Friday, July 29, 2011

The Black Robes

Louis Thomas de Joncaire was not, however, the first Frenchman to make his way into Seneca territory. In the decades leading up to the Marquis de Denonville’s raid into Seneca territory in the summer of 1687, Jesuit priests were hard at work attempting to convert the Iroquois. The Jesuit presence was initially tolerated by the Seneca sachems of present-day western New York as a result of diplomatic agreements made between Onondaga and New France in 1653, but by the time of Denonville’s raid, the Jesuits were being forcefully expelled. When Jesuit priests came to the Iroquois Five Nations during the latter half of the seventeenth century they were usually met by two factions who held either a positive or negative understanding of what the “Black Robes” represented. Daniel K. Richter has characterized the first group as being mainly comprised of Huron war captives who had been previously converted to Christianity (2).

The Huron people had been devastated by epidemics throughout the 1630s and 1640s as well as by successive raids by the Iroquois Five Nations after 1649. What remained of the fragmented Huron tribes were many times taken as captives in Iroquois raids designed to capture furs and replacements for their own dead. Upon the Jesuits arrival into Iroquois territory, the Huron captives and refugees then living among the Seneca tribe welcomed the priests as a means to reconnect with their newfound religion. Additionally, among those Huron who had not previously converted prior to their being taken to live among the Five Nations, Christianity also provided a means to rebuke assimilation as they forged an independent Christian identity from their Iroquois captors (9). A perceived Huron affinity for the Black Robes helps to explain why Seneca sachems might actually have invited Jesuit priests to their villages in hopes of convincing the remaining refugee Huron of Canada to come and live among the Seneca people here in western New York(3). After suffering the devastating effects of a smallpox epidemic that ravaged the Iroquois during the 1640s, peacefully convincing the Huron to come and live with them would reduce the chances of losing still further numbers as a result of the Iroquois Mourning Wars that were more fully explained in the previous entry to this blog.

Nevertheless, not all Huron war captives were converted to Christianity. Many of the former Huron adoptees warned their new families and tribesmen that the Jesuits brought nothing with them but bad fortune. For many Huron, the Jesuits were to blame for their people’s ultimate demise. Such claims were not without merit. Jesuit influence had certainly caused political rifts among the Huron converts and traditionalists. With good reason, traditionalist adoptees now warned their Iroquois hosts that the Jesuit presence would have the same effect among the Five Nations should they be tolerated. The Huron adoptees also warned that the Jesuits and their pacifist influence left the Huron peoples weakened militarily in the face of outside invaders. Jesuit pacifism had prevented the trading of arms to the Huron by the Catholic French after the priests warned all French traders, administrators, and soldiers that they would be denied the Sacraments if caught trading arms with savages. Most devastating to the Jesuit reputation were Huron claims that the Black Robe was actually some type of witch or sorcerer (2).

In a native society where people had nothing to hide from one another and where almost all activities were conducted in the open, the Jesuit insistence of periodic privacy and refusal to accept visitors unless at specified times, surrounded the priest with an aura of questionability. The Black Robe’s clandestine activities behind closed, and sometimes locked, doors certainly made him suspect. This would have especially been the case should misfortunes in war befall his hosts or should epidemics or famine accompany him as he passed from tribe to tribe or village to village. Again, these Huron accusations against the Black Robe are not without merit since, many times, it was in fact the Jesuit priests who brought European diseases into Native villages. Even when he did not bring disease with him, the Jesuit priest played an active role in its spreading among villagers and neighboring villages. In the traditional sense, the Jesuit priest was seen as similar to the Native shamen who through the use of rituals involving talismans and incantations would ward off the evil spirits that made the body sick (8). Upon arrival to Huron villages where disease was already running its devastating course, the Jesuits were immediately conducted to the sick and dying. After initial contact with a disease such as smallpox, the Jesuit priest might then unknowingly spread it as he travelled from village to village or tribe to tribe. Daniel Richter emphasizes that the Jesuits compounded the negative perceptions associated with their activities since they seldom baptized anyone but the dying for fear of apostasy (2). The Jesuit priest thus became the cause of death, instead of the disease. With these negative perceptions of the Black Robe in mind, it is not difficult to imagine how traditionalist Huron adoptees may have made compelling arguments against allowing the Jesuits presence within their new homes among the Seneca.

