Wordcarpenter Books
The Life of Radisson
Chapter Nineteen

Huronia Jesuit Mission and Brebeuf

It is here in the narrative that additional historical information sheds deeper light on what happened to Radisson from New France when he paddled and portaged 800 miles to the Jesuit mission eight years after Brebeuf was martyered. There was a history of European presence helps put Radisson's impact in perspective.

In respect to Brebeuf's story and how it relates to Pierre Radisson, they both traveled the same 800-mile Ottawa Rvier route because the St. Lawrence River route through Lake Ontario was blockaded by the Iroquois - the "pirates of the fur trade." The Ottawa River route brought the Frenchmen through friendly territories until finally reaching Georgian Bay, the home water of the Hurons. The Nipissirinians and Algonquin tribes were friendly allies to the French. Like Radisson and Groseilliers, they paddled and portaged light bark canoes for days from Three Rivers along the St. Lawrence River to where they took the Ottawa River north to where it meets the Mattawa River down to Lake Nipissing and then connecting with the French River to Georgian Bay. The Hurons usually kept food caches (ground corn) hidden alond the route but often they were missed and all had to go hungry. (The corn would be mixed with water to create gruel). Brebeuf relates that there are as many as 35 portages along the rugged terrain due to waterfalls and rapids. Radisson was suffering the hardships of the journey just as Brebeuf, but the difference was that he was not doing it for God; he was doing it for profit and adventure. For Brebeuf, it was for God: "To be sure, I was at time so weary that my body could do no more. But at the same time my soul was filled with great happiness as I realized that I was suffering this for God. No one can know this feeling unless he has experienced it."[1]

Radisson and Brebeuf both traveled with the Hurons but it was Brebuef who wrote down some instructions for future missionaries in 1637. We can only assume these guidelines were shared by all the Frenchmen who traveled at this time along the Ottawa River route:

q      You must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers

q      You must never keep the Indians waiting at the time of embarking

q      Carry a tinder-box or a piece of burning-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking, and in the evening when it is necessary to camp; these little services win their hearts

q      Try to eat the food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours

q      Eat as soon as day breaks, for Indians, when on the road, eat only at the rising and the setting of the sun

q      Be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe

q      Be the least troublesome to the Indians

q      Do not ask many questions; silence is golden

q      Bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to be and to appear cheerful

q      Carry with the half-gross of awls, two or three dozen little folding knives (jambettes), a hundred or so fish-hooks, and some plain and fancy beads with which to buy fish or other commodities from the nations you meet, in order to feat your Indian companions, and be sure to tell them from the outset that here is something with which to buy fish

q      Always carry something during the portages

q      Do not be ceremonious with the Indians

q      Do not begin to paddle unless you intend always to paddle

q      The Indians will keep later that opinion of you which theu have formed during the trip

q      Always show any other Indians you meet on the way a cheerful face and show that you readily accept the fatigues of the journey[2]


Theft and abandonment were also common during these trips. Father Davost was stolen from and then forced to leave his equipment behind until he was finally left to his own fate on the island among the Algonquins (Allumette Island). Paul Le Jeune wrote in his Relation of 1632-33, "to steal, and not to be discovered, is a sign of superior intelligence among them... I learn that the Hurons consider a man very clever who can escape the hand of a thief, or who knows who to steal without being caught. But if he is discovered, you may whip him as much as you like and he will say nothing. He suffers his punishment patiently, not as a penalty for his crime, but for his awkwardness in being caught. "[3]

But in general, the Hurons regarded the Frenchmen as intelligent. Timepieces and tools were examples of the innovation of Europeans. The Hurons were a people devoted to interpreting and acting on their dreams. The dream was an oracle to be acted upon at once. To Brebeuf, their dreams were the principal God of the Hurons. But it was their belief in an afterlife that brought them to Christianity. Soon mothers wanted their children baptized and to be given instruction of God's word. But it would take seven years to get his first adult convert. It is recorded that Pierre Tsiouendaentaha, a man of 50, was baptized on June 9, 1637, that caused a stir among the Hurons. It was during this year that the Hurons had grown quite hostile towards the missionaries after stories spread that it were the missionaries who were the ones that had caused the sickness to come. Brebeuf informed Quebec that the situation was bad in a letter signed by five Jesuits, one being Father Paul Ragueneau. In 1640 Brebeuf and Chaumonot were severely beaten by the Huron. After the failed mission to the Neutral Nation in 1641 and breaking his clavicle in his shoulder on the trip back to Huronia, Brebeuf was exhausted and in danger. He had become persona non grata in the Huron villages. His superiors decided to remove him from the area and so began three years in New France as procurator (supplier) of the Huron Mission.

