Origin and History
The Algonquin people are an Algonquian-speaking nation of Native Americans. They inhabited a region in present-day southern Québec and eastern Ontario, along the Ottawa River. Their bands were: the Weskarini, who lived in the region of the Rouge, Petite-Nation and Lièvre Rivers; the Matouweskarini in the Madawaska River valley; the Keinouche in the Muskrat Lake region; the Kitcisìpirini whose main settlement was on Morrison’s Island; and the Otaguottouemins in the upper Ottowa valley. Another band the Onontchataronon who lived in the South River valley and may incorporated some Hochelaga Iroquoians.
The Algonquin people were living peacefully with the Saint Laurent Iroquoians of Hochelaga and Stadacona before the Iroquoian dispersal sometime after 1540. In about 1570, they allied themselves with the Innu (Montagnais), their neighbours east of the Saint-Maurice River, against the Iroquois Confederacy. They first contacted the French at the trading post of Tadoussac in Innu territory sometime after 1599 and started trading furs with them for European goods. In 1603, they came to Québec with some Wendat (Huron) allies to trade by the northern route avoiding the Saint-Laurent River due to risk of attacks by the Iroquois.
In 1609, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain made alliance with the Algonquin, which then numbered some 6,000, and the Wendat peoples and promised to assist them in their war against the Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee). The same year, a war party of Algonquin and their Wendat allies were joined by Champlain for the first time at the Battle of Ticonderoga where a Mohawk war party were defeated due to the French use of firearms. In 1610, Algonquin, Wendat and Innu warriors, along with the French, attacked a Mohawk fortified camp on the Richelieu River near present day Sorel, which after being repulsed were later captured by the Innu and French.
In May 1613, Champlain reached a village of the Kitcisìpirini band of Algonquins (present-day Morrison Island) on the Ottawa River. The village was strategically located on the trade route between the Great Lakes and the Saint-Laurent River. The Algonquins played a major role in supplying European trade goods to the Wendat Confederacy, especially the Arendarhonon (Rock Nation). The Kitcisìpirini were particularly anxious for Champlain not to visit the Wendat. Unable to prevent this the Algonquins resented the French for it and took every opportunity to stir up trouble between the French and Wendat.
In the 1620s, Iroquois attacks against the Algonquins were inhibited by armed Frenchmen travelling back and forth to Wendat country. The Algonquins tried to play the French off against the Dutch traders at Fort Orange but were prevented on each occasion by the Mohawk.
From 1623, the French began to trade firearms with the Algonquins and their allies who had converted to Christianity to strengthen them against the Iroquois. The migratory Algonquin bands had proven resistant to the initial missionary efforts of the “Black Robes” and so the Jesuits had concentrated instead on the Innu and Wendat. The Jesuits were not above using the lure of firearms to help with conversions. Requiring firearms, trouble arose as the Algonquins developed divisions among themselves over the alien religion. Many Algonquin converts left the Ottawa Valley and settled at Trois-Rivières, within their homeland. This weakened the main body of traditional Algonquins.
In 1634, Oumasasikweie of the Kitcisìpirini Algonquins concluded a peace with the Iroquois by which they hoped to travel through Mohawk country to trade with the Dutch. However, when they tried to, his party were promptly slain. This led to war breaking out again. A smallpox epidemic slowed the war down. However, the Iroquois having a greater number of firearms gradually gave the Mohawk the upper hand. By the early 1640s, the Weskarini band were compelled to seek refuge with the Kitcisìpirini whose territory had yet to be attacked.
In 1637, some Algonquins moved to the Jesuit mission at Sillery near Québec, but Trois-Rivières seems to have remained the main focus for eastern Algonquin bands.
In 1642, Iroquois warriors made a surprise winter raid against a village of Kitcisìpirini. Soon some were seeking refuge at French settlements along the Saint-Laurent. By the spring, the Mohawk and their allies had succeeded in completely driving many groups of Algonquins and Innu from the upper Saint-Laurent and lower Ottawa River.
To shorten the travel distance for Algonquin and Wendat traders, the French in 1642 established a new post at Montréal (Ville Marie). However, this only seemed to make matters worse. The Iroquois soon sent war parties north into the Ottawa Valley to intercept the Wendat and Algonquin canoe fleets transporting fur to Montréal and Québec.
