Ir header bg

The Iroquois Wars

1608–1701

ExploreExplore

Synopsis

In the early 1600s, the construction of French trading outposts dramatically altered the balance of power across eastern North America. Before this time, the European foothold on the interior of the continent was limited to seasonal trading camps and maritime traders. Then in 1608, an ambitious trader named Samuel de Champlain established a fort called Quebec near the ruins of an Iroquoian town called Stadacona. To secure a steady flow of lucrative beaver furs to this outpost, Champlain made deals with the neighbouring Indigenous nations: The Algonquins, the Innu and the Wendat. However the partnership with the Wendat and Algonquins came with a very specific condition: military support against the Iroquois Confederacy. In 1609, Champlain and two Frenchmen handily defeated an Iroquois army with musket fire, but in doing so they made a bitter enemy of the five Haudenosaunee nations.

Outgunned and devastated by European diseases introduced through trade, the Iroquois turned to Dutch and later English colonists for guns, steel and European technology. With this arsenal, the Five Nations of the Iroquois began to destroy or displace their neighbouring First Nations. Their goals were to secure fresh beaver hunting grounds and assimilate captives to replace those Haudenosaunee lost to disease or war. Also known as the Beaver Wars, these Iroquois wars of expansion created a massive refugee crisis. Whole communities fled west or south to avoid devastating Haudenosaunee raids.

The Wendat paid a heavy price for their alliance with France, by 1651 the Iroquois had devastated their heartland and drove the few survivors into exile.

The Ojibwe and Iroquois would fight a bitter war to control their abandoned homeland. When Iroquois also began to destroy French settlements and besiege towns like Montreal, the French government were forced to involve themselves in the steadily worsening conflict.

Location

Southern Quebec, Southern Ontario, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio

Map north americaSouthern Quebec, Southern Ontario, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio
Conflict Category: Endemic Warfare

Combatants

Iroquois Confederacy

The union of Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga and Mohawk was one of the strongest factions in 17th century North America. The acquisition of Dutch and English firearms elevated the five Haudenosaunee nations into powerhouses which could threaten even the European colonies.

vs.

Franco-Indigenous Alliance

An alliance which began as a trading pact between French merchants, the Wendat and the Algonquins, the Europeans quickly became embroiled in their allies’ rivalry with the Iroquois. French outposts lived in constant fear of Haudenosaunee attack, forcing the Canadian settlers to work closely with the First Nations, and emulate their fighting style.

Three Fires Confederacy

During the 1600s, the Great Lakes and its northern watershed were the domain of the Anishinaabeg: the Odawa, Potawatomi and Ojibwe. These three kindred nations remained largely aloof from the conflict with the Iroquois, until the two clashed over the displaced Wendat’s former homeland. Anishinaabe victories over the Haudenosaunee would be crucial to ending their military expansion.

Allies

Iroquois Confederacy

  • Flag for The Dutch Republic The Dutch Republic
  • Flag for England England
vs.
vs.

Franco-Indigenous Alliance

  • Susquehannock
  • Innu
  • Petun
  • Wenro
  • Erie
  • Acadians
  • Mahicans

Three Fires Confederacy

  • France
  • Cree
Ir 004 heroique defesense of dollard and his companions lr

Pivotal Battle

The Battle of Long Sault — May 2 - 10 1660
May 2 - 10 1660

By 1660, the Iroquois Confederacy were winning their long running conflict against France. While the Ojibwe and their allies fiercely resisted their push into Southern Ontario, the Five Nations controlled the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers. These waterways allowed them to raid French settlements and trade convoys with impunity. This prompted a militia captain named Adam Dollard to take the fight to the Haudenosaunee. Dollard, along with 53 militia and warriors, ambushed a small party of Onondagas along the Ottawa River. The victory was short lived, as these warriors were the scouting party for a much larger army. In the face of hundreds of Haudenosaunee, 30 of the allied warriors fled. Dollard’s remaining force retreated to an abandoned stockade at a place called Long Sault and prepared to make their stand. For eight days, Dollard’s 28 fighters held back over 600 warriors, until the Haudenosaunee built log shields which allowed them to approach the walls and hack open a breach. Though the Haudenosaunee took the fort, their victory was a costly one. The Iroquois Confederacy had lost so many warriors that they lacked the strength to strike against Montreal.

Aftermath

The Iroquois Wars only ended in 1701, when France, the Haudenosaunee and over a dozen other Indigenous leaders signed a treaty known as the Great Peace of Montreal. After nearly a century of prolonged violence, thousands had died and thousands more had been driven from their homes. Many of these displaced peoples moved into the Mississippi River watershed. Facing greater competition for food sources in the east, the Ojibwe nation pushed westward into the lands of the Dakota and Meskwaki, sparking fresh conflicts which would rage for decades. Though the Iroquois Confederacy secured peace with France and gained control of lush territories in the Ohio Country, they had suffered heavily during the war. For the next several decades, the Haudenosaunee largely avoid becoming entangled in the Imperial wars which raged across eastern North America.

Notable Commanders

Chief Hendrick Tejonihokarawa of the Mohawk nation
Chief Hendrick Tejonihokarawa of the Mohawk nation

Iroquois Confederacy
Hendrick Tejonihokarawa

Born during the height of the Iroquois Wars, Hendrick Tejonihokarawa spent most his life trying to protect Haudenosaunee sovereignty from the French. His strategy hinged on building an alliance with France’s imperial rival: England. To secure this partnership, he led Mohawk warriors alongside English militias against the French colonies in 1690. In 1710 Hendrick Tejonihokarawa travelled to England where he had an audience with their King.

Samuel De Champlain, founder of Quebec
Samuel De Champlain, founder of Quebec

Franco-Indigenous Alliance
Samuel De Champlain

Though he came to North America as a merchant, Samuel de Champlain proved he was willing to use force to protect his profits. In 1609 he led French mercenaries alongside Wendat and Algonquin warriors in a battle against the Iroquois near Ticonderoga. He would lead another two expeditions in 1610 and 1615, earning the hatred of the Iroquois for his brutality.

Key Weapons

Weapons are a central part of war. Explore the selections below to learn about the weapons used in this conflict.
Tomahawk
Tomahawk
Tomahawk

Tomahawk

Despite being created in the 1600s, Tomahawks are still carried into battle by Canada’s special forces.

Bow
Bow
Bow

Bow

The oldest weapon in mankind’s arsenal, even the arrival of firearms did not banish the bow from North American battles.

Gunstock War Club
Gunstock War Club
Gunstock War Club

Gunstock War Club

A fusion of traditional Indigenous club designs and European metalworking, the Gunstock war club was from 16th to the 19th centuries across most of North America.

Ball Headed Club
Ball Headed Club
Ball Headed Club

Ball Headed Club

Carried by Haudenosaunee warriors for at least a century before Europeans arrived, the Ball Headed Club was used in combat as late as the War of 1812.

Harquebus
Harquebus
Harquebus

Harquebus

The Harquebus may have been heavy and slow to reload, but its killing power was unparalleled compared to Indigenous stone and bone weapons.

Discover the next conflict
King Philip’s War

Explore