The Iroquois kept intercepting supplies sent to the mission that Brebeuf ended up returning in 1644 for his third and final stint at the Huron mission. During these golden years for the mission, the number of baptisms had grown into the thousands.[4] The Iroquois however had grown stronger and were now invading Huron lands and trying to capture the supplies going to the French mission. Father Jogues and other Frenchmen were captured on the St. Lawrence River and cruelly treated by the Iroquois until they were rescued by the Dutch in New Holland (upstate New York near Albany) in 1644. Father Bressani was also captured and tortured while on his way to Huronia in 1942. But it was in 1646 that Father Jogues was captured again, tortured and killed. In 1647 the fear of the Iroquois was so great that no one risked the trip to Three Rivers.

Then things took a turn for the worse. Teanaostaiae, a Huron outpost to the south, was attacked and seized by the Iroquois. It was here where Father Antoine Daniel was martyred defending his flock. But it was a key defensive position and with it now gone, their southern flank was exposed to attack. Never had the mission been so successful than now immanent destruction lay just behind the forest to the south. It would happen on March 15, 1649. Some 1200 Iroquois had left their lands the previous fall and had hunted throughout the winter to be ready for an early raid on the Huron in the early spring. As such, the Iroquois were stealthy when they approached from the Huron's weak side and before light had crept in and slaughtered in the dark. Accounts say that 400 Hurons were killed with only 10 Iroquois slain in the sporatic fighting. Brebeuf and Lalemont were not there having just left for St. Louis, the mission to the north. They were captured and taken prisoner the next day while the Iroquois planned to attack the walled compound of Sainte-Marie the next day. A band of brave Hurons fought off the Iroquois vanguard and thus prevented the attack on Sainte-Marie. The warriors were eventually overrun but at a heavy cost to the Iroquois. The enemy fled back to Iroquois land and left the Huron scrambling to Sainte-Marie as the main village. But in two months the missionaries would destroy their beloved Sainte-Marie mission and moved to Christian Island in the Bay. They would leave for Quebec the following year and end the French missionary activities in Huronia. It was only two years later that Peirre Radisson would suffer the same tortures as Brebeuf and Lalemant at the hands of the Iroquois. Eight years later Radisson would paddle past the smoldering remains of the French mission.

The only witness to Radisson's torture was Radisson himself, and disagreement as to its objectivity has been raised by historians. But there is Paul Ragueneau's account that records Brebeuf's torture, the same Father Ragueneau who would hire Radisson to be his interpreter on his mission to the Iroquois in 1657 to 1658. Ragueneau's account gives us some idea of the torture methods and preferences of the Iroquois at the time.

As soon as they were taken captive, they were stripped naked, and some of their nails were torn out; and the welcome which they received upon entering the village of St. Ignace was a hailstorm of blows with sticks upon their shoulders, their loins, their legs, their breasts, their bellies, and their faces - there being no part of their bodies which did not then endure its torment.

Father Jean de Brebeuf, overwhelmed under the burden of these blows, did not on that account lose care for his flock; seeing himself surrounded with Christians whom he had instructed, and who were in captivity with him, he said to them: "My children, let us lift our eyes to heaven at the height of our afflictions; let us remember that God is the witness of our sufferings, and will soon be exceeding great reward. Let us die in this faith; and let us hope from his goodness the fulfillment of his promises. I have more pity for you than for myself; but sustain with courage the few remaining torments. They will end with our lives; the glory which follows them will never have an end."

"Echon," they said to him..."our spirits will be in heaven when our bodies shall be suffering on earth. Pray to God for us, that he may show us mercy; we will invoke him even until death."

Some Huron infidels - former captives of the Iroquois, naturalized among them, and former enemies of the Faith - were irritated by these words, and because our Fathers in their captivity had not their tongues captive. They cut off the hands of one, and pierce the other with sharp awls and iron points; they apply under their armpits and upon their loins hatchets heated red in the fire, and put a necklace of these about their necks in such a way that all the motions of their bodies gave them a new torture...They put about them belts of bark, filled with pitch and resin, to which they set fire, which scorched the whole of their bodies.

