1692, Narrative of the Heroic Deeds of Madeleine
de Verchères (1678-1747) aged 14 years, against the Iroquois
Written by Madeleine de Verchères
in 1716 for the Governor of New France, the Marquis de Beauharnois
October 22-30, 1692
I was five arpents away from the fort of Verchères,
belonging to Sieur De Verchères, my father, who was then at Kebek
by order of M. Le Chevalier De Callières, governor of Montreal,
my mother being also in Montreal. I heard several shots without knowing
at whom they were fired I soon saw that the Iroquois were firing at our
settlers, who lived about a league and a-half from the fort. One of our
servants called out to me:
"Fly, mademoiselle, fly! the Iroquois are
I turned instantly and saw some forty-five
Iroquois running towards me, and already within pistol shot. Determined
to die rather than fall into their hands, I sought safety in flight. I
ran towards the fort, commending myself to the Blessed Virgin, and saying
to her from the bottom of my heart: "Holy Virgin, mother of my God, you
know I have ever honoured and loved you as my dear mother; abandon me not
in this hour of danger! I would rather a thousand times perish than fall
into the hands of a race that know you not."
Meantime my pursuers, seeing that they were
too far off to take me alive before I could enter the fort, and knowing
they were near enough to shoot me, stood still in order to discharge their
guns at me. I was under fire for quite a time, at any rate I found the
time long enough! Forty-five bullets whistling past my ears made the time
seem long and the distance from the fort interminable, though I was so
near. When within hearing of the fort, I cried out: "To arms! To arms!"
I hoped that someone would come to help
me, but it was a vain hope. There were but two soldiers in the fort and
these were so overcome by fear that they had sought safety by concealing
themselves in the redoubt. Having reached the gates at last, I found there
two women lamenting for the loss of their husbands, who had just been killed.
I made them enter the fort, and closed the gates myself. I then began to
consider how I might save myself and the little party with me, from the
hands of the savages. I examined the fort, and found that several of the
stakes had fallen, leaving gaps through which it would be easy for the
enemy to eater. I gave orders to have the stakes replaced, and heedless
of my sex and tender age, I hesitated not to seize one end of the heavy
stake and urge my companions to give a hand in raising it. I found by experience
that, when God gives us strength, nothing is impossible.
The breaches having been repaired, I betook
myself to the redoubt, which served as a guard-house and armoury. I there
found two soldiers, one of them lying down and the other holding a burning
fuse. I said to the latter:
"What are you going to do with that fuse?"
"I want to set fire to the powder," said
he, "and blow up the fort."
"You are a miserable wretch," I said, adding:
"Begone, I command you!"
I spoke so firmly that he obeyed forthwith.
Thereupon putting aside my hood and donning a soldier's casque, I seized
a musket and said to my little brothers:
"Let us fight to the death for our country
and for our holy religion. Remember what our father has so often told you,
that gentlemen are born but to shed their blood for the service of God
and the king!"
Stirred up by my words, my brothers and
the two soldiers kept up a steady fire on the foe. I caused the cannon
to be fired, not only to strike terror into the Iroquois and show them
that we were well able to defend ourselves, since we had a cannon, but
also to warn our own soldiers, who were away hunting, to take refuge in
some other fort. But alas! what sufferings have to be endured in these
awful extremities of distress! Despite the thunder of our guns, I heard
unceasingly the cries and lamentations of some unfortunates who had just
lost a husband, a brother, a child or a parent. I deemed it prudent, while
the firing was still kept up, to represent to the grief- stricken women
that their shrieks exposed us to danger, for they could not fail to be
heard by the enemy, notwithstanding the noise of the guns and the cannon.
I ordered them to be silent and thus avoid giving the impression that we
were helpless and hopeless.
While I was speaking thus, I caught sight
of a canoe on the river, opposite the fort. It was Sieur Pierre Fontaine
with his family, who were about to land at the spot where I had just barely
escaped from the Iroquois, the latter being still visible on every hand.
The family must fall into the hands of the savages if not promptly succoured.
