Skip to content
Little girl looking Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Huron Indians

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

The main divisions of the subject are:

(1) Their Place in the Huron-Iroquois Family;
(2) Their Name;
(3) The Huron Country;
(4) Population;
(5) Government;
(6) Their Religion;
(7) Their History;
(8) Missionaries in Huronia and Their Various Stations.
(1) Extinction of the Attiwandaronk or Neutral Hurons;
(2) Migration to Quebec of the Hurons Proper—at Quebec; on the Island of Orleans; back to Quebec; at Beauport; at Notre Dame de Foy; at Vielle Lorette; final removal to la Jeune Lorette;
(3) Chronological Lists: (a) Jesuit Missionaries with the Hurons at Quebec, 1650-1790; (b) Secular Priests with the Hurons at Quebec, 1794-1909; Grand Chiefs, or Captains of the Quebec Hurons.

For III. Migrations in the West of the Petun, or Tobacco, nation (Tionnontates, Etionnontates, Khionnontatehronon, Dinondadies, etc.) see PETUN NATION.


1. Their Place in the Huron-Iroquois Family

At some unknown date all the Iroquois and Huron tribes formed but one single people. This fact, noted more than two hundred and fifty years ago by Father Jérôme Lallemont, has since been acknowledged by every modern Indian philologist as fully established. If language may be taken as a fair criterion to go by, the Hurons proper were the original stock from which sprang all the branches of the great Iroquoian family, whether included in the primitive federation of the Five Nations, or standing apart territorially, within historical times, as did the Tuskaroras, the Cherokees, and the Andastes. Father Chaumonot, who was thoroughly versed in the Huron and Iroquois tongues, and who had lived as missionary among both nations, says in his autobiography that "as this language [the Huron] is, so to speak the mother of many others, particularly of the five spoken by the Iroquois, when I was sent among the latter, although at the time I could not understand the language, it took me but a month to master it; and later, having studied the Onondaga dialect only, when present at the councils of the Five Nations assembled, I found that by a special help of God I could understand them all." It was for this reason that Father de Carheil, the Indian philologist, who had laboured among the Onondagas and Cayugas, chose the Huron Idiom as the subject matter of his standard work. He compiled his "Radices Huronicæ", comprising some nine hundred and seventy verbal roots, as a textbook as well for future Iroquois missionaries as for Huron. A more modern authority, Horatio Hale, had no hesitation in saying that the Wyandots of the Anderdon reserve used the most archaic form of the Huron-Iroquois speech that had yet been discovered. These Wyandots were for the most part descendants of the Petun Indians, the nearest neighbours of the Huron proper, who spoke a dialect but slightly different from that of the latter.

2. Their Name

Father Pierre Potier, whose works, still in manuscript, are appealed to as the weightiest authority in Huron linguistics, at the end of his "Elementa Grammaticæ Huronicæ" (1745) gives a list of the names of thirty-two North American tribes with their Huron equivalents, and in this list the term Ouendat stands for Huron . It is the correct appellation, and was used as such by the Huron themselves. The proper English pronunciation is Wendat, but the modified form of Wyandot has prevailed.

As for the etymology of the word, it may be said to derive from one of two roots, either ahouénda , meaning an extent or stretch of land that lies apart, or is in some way isolated, and particularly an island; or aouenda , a voice, command, language, idiom, promise, or the text of a discourse. That these two terms were all but identical, may be inferred from the fact that the compound word skaouendat has the twofold significance of "one only voice" and "one only island". Skaouendat is composed of the irregular verb, at, to be standing, to be erect, and one or other of the above mentioned nouns, thus aouenda-at , contracted (Elem. Gramm. Hur., p. 66) aouendat . But the verb at , when it enters into this composition, does so with a modified meaning, or, as Potier puts it, " At . . . cum particula reiterationis significat unitatem unius rei". The first example given is Skat, with the meaning of "one only thing" (Rad. Hur., 1751, 197); and, among several other examples which follow, the word Skaouendat occurs. Dropping the first syllable, formed with the particle of reiteration, Ouendat remains, with the meaning, "The One Language", or "The One Land Apart" or "The One Island". But which of the two substantives was combined in ouendat had probably lapsed, in the course of time, from the memory of the Hurons themselves. Plausible reasons, however, may be alleged which militate in favour of both one and the other.