...Father Jean de Brebeuf suffered like a rock, insensible to the fires and the flames, without uttering any cry, and keeping a profound silence, which astonished his executioners themselves. No doubt, his heart was then reposing in his God. Then, returning to himself, he preached to those infidels, and still more to many good Christian captives, who had compassion on him.

His tormentors, indignant at his zeal, in order to hinder him from speaking any further of God, slashed his mouth, cut off his nose, and tore off his lips. But his blood spoke much more loudly than his lips had done, and, his heart not yet being torn out, his tongue not fail to render him service until the last sigh, for blessing God for these torments, and for animating the Christians more vigorously than he had ever done.

In derision of holy baptism...those enemies of the faith, conceived the idea of baptizing them with boiling water. They poured it over the Fathers' bodies in great quantities, two or three times, and more, with biting jibes, which accompanied these torments. "We baptize thee," they said, "to the end that thou mayest be blessed in heaven; for without peoper baptism one cannot be saved."...

These were infidel Hurons, former captives of the Iroquois, and, of old, enemies of the faith - who, having previously had sufficient instruction for their salvation, impiously abused it - in reality, for the glory of the Fathers. But it is to be feared that it was also for their own misfortune.

...Their tortures were not of the same duration. Father Jean de Brebeuf was at the height of his torments at about three o'clock on the same day of the capture, the 16th day of March, and rendered up his soul about four o'clock in the afternoon. Father Gabriel Lalemant endured longer, from six o'clock in the evening, until about nine o'clock the next morning, the 17th of March.

Before their death, both their hearts were torn out, by means of an opening above the breast; and their tormentors feasted on them...While still quite full of life, pieces of flesh were removed from their thighs, from the calves of their legs, and from their arms - which these executioners placed on coals to roast, and ate in their sight.

They had slashed the bodies of the Fathers in various parts; and in order to increase the feeling of pain, they had thrust into these wounds red-hot hatchets.

Father Jean de Brebeuf had had the skin that covered his skull torn away. They had cut off his feet and torn the flesh from his thighs, even to the bone, and had split, with the blow of a hatchet, one of his jaws in two...

But let us leave these objects of horror, and these signs of cruelty, since one day all those parts will be endowed with an immortal glory, the greatness of their torments will be the measure of their happiness, and, from now on, they live in the repose of the saints, and will dwell in it forever.[5]

This was the end of the man who had converted 7000 Hurons through baptism. He was 56 years old when his martyrdom took place.

The Second Vatican Council tells us "by martyrdom a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master, who freely accepted death on behalf of the world's salvation; he perfects that image even to the shedding of blood."[6] In his death Brebeuf became a martyr but the affects of the wars with the Iroquois and disease has changed the population from 30,000 to 12,000. By the time of the final collapse of Huronia, only 1000 Hurons were left.

The Hurons featured prominently in Radisson's and Brebeuf's lives. A great trading nation situated strategically along the water routes, they were shrewd traders. They traded corn, flour and tobacco for European trade goods such as pots, knives and fish-hooks and were able to acquire large quantities of what the French wanted the most: furs. Every June or July they paddled in their canoes to Three Rivers to trade with the French.

The Dutch, who had their power base in the New World beside the land of the Five Nations, supplied and abetted the Iroquois in their attacks against the French and the Hurons. It was said that the Iroquois had ten times more muskets than the Hurons. And with only 100 soldiers in New France, the Iroquois were successful in their attacks. It was all about the fur trade and meeting the demands for the markets in Europe. This source of the fervor had its ripple effects deep into the interior of the New World through these water routes that went farther past the first European mission so far west in the Great Lakes water system. The mission was started in 1615 and ended with the Iroquois invasions in 1650. Quebec had been founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, so in French Canada at the time Huronia was by far the farthest west European settlement in North America. The first Europeans to Huronia were Father LeCaron and Samuel Champlain on August 4th. Ettiene Brule was there at the first mass on the shores of Georgian Bay. They stayed the winter and left the following May and there was no more missionary work done until 1623 when Father LeCaron returned with two other Rocellets, Father Nicholas Viel and Brother Gabriel Sagard and some Frenchmen. LeCaron and Sagard returned to Quebec the next summer but Viel stayed, only to be drowned just north of Montreal Island in 1625. And it was 1626 when through the intervention of Champlain, he was taken with returning Hurons to Georgian Bay to begin the mission in earnest. Besides Brebeuf, there were Father Joseph de la Roche Daillon and Father Anne de Noue, who was a Jesuit. Noue was unable to grasp the language and returned to New France only to freeze to death in 1646 on the St. Lawrence near Sobel. De la Roche Daillon returned in 1628 in poor health. And it was only due to the captitulation of Quebec to the Kirke Brothers that Brebeuf left in 1629. Again missionary work in Huronia stopped but some Frenchmen continued on there. The names of these valiant Frenchmen have been lost to history.

