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The Early Indian Occupation of Kent

A synopsis of a paper by

COMMENTING on the various tribes of Indians in Canada and their habitat, Dr. McKeough states that the Iroquois and Hurons were the two most important and were enemies. Both occupied the valley of the St. Lawrence when Jacques Cartier arrived in 1534, but when Champlain arrived 69 years after, the valley was occupied by a few Algonquins, the Hurons having gone to the Lake Simcoe region and the Iroquois to what is now New York State and Ohio. The Neutrals (a name bestowed upon them by the French), or Attawandarons, (a people with the country—meaning the people that have the best country) who were recognized by other tribes as non-combatants, occupied the Niagara Peninsula, the Highlands, and the lake front of Erie from Niagara to Amherstburg, and in this territory controlled the flint beds near Point Abino, and excelled the men of other tribes in splinting, polishing and fitting flakes of the chert carrying rocks, into primitive ammunition.

David Boyle in his article "Notes on Primitive Man" is quoted by Dr. McKeough as stating that the Neutrals were among the first tribes to leave the main body, but the fact that they were found beyond the most westerly point of migration of the Iroquois and the fact that they did not share in the Huron-Iroquois feuds, points to an earlier and independent migration. Their language varied but slightly from that of the Hurons (which there is no reason to regard as the parent tongue) and the inference is that their separation must have taken place long before the disruption compelled the other clans to seek refuge on the Georgian Bay and elsewhere.

The Jesuits believed that the three nations were originally one people, the language only differed dialectically and their habits, ceremonials, food, clothing and form of government were much the same.

Dr. McKeough states that the Neutrals, while neutral as between Hurons and Iroquois, waged deadly warfare on the Mascoutins or Nation of Fire, who inhabited what is now a part of Michigan, and the Neutrals were more ruthless and cruel than the other tribes, especially in their treatment of women prisoners, whom they tortured and burned, a practice not recorded of the Hurons. Physically they surpassed the Hurons and in summer wore no clothing but adorned their bodies by tattooing from head to foot with charcoal pricked into the flesh. Long immunity from attacks by the Hurons and Iroquois and the superabundance of vegetables and animal food tempted the Neutrals to the enjoyment of every savage luxury and animal appetite. Charred remains in their ash heaps or kitchen middens indicate that cannibalism was practiced by the Neutrals.

The first white man who records a visit to the Neutrals was Father Joseph de la Roche Daillon, a Franciscan Priest, who acknowledged that his desire for a visit was engendered by the glowing accounts of Etienne Brule, Champlain’s adventurous interpreter who mingled with the Neutrals in the summer of 1615 and was probably the first white man to venture among them and recount to the French missionaries the good climate, rich land and abundant game in that part of the country in which the many villages of the Neutrals were located.

Daillon was of aristocratic birth. He came to Canada in 1615 and took charge of the Huron mission, and in October 1620 paid a visit to the Neutrals, a five days’ journey before the first Neutral village was reached. He was accompanied by one or two guides and two French traders. Although not knowing the language of the Neutrals he spent four months among them, and visited four other villages. At first he was well received and gifts were exchanged, but the Hurons, hearing of the visit, and fearing that the French would open a direct trade with the Neutrals, at once circulated untruths about the French, and from these the Neutrals conceived the idea that the presence of the French would bring on pestilence; and Daillon, who, having lost his interpreter, was endeavoring to Christianize the Neutrals by signs, was subjected to much insult and abuse and nearly lost his life at their hands.

The Hurons who acted as middlemen between the Neutrals and the French, made big profits by exchanging French goods for the furs of the Neutrals. It apparently never occurred to the Neutrals that there was a direct road for them by way of Lake Ontario to the French trading posts to which the Hurons could not go by reason of the enmity of the Iroquois but which would have been open to the Neutrals. The Hurons were too astute to kill Daillon for fear of the vengeance of the French, but hoped the Neutrals could be stirred up to kill him.

On his return to Huronia, Father Daillon wrote a report of his mission. Describing the country with appreciation, he comments on the abundant vegetable life and game, and concludes by stating that the life of the Neutrals was very impure and their manners and customs the same.

Father Daillon left the country for good in 1628 and sailed for France about a year later, and never returned to Canada. He died in July 1656. There is nothing in his writings to indicate that he visited the western portion of what is now Ontario.

Another mission to the Neutrals was established in 1640 by John de Brebeuf and Joseph Chaumonet, Jesuit Fathers, who had been in Huronia. They encountered opposition on their arrival among the Neutrals as messages had been sent from Huronia that if the pale face sorcerers’ were allowed to dwell among them, famine and plague would desolate their villages, their women would be struck with sterility and the nation itself would fade from the face of the earth. These two Priests persisted in their mission and visited eighteen villages or encampments, preaching the way of the Cross. According to Dr. McKeough there is evidence that they visited Khioeta, or St. Michael, one of the five villages shown on the early maps, and they therefore must have passed through the Village of St. Joseph de Kent, and also the smaller communities on the way. At St. Michael they received a partially friendly reception, but after four months of strenuous self sacrifice, and barren effort, they returned to Huronia. Dr. McKeough’s search among the Indian collections in the County, for crucifixes, crosses, ink horns, communion chalices, metallic thuribles for incense, etc., which would be tangible evidence of the sojourn of the missionaries at certain villages, has revealed none of these things.

