ALGONKIN HISTORY ©
[Note: This is a single part of what will be, by my classification, about
240 compact tribal histories (contact to 1900). It is limited to the lower
48 states of the U.S. but also includes those First Nations from Canada and
Mexico that had important roles ( Huron, Assiniboine, etc.).
This history's content and style are representative. The normal process
at this point is to circulate an almost finished product among a peer group
for comment and criticism. At the end of this History you will find links to
those Nations referred to in the History of the Algonkin.
Using the Internet, this can be more inclusive. Feel free to comment or
suggest corrections via e-mail. Working together we can end some of the
historical misinformation about Native Americans. You will find the ego at
this end to be of standard size. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to
your comments... Lee Sultzman.
The Ottawa River Valley which forms the present border between Ontario and
At the time of their first meeting with the French in 1603, the various
Algonkin bands probably had a combined population somewhere in the neighborhood
of 6,000. The British estimate in 1768 was 1,500. Currently, there are almost
8,000 Algonkin in Canada organized into ten separate First Nations: nine in
Quebec and one in Ontario.
Both Algonkin and Algonquin are correct spellings for the name of the tribe,
but Algonquian either refers to their language or,
collectively, to the group of tribes that speak related Algonquian languages.
The source of Algonkin is unclear. Other than the names of their bands, the
Algonkin do not appear to have had a name for themselves as a people. Some
researchers have suggested that Algonkin came from the Maliseet word for "ally,"
but others prefer the Micmac's "algoomeaking"
that translates roughly as "place of spearing fish from the bow of a canoe."
The most likely possibility is the Maliseet word "allegonka" meaning "dancers,"
which Samuel de Champlain might have mistaken for their tribal name while
watching a combined Algonkin, Maliseet, and
Montagnais victory dance in
1603. The first group of Algonkin that the French encountered were the
Kichesipirini who, because their village was located on an island in the Ottawa
River, were called "La Nation de l'Ilse." At first, Algonkin was used only for a
second group, the Weskarini. However, by 1615 the name was applied to all of the
Algonkin bands living along the Ottawa River.
The Iroquois usually
referred to them as the Adirondack, a derogatory name meaning literally "they
eat trees," but they also used the name for several other Algonquian-speaking
tribes south of the St. Lawrence. Among themselves, the Algonkin differentiated
between bands which remained in the upper Ottawa Valley year-round and those
that moved to the St. Lawrence River during the summer - the northerners being
called "Nopiming daje Inini" (inlanders). The French translated this as Gens des
Terres and, in the process, sometimes confused them with Tetes de Boule, their
name for the Attikamek (different Algonquian language) who were part of the
Montagnais or Cree.
Algonquian. If for no other reason, the Algonkin would be famous because
their name has been used for the largest native language group in North America.
The downside is the confusion generated, and many do not realize there actually
was an Algonkin tribe, or that all Algonquian do not belong to the same tribe.
Algonquian is a family of related languages, but it has many dialects, not all
of which are mutually intelligible. Algonquian-speaking peoples dominated most
of the northeastern North America with the exception of Iroquian-speakers in New
York, northern Pennsylvania and southern Ontario. Their range extended from
Hudson Bay southward along the Atlantic coast to North Carolina and west to the
Mississippi River. On the Great Plains, Algonquian-speakers would include
Cheyenne, Arapaho, Gros Ventres, Blackfoot, Cree, and
Ojibwe, and some have even
suggested that the Wiyot and Yurok in northern California speak a distant form
of Algonquian. The dialect of the Algonkin themselves is closely related to that
of the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi making the Algonkin the easternmost
speakers of this group. Although there is some variation between the different
Algonkin bands, most still prefer their traditional language with French or
English being spoken only when necessary.
Algonkin bands in 1630:
Iroquet - Known to the Huron as the Atonontrataronon or Ononchataronon,
they lived along Ontario's South Nation River.
