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The Amerindian

Alliances in the Making

Sometimes the Marquis de Montcalm visits the Amerindians in person to form or strengthen alliances. Here we find the Marquis in a longhouse trading wampum, a symbolic Amerindian necklace. Later, the general will linger, talking around the fire and sharing the peace pipe. The Marquis sees these talks as a necessary evil: he does not like the way the Amerindians fight. But isn’t their alliance worth the effort? In the summer of 1759, the presence of nearly 1,800 Amerindian warriors in Québec City will be a valuable help to him.

Division of Native Peoples in America

The French use their sharp skills as negotiators to form numerous alliances with aboriginal tribes.

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Grand Onontio: A Symbol of Protection

Among the Amerindians, as with the Europeans and Canadians, discussions about war are often very emotional. The words of these warriors say a great deal about their reasons for choosing the side they did.

Brethren, are you ignorant of the difference between our French Father Onontio and the English? Go see the forts that our Father Onontio has established and you will see that the land he builds on is still a hunting ground, whereas whenever the English occupy a territory, all the game flees to other parts, the woods are cut down, the land is razed, and we find ourselves without shelter.

The Ritual of Alliance-Making

Crucial for both parties, the alliances between the French and the Amerindians are always sealed with numerous rituals. Here’s how the French describe these memorable encounters.

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Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by three firings of two small cannons and the Savages’ musketry… In the afternoon we held council, at which time the Marquis de Montcalm told the Savages he had come to see them as a sign of his friendship… He eventually said that he would give them three oxen and several other gifts to prepare a feast, and that he hoped to sing war songs and smoke with them in the council house. The Savages thanked the Marquis de Montcalm for his visit and assured him that they would follow his word and would give him the wampum as well as a report on the warriors who would march with him to war.
Text inspired by: Écrits sur le Canada...

Tribes Involved in the Conflict

Even though the Amerindians have formed alliances with the French, not all tribes are in Québec City to defend it.
Here are a few examples of the tribes that stand alongside the French and Canadians during the siege of Québec City. We know about them thanks to the writings left by witnesses of the day. Sometimes appreciated, sometimes denigrated, the presence of the Amerindians, as you will see, leave no one indifferent.

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The Warpath

The alliances have been formed, and a large part of the Amerindians from eastern North America will fight alongside the French. The eloquent speeches have all been made, and the warriors prepare for battle. They dance, sing, and invoke the spirits to bring them victory.

The Warrior's Motivations

Is the Amerindian warrior so different from the European or Canadian soldier?

The Amerindian warrior was typically a young man in his twenties who went to battle in order to avenge a death, make territorial claims, or maintain an alliance. Since he was not paid to fight, he could change his mind at any time if he no longer thought it was a good idea or beleived something to be a bad omen.

Formidable Weapons

The Amerindian warrior is feared for his great bravery, and the weapons he uses terrorize the enemy.

What weapons are used by the majority of the Amerindians during this war?

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Getting Ready to Fight

For the professional soldier, preparation for battle is tedious and requires long hours of training. However, the road that leads to battle is quite different for the Amerindians. Let’s take a peek at what their preparation involves.

A few days before leaving for battle, we undertake a series of preparations, which vary from one tribe to the next. Usually we talk for a long time before reaching a decision, then end our ceremony by smoking the peace pipe. The warriors paint their bodies red and black, then dance war dances and practice other rituals such as animal sacrifices. But an ill omen or premonitory dream may make us change our minds at the last minute. Once the warriors finally feel ready, they take to the war path.

Shared Views

The decision to participate in combat does not sit well with all Amerindians. Some young women worry about the young warriors leaving for war, where they may lose their lives. They often accuse the older women of having pushed the men into battle out of revenge. Let’s listen to one of them explain how she feels.

Revenge, revenge! Those are the words my stepmother keeps repeating when we talk about the Englishman. Death is still so much in her heart. Her son and her brother paid with their blood and their life for a war that has nothing to do with us. Now her heart is as hard as a stone and her mouth spits out the flames of hatred. She, as well as the other elderly women, cry out for revenge and she urges the men to join the Frenchmen’s war. The old wise men already met and gave their consent to the preparations. But my sisters and I feel that evil spirits are leading us towards a conflict that will make us lose everything, even our dignity.

Tactics of War

The Amerindians are renowned for being great warriors. Their ways of doing battle are completely different from those of the Europeans. Learn about their manoeuvres by closely observing their battle tactics.

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Effective Harassment

All throughout the summer, the Amerindians come and go as they please. They give the Europeans the impression they are not actively participating in the conflict. However, they are very active indeed, conducting all sorts of raids and ambushes on the British positions. Although the tactics of the Amerindians do not always meet with the full approval of the French and Canadians, the continuous harassment of British troops helps the French to counter the attacks of their enemy in North America.

