Samuel de Champlain, Fighting Iroquois, 1609, Illustration

Samuel de Champlain and Algonquin allies fought the Iroquois in 1609. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Beaver Wars in Colonial America

1609–1701

The Beaver Wars were a series of battles that were fought over control of the fur trade in colonial America. During the wars, the Iroquois Confederation took control of the fur trade, eliminated rival Native American Indian tribes, and terrorized French settlements. The French and their Indian allies responded with attacks on Iroquois villages and English settlements. The conflict lasted for nearly a century and ended with the Peace of Montreal in 1701.

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Summary of the Beaver Wars in Colonial America

The Beaver Wars were a series of conflicts that took place in the 17th century between Native American Indian tribes, French soldiers, and European settlers. During the wars, the Iroquois Confederation, or Five Nations, expanded its hunting and trapping grounds, and took control of the fur trade from colonial New York into the Ohio Country. By the time peace was finally agreed upon, many tribes had been forced to move out of their traditional lands, or join the Iroquois, and European settlers on the frontier lived in constant fear of attack. The Beaver Wars are also called the Iroquois Wars, or the French and Iroquois Wars.

Beaver Wars — Quick Facts

  • Some consider the start of the Beaver Wars to be the 1609 fight at Lake Champlain between Samuel de Champlain and his Algonquin allies against the Iroquois.
  • The Mohawk tribe essentially directed the actions of the Iroquois Confederation.
  • The first professional soldiers in New France were members of the Carignan-Salières Regiment who were sent to help protect French settlers from the Iroquois.
  • The Beaver Wars came to an end with the Great Peace of Paris in 1701.

History of the Beaver Wars

The Beaver Wars were fought over control of the fur trade throughout New York, New England, the Ohio Country, and southern Canada. On one side were the tribes of the Iroquois Confederation, who lived in the New York area and traded with the Dutch. On the other side were the Native American Indian tribes that traded with the French, and French colonial forces.

Dutch Traders at Manhattan, Illustration

This illustration by William Ludwell Sheppard depicts Dutch and Native American Indian traders at Manhattan. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Native American Indian Tribes and Trade with Europeans

At the time, the Iroquois Confederation was made up of the Five Nations, five tribes that were located in the area around the St. Lawrence River basin. Those tribes were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onandaga, Cayuga, and Seneca.

For decades, the Iroquois traded animal pelts to the Dutch and English for many goods, including tools and blankets that simplified their lives. Beaver pelts were important to the trade with the Europeans because they were vital to the production of hats for the wealthy in Europe.

Further west, the French developed strong trading ties with many tribes that were connected because they spoke variations of the Algonquin language, including the Huron.

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Iroquois Expand Hunting Grounds

By the late 1620s, beavers were nearly extinct in the Iroquois hunting grounds around the St. Lawrence River, so they looked to expand their territory into areas where beavers were abundant. The Iroquois wanted to have complete control of the trade with all Europeans throughout the region, including the French.

Around 1628, Dutch traders provided the Iroquois with firearms, which gave them a significant advantage over the tribes that traded with the French. With the advantage, the Iroquois decided to expand their territory and take control of the hunting and trapping grounds of the Huron and other tribes.

Over a period of roughly 75 years, the Iroquois waged war on the frontier. They carried out raids on tribes that traded with the French, and on French settlements on the frontier. The French retaliated with a military regiment that attacked Mohawk villages and burned their crops. Eventually, the French gave firearms to their tribal allies, which allowed them to fight back against the Iroquois on more even terms. The French also fortified many of their settlements to help protect against attacks, including Montreal.

Due in part to the influence of Europeans, the Beaver Wars took a drastic toll on the tribes that lived from the Hudson Valley to the Great Lakes through the Ohio Country. Many tribes were forced to flee west, toward the Great Lakes or Great Plains. Some tribes were forced to join the Iroquois and were essentially eliminated.

The Great Peace of Montreal

After the English took New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664, the English expanded their trade with the Iroquois. However, English settlers also started moving west into Iroquois territory, which concerned them. The French saw an opportunity to establish goodwill with the Iroquois and a peace treaty was agreed to in 1701 between the French and leaders from 39 Indian nations.