Kichesipirini "people of the great river" - largest and most powerful
group of Algonkin. Known variously as: Algoumequins de l'Isle, Allumette, Big
River People, Gens d l'Isle, Honkeronon (Huron), Island Algonkin, Island
Indians, Island Nation, Kichesippiriniwek, Nation de l'Isle, Nation of the Isle,
and Savages de l'Isle. Main village was on Morrison's (Allumette) Island.
Kinounchepirini (Keinouche, Kinonche, Pickerel, Pike) - sometimes
listed as an Algonkin band, but after 1650 associated with the Ottawa.
Originally found along the lower Ottawa River below Allumette Island.
Matouweskarini (Madawaska, Madwaska, Matouchkarine, Matouashita,
Mataouchkarini, Matouechkariniwek, Matouescarini). The Madawaska River in the
Upper Ottawa Valley.
Nibachis - Muskrat Lake near present-day Cobden, Ontario.
Otaguottaouemin (Kotakoutouemi, Outaoukotwemiwek). Upper Ottawa River above
Otaguottaouemin - (Kotakoutouemi, Outaoukotwemiwek)
Sagaiguninini - (Saghiganirini)
Saginitaouigama - (Sagachiganiriniwek)
Weskarini - (Algonkin Proper, La Petite Nation, Little Nation,
Ouaouechkairini, Ouassouarini, Ouescharini, Ouionontateronon (Huron), Petite
Nation) - North side of the Ottawa River along the Lievre and the Rouge Rivers
Later bands or names associated with the Algonkin: Abitibi (Abitibiwinni),
Barriere, Bonnechere, Dumoine, Kipawa, Lac des Quinze, Mainwawaki (Mainwaki),
Mitchitamou, Ouachegami, Outchatarounounga, Outimagami, Outurbi, Tadoussac,
Temagami, Timiskaming (Temiskaming, Timiscimi).
Barriere Lake (Lac Rapide, Rapid Lake), Dominion Abitibi(Abitibiwinni,
Pikogan), Eagle Village (Kebaowek, Kipawa), Kitcisakik (Grand Lake
Victoria), Kitigan Zibi (Maniwaki, River Desert), Lac-Simon, Timiscamigue (Timiskaming,
Notre Dame du Nord, Ville Marie), Winneway (Long Point), and Wolf Lake
Golden Lake (Pikwakanagan).
Too far north for agriculture, most Algonkin were loosely organized into
small, semi-nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers. In this, they resembled the
closely related Ojibwe. The Algonkin lived somewhat outside the wild rice region
which provided an important part of the diet for other tribes in the northern
Great Lakes. Although a few southern bands were just beginning to grow corn in
1608, the Algonkin relied heavily on hunting for their food which made them
excellent hunters and trappers, skills which quickly attracted the attention of
French fur traders after 1603. The Algonkin also made good use of their
birch-bark canoes to travel great distances for trade, and their strategic
location on the Ottawa River became the preferred route between the French on
the St. Lawrence River and the tribes of the western Great Lakes. Groups of
Algonkin would gather during the summer for fishing and socializing, but at the
approach of winter, they separated into small hunting camps of extended
families. The climate was harsh, with starvation not uncommon. For this reason,
the Algonkin could not afford for someone to become a burden, and were known to
kill their sick, crippled, or badly wounded.
Beside a common language, most Algonquian-speaking tribes shared comparable
creation stories and religious beliefs: a great spirit or supreme creator;
lessor spirits who controlled the elements; a hero figure who taught their
people the skills they needed to survive; evil spirits who caused mischief,
misfortune, or illness; and good spirits who helped the worthy and punished
wrongdoers. There was also a shared belief in a life after death where the
spirits of dead men pursued the spirits of dead animals. However, in contrast to
Christian beliefs, the Algonkin had no concept of a hell or place of eternal
punishment. Dreams were of particular importance to the Algonquian peoples, and
proper interpretation was an important responsibility of their shamans whose
other duties included communication with the spirit world, guiding men's lives,
and healing the sick. On the dark side, there was an almost universal fear of
witchcraft, and Algonquian peoples, the Algonkin included, were very reluctant
to mention their real names to prevent possible misuse by enemies with spiritual
power and evil intent. In various degrees, these beliefs were shared by most
native peoples in North America.
