Slavery, the Fox Wars, and the Limits of Alliance

To make peace, it is necessary to begin by restoring to the [Fox] all the slaves of their nation whom the French hold … It is [unnatural] to think that peace can be made with people whose children we are withholding.

—Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, governor of New France, 1716[1]

ON the bitterly cold evening of December 13, 1723, Jean Becquet, maître d’ hôtel, or master of the house, at the governor’s residence, called for Father Étienne Boullard. When Boullard arrived, he found an ailing Indian woman called Marguerite-Geneviève, whom he promptly baptized. Returning to his small residence at the seminary, the priest recorded what he had learned about the woman during his visit. She was thirty-five years old. She had a fourteen-year-old daughter called Marie-Louise, whom he also baptized. She was a Fox Indian. And she was a slave: “captured in Fox territory by the Marquis de Vaudreuil,” the governor of New France, “with whom she presently resides.” [2]

Only two months earlier, Vaudreuil had written a letter to France congratulating himself on successful peace negotiations with Marguerite-Geneviève’s people in an ongoing conflict historians call the Fox Wars. Pitting New France’s Indian allies against a coalition of Fox, Sauk, Kickapoo, and Winnebago, this series of clashes claimed thousands of lives and destabilized the Upper Country (or pays d’en haut) for the better part of thirty years. Charged with maintaining the region’s Indian alliances, Vaudreuil proudly announced that he had thwarted recent plans by his native allies to attack Fox villages by sending a well-respected French officer to the region “to Persuade them to be Reconciled and to Live in peace.”[3] As he had done many times before, Vaudreuil pressured Upper Country Indians to embrace the Fox as allies rather than enemies, seeking greater regional stability to facilitate French commercial and territorial expansion.

To avoid difficult questions, Governor Vaudreuil never mentioned to his French superiors that his household, like scores of others in New France, was served by Fox slaves who had been captured in the very attacks he claimed to oppose. For the previous ten years, these slaves had trickled into Canada as allied Indians attacked Fox villages, making Fox men, women, and children the primary source of enslaved labor in the Saint Lawrence River valley during the 1710s and 1720s. Because these slaves do not appear in the official reports that have informed earlier studies, their lives have been noted, if acknowledged at all, as interesting but insignificant side notes to the story of French-Indian diplomacy.[4] Yet the records discussing these slaves, produced by parish priests, notaries, and court reporters a thousand miles from the violence, offer a valuable new perspective on the Fox Wars, one that allows scholars to reevaluate not only this important conflict but also the larger dynamics of French-Indian relations in North America.

Because they lasted so long and affected so many people, the Fox Wars occupy a central place in the historiography of French colonialism in the Upper Country. Since the 1920s, when Louise Phelps Kellogg published the first full account of the conflict, the Fox Wars have appeared as a centerpiece in nearly every history of French-Indian relations in Canada and its western hinterland. The importance of the wars is especially evident in Richard White’s landmark study of the region, The Middle Ground, which depicts the conflict as the most vital force shaping French-Indian alliances during the first half of the eighteenth century. For White the violence was significant to the historical actors who experienced it and to historians seeking to understand the form and function of French-Indian relations. “The Fox wars,” according to White, “provided the basic primer for alliance politics,” shaping all future interactions between the French and their native allies. From its lessons French and Indians alike learned how to operate within the “complicated and precarious” alliance that bound them together until the French ceded the region to Britain in 1763.[5]

If historians have readily acknowledged the significance of the Fox Wars, their explanations for the origins and outcome of the conflict have varied widely. Predictably, French contemporaries explained the war by maligning their Fox adversaries as a “Cruel nation,” characterized by the wily treachery of the animal whose name they bore. For most of the twentieth century, historians simply echoed the tone of these French sources, blaming the conflict on the Fox’s “habitual warlike resolve.” Their “chronic belligerence,” wrote one historian, “made them the problem tribe of the Great Lakes country,” causing them to lash out, in the words of another, with “fierce barbaric impulse” against the French.[6]

More recently, attention has shifted toward the French, attributing the Fox Wars to their diplomatic failures rather than to the Fox’s deficient national character. This interpretation, articulated most thoughtfully by White in The Middle Ground, suggests that the Fox Wars began and persisted because the French sought to use force rather than mediation in their relations with western Indians. According to White, New France’s governor “longed for a world in which French strength allowed him to dictate to his allies,” but the bloody chaos of the Fox Wars taught him “that mediation and forgiveness were thThe Middle Grounde best means for holding the alliance together … The Fox wars were the cautionary lesson; they showed what happened when chiefs failed and when Onontio [the governor of New France] used violence against his own children.” Reluctantly, then, absolutist France was “wrestled” onto the middle ground by their native allies, whose cultural models demanded mediation rather than mandates.[7]

This reassessment of the Fox Wars suggests that it was neither inherent Fox aggression nor domineering French leadership that fueled the violence. Instead the Fox Wars grew out of a much more mundane disagreement over the limits of the emerging French-Indian alliance. Whereas French imperial officials sought to enlarge their influence in the west, connecting with an ever-growing number of commercial and military partners, those natives already attached to the French wished to limit this expansion, blocking their enemies’ access to French goods and support. As the French embraced the Fox, allied Indians violently asserted their prerogative to define the parameters of alliance, demanding that the French honor their friendship by shunning their historical enemies.

In this battle of wills, the Indian slave trade emerged as the most valuable tool employed by New France’s native allies to limit French expansion. By raiding Fox villages for captives, and then giving or selling these captives to the French as slaves, these peoples drove a deep and eventually fatal wedge between the French and their erstwhile Fox allies. Despite official French policy of befriending the Fox, French colonists’ demand for Fox slaves supported this strategy, ultimately ensuring its success by alienating the Fox from French interest and finally compelling them to war. Seen from this perspective, the Fox Wars offer a new vantage point from which scholars can evaluate intercultural relations in the early North American interior. In addition to illuminating the role of Indian slavery in structuring the western alliance system, the wars also powerfully illustrate the ways in which Indians shaped the contours of the alliance to their advantage against French wishes.

Throughout the latter part of the seventeenth century, the French and the Fox shared a mutual desire for friendship. With the Iroquois threat looming, each side profited from the other’s assurances of protection, and both could benefit from the trade that accompanied such relationships. In 1679 a group of French and Fox smoked the calumet together, signifying their peaceful intentions and inaugurating what each hoped would be a long and peaceful relationship.[8] But it was clear from the beginning that the French had a problem. New France’s allies, including the Illinois, Ottawas, Ojibwa, Miami, and Hurons, detested the Fox. Even as these peoples needed Fox cooperation during the Iroquois Wars, they expressed deep enmity toward their Fox neighbors, seeking their exclusion from French protection and trade.

During the 1670s and 1680s, Fox villages came under attack from all these groups, sparking rounds of reprisals that placed the Fox in a precarious position among powerful enemies. These conflicts ebbed and flowed with the currents of the Iroquois threat, but animosity remained the norm throughout the last quarter of the seventeenth and into the eighteenth century. The cramped proximity forced by Iroquois attacks often sparked new violence among these historical enemies, creating a tense atmosphere in western refugee villages. Occasionally, anti-Iroquois war parties joined warriors of enemy peoples under the French banner, but for the rest of the seventeenth century the Fox would occupy the outer margins of the French-Indian alliance system, never welcomed by their old enemies despite these expedient compromises. Illinois, Ottawa, Ojibwa, and Huron war parties clashed with the Fox throughout the 1680s and 1690s, even as they faced a common Iroquois enemy.[9]

By the time of the general peace conference in Montreal in 1701, the Fox seemed closer to the Iroquois than to any of their neighboring Algonquian peoples. Still the Fox delegate to the peace negotiations expressed his desire to have a French presence in their territory. If the Fox “had a black robe, a blacksmith, and several Frenchmen among us,” he pleaded with the French governor, “the Chippewa [Ojibwa] would not be bold enough to attack us.” Although each of these peoples agreed to French alliance, the Ojibwa were not the only ones who wanted to drive the Fox out. The Illinois described the Fox as “devils on earth, they have nothing human but the shape … One can say of them that they have all the bad qualities of the other nations without having a single one of their good ones.” The original cause of this enmity is never explained, but Claude de Ramezay, an interim governor of New France, agreed that the Illinois were the “irreconcilable Foes” of the Fox. Governor Vaudreuil concurred, stating that the Illinois and Miami “have always been Enemies of the Renards,” or Fox. Still the French wanted the Fox within the alliance, so they invited the Fox to the 1701 peace as full partners.[10]

The French decision to establish a new settlement at Detroit the same year only deepened these divisions. Although never exclusive middlemen in the Great Lakes fur trade, the Ottawas, Ojibwa, and Illinois lived much closer to the French and thus could command a larger proportion of their commerce. As the French moved westward, these peoples were faced with the dual threat of having the Fox become better armed and of losing their position of strength within the region’s fur trade networks. The French hoped that their presence there would allow them to intervene in these disputes more effectively, compelling mediation to enlarge and stabilize the western alliance (Figure I).[11]

