Origin and History
The Wendat are an Iroquoian-speaking people, whose territory lay between Georgian Bay and Nottawasaga Bay which is off the eastern part of Lake Huron. Around 1600, to the south and south-west of the Wendat were several linguistically related nations. The Tionnontaté (Tobacco Huron, Khionontateronon or Petun), whose homeland lay some 42 km to the south-west of the Wendat, on the south side of Nottawasaga Bay; to the south of the Tionnontaté were the Attiwandaronk (Neutral) nation ,who occupied land between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie either side of the Niagara River; and the Wenroronon (Wenro) whose territory was to the east of the same river south of Lake Ontario.
The Wendat first encountered the French around 1603.
In 1609, a councillor of the Arendarhonon tribe, went to Québec and concluded an alliance with the French, who designated the Wendat as the “Huron”, derived from "hure" (boar’s head) evoked by the central band of hair on their shaven head. By that time, their confederacy numbered at least 30,000 inhabitants and consisted of four nations:
- the Attignawantans (People of the Bear)
- the Attigneenongnahacs (People of the Cord)
- the Arendarhonons (People of the Rock), who had joined the confederacy around 1590
- the Tahontaenrats (People of the Deer), who had joined the confederacy around 1610
- the Ataronchronons (People Beyond the Intervening Swamp), who had not attained full membership in the confederacy and were considered as a segment of the Attignawantans
In 1609 a war party of Arendarhonon Wendat and their Algonquin allies were joined by Samuel de 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 a Haudenosaunee (Five Nations Iroquois) camp on the Richelieu River was also attacked.
In 1634 the Jesuits establish the first mission in Wendat territory, followed by others in 1635. Most showed no interest. From 1634, the Wendat suffered heavily from epidemic diseases (mainly measles and smallpox) and about 50% to 66% of them died, decreasing the population to about 12,000. This they blamed the Jesuits for. In 1637 they were struck by scarlet fever. These epidemics resulted in the loss of councillors, of women’s power in the political life and over warfare, and in the increased influence of Jesuits among some.
In 1634 a 500 strong Wendat force attacked the Seneca but were surprised and defeated. The Seneca entreated the Wendat for peace following their victory.
1635 marks the beginning of a period of intensified warfare between the Wendat and their Algonquin speaking allies and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). In 1637 even the peace with the Seneca was broken when the Wendat attacked them. The Jesuits fortified the Wendat villages where they had their missions.
In November 1638 a Wendat and Algonquin force captured 80 Oneida men. The following year the Wendat inflicted defeats on the Haudenosaunee around Lake Ontario. In 1639 smallpox once again broke out among the Wendat.
In 1640, Mohawk war parties began to ambush Wendat ‘fur fleets’ along the Saint-Laurent River.
In 1642 the French began trading firearms in small numbers to the Wendat provided the recipients were Christian. The Jesuits also urged the Wendat to make war on the Haudenosaunee. The Mohawk tried to make peace with the Wendat and their allies.
In 1645, the Mohawk again attempted to make peace with the Wendat and their allies. However, the other Haudenosaunee nations continued to raid Wendat country until French sued for peace to which the Haudenosaunee agreed providing there was access to the fur trade. However, in 1646 the Wendat fur fleet arrived in Montréal but the Mohawk were excluded from trading and so the war resumed.
In 1647, Wendat territory was invaded by the Seneca and Onondaga. Wanting peace, the Susquehannock interceded with the Onondaga on behalf of the Wendat and the Onondaga, Cayuga and Oneida agreed to send a peace embassy to the Wendat.
However, in April 1648 a Wendat peace embassy was ambushed by the Mohawk. In July, Teanaustayé (a Cord nation town, one of five Wendat towns with a Christian mission) was attacked by the Seneca and Mohawk taking 700 captives. The rest of the Cord nation was dispersed.
In the same year, 250 Wendat travelling to Trois-Rivières to trade surprised and defeated a Haudenosaunee party on their way.