For an account of the death of Brebeuf and Lalemant another missionary, Dr. McKeough quotes Parkman as follows:

"Brebeuf and Lalemant, during the fierce attack of the Iroquois, were captured by them at St. Ignatius. Brebeuf was led apart, stripped of his clothes, and bound to a stake. He seemed more concerned for his captured converts than for himself, and addressed them in a loud voice, exhorting them to suffer patiently, promising heaven as their reward. The Iroquois, incensed, scorched him from head to foot to silence him, whereupon, in the tone of a master he threatened them with everlasting flames for persecuting the worshippers of God. As he continued to speak with voice and countenance unchanged, they cut away his lower lip, cut out his tongue and thrust a red hot iron down his throat. He still held his tall form erect and defiant, with no sound of pain, and they tried other means to overcome him. They led out Lalemant, that Drebeuf might see him tortured. They had tied strips of bark smeared with pitch around his naked body. When he saw the condition of his superior, he could not hide his agitation and called out to him in a broken voice in the words of St. Paul: ‘We are made a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.’ Then he threw himself at Brebeuf’s feet, upon which the Iroquois seized him, made him fast to a stake and set fire to the bark that enveloped him. As the flames arose he threw his arms upwards with a shriek of supplication to heaven. Next they hung around Brebeuf’s neck a collar made of hatchets heated red hot, but the indomitable Priest stood like a rock. A Huron in the crowd who had been a convert of the mission but was now an Iroquois by adoption, called out, with the malice of a renegade to pour hot water on their heads, since they had poured so much cold water on those of others. The kettle was accordingly slung, and the water boiled and poured slowly on the heads of the two missionaries. 'We baptise you’ they cried, ‘that you may be happy in heaven, for nobody can be saved without a good baptism.’ Brebeuf would not flinch, and in a rage they tore out his finger nails, cut strips of flesh from his limbs, and devoured them before his eyes. After a succession of other revolting tortures they scalped him, and seeing him nearly dead they laid open his breast, and came in a crowd to drink the blood of so valiant an enemy, thinking to imbibe with it some portion of his courage. A chief then tore out his heart and devoured it. To the last he refused to flinch, and his fortitude was the astonishment of his murderers. The bodies of the two missionaries were carried to St. Marie and buried in the cemetery there, but the skull of Brebeuf was preserved as a relic. His family sent from France a silver bust of their martyred kinsman, in the base of which was a recess to contain the skull, and to this day the bust and relic within are preserved with precious care by the Nuns of the Hotel Dieu at Quebec."

Dr. McKeough quotes Parkman on the extermination of the Neutral Indians as follows:

"No sooner were the Hurons broken up and dispersed than the Iroquois, without waiting to take breath, turned their fury on the Neutrals. At the end of the autumn of 1650 they assaulted and took one of the most important Neutral towns, said to have contained at the time more than 1600 men, besides women and children, and early in the following spring they took another town. The slaughter was prodigious and the victors drove back to their homes troops of captives for butchery or adoption. It was the death blow of the Neutrals. They abandoned their corn fields and villages in the wildest terror, and dispersed themselves about the forests, which could not yield sustenance for such a multitude. They perished by thousands, and from that time forth the Neutral Nation ceased to exist."

Their extermination was pretty well completed by the year 1653.

Dr. McKeough quotes from an article by a Mr. Orr on the Neutral Indians that in a letter embodied in the Jesuit Relations [The written reports of the Jesuit Missionaries to the Head of that Order in France.] of 1670, Father Freners relates a visit he made in 1669 to the Oneida village of Gandoge, peopled with the remnants of three nations destroyed by the Iroquois. Among them were the descendants of the slaughtered Neutrals, who had been adopted by the Iroquois and incorporated into the Oneida Tribe to fill the places of members of that tribe who had been killed in the war. This is the last time the Neutral Indians are mentioned in the annals of New France.

The foregoing gives a brief description of the Indian Tribe that inhabited that part of Canada in which the County of Kent is located, the following is a resume of the known sites of Indian Villages in and around Kent County.

Quoting from Dr. James H. Coyne’s paper "Indian Occupation of Southern Ontario," Dr. McKeough states that early maps show five Indian villages west of the Grand River, Our Lady of the Angels, near Brantford; St. Alexis, which has been fairly well identified to be the Southwold Earthworks; St. Joseph de Kent, location problematical, but in all probability in Kent County; St. Francis, somewhere in the vicinity of the Township of Bosanquet in Lambton County or Williams in Middlesex County, and St. Michael, near Windsor.