The adventuresome and unruly coureur-de-bois Etiene Brule was murdered near Toanche in June 1633. On Christmas Day in 1635 Samuel de Champlain, champion of the Huron mission and friend of the missionaries, died. The prevailing perspective of life west of Quebec could be summed up by Champlain himself: "Out there, in this great land, in every direction, roam savage tribes living like beasts."[7]

The Huron decimation occurred in the 1640s and 1650s at the hands of the Dutch-supplied Iroquois, on a mission to expand their power and take hold of more of the fur trade. The tipping of the old balance of power was due to increased European influence in the region, especially the Dutch trading muskets for furs in the southeast.


Sainte-Marie was built to service the Huron and Tobacco tribes of the Algonquin Indians. In the year before its destruction, the mission housed over 60 Frenchmen and 3000 Hurons, roughly one-fifth of the European population of New France at the time. Small pox, measles and influenza hampered missionary effort for years until the Jesuits burned and evacuated the mission in 1649. To revised population numbers are estimated to be 22500 pre-European contact, but decimated by 70 percent after European interaction.

The first martyr in New France was the lay apostle (donne) Rene Goupil in 1642. Captured with Isaac Jogues by Iroquois while leaving Montreal for Huronia, Goupil was selected for death after he had given a child the sign of the cross in an action of unchecked compassion. The father of the child objected and since the Iroquois hated seeing a Christian give the sign of the holy, so they chose to kill him with hatchet blows. It is more than likely that Radisson too would not be inclined to do the sign of the cross with his hands among the Iroquois. Historians have noted that the Dutch refrained from making the sign of the cross in the New World. And the Iroquois didn't like when a Christian knelt to pray. This was another "no-no." Many a Frenchman back in the early days of western exploration along the waterways of Canada made this mistake and were killed for it. The Indians didn't want any magic spells cast over them or invocations. Besides, it was poor manners.

Besides Jean de Brebeuf, the other most famed Jesuit martyr in the New World was Isaac Jogues, a man who was killed by a tomahawk yet whose martyrdom really lasted from 1642-46. Inspired by Brebeuf's exploits in the New World, he sailed for New France in 1636 and immediately left for Huronia, taking only 19 days to reach the mission. His Indian name was "Ondessonk" (bird of prey). His first mission among the Tobacco Indians proved futile as he was met with only suspicion and reticence. He then focused his energies on the mission at Sainte-Marie in 1639 when it started in earnest. He and his party made it to the gateway between Lake Huron and Lake Superior in 17 days leaving from the mission. This trip to the Sault yielded the important information that many tribes lived to the north and northwest, the Sault Indians numbering an estimated 2000. For the Jesuits, the apostolic potential was alluring. With the exception of Coronado exploring the south of the United States from Mexico in the mid 16th-century, Isaac Jogues was the first European to reach that far west in North America.

The next summer Jogues paddled back to Quebec without mishap but after only a day of traveling back to Huronia did the Iroquois capture him. Tortured for months, he managed an escape with the connivance of the Dutch when he was with an Iroquois fishing expedition in the summer of 1643. Jogues gave his Iroquois guards the slip and he was taken down to New Amsterdam where he caught a ship back to France. Like Radisson, he arrived back in France only to once again leave for the lure of the New World and leave the comforts and old aches of France behind. But it was Jogues who was first and who had large impact on both the religious community's feelings about the Jesuits in the New World, and the awareness of France's new settlements among the general populace in France. When Jogues appeared in tattered clothes and his scars still healing, he was hailed as a Lazarus who had come back from the dead. Jogues met with royalty and religious men of power but he never wavered in his zeal to return to North America to continue his mission among the Indians. He left in the spring of 1644. But he was never to set foot in Huronia again. Instead he was assigned to a post to administer to the Iroquois from Quebec, so he could use his Language skills to try to broker peace against and ever-rambunctious Iroquois war parties. In 1646, on his second peace-brokering attempt, and after their Huron guides had taken off after leaving Three Rivers, Jogues and Jean de la Lande were taken prisoner and tortured and put to death. No record survives of his death, only that he fell to a tomahawk.

