the leader of the French, was explained the reasons for the slaying, learning that the Hurons were killed for revenge of their dear comrades that were drowned in coming for them to Montreal.

"I assure you that no harm will come to the French," said the Iroquois captain. "Indeed the revenge murders show that we have only good will and honor towards the French."

When the Jesuit father returned to where Radisson and the other Frenchmen were waiting for word from him, he found five of them standing on guard with arms drawn, expecting that they all should share the same fate as the Hurons. The sixth Frenchman among them was a "lay brother" to the Jesuit priest and too young to carry arms.

"If you cannot fight then you must leave our company," said the Iroquois captain when he saw the lay brother. He then spoke to Radisson and the Frenchmen, assuring them his warriors did not want to kill them. The Jesuit then told them what had transpaired at the council. The Frenchmen were still not convinced because all the cards in front of them showed that they should logically be slain like the Huron. It wasn't until two Iroquois men approached them with weapons, signifying there was nothing between them, and that the Frenchmen were their companions. Finally there was an agreement and understanding that they were their brethren, and so the meat was served. Not all of the Frenchmen were hungry after this, but some did eat.

After the meal, the Jesuit father called another council and, with three pieces of wampum jewelry from the Huron, threw down one of the wampum gifts on the ground between the Iroquois and French.

"I throw this down that it might be accepted as the bond of trust of our friendship between the Huron, French and Iroquois, as it had been between the French and Huron.

"Ho! Ho!" they said, these words signifying an assurance and promise. The father then threw down the second shelled jewelry.

"This is for safe passage of the women whose lives are in your hands to conduct them safely to their country."

"Ho! Ho!" said the Iroquois in acceptance. And the blackrobe threw down the third piece of jewelry.

"And this is to encourage the brave Iroquois to bring the Frenchmen to their country as well as their merchandise in a manner that they will not be wet or be left behind."

"Ho! Ho!" they all said in concurrance. With all three promises made, the Iroquois leader made a speech in front of all that those who were in charge of each boat, telling them to be careful with all the bundles of their passengers, and upon reaching home they were each to give an account to him about the successful transference of all the bundles in their charge.

The Iroquois of Onondaga carried all the bags in a caring manner all the way to the low country.


Table of Contents


          1 - Radisson's Capture by the Iroquois

          2 - How Radisson Earned Respect

          3 - Adoption into a Mohawk Family

          4 - His Escape

          5 - Recapture and Torture

          6 - Endurance

          7 - Acceptance

          8 - Going On the Warpath

          9 - The War Continues

          10 - The Hollanders

          11 - Escape to Fort Orange


          12 - Becoming an Interpreter for the Jesuits

          13 - "Mistrust is the Mother of Safety"

          14 - Meeting Old Friends

          15 - Reaching Onondaga

          16 - Conspiracy to Kill the French

          17 - Fleeing the Fort


          18 - Becoming a Les Voyageurs

          19 - Huronia Jesuit Mission and Brebeuf

          20 - Radisson and Groseilliers Go West

          21 - Reaching the Gateway to Lake Superior

          22 - Exploring Lake Superior





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