When Europeans began to arrive in North America, they did more than spread disease and claim land that they did not discover. They also upset the balance of power among the Indigenous people, in addition to the economy of the land through the demand for furs.
With the arrival of the French and Samuel de Champlain in the early 16th century, the northern Indigenous people in the Quebec area provided the French with valuable furs. The Iroquois had an alliance with the French prior to 1603, but with the Iroquois interfering with the trade between the northern Indigenous and the French, it would result in a battle against the Iroquois in 1609. With his Algonkin and Huron allies, he defeated the Iroquois on the shores of Lake Champlain, with Champlain killing three chiefs himself with his advanced weapons.
One year later, Champlain and the French would help the Algonquins and Huron defeat an Iroquois raiding party. In 1615, he took part in a raiding party of an Iroquois town, which failed.
The Dutch arrived in the picture, settling along the Hudson and Delaware rivers between 1610 and 1614. One trading post was on Castle Island, which was near present-day Albany and was next to the territory of the Mohawk. With this post, the Iroquois now had access to European markets through the Mohawk. At this point, the Iroquois were supplied with guns from the Dutch and they quickly began to conduct large-scale hunting for furs to satisfy the increasing demand.
The Iroquois Confederacy began to engage in open conflict with the tribes supported by the French. The Iroquois lived on land south of Lake Ontario and west of the Hudson River, with small skirmishes happening between them and the Shawnee and Huron of the area.
In 1628, things began to speed towards open war when the Mohawks defeated the Mahicans. Within two years, the Iroquois were fully armed with European weaponry through Dutch trade.
At this same time, the increased trading in beaver furs caused the beaver population to nearly disappear from the Hudson Valley, while at the same time demand for beaver fur was increasing. With the lack of beaver pelts available, the tribes accelerated towards war and the centre of the fur trade began to shift farther northern into southern Ontario, an area controlled by the Huron and the French.
The Iroquois began to conquer their smaller neighbours in order to gain new hunting grounds for beaver furs. In 1638, they took over the territory of the Wenro, with the survivors fleeing to the Huron for protection. The Wenro were vital in the area as they served as a buffer between the Iroquois and the northern tribes in southern Ontario. The tribes, such as the Erie and Neutral tribes, were larger and more powerful than the Iroquois, so the Iroquois turned their attention towards other tribes at the encouragement of the Dutch.
In 1641, the Mohawk travelled to New France to propose peace with the French and their tribes, with the request that a trading post of the French be established in Iroquoia. The governor of New France refused, feeling it would be seen as abandoning their Huron allies.
In the 1640s, the Iroquois began to attack Huron villages along the St. Lawrence River to disrupt the trade with the French. This continued through the next few years and was a large enough annoyance that in 1645, the French called the tribes together in New France to negotiate a treaty. The French agreed to the demands of the Iroquois and granted them trading rights in New France.
Things seemed to be okay but in 1646, a fleet of 80 canoes came to New France with a large harvest of furs but when they arrived the French told them to trade with the Hurons, who would be the middleman. The Iroquois took this as an insult and resume the war.
At this point, the French decided to get involved in the conflict. The Huron and the Iroquois each had between 25,000 and 30,000 members. To tip the balance in their favour, the Hurons allied with the Susquehannocks in 1647, allowing the Huron and their allies to outnumber the Iroquois.
The Hurons then attempted to break through the Iroquois Confederacy by negotiating a piece with the Onondaga and Cayuga tribes. Other tribes within the Confederacy intercepted the messengers through and negotiations ended.
In 1648, two Algonquin tribes took a fur convoy through an Iroquois blockade, succeeding in the skirmish and inflicting heavy casualties on the Iroquois. That same year, the Iroquois Confederacy sent 1,000 armed warriors, who all had Dutch guns now, through the woods into Huron territory to launch an attack. They succeeded in destroying several villages, killing many warriors and taking thousands of people captive to later be adopted into the tribe. Several Jesuit missionaries were killed and the surviving Hurons fled into the northern Great Lakes region. The Ottawa tribe was able to keep the Iroquois expansion at bay a bit, but by this point the Iroquois controlled a wide fur-rich region and had no tribes between them and the French now.
Things continued to escalate and by the 1650s, the Iroquois began attacking the French directly, although some of the Iroquois Confederacy tribes like the Onondaga maintained peaceful relations.
After a failed peace treaty negotiation, the Iroquois moved into New France along Lake Champlain and began attacking and blockading Montreal. Soon, the Iroquois controlled an area from the Virginia Colony in the south, to the St. Lawrence in the north, and out west to Ohio Country, after the Shawnee had been driven off their lands by the Iroquois. The Iroquois were able to control all the way west to the Mississippi River.
In 1650, the Iroquois were able to attack the Neutrals tribe and drive them out of their territory by the end of 1651, bringing thousands of Neutrals into their own tribe.
In 1654, the Iroquois attacked the Erie tribe but did not have much success. For the next two years, the Iroquois destroyed the Erie people and by 1656, the tribe fled to the west. When they were first attacked, the Erie numbered 12,000 and outnumbered the Iroquois but the Iroquois overcame this thanks to the Dutch firearms.
