Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Donnaconna's Entourage: Voyagers to the East VI (addendum)

Here is an addendum to my earlier account of Donnaconna, the Huron chief whom Jacques Cartier took back to France in the 1530s: James Axtell reports that in May 1536 Cartier invited Donnaconna, two other chiefs, and two Indian interpreters - Donnaconna's sons Domagaya and Taignoagny - to meet him at the French camp near the town of Stadacona, then abducted all five men. According to Axtell, Canadian Indians (Hurons or Iroquois) had previously given the explorers five boys as "tokens of alliance" and, presumably, for training in the French language, so when Cartier sailed for France later that year he had ten Indians on his ship.

When in 1541 Cartier returned to Quebec to establish a (short-lived) mining colony, he told the Stadaconans that his Indian companions had all married and become "great lords" in Europe, and no longer wished to return home. This may have been partially true, and (as I mentioned in a previous post) the Huron travelers may have enjoyed very good living conditions in France. For diplomatic reasons, however, Cartier declined to mention that nine of the ten travelers (including Donnaconna) had in fact died during the preceding half decade, and so could not be consulted on their future travel plans. (Axtell, The Invasion Within [New York: Oxford University Press, 1985], p. 27.)

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