That the tribe should have styled themselves the tribe speaking the one language, would be quite in keeping with the fashion they had of laying stress on the similarity or dissimilarity of speech when designating other nations. Thus, with them the Neutrals, a kindred race, went by the name of Attiouandaronk, that is, a people of almost the same tongue, while other nations were known as Akouanake, or peoples of an unknown tongue. On the other hand the probability of Ouendat deriving from ahouênda , an island or land by itself, seems equally strong. In the French-Huron dictionary, the property of Reverend Prosper Vincent Saouatannen, a member of the tribe, under the vocable île, the term atihouendo or atihouêndarack is given with the meaning "les Hurons" with the explanatory note: "quia in insulâ habitabant". From this one might be led to conclude that the appellation was given to them, as a nation, only after their forced migration to Gahoendoe, St. Joseph's or Christian Island, or after their sojourn in the Ile d'Orléans, Nevertheless it is certain that. long before either of these occurrences, they were wont to speak of their country, Huronia, as an island. One instance of this is to be found in relation 1638 (Quebec edition, p. 34; Cleveland edition, XV, 21) and a second in relation 1648 (Q. ed. p. 74; Clev. ed. XXXIII, 237, 239). Nor is this at all singular as the term ahouenda might aptly be applied to Huronia, since it signified not only an island strictly speaking, but also an isolated tract, and Huronia was all but cut off from adjoining territory by Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching on the south and east, the Severn River and Matchedash Bay on the north, Gregorian Bay on the west, and by the then marshy lands contiguous to what are now called Cranberry and Orr's Lake on the southwest. Corresponding to Ouendat , as applied to the members of the tribe and to their language, the name Ouendake denoted the region in which they dwelt. Potier, in his "Elements", p. 28, while explaining the use of the verb en , to be, that is to say, ehen , adds that it takes the place of the French word feu joined to the name of a person or a thing, as in the English word late , v.g. Hechon ehen , the late Echon , which was de Brébeuf's, and later Chaumonot's, Huron name. Then, among other examples, he gives Ouendake ehen , "La défunte huroine", literally "Huronia has been", recalling singularly enough the well know Fuit Ilium .

If Wendat, or the slightly modified English form of Wyandot, is the correct appellation of these Indians, they were, notwithstanding, universally known by the French as Hurons. This term originated in a party of them who had come down river to Quebec to barter. Though no hard and fast rule obtained in the tribe as to their head-dress, each adopting the mode that appealed for the nonce to his individual whim, this particular band wore their hair in stiff ridges, extending from forehead to occiput, and separated by closely shaven furrows, suggestive of the bristles on a boar's head, in French, hure . The French sailors viewed them with amused wonderment, and gave expression to their surprise by exclaiming "Quelle hure!" Thereupon the name Huron was coined, and it was later applied indiscriminately to all the nation. It has stood the test of time and is now in general and reputable use. Other names are to be met with which at various historical times were used to designate the Hurons; they made be said without exception to be misnomers. Some are but the names of individual chiefs, others the name of particular clans applied erroneously to the whole tribe, as Ochasteguis, Attignaountans, etc.

3. The Huron Country

Many theories have been devised to solve the problem as to what part of North America was originally occupied by the great Huron-Iroquois Family ; much speculation has been indulged in to determine, at least approximately, the date of their dismemberment, when a dominant, homogeneous race, one in blood and language, was broken up and scattered over a wide expanse; surmises to no end have been hazarded relative to the cause of the disruption, and especially that of the fierce antagonism which existed between the Iroquois and the Hurons at the time when Europeans came in contact with these tribes; in spite of all which, the solution is as far off as ever. For, unfortunately, the thoroughly unreliable folk-lore stories and traditions of the natives have but served to perplex more and more even discriminating minds. It would seem that the truth is to be sought, not in the dimmed recollections of the natives themselves, but in the traces they have left after them in their prehistoric peregrinations—such, for instance, as those found in the early sixties of the last century in Montreal, between Mansfield and Metcafe Streets, below Sherbrooke. The potsherds and tobacco pipes, unearthed there, are unmistakably of Huron-Iroquois make, as their form and style of ornamentation attest, while the quantity of ashes, containing many other Indian relics and such objects as usually abound in kitchen-middens, mark the site a permanent one. A discovery of this nature places within the realm of things certain the conclusion that at some period a Huron or Iroquois village stood on the spot. As for the unwritten traditions among the Red Men, a few decades are enough to distort them to such an extent that but little semblance of truth remains, and when it is possible to confront them with authenticated written annals, they are found to be at variance with well-ascertained historical events.

In 1870, Peter Dooyentate Clarke, an educated Wendat, gave to the public a small volume entitled "Origin and Traditional History of the Wyandots". "The lapse of ages", he says in the preface, "has rendered it difficult to trace the origin of the Wyandots. Nothing now remains to tell whence they came, but a tradition that lives only in the memory of a few among the remnant of this tribe. Of this I will endeavour to give a sketch as I had it from the lips of such, and from some of the tribes that have since passed away. My sketch reaches back about three centuries and a half . . ." From the following passage, which is to be found on p. 7, a judgment may be formed as to how much reliance may be placed on such traditions even when received from intelligent Indians, under most favourable circumstances, and pieced together by one of themselves: "About the middle of the 17th century, the Wyandots, on the island of St. Joseph, were suddenly attacked by a large party of Senecas with their allies and massacred [by] them to a fearful extent. It was at this time, probably, that a Catholic priest named Daniels, a missionary among the Wyandots, was slain by the relentless savages. During this massacre, a portion of the Wyandots fled from the island to the Michilimackinac. From there a portion of the refugees journeyed westward to parts unknown, the balance returned to the River Swaba." This meagre, confused, and inaccurate account seems to be all that has been handed down in the oral traditions of the Wyandots in the West concerning the laying waste of their country two centuries and a half ago, and of the events, all-important for them at least, which preceded and accompanied their own final dispersion. As these occurrences were fully chronicled at they same time they took place, the student of Indian history may, by comparison, draw his own conclusions as to the accuracy of Dooyentate's summary, and at the same time determine what credence is to be given to Indian traditions of other events, all certainly of minor importance.