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French Traders at Iroquois Council Fire, Illustration

This illustration by Frederic Remington depicts French Traders and Iroquois leaders at a Council Fire. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Significance of the Beaver Wars

The Beaver Wars were important for several key reasons:

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  • The Iroquois expanded their territory, control of trade, and population.
  • The Iroquois developed stronger ties with the English.
  • Many tribes were forced to leave their ancestral territory and move to the Great Plains.
  • Some tribes were basically eliminated when they were taken captive by the Iroquois.
  • The Wabanaki Confederation was formed by the Abenaki People and other Algonquian tribes in order to protect themselves from the Iroquois.

Timeline of the Beaver Wars

The Beaver Wars took place over the course of a century after Europeans arrived on the shores of the East Coast of America and the lakes and rivers throughout the Hudson Bay. There were many key moments that shaped the course of the wars and led to the expansion and growth of the Iroquois Confederation.

In 1609, French explorer Samuel de Champlain and Algonquian allies killed three Iroquois chiefs near Lake Champlain.

In 1613, the Dutch and Iroquois agreed to the Two Row Treaty when Dutch traders and settlers moved up the Hudson River into Mohawk territory. It was physically represented by a wampum belt made from purple and white beads. The treaty represents a commitment to friendship, peace between peoples, and living alongside each other “as long as the grass is green, as long as the rivers flow downhill, and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.” The treaty served as the basis for all future Iroquois relationships with Europeans. The principles of the treaty were restated by Iroquois leaders and were extended to Covenant Chain relationships with the French, British, and Americans.

In 1648, the Dutch authorized the sale of firearms to the Iroquois.

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From May 2 to 10, 1660, the Battle of Long Sault took place when the Iroquois attacked French militia forces and their Huron and Algonquin allies. The French were under the command of Adam Dollard des Ormeaux. The battle is memorable because Dollard grabbed a keg of gunpowder, lit it, and tried to throw it at the Iroquois. However, when he threw it, it hit the wall of the fort, exploded, and killed many of the defenders at Long Sault. The Iroquois overwhelmed the fort. Dollard is remembered as a hero for sacrificing himself for the cause of New France.

Battle of Long Sault, Dollard, Illustration

This illustration depicts Dollard preparing to throw the lit keg of gunpowder at the Iroquois during the Battle of Long Sault.

In March 1664, England took control of the New Netherland colony from the Dutch.

In 1665, France sent a regiment of professional soldiers to New France. The regiment was called the Carignan-Salières Regiment and the first troops arrived at Quebec City in June. By September, the entire regiment was in New France and they were under the command of Lieutenant-General Alexandre de Prouville de Tracy. The members of the regiment were the first professional soldiers in Canada.

In 1666, the French conducted two attacks on Iroquois villages in New York. The first was in January 1666 when the French captured a Mohawk chief and took him as a prisoner. The second attack was led by de Prouville in the fall. The French targeted Mohawk villages, which were empty when they arrived. The French burned the villages and the crops and seized the land for New France.

In 1681, the French started to supply firearms to the tribes fighting against the Iroquis. The colony of Pennsylvania was founded the same year, and settlers started to encroach on Iroquois land.

During King William’s War, which lasted from 1688 to 1697, the French and their Indian allies conducted raids on English settlements in New York, New Hampshire, and Maine.

In 1691, the Battle of La Prairie took place. Major Pieter Schuyler led a combined force of colonial troops and Iroquois warriors and attacked the settlement of La Prairie. Schuyler was surprised by a French force that had been sent out to block the road to Chambly. The fight was intense, and Schuyler was forced to retreat to Albany.

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On October 22, 1692, Marie-Madeleine Jarret de Verchères, a 14-year-old-girl, played a key role in stopping an attack on Fort Verchères. She helped fire cannons and firearms at the Irqouis attackers. In 1701, she was granted a pension by King Louis XIV for her bravery.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Beaver Wars in Colonial America
  • Coverage 1609–1701
  • Author
  • Keywords Beaver Wars, Indian Wars, French and Iroquois Wars, Iroquois Wars
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date September 24, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 18, 2022