Claiming the Wilderness
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Claiming the Wilderness
The Great Peace
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Pierre Lemoyne d'Iberville
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, France and England were at war once again, but this time the Iroquois remained neutral having signed a peace treaty with the French.
In North America, thanks to their native alliances, the French had expanded their empire on the continent despite the enormous numerical superiority of their enemies. New France had only 17,500 habitants, whereas the English colonies had more than a quarter of a million (251,000). Canadien soldiers, French born in the colony, kept the English colonies on edge. The most famous was Pierre Lemoyne d'Iberville.

D'Iberville was the first Canadien to be dubbed a Chevalier of the Order of Saint Louis, the highest military distinction in the kingdom. He belonged to one of the most remarkable families in Canada. His father, Charles, had come to Canada at the age of fifteen as a servant working for the Jesuits. When he died, 44 years later, he was a seigneur and one of the richest merchants in Montreal.
All the Lemoyne sons were fearless warriors. For Canadiens, successful trade and military feats provided the most direct route to achieving their ambition: glory and a noble title.

Governor Denonville had already noticed d'Iberville when he was young, during the wars against the Iroquois. "D'Iberville is a very wise boy," he wrote in a letter on October 31 1687, "enterprising and who knows what else he is capable of. There are eight Lemoyne children, all of them the finest bred in Canada."

When war broke out in 1696 between France and England, d'Iberville won victories all over the continent. With only a handful of militiamen and natives under his direct command, he threw the English out of Hudson Bay, then attacked Newfoundland.

"It is well known how important for England is the fishery of Newfoundland," he wrote, "and the wealth she draws from the trade she undertakes in dried cod for Portugal, Spain and Italy, the damage she would suffer from the ruin of her establishments, and the advantages the French would thereby gain."

In November 1696, d'Iberville attacked the Newfoundland outports, leading 120 militia and Mi'kmaq warriors. He went on to besiege St. John's. He burned houses and had a prisoner scalped. The message was clear:

"The French have captured a colonist named William Drew," recounted one Philip Roberts,"have cut out his scalp then, with sheer strength, have ripped the skin off from the forehead to the nape of the neck and then sent it into the English fort with the promise that they would apply the same treatment to all those habitants who refuse to surrender."

The besieged surrendered!

In 1701, Louis XIV commanded d'Iberville to found a post at the mouth of the Mississippi River on a site south of present-day New Orleans to block the expansion of the English colonies toward the interior of the continent.


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