With the opening years of the seventeenth century reliable Huron history begins, and the geographical position of their country becomes known when French traders and missionaries, at that epoch, penetrate the wilderness for the first time as far as what was then termed "the Freshwater Sea". The region then inhabited by the three greats groups, the Hurons proper, the Petuns, and the Neutrals, lay entirely within the confines of the present province of Ontario, in the Dominion of Canada, with the exception of three or four neutral villages which stood as outposts beyond the Niagara River in New York State, but which were eventually forced to withdraw, not being backed by the rest of the Neutrals against the Senecas in their efforts to resist the encroachments of the latter. Huronia proper occupied but a portion of Simcoe County, or, to be more precise, the present townships of Tiny, Tay, Flos, Medonte, Orillis and Oro, a very restricted territory, and roughly speaking comprised between 44° 20' and 44° 53' north latitude, and from east to west, between 72° 20" and 80° 10' longitude west of Greenwich. The villages of the Petun, or Tobacco, Nation were scattered over the Counties of Grey and Bruce; but the shoreline of their country was at all times chosen as a camping ground by bands of erratic Algonquins, a friendly race who were oft-times welcomed even to the Petun village of the interior. After the year 1639, owing to defeats and losses sustained at the hands of the Assistaeronnons, or Fire Nation, the Petuns withdrew towards the east, and concentrated their clans almost entirely within the confines of the Blue Hills in Grey County, overlapping, however, parts of Nottawasaga and Mulmer townships in Simcoe. As for the Neutral Nation, its territory extended from the Niagara River on the east, to the present international boundary at the Lake and River St. Clair on the west, while the shores of Lake Erie formed the southern frontier. To the north, no one of the Neutral villages occupied a site much beyond an imaginary line drawn from the modern town of Oakville, Halton County, to Hillsboro, Lambton County.

These geographical notions are not of recent acquisition; they have nearly all been in the possession of authors who have dealt seriously with Huron history. But what is wholly new is the systematic reconstruction of the maps of Huronia proper and of a small portion of the Petun country, an achievement which may be further perfected but which, as it stands, imparts new interest to Sagard's works and the Jesuit Relations, the only contemporaneous chronicles of these tribes from the first decades to the middle of the seventeenth century. The table [entitled "Tabulated List of Huron Sites"] is the result of the very latest researches, and gives in alphabetical order the Huron villages, etc., mentioned in Champlain, Sagard, the Relations, or by Ducreaux. When their sites have been determined by measurement based on documentary evidence only, and where forest growth or other hindrances have prevented, for the time being, serious attempts to discover vestiges of Indian occupancy, the site is marked under the heading, "Near", v.g. "Ihonatiria, Tiny 6. XX, XXI", which should be read: "Ihonatiria stood near lot 6 of the twentieth and twenty-first concessions of tiny township." But when remains of an Indian village have been unearthed on the spot indicated, the site is set down under the heading "On", v.g. Cahiagué Landing, Oro, E. 1/2 20, X, that is: "Cahiagué Landing occupied the east half of lot 20 in the tenth concession or Oro Township.

In the Neutral country there were about forty villages, but all that Decreaux has set down on his map are the following: St. Michael, which seems to have stood near the shore of Lake St. Clair, not far from where Sandwich and Windsor now stand; Ongiara, near Niagara Falls; St. Francis in Lamberton County, east of Sarnia; our Lady of the Angels, west of the Grand River, between Cayuga, in Haldimand County, and Parism in Brant ; St. Joseph, in Essex or Kent; St. Alexis, in Elgin, east of St. Thomas; and the canton of Ontontaron, a little inland from the shoreline in Halston County. Beyond the Niagara River, and seemingly between the present site of Buffalo and the Genesee, he marks the Ondieronon and their villages, which Neutral tribe seems to have comprised the Ouenrôhronon, who took refuge in Huronia in 1638.

When de Brébeuf and Chaumonot sojourned with the Neutrals in 1640-1641, they visited eighteen villages, to each of which they gave a Christian name, but the only ones mentioned are Kandoucho, or All Saints, the nearest to the Hurons proper; Onguioaahra, on the Niagara River; Teotongniaton or St. William, situated about in the centre of the country;and Khioetoa, or St. Michael , already enumerated above.

Add to this list the two villages mentioned by the Recollect, Father Joseph de la Roche de Daillon , though it is quite possible that they may be already included in the list under a somewhat different appellation. The first, Oüaroronon, was located the farthest towards the east, and but one day's journey from the Iroquois ; and the second Oünontisaston, which was the sixth in order journeying from the Petun country. With this all is said that can be said of the documentary data concerning the towns of the neutral Nation and of their respective positions.

