In 1506/1518 the Iroquois and the Huron began trading with the French fishermen along the St. Lawrence River in Canada. There were about one million Indians in Canada at that time and about one third lived along the Pacific coast and the remaining two third lived near the St. Lawrence River and near the Great Lakes. The best known ones were:
– The Neutral and the Petan, agricultural peoples living in stable villages.
– The Cree and Micmac were residential bands of extended families.
– The Inuits of the Hudson Bay, lived in snow houses (igloos) in winter and sod huts or skin tents in the summer.
– The Huron and the Iroquois lived in palisaded villages. They cultivated corn, beans, squash and tobacco. The Huron were known as great traders who had special relations with the French.
In 1534 Mimac Indians established friendly relations with Jacques Cartier, a Frenchman, on hiss first journey to the coast of Labrador.
The second journey of Jacques Cartier in 1535 was down the St. Lawrence Seaway to Quebec and Montreal. Again he established friendly relations with Chief Donnacona of the St. Lawrence Iroquois from the village of Stadacona, now Quebec City. There he exchanged European goods for furs. Two of the chief’s sons, Domaguaya and Taignoagny, accompanied Cartier back to France.
The Iroquois went on trading with the French. Between 1535 and 1541 the Iroquois chief Donnacona’s sons guided Cartier Throughout the St. Lawrence River, meeting more Iroquois and some Algonquian-speaking Indians. He visited the agricultural town of Hochelaga (nor Montreal). The 1500 to 3500 people living there traded with Cartier.
In 1942-43 Jacques Cartier searched for precious metals in Canada but failed to find any. His relationship with the Stadacona Iroquois deteriorated and his attempt to create a French settlement failed
A 1604 trading agreement between Micmac Indians and the French was the basis for the French claims to all Canadian provinces controlled by the Micmac, that is Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island,, much of New Brunswick and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec.
In 1608 the Iroquois welcomed Champlain and agreed to a French trading post on the site of the former village of Stadacona. The French called it Quebec while Indian village of Hochelaga became Montreal later on. Champlain made trading agreements with many tribes. He was especially interested to exchange furs for metals, knives and other European goods.
In 1609 a Huron delegation visited Champlain in Quebec City wanting to buy guns to attack the Lake Champlain Iroquois. They would pay with furs. Champlain saw the advantage to have the Hurons on his side against the English-allied Iroquois. The not only sold them guns but he joined them in the fight in 1610 and 1615.
In 1613 the French and the Micmac took control of Newfoundland. The French armed the Micmac against the Beotuck who had killed 37 French fishermen. The Beothuk were soon extinct.
In 1615 the Huron villagers of Huronia welcomed Samuel de Champlain, leader of New France, as their guests. The Huron –about 30,000- lived in longhouses and practised agriculture on a large scale (corn, squash, beans, sunflowers, tobacco, etc.). The Huron and Champlain reached a agreement on trading relations, the Indians supplying furs in exchange for European goods.
During the period going from 1615 to 1649 the Huron traders did a very good business buying furs from other tribes and selling them to the French.
The Beaver War between the Huron and the Iroquois started in 1635. Fur (including beaver, ermine, mink and fox) was important to the Huron traders who bought them from many allied tribes to resell them to the French. The Dutch at Fort Orange were excluded from the trade. They tried to get in it with the help of the Iroquois who also wanted to enter the trade. The Dutch armed the Mohawk (Iroquois) and the Seneca began to attack the Huron.
In 1637-1640 the Beaver War between the Iroquois and the Huron grew into a full war. The Dutch helped the Iroquois and the French helped the Huron. In 1639 a smallpox epidemic killed half of the Huron and the Iroquois invaded Huronia.
In 1641 the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy tried to make peace with the French and agreed to negotiate with the Huron to gain greater access to furs. However the French refused to negotiate with them as it would divert fur trade to the Dutch in New York.
In 1642 the French founded the city of Montreal on the site of the former Iroquois village of Hochelaga. At first it was a Jesuit mission but it grew into an important military outpost and centre of the French fur trading empire in North America. However increasing Iroquois attacks on the French and the Huron disrupted the fur trade.
The Mohawks, and other allied tribes, signed a treaty with the Dutch to secure a steady source of firearms, knives, axes, cloth, beads, and guns and powder. This began 60 years of war against the French allied tribes (1643-1701). The first battle took place near the mouth of the Richelieu River in Quebec where the Huron attacked the Iroquois. The Iroquois finally defeated the Huron, Tobacco, Neutrals, Illinois, Susquehannock and Erie.
The Iroquois defeated the Huron in the winter of 1649/1650. A thousand Mohawk warriors armed with guns together with their Seneca allies defeated the Huron weakened by disease. Christianity was also a factor in their defeat. The French Jesuits divided the Huron between the Traditionalists and the new converts to Christianity. Only the last ones received guns. The Huron escaped as well as they could but they suffered heavily at the hands of other Iroquoian tribes between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The cold and deprivation did not help either. The Neutral and the Erie Nations were almost wiped out and the French influence in the region was strongly reduced.