The Algonkin were patrilineal with the right to use specific hunting
territories being passed from father to son, but some Algonquian tribes used
matrilineal descent (traced through the mother) in determining kinship. The
Iroquois to the west and south of the Algonkin were matrilineal and differed
from the Algonkin in several important ways. The most obvious being that the
Iroquois relied heavily on agriculture and lived in large fortified villages.
The Iroquois also had a highly developed central political organization, while
the Algonkin did not. Despite this, the Algonkin were formidable warriors who
used their advantages in transportation and woodland skills to dominate the
Iroquois before the formation of the Iroquian confederacies. When one thinks of
how powerful the Iroquois ultimately became, it was a remarkable achievement.
The Algonkin maintain that their ancestors originally migrated to the upper
St. Lawrence Valley from the east, a tradition they share with the closely
related Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. The timing of this seems to have been
sometime around 1400, but when Jacques Cartier made his first visit to the St.
Lawrence River in 1534, he found Iroquois-speaking peoples living along the
river between Quebec (Stadacona) and the rapids at Montreal (Hochelaga). It is
unclear whether these people were Iroquois or
Huron, but by the time the
French made their first permanent settlement in this area seventy years later,
these so-called "Laurentian" Iroquois had disappeared, the apparent casualties
of a Iroquois-Algonquian war which had occurred in the interim. Some Algonkin
say that they lived in peace with the Iroquois at Hochelaga and may even have
absorbed some of them. The Iroquois version is significantly different and tells
of an earlier time before they united under the Iroquois League when the
Algonkin dominated the badly-divided Iroquois and forced them to pay tribute.
This situation changed with the formation of the League, and after 50 years of
warfare, the Iroquois had driven the Adirondack and their allies from the
Adirondack Mountains and the upper Hudson Valley.
This was where things stood when Samuel de Champlain established the first
permanent French settlement on the St. Lawrence at Tadoussac in 1603. Towards
the end of May, he met with a Montagnais chief and was invited to attend a feast
celebrating the success of a recent raid against the Iroquois. Dressed in his
finest, Champlain attended and was introduced to the Montagnais allies, the
Etchemin (Maliseet) and Algonkin. He soon learned that there had been continuous
war between these three allies and the Iroquois since 1570. Despite the fact
that he was entering a war zone, Champlain was so impressed with the Algonkin's
furs that in July he explored the St. Lawrence as far west as the Lachine
Rapids. Champlain left for France shortly afterwards, but upon his return in
1608, he immediately moved his fur trade upstream to a new post at Quebec to
shorten the distance that the Algonkin were required to travel for trade. He
soon discovered that Algonkin victories over the Iroquois were not that common,
and it was the Mohawk, not the Algonkin, who dominated the upper river. At the
time, it was possible to travel the entire length of the upper St. Lawrence
without seeing another human being. The Algonkin usually avoided the river
because of the threat of Mohawk war parties.
Champlain was anxious to conclude treaties with both the Algonkin and
Montagnais to preclude competition from his European rivals. However, the
Algonkin, Montagnais, and their Huron allies were reluctant to commit themselves
to the long, dangerous journey to Quebec unless the French were willing to help
them in their war against the Mohawk. In June, 1609 Champlain was leading a
French exploration west of Quebec when he encountered a group of 300 Algonkin
and Montagnais under the Weskarini sachem Iroquet and 100 Huron led by their war
chief Ochasteguin, Champlain seized this opportunity to show his support for his
new trading partners and unwittingly allowed the French to be drawn into an
intertribal war. In July the French joined the Algonkin, Montagnais, and Huron
at the mouth of the Richelieu River for an invasion of the Mohawk homeland. The
warriors enthusiasm for this venture had already cooled, and many of them
departed once they had completed their trading with the French.
