|Part of King William's War, Iroquois Wars|
Map of Montreal, 1687 to 1723. The Lachine settlement was located southwest of Montreal proper.
|English-allied Mohawk Nation||New France|
|1,500 warriors||375, mostly civilians|
|Casualties and losses|
|3 Mohawk killed||72 French settlers killed|
The Lachine massacre, part of the Beaver Wars, occurred when 1,500 Mohawk warriors attacked by surprise the small, 375 inhabitant, settlement of Lachine, New France at the upper end of Montreal Island on the morning of August 5, 1689. The attack was precipitated by growing Iroquois dissatisfaction with the increased French incursions into their territory, and was encouraged by the settlers of New England as a way to leverage power against New France. As a result of the attack, a substantial portion of the Lachine settlement was destroyed by fire and many of its inhabitants were captured or killed.
Background and Motivations
The motives present for Iroquois attacks on the French and other native groups are a complex series of economic and cultural circumstances.
The arrival of Europeans was marked by trade affairs such as beaver furs with natives including the Iroquois. However, in the 17th century, the dominance of what historian Daniel Richter refers to as “Francophiles” or French takeover, contributed to an erosion of French-native relations. The French mission to assimilate natives required the abandonment of native tradition, which was met with resistance. By 1667, large numbers of Hurons and other new Iroquois began streaming towards the St Lawrence Valley and its mission villages. Many traditionalists, such as the Mohawk, resented the Jesuits for destroying traditional native society but were unable to do anything to stop them. However, traditionalists reluctantly accepted the establishment of a mission in order to have good relations with the French, whom they needed for trade. This cultural invasion increased tensions between the two factions. The relationship between the French and the Iroquois were strained long before the Lachine Massacre due to French friendliness towards enemy tribes. In 1679, following the end of the Iroquois war with the Andastes and the Mohicans, the Iroquois proceeded to raid native villages in the West, recovering what they considered to be their hunting grounds in the Ohio Valley, which were lost while they fought the Andastes and the Mohicans. As a result, the trading parties of the West that were under French protection were aggressively attacked and pillaged4. Indeed, following military confrontation in 1684, though the Iroquois negotiated a peace treaty with New France governor LeFebvre de LaBarre, the treaty itself leaned heavily in favour of the Iroquois, as it explicitly stated that the Iroquois were free to attack the western Indians. This treaty was considered ignominious by the French Crown, who replaced LaBarre with the marquis de Denonville, who was considerably less tolerant towards Iroquois-Algonquin tension. For the Iroquois, the violence against the French that followed was motivated by a desire for freedom to pursue violence against traditional Iroquois enemies. Mourning wars were also an important cultural factor in native warfare. Natives fought war to “avenge perceived wrongs committed by one people against another”. These Mourning wars were a means to replace the dead within a native community. In times of war, natives would capture other members of another native group in order to rebuild their society. This issue of rebuilding ones society became an essential reason to go to war when diseases like small pox would wipe out large numbers of native people within their communities. As a result, these diseases created a sense of urgency to replace the dead within native communities.
What the Iroquois wanted was not war, but instead a better share of the fur trade. To serve as punishment for attacks on French fur fleets, New France ordered two expeditions under Courcelles and Tracy into Mohawk territory in 1666. These expeditions served to burn villages and destroy much of the Mohawk corn supply. In addition, Denonville’s 1687 invasion of the Seneca country destroyed approximately 1,200,000 bushels of corn, crippling the Iroquois economy. This kind of aggression served as fuel for the Iroquois’ retaliation that was to come. In addition, “Following two decades of uneasy peace, Britain and France declared war against one another in 1689. Despite the 1669 Treaty of Whitehall, in which European forces agreed that Continental conflicts would not disrupt colonial peace and neutrality, the war was fought primarily by proxy in New France and New England, and the British of New York prompted local Iroquois warriors to attack New France's undefended settlements. While the British were preparing to engage in acts of warfare, the inhabitants of New France were ill prepared to defend against the Indian attacks” due to the isolation of the farms and villages. Denonville was quoted saying “If we have a war, nothing can save the country but a miracle of God,”.
On the rainy morning of August 5, 1689, Iroquois warriors used the element of surprise to launch their nighttime raid against the undefended settlement of Lachine. They traveled up the Saint Lawrence River by boat, crossed Lake Saint-Louis, and landed on the south shore of Montreal Island. While the colonists slept, the invaders surrounded their homes and waited for their leader to signal when the attack should commence. They then proceeded to attack the homes, breaking down doors and windows, and dragged the colonists outside to meet their demise. When some of the colonists barricaded themselves within the village's structures, the attackers set fire to the buildings and waited for them to flee the flames. The Iroquois, wielding weapons such as the now famous tomahawk, killed twenty-four French and took more than seventy prisoners. Other sources such as Encyclopædia Britannica claim that 250 settlers and soldiers lost their lives during the “Massacre.” The Iroquois wanted to avenge the 1,200,000 bushels of corn burned by the French, but since they were unable to reach the food stores in Montreal, they kidnapped and killed the Lachine crop producers instead. Lachine also acted as the main departure point for fur westward traveling fur traders, which may have acted as extra motivation for the attack.