Nonetheless, many Iroquois sachems did at least temporarily tolerate the Jesuit presence as part of Onondaga’s diplomatic agreements with New France. Daniel Richter points out that as part of traditional diplomacy, Native Americans would “exchange visitors who would live in each other’s villages as face-to-face reminders of friendship and insurance against renewed hostilities (4).” Under diplomatic circumstances, therefore, the Jesuits were merely seen as serving these ends. A peaceful relationship with New France was not the only motivation for their decision, however, since many times the sachems saw other benefits to the Black Robes presence – i.e. convincing Huron refugees to come and live among his people. An Iroquois sachem’s influence among his people was at least partially based upon the things that he could provide his people. Any gifts or benefits from the French that might accompany the Jesuit would help to secure the sachems influence as would any type of perceived good luck that might accompany the priest. Any good harvests, hunts, victories in battle, or spoils from increased trade that followed the Jesuit priests to the Seneca villages would therefore not only reflect greatly upon the Jesuit priest, but by proxy, would also increase the influence of the sachem responsible for bringing the Black Robe to their village (6). Consequently, Daniel Richter has argued that the initial successes experienced by the Jesuit priest in Seneca territory – where they did in fact see success - was largely a result of the Jesuit’s perceived “shamanistic power,” rather than “the message he preached (6).”

Initially, the Black Robe did not pose any real threat to the sachem’s authority since, as shamen tasked with the spiritual well-being of the people, the Black Robe’s activities should not have come into conflict with the decisions made by tribal leaders (5). Iroquois society was fairly open to anything and anyone that might bring good fortune to their villages or that might help keep their physical and spiritual worlds in balance. For instance, just as the Jesuit was initially accepted as nothing more than a traditional shamen, Christ was considered by many non-converts to represent nothing more than one of the many spirits active in the Iroquois world. This at least partial acceptance of Christ shows that many of the Iroquois did not wholly dismiss the validity of Christ’s powers according to the Jesuits, only that He ranked among the other influential spirits rather than replacing them completely.

The amiable situation changed, however, once the Black Robe’s influence began to outstrip that of the sachem and as relations with New France diminished. For better or worse, the Jesuits did in fact begin to convert significant enough numbers to create rifts within the Five Nations between the newly converted and traditionalists. For many of the converts, their relationship with their Jesuit priests translated into closer ties with their French fathers who were sworn to protect them. Though the Jesuit influence among the Iroquois Five Nations cannot completely explain the breakdown in Iroquois cohesion, their corrosive presence, along with that of European diseases and agents such as Louis Thomas de Joncaire and Peter Schuyler, was certainly volatile to the Seneca’s traditional way of life as well as their hold over their lands. Our purpose here is to point out that the Jesuit presence, though religiously motivated, caused a political rift among the Iroquois people, clans, villages, and tribes that left them open to future exploitation that might otherwise have been staved off by a united front (12). Check back in the future when we introduce at least one of the Jesuit priests who were at work among the Seneca here in western New York and go further to explain their impact.

Richter, Daniel K. “Iroquois versus Iroquois: Jesuit Missions and Christianity in Village Politics, 1642-1686.” Ethnohistory. Vol. 32. No. 1 (Winter, 1985): pp. 1-16