Those Too Sure of Victory are Bound to lose

On July 31, a confident Wolfe attempts an offensive in Beauport. Is it a good tactic?

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Those Amerindians are a Hard Act to Follow

In the summer of 1759, the Amerindians are constantly on the move, relentlessly harrying the British with raids and ambushes.

The tactics of the Amerindians fly in the face of rigid European military custom. The French officers would dearly love to know the location of their aboriginal allies. Unfortunately for them, the strategy of surprise and ambush employed by the Amerindians makes their movements entirely unpredictable. At one moment, they are near Cap-Rouge, only to appear a few days later at the foot of Montmorency Falls. Furthermore, Amerindian tribes come and go from the region depending on their whims and convictions. Nevertheless—and contrary to all expectations—their tactics will revolutionize the way soldiers wage war and call into question the traditional concept of the pitched battle. Camouflage, ambushes, surprise attacks, and raids—all techniques mastered by the Amerindian—are the new weapons that will determine the success of tomorrow’s armies. Throughout the summer, the Amerindians use these methods to take prisoners, steal military supplies, conduct surprise attacks and, especially, take a few English scalps.

Double Standard

The siege of Québec has its inconveniences, the worst of them being hunger. Food theft becomes a veritable plague, and is severely punished… with a few exceptions…

The Amerindians are unfamiliar with the notion of private property. For them, food is to be shared among those in need. Knowing this, French authorities decided not to punish aboriginal thieves for fear of alienating their valued allies.In contrast, the theft of a mere chicken is enough to get a French soldier strung up for public execution without trial or any other form of due process.

From Ambush to Skirmish

On the Plains of Abraham, the Amerindians have been firing at the English since early morning. But because there are few places to hide, there is little else the Amerindians can do. Nonetheless, they inflict appreciable damage on Wolfe’s troops. At about 9 a.m., the French and Canadians finally arrive on the battlefield.

Terrifying Warriors

The Amerindians are feared by the Europeans because of their ruthless combat techniques. The warriors' battle dress and overall appearance play a big part in intimidating the enemy. Let's see what these courageous warriors are like.

Many savage nations have a custom of pricking (tattooing) the skin. Other nations just paint their skin and faces with different colours—such as black, red, blue, and green—which are applied on top of a layer of bear grease. It is a war paint used to frighten and intimidate the enemy. They wear nothing, apart from a breechcloth and sometimes leggings. Their shaven heads are decorated with feathers. Their ears hang to their shoulders, and they take care to tie them out of the way so they don’t slow their movements. They have no facial or body hair, and they often proudly wear rings in their noses and bracelets on their arms.

Two Distinctive Traits: Patience and the Scalp

During the battle of the Plains of Abraham, the Amerindians were unable to use their favourite weapon—that of surprise. This wide, open field had no hiding places, except for the groves located on either side of the English lines.

Normally, the Amerindians look for a position that would give them an advantage by allowing them to lie in ambush close to the location they wished to attack. They wait quietly for hours, sometimes even days, until their leader gives the war cry. Catching the enemy unawares, they fire on them and then rush forward, axes in hand, to finish the job. Should an adversary fall, the warriors take his scalp, brandishing it in the air as they let out their terrifying battle cry. Here is how one French soldier describes the scene:

"The savage immediately takes his knife and makes a cut around the scalp, then putting his foot to his victim’s shoulder, he yanks the scalp free from back to front. After cleaning the scalp, he attaches it to the end of a long baton, which he triumphantly carries over his shoulder back to the village. Before making his entry, he announces his arrival and his bravery with a number of loud cries, equal to the number of scalps he has taken."
Extract from : Voyage au Canada...

The Die is Cast

The battle is now inevitable. It will take place on the Heights of Abraham. Listen to four people who witnessed the tragedy. An Aide-de-camp of General Wolfe, a Canadian employee at the King's store, John Knox, Lieutenant in Wolfe's army and a Huron warrior, Little Étienne.

September 12 , on board of Sutherland

The ennemy’s force is now divided, great scarcity of provisions now in teir camp, and universal discontent among Canadians : (…) (…)Before day-break on the 13th we make a descent upon the north shore,(…)

We had, in this debarkation, thirty flat-bottomed boats containing about sixteen hundred men. This was a great surprise on the ennemy, who, from the natural strength of the place, did not suspect, and consequently were not prepared against, so bold attempt. This grand enterprise was conducted and executed with great good order and discretion; (…).

Morning of September 13

At daybreak the enemy landed at Anse des Mères… The orderly who had heard men swimming shouted out and upon being answered in good French “provisions!” investigated no further, since there were vessels loaded with provisions passing by and the order was given not to fire upon them.

