A French Canadian Heroine
Marie-Madeleine Jarret de Verchères, (more often called Madeleine, and sometimes Madelon) (Tarieu de La Pérade), born 3 March 1678 at Verchères (Que.) and baptized 17 April, fourth of the 12 children of François Jarret de Verchères and Marie Perrot; buried 8 August 1747 at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (Que.).
Madeleine’s father, François Jarret, originally came from Saint-Chef, Isère, France. Born around 1641, he was about 24 when he landed at Quebec in August 1665 with the company commanded by his uncle, Antoine Pécaudy de Contrecœur, in the Régiment de Carignan. Once the Iroquois had been subdued he decided to settle in Canada, following his uncle’s example.
On 17 Sept. 1669 he married a peasant girl of twelve and a half years of age, Marie Perrot, at Sainte-Famille, Île d’Orléans. Jarret himself was not “of noble birth” as has been said: in 1672 and 1674 Frontenac sought letters of nobility for him, without success, in recognition of his continuing services.
The Early Years ...
Madeleine de Verchères - A Heroine of New France
Like many other seigneurs, M. de Verchères had a fort built for the protection of his family and censitaires: a rough, rectangular stockade 12 to 15 feet high, with a bastion at each corner; it had no moats, and a single gate, on the river side. Inside were the seigneur’s manor-house, a redoubt which served as guard-house and magazine, and probably some temporary building which could shelter the women, children, and animals in case of danger. One or two guns, probably just swivel guns intended to sound the alarm rather than repulse the enemy, completed this modest defensive system.
The years went by, and the seigneur’s children grew rapidly, at least those who survived. In 1692, when Madeleine was nearing 14 years of age, she had already lost her older brother Antoine, who had died in 1686; two brothers-in-law, both of whom had been married to Marie-Jeanne and had been killed by the Iroquois, one in 1687, the other in 1691; her brother François-Michel, also killed by the Iroquois in 1691 at 16 years of age. Six brothers and sisters came after her, their ages varying from 12 to two (two boys had not yet been born). A fine family, which seemed to attract the fury of the Iroquois.
One day in 1690 the alert had been close at the manor-house, and the little group had been in great danger. Knowing that it was almost defenceless, the Iroquois tried to scale the stockade; a few musket shots made them fall back at first. Mme de Verchères, who was 33 at that time, had only three or four men with her. She took command and repulsed the attackers several times. The siege lasted two days, and with the bearing of a veteran Mme de Verchères finally forced the enemy to retire. She had lost only one combatant, whose name was L’Espérance.
The same scene and the same peril were to be repeated two years later. Mme de Verchères would be absent this time, in Montreal, as was her husband, called to Quebec. It was Madeleine who in her 15th year would have to play the role her mother had played so well in 1690. Had she perhaps helped her at that time? Instinctively she assumed the same attitude and carried out the same actions, adding, it appears, a dash of boldness befitting her age if not her sex.
In October, Madeleine's parents left the fort on business and to gather winter supplies. Madeleine and her brothers and sisters stayed at the fort. Now fourteen, Madeleine was in charge of the fort, with one very old soldier.
One morning, some settlers left the fort to tend to the fields. Madeleine was in the cabbage garden, quite close to the fort. Suddenly, the Iroquois descended on the settlers. The men, caught off guard, fled to safety. But, the Iroquois were too quick for them and they were easily caught and carried off. Madeleine, working only 200 paces from the fort had a headstart on the Iroquois brave that was chasing her. However, the native caught up with her and grabbed her scarf. She only escaped by taking off her scarf. Madeleine ran into the fort shouting, "Aux armes! Aux armes!"
Madeleine ran to the bastions, she knew there was only one hope. Madeleine fired a musket and encouraged the people to make as much noise as possible so that the Iroquois would think there were many soldiers defending the fort. The old soldier fired the cannon to warn other forts of an attack and to call for reinforcements. The Iroquois had hoped a surprise attack would easily take the fort, so for the moment, they retreated into the bushes with their prisoners.
Thwarting a Surprise Attack ...
Madeleine and the settlers remained on guard duty for the rest of the day, frequently calling out "All's well!" to each other. Late into the evening, the settlers' cattle returned to the fort. Madeleine knew she would have to be careful. She knew that the Iroquois could be hiding with the herd covered in animal skins. Madeleine only let the cattle in once she was sure there were no Iroquois hiding in their midst. No one slept that night.
The Iroquois left eight days later, as they were convinced that the fort was heavily guarded. Reinforcements from Montreal arrived just after the Iroquois left. A tired but relieved Madeleine greeted the French lieutenant, "Monsieur, I surrender to you my arms." The reinforcements caught the Iroquois and returned the kidnapped settlers. By this time, Madeleine's parents had returned and news of Madeleine's heroic deed had spread through the colony.
Madeleine de Verchères is a true symbol of French-Canadian loyalism and national identity and her incredible story is highlighted in countless works of film and print. This Canadian “Joan of Arc’s” heroism was forever highlighted when, in 1911, a Quebec artist was commissioned to create a lasting monument of the French-Canadian heroine.
This statue of celebrated heroine Marie-Madeleine Jarret de Verchères (1678-1747) stands on Verchères Point near Montreal. It is the work of Quebec artist Louis-Philippe Hébert (1850–1917), who was commissioned in 1911 to create what was described as 'Canada's Statue of Liberty'. Governor-General Lord Grey, better known as the donator of Canadian Football's Grey Cup, was crucial in the origin of the project.
Statue of Madeleine de Verchères
Information courtesy of
Library and Archives Canada
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