19 March

Radisson meets the Indians

Feast Saves Jesuits

There is a history which, if it were only recorded or capable of being recorded, would be interesting indeed, and would furnish us with a religion of gratitude. It is the history of the pioneer in all his lines. The monument of that history is the fair land in which we live.

                                                                                    -Goldwin Smith, 1883

Sometimes when people describe a boring party they say, "After dinner we escaped." The phrase was grimly true on March 19, 1658, but the escape was from murder, not boredom.

Despite the horrible massacre of Fathers Brébeuf and Lalemant (see March 16), the Jesuits agreed to establish a mission in Iroquois country where the city of Syracuse, New York, now stands. The Iroquois pretended they wanted a mission but in reality they were hostile to the French and planned to drive them from Canada so that they could control all the territory from the Atlantic.

During the winter, the Jesuits began to realize the true intentions of the Iroquois and knew they had to escape. It was necessary to wait until the ice broke in the rivers; in the meantime, they secretly built two flat-bottomed boats in the attic of their fort.

Young Pierre Radisson was working for the Jesuits. He had been brought up by Mohawks and knew their legends. One of them was that impending disaster could be warded off by having a feast, at which every morsel of food must be eaten. He told the Indians that he had dreamed of a disaster and that the Jesuits were going to help by putting on an "eat-all" feast.

The banquet was held just outside the gate of the fort. The festivities began with songs, dancing and games. The food was served: venison, bear meat, wild duck, fish and everything that had been collected for the occasion. It has even been suggested that the food was spiked with drugs.

In any case, the Iroquois were made to keep on eating until every one of them fell on the ground exhausted and asleep. The Jesuits and members of their party then dragged the boats they had made down to the river, which took them to Lake Ontario. Five weeks later, after battling the spring storms and floods and always aware that the Iroquois might be following, they arrived at Quebec.


19 March

-1649    The Iroquois left Huron country after the Brébeuf-Lalemant massacre.

-1687    La Salle was murdered by one of his own men while trying to reach the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico.

-1825    The Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River, near the present Portland, Oregon.

-1867    The British Columbia Legislative Council approved an act enabling the province to enter Confederation.

-1922    Stefansson claimed Wrangel Island for Britain.