Over the winter of 1648-49 the Seneca and Mohawk assembled an army of 1,000 men, including ex-Wendat warriors, and wintered in the forests north of Lake Ontario in order to attack the ‘Christianised’ Wendat (French) mission settlements. On March 16, 1649, the Haudenosaunee launched a surprise pre-dawn attack, in which ex-Wendat warriors played prominent roles, on the Attignawantan village of Taenhatentaron (the Jesuit mission of Saint-Ignace), and then went on to attack and take Ataronchronon (the mission of Saint-Louis). Further on, Haudenosaunee warriors scouting towards Sainte-Marie were repulsed. The Seneca-Mohawk army retired with many captives, most of whom were adopted. It is estimated that the Wendat had lost some 630-880 warriors, making it difficult for them to fend off further attacks. Nor were they able to plant and harvest crops for the coming year, the Wendat burned 15 of their villages to prevent their stores from being taken About 10,000 fled to Gahoendoe (present-day Christian Island) in Georgian Bay. Most of those who fled to the island starved over the winter. In the spring of 1650, the Bear, Cord and Rock survivors migrated to a new settlement located on the Île d’Orléans in the Saint-Laurent (new Wendake), 3 km from Québec (Stadacona) within the territory of some of their ancestors. In 1651, 40 additional canoes (240 people) joined the original 300 Wendat.
Other Wendat fled as refugees to surrounding nations, along with survivors of the Petun People, who had been attacked by the Iroquois in the fall of 1649, and relocated to Upper Lake Michigan, settling first at Green Bay, then at Michilimackinac, where they became the Wyandot; or to the Neutral nation between Lakes Ontario and Erie and thence to the Erie nation on the south side of Lake Erie and the Ohio watershed.
In 1651, approximately 900-1200 Wendat (Rock and Deer nations) joined the Seneca at the village of Gandougare.
On May 18, 1656, the Mohawk landed on the Île d’Orléans and killed 70 Wendat and took a substantial number captive. On June 4, the Wendat relocated within the fortified walls of Québec city where a fort was established in the centre of the town. The Wendat were given land to cultivate on the south side of the Saint-Laurent.
In 1667, following peace between the French and Haudenosaunee, the Wendat moved to Beauport and then in 1669 to Notre-Dame-de-Foy. In 1673, they once again relocated finally settling at Lorette, 11 kilometres from Québec city. By 1670, Wendat numbers had fallen to a low of around 150 people due to Mohawk raids and Wendat agreements to relocate with the Haudenosaunee; most of the Bear and Cord nations. Living among the French, the Wendat needed to prove themselves Christians, at least on the surface, requiring outward cultural change and integration, to survive.
Wendat people also joined the Mohawk at Kentaké (later Kahnawake), near Montréal, where with Anishnaabe refugees made up two thirds of the population by 1667, although 200 Mohawk settled in 1673 giving the settlement a Mohawk identity.
In 1690. Wendats took part in the defence of Québec during the siege by Sir William Phips and New Englanders.
In 1697, the Wendat, transformed and thriving, made their final move to new Wendake at Jeune Lorette, near the falls of the Saint-Charles River, 13 km from Québec.
Sometime between 1700 and 1755, the Wendat of Jeune Lorette became one of the Seven Nations Confederacy of Canada, the other nations being the Algonquins, Nipissings and Mohawk at Kanesetake; the Kahnawake Mohawk; the Abenaki of Wolinak (Bécancour); the Abenaki of Odanak (Saint-François); the Cayuga and Onondaga of Oswegatchie (later Akwesasne).
Role during the War
In 1754. the Wendat were part of 150 Native Americans who accompanied Louis Coulon de Villers on an expedition to the Ohio country with 500 Compagnies Franche de la Marine and Milices Canadiennes. Travelling west from Montréal up the Saint-Laurent, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie they reached Chautauqua portage on June 14. Next morning, they heard that Villers brother, Joseph Coulon de Villers de Jumonville had been killed. The party then proceeded down the Allegheny River reaching for Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio on June 26. On June 27, the Wendat agreed to fight amongst 90 other Canadian Indians and subsequently took part in the successful action against Washington’s Virginians at Fort Necessity. Shortly after they returned home.
In May 1755, 22 Wendat, along with 22 Kahnawake Mohawks, left Montréal for the Ohio country and were part of the Native American force who defeated General Braddock’s expedition in a combat on the Monongahela on July 9, returning home shortly after. The Wendat did not serve again in the Ohio country.