It is important to see the uncanny parallel with Radisson's post-torture life. He too, returned to New France after escaping extreme torture at the hands of the Iroquois. But Radisson, like Jogues, returned to the Iroquois rather than staying far away from them. They both returned to the scene of the crime to use their language skills to broker peace. They both tempted fate and it was Jogues who was killed. Perhaps Radisson and the Frenchmen at the village in Mohawk country would have been massacred had it not been for Radisson catching wind of their plot to kill all the Frenchmen. It was Radisson's guitar-playing escape that changed his fate.

After the closing of the Jesuit mission in Huronia, there was a push to preach among the Iroquois. Thus, beginning with the first contact between the Jesuits and the Indians of central New York and the Mohawk Valley in the summer of 1654, Father Simon le Moyne established peace between the Five Nations and the Jesuits, agreeing to supply Onondaga with Blackrobes the following year. The first mass among the Iroquois happened November 14, 1655 near the present site of Manlius. In 1657 during Radisson's venture to Iroquois territory, there were 50 Frenchmen and six Jesuits in the party that arrived on Lake Onondaga. They established a settlement and the Jesuits administered to the 1000 Christians there and stepped up their efforts to convert more. But the Dutch, based at Fort Orange, incited the Mohawks against the French to drive them from the territory. Friendly Indians warned Radisson and the French about the impending ambush and the French withdrew after a big feast. Only the cunning and planning of Radisson and his colleagues led to the survival of the colony.

It took another ten years after this withdrawl from Iroquois lands before the French sent in the army and destroyed three Mohawk villages before there was confirmed peace. By 1668 there were Jesiut missionaries in all Five Nations. It wasn't until 1709 during Queen Anne's War that the Jesuits were recalled from the Mohawk Valley because of the war between the French and the British.


In Paul Ragueneau's writings collected in Jesuit Relations published by the Vatican, we can get a good picture of the zeitgeist of the time in relation to the Iroquois attacks to not only the French settlements but of the Hurons and Algonquins.

"But there is an evil more dreadful than famine. The Iroquois terror menaces the whole country. They exercise their ferocity and vent their rage daily more and more on the few remaining Algonquins and Hurons and now they are throwing the weight of their fury against our French settlements.

"Only a few days ago, near Three Rivers, another band of twenty-five to thirty Iroquois were bold enough to attack, in full daylight, more than sixty of our people, who had gone in search of them. These wretches went up to their waists in mud and marsh, hid in the bull-rushes and fired their arms from there, whence they could not be reached. When they were too hard pressed they took flight in their canoes. Our people cannot always march in companies, many remain behind. The Iroquois saw that they were scattered, turned around and attacked those in front. When they saw that our forces were uniting, they took flight again in orderly fashion and after a while came back for still another attack. In short, they are Proteuses that change their shape at every moment, and we must not imagine that they lack either leadership or courage.

"In this battle we lost some of our best soldiers and other were seriously injured. When the Iroquois saw themselves too hotly pressed, they organized an orderly retreat that had nothing loose about it. Of course, the leader and chief of these enemies of the faith was a Hollander or rather the monstrous offspring of a sinful union between a Dutch heretic father and pagan mother.

"How long will God allow this country to continue to be a land of horror, when, without these wild men, it could be a land of paradise? Because, were it not for their cruelty, the Name of God would have been preached to a large number of infidel people, who are still to be converted, the Cross of Jesus Christ would have brought light to the pagan darkness that reigns there and heaven would have been opened to a million poor souls who now seem doomed to Hell.

"Before the winter sets in we expect three hundred Christian Hurons to come and swell the numbers in our new colony. Six hundred men from the Neutral Nation have given their word that, early next summer, they will come and ask for arms and help to attack the Iroquois, with whom they are now at open warfare. At the same time, we must strike at this enemy of the faith and find a way of bringing the war into his own country. With one successful year and a drive worthy of the zeal, which so many holy souls have for the conversion of the Indians, we could wipe out this handful of people, who live only to overthrow the work of God.