As soon as we gain the summit, all is quiet, and not a shot is heard, owing to the excellent conduct of the light infantry under colonel Howe; it is by this time clear day-light. (…)

…they immediately approached the shore and shortly burst into the home of Borgia Levasseur, taking over the house and the barn, as well as the homes of St-Joseph

Meanwhile in Beauport

A Canadien, an expression of sheer terror on his face, told us how he alone had escaped death and that the enemy was on the plateau. Knowing full well how difficult it was to reach the plateau from this point, we didn’t believe a word of the man’s tale, believing his fright had affected his senses. (…)

A little further on

I was with my grandfather Tsa-wa-wan-hi, Grand Chief of the Huron, when we met up with the army at Beauport with 60 or 70 of our grown men, and several younger men, too. We could hear musket fire. Our warriors rushed over from the other side of the St. Charles River to join in the battle.

I ran and joined Monsieur de Pontleroy and together we climbed to the plateau, following no distinct path but that of the whistling bullets.

On the Plains of Abraham

The Canadiens rushed to the scene of the battle and many volleys were fired, but with enemy numbers growing by the minute, our militiamen were shooting from all sides, incapable of forming a common front to hold off the enemy.

We joined Monsieur le Marquis de Montcalm, who ordered his troops into battle as they arrived. The enemy was already in formation and entrenching, the river on their right and Chemin Sainte-Foye on their left. They looked to be at least four thousand strong, divided into three corps (…) We had a number of battalions in forward positions, firing under cover of the brush (…)

Weather showery : it is about six o’clock and the ennemy first makes their appearance upon heights, between us and the town : (…). Québec is eastward of us in front, with the ennemy under its walls.

All our troops had arrived. I stopped a moment with Monsieur le Marquis de Montcalm, who said to me, “We cannot avoid the issue. The enemy is entrenching and already has two cannon. If we give him time to make good his position we can never attack him with the few troops we have.”

(…) It is ten o’oclock, the ennemy begins to advance briskly in tthree columns, (…) two of them inclining to the left of our army, and the third toward our right, firing obliquely at the two extrimities of our line, from the distance of one and hundred and thirty, until they come within forty yards; wich our troops withstand with the greatest intrepidity and firmness, still reserving their fire and paying the strictest obedience to their officers : (…)

My grandfather was too elderly to keep pace with his warriors. He wanted me to stay with him, but when he saw the Huron… He ordered me to go back the way I had come. I obeyed, but only went back a short distance. Then I hid to watch what would happen. I didn’t see much of the battle.

The infantry marched forward, flanked on one side by the navy and on the other by the Canadian militia. He gave his order when they were within half range of the fire of the enemy, who were firmly in wait… And so began the great fire of battle from all sides…

Our troops ran into battle, letting out great cries of war, then stopping to fire. The first line of French and Canadian troops kneeled to fire, throwing themselves down to reload.

When the general forms the line of battle, he orders the regiment to load with an additional ball. (…) Our troops in general, and particularly the central corps, is levelled and firing.

Monsieur de Sennezergue and Monsieur de Fontbonne, one a commander and brigadier, the other a commander, were killed on the battlefield and more officers were killed or wounded.

The enemy replied with heavy platoon fire. Our troops immediately veered to the right and retreated as fast as they could (…)

(…) Hereupon they give way, and flee with precipitation, so that, by the time the clooud of smoke vanishes, our men are again loaded and profiting by the advantage we have over them, pursing them almost the gates of the town and yhe bridge over the little river, redoubling our fire with great eagerness, making many oficers and men prisoners.

I later heard the warriors telling how they had fired many rounds at the enemy but that as soon as General Montcalm gave the order to attack, everything happened too quickly and they had no choice but to return to their village of Lorette.

There was such chaos that the British entered the city, mingling haphazardly with the fleeing troops and cutting us off from our camp. We finally came to stop beneath the walls of the square, where more than eight hundred men from all the corps had gathered in panic.

Our joy at this success in inexpessibly damped by the loss we sustaines of one of the greatest heroes which this or any other age can boast of General James Wolfe, who received his mortal wound as he was exerting himself at the head of grenadiers of Louisbourg.

Lieutenant General le Marquis de Montcalm died from his wounds and was laid to rest at the Ursuline convent. His loss will be deeply felt by the State and even more so by all Canadiens…

Cap-Santé, September 23, 1759

Alas, I have only sad news to write. Twenty times I have taken up my feather pen and twenty times it has fallen from my hands, the pain too great. How can I recall such a tragic sequence of events…? We were saved and now we are lost!

Texts inspired and from extracts: Journal du marquis de Montcalm...; The Siege of Québec...; Journal du siège de Québec;Les Hurons et la...

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