Champlain, however, was determined to see it through to the end. Tensions
increased as the combined war party moved south, and when the French boat was
stopped by shallow water, Champlain allowed nine of his men to turn back while
he and two volunteers climbed into the Algonkin canoes. By the time it reached
Lake Champlain in northern New York (which Champlain promptly named for
himself), the war party was down to 60 warriors and three Frenchmen in 24
canoes. At the south end of the lake, they encountered Mohawk warriors massing
in anticipation of a battle. However, it was late in the evening, and after some
negotiation, both sides decided to wait until morning when the light would be
better. The next day the Mohawk massed for battle, but French firearms shattered
their formation killing two of their war chiefs. Confronted by strange new
weapons, the Mohawk turned and fled.
The Algonkin were delighted with their victory, and the French got the
treaties and fur trade they had wanted. The following year, Champlain
participated in a second attack against a Mohawk fort on the Richelieu River.
Although they were not given any firearms during the early years, the steel
weapons received through their trade with the French were sufficient for the
Algonkin and their allies to drive the Mohawk well south of the St. Lawrence
River during 1610. The Algonkin advantage was only temporary. The Iroquois soon
found another source of steel weapons through their trade with the Dutch along
the lower Hudson River to the south. Fur from the Great Lakes flowed down the
Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers to the French at Quebec during the years which
followed, and the Algonkin, led by their great war chief Pieskaret dominated the
St. Lawrence Valley. However, the Iroquois remained a constant threat, and in
winning the trade and friendship of the Algonkin, the French had made a
dangerous enemy for themselves.
It did not take long, for the focus of the fur trade to move farther west,
because the French had already learned of the Huron who were allies of the
Algonkin against the Iroquois. In 1611 ƒtienne Brule visited the Huron villages
and spent the winter with them at the south end of Lake Huron's Georgian Bay.
Champlain's initial impressions of the Huron had not been favorable, but BrulŽ's
glowing reports about the quality of their fur soon altered this opinion.
Champlain made his first exploration of the Ottawa River during May, 1613 and
reached the fortified Kichesipirini village at Morrison Island. Unlike the other
Algonkin, the Kichesipirini did not change location with the seasons. They had
chosen a strategic point astride the trade route between the Great Lakes and the
St. Lawrence and had prospered through the collection of tolls from native
traders passing through their territory. They pointed with great pride to their
corn fields, a skill that they seemed to have acquired just before the arrival
of the French.
They welcomed Champlain but, anxious to protect their trade monopoly with the
French, were reluctant to allow him to proceed farther. However, the quantity
and quality of the fur coming from the Huron could not be ignored, and in 1614
the French and Huron signed a formal treaty of trade and alliance at Quebec. The
following year, Champlain, accompanied by four Recollect missionaries, made his
second journey up the Ottawa River and, ignoring the Kichesipirini protests,
proceeded to the Huron villages. While there, he participated in a
Huron-Algonkin attack on the Oneida and Onondaga villages confirming in the
minds of the Iroquois (in case they still had doubts) that the French were their
After 1614, the focus of the French fur trade shifted from the Algonkin to
the Huron, but because the Iroquois, the French found it prudent to make the
long detour up the Ottawa Valley, then portage to Lake
Nipissing and the French
River, follow the east side of Lake Huron to the Huron villages. Although the
French continued to trade with them, the Algonkin were somewhat annoyed by their
demotion to secondary trading partner. The Kichesipirini, however, continued to
profit by charging tolls for both French and native traders to pass through
their territory. The effect obviously fell more heavily on natives, since
firearms insured that the French usually paid less. Meanwhile, to the south in
New York, the Mohawk had fought a series of wars against the
Mahican whose location on
the Hudson allowed them to control the access of the Iroquois to the Dutch.
Because warfare was detrimental to trade, the Dutch had been quick to arrange
peace between these rivals, but in 1624 the Mohawk discovered that the Mahican
were attempting to act as middlemen by arranging trade between the Dutch and the
Algonkin and Montagnais.
