Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


History of the Iroquois to 1898



[This text was written in 1898. For the full citation, see the end of the document.]


 From the annual Report on Indian Affairs of 30th June, 1896, it appears that of the Six Nations or Iroquois there are 3,667 resident in the Grand River Reserve, 1,151 (Mohawks) on the Bay of Quinte, 799 (Oneidas) in the Thames Reserve, 1,889 at Caughnawaga, in the Province of Quebec, 1,254 at St. Regis, in the same Province, and 124 known as the Oka Band - an offshoot from the Caughnawagas - on the Watha Reserve in Muskoka, and 84 on "Michel's Reserve," near Edmonton, in Alberta, making, without including a few who are in Reserves of other Tribes, a total in Canada of 8,963 officially enumerated. This is known, however, to be about 400 less than the actual number, as the official enumeration does not include every individual.


The following dates and events in Iroquois history have been compiled from various sources by Mr. E. M. Chadwick, of Toronto . His authorities include the History of the Five Nations, by the Hon. Cadwallader Colden, London, 1750 and 1755. League of the Hodènosaunee or Iroquois, by Lewis H. Morgan, Rochester , N.Y., 1851. History of the Six Nations, David Cusick, Tuscarora, N.Y., 1825, 1828 ; Lockport, N.Y., 1848. Iroquois Book of Rites, Horatio Hale, Philadelphia, 1833. He gives the time of organization into a Confederacy as about 1459.


In 1609 the Dutch arrived and founded a colony at New Amsterdam, now New York, and extending their possessions up the Hudson River came into contact with the Five Nations, with whom they formed a "Covenant Chain," or compact to maintain friendly relations.


Six years later, the Five Nations being at war with their old enemies the Adirondacks or Algonquins, the latter were joined by the French under Champlain. The Five Nations had no knowledge of the French previous to this time, nor any quarrel with them. This also was their first experience of firearms, by the use of which they were, at the first, surprised and easily defeated. Thus, too, was founded the hostility which long prevailed between the Five Nations and the French.


In 1643 the Five Nations conquered the "Neutral Nation" or Attiwondaronks, who occupied what was subsequently known as the Niagara District of Upper Canada, and destroyed them as a separate tribe, reducing them to a few scattered people, of whom some no doubt found a home among other tribes, while the remainder were absorbed by their conquerors through the process of adoption, which was a frequent method of treating captives in war - such persons becoming in all respects one with the tribe into which they were adopted.


The English superseded the Dutch in 1664 and assumed their "Covenant Chain," which may be said to have continued ever since unbroken. During the succeeding year the French, under De Courcelles, invaded the Five Nations' territory ineffectually; and again under De Tracy, when they destroyed a Mohawk Village, with a force of 1,200 French and 600 Indians. In 1670 the Five Nations, by successful war against the Hurons and Algonquins (Ojibiways, Ottawas, and others), became dominant in all Upper Canada between Lake Huron (south of Georgian Bay ) and the Ottawa. About this time also they broke up the New England Indians and reduced them to a condition of dependence, exacting from them a yearly tribute paid in wampum.


About 1680 the Senecas invaded and defeated the Illinois. At different dates, which cannot be stated with any degree of accuracy, the Five Nations overcame and reduced to dependence in varying degrees the following Indian nations: the Cherokees, Catawbas, Miamis, Shawnees, Susquehannahs, Naniicokes, Unamis, Delawares, and Minsi, reaching their highest degree of power about the end of the seventeenth century.


In 1684 the French again, 1,800 strong, under De La Barre, invaded the territory of the Onondagas, with little success. Three years later Denonville, with 2,000 French and 600 Indians, invaded the territory of the Senecas, destroying villages and cornfields. In the following year the Five Nations retaliated upon the French, and invaded Canada at Chambly and at Frontenac ( Kingston ) with all the terrors of Indian warfare. Again, in 1689, 1,200 strong, they ravaged the neighbourhood of Montreal up to the very fortifications, retiring with 200 prisoners, the French losses amounting to a total of 1,000 ; and, though Frontenac in the same year sent a force of 600 against them, destroying three villages and taking 300 prisoners, the Five Nations remained virtually conquerors of all Canada west of Montreal to Lake Huron.


In 1696 Frontenac, in person, with 1,000 French and 1,000 Indians, over-ran the Onondaga and Oneida territories, destroying villages and crops. A detachment under de Vaudreuil also attacked the Oneidas. Peace was then made, which continued until the British conquest of Canada , sixty years later. The Tuscaroras in 1715 were driven from North Carolina, and sought the protection of the Five Nations, as being of a common origin, and were admitted into the Confederacy, which then became the "Six Nations." In 1749 Abbé Picquet established a small settlement of Christianized Iroquois at Oswegatchie ( Ogdensburg , N.Y. ), which rapidly increased until, in 1754, it numbered some 3,000. This settlement was subsequently removed to Caughnawaga and St. Regis, where this branch of the Iroquois (as the Six Nations are unitedly called) still continues.


