The Beaver Wars between 1630 and 1698 saw a period
of intense intertribal warfare around the Great Lakes and in the
Ohio Valley, largely created by competition in the fur trade.
The vast Susquehannock collection of tribes was
a major participant, but the most important confrontation was
between the Huron confederation which traded with the French,
and the Iroquois league which traded with the Dutch.
At first, Europeans had been reluctant to trade
firearms to the natives. They restricted the number of them and
also the amount of ammunition available. This restriction
dissolved as the competition increased.
When English traders from Boston attempted to
lure the Mohawk from the Dutch by selling them firearms, the
Dutch countered by providing them in unlimited numbers. Suddenly
much better armed than the Huron and their allies, the Iroquois
began a major offensive, and the level of violence in the Beaver
Wars escalated dramatically.
In the arms race which followed, no tribe had
a more advantageous position than the Susquehannock. By playing
on the fears of the rival European traders, they had access to
whatever weapons they required, and in any amount. To say they
were well-armed would be an understatement. One of the
Susquehannock villages even had cannon (a single gun) to defend
itself and, so far as is known, they were the only native north
Americans ever to use this type of heavy armament.
The war begins
Having exhausted the beaver in their homeland,
the Iroquois were running out of the fur they needed to trade
for Dutch firearms. Otherwise, with European epidemics decimating
their villages, it was only a matter of time before they were
Their enemies, of course, were well-aware of this
problem and refused permission for Iroquois hunters to pass through
their territories. Faced with a blockade, the Iroquois were forced
into a war in which they needed to conquer or else be destroyed.
They concentrated their attacks on the Huron after 1640, and
started to attack the French directly at the start of the 1650s.
As soon as the Beaver War began to hot up, the Dutch began to
supply the Mohawk with as many guns as they wanted, along with
the ammunition, turning them into the seventeenth century native
equivalent of a super-power - albeit a very short-lived
The Mohawk were key players in the war's early phases, but great
brutality was shown by all sides
A detailed set of features & king lists focussing on
these complex peoples.
Beaver becomes almost extinct on Iroquois nation land due to
over-hunting. The Iroquois begin raiding the trade routes of
neighbouring tribes for beaver pelts to trade for guns from
Mohawk and Dutch sign a treaty known as the
Two Row Wampum Treaty.
War begins with the Mohawk and their allies,
the Seneca, who are of the Iroquois nation, on the one side
and the Wendat (Wyandot, a Huron group) on the other side.
Iroquois attack Huron villages along the St
Lawrence, disrupting their trade with the French.
The Iroquois had driven the Huron out of
their homelands. The French now trade with the Ottawa for
Despite the initial attacks, the Onondaga,
the Oneida, and other Iroquois tribes did remain peaceful
at first. The Mohawk however, wanted to fight the French,
and they controlled those other tribes. So, after Chief
Canaqueese failed to negotiate a treaty, the Iroquois began
attacks in New France.
War parties attacked farmsteads at night,
torturing and slaughtering the men and taking women and children
prisoner, many of whom were absorbed into the tribe. New France
residents lived in mortal fear during this period.
By 1645 they had succeeded in isolating the
Huron from the Algonquin, Montagnais, and the French in the
east. At that point, the Ottawa began trading with the French
in place of the Huron. As of 1650, the Iroquois territory ran
from St Lawrence down to Virginia Colony. Forcing the Shawnee
to leave Ohio, the Iroquois took control of Illinois country
and expanded westwards, in turn forcing the Lakota and other
tribes to move beyond the Mississippi.
Chief Canaqueese of the Mohawk attempted to negotiate a
treaty with the French
The Iroquois begin to launch attacks against
the French, terrifying the French colonists with their ferocious
and blood-thirsty warfare tactics. The Iroquois expand their
territories in the west, and then attack the Neutral tribes,
killing and assimilating thousands.
The Iroquois initiate war against the Erie and
within two years the nation is almost destroyed.
In May an Iroquois force of 160 warriors attacks
Montreal and captures seventeen colonists. Following other such
raids, the French retaliate with a small military force made up of
French, Huron, and Algonquin to counter the Iroquois raids - there
are heavy casualties on both sides.
Professional French soldiers arrive in the
1660s to fight the Iroquois and adopt a scorched earth policy to
starve out the Iroquois. At the point of starvation the Iroquois sue
for peace. The next attacks made by the Iroquois are against the
Susquehannock tribe who are allied to the English in Maryland.