I asked the two soldiers to go to the landing
place, only five arpents away, and protect the family. But seeing by their
silence, that they had but little heart for the work, I ordered our servant,
Laviolette, to stand sentry at the gate of the fort and keep it open, while
I would myself go to the bank of the river, carrying a musket in my hand
and wearing my soldier's casque. I left orders on setting out, that if
I was killed, they were to shut the gates and continue to defend the fort
sturdily. I set out with the heaven-sent thought that the enemy, who were
looking on, would imagine that it was a ruse on my part to induce them
to approach the fort, in order that our people might make a sortie upon
This is precisely what happened, and thus
was I enabled to save poor Pierre Fontaine, with his wife and children.
When all were landed, I made them march before me as far as the fort, within
sight of the enemy. By putting a bold face upon it, I made the Iroquois
think there was more danger for them than for us.
They did not know that the whole garrison,
and only inhabitants of the fort of Verchères, were my two brothers
aged 12 years, our servant, two soldiers, an old man of eighty, and some
women and children.
Strengthened by the new recruits from Pierre
Fontaine's canoe, I gave orders to continue firing at the enemy. Meantime
the sun went down and a fierce northeaster accompanied by snow and hail,
ushered in a night of awful severity. The enemy kept us closely invested
and instead of being deterred by the dreadful weather, led me to judge
by their movements that they purposed assaulting the fort under cover of
I gathered all my troops - six persons -
together, and spoke to them thus: "God has saved us to-day from the hands
of our enemies, but we must be careful not to be caught in their snares
to-night. For my part, I want to show you that I am not afraid. I undertake
the fort for my share, with an old man of eighty, and a soldier who has
never fired a gun. And you, Pierre Fontaine, with La Bonté and Galhet
(our two soldiers), will go to the redoubt, with the women and children,
as it is the strongest place. If I am taken, never surrender, even though
I should be burnt and cut to pieces before your eyes. You have nothing
to fear in the redoubt, if you only make some show of fighting."
Thereupon, I posted my two young brothers
on two of the bastions, the youth of 80 on a third bastion and myself took
charge of the fourth. Each one acted his part to the life. Despite the
whistling of the northeast wind, which is a fearful wind in Canada, at
this season, and in spite of the snow and hail, the cry of "All's well,"
was heard at close intervals, echoing and re-echoing from the fort to the
redoubt and from the redoubt to the fort.
One would have fancied, to hear us, that
the fort was crowded with warriors. And in truth the Iroquois, with all
their astuteness and skill in warfare were completely deceived, as they
afterwards avowed to M. De Callières, They told him they had held
a council with a view to assaulting the fort during the night, but that
the increased vigilance of the guard had prevented them from accomplishing
their design, especially in view of their losses of the previous day (under
the fire maintained by myself and my two brothers).
About an hour after midnight, the sentinel
at the gate bastion, cried out:
"Mademoiselle! I hear something!"
I walked towards him, in order to see what
it was, and through the darkness, aided by the reflection from the snow,
I saw a group of horned cattle, the remnant escaped from the hands of our
"Let me open the gates for them," said the
"God forbid," I answered, "you do not know
all the cunning of the savages; they are probably marching behind the cattle,
covered with the hides of animals, so as to get into the fort, if we are
simple enough to open the gates."
I saw danger everywhere, in face of an enemy
so keen and crafty as the Iroquois. Nevertheless, after adopting every
precaution suggested by prudence under the circumstances, I decided that
there would be no risk in opening the gate. I sent for my two brothers,
and made them stand by with their muskets loaded and primed, in case of
a surprise, and then we let the cattle enter the fort.
At last the day dawned, and the sun in scattering
the shades of the night seemed to banish our grief and anxiety. Assuming
a joyful countenance I gathered my garrison around me and said to them:
"Since, with God's help, we have got through
the past night with all its terrors, we can surely get through other nights
by keeping good watch and ward and by firing our cannon hour by hour, so
as to get help from Montreal, which is only eight leagues off."