4. Population

Father Jean de Brébeuf , writing from Ihonatiria, 16 July, 1636, says, "I made mention last year of the twelve nations, all being sedentary and populous, and who understood the language of the Hurons; now our Hurons make, in twenty villages, about thirty thousand souls. If the remainder is in proportion, there are more than three hundred thousand of the Huron tongue alone." This, no doubt, is a very rough estimate, and included the Iroquois and all others who spoke some one of the Huron dialects. In his relation of 1672 Father Claude Dablon includes a eulogium of Madam de la Peltrie . In it there is a statement for which he is responsible, to the effect that in the country of the Hurons the population was reckoned at more than eighty thousand souls, including the Neutral and Petun nations. No man had a more perfect knowledge of the Canada missions the Dablon, and, as this was written fully a score of years after the dispersion of the Hurons, he made the statement with all the contemporaneous documents at hand upon which a safe estimate could be based. The highest figure given for the population of Huronia proper was thirty-five thousand, but the more generally accepted computation gave thirty thousand as the approximate number, occupying about twenty villages. The method adopted in computing the population was that of counting the cabins in each village. The following quotations will give a clear idea of the process followed: "As for the Huron country it is tolerably level, with much meadow-land, many lakes and many villages. Of the two where we are stationed, one contains eighty cabins, the other forty. In each cabin there are five fires, and two families to each. Their cabins are made of great sheets of bark in the shape of an arbor, long, wide, and high in proportion. Some of them are seventy feet long" ( Carayon, Première Mission, 170; Cleveland edition, XV, 153). The dimensions of the lodges or cabins are given by Champlain and Sagard are, for length, twenty-five to thirty toises (i.e. 150 to 180 feet), more or less, and six toises (about 36 feet) in width. In many cabins there were twelve fires, which meant twenty-four families.

As to the number of persons in a family, it may be inferred from a passage, in the Relation of 1640, relating to the four missions then in operation among the Hurons and the one among the Petuns : "In consequence [of the round the Fathers made throughout all the villages] we were enabled to take the census not only of the villages and scattered settlements, but also of the cabins, the fires, and even, approximately, of the dwellers in the whole country, there being no other way to preach the Gospel in these regions than at each family hearth, and we tried not to omit a single one. In these five missions [including the Petuns ] there are thirty-two villages and settlements which comprise in all about 700 cabins, two thousand fires, and about twelve thousand persons." The average here, consequently, was six persons to a fire, or three to a family, which seems a low estimate; but what the Relation immediately adds must be taken into account: "These villages and cabins were far more densely thronged formerly", and it goes on to ascribe the great decrease to unprecedented contagions and wars during a few preceding years. In a similar strain Father Jérôme Lalemont wrote from Huronia to Cardinal Richelieu, 28 March, 1640, deploring this depletion, attributing it principally to war. He states that in less than ten years the Huron population had been reduced from thirty thousand to ten thousand. But famine and contagion were also active agents in depopulating the Huron homes, as the writers of the relations uniformly declare, and this decimation went on in an increasing ratio until the final exodus. The same writer under date of 15 May, 1645, seems to modify his statement somewhat, when he says: "If we had but the Hurons to convert, one might still think that ten and twenty thousand souls are not so great a conquest that so many hazards should be faced and so many perils encountered to win them to God." But evidently Father Jérôme Lalemont did not here pretend to give the exact figures, while the French expression may very well be rendered into English by "that ten and even twenty thousand souls " etc. But if, at the inception of the mission, the Hurons, Petuns, and Neutrals numbered all together eighty thousand souls, and the Huron alone thirty thousand, in what proportion, it may be asked, are the remaining fifty thousand to be allotted to the Neutrals and Petuns ?

To answer this question satisfactorily, other statements in the Relations must be considered. On 7 August, 1634, Father Paul le Jeune writes: "I learn that in twenty-five to thirty leagues of the country which the Hurons occupy—others estimate it at much less—there are more than thirty thousand souls. The Neutral Nation is much more populous" etc. Again in Relation 1641 it is said: "This Nation [the Neutral] is very populous; about forty villages and hamlets are counted therein." If Huronia had twenty villages and a population of thirty thousand, other conditions being alike, the Neutral country with forty villages should have had a population of sixty thousand. This conclusion might have held good in 1634, but it is at variance with the facts in 1641: "According to the estimate of the Fathers who have been there [in the Neutral country], there are at least twelve thousand souls in the whole extent of the country, which claims even yet to be able to place four thousand warriors in the field, notwithstanding the wars, famines, and sickness which, for three years, have prevailed there to an extraordinary degree", and in the following paragraph the writer explains why previous estimates were higher. In the country of the Petuns, or Tobacco Nation, contemporaneous records leave no doubt as to the existence of at least ten villages, and probably more. This, in the proportion just given, supposes a population of at least fifteen thousand. However, all things considered, it would be no exaggeration to say that the Hurons proper, when the missionaries went first among them, numbered upwards of twenty-five thousand, the Petuns twenty thousand, and the Neutrals thirty-five thousand. This would be in keeping with Dablon's estimate of the sum total.

