Delivered at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, Washington, DC, January 2014
Abstract: The Wendat community at Jeune-Lorette was small. Located eight miles from Quebec, this village of about three hundred people risked being overwhelmed by the burgeoning French colony. Despite this threat, the community survived. It continues to exist today as a culture distinct from Quebec’s francophone population.
This paper examines the experiences of two eighteenth-century men, André Otehiondi and Sawantanan. Both men spent a significant portion of their lives away from Jeune-Lorette, building relationships with neighboring indigenous communities and serving as liaisons between these peoples and imperial officials. Following the British conquest of Quebec, Otehiondi moved from the community to live among the Wendat at Detroit. Over the next fifteen years, he lived among them and worked as a messenger for the British to indigenous communities in the western Great Lakes. In 1772 Sawantanan arrived at Moors’ Indian Charity School in Hanover, New Hampshire. Between his arrival at the school and his return to the community twenty years later, he cultivated important relationships with neighboring Abenaki and Mohawk communities. Although living hundreds of miles from their home community, both men maintained connections there. Otehiondi owned property in the village until the day he died. Sawantanan returned to the village in 1791 where he taught school until the mid-1820s. The relationships fostered by these men with distant indigenous communities shaped local Wendat decision-making and helped them cope with French expansion.
Otehiondi and Sawantanan embody Wendat strategies for maintaining connections with their indigenous neighbours. Neither man was unique. Indeed, in 1819, the community’s Grand Chief claimed about twenty people had rights in the community but lived too far away to exercise them regularly. This paper examines this strategy, situating stories like Otehiondi’s and Sawantanan’s as a response to expanding European colonialism and within Wendat practices of inter-community relationship building.