Louis-Hector de Callière
French, 1648 - 1703

Note: All narratives about people are, to the extent possible, based on primary and secondary historical sources. Some narratives necessarily contain invented, yet plausible, scenarios and personal attributes. Please see About This Narrative to learn more about how this person's narrative was created.

Louis-Hector de Callière - Prologue | The Great Peace | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

1648 – 1701

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Louis-Hector de Callière, governor-general of New France from 1699 until his death in 1703, achieved a great diplomatic success in negotiating the Great Peace of 1701 between New France and 38 Native nations.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Louis-Hector de Callière, governor-general of New France at the time of the Great Peace of 1701, was something of a paradox. On one hand, his colleagues considered him the opposite of diplomatic—his contemporary Bacqueville de La Potherie, the naval comptroller and historian, called him "hard and insensitive." La Potherie also portrayed Callière as vain and self-important, demanding exaggerated displays of honor and respect from others while treating political rivals rudely. On the other hand, Callière was a skillful diplomat and negotiator when it came to dealing with Native nations. He showed sensitivity in following their diplomatic protocols and rituals, and in his apparent understanding of their views of the issues.

A Noble French Family

Louis-Hector de Callière was born in the province of Normandy, France, on November 12, 1648. His parents were members of the nobility. They were lords (seigneurs) of hereditary estates called seigneuries and had ties to powerful people in the government and military. Thanks to his connections, Louis-Hector's father Jacques became a brigadier-general in the army of Louis XIV and the mayor of the town of Cherbourg. While serving as mayor, he also wrote several books. Louis-Hector's older brother, François, was also a diplomat and a writer. François was one of three negotiators representing Louis XIV at the Treaty of Ryswyck (1697), which ended the Nine Years' War. He wrote an influential book about the role of ambassadors. Perhaps most important for Louis-Hector's career, François became a private secretary to Louis XIV, a position of great power and influence—which he more than once wielded on his brother's behalf.

From Soldier to Governor of Montreal

Louis-Hector entered the French army when he was about 16 years old. He became an infantry captain and fought in several of Louis XIV's European campaigns. It is not clear when he sailed to New France, but in 1684 he was appointed governor of Montreal. At the time, New France and the Rotinonsionni (Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy) were at war, as they often were, and Montreal, as the southwestern-most large French settlement, was vulnerable to attack. It was also the staging area for French attacks on the Iroquois. The governor of Montreal therefore had to be a military leader, a role that Callière filled well. The governor-general of New France, Brisay de Denonville, soon made Callière second in command for the whole colony.

One of Callière's first acts as governor of Montreal was to erect a palisade around the town to protect it from Native attacks. In 1687, Callière and Phillipe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, his rival for power and successor as governor of New France, accompanied Governor Denonville on an expedition against the Senecas. Callière and Vaudreuil gained important experience in conducting campaigns in Native territory, although little actual fighting took place. The expedition sacked and burned four deserted Seneca villages and their fields and stores of corn, but served only to increase attacks on New France by the Iroquois, now spurred by the desire for revenge.

Callière was not just a soldier, but a strategist with a broad vision. He and Denonville devised a bold plan to contain the Rotinonsionni by conquering the English colony of New York. Such a conquest would deprive the Iroquois of English arms and trade, making them dependent on the French, and add the excellent harbor of New York City as well as the colony's fertile farmlands to the French king's holdings. Callière traveled to France in 1688, when England and France were still at peace, to present this plan to Louis XIV. The king approved the plan, but it was abandoned when the warships essential to its success were delayed.

The Nine Years' War began, and with France and England again at war, Iroquois attacks on New France increased. Callière fortified the seigneuries along the St. Lawrence River and organized sorties against Rotinonsionni war parties. In 1694, his military prowess was recognized with the Croix de Saint-Louis, the highest honor in France. Callière's strategy at this time was to keep up the military pressure on the Iroquois to weaken them, but not to destroy them entirely. As he wrote to the minister of the marine, the Iroquois had to stay "strong enough that the fear that our Odawas [Ottawas, Native ally of New France from the Great Lakes region] may have of them still serves as a barrier to prevent them from going over to the English to seek a good market for their merchandise." (1) As the architect of the Great Peace of 1701, Calliere's views changed later, but at this point he saw conflict between New France's Great Lakes Native allies and the Rotinonsionni as essential to French trade networks.