5. Government

The form of government of the Hurons was essentially that of a republic. All important questions were decided in their deliberative assemblies, and the chiefs promulgated these decisions. But the most striking feature in their system of administration was that, strictly speaking, there was no constraining power provided in their unwritten constitution to uphold these enactments or to enforce the will of their chiefs. "These people [the Hurons]", says Bressani, "have neither king no absolute prince, but certain chiefs, like the heads of a republic, whom we call captains, different, however, from those in war. They hold office commonly by succession on the side of women, but sometimes by election. They assume office at the death of a predecessor, who, they say, is resuscitated in them. . . . These captains have no coercive power . . . and obtain obedience by their eloquence, exhortation, and entreaties"—and, it might be added, by remonstrance and objurgation, expressed publicly without naming the offenders, when there was question of amends to be made for some wrong or injustice done or crime perpetrated. That their powers of persuasion were great may be gathered from the words which a chief addressed to de Brébeuf, and reproduced by the Father in full in Relation 1636 (Queb. ed., 123; Clev. ed., X, 237). That their eloquence was not less incisive and telling when, in denouncing a criminal action, they heaped confusion on the head of an unnamed culprit is evinced by a harangue recorded verbatim in Relation 1648 (Queb. ed., 79; Clev. ed., XXVIII, 277).

The Huron's intolerance of all restraint is corroborated by Father Jérôme Lalemant : "I do not believe there is any people on earth freer than they, and less able to yield subjection of their wills to any power whatever, so much so that fathers here have no control over their children, or captains over their subjects, or the laws of the country over any of them, except insofar as each is pleased to submit to them. There is no punishment inflicted on the guilty, and no criminal who is not sure that his life and property are in no danger, even if he were convicted of three or four murders, or of being suborned by the enemy to betray his country. . . . It is not that laws or penalties proportional to the crime are wanting, but the guilty are not the ones who undergo the punishment, it is the community that has to atone for the misdeeds of individuals " etc.

Their legislative bodies consisted of their village councils and what might be called their states-general. The former were of almost daily occurrence. There the elders had control, and the outcome of the deliberations depended upon their judgment, yet everyone who wished might be present and everyone had a right to express his opinion. When a matter had been thoroughly debated, the speaker, in asking for a decision, addressed the elders saying, "See to it now, you are the masters." Their general councils, or assemblies of all the clans of which the nation was made up, were the states-general, and were convened only as often as necessity required. They were held usually in the village of the principal captain of all the country, and the council-chamber was his cabin. This custom, however, did not preclude the holding of their assemblies in the open within the village, or at times also in the deep recesses of the forest when their deliberations demanded secrecy.

Their administration of public affairs was, as de Brébeuf explains at some length, and as one would naturally suppose, twofold. First, there was the administration of the internal affairs of the country. Under this head came all that concerned either citizens or strangers, the public or the individual interests in each village, festivals, dances, athletic games—lacrosse in particular—and funeral ceremonies ; and generally there were as many captains as there were kinds of affairs. The second branch of their administration was composed of war chiefs. They carried out the decisions of the general assembly. "As for their wars," says Champlain, "two or three of the elders or the bravest chiefs raised the levies. They repaired to the neighbouring villages and carried presents to force a following." Of course other incentives were also employed to incite the enthusiasms of the braves.

In the larger villages there were captains for times both of peace and war, each with a well-defined jurisdiction, That is, a certain number of families came under their control. Occasionally all departments of government were entrusted to one leader. But by mere right of election none held a higher grade than others. Pre-eminence was reached only by intellectual superiority, clear-sightedness, eloquence, munificence, and bravery. In this latter case only one leader bore for all the burdens of the state. In his name the treaties of peace were made with other nations. His relatives were like so many lieutenants and councillors. At his demise it was not one of his own children who succeeded him, but nephew or a grandson, provided there was one to be found possessing the qualifications required, who was willing to accept the office, and who, in turn, was acceptable to the nation.

