GOUENTAGRANDI, baptized Suzanne; Oneida woman who saved the life of Father Pierre Millet after his capture by the Iroquois in 1689; died in Caughnawaga after 1738.
Gouentagrandi is described as being of the “first nobility” of her tribe. She was related to Gannassatiron who helped her to protect Millet. Throughout her lifetime Gouentagrandi was one of the staunchest adherents of the French faction among her people.
Little is known about her life prior to 1691. In that year Father Millet wrote that he had baptized her, together with her daughter and husband (chief Manchot) on a previous visit to the Oneidas. This was probably between 1671 and 1684. He added that since that time she had saved not only his own life but the lives of several French who had been taken prisoner by the Iroquois.
Father Millet was captured in 1689 by the Onondagas, during the siege of Fort Frontenac. He was handed over to the Oneidas and taken to their chief town. Gouentagrandi went out to greet him as he neared the town, unbound his hands, and provided him with fresh clothing. Her husband, who was given charge of the prisoner, informed the Oneidas that Millet came as a missionary, not as a captive, and that it was the business of the hereditary chiefs, not the ordinary people, to decide his fate. Millet lived in Gouentagrandi’s house for three weeks, awaiting the meeting that was to consider what should be done with him. Gouentagrandi looked after him during this period and brought him children to baptize and Christian Indians for confession. After the warriors returned from their attack on Lachine, she had to move Millet from one cabin to another to conceal him.
There is little doubt that Gouentagrandi played an important role in the Iroquois council’s decision to turn Millet over to her kinsman Gannassatiron. She probably also encouraged Gannassatiron to adopt Millet and to have him made a sachem. Thereafter, Millet was able to live among the Oneidas as an honoured and influential “guest,” but although he was adopted by Gannassatiron, Millet continued to live in Gouentagrandi’s cabin. She was outspoken in her opposition to English demands that the Oneidas should expel him from their country. She is also credited with foiling a Mohawk plot to kidnap Millet on the pretext of having him come to confess some Christians living among them.
In September 1693, Gouentagrandi accompanied the Oneida sachem, Tareha*, on his unenviable mission to inform Buade* de Frontenac that the French would have to negotiate the peace with the Oneidas through the English officials at Albany. Gouentagrandi is reported to have accompanied Tareha because of her desire to meet Frontenac. Charlevoix* reports that in spite of his anger at Tareha’s mission Frontenac was extremely flattered by Gouentagrandi’s visit and “seemed to regard this woman as something more than an Iroquois squaw.” Charlevoix drew an affectionate and naïve parallel between her visit to Frontenac and that paid by the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon.
In 1696, when French soldiers under the command of Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil attacked the Oneida village, Gouentagrandi (described in the Jesuit Relations as “the famous Christian woman of Onneiout who saved father millet’s life”) came out to meet them and offered to go with 80 of her tribe to live among the Iroquois who had already settled in Canada. While she was back in the village advising her people to surrender, the French attacked the settlement and burned it. After the attack, 30 Oneida surrendered to the French and were taken back to Canada. These must have included Gouentagrandi, who from this time appears to have lived at Sault-Saint-Louis (Caughnawaga). The Senecas under Tekanoet stayed at her house en route to the 1701 peace conference at Montreal. Charlevoix saw her there in 1708 and in 1738 she visited Quebec where she was received by the governor at the Château Saint-Louis. She also visited the convents of the city, including that of the Ursulines. She was reported at that time to be over 100 years old. In his History of New France, published in 1744, Charlevoix reports that she died “in a happy old age, after long edifying that town [Caughnawaga] by the constant practice of all Christian virtues.”
Charlevoix, History (Shea), IV, 244–45. JR (Thwaites), LXIV, 67–107; LXV, 27. E. J. Devine, Historic Caughnawaga (Montreal, 1922), 113–14. [The evidence in JR (Thwaites), LXV, 27, makes it unlikely that Gouentagrandi moved to Caughnawaga in 1694, as Devine claims; the suggestion that Gouentagrandi was married to Tareha also seems erroneous. b.g.t.]