By September, Lorette Wendat warriors were part of a force of 760 Canadian Indians that assembled at Fort Saint-Frédéric supporting a French army under General Dieskau. The Wendat were likely to have been part of a flying column that departed the fort on September 5. On September 8, at the southern end of Lake George, they were amongst the ambushing force that attacked a Mohawk and provincial column in what was to become known as the ‘Bloody Morning Scout’. They may or may not have taken part in skirmishing in support of the French attack against William Johnson’s camp on the shore of Lake George where the French eventually withdrew. Covering the retreat, they were back at Fort Carillon by September 11.
In the summer of 1756, a party of Wendat warriors from Wendake took part in the French operations on Lake Champlain. On August 23, a party of Wendat warriors and Canadiens reconnoitred the southern part of Lake Saint-Sacrement (present-day Lake George).
On their way to Fort Saint-Frédéric (present-day Crown Point) they were detached from the last division under M. de Longueuil to join the first division under M. de Saint-Martin.
At the end of July, 26 Wendat warriors from Wendake and 26 Wyandot from Détroit joined the French army assembled at Fort Carillon (present-day Ticonderoga) for the expedition against Fort William Henry.
In 1758, Wendat were amongst the 300 Canadian Indians who reached Fort Carillon on July 11 after Montcalm had defeated the British attack on the Fort.
Between August 21, twenty Native American men – Wendat, Mohawk and Mississauga - accompanied Marin and 50 men of the Troupes de la Marine on a mission up Lake George but the Wendat and Mohawk returned on reaching Isle la Barque when they learned it was a raid and not a scout.
In September 1759, following the fall of Québec to the British, the Lorette Wendat all moved to Montréal.
On September 5, 1760, Governor James Murray signed separate treaties of peace with the delegates of the Lorette Wendat and Kahnawake Mohawk. A certificate of the agreement was given the Lorette Wendat ,which stated that Native Americans were guaranteed safe passage back to their homes, along with ‘the free exercise of their religion, their customs and liberty of trading with English garrisons.’
Peter Kalm, a Swedish speaking Finnish botanist, visited the Wendat, writing in 1750/1 that men had ‘... short black hair which is shaved on the forehead from ear to the other. None of them wear hats or caps.’
It is likely that feathers and other items were worn in the hair according to the man’s spiritual experiences. A century before the French and Indian War, the Jesuit Relations described Wendat men at Québec thus, ‘... they sprinkle their well-greased hair with down, or the tiny feathers of birds... Indeed, this down is as delicate as the web of the silkworm.’
Gustoweh decorated with bunches of split wild turkey, hawk and other feathers and ribbons were worn by Wendat councillors. Speck (1911) stated in his paper on the Wendat of Lorette that: ‘The characteristic chief's head dress is a large bunch of hawk feathers attached to the crown of a sort of cloth skull cap with a decorated headband and a few ribbons hanging behind.’
Pierre Pouchot, writing between 1755 and 1760, mentions that ‘... hats trimmed fine, and in imitation, with variegated plumes of red, yellow, blue and green, hoods for men and children of fringed rateen...’ were available in trade at Québec.
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. Kalm wrote that many Wendat men, ‘... have figures on the face and on the whole body, which are stained into the skin, so as to be indelible... These figures are commonly black; some have a snake painted on each cheek, some have several crosses, some an arrow, others the sun, or anything else their imagination leads to. They have such figures likewise on the breast, thighs and other parts of the body; but some have no figures at all.’
Peter Kalm stated in 1750/1 that many Wendat men ‘... have the face painted all over with cinnabar; others only have strokes of it on the forehead and near the ears; some paint the hair with the same material. Red is the colour they chiefly use in painting themselves, but I have also seen who had daubed their face black.’
Ears and Nose
Peter Kalm noted in 1750/1 some Wendat men wore earrings, others not.’ Nose pendants were also worn by some men.