In addition, Mr. E. B. Jones. in an article in the Evening Banner of November 27, 1896, sets out the location of two villages near Chatham, both on McGregor’s Creek. He says:

"The central villages near Chatham, of which there were two, were situated on McGregor’s Creek. One is partly on the Protestant and partly on the Catholic Cemetery and partly on McGeachy’s land, and is divided by the creek into two parts, the east and west village. The other village is about half a mile to the north and is divided by the creek into the north and south village. The south village near Wilson’s bridge appears to have been partly surrounded with a palisade, beginning at the bank of the creek at the west boundary of the village, and enclosing a semi-circular piece of land of about three acres, and ending on the creek bank of the east. There are still traces of the ditch and embankment upon which the palisades were placed, but the plow has nearly finished the work of demolition. There is no doubt but that these villages were protected by walls or palisades. It is comparatively easy to locate the position of several lodges within the enclosure, by the debris left on certain spots, such as arrow points, fragments of flint, stone hammers and fragments of broken bone. Every such place indicates the site of a lodge. These lodges were arranged in the form of a semi-circle and enclosed a space about one and a half acres.

This spot would appear to be the forum where many a pow wow was held. In peaceful times it was used as a playground. Games of ball were seemingly common if we are to judge by the number of stone balls found on these village sites. Here also captives were tortured to death at the stake."

Mr. Jones further states that when the Sulpician Fathers, Dollier de Casson and Rene de Brehart de Galinee and their party of voyageurs discovered Rond Eau in 1670 the remains of another village were located at what is now Government Park. An ossuary has also been located there. Early settlers in Harwich remember remains of old Indian trails in that part of Kent.

Dr. McKeough quotes Mr. Herbert Smith of Lot 132 Raleigh as stating that there were three sites of Indian Camps on his land, charcoal plowed up on these sites, microscopically examined showed cedar fibres, although the oldest inhabitants do not recall any cedar growing on the farm. Many corn stones and pounders or pestles have been found there, also a few pipes, and some clay pottery, a part of which gives the appearance of having been molded in wicker or basket work.

The south side of the Highbanks ridge seems to have been favored by the Neutrals, as quantities of arrow heads have been found, while comparatively few were located on the north side.

Mr. E. B. Jones mentions another Indian village in the extreme western portion of the County of Kent, near Lake St. Clair. This was discovered by Governor Simcoe in 1793 when he made a tour of inspection from Niagara—on—the— Lake to Detroit, then a possession of the British. Near Baptiste Creek, where the Railway bridge now stands. Major Littlehales, who accompanied the Governor, mentions in his diary that ruins of wigwams and the bleached remains of human beings, were found, (The editor ventures to suggest that this may have been the site of the village of St. Michael.)

Dr. McKeough records the location of the site of another Indian village, known as the Fort, about a mile north of Clearville. Clear Creek passes through the land at this point and in its flow southward makes a considerable detour around a low terraced tableland, the slopes showing evidence of former higher level in what must have been a much larger stream. The Indians had taken advantage of the situation for strategic reasons and proximity to water. The debris usual to the site of an Indian village was found but not a vestige of any European presence or influence. If this village ever had dealings with the whites some proof should have come to light in the investigation of the site. There are two village sites at this point on different levels but whether they were occupied concurrently or by the same group is not known. At this location Mr. Inspector Smith discovered a human skull with certain symbols carved on the vertex. The characters represented some of the signs of the Zodiac. (This skull is now in the Provincial Museum in Toronto.) Dr. McKeough, commenting on the find states:

"It must be at all events a relic of a remote civilization that occupied Canada in pre—historic ages."

However, in Vaughan Township, York County, a stone with the year 1641 chiseled upon it has been found, supposed to be the work of a priest to the Neutral Indians. Mr. Louis Goulet, who examined both engravings, thinks anyone who could engrave or cut upon stone, anything as distinct as the date 1641 is, could easily have made the Zodiac upon the skull.

In making excavations near the Village of Cedar Springs, in 1914, Dr. McKeough tells of the exhumation of skeletons of four Indians, two adults, a young adult and a child. Three of the skeletons were found close together and the fourth a short distance away . . . all were in a crouching position with heads slightly elevated and facing the east. Commenting on Indian burial customs, Dr. McKeough quotes Parkman:

‘‘Every 10 or 12 years remains of the dead were taken from scaffolds, biers, trees, huts and tents, where they had been preserved or kept. What remained of the flesh was often scraped from the bones. The bodies and bones were wrapped in skins and rich furs, and carried in a procession to a great trench, which had been prepared with enormous labour, when, after a final embrace, and the bones caressed and fondled by their friends, amid paroxysms of lamentations, and a harangue by the chief in praise of the dead, and ex— tolling the gifts bestowed by the sorrowing relatives, the bodies were flung into the pits, arranged in order by Indians ; logs and stones were cast over the sepulchre and the clamour gradually subsided."

Dr. McKeough reports the existence of such an ossuary at the south east corner of Rondeau Park, and another near McGregor’s Creek, a short distance from the City of Chatham ; the Rondeau ossuary furnished many skeletons for medical students at Toronto University in the "sixties" and the ossuary near McGregor’s Creek is described as a mound 30 feet in diameter containing when opened about seventy skeletons but no weapons or utensils. Many of the bones showed evidence of having been burned and the majority appeared to have been buried devoid of flesh, but the correct position of the bones in a few of the skeletons showed that they must have been buried in the flesh, which confirms the description by the Jesuits of "The Feast of the Dead."

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