In 1650 the Iroquois defeated the Nipissing near Lake Nipissing in Ontario. The Iroquois continued their expansion to the west. They attacked the Chippewa, the Illinois and the Ottawa and pushed them back into what is now Michigan and Wisconsin. The trade wars of the Great Lakes affected other tribes. The Shawnee separated from other Algonquian-speaking tribes such as the Sauk and the Fox and migrated into the Ohio Valley. The Cheyenne migrated from southern Ontario to Montana and the Dakotas and the Huron fled their land. By 1654 most of the Lower Michigan peninsula was uninhabited.
After defeating the Huron, the Iroquois continued their expansion to the west. They attacked the Chippewa, the Illinois and the Ottawa pushing these tribes to Michigan and Wisconsin. Some tribes were even pushed further west such as the Shawnee who migrated to the Ohio River Valley and the Canadian Cheyenne who moved as far west as Montana and the Dakotas.
As a result of the Iroquois wars the French population of traders and missionaries in New France was reduced to about 2,000 in 1665.
The governor of New France, Count Frontenac, founded Fort Frontenac in 1673 on Lake Ontario, and gave protection to some Indian tribes allies of the French.
The Iroquois Wars (1641-1701) finally ended. Peace councils met in at least 3 places in 1701 and approved a peace agreement between all the Iroquois tribes and the French and their Indian allies. The final council meeting took place on Montreal and was attended by the leaders of the Ottawa. Huron, Missisauga, Nipissing, Algonquin, Temiscaming, Pjibwa, Potawatomi (who represented the Sauk), Menominee, Winnebago, Mesquackie, Mascouten, Miami, Illinois, Kickapoo, Indians of the French missions at Sault Ste Marie, Abenaki, Onondaga, Seneca, Oneida, and Cayuga. The Mohawks did not participate but later added their consent. As a result the Iroquois were allowed to hunt in the north-south corridor along Lake Champlain into Canada and the Ottawa could then travel through Iroquois lands to trade in Albany. The Five Nations adopted a neutral attitude between the French in New France and the British in their colonies. The Iroquois strengthened their internal government by concentrating authority in the Central Council of the Iroquois confederation. One chief was chosen among the 49 chiefs of the Five Nations to act as the only spokesman in their relations with the Europeans. They negotiated trade agreements with the Ottawa (in Michigan and Ohio), the Ojibwa (Chippewa in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ontario) and French-allied tribes of the Illinois Confederacy (Illinois). These agreements lasted until 1740.
The Treaty of Utrecht transferred a certain amount of land in Canada from the French to the English. The Micmac and Maliseet who inhabited these lands refused to accept that their homelands had now become English (in 1713). Some Iroquois also refused the terms of the treaty that move them from French to English control.
In 1730 the French and their allies massacred about 400 Fox Indians searching sanctuary east among the Iroquois (Seneca. Thy also captured and sell 500 in slavery.
In 1734, the French were defeated by the Fox and their allies, the Sauk, in the battle of Butte des Morts. As a result peace negotiation stated between the Fox and the French.
In 1737, the French made peace with the Fox Mesquackie) following their defeat of 1734. The remaining Mesquackie and the Sauk rebuilt some villages on the east bank of the Mississippi, present-day Prairie du Chien. French restarted trade with these tribes after the building of Fort Martin in 1738. Other Fox moved to Iowa.
In 1742 the Great lakes Indians started to trade with the British instead of with the French. This was due to the fact that the British traders had lower prices and a better supply of quality hatchets, knives, kettles, and guns.
In 1747 the Hurons resented the French trading practices and started attacking the French traders especially in Michigan killing some of them. At the same time the pro-British Miami Indians also attacked the French. As a result both the Huron and the Miami moved eastward leaving Michigan for the Ohio Valley.
In 1753 the French expelled the colonial Pennsylvania traders from Ohio Valley. This was based on their treaties with the local Indians.
In 1763 Sir Jeffrey Amherst and the British in general had a completely different attitude from the French towards the Indians. Whereas the French tried to deal as fairly as possible with the Indians, Amherst made no effort to build goodwill, he had no respect and treated the Indians with contempt. It is said that he used small-pox infected blankets as a weapon against the Indians.
After the British defeated the French they wanted to receive the surrender of all French forts in 1763. Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa blocked them near Lake Erie saying that the French had surrendered but not the Indians. By 1766 the British controlled only two –Pittsburgh and Detroit- of the 13 French forts and they were under Indian siege. However the Indians ran out of guns and ammunition and their rebellion collapsed and Pontiac and other 40 chiefs made peace with the British.
The Quebec Act enacted in England in 1774 defined a boundary line between English colonies and Crown lands reserved to the Indians which extended from Canada as far south as Ohio. This interfered with the colonists land claims in Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia in the Ohio Valley. Many American leaders –including future Founding Fathers- had invested heavily in lands in Ohio. They were not too pleased