Despite suffering from gout—which may well have contributed to his irritable disposition—Callière led another large expedition of 2,000 men against the Onondagas in 1696. Governor-General Frontenac was the nominal leader of the expedition, but because of his age (74), he was carried in a chair at the rear of the army. Perhaps in preparation for this expedition, Callière complained to Frontenac that he could not "find men enough to march in snow-shoes, carry and draw ammunition and stores so far, and storm a town in the very heart of the enemy's country" (2) —a statement revealing of his experience with frontier warfare. As in the expedition against the Senecas, the Onondagas abandoned their towns before the army arrived—so there was no real battle—and the French laid waste to Onondaga and Oneida towns and fields of corn. This blow, along with attacks by the western Native nations, brought the once-mighty Rotinonsionni to the point of seeking peace with the French and their Native allies.

Governor-General of New France

When Frontenac died in 1698, Callière was able to use his brother's influence at court to win the appointment as Frontenac's successor. As second-in-command, Callière had become acting governor-general upon Frontenac's death, but he had to compete with Vaudreuil for the permanent position. Both men sent emissaries to King Louis XIV. Callière's emissary reached Versailles first—by a matter of hours—and gained quick access to Louis-Hector's brother, François de Callière, and thereby to the king. Louis-Hector de Callière was officially appointed governor-general of New France in 1699.

"The policy of a governor of Canada does not consist so much in taking care of the French who are within the scope of his government as in maintaining a close union with the savage Nations that are his Allies," wrote Governor Callière. (3) This was a difficult task, given the many competing interests and traditional rivalries among the Native groups and Callière's duty to enforce edicts from Louis XIV and his ministers in France. One such edict banned fur trading in western Canada, a response to the glut of beaver furs on the French market. Callière recognized that this would endanger alliances with the western Native nations.

The Rotinonsionni, long-time English allies, were being pressured by the English government of New York not to make a separate peace with New France after the end of the Nine Years' War. However, the English did not provide any military assistance to help defend the Rotinonsionni against attacks by Native allies of the French from the Great Lakes region. Trying to remain independent and neutral between the two European powers, Onondaga and Oneida ambassadors made several trips to Montreal in 1699 to negotiate with the new governor, Callière. Over the next year, negotiations inched forward in Montreal and Onondaga (council fire of the Confederacy). Divisions within the Five Nations made it difficult for them to speak with one voice to the French, and Callière objected to delegations that did not include representatives of all the Iroquois nations.

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Representation of the seating order of the Iroquois Confederacy council fire.
Illustration by Juliet Jacobson, based on an illustration by George Armstrong in The Great Tree and the Longhouse by Hazel W. Hertzberg (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966).

Toward the Great Peace

A preliminary agreement was reached after Callière sent to Onondaga three trusted ambassadors who had lived among the Iroquois, knew their languages, and were well skilled in Native diplomacy—Father Jacques Bruyas, Chabert de Joncaire, and Le Moyne de Maricourt. Nineteen Iroquois delegates went to Montreal in September, 1700, and concluded a treaty almost a year before the Great Peace ceremonies in August of 1701. It included essentially the same provisions as the Great Peace document, but only a few of the Native allies from the Great Lakes region were present.

Governor Callière knew that some strenuous diplomacy was needed to bring his Native allies from the Great Lakes region into the agreement. As he stated in his opening remarks at the Great Peace ceremony: "Given that last year there were here only representatives of the Huron and the Ottawa when I made peace with the Iroquois for myself and all my allies, I deemed it necessary to send the Sieur de Courtemanche, and the Reverend Father Enjalran, to all of the other nations my allies that were absent to apprise them of what had taken place and to invite them to send Chiefs of each with the Iroquois prisoners in their possession in order that they may all listen together to my word." (4) Callière sent his ambassadors with multiple belts of wampum to confirm his message, and they split up and traveled all around the Great Lakes to deliver the message to the many nations there. They were assisted by several allied chiefs, notably Kondiaronk of the Huron (Wendat)-Petuns, who gave gifts to persuade reluctant leaders.

The stage was set for the Great Peace negotiations in late July-early August, 1701, in Montreal.

