The Unredeemed Captives.

From the Land of Flint to the Land Where the Partridge Drums The Migration from the Mohawk Valley to Kahnawake and Akwesasne

by Darren Bonaparte

The Unredeemed Captives

These violent times also saw Kahnawake warriors take part in French raids on settlements in New England. The most famous was the 1704 raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, in which 47 people were killed and 112 were taken captive. Among them were Reverend John Williams and members of his family. When Williams and 57 others were returned in 1706, his daughter Eunice refused to leave her adopted Kahnawake. Her descendants would eventually become prominent in Akwesasne. (Hough 1853:123)

In 1707 three young captives, Sarah, John and Zechariah Tarbell, were taken from the town of Groton, Massachusetts, by a Kahnawake war party led by Chief Taxous. After a harrowing trip to the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River, Sarah, 14, was sold to a wealthy French family in-Montreal and later entered the convent at Notre Dame. John, 12, and Zechariah, 7, were adopted into the Kahnawake tribe. When they reached adulthood they were said to have married the daughters of chiefs Sakonentsiask and Atawenta. They returned to Groton in 1739 to visit their relatives, but like many white people taken captive by natives, they had no desire to leave their adoptive people. (Boston Daily Traveler, March 8,1890) Eventually they were among the group of 20 to 30 families who left Kahnawake at the onset of the Great War for Empire, also referred to by some historians as the French and Indian War, in the fall of 1754. This migration would eventually bring them to Akwesasne. (Frear 1983:9-10)

The Founding of the St. Regis Mission

There is some question over whether the exodus from Kahnawake was prompted by soil exhaustion, problems caused by French alcohol, frictions within the community, or a combination of all three. Whatever the reasons, the Kahnawake migrants paddled their canoes upriver with Father Pierre- Robert-Jean-Baptiste Billiard and stopped for a time on the southern shore of Lake St. Francis, a very wide part of the St. Lawrence River northeast and downstream from their ultimate destination.

Next they moved westward to me eastern banks of the St. Regis River, whose Mohawk name at that time, Akwesasne, referred to the abundance of partridge along its shores. The migrants stayed one winter there. In the spring of 1755 they crossed the river and settled permanently on the peninsula west of the mouth of the Akwesasne River. The mission that was established there was named after a French priest, John Francis Regis, who had recently been canonized. (Although Saint Regis had never been to America, it was his desire to become a missionary to the native people here.) The Akwesasne River, and the mountain from which it descends, would also bear the name St. Regis from then on.

This was recognized as the first permanent settlement in what is now northern New York and its population numbered from 200 to 300 people. A small church was made of logs and covered with bark, much like the Mohawk family dwellings of that era. With the grant of a saw mill by the French governor, a second one made of timber was constructed, followed by one of stone in 1793. Father Billiard died in 1757. Father Antoine Gordon, the superior at Kahnawake who is credited as a founder of the St. Regis mission, came to Akwesasne in 1760 and stayed until 1775. (Frear, 1983:4-5) Father Huguet, Gordon’s assistant at Kahnawake, had made periodic visits to Akwesasne in the years when it was without a permanent pastor; upon Gordon’s departure from Kahnawake, Huguet succeeded him there.

By Darren Bonaparte, historian and author of  The Wampum Chronicles. Reprinted with permission.

Darren Bonaparte is a cultural historian from the Akwesasne First Nation. He is a frequent lecturer at schools, universities, museums, and historical sites in the United States and Canada. He has written four books, several articles, and the libretto for the McGill Chamber Orchestra’s Aboriginal Visions and Voices. Darren is a former chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. He is the creator of The Wampum Chronicles and historical advisor to film and television. He currently serves as the Director of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Next in series: The French and Indian War.