Friday, July 22, 2011

Louis Thomas de Joncaire

By the summer of 1687, the Iroquois had been actively raiding their Indian neighbors to the north and west of the Genesee Region for almost four decades. These raids were characterized by quick strikes aimed at capturing the Western Indian’s processed furs as well as numerous captives that would either be ceremonially executed as part of a ritualized mourning process or, for the somewhat lucky ones, to be assimilated into the Iroquois war party’s village as a replacement for recently lost friends and loved ones. These characteristically brutal Iroquois raids spanning nearly two-thirds of the seventeenth century have been cumulatively referred to as the Beaver Wars. The Beaver Wars were a North American Indian conflict that has largely been explained by early twentieth-century historians as an Iroquois attempt to monopolize the lucrative fur trade with the Dutch, and later the English, at Albany, New York. Though partially correct in assuming that trade interests motivated the Iroquois, motivations that have often been overlooked by historians are the cultural explanations for Iroquois aggression. Despite Iroquois motivations for involving themselves in a running conflict becoming muddied by successive historians who have until recent-decades interpreted late seventeenth-century events through the lens of their own cultural perspectives, the reason for French involvement in the Indian conflict was not so indistinct.

When the French governor and military commander, Jacques-Rene de Brisay de Denonville, the Marquis de Denonville, raided deep into Seneca territory in the summer 1687 the Marquis had one thing on his mind - to punish the Iroquois. After landing at Irondequoit Bay, Denonville marched south bent on destroying the main Seneca villages at Ganondagan and Rochester Landing as retribution for the lost flow of beaver pelts that the Iroquois raiding parties had redirected from Montreal to Albany. Denonville’s invasion of Seneca territory represented the western arm of the French offensive aimed at removing the Iroquois nuisance. Of the Iroquois Five Nations, only the Cayuga were left untouched by French aggression from 1680-1700. For the Seneca, however, Denonville’s invasion was devastating. The main Seneca villages were abandoned and burned before Denonville’s army arrived and their former inhabitants made their way to Cayuga territory as refugees. The Seneca would spend the next year living with their Iroquois brethren before moving back to their own territory in the spring of 1688.

Traveling with the Seneca during their short trek to Cayuga territory was a French soldier who had been captured during one of the violent skirmishes along Denonville’s route. Louis Thomas de Joncaire was a mere seventeen when he was captured by Seneca warriors. He and his fellow captives were taken east where all but Joncaire were tortured to the point of death by their Native captors. Joncaire was spared further torture and imminent death when he fiercely fought of a Seneca war chief who was attempting to bind his hands before pulling Joncaire’s finger nails out. The other Seneca witnesses respected Joncaire’s warrior spirit, which refused to give in to its fate by crying or screaming as many of the other French captives had. As a result of his proven courage, the Seneca adopted Joncaire and in the tradition of the Mourning War, he was given the name Sononchiez and placed within his new Seneca family.

Joncaire was eventually released in 1694 along with fourteen other captives. Amazingly, Joncaire had already achieved the rank of sachem in the short span of seven years among the Seneca. His first official duty after returning to New France (Canada) came four years after his release when on July 18, 1700, Joncaire was asked to attend a conference between the Iroquois and New France’s governor, the Chevalier de Callieres. 1700 marked the final year of the conflict between the French and Iroquois that had begun near twenty years earlier. As part of his services to Callieres, Joncaire spent that summer with the Seneca seeing to the return of additional French and Western Indian war captives.

Joncaire later attended the Great Council of 1701 at Montreal where he worked with both the French and the Seneca Indians to establish a lasting peace that included the western tribes allied to New France. Joncaire attended and presided over several councils, celebrations, and ceremonies on behalf of both Callieres of New France and the Seneca Indians who were still recovering from the decades of devastating retaliatory raids of the Western Indian nations. As an adopted and well-respected member of the Seneca Indians, Joncaire was able to spend much of his remaining lifetime intermittently living among the Seneca who were then settled in villages lying between Seneca and Canandaigua Lakes. Joncaire’s knowledge of Seneca culture proved instrumental in keeping the Seneca from allying with the British during Queen Anne’s War fought in North America between the French and British from 1702-1715. Joncaire would ultimately serve as an intermediary, advisor, and interpreter between the French and Iroquois until his death in 1739 when his son, Chabert, officially stepped in to his father’s role.