Louis-Hector de Callière - Prologue | The Great Peace | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

The Great Peace
August 4, 1701

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After days of private audiences with ambassadors from various Native nations, Governor Louis-Hector de Callière presided over the splendid ceremony in which the Great Peace treaty was signed.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

From the elevated platform on which he sat, shaded by a leafy arbor and surmounted by the French royal crest, Governor Louis-Hector de Callière looked with satisfaction at the colorful scene in front of him. He had been working toward this day for several years, and in the last few days had prevailed through some delicate issues that threatened its success.

In a broad field outside the walls of Montreal, he had a great arena built. It was 72 feet long by 28 feet wide and surrounded by a double enclosure of tree branches. Within this arena were arrayed 1300 Native ambassadors in all manner of finery, a mixture of Native dress and European accents. Some wore the French coats adorned with lace and gold braid that Callière had given to his best allies, along with their furs, face paint, and headdresses of deer antlers or feathers. Montreal citizens from all ranks of society were also in the crowd—priests, tradesmen, gentlemen, and ladies dressed in their finest. Around the enclosure stood impressive numbers of French soldiers.

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The French royal crest was mounted above Governor-General de Callière, symbolic of his connection to the greater power of France and King Louis XIV. Central to the crest is the fleur-de-lis, first adopted in the late 12th or early 13th century to symbolize the French royal family. Click here for more information.
Courtesy of Quebec City Archives, Canada.

The ceremony was conducted according to the diplomatic traditions of the Native nations, as the negotiations leading up to this day had been. It had taken several days for all of the nations to assemble, some having come from nearby Iroquoia and some from great distances. Delegates from the Native nations around the Great Lakes arrived in 200 canoes, which they massed together as they approached Montreal. Governor Callière, called Onontio by the Natives, greeted them with gifts and ceremony. Over the next few days, he held private audiences with delegations from individual nations in the courtyard of his home. Each meeting was accompanied by the exchange of gifts. Callière had to be especially generous to counter the Natives' disappointment at the low prices Montreal merchants were paying for the furs they had brought to trade.

Some of the delicate issues discussed in the separate sessions were trade, prisoner exchanges, hunting territory, and Iroquois neutrality in wars between New France and New England. The prisoner issue almost scuttled the peace process because, although the Native allies from the Great Lakes region brought their Iroquois prisoners to the conference for return to their people, the Rotinonsionni did not bring their own prisoners in exchange. Callière intervened by offering to hold the Iroquois prisoners returned by the Great Lakes nations until the Iroquois returned their captives. La Potherie reports Callière telling the Iroquois not to "fail to redeem the error that you made by leaving them in your villages . . . in order that I may also satisfy my Allies . . . and convince them of your sincerity, so that starting this winter you can hunt together in peace. . . ." (5)

The death of the Wendat (Huron) chief Kondiaronk, who had been a staunch ally in negotiating this peace, was another delicate matter that required Callière to follow Native protocols. Kondiaronk died of an epidemic that spread at the conference and threatened the lives of many Native delegates. Callière spared no effort in demonstrating his own and his government's grief at the loss of this great chief. (Rituals relating to condolence were very important to Iroquoian peoples in particular; the Condolence Ceremony is central to Rotinonsionni Council meetings.) He and his ministers visited the hut where Kondiaronk's body was lying in state to pay their respects, and mounted an elaborate funeral the next day. Sixty French troops escorted the funeral procession of Wendats, Ottawas, and French dignitaries to the church of Notre Dame, where Kondiaronk was buried after a Catholic service.

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This Iroquois wampum belt is believed to have been given at the Great Peace of 1701. Click here for more information.
Courtesy Parks Canada, Ottawa.