The Delicate Balance of Honesty by Robert Griffing
depicts four native Americans carefully studying the weight of
a bundle of fur pelts brought into a trader's station for sale,
where only the best price would do - the pressure to bring in as
many pelts as possible resulted in the causes of the Beaver Wars
French reinforcements arrived in the 1660s, At about the same
time, the Dutch, who were allied to the Iroquois, found
themselves evicted from New Netherland by the English. Together,
those two events gave the French the upper hand for the first
In 1666, the viceroy of New France, Alexandre de
Prouville, led a group of French troops to attack the Iroquois
homeland. They didn't have a great deal of success, but they were
able to capture Chief Canaqueese. In the same year they once more
attacked Iroquois territory but were unable to locate any Iroquois
warriors to attack. Instead, they burned homes and crops along
the way causing many Iroquois to die of starvation when winter
The Iroquois launch several raids against the
Abenakis, who are allied to the French.
A total of eight hundred Iroquois warriors invade
Susquehannock land. The invasion prompts the colony of Maryland to
declare war on the Iroquois.
Native American fur trappers bring in another load for the European
The Dutch allies of the Iroquois lose control
of the New Netherland colony to the English.
Five hundred French, led by Daniel de Rémy de
Courcelle, invade the Iroquois homeland in present day New York
state. However, the French are greatly outnumbered and are forced
A second French invasion of 1300 men led by
Alexandre de Prouville, the 'Marquis de Tracy' and viceroy of
New France, destroys Mohawk villages and crops. The Mohawk are
forced to sue for peace.
French militia units are organised and all men
in the colonies are issued with guns, becoming liable for military
A brief lull
Peace came eventually, and there was a two year
lull in the fighting following a truce which was agreed that year
when the Iroquois sued for it.
However, the peaceful colony that the settlers had
established in the area was forever changed by soldiers who became
settlers. Their crude speech and 'rustic' manners disrupted the
peace of the colony.
Some soldiers left in 1667, when temporary peace
was established but, at the same time, a militia was formed by the
colony, including conscription for every man between the ages of
sixteen and sixty-five. The only exceptions were some public
officials and all members of the clergy.
Fighting between raiding native Americans and the colonial
settlements could be fierce and desperate as, very often,
no quarter was expected or given
The Hudson Bay Company receives its charter and sets up a trading
post located on Hudson Bay to which the Indians bring their furs.
The English in Maryland change their Indian Policy
and negotiate peace with the Iroquois.
The Iroquois conquer the Susquehannock.
War between the Iroquois is resumed due to the
French encroaching on their fur trade, A violent conflict erupts
against the French, with them supported by their Indian allies and
the Iroquois launching sporadic raids against both.
In 1670, a trading post was set up by the Hudson
Bay Company, from which the Indians bought their furs. The Maryland
settlers, having changed their Indian policy, negotiated peace with
the Iroquois in 1674. Three years later, in 1677, the Iroquois
finally conquered the Susquehannock.
The war continues
In 1683, Louis de Buade, comte de Frontenac, was
the governor of the New France colony. He had his own agenda,
wanting to establish his personal fortune by taking over the fur
trade in the west.
However, this was hardly in accord with the
interests of the Iroquois. The war recommenced, and it didn't
end until the decade after that. The social elite in the colony
sought officers' commissions in both the Compagnie Franches and
the militia. They participated in 'la petite guerre', a method
by which they dressed like their allies, the Algonquin, and went
through the forests silently, stealthily advancing on enemy
settlements and attacking them violently - just as the Iroquois
had done two years previously.
Attacks took place at Schenectady (in what is
now New York), in 1690, then at Portland, Maine, and then at
Salmon Falls, New Hampshire. Those who were attacked were either
captured or killed.
Enemies of long standing, the Huron were annihilated by the
Iroquois in 1649
The Iroquois realise that they are the scapegoat
in what is essentially an English-inspired war and now sue for
The Grande Paix (Great Peace) Treaty is formalised.
The Iroquois set out a policy of neutrality.
Outbreak of peace
Peace was declared between the Iroquois and the
French in 1698. The Iroquois had regarded themselves as innocent
victims, caught in the middle in a war that was essentially an
Anglo-French affair. The French wanted peace, but only to fulfil
their own agenda - to use Iroquois territory as a buffer zone
between them and the English.
The treaty of 'Le Grande Paix', Great Peace,
was signed in Montreal in 1701, formally ending the wars:
English and French representatives signed
it, as well as thirty-nine Indian chiefs. As part of the treaty,
the Iroquois allowed Great Lakes refugees to go back to the east.
They also agreed to stop raiding settlements. Shortly thereafter,
the Shawnee got the lower Allegheny River and Ohio Country back
and peace reigned in the region.
The Beaver Wars were at an end, but far greater
Anglo-French-led conflict was to come in the eighteenth century.
US Military Records - The French and
Iroquois Wars (1642 to 1698)