Meanwhile the absence of the Iroquois threat removed what little incentive Ottawas, Ojibwa, and Illinois felt to remain at peace with the Fox. Skirmishes during the next few years renewed the deep hostilities that had only been thinly masked by the necessity of wartime cooperation. Illinois villages, which had been on the offensive against Fox, Sauk, and Kickapoo targets since at least the 1670s, suffered counterraids from these groups throughout the 1690s and early 1700s. In 1703 and 1708, Fox warriors attacked the Ojibwa near the southeastern corner of Lake Superior, killing several warriors and seizing a large number of Ojibwa captives. As kin and close friends of the victims, the Ottawas agreed to come to their aid against the Fox, and counterraids began later that year. Although the fighting only directly involved the northernmost Ottawa and Ojibwa villages, information passed quickly along trade networks, and soon the villages around Detroit were well aware of Fox aggression. Despite these conflicts French officers persisted in their efforts to join these peoples “together in feelings of peace and union,” hoping to avoid taking sides in a dispute among peoples they considered allies.[12]

In this tense environment, the French naively invited the Fox to live among the allied peoples whose villages surrounded Detroit. Articulating his vision of an expansive western alliance, Governor Vaudreuil ordered Jacques-Charles Renaud Dubuisson, Detroit’s new post commander, to “give all his attention to preventing the Indian allies from making war on one another.” Yet this was an impossible commission that represented the governor’s wishful thinking more than his understanding. Repeatedly imploring his allies to forget their old quarrels and “live together in peace and unity” with their Fox enemies had little effect.[13]

Instead the Fox’s move to Detroit in 1711 forced allied Indians to assert their own vision of a more limited alliance that would not only exclude the Fox but also actively attack them. Violence erupted almost immediately, beginning with small raids and counterraids in the villages near Detroit. During one attack the Fox struck two Huron and Ottawa villages, capturing the wife of a powerful Ottawa chief who vowed revenge. Needing little encouragement a group of Ottawas, Hurons, Ojibwa, Illinois, Potawatomi, and some Miami surrounded the fortified Fox town near Detroit, threatening to kill all of them unless they released their prisoners and returned to their lands west of Green Bay.[14] Rather than embracing the Fox as kin like Vaudreuil had hoped, the native alliance violently articulated their intention to define the Fox as enemies. Their attacks represented an assertion of control over the alliance that the French were in no position to deny.

Besieged and badly outnumbered, the Fox desperately appealed for French mediation, hoping that Vaudreuil’s more inclusive vision of the alliance would prevail. At a hastily arranged meeting in late 1712, Fox war chief Pemoussa begged French military officers for mercy. Following a long-established protocol for cementing alliances, Pemoussa offered several slaves to signify his friendly intentions, defining himself as a kinsman, rather than an enemy, to the French and their allies. “Remember that we are your brothers,” he said to the assembly of native leaders. “In shedding our blood, it is your own you shed. I beg you, therefore, to calm the mind of our Father, whom we have unfortunately angered. These two slaves are to replace a little blood that we have perhaps shed.”[15] Pemoussa said all the right words: they were brothers, children of the same father, and the blood spilled between them had been insignificant. He also gave the right presents. In this dangerous world of symbolic diplomacy, no gift carried greater weight than a human body, and Pemoussa wisely offered slaves as his best hope to save his people.

Still, speaking for the French-allied nations, an Illinois warrior rejected Pemoussa’s claim to kinship, promising to protect their French father from Fox duplicity. “Better than [the French governor] does, we know your evil heart, and do not intend to abandon him to your mercies. Return at once to your fort; we merely await that to renew the action.” Pemoussa fully understood what it meant for the Illinois to reject his symbolic gift of slaves: the Fox were not kin, they were enemies, and so could no longer expect to participate in the alliance. Defined as enemies the best they could hope for was to be kept alive as slaves. Making one final appeal to kinship, this time depicting the Fox as the most beloved elder in a young man’s life, Pemoussa begged again: “Remember … that you are our grand-nephews; it is your own blood you seem so eagerly to thirst for; would it not be more honorable to spare it, and more profitable to hold us as slaves.”[16]

He then offered six wampum belts, tied to resemble shackles, saying, “Here are six belts, that we give you, which bind us to you like your true slaves. Untie them, we beg you, to show that you give us life.” But the belts would remain tied. Rejecting Pemoussa’s offer of peace, the Fox’s enemies surrounded and attacked them. One French observer reported that, after allowing Pemoussa a safe retreat, “all the [Fox] were cut in pieces before they could regain their weapons. The women and children were made slaves, and most of them were sold to the French.”[17]

No words could express as clearly as these actions the Fox’s outsider status in the eyes of their attackers. Had the Fox been kin, had they been allies, had they shared a common identity as Algonquian children of the French governor, the aggressors would have accepted their gifts of slaves and wampum belts as appropriate payment for their crimes. Their customs would have demanded it. Instead the attackers’ refusal to receive Fox gifts eloquently testified to their deep enmity and their resulting intention to prevent a Fox-French alliance. When the French joined them in the slaughter, and took their own share of the captives, they were merely being good allies, supporting their fictive kin against a reviled enemy. In this role they continued to arm their allies and to send soldiers from New France against the Fox.

These events fit rather uneasily into the prevailing model of French-Indian relations, first developed in The Middle Ground, which presumes a fundamental “tension between the Algonquian ideal of alliance and mediation and the French dream of force and obedience.”[18] At Detroit in 1712, this formulation was turned on its head. French officials pursued a policy of mediation with the Fox, while their Algonquian-speaking allies maneuvered for dominion over them. With gifts and metaphor-laden speeches, Dubuisson spoke of restraint and forgiveness. Algonquian and Huron warriors used violence to assert their will. Rather than a cultural compromise initiated by native diplomats, orders to mediate came from the highest levels of French imperial authority.

Indeed, Dubuisson’s most notable concession to native demands came when he agreed to participate in the bloodshed. Far from a violation of New France’s obligation as allies, this represented French acknowledgment of their allies’ expectations. As White explains, the native peoples of the Upper Country made careful distinctions between allies and enemies.

“For the Algonquians there were two kinds of killings,” he writes, “deaths at the hands of enemies and deaths at the hands of allies. The appropriate response depended on the identity of the group to whom the killer belonged. If the killer belonged to an allied group, then the dead were raised or covered [through mediation and gift giving]. If the murderers refused to do this, then the group became enemies and the price appropriate to enemies, blood revenge, was exacted.” [19]

When the French failed to recognize these distinctions, they lost influence and credibility among their allies, putting themselves in danger of Algonquian violence.

Recognizing the French need to work within these cultural parameters, White nevertheless describes French support for anti-Fox raids by the Ottawas, Illinois, and Ojibwa as a failure, a violation of Onontio’s mandate as mediator. “The logic of the alliance,” he writes, “could not easily encompass a father who participated in, rather than settled, the quarrels of his children.” But if the alliance could not allow a father to wage war on his children, neither could it tolerate a father who embraced and lavished gifts on his children’s enemies—a deadly serious breach of the obligations of kinship. From the perspective of the Fox’s rivals, the violence that sparked the Fox Wars was anything but a quarrel among allies and kin to be resolved by mediation. Instead Fox violence demanded a commensurate response—the killing of warriors and the capture of enemy villagers—that answered the demands of justice and restored balance to grieving families.[20] Just as the French sought Indian alliances to defeat the Iroquois and the British, allied Indians wanted the French to help them overpower their own set of enemies, including the Fox. From the perspective of many allied nations, then, the French did not breach the terms of alliance through violence but rather when they sought mediation and peace with enemy nations.

But as violence around Detroit dragged on, French officials wearied of the fighting and longed to return to their dream of creating a unified alliance in the Upper Country. From 1713 to 1716, French policy wavered between grudging support for the war against the Fox and efforts to secure a peaceful resolution. After three years of intermittent warfare, in 1716 French and native forces defeated a large group of Fox, grinding the violence to a bloody halt. The French used the occasion to try again to expand the limits of the alliance in opposition to their allies’ interests.[21]

That fall, under heavy pressure from the French, the Fox and their enemies gathered in the Saint Lawrence River valley to negotiate peace. Once again led by Pemoussa, the Fox arrived at Quebec hoping to restore their standing as French allies. Pemoussa willingly, even eagerly, performed several public displays of friendship. He gave gifts to French officers, returned prisoners to allied nations, and allowed himself to be baptized “after having performed acts of faith,” taking the name of Louis in honor of the French king. Pemoussa agreed to even the most exacting French terms, which demanded

That they [the Fox] shall make peace with all the nations dependent on the king with whom the French trade. That they shall by forcible or friendly means bring the Kikapous and Mascoutins, their allies and our enemies, to make Peace, as they do, with all the nations in general. That they shall restore or cause to be restored all the prisoners, of every Nation, whom they hold, which they have done. That they shall go to war in distant regions to get slaves, to replace all the dead who had been slain during the course of the war. That they shall hunt to pay the Expenses of the military preparations made for this war.

