Wednesday, April 20, 2022

August 2, 1701 - Kondiaronk Survives

 Based on conversations with Rob Schmidt.

During the largest peace talks among Native American peoples along the St. Lawrence River in Montreal’s history, one of the most gifted orators, Kondiaronk of the Huron (Wyandot), fell ill with fever. He was but one of some 1,300 representatives who had arrived from tribes spanning the French-claimed regions, stretching from the Illinois Confederation in the southwest and the Cree northwest of Lake Superior to the Ojibwe of the north and the Abenaki of the Wabanaki Confederation where the river-mouth met the Atlantic. The major players were the Algonquin-speakers and the Iroquois, who had grown to prominence through the long-lasting Beaver Wars spurred by profits from the fur trade with Europe.

Kondiaronk had earned the nickname Le Rat from his French allies for his guile in winning out time and again whether in battle or diplomacy. In his youth, he had fled with other Huron refugees from Iroquois attacks seeking valuable hunting grounds. The Huron resettled near the Ottawa with a tenuous peace, and Kondiaronk grew up feeling eradication could happen at any time. When a Seneca Iroquois chief was killed while prisoner in the Michilimackinac village shared by Ottawa and Huron in 1682, Kondiaronk sent wampum belts in apology. The Ottawa balked that their wampum belts hadn’t been sent, and Kondiaronk apologized, saying it was the haste to satisfy Iroquois anger that had left them out. In reality, he had helped create a situation where the Ottawa were too afraid of Iroquois reprisal to declare war on their Huron neighbors.

Through the next two decades, Kondiaronk worked with his French allies to keep the Iroquois warriors across the St. Lawrence. The French were eager for peace, which would make the fur trade easier and less costly without need for expensive defenses. Kondiaronk maintained the Huron alliance would only be until the Iroquois were no longer a threat, meaning a separate peace would only create more headaches for the French. Each time the French made inroads with the Iroquois, Kondiaronk undid them, such as warning the Miami of attack by Baron de Lahontan and French-supporting Iroquois so their expedition was a failure and returning with an Iroquois hostage to the distant French commandant at Michilimackinac, who had the captive executed not knowing it would spoil peace talks already underway.

With the end of the Nine Years War in 1697, France made peace with England, meaning the Iroquois lost their major military backer. While the English preferred the Iroquois trade with them in southern New York, they were not likely to assemble a campaign to stop French incursions into Iroquois territory. In 1700, the Iroquois agreed to a peace conference. With a chance at universal peace and an end to the chaos of the Beaver Wars, Kondiaronk called for all the tribes of the Great Lakes to join the greater conference in the summer of 1701.

Native Americans arrived by the hundreds, firing guns while the French hosts fired artillery in salute of one another. Representatives smoked together, danced, and conducted rituals to wipe away tears, clean ears, and open throats for clear speaking. One problem did arise as the Iroquois had not brought promised captives to exchange in ransom of captives from other tribes. The Iroquois explained that many of the captives had lived with their captive families since they were small children and did not want to leave their new homes. Although he had come down with a fever that left him so weak that he needed to sit in an armchair, Kondiaronk spoke for hours about the faux pas and the need for a new vision of peace.

That night, Kondiaronk continued to drink the maidenhair fern syrup that had sustained him in his illness when a French doctor also offered a tea common among colonists made from feverfew. It was so noted as a healing herb in Europe that they had brought the white daisy-like plants with them to add to their gardens. Others recommended tea made from willow bark. Kondiaronk, who previously had blamed European medicine for his grandfather’s illness, decided to try them. Well hydrated from the many drinks offered, Kondiaronk’s fever broke, and he was soon speaking at the conference again. He decided the hostages staying with the Iroquois was a permissible choice as all Native peoples were ultimately brothers.

With the war officially ended, trade flourished. Kondiaronk became famous in Europe after the 1703 publication of Lahontan’s New Voyages in North America, appearing as “Adario,” a character who summarized the many conversations Kondiaronk and others had with the baron on topics of money, religion, family structure, landlords, personal liberty, and the effectiveness of native-designed snowshoes. Following an invitation to the salons of Paris, Kondiaronk traveled to Europe to speak and listen.

It was on his travels in Europe that Kondiaronk learned more of European medicine and the scientific method. Although he scoffed at much of it, still distrusting superstitious European doctors, he did admire the power of logic and reasoning behind experimentation. The efforts of variolation against smallpox particularly caught his ear since Native Americans died so much more readily during outbreaks while their colonist neighbors survived. After he heard of the success of the Newgate Prison experiment in 1721, Kondiaronk spent his last years campaigning for variolation. Through the eighteenth century, countless thousands of native peoples were saved in New France, Louisiana, and the Ohio Valley.

After his European travels, Kondiaronk continued as a diplomat for the grand alliance of native peoples under land Europeans recognized as French. He journeyed south along the Mississippi, securing the Shawnee and Chickasaw as allies. Kondiaronk’s last days were spent up the Alabama River, working to maintain Mobile as a French port. Soon after Kondiaronk’s death, King George’s War broke out as the North American arm of the War of the Austrian Succession. The Iroquois served as a valuable French ally, securing their own territory while also preventing British colonists’ attempts at incursion across the Appalachians.

Kondiaronk’s influence on France proved even deeper. Philosophers embraced his challenges of rigid social structures and criticism of landlords. French autocrats cracked down, prompting many who enjoyed the ideas of common fields and religious freedom to sail for North America. Colonies swelled, especially after the War of the Austrian Succession dragged on across the 1740s with hundreds of thousands of dead on both sides with little to show for it. When war threatened to break out again following the change-up of treaties in Diplomatic Revolution, revolutions against the nearly bankrupt government prompted extensive reforms with Natural Rights for all and extensions of self-rule to colonies in North America. The British American colonies, meanwhile, toyed with ideas of independence but decided against doing so while surrounded by French and Indian allies.

By the nineteenth century, French North America took shape with Native peoples holding extensive swaths of land while the colonists lived primarily in the cities. Manufacturing surged, as did efforts to expand trade with canal-building to connect the Mississippi with the Great Lakes via the Chicago River, the Maumee River, and the Ohio River. Kondiaronk’s efforts to maintain peace among tribes continued long after him, leading to the Congress of Americans that added representatives from the independent Native nations in the Great Plains, Great Basin, and Pacific Coast to the judiciary and economic clout of the French-speaking natives in the former colonies that had won independence after the collapse of European monarchies.



In reality, Kondiaronk died of his fever the night after his armchair speech. He was given an enormous funeral with honors not only from his own tribesmen but also the French and Iroquois. The Iroquois later sided with the British again, who continued to promote war between tribes. Waves of illnesses (Sir Jeffery Amherst and General Thomas Gage both encouraged delivery of smallpox-contaminated blankets to Native Americans, although there is argument as to the effectiveness of doing so) and westward-pushing colonists gradually restricted native lands to reservations.

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