The Preliminary Struggle For The Northern Fur Country
Sphere of French influence.—When Frontenac returned to France in 1682, the French were predominant in Acadia, in the St. Lawrence Valley, in the region of the Great Lakes, and in the Illinois country, and were extending their power into the lower valley of the Mississippi. In the West Indies they had secured a foothold. The missionary and the fur-trader had been the instruments of interior expansion, the Indian the source of wealth. To keep control of the natives and to win new tribes to church and trade was the settled policy of France. The Abenaki of Maine were between Acadia and Massachusetts and were friends of the French. To the south of Lake Ontario were the Iroquois, the friends of the English. In the upper lake region the various Algonquin tribes had long been subservient to the French. Their furs were brought to Three Rivers, Montreal, or Quebec, or were traded to the coureurs de bois.
The English policy.—To wrest the fur monopoly of the north from the French was one of the mainsprings of Stuart policy. The establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company posts, an alliance with the Iroquois, and the attempt to gain control of the Huron region, thus cutting off the French from the upper lakes and the Illinois country, were the means adopted to carry out the policy. To defeat it was the problem of the governors of New France. A similar conflict was in process in the southwest.
La Barre and the Iroquois, 1684.—The successor of Frontenac was La Barre. Upon arrival he found conditions deplorable. A disastrous fire had devastated Quebec and the Iroquois were on the warpath against the Illinois, Hurons, Ottawas, and other "children of the French." La Barre at first temporized with the Iroquois, but their depredations continued, fostered by Dongan, the governor of New York. La Barre finally realized that his policy was alienating the interior tribes and he determined upon war. He gathered a force of Indians and French and entered the Iroquois country where he was met by a deputation of Iroquois chiefs. After an extended conference, instead of a war of extermination, peace was ignominiously agreed upon, in spite of the fact that the Iroquois refused to desist from war on the Illinois. In the meantime Duluth and other leaders had brought five hundred warriors to Niagara, who arrived at the rendezvous only to learn that peace had been made. With sullen hatred in their hearts, the disappointed warriors returned to their haunts. French influence in the region of the lakes had suffered a severe blow.
Denonville and Dongan.—The king had determined upon the recall of La Barre, and Denonville, "a pious colonel of dragoons," assumed the governorship. He at once entered into a correspondence with Dongan. Both governors lacked resources to carry out an effective campaign; both resorted to Jesuit influence to obtain control of the Iroquois; and both determined to build a fort at Niagara. Denonville, in addition, planned to erect forts at Toronto, on Lake Erie, and at Detroit, and Duluth actually erected a stockade at the lower end of Lake Huron. Dongan in 1685 eleven canoes to the upper lakes where a successful trade was carried on. The following year a larger flotilla was despatched, followed by an expedition which was intended to make a treaty of trade and alliance with the lake Indians.
French attack on the Iroquois.—Dongan, however, received despatches from England which led him to believe that his policy might not meet with the entire approval of his government. He accordingly wrote a conciliatory letter to Denonville, accompanied by a present of oranges. Denonville replied, "Monsieur, I thank you for your oranges. It is a great pity that they were all rotten." His sarcasm was the more effective when it is known that eight hundred French regulars were in the colony, and that as many more were on the way. In the spring of 1687 Denonville was prepared to strike. Leaving eight hundred regulars to protect the settlements, he gathered two thousand men at Ft. Frontenac. In addition Tonty and other post commanders had raised a considerable force in the interior which captured the canoes sent by Dongan. The combined forces of French and Indians, totaling nearly three thousand, penetrated the country of the Sénecas, defeated them, and burned their villages. But instead of completing the conquest of the Iroquois country, Denonville led his forces to Niagara where a fort was erected, and then returned to Montreal. The expedition served merely to set the Iroquois hive buzzing, and to increase the influence of the English.
Iroquois reprisals.—The Iroquois soon began a war of reprisal, raid after raid being made on the French settlements. Denonville's courage seemed to be paralyzed. He sent an agent to Albany to make an arrangement with Dongan, who insisted that Forts Niagara and Frontenac be abandoned. Denonville hesitated until the summer of 1688, when Big Mouth, an Onondaga chief, appeared at Montreal. An understanding was reached by which the governor agreed to abandon Niagara and restore captives, no provision being made for protection of the interior tribes. A Huron chief, the Rat, hearing of the treaty, determined that the war should continue. Ascertaining that a party of Onondagas were on their way to the French settlements to complete the peace arrangements, the Rat and his followers ambushed them. The attack had the desired effect, the Iroquois concluding that the treaty was a ruse. An ominous peace prevailed until the French believed that danger had passed. Suddenly in the summer of 1689 a force of fourteen hundred Iroquois attacked the settlements. Instead of retaliating, the frightened governor ordered the abandonment of Ft. Frontenac. This was his last important act, for he was recalled and Count Frontenac was sent to save the colony.
The Intercolonial Wars.
The Hudson Bay posts.—While these events had been taking place, in the far north another conflict was waged. No attempt was made to impede the English on Hudson Bay until 1682, when Radisson and Groseilliers, now turned French, with two vessels took possession of the English post at the mouth of the Nelson River, but the Frenchmen soon transferred their allegiance once more to the English. La Barre was instructed to check English encroachments and to propose that neither nation establish new posts. In 1685 a Canadian company was formed to trade in the north. Denonville considered this an excuse for attacking the English. In 1686 a hundred men commanded by De Troyes, one of his lieutenants being Iberville, the future founder of Louisiana, were sent overland to make the attack. Fort Hayes, Ft. Rupert, and Ft. Albany were captured, Fort Nelson being the only post left in English hands. French ascendency for the time being was established on Hudson Bay.
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