Although dressed in new, more European language, this agreement essentially reiterated the offer Pemoussa made to the French and their allies four years earlier at Detroit. The Fox would return prisoners and give symbolic gifts, including slaves captured in distant regions, to their fictive kin, both native and French. Through this process they would replace the dead who had fallen, restoring the bonds of kinship severed by the war. Whether expressed in native terms as gifts or in French terms as reparations, the goods and bodies required of the Fox signified the common interest that underlay the diplomatic agreement. As they had done for half a century, Fox and French leaders articulated a vision of the western alliance that would include all the nations in general.[22]

Obviously pleased by this turn of events, Governor Vaudreuil praised the agreement, which restored French hopes for an expansive (but not expensive) western alliance. Although the 1716 treaty ended “a brief war,” he predicted to his French superiors, “the peace that it created shall not be of a short duration.” A year later Vaudreuil reported, with more hope than knowledge, that “the [Ottawa Indians] and other Nations of the Upper Country who are allies of the French, Have since last year been very peaceably disposed, [and] that their relations with each other have been amicable, and that they have the sentiments which they ought to have toward the [Fox].”[23]

To the Ottawas and other Indian peoples, however, it must have seemed the height of arrogance, to say nothing of hypocrisy, for the French governor to dictate how they should feel about their enemies. After all, the French signed the Fox peace, according to one candid French observer, “even though our allies were not inclined to it.” The military commander who first proposed the armistice claimed to have the support of New France’s native allies, yet one Frenchman admitted that “he deceived himself, if he really thought so. We are even assured that they did not conceal their dissatisfaction.”[24] Asserting their prerogative to define the limits of the French-Indian alliance, these groups rejected French efforts to force mediation. During the following decade, they would slowly draw the French into renewed, and far more destructive, war with the Fox, limiting the expansive reach of French imperialism through strategic violence.

The 1716 treaty acknowledged the symbolic power of slaves to end French-Fox bloodshed. But if slaves offered the greatest hope for peace, they could also spark renewed warfare. The French had received scores of Fox slaves during the previous four years, placing themselves in a difficult diplomatic position between their allies and the Fox. By accepting these slaves, French colonists had symbolically acknowledged their enmity against the Fox, implicitly committing military support to their allies in future disputes. Governor Vaudreuil understood that if he did not act to reverse that message, the treaty would fail. “To make peace,” he wrote, “it is necessary to begin by restoring to the [Fox] all the slaves of their nation whom the French hold … It is [unnatural] to think that peace can be made with people whose children we are withholding.”[25]

The Fox agreed. Visiting Montreal two years later, a Fox delegation assured Vaudreuil “that they Are disposed to maintain peace with all the nations who Are allied with us.” Along with assurances of friendship, the Fox also begged the French to “dissipate the fear which still Possessed them, by restoring to them some of their Children—that is, some of their people who were Slaves among the French.”[26] For the Fox delegation, the French holding of Fox slaves was more than merely symbolic. These were their children, and on their visits to Montreal and Quebec they must have seen some of them held in French custody. Beginning in 1718 every recorded complaint made by the Fox against the French and their native allies centered on the return of Fox captives, the most significant issue perpetuating the Fox Wars into subsequent decades.

Despite clear instructions to the contrary—issued repeatedly from Versailles and Quebec—French colonists retained and continued to acquire new Fox slaves following the 1716 peace accords, supporting anti-Fox violence by proxy. Emanating from every level of Canadian society, the French demand for slaves offered ample opportunity for Ottawa, Ojibwa, and Illinois warriors to capture Fox villagers and offer them to the French, thereby driving a wedge between these erstwhile allies. Anti-Fox slave raids were not primarily driven by market demands. But the ready acceptance of Fox captives by French colonists allowed allied nations to define the limits of French diplomatic, territorial, and commercial expansion in the west. Over time the French enslavement of Fox would erode whatever hope for peace existed in 1716, sparking the second, and far more destructive, phase of the Fox Wars.

New France’s appetite for Fox slaves originated in the bloody battles of 1712, when the French and their allies captured large numbers of Fox women and children. Just three years earlier, New France’s intendant, Jacques Raudot, had declared official support for the Indian slave trade by guaranteeing the protection of native slaves as property. Many French officers and merchants returned from the Fox campaigns with young captives who could legally serve their households as slaves. From 1713 to 1716, about eighty Fox slaves appear in the colony’s parish and court records, belonging to as many as sixty different French families. The actual number of slaves and slaveholders was certainly much higher, given the improbability that every slave and every master appear in surviving records.[27]

These Fox slaves served families in Montreal and Quebec, as well as in smaller seigneurial villages such as Batiscan and Laprairie with strong connections to the west. Fox slaves initially entered the colony in one of two ways. Either French military officers returned with them as spoils of war, or merchants provisioning the army in Detroit or Michilimackinac brought slaves to the Saint Lawrence to trade or sell. In either case neighbors, family, and friends seem to have acquired these slaves directly from men involved in the western campaigns.

In 1714, for example, a Sulpician priest baptized a young Fox slave, named François-Michel, who belonged to Jean Baptiste Bissot de Vincennes. Vincennes had been second in command in Detroit during the 1712 siege of the Fox. During the final stages of the standoff, a Fox emissary addressed him: “I will surrender myself; answer me at once, my Father, and tell me if there is quarter for our families. Answer me.” Vincennes responded with a promise that he knew he could not keep. According to the French report, “Sieur de Vincennes called out to them that he granted their lives and safety.” When the Fox surrendered, and slaughter ensued, Vincennes gave his own sort of quarter to this young boy, who became his slave in Montreal. Constant Marchand de Lignery, whose son was the boy’s godfather, would lead a failed expedition against the Fox the following year, in 1715, and a much more successful one in the late 1720s. [28]

In another example Pierre Legardeur de Repentigny baptized his Fox slave, Mathurine, in 1713. Repentigny, a captain in the colonial troops, participated actively in several western campaigns, and his brother and cousin both commanded war parties against the Fox. The potential to return home with slaves gave French military officers a personal stake in supporting violence against the Fox, but lower-ranking soldiers also benefited by obtaining Fox slaves. In Batiscan, for example, Marie Catherine Rivard-Loranger appears either as owner or godmother to several slaves from 1713 to 1716. Her son, a voyageur among the Illinois who fought in the early battles of the Fox Wars, returned with the Fox slaves in 1714.[29]

Occasionally, voyageurs and merchants connected to the war also obtained Fox slaves. The incentive for these men to enslave and sell Fox prisoners was high. At western posts the colony’s military leadership banned voyageurs from undertaking fur trade journeys during the height of the conflict, drafting all of them to fight the Fox “without pay.” Although many subverted the law and continued to trade in furs, for those who could not escape military service the slave trade offered at least the potential for profit. Because Fox prisoners were the natural by-product of the campaign, voyageurs could contribute to the war effort and then sell Fox captives to make up the money they lost by skipping a trade season.[30]

Michel Bisaillon exemplifies this type of trader. With his loyalty to France in question because of his suspected ties to English merchants, Bisaillon hoped to clear his name through valiant service in the Fox Wars. He used his long-standing trade relationships with Illinois Indians to mobilize their support for French attacks during the first phase of the war. As a result he acquired several Fox captives that he subsequently sold as slaves to Montreal merchants. In 1717, for example, he sold a young female slave to René Bourassa, dit La Ronde for four hundred livres.[31]

Brothers Louis and Jean-Baptiste Gastineau supplied wheat and other provisions to western troops during the Fox Wars, returning to their homes near Trois-Rivières with two slaves, one of whom was baptized in 1714 as “Jean Baptiste, Indian of the Fox nation, belonging to Sieur Gatinau.” Their commercial support for the Fox Wars rewarded them with slaves to add to their list of profitable commodities. Many other merchants active in Detroit also acquired slaves during the early Fox campaigns, including the well-positioned Pierre Lestage, who garnered at least two young Fox slaves, Ignace and Marie-Madeleine. The children’s godfather, Ignace Gamelin, also traded Indian slaves in Montreal and Detroit, acquiring one for his own household by early 1714. Pierre Biron, who supplied goods to the military during the Fox Wars, obtained a young Fox girl as his slave the same year. Called Marie-Joachim, she would serve as a house slave to Biron, then his widow, and finally their neighbor for nearly twenty years until her death in 1733.[32]