In 1645 the French initiated peace proposals with the Iroquois and convened a council. This confirmed peace but it contained a secret agreement requiring French neutrality in future wars between their Algonquin and Wendat allies. In exchange the Mohawk were to refrain from attacks on the Algonquin and Innu villages where the Jesuits had missions. The peace also allowed the Iroquois to hunt in Algonquin territory but it was broken in 1646 when Simon Piskaret, the most renowned Algonquin warrior, was killed, and two hunting parties were killed or captured by the Mohawk.
On March 6, 1647, a large Mohawk war party, ignoring the distinction between Christian and non-Christian, attacked an Algonquin village near Trois-Rivières, almost exterminating its inhabitants.
In 1650, the Kitcisìpirini band could still field some 400 warriors. During that year, the remaining Algonquins in the upper Ottawa Valley were attacked and overrun. There is evidence that some Algonquins remained in the headwaters of the tributary rivers. During the following years, the French tried to continue their fur trade by asking native traders to bring their furs to Montréal. Iroquois war parties roamed the length of the Ottawa River during the 1650s and 1660s, making travel extremely dangerous for anyone not part of large, heavily-armed convoys.
In May 1663, an Algonquin war party returned from Lake Champlain with 10 Mohawk scalps including that of their most renowned leader, Garistatsi. A smallpox epidemic among the Mohawk in 1663 enabled the Algonquins to blockade Fort Orange.
In October 1666, a party of Algonquin warriors joined a force of 1,200 regulars and milice under M. de Tracy. This expedition set off from Fort Sainte-Anne to destroy Iroquois villages. It sailed southwards on Lake Champlain and before entering into Lake Saint-Sacrement (present-day Lake George), it built a small fort near the falls separating the two lakes. The expedition continued its advance through dense forests, destroying Mohawk villages. By 5 November, the expedition was back to Québec.
This brought a lasting peace in 1667 and not only allowed French traders and missionaries to travel to the western Great Lakes, but permitted many of the other Algonquins to begin a gradual return to the Ottawa Valley. During the next fifty years the French established trading posts for the Algonquins at Abitibi and Témiscamingue at the north end of the Ottawa Valley. Missions were also built at Ile-aux-Tourtes and Sainte-Anne-du-Bout-de-l'Île.
However, by 1676, the Algonquin people had been decimated by epidemics and some of them resettled at Pointe-du-Lac near Trois-Rivières where they lived until 1830.
In 1695 the Algonquin and Wendat warriors came upon an Iroquois force of 300 making canoes on Lake Erie. In the battle on the lake, after taking casualties themselves the allies inflicted loss on the Iroquois of at least 40 men and 15 captured.
As can be seen from surviving Hudson’s Bay Company account books the Algonquins also traded with the English at James Bay from the late 17th century.
In 1704, Father Sébastien Râle brought eastern Abenakis from the Androscoggin River to Bécancour, where the Abenaki asked permission from the Algonquins to settle. Algonquin and Abenaki relations were thenceforth good and at some point, a treaty was made agreeing that the Saint-Laurent was the dividing line between the two nations. The Algonquin gave military assistance to the Abenaki except for the latter’s war against the invasion of their territory by English squatters in what is now New England.
In 1708, during Queen Anne’s War, Algonquin warriors were part of the Abenaki and French force that attacked Haverhill, Massachusetts.
In 1721, French missionaries convinced approximately 100 Algonquins and 250 Nipissings to join the 300 Mohawks at the Sulpician mission village of Lac des Deux Montagnes just west of Montréal, known to the Algonquins as Oka. Here the Algonquins remained as a distinct group living in houses with squared timbers. With the Nipissings, they number 113 warriors. In the winter they continued to hunt in the upper Ottawa River valley.
Sometime between 1700 and 1755, the Algonquins, Nipissings and Mohawk at Oka (Kanesetake) became one of the Seven Nations Confederacy of Canada, the other nations being the Wendat of Jeune Lorette; the Kahnawake Mohawk; the Abenaki of Wolinak (Bécancour); the Abenaki of Odanak (Saint-François); and the Cayuga and Onondaga of Oswegatchie (later Akwesasne).
Role during the War
In the spring of 1754 ,Algonquin warriors were part of the French expedition to the Ohio that also included Canadian Iroquois, Wendat and Nipissing, reaching Fort Duquesne on June 14. On July 3 they were present in the Native American force that defeated Colonel Washington at Fort Necessity.