6. Their Religion

The first Europeans who had occasion to sojourn any considerable time among the Hurons seem to have held but one opinion concerning their belief in a Supreme Being. Champlain says that they acknowledged no deity, that they adored and believed in no god. They lived like brute beasts, holding in awe, to some extent, the Devil, or beings bearing the somewhat equivalent name of Oqui (Oki) . Still, they gave this same name to any extraordinary personage—one endowed, as they believed, with preternatural powers like their medicine men. Sagard is at one with Chaplain in his deduction, though he adds that they recognized a good and a bad Oki and that they looked upon one Iouskeha as the first principal and the creator of the universe, together with Eataentsie, but they made no sacrifice to him as one would to God. To their minds, the rocks, and rivers, and trees, and lakes, and, in fine, all things in nature, were associated with a good or bad Oki , and to these in their journeying they made offerings. Father Jérôme Lalemont incidentally states: "They have no notion of a deity who created the world or gives heed to its governing." Father Jean de Brébeuf , who, during his long stay among the Hurons, had leisure and every opportunity to study their beliefs, customs, and codes, and consequently may be quoted as by far the best authority in all such matters, has this to say, which seems to put the question in its true light. "It is so clear and manifest that there is a Deity who created heaven and earth that our Hurons are not able to wholly disregard it; and though their mental vision is densely obscured by the shadows of a long-enduring ignorance, by their vices and sins, yet have they a faint glimmering of the Divine. But they misapprehend it grossly and, having a knowledge of God, they yield him no honour nor love nor dutiful service; for they have no temples, nor priests, nor festivals, nor any ceremonies." This passage is to be found in the Relations of 1635 (Queb. ed., 34, 1; Clev. ed., VIII, 117). He proceeds immediately to explain briefly their belief in the supernatural character of one Eataentsie, or Aataensie, and that of her grandson Iouskeha. But this myth with its several variants is developed at much greater length in the Relation of 1636 (Queb. ed., 101; Clev. ed., X, 127), where many more particulars are added illustrative of their belief in some Deity.

From a perusal of these two accounts, it may be gathered that the myth of Aataensie and Iouskeha was accepted by the Hurons as accounting satisfactorily for their origin; that the former, who had the care of souls, and whose prerogative it was to cut short the earthly career of man, was reputed malevolent, while Iouskeha, presiding over the living and all that concerned life, was beneficent. They believed in the survival of the soul and its prolonged existence in the world to come—that is to say, in a vague manner, in immortality — but their concept of it was that of something corporeal. Most of what might be called their religious observances hinged on this tenant of an after life. Strictly speaking, they counted on neither reward not punishment in the place where souls went after death, and between the good and the bad, the virtuous and the vicious, they made no distinction, granting like honours in burial to both.

De Brébeuf detected in their myths, especially in that of Aataensie and Iouskeha, some faint traces of the glory of Adam and Eve, much distorted and all but faded from memory in the handing down through countless generations; so also that of Cain and Abel in the murder of Taouiscaron by his brother Iouskeha, who, in one variant, figures as the son of Aataensie. In the apotheosis of Aataensie and Iouskeha, the former was considered and honoured as the moon, the latter as the sun. In fact all the heavenly bodies were revered as something Divine; but in the sun, above all, was recognized a powerful and benign influence over all animate creation. As for the great Oki in heaven — and it is not clear if he were regarded or not as a personality distinct from Iouskeha— the Hurons acknowledged a power that regulated the seasons of the year, held the winds in leash, stilled the boisterous waves, made navigation favourable—in fine, helped them in their every need. They dreaded his wrath, and it was on him they called to witness their plighted word. In so doing, as de Brébeuf infers, they honoured God unwittingly.

Since the object ( objectum materiale ) of the theological virtue of religion is God, the claim that the reverential observances of the Hurons, as described by de Brébeuf, should be deemed sufficient to constitute religion properly speaking, must be set aside, as there was a great admixture of error in their concept of a Supreme Being. But as the object ( objectum materiale ) of the moral virtue of religion is the complex of acts by which God is worshiped, and as these tend to the reverence of God Who, in relation to the virtue of religion thus stands as its end, such acts, if practiced among the Hurons, should be considered. Devotion, adoration, sacrifice, oblations, vows, oaths, the uttering of the Divine name, as in adjuration or invocation, through prayer or praise, are acts pertaining to the virtue of religion. It is not necessary for the present purpose to insist on each particular act of the series, but only on the most important, and such as fell under de Brébeuf's observation, and are recorded by him.

Aronhia was the word used by them for heaven, the heavens, sky; and from the very beginning was used by the missionaries in Christian prayers to designate heaven, as may be seen in the Huron or Seneca Our Father by de Carheil. "Now", de Brébeuf writes, "here are the ceremonies they observe in these sacrifices [of impetration, expiation, propitiation, etc.]. They throw petun (tobacco) into the fire, and if, for example, they are addressing Heaven, they say 'Aronhiaté, onné aonstaniouas taitenr' , ' Heaven, here is what I offer you in sacrifice, have mercy on me, help me!' or if it be to ask for health, 'taenguiaens' , 'cure me'. They have recourse to Heaven in almost all their wants." When they meant to bind themselves by vow, or by most solemn promise to fill an agreement, or observe a treaty, they wound up with this formula: " Heaven is listening to [or heeding] what we are now doing", and they are convinced, after that, says de Brébeuf, that if they break their word or engagement Heaven will indubitably punish them. Were someone accidentally drowned, or frozen to death, the occurrence was looked upon as a visitation of the anger of Heaven, and a sacrifice must be offered to appease its wrath. It is the flesh of the victim which is used in the offering. The neighbouring villages flock to the banquet which is held, and the usual presents are made, for the well-being of the country is at stake. The body is borne to the burial place and stretched out on a mat on one side of the grave, and on the other a fire is kindled. Young men, chosen by the relatives of the victim, armed with knives, are ranged around. The chief mourner marks with a coal the divisions to be made and these parts are severed from the trunk and thrown into the fire. Then, amidst the chants and lamentations of the women, especially of the near relatives, the remains are buried, and Heaven, it is thought, is pacified.

