A Jesuit and Governor Montmagny Save the Lives of Two Iroquois Prisoners of War

February 9, 2023

Charles Jacques Huault de Montmagny, governor of New France.

As the successful warriors approached the little settlement of Sillery, immediately above Quebec, they [the Algonquin warriors] raised their song of triumph, and beat time with their paddles on the edges of their canoes; while, from eleven poles raised aloft, eleven fresh scalps fluttered in the wind. The Father Jesuit and all his flock were gathered on the strand to welcome them. The Indians fired their guns, and screeched in jubilation; one Jean Baptiste, a Christian chief of Sillery, made a speech from the shore; Piskaret replied, standing upright in his canoe; and, to crown the occasion, a squad of soldiers, marching in haste from Quebec, fired a salute of musketry, to the boundless delight of the Indians. Much to the surprise of the two captives, there was no running of the gauntlet, no gnawing off of fingernails or cutting off of fingers; but the scalps were hung, like little flags, over the entrances of the lodges, and all Sillery betook itself to feasting and rejoicing. One old woman, indeed, came to the Jesuit with a pathetic appeal: “Oh, my Father! Let me caress these prisoners a little: they have killed, burned, and eaten my father, my husband, and my children.” But the missionary answered with a lecture on the duty of forgiveness.

6. The church of Sillery. Old map of Sillery, The Citadel & the St. Lawrence river.

On the next day, Montmagny came to Sillery, and there was a grand council in the house of the Jesuits. Piskaret, in a solemn harangue, delivered his captives to the Governor, who replied with a speech of compliment and an ample gift. The two Iroquois were present, seated with a seeming imperturbability, but great anxiety of heart; and when at length they comprehended that their lives were safe, one of them, a man of great size and symmetry, rose and addressed Montmagny:—

“Onontio,* I am saved from the fire; my body is delivered from death. Onontio, you have given me my life. I thank you for it. I will never forget it. All my country will be grateful to you. The earth will be bright; the river calm and smooth; there will be peace and friendship between us. The shadow is before my eyes no longer. The spirits of my ancestors slain by the Algonquins have disappeared. Onontio, you are good: we are bad. But our anger is gone; I have no heart but for peace and rejoicing.” As he said this, he began to dance, holding his hands upraised, as if apostrophizing the sky. Suddenly he snatched a hatchet, brandished it for a moment like a madman, and then flung it into the fire, saying, as he did so, “Thus I throw down my anger! Thus I cast away the weapons of blood! Farewell, war! Now I am your friend forever!”

A model of the site of the Jesuit house in Sillery at the beginning of the colony. Photo by Cephas.

The two prisoners were allowed to roam at will about the settlement, withheld from escaping by an Indian point of honor. Montmagny soon after sent them to Three Rivers, where the Iroquois taken during the last summer had remained all winter.

* Onontio, Great Mountain, a translation of Montmagny’s name. It was the Iroquois name ever after for the Governor of Canada. In the same manner, Onas, Feather, or Quill, became the official name of William Penn, and all succeeding Governors of Pennsylvania. We have seen that the Iroquois hereditary chiefs had official names, which are the same today that they were at the period of this narrative.

Francis Parkman, The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1897, 2:101–3.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 865


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