Chapter 1. Iroquois attack on Quebec.
Quebec, April 19th, 1660
Father Gustave Lamont wrote on the plain wooden table that served as his desk in his room at the Jesuit House in Quebec.
Quebec, April 19th, 1660
‘Dear Father Superior:
We are near despair. Everywhere we see infants to be saved for heaven, sick and dying to be baptized, adults to be instructed, but everywhere we see the Iroquois. They haunt us like persecuting goblins. They kill our new-made Christians in our arms. If they meet us on the river, they kill us. If they find us in the huts of our Indian allies, our Hurons, they burn us and them too. Please, revered father, send us troops to destroy these Iroquois lest all our holy work be undone by their bloody hatchets. The Iroquois must be destroyed; it is a holy work to be inspired by God. We are needful of God’s grace and needful of soldiers to act in his service. If we do not have troops, we are lost.
As Father Lamont wrote, Martine Messier walked quickly to the stone fort of Quebec. Dusk was falling, but there was still enough light to make it back to the walls. She hurried along and smiled to herself when she thought of her husband Antoine Primot’s admonition to wait for him to escort her home. She had been visiting her friend Denise at her farm three-quarters of a mile from the fort. It was a well-traveled road, and she passed a farmer she recognized walking the other way.
“Hello there, Fernand Rameau!”
“Hello, Martine! What are you doing here by yourself? It is too dangerous.” He unslung his musket from his shoulder and approached her.
“I’ll take you back. Antoine would kill you if he knew you were out here alone.”
“Oh!” she laughed, “He said the Iroquois would kill me!”
“One or the other.”
“Well, I can’t wait for him tonight. He was to come for me later, but I have soup to prepare. Besides, it is still daylight, and there are people walking… look, I have met you.”
“Even so, it is not wise. Come, I’ll take you back.”
“Nonsense, I’ve come all this way. The walls are only around that bend. Go off and see to your business and I’ll to my own. Go along now.”
Rameau grunted tolerantly as she went past him along the road towards the fort. He turned and started in the opposite directing pausing to look back periodically. The woman was young, maybe 24, and beautiful, known as ‘la bonne femme.’ M. Rameau might have looked back at her anyway, just for the pleasure of it, but it was the situation that made him uneasy.
Martine laughed to herself. If I can come to Quebec and live in this wild place these past four years, surely I can walk a mile on my own.
The broad section of the road narrowed somewhat as it went through a small growth of underbrush and trees. Too late, she saw the figure drop from the tree, but she felt him land on her shoulders. Immediately, two more figures leapt from the bush. She screamed before the first Mohawk could silence her with his club and Rameau heard it even as his conscience was prodding him to turn around and take her, willingly or not, to the fort.
The force of the jump knocked Messier to the ground, but she fell clear of the Mohawk. The others, swiftly moved in on her but still screaming, she fought furiously, her hands and feet lashing out.
The first blow to her back knocked her down again and the second grazed her shoulder. The Iroquois was clearly not trying to kill her but to seize her as a captive. Rameau was racing towards her and her screams had alerted several Algonquins and Raymond Cleroux, who were approaching the fort by a nearby path. The brave who had leapt on her swung his arm and this third blow to the skull knocked her senseless. The Algonquins, hearing silence and fearing the worst, began firing their muskets in the hope of frightening off the Iroquois.
As one attacker began tying her feet, she regained consciousness and reached out, grabbing his testicles, clenching hard. The Iroquois screamed in pain, dropped his weapon, and tried to back away, but she did not let go. The Algonquins was rounding the bend. The two other Iroquois ran for the woods as Messier lunged and grasped the Mohawk’s hatchet from the ground. Screaming like crazy, and still clutching his testicles, she swung the hatchet, slicing a deep gash in his shoulder. She released him as he fell and then, as he rose, she regained her own feet, and as he fled she threw the hatchet at him. It whipped through the air rotating and stuck deep in his back. He dropped to his knees, his hands reaching back for the hatchet.
Rameau reached her as the Algonquins, now on the scene, attacked the wounded Iroquois, killing him. Rameau lifted Messier up and hugged her when he saw she was unhurt.
She slapped his face.
Raymond Cleroux, with the Algonquins, approached her said,
“Martine, why did you slap Fernand? He just rescued you!”
“Oh my god, I’m sorry. I thought he wanted to kiss me!”
Everyone laughed at the absurdity, but then she began to shake.
The Algonquins chased the escaping Iroquois. One hid, or was too fleet and escaped, but the other tripped on a root, twisted his ankle and was caught. He was a member of the Wolf clan by his markings and of the Onondaga nation. The Algonquins dragged him back to the fort to torture him, but first the French wanted information.
Father Lamont had enough influence to prevent the Algonquins from torturing the captive, but he did not think it wise politically or theologically to do so. Too much interference in the ways if the Indian allies meant they would not bother bringing in their prisoners, they would just kill them in the forest. That would be a loss of valuable information.
It was also expedient and satisfying to exact some punishment on the savages. Were these Indian allies not simply duplicating what the Iroquois did to the French priests and settlers? Perhaps similar treatment of their own captives would make the Iroquois think twice about such horrifying actions and amend their behavior in the future. But principally, the Jesuits thought torture was good for the soul. Some of their brothers were using the practice in Spain in the Inquisition. No, they would permit the customary torture, but first they would prepare him for heaven.
Later that night Fr. Lamont continued his letter to his superior in France:
We have rarely indeed seen the burning of an Iroquois without feeling he was on the way back to paradise: and we never knew one of them to be surely on the path to paradise without seeing him pass through this fiery punishment. We baptized the Wolf Indian with water and told him he would see God in this day. Is it not a marvel to see a wolf changed in one stroke into a lamb, and enter into the fold of Christ, which he came to ravage?
The Algonquins tied the Iroquois to a stake and tormented him for several hours before burning him.
During the repeated flagellations and taunts and cuts and blows the Mohawk was remarkably steadfast, hurling insults at his tormentors. The Wolf also frightened them by telling of 800 of his brother warriors who were gathering below Montréal on the Ottawa River. He said 400 hundred more Iroquois, who had wintered on what the French referred to as the Richelieu River, after their cardinal benefactor, and the Iroquois called their own name, the Iroquois River, were to join them on a massive attack on Quebec. They were planning to kill the governor, burn the town, and move on to Trois-Rivieres and Montréal, ridding themselves, once and for all, of the French people in New France.