Escape to Fort Orange
The time finally came during
late August when he left with his hatchet and knife into the woods to get some
wood to fortify a better defense of the village. Radisson asked his brother if
he wanted to come with him but he was busy courting a girl whose father
happened to be French. He left for the woods at eight o'clock in the morning
alone without any provisions and immediately fled towards the Dutch fort along
the well-worn trail that the traders took. He followed the direction of the
trail but kept off of it, very determined not to be discovered as he very well
knew what lay in store for him if he was caught. He ran all day and all night
without any food, becoming completely exhausted by the break of day. But the
fear of death was what made him overcome his fatigue. The blue sky and the fresh
air invigorated him throughout the second day until late afternoon when he came
to a clearing in the woods and found a man chopping wood. He saw Radisson as a
Mohawk because of the style of his hair and so brought him to his house
assuming that he wanted to trade beaver pelts.
"My beaver pelts are hidden
nearby," he said to the man. "I can get them tomorrow morning." Since it was
late in the day the man trusted his word and fed him some food.
am Mohawk but I lived among the French for a while," Radisson told the man,
choosing to play his hand close to his chest. "And I have something very
important to tell the governor." The man thought for some moments and then gave
him paper and a pen to write down what he pleased. The man was surprised to see
a savage able to write.
"I will personally take it
to the governor for you tonight," said the man. Upon receiving the written
message from Radisson, he promised to make haste to the fort and return
promptly, agreeing not to tell anyone of his being there. The fort was only two
short miles away.
When the man was gone, his
wife showed him good countenance and appeared to offer herself to him, but he
refused for fear of being ensnared, especially when he was so close to escape.
During the night he heard some Indians singing nearby, which scared Radisson
out of his mind. He was convinced they were from his village and were about to
seize him. This enticed him to declare to the woman that his nation would kill
him because he loved the French and the Flemish more than they, and that he had
resolved to remain with the French. Thus understanding his fear, she hid him
behind some sacks of wheat in a corner for the better part of an hour until the
A little later that same
night the man returned with four Frenchmen, one of whom was the man who had
first met him during his last visit to the fort.
"Very happy to see you
again," said the Frenchman. "Here, take this suit." He handed him a suit in
order to disguise himself against any Iroquois spotting him as he traveled the
two miles to the safety of the fort. He didn't have anything to give the couple
that had taken him in to thank them for their help in saving him from torture
Radisson didn't encounter
any Indians on the way to the fort and was greeted warmly the next day by the
governor. From his French, he assumed the governor of the Dutch fort was a
Frenchman. The governor was generous by giving Radisson European clothes. It
was on this day that he met the Jesuit priest Father Noncet, a blackrobe who wrote
of his encounter with this young Frenchman who had been living among the
Indians. The priest absolved Radisson of his sins and showed him great
compassion that Radisson valued and needed during his three-day stay within the
fort. There were many Mohawks from his village who came to the fort looking for
Radisson three days after he had arrived, including his mother, brother and
sisters. If his father had been there, he would have looked harder and been
more determined to find him, so he was grateful for his absence.
"Orinha!" yelled his sisters,
parading up and down the streets. "Orinha we want you to come home!"
they persisted, lamenting at his absence. Many wondered how and why they loved
him so much, as they could not appreciate the bond that had developed during
his year and a half captivity.
The governor bid him off to
a bigger town in the Dutch colony called New Amsterdam, where three weeks later
he disembarked for Holland. After six weeks at sea and some boisterous weather,
Pierre-Esprit Radisson arrived in Amsterdam on January 4th, 1654.
From there he went to his hometown of Rochelle in France where he stayed for
the winter and then left on a ship for New France to join his family in the
Becoming an Interpreter for the Jesuits
was happy to return to his family and countrymen in New France. They had long
thought he was dead so seeing him when he arrived in Three Rivers caused them
all to celebrate and to look at each other in thankfulness to the Lord for his
safe delivery from two years of danger. Radisson lived a domestic life in Three
Rivers helping his family farm and build their homestead for a couple of years
but the wanderlust that had spurred him on to walk nine miles west of the
village that day hunting with his two friends soon began to surface. The
beautiful country he had seen while living as a Mohawk and the adventure he had
had caused him restlessness, often dreaming of a life outside the confines of
European sensability and the limitations of small town living.
In his absence peace had
been made with the Iroquois nation, which was the reason why he did not stay
long with his family. The French had recently established a "new plantation" in
the upper country of the Iroquois in Onondaga country, some 120 miles north of
the low country where he had spent his time as captive with the Mohawks. He
realized that he had developed a deep love and respect for the people who had
taken him in, and his desire to be among them again was too great to quell. It
was still a great distance from the village and people of his adopted village
in the low country so he wouldn't likely run into his old family, but the
languages were so similar between the upper and lower countries of the Iroquois
nation that he could understand them.
