The Great Peace of Montreal was a peace treaty between New France and 40 First Nations of North America. It was signed on August 4, 1701, by Louis-Hector de Callière, governor of New France, and 1300 representatives of 40 aboriginal nations.
The French, allied to the Hurons and the Algonquians, provided 16 years of peaceful relations and trade before war started again. Present for the diplomatic event were the various peoples; part of the Iroquois confederacy, the Huron peoples, and the Algonquian peoples.
This has sometimes been called the "Grand Settlement of 1701." Not to be confused with the Act of Settlement 1701.
The foundation of Quebec City in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, one of the first governors of New France, marked the beginning of the systematic exploitation of the great northern forests by traders from Metropolitan France. Control over the fur trade became a high-stakes game among Native American tribes, as all of them wanted to be the Europeans' chosen intermediary. The "Fur Wars" soon see the Hurons and Algonquins, supported by the French, pitted against the Iroquois of the powerful League of Five Nations, who were supported first by New Netherland, and later by the English when they took New Amsterdam in the 1660s and 1670s, renaming it New York City.
In the first half of the 17th century, the Dutch-allied Iroquois made substantial territorial gains against the French-allied Indians, often threatening French settlements at Montreal and Trois-Rivières. In an attempt to secure the colony, in 1665 the Carignan-Salières Regiment was sent to New France. Their campaign in 1666 devastated a number of Mohawk communities, who were forced to negotiate a peace. A period of prosperity followed for France's colony, but the Iroquois, now supported by the English, continued to expand their territory to the westward, fighting French allies in the Great Lakes region, and again threatening the French fur trade. In the 1680s the French became actively involved in the conflict again, and they and their allied Indians made significant gains against the Iroquois, including incursions deep into the heartland of Iroquoia (present-day Upstate New York). After a devastating raid by the Iroquois against the settlement of Lachine in 1689, and the entry the same year of England into the Nine Years' War (known in the English colonies as King William's War), Governor Frontenac organized raiding expeditions against English communities all along the frontier with New France. French and English colonists, and their Indian allies, then engaged in a protracted border war that was formally ended when the Treaty of Ryswick was signed in 1697. The treaty, however, left unresolved the issue of Iroquois sovereignty (both France and England claimed them as part of their empire), and French allies in the upper Great Lakes continued to make war on the Iroquois.
Prelude to peace
The success of these attacks, which again reached deep into Iroquois territory, and the inability of the English to protect them from attacks originating to their north and west, forced the Iroquois to more seriously pursue peace. Their demographic decline, aided by conflicts and epidemics, put their very existence into doubt. At the same time, commerce became almost nonexistent because of a fall in price of furs. The Indians preferred to trade with the merchants of New York because these merchants offered better prices than the French.
Preliminary negotiations took place in 1698 and 1699, but these were to some degree frustrated by the intervention of the English, who sought to keep the Iroquois from negotiating directly with the French. After another successful attack into Iroquoia in early 1700, these attempts at intervention failed. The first conference between the French and Iroquois was held on Iroquois territory at Onondaga in March 1700. In September of the same year, a preliminary peace treaty was signed in Montreal with the five Iroquois Nations. Thirteen Native American symbols are on the treaty. After this first entente, it was decided that a bigger one would be held in Montreal in the summer of 1701 and all Nations of the Great Lakes invited. Selected French emissaries, clergy and soldiers, all well-perceived by the Native Americans, were given this diplomatic task. The negotiations continued during the wait for the big conference; the neutrality of the Five Nations was discussed in Montreal in May 1701.
The first delegations arrived in Montreal at the beginning of the summer of 1701, often after long, hard journeys. The ratification of the treaty was not agreed to immediately, due to the discussions between the Native American representatives and Governor Callières dragging on, both sides being eager to negotiate as much as possible. The actual signing of the document took place on a big field prepared for the special occasion, just outside the city. The representatives of each Nation placed their tribe's symbol, most often an animal, at the bottom of the document. A great banquet followed the solemn occasion, with a peace pipe being shared by the chiefs, each of them praising peace in turn. This treaty, achieved through negotiations according to Native American diplomatic custom, was meant to end ethnic conflicts. From then on, negotiation would trump direct conflict and the French would agree to act as arbiters during conflicts between signatory tribes. The Iroquois promised to be neutral in case of conflict between the French and English colonies.
Commerce and exploratory expeditions quietly resumed in peace after the signing of the treaty. The French explorer Cadillac left Montreal to explore the Great Lakes region, eventually founding the city of Detroit, which had a promising future. Jesuit priests resumed their spiritual mission-based work in the north. The Great Peace of Montreal is a unique diplomatic event in the history of the Americas. The treaty is still valid and recognized as such by the Native American tribes involved.
The French, in negotiating followed their traditional policy in the Americas, where the relationship with the natives was characterized by mutual respect and admiration and based on dialogue and negotiation. According to the 19th century historian Francis Parkman:
"Spanish civilization crushed the Indian; English civilization scorned and neglected him; French civilization embraced and cherished him"—Francis Parkman.
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A square in Old Montreal was renamed Place de la Grande-Paix-de-Montréal to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the peace. Several locations in Quebec are named for the Petun leader Kondiaronk, one of the architects of the peace, including the Kondiaronk Belvedere in Mount Royal Park overlooking downtown Montreal.
- Charlotte Gray 'The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder' Random House, 2004
- Quoted in Cave, p.42
- Alfred A. Cave The French and Indian War 2004 Greenwood Press ISBN 0-313-32168-X
- Atherton, William. Montreal, 1535-1914
- Eccles, W. J. Biography of Denonville at DCB
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