Joncaire’s first-hand knowledge of their culture ensured that the Seneca would not be insulted by improper gifts, impositions, or pressuring by other French agents who were accustomed to European ways of creating alliances and trade networks. English agents in Seneca territory were initially outdone by the French because men like Joncaire respected all of the ceremonial, time-consuming, and gift giving elements of Seneca councils while the English proved impatient and impulsively dictated terms to the Seneca while using trade with Albany as either the reward or punishment for meeting English terms. Joncaire provided French colonial administrators with an inside man capable of swaying Seneca opinions that went unmatched by the fumbling British in Albany. Joncaire’s extraordinary value came from the fact that he fully understood and appreciated the important role that persuasion played in a culture where no person had the power to compel obedience. Joncaire’s influence was ultimately so strong among the Seneca that despite vehement British protests and risking the loss of the lucrative trade network with Albany, the Seneca gave the French permission to construct a fortified trading house on the site of the future Fort Niagara in the early 1720s. The trading house at Niagara was among the last real efforts by the French to retain some semblance of activity within the Western Indian fur trade that was increasingly dominated by the British in Albany. Though their efforts ultimately proved fruitless, the military and trade situations in New France would have been markedly worse if not for the efforts of Joncaire.

The story of Louis Thomas de Joncaire is just one of the many stories that our upcoming exhibit will use as an interpretive vehicle for understanding how the pursuit of empire and the resultant networks of diverse peoples opened the door for individual personal desires to transform the Genesee Region from a heavily forested Haudenosaunee homeland into the agrarian-based western New York landscape that we still recognize today. What we ultimately hope that you come away from both this blog and our future exhibit with is the understanding that the transformation of western New York’s landscape from 1650-1810 came in stages that were marked by wider events and involves a narrative that is far more complex than one monolithic entity replacing another. Our selections of historical personalities such as Joncaire are therefore meant to tell that complex story through the lens of individual experiences and personal motivations. Their stories will therefore serve as the synapses between local networks of diverse peoples and the events of the wider world. Not only should visitors leave our future exhibit with a better understanding of how the landscape and people of western New York were impacted by those wider events occurring between 1650 and 1810, but also how the decisions of a few selected individuals at work within the Genesee Region might have changed the course of world history. We encourage you to keep checking into our exhibit blog if you would like to get more sneak peeks at our selected personalities as well as a continued look into the process of constructing an exhibit that will effectively tell their stories.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cultural Brokers at Work

If you are new to this blog or if it has been a while since you last checked in, it might do you well to read the previous three entries before you read this one. This posting continues a discussion on Cultural Brokers that started three postings ago and if you are not familiar with the term “Cultural Broker” – start there.

In 1700, the Five Nations of Iroquois established the original “Covenant Chain” with Great Britain as a means to guarantee Anglo-Iroquois peace as well as to secure British protection over Iroquois hunting lands that were then being threatened by Western Indian tribes and their French allies in Canada. By 1700 the early victories achieved by Iroquois warriors at the outset of the Beaver Wars had been eclipsed by the more recent and devastating French invasions into Seneca territory led by the Marquis de Denonville as well as successive setbacks in the Ohio Valley at the hands of the Western Indians. A year later, the Five Nations finally cemented peace with New France and its Western Indian allies at Montreal in 1701. The “Great Peace of 1701” as it was called, ended a Euro-Indian conflict that had begun more than half a century earlier when the Iroquois had first raided their western neighbors as means to procure beaver pelts. For the next fifty plus years until the outbreak of the French & Indian War in 1754, the Five (Six after 1722) Nations did their best to remain neutral in European affairs as they attempted to take full advantage of their central location within the fur trade that was centered at Albany, New York. As the events of Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713) and later King George’s War (1744-1748) would soon highlight, however, maintaining a neutral position was to be no easy task for successive Iroquois sachems in the first half of the 18th century.

What made maintaining Iroquois neutrality during European conflicts all the more difficult were the many agents of New France and New York who were busy explaining the benefits of alliances with them over the other or deviously spreading rumors that the other was building forts and armies in preparation for a raid on Iroquoia. These European agents at work between 1701 and 1754 are among the most significant of our Cultural Brokers since it was they whom never missed an opportunity to take advantage of their keen understanding of Iroquois culture in order to either promote their own personal interests or those of their parent monarchies. By 1754, the work of these individual agents – as well as the other Cultural Brokers of different walks - had been made clear when the Six Nations split over which side they should support in the European conflict that was then taking shape. The split within Iroquoia caused by the French & Indian War was not limited to the breakup of the Confederacy itself, but also caused internal rifts within the individual tribes themselves.

