Treaties of Peace and Neutrality (1701-1760)

As European colonies pushed further inland, their competition for control of the Interior of North America became a new theatre of war in the power struggles erupting across Europe. These power struggles, particularly between the British and the French, transformed their respective commercial partnerships with First Nations into vital military alliances that brought much needed support to both camps. In some cases, First Nations agreed to sell lands of the Great Lakes to the British in exchange for their protection and the continued right to hunt and fish, as in the 1701 Albany Deed.

In the fall of 1760, as British forces moved on Montreal, France's last remaining stronghold in North America, two treaties were concluded by British officials with the Aboriginal allies of France. Sir William Johnson, superintendent of the Indian Department, secured a treaty with France's Aboriginal allies at Swegatchy while General James Murray, Commander of the British forces, concluded another with the Huron-Wendate. These treaties brought about an end to more than 150 years of relations and alliances between France and the Aboriginal people of the St. Lawrence Valley.

By the mid 18th century, both France and Great Britain had established complex systems of alliances with different and competing Aboriginal groups. Throughout New France, into Acadia and down the Mississippi Valley, French authorities developed a mutually dependent relationship primarily with the Huron, Algonquians, Mi'kmaq, Innu and converted Iroquois. In France's near-constant conflict with Great Britain, France's Aboriginal allies proved to be indispensable as their guerrilla tactics compensated for the small number of French soldiers in New France. Great Britain centred its Aboriginal alliances on its diplomatic relationship with the Iroquois Confederacy. With the outbreak of the Seven Year War with France, many Aboriginal allies remain neutral. Concerned that their position in North America is threatened, British officials create the Indian Department in 1755 and appoint Sir William Johnson as Superintendant of the Northern District.

In the first years of the Seven Years War 1755 to 1758, France dominated the conflicts mainly because of the superior fighting skills of France's allies and Britain's poorly organised defences. In 1758, as Great Britain focussed its attention upon the North American front, France began to fall back, faced by a well coordinated British attack. One after another, major French positions, such as Louisbourg, Fort Frontenac, Fort Niagara and Québec, fell to the advancing British forces. By the summer of 1760, Montreal was the sole surviving French position of any importance.

That summer, a large military force was being assembled for the final assault on Montreal. More than 18,000 troops, divided into three armies, were converging on the island of Montreal, one up from Québec, one down the Richelieu River and the other up the St. Lawrence from Lake Ontario. Although the French forces at Montreal were cut off from the remaining troops in New France, the British military was concerned by the presence of the nearly 800 allied warriors in and around the city. In August 1760, Sir William Johnson sent a message to the chiefs of France's Aboriginal allies requesting their neutrality in this final phase of the conflict.

Johnson's efforts were rewarded by the arrival of a delegation of representatives at Swegatchy on Lake Ontario near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River on August 28th. On August 30th, after several hours of deliberations with the 30 representatives, Johnson successfully negotiated the neutrality of the Seven Nations. As part of the agreement, the Seven Nations agreed to abandon the French and assume a position of neutrality for the remainder of the conflict. Through this agreement, the British removed more than 800 Aboriginal warriors from the French forces and allowed British forces to move down the St. Lawrence and through its dangerous rapids without fear of attack.

By the first days September, all three British armies were positioned around Montreal. On the evening of September 4th, representatives of the Huron-Wendate went to meet with General James Murray, commander of the British forces at Longueuil and declare their neutrality in the conflict. During the discussions, the British commander assured them that they were free to return unmolested to their village near Québec City. The next morning, General Murray issued a document presented to the Huron-Wendate representatives. Through this document, the Huron-Wendate were declared to be under Murray's protection and were to be unmolested as their return to their village, that they had the right to exercise their religion and customs, and that they were free to trade with the British. Armed with this new agreement, the Huron-Wendate warriors, the last Aboriginal people still standing alongside the French, stood aside from the conflict. Three days later, on September 8th, French governor Vaudreuil surrendered.

One week after the start of the siege, on September 14th and 15th, Sir William Johnson held another meeting with representatives of the Seven Nations at Kahnawake. While the meeting at Swegatchy had set out preliminary promises for both parties, the conference at Kahnawake undertook official meetings with the representatives of the British Crown. Although the written proceedings of the meetings have not survived, colonial records and oral history show that the treaty terms were four-fold: members of the Seven Nations would have free movement throughout their traditional territories without fear of molestation by British troops; they would also maintain their same privileges as they enjoyed during the French regime; the Seven Nations alliance with France would be forgotten and that they would be treated as friends of the British without fear of reprisals; and, the Seven Nations would continue to hold their lands, both villages and hunting territories.

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