Presumably through their connections with merchants and military officers, many well-placed French officials also received their share of Fox slaves during the first four years of the conflict. François-Marie Bouat, a powerful Montreal judge, baptized his Fox slave, Marguerite, in 1713. Seigneur and well-known naval lieutenant Charles-Joseph Amiot de Vincelotte also had a young Fox slave girl, baptized in 1714 as Marie-Madeleine-Charlotte. In 1713 François, a Fox boy, was baptized as the slave of Augustin Lemoyne, with highly visible and powerful godparents: Charles Lemoyne de Longueuil and Catherine de Ramezay, daughter of Montreal’s governor and future interim governor of the colony. Even more visible was Guillaume Gaillard, a member of New France’s Superior Council and Governor Vaudreuil’s close associate, who had purchased at least three Fox slaves by 1716 to serve in his home as domestics.[33]

With such a numerous, widespread, and visible collection of Fox slaves in the colony, Vaudreuil’s statement about the importance of returning Fox captives becomes all the more understandable. Yet because Indian slavery was legalized in 1709 and served the interests of the colony’s most powerful families, the governor’s pledge to return Fox prisoners would prove untenable. The French would not only retain most of the Fox slaves but also continue to purchase Fox slaves during the next several years from their Indian allies in the Upper Country.[34]

Still, Vaudreuil had orders from Paris to make peace with the Fox, so his official reports omit any mention of the steady stream of Fox slaves entering French households. When the Fox came to Montreal in 1718 to demand the release of these slaves, Vaudreuil’s actions only made matters worse. Knowing what he did about his neighbors’ slaves, his response to the delegation was nothing short of insulting. Answering their request Vaudreuil smugly noted, “As it was Extremely important to dismiss the [Fox] well satisfied, I believed … I ought to grant them twelve.” Although the governor understood that releasing such a small number would leave nearly all the disputed Fox captives in French slavery, he also recognized the limits of his authority. He could not force colonists to give up their legally protected slave property.[35] To the Fox the French retention of so many captives only served to deepen their distrust of the French and their allies.

This growing rift between the French and the Fox weakened French claims of the Fox as allies, subtly but steadily edging them out of the alliance just as the other native allies had hoped. To deepen the divide, allied Indians continued to attack Fox villages in violation of the 1716 peace agreement, trading or giving slaves to French officers as tokens of alliance. The Illinois, especially, raided the Fox for captives and sold them as slaves to their French allies. “In various encounters,” Vaudreuil admitted, “[the Illinois] had killed or taken prisoners many [Fox Indians] … notwithstanding the fact that on eight different occasions the [Fox] had Sent back to them several Slaves of their nation.”[36]

Fox men, women, and children captured in these raids continued to stream into Montreal even after the French-brokered peace. In 1717, for example, Jean-Baptiste Poudret baptized a teenage male slave in Montreal, identified by the priest as an “Indian of the Fox nation.” He likely obtained the slave from the military officer who acted as his slave’s godfather, Joseph-Hippolyte Leber de Senneville, who had recently returned from the west. Many colonists buying these slaves either hid their purchases or identified their slaves as panis, rather than Fox, Indians. For instance, when Joseph-Laurent Lefebvre bought a Fox slave in 1722, the notary initially recorded that she was a Renard, or Fox Indian. In an apparent attempt to conceal the slave’s origins, the notary then boldly struck out Renard and replaced it with panise (feminine of panis). With diplomats clamoring for the return of Fox prisoners, a notarized acknowledgment of a Fox slave’s origins could undermine the slave owner’s claim to legal possession, which, in this case, was purchased with a large quantity of peas and grain, plus a “lean pig.” Despite obvious French efforts to obscure the identity of Fox slaves, nearly one hundred more appear in New France’s colonial records following the 1716 treaty. The distribution of these slaves, like those captured before the peace negotiations, suggests a pervasive acceptance of and demand for the enslavement of Fox Indians.[37]

These slaves performed many tasks, including domestic service, urban skilled labor, and even fieldwork. During the 1710s, for example, the tiny village of Batiscan acquired a disproportionate number of Fox slaves, who were employed in a hemp-growing scheme supported by the colony’s intendant, Michel Bégon. Although the experiment would eventually fail, the area showed a strong, if brief, demand for Fox teenagers to cultivate this cash crop for export to the French navy. Other Fox slaves, such as Jacob, who belonged to Julien Trottier Desrivières, worked on Montreal’s riverfront, loading and unloading canoes for western trade. Most were house servants. But even domestic slaves proved highly valuable, many of them selling for as much as four hundred livres—a third of a French officer’s annual salary.[38]

Because Fox slaves were, according to Governor Beauharnois, “sold, traded, or given to the French by allied Indians,” their presence in French colonial records offers a meter to gauge allies’ activities unrecorded in the documentary record.[39] For every captive appearing in French records, others lived undetected among the French, and still others remained with their native captors. Combined with those who died during slave raids, those who suffered ritual killing, and those who died in transit, the number of anti-Fox raids and the number of Fox casualties must have been remarkably high. Given the unrelenting persistence of these raids and the string of broken promises by the French and their allies, the Fox predictably grew weary of diplomacy.

During the early 1720s, the Fox four times requested French intervention to prevent the Illinois and other allied Indians from attacking their villages for captives. Finally, their patience grew thin and they retaliated with great force. Vaudreuil conceded that “the [Fox] were less in the wrong than the Ilinois for the war they have had together … it is not Surprising that, after having been attacked four successive times without making any reprisals, [the Fox] Should have been aroused the Fifth time they were attacked.” Yet Vaudreuil deceptively suggested to his superiors that he was doing all in his power to prevent Illinois raids. The Fox, he explained to the commandant of Illinois country, “claim to have Grievances against the Illinois, because the latter detain their prisoners. I am convinced that, if they were to give satisfaction to the [Fox] on this point, it would not be difficult to induce The latter to make peace. I employ every means to attain this end, by ordering all the Commandants of the posts to work Efficaciously for that object.” Although Vaudreuil owned at least two Fox slaves from these very attacks, and saw many others serving his neighbors, he blamed the Illinois rather than the French colonists who made slave raiding so advantageous.[40]

By 1724 the Fox made it clear to the French that they would resume intense warfare with the Illinois and their French defenders unless Fox captives were returned. “They Are indignant,” wrote Constant Le Marchand de Lignery, “because, when peace was made in 1716, they sent the illinois back Their prisoners while The illinois did not return Theirs, As had been Agreed upon in The treaty. Thus … I Consider that it is necessary, If We Wish to secure This peace Between them, to Commence by accomplishing That.” Despite his clear understanding of this problem, Lignery did not write as an innocent or impartial bystander. Many of his friends and family in Montreal owned Fox slaves, and at least one of these slaves was his godson.[41]

Jesuit missionary Charles Mesaiger similarly recorded Fox demands that had gone unanswered by the Illinois and the French. “The facts in question Are: Whether there Are any Fox Slaves among The ilinois; Whether it is True that, when the peace was made in 1716, the Fox Slaves Were not given up According to Agreement; Whether any slaves have been captured in the last war; Whether those who were made Slaves at either time Are still Alive, or are dead; finally, Whether the French have burned The Slaves whom the ilinois captured on the last occasion—for The Fox clamors loudly On These points.” For the Fox the origins, and the potential solution, to this conflict lay in the slave trade. After hearing this complaint so many times, Mesaiger concluded that there was “no hope of securing peace … unless you help [the Fox] to get back those slaves whom they miss so much.”[42]

To placate the Fox and their allies, Vaudreuil proposed an inspection of Illinois villages to determine if they held any Fox prisoners. Reporting the results of the inspection conducted in 1725, a French officer flatly declared, “Our Illinois have no Slaves belonging to the Foxes.” An Illinois chief, Anakipita, offered a similarly calculated denial: “[The Fox chief] says that his Slaves have not been given back to him. Where are they? Is there a single one in our villages?” Anakipita and his French counterpart spoke a literal truth to conceal Illinois guilt in the Fox attacks. As Vaudreuil knew the disputed Fox slaves were already in French hands, far from the Illinois communities that had initially seized them.[43]

Even at this late date, the Fox still seemed willing to return to the French alliance if they could secure the return of their captives. They wanted to be considered allies and kin rather than enemies of this powerful coalition. To accomplish that French officers realized that it would require their own Indian allies, especially the Illinois and Ottawas, to reverse their policies and embrace the Fox. “No untoward consequences will result from this affair,” French officers concluded regarding captive raids, “if the [Illinois] send back to the [Fox’s] Village the captives they have taken, with presents to cover the dead, according to custom; and by that means they will disarm the [Fox] and prevent the formation of other bands [of warriors].”[44] Although their own attempts to establish friendship had been rejected, the Fox apparently stood ready to accept their enemies as kin to facilitate their relationship with the French.

