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The Role of Chief Canagueese in the Iroquois Wars

FLEMISH BASTARD ( Bâtard Flamand, Dutch Bastard, Smits Jan, Smiths John, Mohawk chief, son of a Mohawk mother and a Dutch father, intermediary between the French, the Dutch, and the English (16??-16??). He appears in Dutch documents under the name of Canaqueese. The Mohawk word "Canaque", or rather "Khanake", means "along the water" The ending "ees(e)" could be the Dutch suffix for someone coming from a place called "Canaque".

A Mohawk Chief (Hendrick)

Although some of the Dutch settlers at Fort Orange ( now Albany, N.Y.), such as Arent van Curler and Jeremiah van Rensselaer had an understanding of Mohawk aims and aspirations, most of them regarded the Indians as "wilden" or savages. This did not, however, preclude sexual relations. Dominie Megapolensis complained that "our Dutchmen run after the Indian girls very much." Another official, Van der Donck claimed that this was so because Indian women were so similar to Dutch women: "seldom very handsome and rarely very ugly." (vdZ: 106-107)

One result of such a relationship between a Dutch man and a Mohawk woman was Jan Smits, who became the respected Mohawk chief Canaqueese. He appears first in history in one of the many letters Marie Guyart, known as Marie de l'Incarnation, wrote to her son in France. In such a letter she describes how on July 1650, Canaqueese led a band of 25 to 30 Mohawks in an attack on Trois-Rivières.

Early in 1654 he brought letters to Quebec from the Dutch at Fort Orange. [JR 35: 21 1-13] In those letters the Dutch assured the French "that they now really saw a disposition for Peace on the part of the savages allied to them."[JR 41: 87] Johannes Dyckman, the "commissary" of Fort Orange and Beverwyck, wrote to Lauzon in Quebec: "Canaqueese, the bearer hereof, a savage who is much loved by the Maquas (Mohawks), has requested of us a letter of recommendation to your honor, in order that he may be well treated there and be allowed to go and come freely, which we request hereby." (CM 1: 90-92).

Later, in July 1654, again at Quebec, he delivered two French hostages and complained because the Jesuit Father Simon LeMoyne, was sent on an embassy to the Onondagas instead of to the Mohawks. Canaqueese asked, "Ought not one... to enter a house by the door, and not by the chimney or roof of the cabin, unless he be a thief, and wish to take the inmates by surprise? We, the five Iroquois Nations, compose but one cabin; we maintain but one fire; and we have, from time immemorial, dwelt under one and the same roof... will you not enter the cabin by the door, which is at the ground floor of the house? It is with us Anniehronnons, that you should begin; whereas you, by beginning with the Onnontaehronnons, try to enter by the roof and through the chimney. Have you no fear that the smoke may blind you, our fire not being extinguished, and that you may fall from the top to the bottom, having nothing solid on which to plant your feet?" (JR {Thwaites}, XLI, 87-89)

Canaqueese was not much in favour of a peace settlement with the French. The main Mohawk aim in the negotiations was to create a split between the French and their Indian allies (JR 41: 55, 57-61 ) It was the French aim to make sure that the Mohawks toed the line proposed by the other members of the Confederacy who were better inclined to the French. (JR 41: 61-65) In his speech Canaqueese made it clear that he considered the Mohawks to be the most important members of the Confederacy, the nearest to the French and that their views should therefore be paramount. (JR 41: 85 ). The French ignored this, and as a result the Mohawks did not send envoys to later peace talks at Onondaga. (JM: 402) It is not surprising that the Jesuits did not like Canaqueese and referred to him as a "Hollander - or rather, an execrable issue of sin, the monstrous offspring of a Dutch Heretic father and a Pagan woman."

Canaqueese again appears on 30 August 1656, when he led an attack on a group of Ottawas and Hurons at the Lac des Deux-Montagnes in an effort to blockade the fur trade along the Ottawa river. In the battle, the Jesuit, Father Leonard Garreau, was shot with a musket, which broke his spine. The Mohawks carried the priest to Montreal, where he died 2 September 1656. According to Nicolas Perrot, who gives a different version of the affair, Canaqueese delivered the body of Father Garreau, stating that he had been murdered by a French deserter in the Mohawk party. (JR 42: 229-239)

Canaqueese was reported at Pointe Sainte-Croix ( now Point Platon, N.Y. ), with a party of 40 Mohawks, intent upon war. Perrot claims that he was at Corlaer (now Schenectady, N.Y.), when Remy de Courcelle arrived there in February 1666, on his punitive expedition against the Mohawks. The governor, however, returned to Quebec on 17 March, without having accomplished his mission.