1755 In the summer of 1755, the Algonquin along with other allied nations were preparing to send a contingent of warriors to assist the French in besieging Fort Oswego. However, in August they accompanied a French army of 3,000 regulars and milice under General Dieskau along with Canadian Iroquois, Abenaki, Wendat and Nipissings south up Lake Champlain to Lake Saint-Sacrement (George). They probably took part in the attack on the camp of Sir William Johnson’s provincial army at the Combat of Lake George on September 8.
On August 6, 1756, Louise-Antoine de Bougainville, Montcalm’s aide-de-camp, noted that Algonquin warriors were among the Abenaki, Nipissing and Iroquois who sang the war song. They are likely to have been among the 250 Native Americans that accompanied the French army that successfully besieged Fort Oswego in mid-August.
On July 26, Algonquin warriors were among those who held a council with General Montcalm agreeing to his plans. The following day, Bougainville lists 47 Algonquin warriors present, 24 from the Lake and 23 from Trois Rivières preparing to lay siege to Fort William Henry. On August 4, the French began the siege of Fort William Henry and the retrenchment outside the fort. During the siege the Algonquin, along with the rest of the Native American force and the Milice formed an observation screen from the edge of the woods to the south of the fort and retrenchment blocking the road to Fort Edward. On August 9, Colonel Monroe surrendered the fort and was permitted to leave. The following morning the British marched out to Fort Edward. The rear of the column consisting of provincials and rangers was briefly assaulted by aggrieved Abenakis.
On Jun 27, 1758 Bougainville recorded that several canoes of Algonquins, Nipissings, and Kanesetake Mohawks from Oka passed Montréal bringing with them 19 prisoners they had taken at an island in Lake Saint-Sacrement. They told Montcalm that they would come and join them as soon as they had seen to their fields of corn.
On July 16, following the defeat of Abercromby’s army at Fort Carillon, Algonquins, Nipissings, and Kanesetake Mohawks retuned and congratulated Montcalm on his victory. However, Montcalm replied: ‘You have come at a time when I have no more need of you. Have you only come to see dead bodies? Go behind the fort and you will find them. I do not need you to defeat the English.’ They were shocked by the unprecedented impolitic and rude response but quietly left to discuss. The following day, their leaders met Montcalm about the possibility of a raid on the British lines of communications above Fort Edward. Montcalm’s response was even more hostile. ‘He struck his table with his fist, and said to us you will not go, go to the devil if you are not content.’ However, despite this behaviour they did not leave. On July 22, Montcalm called a council and presented a string of wampum symbolising his request that they stay. The following day, their leaders replied that his head had been turned since beating the English and that he might need them in the future. Montcalm asked them to stay but they replied that their warriors were unwilling to do so. The Algonquin and their Oka neighbours left to go north and met Onontio (the French Governor Vaudreuil) on July 30. Harmony was restored and in August a force of 400 Seven Nations warriors, which may have included Algonquin men, and Milice and regulars set out for Fort Edward. On August 8, they met a British force of 700 rangers, light infantry and provincials near Fort Anne ambushing the advance guard. Retiring from the field after killing 49 of the enemy and taking 6 prisoners the 1758 campaign season ended for the Algonquins. In the engagement the allies lost 8 killed and 12 wounded.
In September 1759, Algonquin warriors from Oka (Kanesatake) may have joined their Mohawk neighbours and the Oswegatchie (La Présentation) with La Corne's forces posted near the rapids of the Saint-Laurent River.
In mid-August 1760, the Algonquin and eight other former French allies met with the British representative, Sir William Johnson, and concluded a treaty, where they promised to remain neutral in any future conflict between France and Great Britain.
In the accompanying illustration, the man wears a cloth breechclout and woollen half-leggings with the seam on the outer leg and the flap possibly decorated with ribbonwork. Garters below the knee are not shown. His moccasins are of the puckered toe type. He is naked above the waist covered around his shoulders is a white woollen blanket. He wears red paint on his face, his ears have two large silver rings and there is another silver ornament in the septum of his nose. Around his neck are strands of, probably, wampum or white beads. He carries a decorated canoe paddle. The woman wears her long hair loose and has round red patches on her face. She is naked above the waist, her body draped with a white blanket. She wears a knee length blue wraparound cloth skirt with red cloth leggings. The latter would have been supported by a garter which is not shown. A load on her back is carried by a tumpline worn across her forehead. She has silver earrings and silver, shell and or wampum necklaces
Pierre-Joseph-Antoine Roubaud, a Jesuit priest at Odanak described a war party preparing to set off in 1757. Algonquin warriors were present in a war party consisting of Abenaki, Nippising and Maliseet. ‘This is entirely shaven, except one little tuft reserved on the crown to which is attached plumes of birds, or small pieces of porcelain [wampum] or some such gewgaw. To each part of the head there is its peculiar ornament.’