In 1726 the Fox again approached the French, this time at Green Bay, begging for the governor to mediate in these disputes. French authorities, wishing to expand trade in the area, were only too happy to oblige. Again, the Fox, Sauk, and their Winnebago allies gave presents to French post commanders and traders, asking them to “pity us, our children, and our women,” by supporting a “general peace” in the region. One Winnebago chief, Ouenigueri, gave French traders a young slave girl “as a gift” to signify his good intentions, saying, “I give you my word for myself and my young people,” that he would maintain peace despite being attacked by French allies. The French governor, hearing reports of this meeting, wrote exultantly to his superiors in France: “I think you have already learned with great satisfaction … of the peace effected with the Foxes. It gives me infinite pleasure, Monseigneur, to confirm the news.”[45] Following a decade of precedent, the Fox and the French again sought mediation and peace to accomplish their shared goal of widening the alliance to allow French expansion into Fox country.

Yet by this time hundreds of French colonists had given a decade of support to anti-Fox slave raids, rewarding their allies’ violence with valuable goods and often with military support for the expeditions themselves. Many French post commanders had private interests in the slave trade, placing them in a poor position to negotiate a peace that would end their access to Fox slaves. And both of New France’s governors who dealt with the Fox problem—Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil and Charles de Beauharnois—owned a host of Indian slaves, including several Fox. Despite their clear imperial designs on expanding into Fox territory, despite their very practical need to avoid warfare among potential allies, French officials supported the Illinois, Ottawas, Ojibwa, and Hurons against the Fox. Finally, for the Fox, these insults proved too much to endure. French assurances of mediation and alliance did nothing to pacify them, and their reprisals against the Illinois and Ottawas erupted into all-out war.

As a result the peace arranged in 1726 did not last even a year. By the summer of 1727, previously reluctant French colonial officials sided with their allies against the Fox, pressured by a host of traders and post commanders who had direct ties with the Fox slave trade. From the Illinois country, Pierre Deliette wrote adamantly that the French should exclude the Fox from the alliance and support French allies against them. Like many of his counterparts in the west, Deliette was responding partly to pressure from his native allies, who still resented French efforts at rapprochement with the Fox. But Deliette also had a personal interest in maintaining the Fox slave trade. He, along with several family members and neighbors in Montreal, owned Fox and other Indian slaves, who served alongside nearly a hundred other Fox slaves in the area.[46]

Faced with these continuing raids in violation of French assurances, and never receiving the promised return of their captives, Fox warriors finally abandoned their efforts to secure a French alliance, declaring open war on New France and all its Indian allies. In the spring of 1727 they murdered a party of seven French soldiers, launching a series of attacks that was all too powerfully met by French retaliation. These new raids bred deep and mutual resentment among the French, their allies, and the Fox, finally putting an end to French-Fox efforts to expand the Upper Country alliance.[47]

The warfare that followed brutalized the Fox, as French soldiers and allied Indian warriors took concerted aim at their settlements west of Lake Michigan. Convinced by western post commanders to pursue the war wholeheartedly, French authorities invested soldiers and money to crush a people they had once called children. From 1728 to 1731, French-Indian war parties scored a series of victories over Fox warriors, but each triumph proved ephemeral, followed shortly by a Fox resurgence. Frustrated and facing pressure from his superiors, New France’s governor, Charles de Beauharnois, issued an order for his soldiers and his allies to “kill [the Fox] without thinking of making a single Prisoner, so as not to leave one of the race alive in the upper Country.” In the process, however, Beauharnois hoped to maintain the supply of slaves that had been one of the Fox Wars’ greatest benefits to his colony (and to his own household: he owned at least eight Fox slaves). “If [the Sieur de Villiers] is obliged to exterminate the Men,” he added, “the women and Children who remain will be brought here, Especially the Children.”[48] That way the French could achieve two objectives that had proven dangerously incompatible during the past two decades: expanding into Fox territory and maintaining access to Fox slaves.

Although the governor’s enmity against the Fox pleased allied Indians, this order went too far for their comfort. The French had insisted for more than twenty years that the Fox were their allies and kin. Such a fierce and total reversal made some native allies question their own status with the French, wondering if “their turn may come.” And even if these peoples wanted to exclude and weaken the Fox, theirs was not a doctrine of total war. As a result they participated in anti-Fox violence on their own terms, severely reducing, but never eliminating, the Fox population.[49]

A firsthand witness to the devastation, Jesuit historian Pierre-François de Charlevoix, wrote in 1744:

A new enemy [has arisen] as brave as [the Iroquois], less politic, much fiercer, whom we have never been able to subdue or tame, and who, like those insects that seem to have as many lives as parts of their body, spring to life again, so to say, after their defeat, and, reduced almost to a handful of brigands, appear everywhere, have aroused the hatred of all the [peoples] on this continent, and for the last twenty-five years and more, interrupt commerce, and render the roads almost impracticable for more than five hundred leagues around. These are the Outagamis, commonly called the Foxes.

This bloody contest exacted a costly toll from the Fox, who dwindled from a population of several thousand in the 1710s to only a few hundred by the mid-1730s. Yet, as Charlevoix observed, this victory came at a high price for the French. Not only did thousands of men, women, and children die in the conflict, but the Fox’s retaliation limited French commercial and imperial expansion, blocking New France’s westward reach just as its allies had hoped to do.[50]

During the height of the fighting, New France’s intendant, Gilles Hocquart, sent a letter and a gift to his friend, a Monsieur de Belamy, in La Rochelle, France. The letter contained “news of the defeat of the Foxes,” by the French and their native allies, detailing the heroics of the French officer who had led the charge. Sent on the same ship, Hocquart’s gift supplied tangible evidence of the news. He instructed the captain of the ship, Le Beauharnois, to “remit to M. de Belamy a Fox slave” who was on board. The slave had been given to officials in Quebec “on behalf of the Miami nation,” who had gladly assisted the French in recent campaigns.[51]

In a similar move, Charles de Beauharnois, the colony’s governor, apparently sent a Fox slave to his brother, François, who served as the intendant of Rochefort, France. As he had done with at least one African slave from Saint Domingue, Beauharnois likely registered his slave with French authorities, claiming that he brought the slave to France “to have him instructed in the Catholic religion and to have him learn a trade.” Rather than returning to the Americas with improved skills, however, Beauharnois’s Fox slave remained in France until his death, eventually encountering an artist who rendered his dubious likeness (Figure II).[52]

Like these unfortunate survivors of the Fox Wars, hundreds of slaves entered New France as tokens of alliance between that colony and its native allies. Although previously ignored these slaves permeated, and powerfully influenced, the history of the Fox Wars. When the Fox wanted to forge an alliance with their attackers in 1712, they offered slaves. They did the same when they made peace in 1716, promising to capture still more in distant lands to fulfill their diplomatic obligations. When Fox diplomats pressured the French for greater support, it was invariably to recover those of their nation captured by enemies: they missed their children. Perhaps most significantly, when Indian allies perceived that the French wanted them to embrace the hated Fox, they used slave raids to register their dissatisfaction with the French, defining the limits of alliance through strategic violence.

This violence allowed New France’s Indian allies to exert their control over the alliance system, blocking French expansion whenever it threatened to strengthen their enemies. If the Fox Wars furnished a “primer for alliance politics,” then this was their most important lesson.[53] When French officials sought, repeatedly and forcefully, to bring the Fox into the alliance, their allies fought what they perceived to be a betrayal of their friendship. By raiding the Fox for slaves, and then placing these slaves into French hands, Illinois, Ottawa, Ojibwa, and Huron warriors alienated their Fox enemies from their French allies, drawing the two sides into war. Anti-Fox violence both supported the alliance and restricted French ambitions for its expansion. New France’s Indian allies would repeat this pattern up and down the Mississippi Valley during the first half of the eighteenth century, blocking French efforts to expand westward among the Plains Apache in the 1720s and the Sioux in the 1730s and 1740s. The Fox Wars thus established a powerful precedent for Indians’ use of intervillage violence to limit and direct France’s commercial and territorial ambitions in North America.

By shifting the angle of vision from French imperial aims to the local objectives of their Indian allies, it is thus possible to see the broad dynamics of French-Indian alliances in a new light. From this vantage point, it becomes difficult to view intercultural relations in binary terms, with Euro-Americans on one side, Indians on the other, and a world of mutual invention in-between on a middle ground. This was a much more complicated world where fault lines formed between peoples with competing interests but not necessarily between those with incomprehensible cultures. Through a process of negotiation that White describes so elegantly, Vaudreuil and Pemoussa found a common ground on which to work out their differences. Yet the relatively similar cultures of the Fox and the Ottawas could not. The cultural adaptations of the middle ground therefore explain how French and natives got along, but they cannot explain why.