On 24 July 1666, M. de Saurel, a captain in the Carignan-Salieres regiment, led a force of 300 men, which he had organized in May of that year, against the Mohawks to avenge the deaths of two officers of the regiment, Capt. de Traversy and M. de Chazy and the capture of other Frenchmen, including M. Canchy de Lerole, all of whom had been stationed at Fort Sainte-Anne on Lake Champlain. But before de Saurel reached the Mohawk villages, he met a peace embassy, headed by Canaqueese, who was bringing back Lerole and the other French captives. M. de Saurel, therefore, abandoned his march and all returned to Quebec, where Canaqueese was held in a sort of open arrest.

On 14 September 1666, Prouville de Tracy and M. de Courcelle sent out for the third and actual invasion of the Mohawk country, from which they and their troops returned to Quebec on 5 November 1666. Marie de l'Incarnation writes about the departure in September: " They ( the Mohawks held captive at Quebec) weep like children at the knowledge that the French have gone to destroy their nation. What causes them even more vexation is that they are obliged to make a great many snowshoes to go against their own people - that is to say, they are making weapons to fight them. Although they are working against their will and are forced to obey, they are not otherwise molested, which makes them wonder at the goodness of the French. The Flemish Bastard, who is a famous Iroquois, is treated at Monsieur the Intendant's (Jean Talon) table like a great lord; to honour him, Monsieur de Tracy gave him a fine suit of clothing for his sue and promised him his life before he set out with the army. He is not in irons like the others and he has freedom to walk about, but he is guarded by several soldiers who never leave him. He is treated with courtesy because, having captured a close kinsman of Monsieur de Tracy, along with a few other gentlemen, he did not ill-treat them but brought them back with complete goodwill. When the army was drawn up ready to depart, Monsieur de Tracy had it pass before him and said to him, "Now that we are going to your country, what do you say?' Tears fell from the Flemish Bastard's eyes, "Onontio' - (that is to say, 'great chief') - 'I clearly see that we are lost, but our destruction will cost you dear. Our nation will be no more, but I warn you that many fine young men will remain behind, for ours will fight till the end. I beg you only to save my wife and children who are in such and such a place.' Monsieur de Tracy promised to do so if they could be found and to bring his wife and all his family to him .... (319-320) After de Tracy returned, he had one of the Mohawks hanged for the strange reason that the Indians "Had broken the peace and caused the misfortune of the Agnerorons ( Mohawks). Marie de l'Incarnation writes that Canaqueese "feared it more than the others because he was most famous among the Iroquois." Canaqueese was sent back to his country on the 8th of November 1666 with an elder of the Mohawks and was instructed by the French to return within four moons with Huron and Algonkin captives. Marie de l'Incarnation comments that Canaqueese was sent back "in search of his fugitive people, with the mandate to tell them that if they stirred again he (de Tracy) would go back to see them and that this time they would not get off so lightly (327, JR 50:205, 209) The French commander was boasting because his military campaign had been only partially successful. The French had met few Indians, except for some old men. They had burned Mohawk villages to the ground, including granaries. The French lost eight men by drowning. It is believed that four hundred Mohawk died of starvation that winter, a considerably larger number than the total of white victims of the Mohawk raid on Lachine.

In 1667 Canaqueese was the bearer of letters from Col. Richard Nicholls, the first English governor of New York (1664-68). Nicholls insisted that only "Smits Jan" should transmit certain communications which he, the commissaries at Albany, and Arent van Curler had addressed to the governor of New France. Tracy, in turn, acknowledged receipt of the letters through Canaqueese.

In the 1670's Canaqueese and several of his tribesmen settled at Khanawage near Montreal.

A final reference to this Mohawk chief (as "Smiths John") mentions him as being among some 150 Christian Indians during the expedition of Brisay de Denonville against the Senecas in 1687 ("Examination of Adandidaghko, an Indian prisoner," dated at New York, 1 September 1687 (o.s.) NYCD (O'Callaghan and Fernow),111, 433-36).

In the context of Canaqueese it is of interest to note what Nash writes in reference to Indian leaders in other parts of North America. Often these men were the offspring of Indian mothers and white fathers who remained in almost all cases within the Indian society and were the most alienated of all Indians of white society. The white fathers left their offspring like bulls or bears to be provided for at random by their mothers. Writes a Virginia settler in 1757: "some of these bastards have been the leading men or war captains that have done us so much mischief. " (283)


Grassmann, Thomas. The Mohawk Indians and Their Valley, being a chronological documentary record to the end of 1693. Schenectady, N.Y.: 1969.

Nash, Gary B. Red, White and Black: the peoples of early America. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc.,1974

O'Callaghan, E.B. The Documentary History of the State of New York. Albany: Weed, Parsons, 1856.

Perrot, "Memoir," in Indian Tribes (Blair)

Thwaites, R.G., Editor. The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610- 1791. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, Publisher, 1869.