Necklaces and Neck Pouches
Kalm described Wendat ornamentation thus: ‘Round their neck they have a string of violet wampum, with some white wampum between them. The wampum are small, of the figure of oblong pearls, and made of the shells which the English call clams (Venus mercenaria L.) ... At the end of the wampum strings, many of the Indians wear a large French silver coin with the king’s effigy on their breasts. Others have a large shell on the breast, of a fine white colour, which they value very highly; others again have no ornaments around the neck. They all have their breasts uncovered. In front hangs their tobacco pouch made of skins of an animal with the hairy side turned outwards.’ Pouchot stated that Indian men wore, ‘... around the neck, a collar pendant like our orders of knighthood. At the end is a plate of silver, as large as a saucer. Or a shell of the same size, or a disc of wampum’.
A tobacco pouch could also have been worn around the neck and in which was kept a man’s personal pipe. The tobacco pouch made of the skins of animals with the hairy side turned outwards.
‘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.’
Th 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.
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.
Moccasins were made of smoked moose or buckskin with a puckered centre seam along the instep. They had cuffs split at the back (women’s moccasins were made with a single cuff around the ankle). A two-piece moccasin style with a separate vamp, probably adopted from the Algonquins/Nipissings, was also worn. They were fastened under the cuff and tied at the instep with a thong. During the winter moccasins were 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, a Swedish speaking Finnish botanist, visited the Wendat about 1750 stated of the men 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 and white 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. Pouchot mentions that at Québec ‘... woollen blankets, of three points and a half, three, two and one and a half of Léon cloth...’ The points are mark that probably refer to the value of the blanket in furs.
Hooded capotes were a popular item of winter dress for Algonquin speakers and are likely to have also be worn by Wendat 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. Peter Kalm noted that Wendat men liked to wear waistcoats and jackets, like the French.
Halters or tumplines were carried on raids for captives. These were a woven braid made of twined vegetable fibre some 350cm long with a broad central portion for a neck band of about 70cm and 7cm wide which could be decorated with false embroidery with dyed moose hair in bold geometric patterns. Colours were white, grey, blue, orange and black and could have the edges of the centre portion beaded with white seed beads.
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 Wendat 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. In addition,
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 (thunderbird and underwater panther designs are absent from Wendat quillwork, where the Thunderer is envisaged as a man-being form). Straps were of woven fibre or loomed imitation or real wampum. A knife was carried in a sheaf, often decorated with red, black, light blue and or white quillwork, hung around the neck.
A tomahawk or warclub was carried stuffed through a belt or sash at the back or on the hip. Woven woollen sashes were wrapped twice around the waist with the fringe hanging down before. Pouchot describes, ‘The men wear a belt about six inches wide, made of wool of different colours, which the Indian women make very neatly, with flaming designs. They hung to this belt their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which is the skin 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 like a wallet, for carrying their balls and lead for hunting and war. They carry their mirror and tomahawk upon their hips.’
Bearor, Bob, Leading by Example: Partisan Fighters & Leaders of New France 1660-1760, Volume 1, Westminster: Heritage Books, 2009, pp. 25.
Hamilton, Edward P., [trans], Adventure in the Wilderness: The American Journal of Louis Antoine de Bougainville 1756-1760. Norman: University Press, 1964, pp.264.
Kalm, Peter, Travels in North America, New York: Dover Publication, 1964, pp. 462-472.
Labelle, Kathryn Magee, Dispersed but not Destroyed: A History of the Seventeenth-Century Wendat People, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2013.
MacLeod, D. Peter, The Canadian Iroquois and the Seven Years War, Canadian War Museum, 2012.
Pouchot, Pierre, Memoir Upon The Late War In North America, Between The French And English, 1755-60. Volume II, Alpha Editions, 2021, pp. 49, 189-191.
Morissonneau, Christian, Huron of Lorette: in Trigger, Bruce G. and Sturtevant, W. C. (eds), Handbook of the North American Indians, Volume 15, Northeast, Washington: Smithsonian Institute, 1978, pp. 389-393.
Sioui, Georges E, Huron Wendat: The Heritage of the Circle, Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999.
Sioui, Georges E, For An Amerindian Autohistory, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995, pp. 82-94.
Speck, Frank, Notes on the Material Culture of the Huron, American Anthropologist, 1911, 13, 2, 209.
Thwaites, Reuben Gold, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents 1610 to 1791, 44:285. http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/relations/2011
Larry Burrows for the initial version of this article