The Fox Wars also highlight important divisions within the French and Algonquian societies that generally constitute the units of analysis in the history of the Upper Country. Rather than a strictly unified, absolutist state, the French imperial polity contained many layers of competing interests struggling for ascendancy. But French imperialism was more than a failed expression of coercive imperial power—a message of authoritarian control emanating from Paris that became increasingly diluted as it traveled across the Atlantic and the Great Lakes.[54] Instead personal interest, overlapping spheres of authority, and local demands combined to make French imperial policy highly complex and difficult to predict. In the 1710s and 1720s, for example, the closer one got to Versailles the more likely he would be to support generous mediation with the Fox. Driven by their own set of interests, post commanders in the Upper Country clamored for war, whereas governors and crown officials ordered peace.

“Algonquian” offers an even more problematic western bracket for the middle ground. The very fact of war between the Fox and their neighbors calls into question the presumed unity of the region’s Algonquian- speaking peoples. For a time during the seventeenth-century Iroquois wars, Ottawas, Illinois, Ojibwa, and Fox stood together to face a common foe. In a few especially dangerous years, some of them even gathered together in multiethnic refugee villages, sharing food, shelter, and a common defensive cause. Yet there has been a tendency to exaggerate both the extent and duration of this cooperation, accepting at face value French records that indicate regional unity.[55] Despite French insistence that Algonquian peoples shared the bonds of kinship as children of a French father, the natives themselves had other ideas. When Pemoussa expressed his concurrence with the French vision of inclusive Algonquian kinship, his would-be brothers denied his claims and violently enforced the divisions they wished to maintain.

By doing so these Indians ensured that they, rather than the French, would determine the limits of the Upper Country alliance. They also defined its character. But if this alliance was “largely Algonquian in form and spirit,” that is not because it reflected an Algonquian culture of mediation rather than a French culture of “force and obedience.”[56] Such false dichotomies obscure the intimate connections between warfare and alliance that placed the slave trade at the heart of the Fox Wars. Like Marguerite-Geneviève—a Fox slave serving a French governor who wanted peace with her people—all Fox captives embodied the tensions between mediation and violence that riddled both Algonquian and French societies. During the Fox Wars and beyond, Upper Country Indians used these tensions to their advantage, compelling their French father to accept their enemies as his own.

Brett Rushforth is an assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University. For helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this article, he thanks Catherine Desbarats, Gregory Dowd, Jay Gitlin, Allan Greer, Kenneth Miller, Susan Sleeper-Smith, Alan Taylor, and Fredrika Teute. He sincerely appreciates the thoughtful engagement of those who attended the Omohundro Institute colloquium where he presented a draft of this article in October 2004. He also gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


1 “[Proceedings in French Council of Marine, March 28, 1716],” in Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites (Madison, Wis., 1902), 16: 340. In this report the council noted this comment from the governor and concurred.

2 Baptism, Dec. 13, 1723, in Gaëtan Morin, ed., Répertoire des actes de baptême, mariage et sépulture du Québec ancien, 1621–1799, CD-ROM, record no. 65055. This CD-ROM comprises more than seven hundred thousand entries drawn from Catholic church and civic records of New France and early Canada before 1800. It is an improved and expanded version of an earlier printed collection, Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique, Répertoire des actes de baptême, mariage, sépulture, et des recensements du Québec ancien, 47 vols. (Montreal, Quebec, 1980–90). The most efficient way to locate individual records on the CD-ROM is by “numéro,” or record number, which I cite for the reader’s convenience. I also cite the record type and date to facilitate location in the print version.
Registres Notre-Dame-de-Québec, Dec. 13, 1723, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Marcel Trudel, Dictionnaire des esclaves et de leurs propriétaires au Canada français, nouvelle édition revue et corrigée (Ville LaSalle, Quebec, 1990), 141. Marguerite-Geneviève’s 1725 burial record indicates that she was still Vaudreuil’s slave two years later (burial, Oct. 2, 1725, in Morin, Répertoire, no. 73772).

3 Vaudreuil au ministre, Oct. 2, 1723, in Correspondence générale, Canada, série C11A, vol. 45, fol. 136–41v, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer, Aix-en-Provence, France; Vaudreuil to French minister, Oct. 2, 1723, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 431 (quotation).

4 Only one historian of the Fox Wars has even acknowledged the slave trade. In a brief but beautifully illustrated article, Joseph L. Peyser discussed the sale of a handful of high-profile Fox captives to Martinique in the early 1730s, but he treated the incident as an anomaly, a tragic but isolated human interest story with no connection to the wars themselves (Peyser, “The Fate of the Fox Survivors: A Dark Chapter in the History of the French in the Upper Country, 1726–1737,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 73, no. 2 [Winter 1989–90]: 83–110).

5 Louise Phelps Kellogg, The French Régime in Wisconsin and the Northwest (Madison, Wis., 1925); Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 (Cambridge, 1991), 149, 185.

6 For “Cruel nation,” see [Charles Michel] Mesaiger to [Claude Charles] du Tisné, Oct. 15, 1724, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 450. Claude Le Beau expressed the common animalization of the Fox in New France in his description of a French-Fox battle: “Mais ces Renards, qui avoient le nez fin, sentirent sans doute l’approche de leurs Chasseurs [these Fox, who have a good nose, no doubt sense the approach of their hunters, the French]” (Le Beau, Avantures du Sr. C. Le Beau, avocat en parlement, ou Voyage curieux et nouveau, Parmi les Sauvages de l’Amérique Septentrionale [Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1738], 2: 169).
Dale Miquelon, New France, 1701–1744: “A Supplement to Europe” (Toronto, Ontario, 1987), 46 (“habitual warlike resolve”); Yves F. Zoltvany, Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, Governor of New France, 1703–1725 (Toronto, Ontario, 1974), 121 (“chronic belligerence”); Kellogg, French Régime, 302 (“fierce barbaric impulse”). Olive Patricia Dickason, Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times (Norman, Okla., 1992), also seems to accept the French description of the Fox as “cunning and malignant” (157).

7 In the only Anglophone book-length study of the Fox Wars, R. David Edmunds and Joseph L. Peyser turn the French interpretation of Fox national character on its head, arguing that the Fox were resilient rather than intractable, reacting to the French-inspired chaos around them. “Although encapsulations of national character currently are unfashionable,” they write, “a particular quality of perseverance does seem to have permeated the Fox psyche … Like the oaks and hickories that grace the river valleys of their homeland, the Mesquakies possessed a tough resilience, a heartwood of inner strength … In the face of insurmountable odds, they persisted” (Edmunds and Peyser, The Fox Wars: The Mesquakie Challenge to New France [Norman, Okla., 1993], 221). White, Middle Ground, 175, 183 (quotations).

8 Louis Hennepin, A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America (1698; repr., Chicago, 1903), 1: 132–37.

9 Edmunds and Peyser, Fox Wars, 14–17; Hennepin, New Discovery, 1: 134; Claude Charles LeRoy, Sieur de Bacqueville de la Potherie, in Emma Helen Blair, ed. and trans., The Indian Tribes of the Upper Mississippi Valley and Region of the Great Lakes … (Cleveland, Ohio, 1911), 1: 356–72. For violence within refugee villages, see, for example, [Potherie], Voyage de l’Amerique: contenant ce qui s’est passé de plus remarquable dans l’Amerique Septentrionale depuis 1534 jusqu’à present (Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1723), 2: 49. For Iroquois raids, see José António Brandão, “Your Fyre Shall Burn No More”: Iroquois Policy toward New France and Its Native Allies to 1701 (Lincoln, Neb., 1997), table D.1, 177–278. Brandão’s detailed summary of all known Iroquois raids suggests that White and other historians have overestimated the Iroquois threat to the Upper Country. To be sure, French documents claim an enormous Iroquois peril, but many of these accounts were written by people who only gained by exaggerating the Iroquois threat in the west to convince western Indians to confront the Iroquois in the east. Gilles Havard argues that: “Les sources françaises ont généralement exagéré les conséquences des guerres iroquoises [French sources have generally exaggerated the consequences of the Iroquois wars]” (Havard, Empire et métissages: Indiens et Français dans le Pays d’en Haut, 1660–1715 [Paris, 2003], 127), a conclusion shared by William James Newbigging, “The History of the French-Ottawa Alliance: 1613–1763” (Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto, 1995), esp. 120–58. For anti-Fox violence in the 1680s and 1690s, see Edmunds and Peyser, Fox Wars, 1–30.

10 Gilles Havard, The Great Peace of Montreal of 1701: French-Native Diplomacy in the Seventeenth Century, trans. Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott (Montreal, Quebec, 2001), esp. chap. 5; Edmunds and Peyser, Fox Wars, 29–30, 6 (“bold enough”). Illinois sentiment is expressed by Antoine Denis Raudot, New France’s intendant, who reported what he learned from the Illinois (Raudot, Memoir Concerning the Different Indian Nations of North America, appendix to W. Vernon Kinietz, The Indians of the Western Great Lakes: 1615–1760 [Ann Arbor, Mich., 1965], 383 [“devils on earth”]). Claude de Ramezay to Minister, Sept. 18, 1714, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 303 (“irreconcilable Foes”); Vaudreuil and Bégon to French Minister, Sept. 20, 1714, ibid., 16: 304 (“always been Enemies”).