Since our exhibit will focus on western New York, our main concern among the Iroquios is the Seneca tribe and as with the Confederacy itself, the Seneca were not immune to the greater forces then pulling the Haudenosaunee people apart. In past centuries, the Seneca traditionally lived within two larger nucleated villages that were occasionally surrounded by smaller hamlets close by. The two major Seneca villages were seldom more than ten to fifteen miles apart. This changed in 1754 when the westernmost village previously located a few miles east of Canandaigua Lake moved to the banks of the Genesee River where it would be closer to the French at Fort Niagara while the easternmost village previously located a few miles west of Seneca Lake moved to a site called Kanadesaga located just northwest of Geneva, New York where Preemption Road meets County Road #4. Some members of the western village also decided to settle a smaller village that was located atop an easily defendable position, later called Arsenal Hill, located in present-day Canandaigua, New York. The eastern Kanadesaga village site was chosen since a sloping ridge provided a more defendable position than the previous village, which was spread out across a flat and open plain. Kanadesaga also sat close to where the governor of New York had recently ordered the construction of a British fort (that was never garrisoned). As the separation of the Seneca villages highlights, the outbreak of the French & Indian War and the Iroquois decision to abandon the neutral stance that they had previously held fast to for over fifty years marked the starting point for the relative demise of the Iroquois empire in western New York.

So why had the Seneca apparently split over the question of which of their European fathers they should support? As mentioned before, both British and French agents were actively swaying the Seneca to one side or the other for decades leading up to 1754. At stake for the Seneca was their central position within the lucrative fur trade with Albany, but also their general security since it had been proven time-and-again that British pledges of support usually amounted to little more than lip-service. The Seneca’s location at the “western door” also placed them in closer proximity to the French and their Western Indian allies than to the British in Albany.

More significantly, despite risking the more advantageous benefits of trade with the British at Albany by siding with the French, many of the Seneca and their sachems had been won over by French agents such as the influential Louis Thomas de Joncaire; French diplomat, soldier, and adopted Seneca sachem who spent more than fifty years of his life in and out of Seneca territory. Though Joncaire died in June of 1739, his influence among the Seneca remained as a result of his son, known as “Chabert” or Joncaire Jr., who took up his father’s mantle as representative to - and for - the Seneca Indians in their dealings with New France. My next posting will go into greater detail in describing Joncaire’s efforts among the Seneca and the picture of what a Cultural Broker is - or what they do - should become even clearer.

Friday, July 8, 2011

So What Exactly is a "Cultural Broker" and Why Are They So Important?

In an earlier submission to this blog, we introduced the term “Cultural Broker.” We thought it might be good to take this opportunity to expand on our definition of what a Cultural Broker is and why we feel they present us with the best interpretive strategy for studying the regional events and changes in western New York to be covered in our upcoming exhibit. Within his article “Cultural Brokers and Intercultural Politics (1988),” Daniel K. Richter explains that in the past, an all-encompassing historical narrative that includes the three key elements of the local community, wider developments and differing perspectives has proved elusive (40). Richter suggests that the study of “Cultural Brokers” has provided a much desired “synapse” between the three elements that had, until then, been so desired (41). Based on Richter’s advice, we have also chosen Cultural Brokers as the focus of our upcoming exhibit since their stories will help us to tell not only the story of the individual, but also of diverse communities and wider events.

We will therefore be using Cultural Brokers as an interpretive strategy for studying and presenting the events and changes occurring in the Genesee Region of western New York from 1650 to 1810. Their individual stories will enable us to tell not only the much broader story of the struggle for empire between the Dutch, English, French and later the Americans, but will also help to explain how this Euro-American imperial struggle ultimately affected the Seneca Indians of western New York and the short-lived Iroquois empire. As Daniel Richter argues, “neither the focus on monolithic European empires and Indian tribes nor on isolated locations can fully convey the texture of colonial history, nor can the empires and the localities be understood apart from one another (66).”

