Chapter 6: April 1660. Quebec
Quebec. April. Four days after the Martine Messier attack.
After learning of the reports of a massive impending attack on Quebec from the captured Iroquois, who had tried to abduct Martine Messier, Quebec Governor D’Argenson sent runners to call in residents of the near-by farms.
The nuns of the Hotel Dieu hospital barricaded their residence. Visiting Hurons came into the Fort for security. The Ursuline convent, strong and well-situated, was used as a redoubt and occupied by two dozen soldiers; The garrison commander barricaded the streets of the lower town and increased the sentries.
A comet was seen in the sky near Quebec and the habitants, hurrying to the safety of the fort, were amazed and reported it as a burning canoe across the sky. The peasant farmers swore they heard lamentations and cries from sources they could not identify.
Thunder and lightening came after the comet, and the people knew in their hearts that these portents were meant for them.
Several days passed with no attacks. Still, no one left the fort. Finally, after four days, D’Argenson decided the Iroquois was either mistaken, or lied to make a case for sending him as a peace emissary, the better to save his life.
The people returned to their homes outside the fort and discounted the scare as only a rumor, one of many that frightened the town regularly even when no attacks were seen. It was just this sort of thing, D’Argenson realized, that drained energy, kept the state of tension so high here, and made life so terrifying.
Of the families returning to their farms was one led by a woman, Agate Giroux. She and her daughter, Cecile, her son-in-law, Rejean Proulx, and their four small children, lived on a farm on a grand seigneury, some twenty miles below Quebec. They returned there by boat, and when they arrived, the grandmother and Rejean Proulx went immediately to the fields while Cecile walked on to the house with the children.
Waiting in the house were eight Mohawks who captured Cecile and her children and escaped to the river.
When the others returned from the fields for dinner, the broken dishes and some beads torn from one of the Mohawk’s deerskin vests told the story.
Proulx leaped into a canoe, and paddled speedily to the fort, stopping only once to alert the inhabitants of a nearby farm near the river.
En route, he passed the Mohawks concealed along the river with their gagged captives.
They saw him. He did not see them.
D’Argenson acted immediately, sending soldiers both upstream and down, not knowing which way the enemy would go but knowing they would travel in darkness and soon.
The captors could not delay with so many children for fear of being discovered. That night, they put their captives in the bottoms of their canoes and hugged the shore near Levis, the small village directly across from the fort. They knew, moon or no, they would be detected in the middle of the river.
Even so, it didn’t take long for the vigilant French to see them. The soldiers fired a volley first and then swarmed into the river and overcame the Iroquois easily. They captured five of the enemy and shot the others.
Father Lamont told of all this in his ‘Relations’ letter home.
All this took place on a Saturday, the day of the Virgin, and the woman, Cecile, had great faith in the Virgin. She prayed for aid feeling a full conviction that, passing Before Quebec on this Saturday, she would be delivered by the power of this Queen of Heaven. The Virgin answered the prayer of her votary, Cecile, although it true and sad to relate that in the volley she suffered a mortal wound and the same shot struck the infant in her arms. Nevertheless, three children were saved, a victory struck, and the ensuing baptism of Mohawk fire, delivered five pagan souls to the Lord.
The fate that befell the Mohawks was the same as that the Algonquins had arranged for the Wolf, but this time the torture was crueler. The enemy died in the fire expressing surprise that the town was still alive, because, they said, the whole of the Iroquois had gathered on the Ottawa for the attack on the French.
Their story confirmed the Wolf’s in every respect save for numbers of men. Did the Mohawks lie at the moment of their deaths? If so, to what purpose?
No, the French believed their enemies and called on the people to the fort once again. Again nothing happened, and again the settlers returned to their farms.
Governor D’Argenson paced the parapet of the fort at Quebec and looked out over the river on a chilly night in April. Martine Messier was safe with her husband. For now. The grandmother, Agate Giroux, and her son-in-law Proulx, and two of those children were safe. For now. But the mother and two children were killed. They would never grow up. This would not happen in France. At least not this kind of butchery, he thought.
Where were the Iroquois? He spent a lot of time trying to separate rumor from fact. It was hard knowing things for certain. The Iroquois traded with the Dutch at Fort Orange and the Algonquin and the Huron were French allies but sometimes he thought that was all he knew.
The Iroquois had five nations, stretching from the south side of Lake Ontario reaching to Lake Erie. He knew they called their confederation the Longhouse because the extension of tribes across the land resembled the long house that twenty or more families lived in when in their settlements.
He knew that although they lived in this rough social and political association, that any one of these nations could sue for peace with the French while the others were at war with them. Or they could all band together for a common purpose.
He had been in this country two years, and he still wasn’t close to figuring out how it worked. The best he could determine was that the Iroquois had this system as a device to stymie the French, that it was part of a design, that they were just duplicitous devils.
The Messier attempted abduction had bothered him. That sort of thing was infrequent, but it frightened the population and a woman alone, my God, how would her husband have dealt with it has she been killed or taken and raped and burned? He could hardly stand thinking about it.
And he knew the Jesuits were writing home about every incident. The people in France would read and it, and action would be taken.
Perhaps. The Jesuits hoped the action would be in the form of more priests, more funding for the mission. D’Argenson saw the value of that but first he wanted more settlers, more soldiers, else this place would be destroyed. He thought that people would get terrified with so many reports of deaths, rapes, burnings, scalpings murders, injuries, kidnaps and the constant threat of all of these. Never mind the weather, and the black flies and the cold and the mud and the rest.
His mind raced. Just tallying the forms of affliction took long enough without telling of each separate incident.
People would read all this and decide firmly not to even come here. Why would they? The only way to reduce the reports of disasters was to reduce the number of disasters. The Black Robes could then concentrate on positive things in their reports to France.
A student of history, D’Argenson told himself how conquerors or explorers had insinuated themselves into countries before. Sometimes the infiltrating nations knew something about the culture and customs of the people they were encroaching upon. But in this place the French had met a stone age people. The French had no knowledge of them at all when they arrived. But that was fifty years ago, he reminded himself.
Now, the governor knew the Iroquois were sophisticated in trading and self-government, brave and intelligent. They were also being pushed to their limit, although D’Argenson didn’t realize that. The French, on the other hand, were usually outnumbered, frequently out-maneuverer, and always outside the immediate help and the general understanding of a mother country most of whose members didn’t know anything about New France and could care less. D’Argenson didn’t think at all about the plight of the Iroquois. He had his own troubles.
He didn’t know either, whether the rumors of an imminent attack were true or false, but he couldn’t take a chance.
He called for the garrison commander and prepared a warning to take to the commander at Trois-Rivieres and Governor Maisonneuve in Montreal.