The American Revolution broke out in 1775, and the Six Nations became active participants in the contest, being, chiefly through the influence of Sir William Johnson, seconded by Brant and other chiefs, for the most part staunch and active adherents of the Loyalist cause, though a few were doubtful and held aloof. In the course of the war many of the villages and possessions of the Six Nations were laid waste by an American army under General Sullivan. They had made great advances in civilization, and many of their dwellings were good two-storey houses, with orchards and cultivated fields, all of which were destroyed. It is stated that in one orchard alone 1,700 fruit trees were cut down by General Sullivan's troops.


In 1783 the American States became independent, upon which the Loyalist migration to Canada took place, arid a large number of the Six Nations, led by Brant, were allotted a settlement upon the Bay of Quinte, where there is still a Mohawk Reserve, and subsequently a large tract of land upon the Grand River, the most of which was subsequently alienated, leaving however a Reserve of 46,133 acres, which they still occupy. A smaller settlement of Oneidas is in the Township of Delaware, on the Thames .


Besides the 8,800 Iroquois, as officially numbered, there are still some in New York, some have been deported to the west of the Mississippi, in the United States, and a band numbering about 700, in 1851, settled in Wisconsin , U.S. Their numbers in former times varied considerably. In 1677 they were estimated at 17,000, and about the end of that century they are said to have taken a census themselves showing 17,760. Sir William Johnson estimated them in 1763 at 10,000 ; Morgan in 1851 stated their numbers as being probably 7,000 in Canada and the United States together, but he evidently under-estimated the Canadians.


The league of the Iroquois was in the first place an alliance offensive and defensive of five "nations," and in the second place an international tribal or clan relationship, the latter being in theory, and ultimately in fact, a blood relationship between members of the different nations. The two unions constituted a combination by which the five peoples, though continuing to inhabit separate districts, became so welded together as to constitute an inseparable whole. The government was vested in a Council of fifty Sachems or Civil Chiefs, whose office was of an hereditary nature, aided at times by War Chiefs (not hereditary), and even by elder women, who possessed much political influence. These Chiefships were distributed firstly among the Nations, and secondly among the clans, each clan in each nation having one, two, or three chiefs. When the Tuscaroras became the Sixth Nation, the number of Chiefs was increased by their representatives. The Chiefships originally formed sIII continue, and the present Chiefs are known by the names of those whose successors they are, for the Council still continues its functions, and by it, under the Indian Department, the affairs of the Six Nations of the present day are regulated. The descent of hereditary Chiefships is traced in the female line. Upon the death of a Chief, his successor is nominated by the elder woman of the deceased's family, who names her own son or grandson, or the son or grandson of her sister or other near relative, being a female of the same descent as herself, and therefore of the same nation, and of the same "totem" and clan as her own.


The Six Nations are known by themselves by the Mohawk term Kanonsionni or "People of the Long House." Morgan uses the Seneca equivalent, which he writes "Hodenosaunee."


The present condition of this ancient people is chiefly agricultural, their Reserves being divided into separate holdings, which are allotted to the different families, and in such occupation they have a fair measure of success - their manner of life being en the whole much like that of other farmers in Canada. The Government holds in trust for them large sums, being the proceeds of sales of tracts of land originally granted to them, and from these sums they receive annual per capita payments.


Religion and education have not been overlooked. At the Grand River , near Brantford , is the old Mohawk Church - formely, but not now, within the Reserve - which is nearly, if not quite, the oldest in Ontario, and a place of much interest. It is furnished with a Communion set and large Bible, which were the gifts of Queen Anne, and there also is the tomb of the celebrated Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant. There are some other Churches at the Grand River Reserve, of which the principal one is a handsome white brick Church, in Gothic style, at Kanvungeh. The Mohawk Institute, established in 1831 near the old Mohawk Church by the "New England Company," an incorporated Missionary Society organized in England in 1649, is a most successful and admirably managed school for elder boys and girls, while for younger children there are several other schools upon the Reserve. On the Bay of Quinte Reserve there are two stone Churches and four schools.


Back to the Indians of Canada and Quebec page

Source : from J. Castell HOPKINS, ed., Canada. An Encyclopaedia of the Country, Vol. 1, Toronto, The Linscott Publishing Company, 1898, 540p., pp. 217-219.



© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College