ATIRONTA (Aëoptahon), Jean-Baptiste, a captain in the Huron Indian village of Cahiagué (near Hawkestone, Ontario), the largest in the Ahrendarrhonon (Rock) nation; d. 1650.
Atironta’s original name was Aëoptahon, and it was on his selection as chief in 1642 that he took the name of a former chief Atironta (fl. 1615). The leading men of the country had been called together and, as a mark of friendship for the French and because the earlier Atironta had been the first of the Hurons to meet the French in Quebec, the French who were then in the Huron country were also invited to attend and, furthermore, to name a successor. They declined, and the relatives of the dead Atironta chose Aëoptahon. The new chief, in accepting the name, took on the responsibilities of the dead chief, thus “resuscitating” the former Atironta, or bringing him back to life. This custom of renaming, or passing on the name of a dead person, was practised generally by the Hurons and, when a chieftainship was involved, was celebrated with great pomp and splendour.
When the mission of Saint-Jean-Baptiste had been founded at Cahiagué, in 1639–40, Atironta had shared his lodging with Fathers Antoine Daniel and Simon Le Moyne. When feelings rose high against the missionaries, he sheltered them and assembled a council of elders before whom the fathers could declare publicly their innocence of the calumnies directed against them.
In 1642 Atironta and his brother were chiefs in a war-party against the Iroquois. His brother was captured, but Atironta escaped. He believed that his faith in God had saved him, because, before setting out, he had defied a demon who came in a dream to threaten him for his Christian leanings. On his return he was baptized and given the name Jean-Baptiste. He was the first adult Christian in good health at that mission. To demonstrate his joy, a splendid feast was held, with speeches.
Atironta took part in the peace council of 1645 which was attended by Iroquois, Hurons, Algonkins, and French at Trois-Rivières. This meeting was one of great moment in Indian history, being the last serious attempt to form an alliance that would ensure peace by allowing the Iroquois a share in the lucrative fur trade that had then developed between the Hurons and Algonkins and the French. At the conclusion Atironta spoke loudly and resolutely, rejoicing in the unity of the nations and admonishing the Iroquois to “betray no one. As for us, know that we have sound hearts.”
During the winter of 1645–46, he and his family resided at the Hôtel-Dieu at Quebec. Ceremonies of baptism were completed for Catherine, his wife, and Mathieu, his small son, in the chapel at Quebec on 23 Dec. 1645. They sat in the governor’s pew. Catherine received her first communion at midnight when the Christmas choral mass was accompanied by a violin and a German flute which proved to be out of tune. A cannon was shot at midnight as mass began. Candles lit the chapel which was heated by two great kettles; a few hours later the floor under one kettle caught fire.
In January 1646 Atironta was sought out by a Huron, Tandihetsi, to represent his tribe at Trois-Rivières in a council called as a result of the uneasiness of the Algonkins on hearing the rumour, afterwards proven to be true, that they had been left out of the 1645 peace-treaty by the Iroquois and the French [see Kiotseaeton, Pieskaret]. Atironta left on 12 January and returned on the 27th, the council having “ended in nothing.”
Visiting at Montreal in 1646, Atironta was impressed with the fine crop of corn and planned to settle his family there. The Jesuits hoped that Atironta’s prestige among his people would influence other Hurons to do likewise. The Jesuits believed that if the Indians, particularly the Hurons, could be taught to live as Europeans, they would be more readily converted to Christianity, and also would be more valuable allies of the French, particularly at this time when attack from the Iroquois was imminent and the colony at Montreal especially vulnerable.
In 1647 Atironta again represented his people in an attempt to avert war with the Iroquois. While the Huron chief Ondaaiondiont was engaged in making an alliance with the Susquehannahs, Atironta with four other Hurons visited the Onondagas seeking a separate peace. In this way the Hurons hoped to divide and weaken the Iroquois forces. The journey required 20 days, followed by a month of treating, and a return journey of 30 days, for although the distance was not great, the danger from enemy attack along the route necessitated long detours. The Huron mission bore furs as presents and received in return wampum belts of 3,000 and 4,000 beads each. They had hoped for the freedom of some 100 Huron captives who were held by the Onondagas but only 15 were allowed to return with the peace mission.
In June 1650, Atironta, after wintering at Quebec, was returning to his own country with a party of Hurons and Frenchmen which included Father Bressani, when he and seven others were killed by a band of Iroquois. A few days later the party met the French and Hurons who, after the destruction of the Huron missions by the Iroquois, were escaping from the Huron country under Father Ragueneau.