"After that, our hopes would bloom afresh and the glory of our churches would be even greater than were the innocence and sanctity of those whose ruin we now deplore."[8]


We hear the word and are aware of the work done by the Jesuits but but who exactly were the Jesuits and what precisely was their mission? The Jesuits are "the knight at arms of Jesus and the Virgin" according to its founder Ignatius Loyola in 1534 in Monmartre, France. After having his leg wounded while fighting against the French at Pamplona, he studied the Bible during his recovery. It was this that brought him to 12 years of study at various universities in Spain and France until forming "The Company of Jesus." Seven men took vows to poverty, chastity and obedience and took their orders from Pope Paul III. The Company of Jesus had "loyalty to the Holy See expressed in a special vow to go anywhere in the world at the Pope's behest." Their main task was education and secondary to it were foreign missions. Loyola, the first leader of these "instruments in the hand of God," died in 1556, one year before Radisson's first job as interpretor and guide for the Jesuit Ragueneau into Iroquois territory.



Chapter Twenty

Radisson and Groseilliers Go West

By the middle of June the group of adventurers ventured west down the St. Lawrence "for the common good." There were 35 men in all, 29 Frenchmen and six Indians. They departed in the middle of the night to avoid the notice of any Iroquois spies that are usually waiting on the outskirts of the colony. They stopped in Montreal where they picked up eight more Indians and two more Frenchmen. Their departure from Mount Royal was without the firing of the guns. Of the company, the Hurons were the most experienced fur traders. Radisson and to a lesser extent Groseilliers, were the ones who were lacking in this type of experience.

They make good time away from New France, down the river singing and paddling, occasionally going to shore to kill a wild beast for supper. Those who did go ashore to kill a deer for their kettle were warned by Radisson and some others to be careful because the forests were full of enemy Iroquois.

"You sound like a woman!" the hunters said, laughing at him.

Radisson mumbled to himself: "That pride has such power that they thought themselves masters of the earth! But they will see themselves soon mistaken. How that great God takes care of the most wild creatures, and wills that every man confesses his faults, gives them grace to come to obedience for the preservation of their lives and sends them a remarkable power and ordnance, which should give terror and retinue to those poor misled people from the way of assurance."[9]

When one of these hunting parties was on shore looking for wild game, they came across a man alone in the woods who was an Iroquois. He had a hatchet in his hand and was making signs that he wanted to go with them. Most were afraid of him because he was the enemy so they approached him in fear of some plot. As they neared the man, he dropped his hatchet to show that he came in peace, begging them to come nearer to him.

"I am your friend. I would lose my life to save yours," said the Iroquois. "For I might have escaped your sight, but I fear not death." The Iroquois walked forward where he was immediately surrounded by Hurons and Radisson, who tie him up and put the Iroquois in a boat. There, tied up, he began singing his death song.

Once he's done his song, he speaks to all of them: "Brethren, the day the sun is favorable to me, appointed me to tell you that you are witnesses before I die. Neither can they escape their enemies that are spread up and down everywhere, that watches all moments their coming to destroy them. Take great courage brethren, sleep not. The enemy is at hand. They wait for you. They are so near that they see you, and hear you, and are sure that you are their prey. Therefore I was willing to die to give you notice. For my part that what I have been I am a man and commander in the wars, and took several prisoners, yet I would put myself in death's hands to save your lives. Believe me, keep together. Spend not your powder in vain, thinking to frighten your enemy by the noise of your guns. See if the stones of your arrows be not bent or loose. Bend your bows, open your ears, and keep your hatchets sharp to cut trees to make you a fort. Do not spend much grease to grease yourselves, but keep it for your bellies. Stay not too long in the way. It's robbery to die with conduct."

Most of who heard the Iroquois' words did not grasp the importance of his meaning except for the Hurons who heard him and Radisson.

"What this man said is likely true and not a trap because I have experienced the terror of this warlike people," said Radisson to his fellow Frenchmen, but they laughed and told him he was scared.

"The Iroquois is a dog and a hen and a woman and should be burned when they reach the Huron country," they said. For the rest of the day they were full of exclamations of this theme, not knowing what lay in store for them right around the corner.

That night there was no fire because they already had meat ready to eat, and the canoes were turned over for makeshift tents. It could have been that way because of what the prisoner had said, since in this posture they were quite ready for a quick departure if need be. The French began to moan for the luxuries they had just left, which made Radisson think about what it's going to be like later on during the journey.