The illustration of the Algonquin man shows feathers stuck into his scalplock. These would have had personal spiritual significance for the wearer. Small round roaches of porcupine and red dyed deer hair may have been worn.
Headbands decorated with quillwork with upright feathers were likely to have been worn by some men for special occasions. Turbans of otter fur may also have been worn at such times.
Tattooing of the face and body was practised as an alternative to painting. Tattoos in the form of some animal, such as an eagle, a snake or other figure were ingrained with powdered charcoal. Linear patterns were also used extensively.
Pierre Pouchot, a French engineering officer writing in the late 1750s stated, generically, that men spent up to three or four hours decorating their head and goes on the say: ‘They practice of dressing their faces artistically in red, black and green, in fanciful designs, and which they often change two or three times a day, does not allow us to judge the natural colour except of eyes and teeth, which are very small but very white. The lips are stained with vermillion’.
Roubaud observed that warriors were ‘... painted with vermillion, white, green, yellow and black made of soot and the scaping of pots, all these unite in a single... visage, and are methodically applied with a little tallow, which serves for pomatum. Such is the paint, on these occasions of solemnity, is called into requisition to embellish not only the face, but also the head.’
Ears and Nose
Pouchot also observed that: ‘They pierce the cartilage of the nose, and put in a little ring with a triangle of silver, which falls down before the mouth.’ Roubaud also stated: ‘The nose has its pendant; while the ears are well furnished having been split in infancy and drawn down with weights until they flap against the shoulders...’ However, the latter configuration of the ear is unlikely to have been common amongst the more northerly Algonquin, as shown by the man in the watercolour of the couple in 1757. Necklaces and Neck Pouches
Necklaces of wampum, imitation glass wampum and beads with shell and silver pendants are likely to be commonly worn for occasions.
The Jesuit Roubaud noted that: ‘The chiefs and captains are not distinguished, except the latter by a gorget or neck-piece and the former by a medallion, which on one side has a portrait of the king, and on the reverse Mars and Bellona giving each other a hand, with the motto virtus et honos.’
‘The Indians are fond of wearing rings upon all their fingers.’
Breechclout and Apron
Pierre Pouchot, writing between 1755 and 1760, generically, recorded men wearing, ‘... a breech-cloth, which is a quarter of an ell of cloth, which they pass under their thighs, crossing before and behind upon a belt around the waist. Sometime the cloth is embroidered. When they travel, to avoid being chafed by the cloth, they put it simply as an apron before them.’
Leggings Leggings were fitted tightly to the leg with double flaps or wings hanging feely down the outside. Some had a single flap at the back with the front stitched on the inside forming the outer seam of the legging. Each flap was decorated with ribbon, edge beading, moose hair embroidery, broaches and braid. Jesuit Nau stated in 1735 that: ‘Their mitasse, that is their Leggings, are adorned with ribbons and a variety of flowers embroidered with elk [moose]-hair dyed red or yellow. These are made to fit closely, the better to show off the elaborate finish of the work.’ Obviously, these were for best wear and that on the trail plain half or full leggings of blue or red cloth, or buckskin would be worn.
Garters are likely to have been worn below the knee. Pierre Pouchot observed that, generically, ‘... they wear garters of beads [probably loomed wampum in geometric patterns of white and dark blue black], or porcupine quills [in red, black and white], bordered four fingers wide, which are tied on the legs.’ Garters were also made of woven woollen fibres typically dyed red with white bead patterns incorporated into the weave.
The Algonquin probably wore a two-piece puckered-toe moccasin style with a separate vamp. They are fastened under the cuff and tied at the instep with a thong. During the winter moccasins are made larger so that they could be lined with rabbit skin, moose hair and or old blanket and the cuffs wrapped up around the ankles. Snow shoes were worn during the winter.