If we are to get a clear picture of what is happening in western New York from 1650 to 1810, our best mode of doing so is by studying the individuals who served as the go-betweens among the vying empires and who faithfully documented the cultural differences and similarities as well as how each side of the racial or national divide reacted to changes occurring in western New York. For as Richter argues, “A faithful reconstruction of the larger whole that the Native and European peoples of early America shared requires simultaneous attention to the broad North American context (i.e. the pursuit of empire), to the internal dynamics of local communities (how one maintains influence domestically, regionally, or internationally), and to links between the two levels of experience (66-67).” Cultural Brokers will therefore give us the opportunity to not only focus on the individual historical actor and their personal motivations, but will also enable us to highlight how their actions and personal desires impacted the much grander stage of western New York or North America.

So what exactly is a Cultural Broker? We already know that they were intermediaries between the vying empires and racial divide here in western New York, but more specifically they held many titles and served many roles. Most Cultural Brokers were either Jesuit priests, European Agents of some type, Fur Traders, Seneca Chiefs, translators, men and women who had married into the other’s culture, war captives, land developers, or children of mixed race parents. As Nancy Hagedorn points out in her article “A Friend to Go Between Them (1988),” “From their intermediate position between European and Indian cultures, these individuals interpreted more than languages, they also required strong knowledge of the culture and customs of both groups (60).”

For anyone interested in seeing how seventeenth and eighteenth century Euro-American and Seneca cultures diverged and sometimes converged, we would suggest visiting the “At the Western Door” exhibit of the Rochester Museum and Science Center. As for our exhibit, we will show how Euro-American understanding of the Seneca culture proved pivotal when it came time to negotiate trade and military alliances with the Seneca as well as when negotiations later revolved around the purchase of Native lands. Richter states that “on all sides the survival of relationships depended on the continued ability of brokers to convince each community that its interests were being served (54).” Nancy Hagedorn apparently agrees with Richter’s statement concerning the importance of conveying good intentions and adds that “the delicate and important nature of the business of the Six Nations and the [Europeans] required a friend to go between them – a person of ability and integrity in whom both sides could place a confidence (61).” The ability to convince the other of their good intentions meant that the Cultural Broker must be able to speak and act in a manner that conveyed respect for the other and their ways, especially since conferences with the Seneca and the other Iroquois nations were as much about ceremony as they were about communication. By not following proper decorum, the Cultural Brokers caught up in the larger quest for empire risked pushing the Seneca of western New York into the enemy’s camp.

Primary source documents left behind by Euro-American or Native translators will therefore give us a good deal of insight into not only how the struggle for empire was being played out here in western New York, but will also give us excellent insight into changing Iroquois material, spiritual, and subsistence culture. Cultural Brokers will also give us excellent insight into how the landscape of western New York was transformed from an Iroquois wilderness characterized by temporary Seneca settlements and criss-crossed by narrow footpaths into the recognizable agrarian market republic dotted by New England style villages that were connected to southern and eastern markets by roads that we still travel on today. Ultimately, however, Cultural Brokers will help us to connect the local political structures and competing cultures with regional and international sources of power since, as Richter argues, “in the local hands frequently lay the fate of both the imperial powers of the modern world-system and the Native peoples that system sought to absorb (40-14).” Keep checking back as we begin to introduce a few of our selected Cultural Brokers to this blog. As we do so, the picture of what exactly a Cultural Broker is should become much clearer.

Richter, Daniel K. "Cultural Brokers and Intercultural Politics: New York-Iroquois Relations, 1664-1701." The Journal of American History. Vol. 75, No. 1 (June, 1988):pp. 40-67

Hagedorn, Nancy L. "A Friend to go Between Them: The Interpreter as Cultural Broker During Anglo-Iroquois Councils, 1740-70." Ethnohistory. Vol. 35, No. 1 (Winter, 1988):pp. 60-80