Word of the attack spread when one of the Lachine survivors reached a local garrison, three miles (4.8 km) away, and notified the soldiers of the events that had transpired. In response to the attack, two hundred soldiers, under the command of Daniel d'Auger de Subercase, along with 100 armed civilians and some soldiers from nearby Forts Rémy, Rolland and La Présentation, marched against the Iroquois. They were able to defend some of the fleeing colonists from their Mohawk pursuers, but just prior to reaching Lachine they were apprehensively recalled back within the walls of Fort Rolland by order of Governor Denonville, who was attempting to pacify the local Iroquois inhabitants. Governor Denonville had 700 soldiers at his disposal within the Montreal barracks, and could have easily overrun the Iroquois forces, but diplomacy was his decided course of action and he did not utilize his troops to repel the Iroquois attackers.
Numerous attacks from both sides followed, but none were fatal, and the two groups quickly realized the banality of their attempts at driving the other out13. In February of 1690, the French began peace negotiations with the Iroquois. The French returned  captured natives in exchange for the beginnings of peace talks. There were no major French or native raids throughout the 1690s, and even against the will of the English, peace talks continued. This time of relative peace eventually led to the Montreal Treaty of 1701, during which, the Iroquois promised to remain neutral in case of war between the French and English.
Following the events at Lachine, Denonville was recalled to France for matters unrelated to the massacre, and Louis de Buade de Frontenac took over governorship of Montreal in October 1689. Frontenac launched raids of vengeance against the English colonists to the south "in Canadien style" by attacking during the winter months of 1690.
Parkman, one of the first historians to write about natives within the colonial historical narrative, argues that the Iroquois wars “were products of an ‘insensate fury’ and ‘made ambition’ ”. He explains that the reason for the Iroquois to wage wars was due to the extinction of the beaver, their growing dependence on European goods and the extermination of native culture. Parkman argues that the Iroquois had become so dependent on European goods that they needed these items in order to survive. In his research, Parkman had no evidence to support his claims. He assumed that natives’ culture was inferior and that there was in fact probably no real reason for the Iroquois violent attacks. In addition, Parkman’s interpretation also neglects to explain why the Iroquois had waged war against other native groups as well. Parkman’s view would later on be dismissed due to is ethnocentric interpretation of the events. Jose Brandao, a historian specializing in North American Native history, suggests that contemporary analyses of what motivated the Lachine Massacre maintain some form of bias. Brandao criticizes historians Francis Parkman, Charles McIlwain, and George Hunt for citing the growing dependence on European goods (which were, according to these historians, viewed by the Iroquois as superior to other goods) as a reason for Iroquois dissatisfaction and violence. Brando dismisses this theory as a largely ethnocentric interpretation with little evidence to support it. Brandao also dismisses Hunt’s suggestion that natives like Europeans, waged wars for economic reasons.
According to historian Jean-Francois Lozier, the factors influencing the course of war and peace throughout the region of New-France were not exclusive to the relations between the French and Iroquois or those between the French and British crowns. Indeed, there are a number of possible factors that, when considered together, provide context for the Lachine Massacre.
Sources of information regarding victims of the Iroquois in New France are the writings of Jesuit priests; the state registry of parishes in Quebec, Trois-Rivieres, and Montreal; letters written by Marie Guyart (French: Mère Marie de l’Incarnation); and the writings of Samuel Champlain. However, the accuracy of these sources and reports vary. For instance, in the town of Trois-Rivieres, approximately one third of deaths attributed to the Iroquois are missing names .. According to Canadian historian John A. Dickinson, though the cruelty of the Iroquois was real, the threat was neither as constant nor terrible as the sources of the time would like us to believe.
European accounts of the Lachine massacre come from two primary sources, survivors of the attack, and Catholic missionaries in the area:
Initial reports inflated the Lachine death toll significantly, and the final number of deceased, 24, was determined by examining Catholic parish registers following the attack. Catholic accounts of the attack itself also exist. François Vachon de Belmont, the fifth superior of the Sulpicians of Montreal, wrote in his History of Canada:
After this total victory, the unhappy band of prisoners was subjected to all the rage which the cruellest vengeance could inspire in these savages. They were taken to the far side of Lake St. Louis by the victorious army, which shouted ninety times while crossing to indicate the number of prisoners or scalps they had taken, saying, we have been tricked, Ononthio, we will trick you as well. Once they had landed, they lit fires, planted stakes in the ground, burned five Frenchmen, roasted six children, and grilled some others on the coals and ate them.
Surviving prisoners of the Lachine massacre reported that 48 of their colleagues were tortured, burned and eaten shortly after being taken captive. Further, the survivors themselves possessed clear signs and tales of torture. Following the attack, the French colonists retrieved many English-made weapons that the Indians had left behind following their retreat from the island; this incited long-standing hatred of the English colonists of New York into demands for revenge. Unfortunately, Iroquois accounts of the attack are non-existent, but French sources reported that only three of the attackers lost their lives. Because all accounts of the attack are one-sided, reports of cannibalism and parents being forced to throw their children onto burning fires may be greatly exaggerated or apocryphal.
- List of massacres in Canada
- History of Montreal
- Indian massacre
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