11 W. J. Eccles, The Canadian Frontier: 1534–1760 (New York, 1969), 135–39; Susan Sleeper-Smith, Indian Women and French Men: Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes (Amherst, Mass., 2001), 19. “Lettre de Lamothe Cadillac au Ministre à propos de l’établissement du Détroit,” Oct. 18, 1700, in série C11A, 14: 56–59, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer.

12 Edmunds and Peyser refer to this continuing violence against the Fox as an “intertribal cauldron” that simmered to a boil in the years before the Fox came to Detroit (Edmunds and Peyser, Fox Wars, 59–61 [quotation, 59]). For 1703 and 1708 raids, see Réponse de Vaudreuil aux Indiens, July 29, 1709, in série C11A, 30: 85–92v (quotation, 89), Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer; Newbigging, “History of the French-Ottawa Alliance,” 309–13.

13 Vaudreuil à Dubuisson, Sept. 13, 1710, in série C11A, 31: 79v, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer. White erroneously identifies the French post commander as Joseph Guyon Dubuisson, conflating him with Joseph Guyon, a well-known French scout in Acadia (White, Middle Ground, 155, 155 n. 21). For Dubuisson, see Donald Chaput, “Renaud Dubuisson, Jacques-Charles,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, s.v. “Renaud.” For Guyon, see W. Austin Squires, “Guion (Guyon), François,” ibid., s.v. “Guion.” Vaudreuil au ministre, 1710, in série C11A, 31: 81–88v, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer.

14 The best summary of these raids is Edmunds and Peyser, Fox Wars, 64–71, which distills the French official correspondence on the issue.

15 P[ierre] F[rançois] X[avier] de Charlevoix, History and General Description of New France, ed. and trans. John Gilmary Shea (New York, 1900), 5: 260. For the power of slaves to cement alliances, see Brett Rushforth, “‘A Little Flesh We Offer You’: The Origins of Indian Slavery in New France,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 60, no. 4 (October 2003): 785–87.

16 Charlevoix, History, 5: 261, 263.

17 Dubuisson to governor, [1712], “Official Report … to the Governor General of Canada … 1712 …,” in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 282; [Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry], “[1712: Another Account of the Siege of Detroit],” ibid., 16: 295.

18 White, Middle Ground, 145.

19 Ibid., 80.

20 Ibid., 183; Rushforth, WMQ 60: esp. 781–85; Daniel K. Richter, “War and Culture: The Iroquois Experience,” WMQ 40, no. 4 (October 1983): 528–59. William James Newbigging has argued quite effectively that the Ottawas resented French efforts to mediate a peace between them and the Fox after a series of clashes in 1708. “This was not the response that the Ottawas wanted. They did not expect Vaudreuil to act as a mediator, but rather they wished to see him act in the Ottawas’ interest. The role of a mediator resolving disputes was totally alien to their culture and they could not understand such a relationship within the terms of the Great Lakes world. They expected Vaudreuil … to pledge his support and then to act immediately to prove his good intentions … Blinded by his fear of the English and the Iroquois, Vaudreuil could not see the problem from the Ottawas’ perspective. His only concern was to eliminate the danger of an open confrontation in the west” (Newbigging, “History of the French-Ottawa Alliance,” 311).

21 See documents in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 295–344.

22 Vaudreuil au Conseil de Marine, in série C11A, 36: 59–60v, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer; baptism, Dec. 1, 1716, Sainte-Famille de Boucherville, Archives nationales du Québec, Centre régional de Montréal. For treaty, see Délibération du Conseil de Marine sur des lettres de Vaudreuil et Louvigny, Dec. 28, 1716, in série C11A, 36: 280v, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer; Vaudreuil to the Council of the Marine, Oct. 14, 1716, ibid., 36: 71–74v; Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 341–44, 343 (quotation).

23 Vaudreuil au Conseil de Marine, Oct. 30, 1716, in série C11A, 36: 59–59v, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer; “[Proceedings of Council of Marine, Jan. 6, 1717],” in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 345.

24 Perrot, in Blair, Indian Tribes of the Upper Mississippi, 1: 268; Charlevoix, History, 5: 306.

25 “[Proceedings in French Council of Marine, March 28, 1716],” in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 340. In this report the council noted this comment from the governor and concurred.

26 Vaudreuil to Council, Oct. 30, 1718, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 377–78.

27 Morin, Répertoire, records for “renard,” “renarde,” “renards,” “outagami,” and “outagamis”; supplemented by Trudel, Dictionnaire, 7–263.

28 Baptism, Feb. 2, 1714, in Morin, Répertoire, no. 44212. For Vincenne at the Fox siege, see [Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry], “[1712: Another Account of the Siege of Detroit],” in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 294 (quotations). For Lignery, see Edmunds and Peyser, Fox Wars, 79–81, 111–17.

29 Baptism, Sept. 21, 1713, in Morin, Répertoire, no. 44145; Registres Notre-Dame-de-Montréal, film 111, Archives nationales du Québec, Centre régional de Montréal. For Repentigny’s activities, see Paul-André Dubé, “Legardeur de Repentigny, Pierre,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, s.v. “Legardeur.” For Rivard-Loranger, see baptism, Feb. 17, 1714, in Morin, Répertoire, no. 7941; baptism, Jan. 13, 1715, ibid., no. 7962; Trudel, Dictionnaire, 7.

30 For the ban on voyageurs’ trade activities, including quotation, see edict dated Nov. 7, 1716, no. 034-2057, in Les dossiers de la Juridiction royale de Montréal, Archives nationals du Québec. For two voyageurs imprisoned for trading in 1715, see trial beginning July 17, 1716, no. 034-1964, ibid.

31 Francis Jennings, “Bisaillon (Bezellon, Bizaillon), Peter,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, s.v. “Bisaillon”; sale dated Nov. 28, 1717, Greffe Barrette (Montreal), Archives nationales du Québec, Centre régional de Montréal. Bourassa became one of the colony’s most active slave traders from the mid-1720s to the mid-1740s.

32 For Gastineau’s provisioning trade, see “Account of de Lignery for expenses incurred by him,” Feb. 17, 1720, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 384. For Jean Baptiste, see baptism, Feb. 17, 1714, in Morin, Répertoire, no. 7942; Roland-J. Auger, “Gastineau Duplessis, Jean-Baptiste,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, s.v. “Gastineau.” For Gamelin, see baptisms, Sept. 21, 1713, in Registres Notre-Dame-de-Montréal, film 111, Archives nationales du Québec, Centre régional de Montréal. For Gamelin’s slave trading, see Brett Rushforth, “Savage Bonds: Indian Slavery and Alliance in New France” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Davis, 2003), 141–42. For Gamelin’s own slave, see baptism, Feb. 11, 1714, in Morin, Répertoire, no. 44219. For Biron, see baptism, May 19, 1714, Notre-Dame-de-Montréal, Family History Library film no. 375842; burial, Feb. 14, 1733, ibid.; trial beginning July 17, 1725, in Les dossiers de la Juridiction royale de Montréal, Cote TL4, S1, file no. 053-3159, Archives nationales du Québec, Centre régional de Montréal.

33 Baptism, Sept. 21, 1713, in Morin, Répertoire, no. 44146; baptism, Oct. 1, 1714, ibid., no. 63624; baptism, June 3, 1713, ibid., no. 44087; baptism, Nov. 26, 1713, ibid., no. 63501; baptism, July 9, 1719, ibid., no. 64333; Trudel, Dictionnaire, 331.

34 For the legalization of Indian slavery in New France, see Rushforth, WMQ 60.

35 Vaudreuil to Council, Oct. 30, 1718, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 379. See Rushforth, WMQ 60: 777–808.

36 Vaudreuil to French Minister, Oct. 2, 1723, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 428.

37 For Poudret, see baptism, Mar. 27, 1717, in Morin, Répertoire, no. 44776. For Lefebvre, see sale of Oct. 7, 1722, Greffe Barrette (Montreal), Archives nationales du Québec, Centre régional de Montréal. See also La Palme murder trial (Fox slave Jacob) and Marie-Joachim’s trial record, both of which conceal the Fox identity of the slaves in question. Rushforth, “Savage Bonds,” chaps. 2–3.

38 For hemp, see Rushforth, “Savage Bonds,” 71–73. For Jacob, see trial beginning June 13, 1728, in file no. 059-3432, Les dossiers de la Juridiction royale de Montréal. For prices, see, for example, sale of Oct. 7, 1722, Greffe Barrette (Montreal), Archives nationales du Québec, Centre régional de Montréal; “Vente d’une Sauvagesse nommée Angélique, de la nation des Renards,” Oct. 5, 1733, in Greffe Dubreuil, Family History Library; “Vente d’une Renarde de nation nommée Thérèse,” Sept. 14, 1737, in Greffe Boisseau, ibid.; “Vente d’une femme âgée de 36 ans, Sauvagesse de nation renarde, esclave,” Oct. 31, 1740, in Greffe Pinguet de Vaucour, ibid.