A European shirt, cut in contemporary European fashion, was also popular and could be daubed with grease and paint to waterproof it. Peter Kalm states that: ‘They wear a shirt which is either white or blue striped and a shaggy piece of cloth, which is either blue or white, with a blue or red stripe below. This they always carry over their shoulders... They all have their breasts uncovered.’ Pouchet mentions that: ‘The fore arm [of a shirt presumably] is ornamented with silver broaches, three or four inches wide, and the arms by a kind of wristlets made of wampum or coloured porcupine quills with fringes of leather above and below.’ Quillwork for the area was likely to use black, red, white and possibly yellow quills.
Blankets and Coats
Trade blankets were worn for warmth. At the time French blankets were considered of better quality than those supplied by the British. Pierre Pouchot wrote: ‘Both men and women wear a blanket on their shoulders, either of wool which they but of Europeans, or of cloth or prepared skins... Those of wool, are blankets made in Normandy of very fine wool, and better than those supplied by the English, which are coarser... For men they are of two or three points [the cost in number of beaver skins]. After carried them white two or three days, they mark them in vermillion, at fist with a red cross. Some days after they cover them with red, which tends to make the skin red.’
Hooded capotes were a popular item of winter dress for Algonquin men. In 1743 it is recorded that seventy cloth capotes trimmed with false silver lace were sent to Fort La Raye (Green Bay) to be traded for furs. Eight were of white cloth and the others of unspecified colours. They lacked buttons and were fastened by a patterned woven wool sash or belt at the waist. European coats and sleeved waistcoats in the contemporary style were also obtained and worn by some men.
Pierre Pouchot described generically the equipment carried by Native American men. ‘The men wear a belt about six inches wide, made of wool of different colour, which the Indian women make very neatly, of flaming designs. They hung to this belt their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which is the sin of an otter, beaver, cat or bird taken off whole and tanned, into which they put their pipe tobacco and steel. They have also a pocket hanging like a wallet, for carrying their balls and lead for hunting or war. They have an ox horn with a shoulder strap for carrying powder. Their knife is hung in a sheaf from the neck, and falls upon the breast. They also have a crooked knife or a curved sword, and they make great use of this.’
By the beginning of the 18th century the standard trade musket that armed the Algonquin was manufactured in France at the Tulle arsenal. The .62 calibre ‘fusil de chasse’ or hunting musket has a 44-inch octagon-to-round barrel and the lock plate is marked with the name of the arsenal spelt as TVLLE. After 1745 the ‘V’ changed to a ‘U’. Characteristically the stock had a drooped ‘cow’s foot’ butt. The Algonquins may also have obtained firearms from the British at James Bay which were manufactured specifically for the Indian trade. These were characterised by full stocks, large trigger guards, serpent side plates, and nailed on butt plates.
A powder horn and a shot pouch would have been worn over the shoulder and high up under the arm to minimise them flapping about whilst moving. Shot pouches were often made of woven fibre with white bead patterns woven into the threads; bags of deerskin with sewn wampum panels with small white geometric patterns on a dark blue-black field or of black dyed skin with quillwork and white bead edging with a fringe of metal cones filled with red dyed deer hair. Bags for best wear would have been quilled with bands of geometric designs. Quilled designs of Thunderbirds and Underwater Panthers designs are also likely to have been used by the Algonquin. Straps were of woven fibre or loomed wampum. A knife was carried in a sheaf, often decorated with red, black, white and possibly yellow quillwork, hung around the neck and a tomahawk or warclub was carried stuffed through a belt at the back.
Day, Gordon & Bruce G. Trigger, Algonquin: in Trigger, Bruce G. and Sturtevant, W. C. (eds), Handbook of the North American Indians, Volume 15, Northeast, Washington: Smithsonian Institute, 1978, pp. 792-795.
Hamilton, Edward P., [trans], Adventure in the Wilderness: The American Journal of Louis Antoine de Bougainville 1756-1760. Norman: University Press, 1964
Ingraham, W. (trans.). The early Jesuit missions in North America. Albany: J. Munsell. 1873.
MacLeod, D. Peter, The Canadian Iroquois and the Seven Years War, Canadian War Museum, 2012.
Parmenter, Jon, The Edge of the Woods: Iroquoia, 1534-1701, East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2010. pp, 17-19, 116, 240
Pouchot, Pierre, Memoir Upon The Late War In North America, Between The French And English, 1755-60. Volume II, Alpha Editions, 2021, pp. 189-191.
Larry Burrows for a major overhaul of the entire article