Callière's Address to the Assembly

The next day, August 4th, was the great assembly in which the peace was ratified. Callière was the first to speak: "I am extremely joyous to see here now assembled all of my children, you Hurons, Sable Ottawas, Kiskakons, Sinago Ottawas, Nation of the Fork, Saulteaux [Ojibwas], Potawatomis, Sauks, Stinkards [Winnebagos], Wild Rice People [Meonminees], Fox, Mascoutens, Miamis, Illinois, Amikwas, Nipissings, Algonkins, Timiskamings, Crees, Inland People, Kickapoos, people of the Sault, from La Montagne, Abenakis and you the Iroquois nations, having one and all placed your interests in my hands that I may have you all live in tranquility; I thereby ratify today the peace concluded last August, my will being that there be no more talk of the blows struck during the war, and I seize once more all your hatchets, and all your other war instruments that I place with my own in a pit so deep that no one may take them back to trouble the tranquility that I am restoring between my Children, recommending when you meet that you treat each other like brothers and that you accommodate one another in matters of hunting, in order that there be no quarrels among you, and so that this peace will not be troubled, I repeat what I have already said in the treaty that we have concluded, that should one of my children hit another, the one who will have been hit shall not take revenge, neither himself nor through another, but that he will seek me out so that I may obtain redress, declaring to you that if the party at fault refused to give reasonable satisfaction, I would join the offended party with my other allies to compel him to do so, something I doubt could happen, given the obedience owed to me by my children who will remember what it is we are all agreeing to presently and in order that they not forget, I am tying my words to the necklaces that I will be handing to each of your nations so that your elders effect these upon your youth, I invite you all to smoke this peace calumet, which I will do first, and to eat this meat and this broth which I am having prepared for you so that I may have like a good father, the satisfaction of seeing all of my children united. I will keep this calumet that was offered to me by the Miami so that I can have you smoke it when you come to see me." (6)

After Callière spoke, 18 orators representing the 39 other nations spoke and vowed to abide by the treaty. All signed the document. Then Callière began smoking the large calumet (peace pipe) that the Miami chief Chichicatalo had given him. The pipe was passed to all the French and Native dignitaries to solemnize the treaty. A feast followed, in which everyone ate the meat of three oxen that had been cooked in ten cauldrons. Eating from the same kettle had symbolic significance for the treaty, in which the nations agreed to share the same hunting grounds as they shared the feast kettle, like brothers.

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The Native delegates signed the treaty with pictographs representing their clan or nation; a French scribe added the identifying labels. For example, Aronhiateka and Mechayon signed with deer (clan) symbols for the local Iroquois people of the Sault and La Montagne. Click here to link to the Great Peace document.
Courtesy Centre historique des Archives nationales, Paris.

Louis-Hector de Callière - Prologue | The Great Peace | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


Louis-Hector de Callière, Governor-General of New France, achieved a diplomatic masterwork in orchestrating the Great Peace of 1701. As he wrote to Pontchartrain, the minister of the marine: "the separate peace made with the Iroquois in 1700, and which was made common in 1701 to all the known savage Nations, achieved for the King a certain, indisputable superiority in Canada over all New England." (7) Not only did the Great Peace end Iroquois attacks against French colonial settlements, which had been a drain on the settlements' ability to thrive, but it also won the neutrality of the Rotinonsionni in conflicts with the English—at least during the European powers' next war. When the War of the Spanish Succession set France and England against one another again in 1702, the Great Peace affected the fate of New England settlements. Minister Pontchartrain urged Callière to mount a large-scale attack against New York. Callière felt that this would test Iroquois neutrality too severely, and instead pursued a strategy of enlisting other Native nations to make raids on New England. At a meeting in December, 1702, Callière appealed to the Eastern Wôbanakiak (Abenakis) in Maine to attack English settlements there. He told them that the plunder they won from their raids would be combined with gifts from the French to give them a better income than they could enjoy if they remained at peace.

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Portrait (circa 1907) of Governor-General Louis-Hector de Calliere. Click here for more information.
Courtesy National Archives of Canada, Ottawa.

Before Callière could see his strategy carried out, he suffered a hemorrhage and died, on May 16, 1703. On the day before he died, he dictated a will, asking to be buried in the church of the Recollet fathers—with the exception of his heart, which he asked to be saved in a small casket for his brother François to claim. As he had never married, he left a few possessions to his personal aides and the balance to François. There is no record that François ever came from France to take possession of Louis-Hector's heart.

Louis-Hector de Callière - Prologue | The Great Peace | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

This narrative is factual, with the exception of the imagined detail of Callière's feeling of satisfaction as he surveyed the scene of the Great Peace ceremony. Most of the sources used are secondary (see Further Reading), but these sources include quotations from Callière's own writings (from the French national archives) and from the work of first-hand observers Bacqueville de La Potherie and Father Charlevoix. This narrative was written by Freda Brackley.

See Further Reading for a list of sources used in creating this narrative. For a discussion of issues related to telling people's stories on the site, see: Bringing History to Life: The People in The Many Stories of 1704.

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