The Iroquois had never accepted their loss of the St. Lawrence Valley in 1610
as permanent. When they became involved in wars with the Mahican, the Mohawk had
made several attempts to settle their differences with the Algonkin and
Montagnais. However, with the exception of a brief truce arranged at Trois
Rivieres in 1622, fighting had continued between the Mohawk, Algonkin, and
Montagnais. The possibility of the Mahican joining forces with their northern
enemies was something the Mohawk were not willing to tolerate, and a war erupted
in 1624 between the Mohawk and Mahican that the Dutch could not stop. After four
years, the Mahican had been defeated and forced east of the Hudson River. The
Dutch were forced to accept the outcome, and the Mohawk afterwards dominated the
trade in the Hudson Valley. Unfortunately, the Iroquois by this time had
exhausted the beaver in their homeland and needed additional hunting territory
to maintain their position with the Dutch. Their inability to satisfy the demand
for beaver was the very reason the Dutch had tried in 1624 to open trade with
the Algonkin and Montagnais. The obvious direction for the Iroquois expansion
was north, but the alliance of the Huron and Algonkin made this impossible. The
Iroquois at first attempted diplomacy to gain permission, but the Huron and
Algonkin refused, and with no other solution available, the Iroquois resorted to
force. In what is generally considered the opening battle of the Beaver Wars
(1630-1700), the Mohawk attacked the Algonkin-Montagnais trading village at
Sillery (just outside Quebec) in 1629.
By 1630 both the Algonkin and Montagnais needed French help to fight the
Mohawk, but this was not available. Taking advantage of a European war between
Britain and France, Sir David Kirke captured Quebec in 1629, and the British
held Canada until 1632 when it was returned to France by the Treaty of St.
Germaine en Laye. Those intervening three years were a disaster for the French
allies. Since their own trade with the Dutch was not affected, the Mohawk were
able to reverse their defeats during 1609-10. They reclaimed the territory
surrendered in 1610 and drove the Algonkin and Montagnais from the upper St.
Lawrence. When they returned to Quebec in 1632, the French attempted to restore
the previous balance of power along the St. Lawrence by providing firearms to
their allies. However, the initial sales were restricted to Christian converts
which did not confer any real advantage to the Algonkin. The roving Algonkin
bands had proven resistant to the initial missionary efforts of the "Black
Robes, and the Jesuits had concentrated instead on the Montagnais and Huron.
But the Kichesipirini's permanent village made them more susceptible to
missionaries, and Jesuits were not above using the lure of firearms to help with
conversions. Tessouat, the Kichesipirini sachem, could see that the new religion
was dividing his people and opposed the Jesuits, even to the point of
threatening to kill Algonkin converts. This not only earned him the active
dislike of the French priests, but forced many of his people to leave their
island fortress. Between 1630 and 1640, many of the Kichesipirini and Weskarini
converts left the Ottawa Valley. They settled first at Trois Rivieres and then
Sillery after a mission was built for them during 1637. The effect was to weaken
the main body of traditional Algonkin defending the trade route through the
Ottawa Valley, and the consequences quickly became apparent. The Dutch had
reacted to the French arming their native allies with large sales of firearms to
the Mohawk who passed these weapons along to the other Iroquois, and the whole
ugly business of the fur trade degenerated into an arms race. After seven years
of increasing violence, a peace was arranged in 1634 which allowed both sides to
catch their breath. Unfortunately, the Algonkin used the pause to start trading
with the Dutch in New York, a definite "no-no" so far as the Iroquois were
concerned, and the war resumed.
Weakened by the departure of their Christian tribesmen to Trois Rivieres and
Sillery, the Algonkin could not stop the onslaught which followed. Iroquois
offensives during 1636 and 1637 drove the Algonkin farther north into the upper
Ottawa Valley and forced the Montagnais east towards Quebec. Only a smallpox
epidemic, which began in New England during 1634 and then spread to New York and
the St. Lawrence Valley, slowed the fighting. The real escalation occurred in
1640 when British traders on the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts
attempted to lure the Mohawk from the Dutch with offers of guns. The Dutch
responded to this latest threat to their trade monopoly by providing the Mohawk
with as many of the latest, high-quality firearms as they wanted. The effect of
this new firepower in the hands of Iroquois warriors was immediate. The
Weskarini along the lower Ottawa River were forced to abandon their villages on
the lower Ottawa River during 1640. Some moved north to the Kichesipirini
fortress and continued to resist the Mohawk's occupation of their homeland.