At the break of day they left their place on the shore and paddled west along the river until they saw about twelve boats full of Iroquois in front of them. Shots were exchanged and there were lots of yelling before Radisson's company broke up in different directions in utter confusion. The Iroquois bunched together and, like ducks cowering in the face of an eagle, they heaped themselves together on shore to quickly build a fort.

With the first jolt of fear over with, they were able to cut down some trees and build a fort in two hours, ready to defend themselves from an Iroquois assaul. As they waited for the Iroquois to attack them on the shore, the prisoner was brought out and then swiftly dispatched, burned and roasted and eaten. Of the twenty who were scattered and outside their fort, some returned but thirteen had been killed or taken prisoner. The Iroquois decided to leave them alone and to build a fort similar to theirs. There they built a fire and ate the human flesh of their prisoners.

At nightfall the Iroquois filtered out of their fort towards Radisson's company, hidden in the darkness so the Huron snuck out to one side of their fort and left some "merchandise" for the attacking Iroquois to deflect thieir attack. It worked as they took the booty that Radisson's group had brought from New France, and then stole four of their boats so they were forced to alter their cargo. It was then that there was dissent among them as the Indians complained that the French could not swim well enough and thus put them all in danger. Among the French there was discussion of returning.

The Frenchmen resolved to give an end to such labours and dangers. They found themselves incapable of following the wildmen who went with all the speed possible night and day for the fear that they were in. The Jesuit fathers pleaded with the Huron men to help guide them on their way but they refused, saying that the French should be able do it themselves. Radisson and Groseilliers made it clear that they would continue on their journey or die on the way. They had some tricks up their sleeve and would persevere no matter what hardship they encountered. The Huron encouraged them to stick with them but they weren't so enthusiastic to the other Frenchmen due to their lack of experience, ignorance navigating the river and in dealing with hostile Indians. In the end, all of the Frenchmen except Radisson and Groseilliers decided to turn back to Quebec.

It was a great change in the make up of the group to see over thirty Europeans return east to the safety of Three Rivers. Just the two of them were there now with the Hurons, encouraging one another, and both willing to live and die with one another.

They traveled only at night while they were in enemy territory, enduring many labors and vexations. It was hunger that tormented them most since hunting on the shore was not allowed. The only food was fish, which was caught from a line that the Hurons had dangling from their canoes as they went along at night. They were no bigger than Radisson's hand. Once they reached rocky shores they found shells stuck to the rock that they chiseled off the stone with rocks. They boiled all of gooey innards (guts and all) into one big kettle full that ended up black and sticky like glue. It was nauseous but did give them some nourishment. Once they were closer to the lake of the Hurons, they were able to pick some gooseberries and blackberries though they were not yet ripe. Their feet and legs were scraped with thorns in a heap of blood.

Having taken the Ottawa River northwest from the St. Lawrence Rvier, they paddled for hundreds of miles against the stream until they branched off the Mattawa River where they saw bears that they tried to force into the water to kill them but were unsuccessful. When they reached Lake Nippissing there were many deer, beavers, bears and fish. On the way down the French River they came to a place with such an abundance of otters that Radisson thought they might hinder their passage. Here they shot otter with arrows, choosing not to shoot them with guns because they had found some tracks that they believed were their enemy.

They rode the easy current down the French River that emptied into the northern portion of Georgian Bay. The bay was full of rocks, small islands, and fish you could see in the crystal clear water. It connected directly to Lake Huron to the south and to Lake Superior through the North Channel. It was here the party split into two groups, Radisson and Groseilliers going west with seven boats and the rest paddled due south to their homes along the east coast of the Bruce Peninsula near Huronia.

[1] Jesuit Relations, The Huron Relation of 1635, Jean de Brebeuf

[2] Ibid., p. 13-14

[3] Ibid., p. 17

[4] It was recorded in Relations that the Huron nation at this time populated about 30,000 people.

[5] Cf. Thwaites ed., vol. 34, with slight modifications

[6] Martyrs of New France, edited Angus J. Macdougall, Martyr's Shrine Publication, 1972.

[7] Tender was the Strength; Brebeuf of Huronia, Dorothy B. Norman, Friends of Good Books, Cambridge, 1983

[8] Shadows Over Huronia; The Tragedy of the Jesuit Mission to the Hurons, Paul Ragueneau, p.124-125, as told in the Jesuit Relations (1650), first published in 1965.

[9] Ibid., p. 63-64


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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