Thus far, among the oblations to a supernatural being, no mention has been made of bloody sacrifices. Sacrifice, at least on account of the significance which is attached to it by usage among all nations (the acknowledging of the supreme dominion over life and death residing in the one for whom it is intended), may be offered to no creature, but only to the One Being to whom adoration ( cultus latriæ ) in its strictest sense is due. Such sacrifices of living animals were also in vogue among the Hurons. There was no day nor season of the year fixed for their celebration, but they were ordered by the sorcerer or magician for special purposes, as to satisfy ondinoncs or dreams, and were manifestly offered up to some evil spirit. These sacrifices are expressly mentioned in the relations of 1639 (Queb. ed., 94, 1-2; 97, 2; Clev. ed. XVII, 195, 197, 211) and in that of 1640 (Queb. ed., 93, 1; Clev. ed., XX, 35). Nor were burnt offerings wanting, as may be recorded in the Relation of 1637 (Queb. ed., 93, 1; Clev. ed., XXIII, 159, 173).

The foregoing presentment of the religion of the Hurons, though by no means exhaustive, forcibly suggests two inferences, especially if taken together with the beliefs and observances of the other branches of the same parent stock and those of the neighbouring tribes of North American Indians. The first is that they were a decadent race, fallen from a state of civilization more or less advanced, which at some remote period was grounded on a clearer perception of a Supreme Being, evinced by the not yet extinct sense of an obligation to recognize Him as their first beginning and last end. This would imply also a revelation vouchsafed in centuries gone by; the shreds of such a revelation could still be discerned in their beliefs, several of which supposed some knowledge of the Biblical history of the human race, though that knowledge was all but obliterated. The second conclusion tends to confirm Father de Brébeuf's judgment, previously cited, that, while still retaining, as they did, a knowledge of God, however imperfect, the Hurons were the victims of all kinds of superstitions and delusions, which tinged the most serious as well as the most indifferent acts of their everyday life. But above all else, their dreams, interpreted by their soothsayers and sorcerers, and their mysterious ailments with their accompanying divinations of their medicine-men, had brought them so low, and had so perverted their better natures that the most vile and degrading forms of devil worship were held in honour.

7. Their History

Nothing is known of the history of the Hurons before the visit of Jacques Cartier to the shores of the St. Lawrence in 1535. It is at this date that conjecture begins to take the shape of history. The two principal villages which this explorer found, occupying respectively the actual sites of Quebec and Montreal, were Stadacona and Hochelaga. By far the most probable opinion is that these were inhabited by some branch of the Iroquois-Huron race. The Sulpician writer, Etiene Michel Faillon, may be said to have transformed that theory into an almost absolute certainty. His proofs to this effect are based on the customs and traditions of both Algonquins and Hurons, and what is most conclusive, on the two vocabularies compiled by Cartier, contained in his first and second relation, and which comprise about one hundred and sixty words. The Abbé Faillon states rival theories fairly and dispassionately, and, to all appearances, refutes them successfully. Another Sulpician priest, J.A. Cuoq , in his "Lexique de la langue Iroquoise", following in the wake of Faillon develops at greater length the argument based on the similarity of the words in Cartier's lists to the Huron-Iroquois dialects, and their utter incompatibility with any form of the Algonquin tongue. Strongly corroborating this contention is the fact, to which reference has already been made, of the finding in 1860 of fragments of Huron-Iroquois pottery and other relics within the present limits of Montreal, and which at the time formed the subject-matter of Principal (later Sir William) Dawson's monograph.

An interval of over sixty years elapsed between Jacques Cartier's expeditions and Champlain's first coming in 1603. A great change had taken place. Stadacona and Hochelaga had disappeared, and the tribes along the shores of the St. Lawrence were no longer those of Huron-Iroquois stock, but Algonquin. The various details of how this transformation was effected are a matter of mere surmise, and the theories advanced as to its cause are to uncertain, too conflicting, and too lengthy to find place here. What is certain is that meanwhile a deadly feud had sundered the Hurons and the Iroquois. The Hurons proper were now found occupying the northern part of what is at present Simcoe County in Ontario, with the neighbouring Petun, or Tobacco Nation, to the west, and the Neutrals to the south-west. The hostile tribes of the Iroquois held possession of that part of New York State bordering on the Mohawk River and extending westward to the Genesee, if not farther. The Algonquins, who now inhabited the country abandoned by the Huron-Iroquois, along the Lower St. Lawrence, were in alliance with the Hurons proper.