Others moved east and settled among the Christian Algonkin at Trois Rivieres and
Sillery. By the spring of 1642, the Mohawk and Oneida had succeeded in
completely driving the last groups of Algonkin and Montagnais from the upper St.
Lawrence and lower Ottawa Rivers, while in the west, the Seneca, Cayuga, and
Onondaga concentrated on their war with the Huron.
To shorten the travel distance for Huron and Algonkin traders, the French in
1642 established a new post at Montreal (Ville Marie) on the large island near
the mouth of the Ottawa River. However, this only seemed to make matters worse.
The French were attacked while building Fort Richelieu, and the Iroquois soon
bypassed the French settlement and sent war parties north into the Ottawa Valley
to attack the Huron and Algonkin canoe fleets transporting fur to Montreal and
Quebec. Through all of these years, the Iroquois had never dared to attack the
Kichesipirini fortress, but in 1642 a surprise winter raid hit the Algonkin
while most of their warriors were absent and inflicted severe casualties. The
Iroquois tightened their stranglehold the following year. Trying to bolster
their defense in the west, the French sent soldiers to the Huron mission at
Sainte Marie and ordered the non-Christian Algonkin at Trois Rivieres and
Sillery to return to the Ottawa Valley. However, with Iroquois along the lower
river, most did not go beyond Montreal. Meanwhile, Tessouat had ended his
opposition to Christianity and, to the delight of the Jesuits, requested baptism
in March, 1643.
During 1644 many of the Weskarini abandoned the struggle with the Mohawk for
the lower Ottawa River and moved west to the Huron. Decimated by recent
epidemics, the Huron by this time were under attack from the western Iroquois
(Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca), so the Weskarini, who the Huron called the
Atonontrataronon, were a welcome addition. They could not, however, reverse the
deteriorating situation. With the departure of the Weskarini, the Mohawk were
free to operate in force along the river and captured three large Huron canoe
fleets bound for Montreal. This brought the French fur trade to a complete
standstill, and Champlain's successor Charles Huault de Montmagmy (known to the
Iroquois as Onontio "Big Mountain") had little choice but to seek peace. He
ordered the release of several Mohawk prisoners and sent them to their people
with the message that he wanted to talk. Having suffered severe losses from
warfare and epidemic, the Mohawk were receptive, but they were also aware that
the French were in serious trouble and therefore were prepared to drive a hard
In July a Mohawk delegation arrived at Trois Rivieres for a preliminary
discussion of the peace terms and requested a private meeting with the French.
Montmagmy had as his advisors the Jesuits Barthelemy Vimont and Paul Le Jeune,
and it soon became apparent that, while the Mohawk were willing to make peace
with the French, they had no intention of extending the truce to the French
allies. The Mohawk also had not been empowered to speak for other members of the
Iroquois League which meant that any agreement would not protect the Huron and
their allies in the west. Earlier that year, a combined Mohawk, Sokoki, and
Mahican war party had attacked Sillery, the main Montagnais and Algonkin mission
village outside Quebec. Vimont and Le Jeune were convinced that, with these new
allies, the Mohawk were on the verge of destroying the Jesuit missions on the
lower St. Lawrence. On their advice, Montmagmy finally agreed to a treaty
permitting the French to resume their fur trade but containing a secret
agreement requiring French neutrality in future wars between their allies and
Iroquois in exchange for a Mohawk promise to refrain from attacks on the
Algonkin and Montagnais villages at the Jesuit missions.
Tessouat was now a Christian, but it is doubtful that he would have accepted
any agreement which abandoned his non-Christian tribesmen to the Iroquois. By
the time Tessouat and the other French allies signed the public version of the
treaty signed at Trois Rivieres that September, Montmagmy, Vimont and Le Jeune
had not bothered to inform them of the secret provisions The French allies were
not the only ones kept in the dark. Well aware that the treachery would
encounter strong objections from their fellow Jesuits, Vimont and Le Jeune did
not disclose the full details of agreement to them for another year, and by then
it was too late. Meanwhile, the Jesuits took advantage of the peace with the
Mohawk to send Father Issac Jogues and two other Frenchmen to build a mission at
the Mohawk villages. Accused of sorcery, they were murdered in October of 1646.