39 Beauharnois et Hocquart à Maurepas, Oct. 4, 1733, in série C11A, 59: 110v, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer.

40 Vaudreuil to French Minister, Oct. 2, 1723, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 430. Unaware of the many Fox slaves flowing into New France during this time, Edmunds and Peyser dismissed Vaudreuil’s claim that Illinois captive raids stood at the root of the conflict. Instead they offer the improbable explanation that Vaudreuil was venting his bitterness that the Illinois country was removed from his jurisdiction in 1717 (Edmunds and Peyser, Fox Wars, 100–101). Vaudreuil to Boisbriant, Aug. 17, 1724, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 442–43 (quotation). Baptism, Dec. 13, 1723, Notre-Dame-de-Québec, Family History Library; Trudel, Dictionnaire, 407.

41 De Lignery to Boisbriant, Aug. 23, 1724, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 445; baptism, Sept. 21, 1713, in Morin, Répertoire, no. 44145.

42 Mesaiger to Commandant at Kaskaskia, Oct. 2, 1724, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 447; [“des esclaves tant regrettés”], Mesaiger à Du Tisné, Oct. 15, 1724, in série C11A, 56: 268–69, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer; Mesaiger to du Tisné, Oct. 15, 1724, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 449, translates the phrase more literally, but I believe less accurately, as “Slaves who are so much regretted.”

43 Du Tisné to Vaudreuil, Jan. 14, 1725, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 451. Du Tisné actually received a report four days earlier that the Illinois had only one Fox slave, a young woman, who was held pending exchange (see Thaumur, Kereben, et Le Boullenger à Du Tisné, Jan. 10, 1725, in série C11A, 56: 267–267v, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer). “[Speech of the Illinois Indians, Defending Themselves, and Accusing the Foxes],” in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 16: 457. In an unrelated memoir, Louisiana’s governor Bienville remarked in 1725 that the Illinois “are actively getting their revenge” for earlier Fox attacks, supporting Vaudreuil’s and others’ conclusion about the culpability of the Illinois in the conflict. As Louisiana absorbed some Fox slaves, as well, Bienville likewise wrote with firsthand knowledge (see [Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne de Bienville], “Memoir on Louisiana [1725],” in Dunbar Rowland and Albert Godfrey Sanders, eds. and trans., Mississippi Provincial Archives, 1704–1743, French Dominion [Jackson, Miss., 1932], 3: 533).

44 “[Resumé of French relations with the Foxes, from 1715 to 1726 … dated April 27, 1727],” in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 17: 4.

45 For the 1726 meeting, see Lignery à Deliette, June 15, 1726, in série C11A, 48: 415–18v, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer. For Ouenigueri, see trial beginning Oct. 1, 1740, in Les dossiers de la Juridiction royale de Québec. This trial is a suit brought by the slave, Marie-Marguerite, in which her original master testifies of his presence at the 1726 meeting where he received her as a gift. For the governor’s quotation, see Beauharnois to minister, Oct. 1, 1726, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 3: 159.

46 Deliette supported French attacks on the Fox, leading many of these attacks himself, accompanied by Illinois warriors. In 1727 and 1728, Deliette attacked a Fox-Sauk encampment near the southern tip of Lake Michigan, prompting a new round of reprisals (see Edmunds and Peyser, Fox Wars, 108–11). For Deliette’s actions, see Beauharnois au ministre, Oct. 1, 1726, in série C11A, 48: 181–82, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer; Lignery à Liette [Deliette], June 15, 1726, ibid., 48: 410–12v. For Montreal slaves, see Trudel, Dictionnaire, 41–121.

47 Conseil de marine à Perriers, July 22, 1737, in série B, 50: 543, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer; Beauharnois et Depuy au ministre, Oct. 25, 1727, in série C11A, 49: 48–49v, ibid.; Beauharnois à Liette, Aug. 20, 1737, ibid., 49: 120–21.

48 Beauharnois to French Minister, July 1, 1733, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 17: 182–83. For Beauharnois’s Fox slaves, see Trudel, Dictionnaire, 276–77.

49 Beauharnois to French Minister, Oct. 17, 1736, in Thwaites, Wis. Hist. Coll., 17: 256. The best summary of this period appears in Edmunds and Peyser, Fox Wars, 170–201.

50 Charlevoix, History and General Description of New France, 5: 256–57. I have substituted “peoples” for the translator’s “nations,” since in the French original Charlevoix wrote “tous les Peuples de ce Continent” rather than “toutes les nations de ce continent.” For original, see Ganeau’s printing of Pierre François de Charlevoix, Histoire et description generale de la Nouvelle France … (Paris, 1744), 4: 94. For Fox population, see Résumés de lettres concernant les Renards, n.d., 1733, in série C11A, 60: 448–63, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer. Edmunds and Peyser count the Fox population as one hundred forty in 1732 (Edmunds and Peyser, Fox Wars, 220–21). This number does not account for the large number of Fox slaves discussed previously. For the effects of the Fox Wars on French-Indian alliances, see White, Middle Ground, 149–75. Like Edmunds and Peyser, however, White ignores the significance of Fox demands that the Illinois return their captives.

51 Hocquart au ministre, Nov. 14, 1730, in série C11A, 53: 207–8v, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer. Belamy never received his gift, however, since Le Beauharnois wrecked on its first day of sailing from Quebec (see Beauharnois et Hocquart au ministre, Jan. 15, 1731, in série C11A, 54: 3–9v, Le Centre des archives d’outre-mer).

52 For Beauharnois, see Archives départementales de la Charente-Maritime, La Rochelle, série B, vol. 225, fol. 2–3 (quotation, 3). Transcript, film C-9182, National Archives of Canada, Ottawa. For slaves in France generally, see Sue Peabody, “There Are No Slaves in France”: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime (New York, 1996).

53 White, Middle Ground, 149.

54 For the best overview of the French state, see James B. Collins, The State in Early Modern France (Cambridge, 1995). For a helpful overview of the French-language literature, see Alain Guéry, “L’historien, la crise et l’État,” Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales 52 (1997): 233–56. For a useful, if dated, discussion of the complex interests involved in French overseas administration, see Daniel Dessert and Jean-Louis Journet, “Le lobby Colbert: un royaume, ou une affaire de famille?” Annales: Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations 30, no. 4 (November–December 1975): 1303–36. For the state in provincial France, a helpful analogy, see Sharon Kettering, Patrons, Brokers, and Clients in Seventeenth-Century France (New York, 1986). For the French empire in the Americas as diluted or failed absolutism, see Kenneth J. Banks, Chasing Empire across the Sea: Communications and the State in the French Atlantic, 1713–1763 (Montreal, Quebec, 2002), esp. 184–216; James Pritchard, In Search of Empire: The French in the Americas, 1670–1730 (Cambridge, 2004), where Pritchard writes, “The colonial environment undermined absolutism. It proved to be a very inadequate form of government for colonial conditions. It was unable to respond to the variety of demands made upon it. Widely differing local conditions, whether geographic, demographic, social, or economic, proved too much for the rigidity and control it sought but could not achieve” (263).

55 According to White, the Iroquois “engine of destruction” was so terrifically powerful that it razed not only the Hurons but also the Ottawas, Ojibwa, Fox, Illinois, and many others, displacing them from historically occupied territories and disrupting their most basic subsistence practices. In chaos and terror, surviving remnants fled westward, regrouping in multiethnic refugee villages surrounding the western Great Lakes. There a more distant yet still very real Iroquois threat “forced the peoples of the pays d’en haut … to move toward a larger unity.” For White, however, this larger unity was not characterized by distinct peoples entering into mutually beneficial alliances. Instead the Indians of the Upper Country merged interests and identities, forging “a collective sense of themselves” in opposition to the Iroquois. This process of reinvention was necessary, in White’s view, because the Iroquois had not only destroyed homes and lives but also the mechanisms of cultural reproduction. “Survivors seemed to cling to their traditions,” White writes of these defeated Indians. “But they were like infants sucking the breasts of their dead mothers; tradition could no longer sustain them.” Homeless and orphaned, “these villagers created a common identity as children of Onontio, that is, of the French governor” (White, Middle Ground, 1, 57, 29, xi). James H. Merrell has described White’s vision of this cultural milieu as “a kaleidoscopic array of peoples immigrating and merging in dizzying profusion … a bewildering, and all but hidden, welter of combination and recombination” (Merrell, “Indian History during the English Colonial Era,” in A Companion to Colonial America, ed. Daniel Vickers [Malden, Mass., 2003], 129).

56 White, Middle Ground, 143, 145.


By:Brett Rushforth