During this time the Jesuit
priests were embarking on a concerted effort to convert the natives to the
Christian doctrine in these parts, so Radisson offered his services as guide
and interpreter to the blackrobes to aid them in their pursuit. As was their
custom, they kindly accepted his offer. A mission with Father Paul Ragueneau
was departing in the spring of 1657 so he was once again off to the land of the
Iroquois except this time he was going on his own free will.
was during this period while waiting for the mission to commence to Onandoga
that Radisson learned from the Hurons living in Three Rivers about some of
their history, which had traditionally been handed down by word of mouth. He
learned of a river that led to a great saltwater lake in the north. Radisson
was told when the first group of Hurons traveled north into the dense forests
to hunt, that winter came sooner than expected and they were forced to take to
the water and find a waterway back to whence they came as it would save them
time. Soon this group hit mountains of ice and lost many boats but persevered
along the river towards the rising sun, eventually finding an opening that led
to Hudson Bay, the great saltwater sea. They hugged the coastline until they
found a river leading southeast, moving swiftly before the cold slowed them
down. It was here the Hurons encountered tribes of Indians whose language they
had never heard. They learned that they were enemies of the Iroquois, which
gave them favor in the eyes of the Huron. Having a mutual enemy, this unknown
tribe north of the far-eastern shores of the St. Lawrence River gave them
shelter and food during the winter before the warmer weather returned and they
were able to reach the St. Lawrence River and paddle back to their homeland
around modern-day Lake Huron.
Radisson learned that the
1649 massacre of Hurons by the Iroquois had left the Hurons severely
devastated. Their numbers, once as high as thirty thousand, were now less than
one thousand that the Iroquois lost no time to invade their lands for trapping
beaver. For the most part the Hurons were assimilated into neighboring tribes,
with many moving to New France. The early Jesuits had converted the Hurons to
Christianity beginning in 1625 at the Jesuit mission in Midland on Georgian
Bay, which had established a long alliance between the two peoples.
The Iroquois made peace in
1654 with the Hurons but not the Algonquin nation, so when Radisson embarked on
his role as interpreter for the Jesuit mission, they had to go to Montreal.
This was due to the fact that many Algonquin tribes lived among the French so
the Iroquois that would bring the French Missionaries to Onandoga refused to
travel to enemy territory. Montreal had become the farthest outpost of the
French colony at the time.
When the time came to
commence the mission, Radisson had been in Montreal for 15 days waiting for
their Iroquois guides to take them into their country when an incident happened
that would have grave consequences. Just before reaching the shores of Montreal
where the French and the Hurons were waiting for them, one of the Iroquois
canoes shipwrecked and sank, leading to the drowning of seven men. The Iroquois
immediately sat down to have a council about the incident and initially decided
that they should extract revenge against the French and the Hurons when back on
their own land because it was them who they were coming for. Then there was
debate about the French. Since they now had a fort in their country and had a "strong
guard" that could "cause affairs" for them, they decided to revenge only the
they arrived in Montreal their speech was contrary to their intent, promising
friendship to all those who they escorted to Onondaga. They exchanged gifts and
then set out to find some more canoes because the Hurons who had come to
Montreal had taken a French ship. Thereupon thirty boats were secured for the
trip since the group numbered about eighty Iroquois, one hundred Huron women
and twelve Huron men, and twenty French with two of these twenty being Jesuit
going was tough the first day due to all the supplies they brought with them.
Camping on the shores of the St. Lawrence, the Iroquois were impatient so about
thirty of their number left the camp for Quebec to make war against the
Algonquin that were there. It was right after the war party of Iroquois left
that the remaining Iroquois decided not to carry the Jesuit's "merchandise" and
therefore left it behind. The French were obliged to remain behind with one
Jesuit priest and his gear, and Radisson and the other Jesuit father kept
onwards with their journey. Those left behind were to bring the goods with them
later. There were now only about forty French and Huron in the group now
traveling with the Iroquois.
was when they reached Lake St. Francis that the Hurons began to suspect what
the Iroquois planned to do with them because they always consulted and held
council privately and apart from them. Three men and two women left for the
safety of Quebec, leaving the rest of the group (about seven Frenchmen) with
the Iroquois. As they left they could be heard singing as they paddled down the
middle of the river in a canoe full of the booty the Iroquois had expected to
acquire for themselves. The frustrated Iroquois could do nothing because they
feared that the remaining thirty-five could also leave. They resolved to carry
out their revenge at a prearranged place that happened as follows.