Despite this incident, the Mohawk upheld their end of the bargain with the
French, but the Oneida did not consider themselves bound by the agreement, and
one of their war parties along the lower Ottawa River almost succeeded in
killing Tessouat. Still, there was a pause in the fighting during which Huron
and Algonkin furs flowed east to Quebec in unprecedented amounts, while the
Iroquois renewed efforts to gain the permission of the Huron to hunt north of
the St. Lawrence. Refused after two years of failed diplomacy, the Iroquois
resorted to total war, but this time with the assurance that the French would
remain neutral. While their Sokoki (western
Abenaki) and Mahican went
after the Montagnais, the Mohawk chose to ignore the distinction between
Christian and non-Christian Algonkin. On March 6th (Ash Wednesday), 1647, a
large Mohawk war party hit the Kichesipirini living near Trois Rivieres and
almost exterminated them.
With the Algonkin bands on the lower Ottawa River gone, not even a
last-minute alliance of the Micmac, Montagnais and Nipissing could stop the
Mohawk. Only the Iroquois League's preoccupation with their war against the
Huron brought some measure of relief to the French allies in the east, but this
ended in 1649 after the Iroquois overran and completely destroyed the Huron. As
French and Indian refugees streamed down the Ottawa Valley to the relative
safety of Montreal, Tessouat was still trying to collect tolls and ordered one
of the Jesuits who refused him to be strung up by the heels. However, the Mohawk
did not allow much more time for toll collections, and during 1650 the remaining
Algonkin in the upper Ottawa Valley were attacked and overrun. The survivors
retreated, either far to headwaters of the rivers feeding the Upper Ottawa River
where the Cree afforded a certain amount of support and protection, or west to
the vicinity of the Ottawa and Ojibwe. During the next twenty years, the
Algonkin pretty much dropped out of sight so far as the French were concerned.
Tessouat, however, visited Trois Rivières in 1651 and was promptly tossed in a
dungeon for a few days because of his manhandling of the Jesuit priest two years
During the years following the disaster of 1649, the French tried to continue
their fur trade by asking native traders to bring their furs to Montreal.
Protecting a fragile truce with the western Iroquois signed in 1653, the French
avoided travel west of Montreal. The Iroquois never occupied the Ottawa Valley,
but their war parties roamed its length during the 1650s and 60s making travel
extremely dangerous for anything but large, heavily-armed convoys. Few tribes
were willing to run the gauntlet that the Iroquois established along the river.
War between the Iroquois and French resumed after the murder of a Jesuit
ambassador in 1658. By 1664 the French had decided they had endured enough of
living in constant fear of the Iroquois. The arrival of regular French troops in
Quebec that year and their subsequent attacks on villages in the Iroquois
homeland brought a lasting peace in 1667.
Learning from their earlier mistakes, the French insisted that this agreement
also include their allies and trading partners. This not only allowed French
traders and missionaries to travel to the western Great Lakes, but permitted the
Algonkin to begin a gradual return to northern part of the Ottawa Valley.
Conquest and dispersal had been hard on them, and not many were left (perhaps
2,000). The epidemics which struck Sillery in 1676 and 1679 had reduced the
Christian Algonkin survivors to only a handful, most of whom were subsequently
absorbed by the Abenaki at St. Francois after the closure of the Sillery mission
in 1685. During the 20-year absence of the Algonkin from the Ottawa Valley, the
Ottawa had come to dominate the French fur trade with the western Great Lakes.
So much so that any native fur trader visiting Montreal during this period was
routinely referred to as an Ottawa even though many were Algonkin and Ojibwe. A
even greater insult occurred when the name of the Grande Riviere des
Algoumequins (Grand River of the Algonkins) was changed on French maps to the
Riviere des Outauais. The change was permanent and persists today, although no
Ottawa, other than the Kinounchepirini (Keinouche), were ever known to have
lived along the Ottawa River.