I saw that my address made an impression
on their minds. But Marguerite Antoine, the wife of Sieur Pierre Fontaine,
being extremely timorous, as is natural to all Parisian women, asked her
husband to take her to another fort, representing to him that while she
had been lucky enough to escape the fury of the savages the first night,
she had no reason to expect a like good fortune for the coming night; that
the fort of Verchères was utterly worthless, that there were no
men to hold it, and that to remain in it would be to expose one's self
to evident danger, or to run the risk of perpetual slavery or of death
by slow fire. The poor husband, finding that his wife persisted in her
request and that she wanted to go to Fort Contrecoeur, three hours distant
from Verchères, said to her: "I will fit you out a good canoe, with
a proper sail, and you will have your two children, who are accustomed
to handle it. I myself will never abandon the fort of Verchères,
so long as Mademoiselle Magdelon (this was the name I went by in my childhood)
I spoke up firmly then, and told him that
I would never abandon the fort; that I would sooner perish than deliver
it up to our enemies; that it was of the last importance that the savages
should never enter one of our French forts; that they would judge of the
rest by the one they got possession of, and that the knowledge thus acquired
could not fail to increase their pride and courage.
I can truthfully say that I was on two occasions,
for twenty-four hours without rest or food. I did not once enter my father's
house. I took up my station on the bastion, and from time to time looked
after things on the redoubt. I always wore a smiling and joyful face, and
cheered up my little troop with the prospect of speedy assistance.
On the eighth day (for we were eight days
in continual alarms, under the eyes of our enemies and exposed to their
fury and savage attacks), on the eighth day, I say, M. De La Monnerie,
a lieutenant detached from the force under M. De Callières, reached
the fort during the night with forty men. Not knowing but the fort had
fallen, he made his approach in perfect silence. One of our sentries hearing
a noise, cried out: "Qui vive?"
I was dozing at the moment, with my head
resting on a table and my musket across my arms.
The sentry told me he heard voices on the
water. I forthwith mounted the bastion in order to find out by the tone
of the voice whether the party were savages or French. I called out to
"Who are you?"
They answered: "French! It is La Monnerie
come to your assistance."
I caused the door of the fort to be opened
and put a sentry to guard it, and went down to the bank of the river to
receive the party. So soon as I saw the officer in command I saluted him,
"Sir, you are welcome, I surrender my arms
"Mademoiselle," he answered, with a courtly
air, "they are in good hands."
"Better than you think," I replied.
He inspected the fort and found it in a
most satisfactory condition, with a sentry on each bastion. I said to him:
"Sir, kindly relieve my sentries, so that
they may take a little rest, for we have not left our posts for the last
I was forgetting one circumstance which
will give an idea of my confidence and tranquility. On the day of the great
battle, the Iroquois who were around the fort, were sacking and burning
the houses of our settlers and killing their cattle before our eyes, when
I called to mind, about one o'clock in the afternoon, that I had three
sacks of linen and some quilts outside the fort. I asked my soldiers to
take their guns and accompany me while I went out for the clothes; but
their silence and sullen looks convinced me of their lack of courage, so
I turned to my young brothers and said to them:
"Take your guns and come with me! As to
you," I said to the others, "keep your fire against the enemy while I go
for my linen."
I made two trips, in sight of the enemy,
in the very place where they had so narrowly missed taking me prisoner,
a few hours before. They must have suspected some plot under my proceedings,
for they did not venture to try to capture me, or even to take my life
with their guns. I felt then that when God overrules matters, there is
no danger of failure....
This is a simple and truthful account of
the adventure which secured for me His Majesty's favour, and which I would
not have undertaken to put in writing had not M. Le Marquis De Beauharnais,
our governor, whose one care is to protect our colony against the incursions
of the barbarians, and to promote therein the glory of France, by rendering
the name of her illustrious monarch formidable to all her enemies and respected
and loved of all his subjects, induced me to prepare this detailed narrative.
Our governor, in his wisdom, is not content with constraining all the tribes
by whom we are surrounded to hold us in respect and fear, and keeping the
enemies of the state at a distance of four or five hundred leagues. His
indefatigable devotion to the most weighty matters is interrupted only
by the attention he gives to the more striking events which have occurred
since the establishment of this colony, using them on occasion with the
goodness and distinction of manner which are natural to him, in order to
encourage every subject of His Majesty to seek distinction by performing
heroic deeds, whensoever the opportunity presents itself.
Source: Supplement to the Report of the Public
Archives of Canada for 1899