Iroquois sent about twenty Huron men and women in two of their boats early in
the morning towards an island with the remaining Frenchmen and Hurons to follow
in boats paddled by Iroquois. Radisson, who was with three Iroquois and one
Huron in his boat, noticed that the Iroquois paddled with a posture as if they
were going to war. When the flotilla arrived on the rocky shores of the island,
one of the Iroquois in Radisson's boat loaded his weapons. Both he and the
Huron saw this but neither dreamed of the tragedy that was at hand. With their
hatchets the three Iroquois bludgeoned the Huron who was with Radisson. He was
completely taken unawares. The Huron, who was still alive, was then shot with a
musket. The Huron fell at Radisson's heels and soon his feet were swimming in
courage," said the Iroquois captain to Radisson. "Nothing will happen to you
and your countrymen. This is between us and the Huron." He thanked God that he
knew some of this lower country Iroquois dialect because if he hadn't he would
have been terrified.
Despite being on the other
side of the island and cut off by a dense forest, the other Huron could not but
help overhear the gunshots and screams. So after the Iroquois pushed the corpse
into the water and then all went to the other side of the island, the eight
remaining Huron men were ready to defend themselves and their women with their
weapons in hand.
"This is as it should be,"
said the Iroquois captain to his men. "The Huron are brave to draw arms to
protect their women." The Iroquois then moved up on an overlooking hil while
the Hurons were made to build camp. The Jesuit priest was comforting the Huron
women when the Iroquois came bursting out of the woods covered in war paint.
Radisson watched, knowing the Huron men would all be slain.
The leader of the Iroquois
group approached the captain of the Hurons, a mighty warrior who had killed
many Iroquois plain for all to see by the tattoo etchings covering his legs. He
was known by both the Huron and the Iroquois as "captain."
"Brother, cheer up," he said
to the Huron captain, "and assure yourself you shall not be killed like dogs.
You art both man and captain, as I myself am, and will die fighting to
defending yourself and your women." The Hurons behind the captain let out a
terrible noise when they heard this, and then the captain took hold of the
necklace that was around the neck of the Iroquois captain.
"You will not be killed by
another hand then by mine," he said, looking the Iroquois warrior straight in
the eye. At that instant the cruel Iroquois fell upon the Hurons, as many as
wolves, with hatchets, swords and daggers, killing as many as there were, save
only one man. The Huron captain was able to kill one Iroquois with his hatchet
before himself being killed. The one man that survived was an old man who,
seeing that there was no way the Hurons could win, saved the lives of a few
Iroquois by stopping some of the Hurons from killing them. This act of decency
towards the Iroquois saved his life. Being good to the enemy was something that
the Iroquois respected.
All the dead bodies were
pushed into the water, and then the Huron women were rounded up. Radisson
admired the women for their deep silence, looking to the ground with their
coverlets upon their heads with not a sigh heard. Two hours passed until a
council was called.
The Jesuit father, treated
as the leader of the French, was explained the reasons for the slaying,
learning that the Hurons were killed for revenge of their dear comrades that
were drowned in coming for them to Montreal.
"I assure you that no harm
will come to the French," said the Iroquois captain. "Indeed the revenge
murders show that we have only good will and honor towards the French."
When the Jesuit father
returned to where Radisson and the other Frenchmen were waiting for word from
him, he found five of them standing on guard with arms drawn, expecting that
they all should share the same fate as the Hurons. The sixth Frenchman among
them was a "lay brother" to the Jesuit priest and too young to carry arms.
"If you cannot fight then
you must leave our company," said the Iroquois captain when he saw the lay
brother. He then spoke to Radisson and the Frenchmen, assuring them his
warriors did not want to kill them. The Jesuit then told them what had
transpaired at the council. The Frenchmen were still not convinced because all
the cards in front of them showed that they should logically be slain like the
Huron. It wasn't until two Iroquois men approached them with weapons,
signifying there was nothing between them, and that the Frenchmen were their
companions. Finally there was an agreement and understanding that they were
their brethren, and so the meat was served. Not all of the Frenchmen were
hungry after this, but some did eat.
After the meal, the Jesuit
father called another council and, with three pieces of wampum jewelry from the
Huron, threw down one of the wampum gifts on the ground between the Iroquois
"I throw this down that it
might be accepted as the bond of trust of our friendship between the Huron,
French and Iroquois, as it had been between the French and Huron.
"Ho! Ho!" they said, these
words signifying an assurance and promise. The father then threw down the
second shelled jewelry.
"This is for safe passage of
the women whose lives are in your hands to conduct them safely to their
"Ho! Ho!" said the Iroquois
in acceptance. And the blackrobe threw down the third piece of jewelry.
"And this is to encourage
the brave Iroquois to bring the Frenchmen to their country as well as their
merchandise in a manner that they will not be wet or be left behind."
Ho!" they all said in concurrance. With all three promises made, the Iroquois
leader made a speech in front of all that those who were in charge of each
boat, telling them to be careful with all the bundles of their passengers, and
upon reaching home they were each to give an account to him about the
successful transference of all the bundles in their charge.
The Iroquois of Onondaga
carried all the bags in a caring manner all the way to the low country.