In May of 1660, the Battle of Long Sault would occur. It was in the early part of that month when Adam Dollard des Ormeaux was serving near modern-day Montreal when 200 Iroquois warriors, who had been camped nearby, made their way down the river in a fleet of canoes. Two canoes carrying five warriors were spotted by the French so Dollard readied an ambush where the Iroquois were likely to land. The Iroquois were driven off by Dollard and his men, with four of the Iroquois being killed or wounded. Soon after this, the fleet of canoes appeared and began to land men but this attack was pushed back and then began to lay a siege at the fort. They then requested a parley, but Dollard believed that it was a ruse and refused to speak to the Iroquois. The Iroquois then destroyed the French canoes and began to attack the fort walls. They were again driven off, with several Indigenous killed including a Seneca chief. Several French soldiers left the fort, grabbed the body and decapitated it and put the head on the palisade. The Iroquois then attacked again but were pushed back. At this point, they left to get a war party of 500 men. When they arrived, it had been five days since the first attack and the Huron slaves began to shout to the Huron in the fort that if they abandoned the fort they would be treated well. The Huron decided to take them up on the offer and abandoned the French. In the fourth attack, the Iroquois began to breach through the fort walls and started to pour over the top. Dollard lit a gunpowder keg and attempted to throw it over the wall but it hit the palisade and bounced back inside. When it exploded, it killed or wounded many of the French defenders. The Iroquois were able to get inside and overpower the troops inside. Only four French men were left at this point. Three were seriously wounded and burned alive in the fort, while the fourth was tortured and killed later on.
In 1661 and 1662, the Iroquois began raids on the Abenaki who were allies with the French.
To deal with the increased attacks from the Iroquois, the French Crown put together a military force made up of Frenchman, Hurons and Algonquins to counter the raids from the Iroquois. The Iroquois attacked this force, and only 29 of the French survived, with five being captured and tortured to death. While the Iroquois had won, they experienced a huge amount of casualties and the leaders began to look towards Peace with the French.
In 1666, the French invaded the Iroquois territory and took their chief prisoner, even though the French force had to withdraw after being heavily outnumbered. In September, they proceeded through the area but did not find an Iroquois area but were unable to find the Iroquois army, so they began to burn the crops and homes they found. This would result in many Iroquois dying from starvation in the winter.
The Iroquois decided at this point to sue for peace and France agreed. Once they were at peace with the French, the Iroquois began to expand westward. This expansion would push the Lakota over the Mississippi into the Great Plains, where they would adopt the horse culture they would become known for. The Iroquois quickly overran the Shawnee in the Ohio area, which forced them to flee to the Miami territory. The Miami brought together several allies and began to fight against the Iroquois who were moving into their territory. By this point, the Iroquois were becoming adept at warfare. They would move by canoe at night, then load canoes with rocks to put them at the bottom of the river. The warriors would then go into the woods and hide, ready to spring out to create panic at the right time. In 1689, the Iroquois would destroy a large Miami settlement, and take many prisoners in an attack. The Miami then organized with their allies, using new firearms they had obtained through trade with Europeans and attacked the Iroquois, effectively driving them out of the territory for good.
Also at this time in the 1680s, the Iroquois would resume their war with the French after the French supplied their enemies with firearms, including the Miami and Illinois tribes.
In 1683, Governor Denonville organized a force at Fort Frontenac, where 50 chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy met with the French. Denonville captured them and shipped them to France to be galley slaves. Denonville then travelled down Lake Ontario and built Fort Denonville near where the Niagara Rive meets Lake Ontario. The Iroquois retaliated for this intrusion into their territory by destroying farmsteads and killing colonists. In 1689, after Lachine was burned to the ground, Frontenac replaced Denonville as Governor of New France, a post he would hold until 1698. He would find the surviving chiefs, 13 in all, and sent them back to North America in 1698.
During King William’s War, which was between 1688 to 1697, with the English allying themselves with the Iroquois. Throughout the 1690s, the French and their allies destroyed Mohawk villages and pushed into Iroquois territory.
By 1698, following the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, the Iroquois began to see the French as less of a threat than the English had begun heavy colonization in what would one day be the Eastern states of America and the continued colonial growth began to encroach onto Iroquois lands. After a half century of warfare, the French and Iroquois began to work together and become allies to ensure a monopoly on the northern fur trade and to stop the English.
To that end, in 1701, the French and 39 Iroquois chiefs signed The Great Peace of Montreal. A total of 1,300 delegates joined the chiefs in Montreal, which only had a population of 1,200 at the time. Indigenous leaders from as far as the Maritimes came and the negotiations took several weeks until they finished on Aug. 4. The Iroquois began to stop attacking and would allow refugees to return from the Great Lakes to the East. This peace would last for several decades until the British took over New France in 1760.
With that treaty, a century of warfare ended but difficult times were to come for the Iroquois and all Indigenous people in North America as the 18th century dawned.
Information comes from the Canadian Encyclopedia and Wikipedia.