Champlain, with a view to cementing the already existing friendships between the French and their nearest neighbours, the Algonquins and Hurons, was led to espouse their cause. Nor was this the only object of his so doing. Bands of Iroquois infested the St. Lawrence, and were a serious hindrance to the trade which had sprung up between the Hurons and the French. In 1609, he, with two Frenchmen, headed a party of Algonquins and Hurons, ascended the Richelieu River to Lake Champlain, named after him by right of discovery, met the enemy near what is now Crown Point, and there won an easy victory (30 July), thanks to the execution wrought by his fire-arms, to which the Iroquois were unaccustomed. A second successful encounter with the Iroquois took place 19 July, 1610, at Cap du Massacre, three or four miles above the modern town of Sorrel. Though this intervention of Champlain was bitterly resented by the Iroquois, and rankled their breasts, their thirst for vengeance and their hatred for both the French and the Hurons was intensified beyond measure by the expedition of 1615. This was set on foot in Huronia itself, and, headed by Champlain, penetrated into the every heart of the Iroquois Country. There the invading band, on 11 October, attacked a stronghold lying to the south of what is now Oneida Lake, or, to be precise, situated on Nichol's Pond, three miles east of Perryville, in New York State. The time of this raid, so barren in good results for the Hurons, coincided with the coming of the first missionary to Huronia, the Recollect Father Joseph Le Caron. He and Champlain had set out from the lower country almost together, the former between the 6th and 8th of July, the latter on the 9th. In the beginning of August, Champlain, before starting his long march to the Iroquois, visited him at Carhagouha; and on the 12th of that month (1615) piously assisted at the first Mass ever celebrated in the present province of Ontario. This event took place within the limits of what is now the parish of Lafontaine, in the Diocese of Toronto.

The history of the Hurons from this date until their forced migration from Huronia in 1649 and 1650, may be summarized as one continuous and fierce struggle with the Iroquois. The latter harassed them in their yearly bartering expeditions to Three Rivers and Quebec, endeavouring, as skillful strategists, to cut them off from their base of supplies. They lay in ambush for them in every vantage-point along the difficult waterways of the Ontario and the St. Lawrence. When the Hurons were the weaker party, they were attacked and either massacred on the spot, or reserved for torture at the stake; and when they were the stronger, the wily Iroquois hung upon their trail and cut off every straggler. At times the Hurons scored a triumph, but these were few and far between. Thus things went on from year to year, the Hurons gradually growing weaker in numbers and resources. Meanwhile they received but little help from their French allies, for the colonists, sadly neglected by their mother country, had all they could do to protect themselves. But a time came when the Iroquois found their adversaries sufficiently reduced in numbers to attack them in their homes. In truth they had all along kept war parties on foot who prowled through the forests in or near Huronia, to attack isolated bands, or at least to spy out the condition of the country, and report when the Huron villages were all but defenseless through the absence of braves on hunting expeditions or for the purposes of traffic. The first telling blow fell on Contarea (Kontarea, or Kontareia) in June, 1642. This was a populous village of the Arendarrhonons, or Rock Clan, lying to the extreme east, and one of the strongest frontier posts of the whole country. Neither age nor sex were spared, and those who survived the conflict were led off into captivity, or held for torture by slow fire. No particulars as to the mode of attack or defense are known, as there was no resident missionary, the inhabitants of Contarea never having allowed one within its pale; they had even more than once openly defied the Christian God to do His worst. Contarea stood about five miles south of the present town of Orillia.

It may be of interest to note that all the great inroads of the Iroquois seem to have proceeded from some temporary strategic base established in the region east of Lakes Couchiching and Simcoe, and to have crossed into Huronia at the Narrows so accurately described by Champlain. The next village of the Rock Clan, which lay nearest to Orillia, itself close by the Narrows, was St-Jean Baptiste. Its braves had sustained many losses after the fall of Contarea, but the outlook became so threatening in 1647 that its inhabitants early in 1648 abandoned what they now considered to be an untenable position, and betook themselves to the other Huron villages which promised greater security. By this move St. Joseph II, or Tennaostaiaë, a village of the Attignenonghue, or Cord Clan, was left exposed to attacks from the east; nor were they slow in coming. At early dawn, at 4 July of that same year, 1648, the Iroquois band surprised and carried it by assault. Once masters of the place, they massacred and captured all whom they found within the palisade. Many, however, by timely flight, had reached a place of safety. The intrepid Father Antoine Daniel had just finished Mass when the first alarm rang out. Robed in surplice and stole, for the adminstration of the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance, he presented himself unexpectedly before the stream of inrushing savages. His sudden appearance and his fearless bearing overawed for an instant, and they stood rooted to the ground. But it was only for an instant. Recovering themselves, they vented their fury on the faithful missionary who was offering his life for the safety of the fugitives. Shot down mercilessly, every savage had a hand in the mutilation of his body, which was at last thrown into the now blazing chapel. This diversion, the shepherd's death, meant the escape of many of his flock. The neighboring village of Ekhiondastsaan, which was situated a little farther to the west, shared at the same time the same fate of Teanaostaiaë.

On 16 March of the following year St-Ignace II and St-Louis, two villages attended from Ste-Marie I, the local centre of the mission of the Ataronchronons (i.e., the People beyond the Fens), were in turn destroyed. The former, lying about six miles to the south-east of Fort Ste-Marie I, was attacked before daybreak. Its defenders were nearly all abr

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Saint of the Day logo
Prayer of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.