HomeOntarioThe Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 4

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 4

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 4

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 3.

Mackinac

Henry and his crew paddled over to the mainland and disembarked on the shores of Michilimackinac Country. They proceeded to Fort Michilimackinac, an old French fur trading post. No sooner had Henry’s voyageurs procured a room for their employer than, against his orders, they revealed his true identity to the fort’s French traders. The fur traders politely informed Henry that he had put himself in grave danger by coming to Michilimackinac, and advised him to make for Detroit while he still had the chance. Henry thanked the Frenchman for their concern but assured them that he resolved to stay, whatever the dangers.

Fort Michilimackinac

The traders had hardly delivered their warning when Henry received word that the entire Chippewa (Ojibwa) band from Mackinac Island were on their way to the fort to welcome him and his voyageurs to their country. Henry hastily secured the interpretive services of a French trader named Farley, who was married to a Chippewa woman.

“At two o’clock in the afternoon,” wrote Henry, “the Chippewa came to my house, about sixty in number, and headed by Minavavana, their chief. They walked in single file, each with his tomahawk in one hand and scalping knife in the other.

“Their bodies were naked from the waist upward, except in a few examples where blankets were thrown loosely over the shoulders. Their faces were painted with charcoal, worked up with grease; their bodies with white clay in patterns of various fancies. Some had feathers thrust through their noses, and their heads decorated with the same.”

Ojibwa warriors.

The natives silently entered Henry’s cabin and sat on the floor. Then, through Farley, Chief Minavavana revealed his knowledge of the fact that Henry was an Englishman, remarking that he must be a brave man to wander into the territory of his enemies. The chief and his followers proceeded to fill their pipes and smoke them silently. When they were finished, the chief stood up and made a long and eloquent speech in which he explained that the “father” of the Ojibwa people, King Louis XVI of France, had asked his children to make war on the English. Many Ojibwa warriors had perished in carrying out this request, and their spirits would only be satisfied by the spilling of English blood or the giving of gifts. Since the English had not yet given any presents to the Ojibwa, the two nations were still at war. Yet because Henry had arrived with much-needed trade goods and had no intention of warring with them, he was welcome in Michilimackinac and would not be harmed. With that, the chief presented Henry with a pipe of friendship. Henry took three puffs, whereupon the pipe was passed around and smoked by everyone in the room. The Englishman then shook hands with the chief and all the Ojibwa warriors.

When the ceremony had finally ended, the chief asked Henry if his braves might be allowed to taste his rum, which they called “English milk”. They were curious to know if there was any difference between it and the brandy which they had acquired from the French in the past. “My adventure on leaving Fort William Augustus,” wrote Henry, “had left an impression on my mind which made me tremble when Indians asked for rum; and I would therefore willingly have excused myself in this particular; but being informed that it was customary to comply with the request, and withal satisfied with the friendly declarations which I had received, I promised to give them a small cask at parting.”

Henry proceeded to make a speech of his own, in which he declared that he knew the Ojibwa were a people of good character, and that they ought to regard the King of England as their new father, as the King of France had surrendered to him. If they treated Henry well, then he would return home and tell his countrymen of the good treatment he received at their hands, and other Englishmen would be encouraged to bring their own trade goods to Michilimackinac. When the Ojibwa appeared to be satisfied by his words, he gifted them a present that he had prepared which, as he had promised, included a small quantity of rum.

The be continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 5.

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I'm a Western Canadian writer, carver, and fiddler who has a special place in his heart for history and the unexplained.

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