During the next fifty years the French established trading posts for the
Algonkin at Abitibi and Temiscamingue at the north end of the Ottawa Valley.
Missions were also built at Ile aux Tourtes and St. Anne de Boit de Ille, and in
1721 French missionaries convinced approximately 250 Nipissing and 100 Algonkin
to join the 300 Christian Mohawk at the Sulpician mission village of Lake of Two
Mountains (Lac des Deaux Montagnes) just west of Montreal. This strange mix of
former enemies, both of whom had converted to Christianity and allied with the
French, became known by both its Algonkin name Oka (pickerel), and the Iroquois
form, Kanesatake (sandy place). For the most part, the Algonkin converts
remained at Oka only during the summer and spent their winters at their
traditional hunting territories in the upper Ottawa Valley. This arrangement
served the French well, since the Algonkin converts at Oka maintained close ties
with the northern bands and could call upon the inland warriors to join them in
case of war with the British and Iroquois League.
Because of the Algonkin converts at Oka, all of the Algonkin were committed
to the French cause through a formal alliance known as the Seven Nations of
Canada, or the Seven Fires of Caughnawaga. Members included: Caughnawaga
(Mohawk), Lake of the Two Mountains (Iroquois, Algonkin, and Nipissing), St.
Francois (Sokoki, Pennacook, and New England Algonquian), Becancour (Eastern
Abenaki), Oswegatchie (Onondaga and Oneida), Lorette (Huron), and St. Regis
(Mohawk). The Algonkin remained important French allies until the French and
Indian War (1755-63) and the summer of 1760. By then, the British had captured
Quebec and were close to taking the last French stronghold at Montreal. The war
was over in North America, and the British had won. The Huron of Lorette were
the first to understand this and signed a separate treaty with British that
summer. In mid-August, the Algonkin and eight other former French allies met
with the British representative, Sir William Johnson, and signed a treaty in
which they agreed to remain neutral in futures wars between the British and
This sealed the fate of the French at Montreal and North America, and further
French efforts to keep their Canadian native allies in the war failed. After the
war, Johnson used his influence with the Iroquois to merge the Iroquois League
and the Seven Nations of Canada into a single alliance in the British interest.
The sheer size of this group was an important reason the British were able to
crush the Pontiac Rebellion west of the Appalachian Mountains in 1763 and quell
the unrest created by the first white settlements in the Ohio Country during the
years which followed. Johnson died suddenly in 1774, but his legacy lived on,
and the Algonkin fought alongside the British during the American Revolution
(1775-83) participating in St. Leger's campaign in the Mohawk Valley in 1778.
The Algonkin homeland was supposed to be protected from settlement by the
Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1774, but after the revolution ended
in a rebel victory, thousands of British Loyalists (Tories) left the new United
States and settled in Upper Canada.
To provide land for these newcomers, the British government in 1783 chose to
ignore the Algonkin in the lower Ottawa Valley and purchased parts of eastern
Ontario from Mynass, a Mississauga (Ojibwe) chief. Despite this, Algonkin
warriors fought beside the British during the War of 1812 (1812-14) and helped
defeat the Americans at the Battle of Chateauguay. Their reward for this service
was the continued loss of their land to individual land sales and encroachment
by American Loyalists and British immigrants moving into the valley. The worse
blow occurred when the British in 1822 were able to induce the Mississauga near
Kingston, Ontario to sell most of what remained of the Algonkin holdings in the
Ottawa Valley. Because few, if any, Mississauga actually lived there, the price
paid for them to sell another people's land was virtually nothing. And for a
second time, no one bothered to consult the Algonkin who had never surrendered
their claim to the area but still received nothing from its sale. Further losses
occurred during the 1840s as lumber interests moved into the Upper Ottawa
Valley. Treaties and purchases by the Canadian government eventually established
ten reserves that permitted the Algonkin to remain in the area, but like most
Native Americans in both Canada and the United States, they were allowed to keep
only a tiny portion of what once had been their original homeland.