CHABERT DE JONCAIRE, LOUIS-THOMAS, esquire, called Sononchiez by the Iroquois, member of the governor’s guards and lieutenant in the colonial regular troops, agent and interpreter for New France among the Iroquois; born in Saint-Rémi de Provence, near Arles, c. 1670; died at Fort Niagara, 29 June 1739.
The son of Antoine-Marie de Joncaire, esquire, and Gabrielle Hardi, Joncaire probably came to Canada in the late 1680s as cavalry sergeant in the governor’s guards. Soon after his arrival he was captured by the Senecas, who decided to put him to death. What happened immediately afterwards is uncertain. In 1709 Joncaire told the intendant, Antoine-Denis Raudot, that when one of the chiefs tried to burn his fingers as a preliminary torment, he struck him in the face with his fist and broke his nose. This display of spirit had so impressed the Senecas that they not only spared his life but also adopted him into their tribe. Joncaire’s son, Daniel*, makes no mention of such an incident in a memoir written shortly after 1760. He simply states that his father had been captured by the Senecas and was about to be burnt when he was adopted by one of the women of the tribe. Whatever may be the correct version, there can be no doubt that an intimate relationship between the Iroquois and Joncaire began during his captivity and lasted until his death many years later. The Indians, on the one hand, gave him their friendship and their trust. Joncaire, on the other, mastered their language and acquired a complete understanding of their mentality. He was thus in a position to render precious services to New France whenever there were negotiations to be conducted with this important tribe.
With Father Bruyas and Paul Le Moyne de Maricourt, Joncaire played a significant role in the discussions that led to the peace treaty of 1701, ending the second Iroquois war. In the summer of 1700 these three men accompanied two Onondaga and four Seneca chiefs to the Iroquois cantons and managed to prevail upon all the nations except the Mohawks to send an official delegation to Canada to negotiate a treaty with the French and their native allies. During the War of the Spanish Succession which broke out in 1702, he and Charles Le Moyne de Longueuil, who wielded great influence over the Onondagas, were chosen by Governor Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil to carry out the most important part of his wartime policy – preserving Iroquois neutrality. To achieve this end, Joncaire alternately appealed to the interests of the Senecas by presenting them with gifts and played upon their fears by threatening them with an attack by the western Indians if they should break their treaty with New France. For such a threat to carry weight it was important that the Iroquois pursue their traditional policy of excluding the western Indians from the Albany trade; if they granted them a right of way to that city, as the halfbreed agent Montour, who was employed by the New York merchants, was urging them to do, the western Indians would no longer have compelling reasons to make war on the Five Nations should the French ask them to do so.
On Vaudreuil’s orders Joncaire set out to eliminate Montour. In the summer of 1709 the two men and their followers met by accident in Iroquois country. Feigning friendliness, Joncaire invited Montour to smoke with him and produced some tobacco. The Albany agent accepted and took out his knife to cut it. Joncaire then remarked on the smallness of the knife and asked for it so that he might give him a better one. Not suspecting anything, Montour handed his knife to the Frenchman. The latter immediately flung it away and one of his followers then crushed Montour’s skull with a hatchet which had been concealed under his coat.
As this incident shows, Joncaire did not hesitate to use deceit when it served his purpose, although his success with the Indians appears to have been due primarily to his ability to establish a psychological link with them. This was strikingly demonstrated in August 1711. New France was being threatened with an English attack and Vaudreuil had summoned 800 Indians from a dozen different tribes to Montreal to renew the alliance with them. The crucial moment came during a banquet on 7 August when these allies were asked to declare themselves against the English. It was then that Joncaire and Michel Maray de La Chauvignerie, who served Longueuil as interpreter among the Onondagas, stood up before the assembly, brandished hatchets, and broke into the war song. Soon all the Indians joined in, thus asserting their solidarity with the French.
It was again thanks to Joncaire that New France was able to build a fort at Niagara, on Seneca territory, in 1720. This was a location of great strategic importance, for it commanded the portage around the falls which was used by a great number of western Indians when they travelled towards the English and French settlements for purposes of trade. When Vaudreuil learned that the English were planning to occupy it he sent Joncaire to the Senecas with instructions to gain their assent to a French post. Early in 1720, Joncaire presented himself at their settlements and convened an assembly of the chiefs. When they had gathered he informed them that he had always derived much pleasure from his visits among them. In fact, he went on, he would come even more frequently if he had a house of his own to which he could withdraw. The chiefs replied that as one of their sons he was free to build a house for himself wherever he chose. This is what Joncaire had been hoping to hear. He hurried to Fort Frontenac, chose eight soldiers, and proceeded directly to Niagara. On the east side of the river, some eight miles below the falls, the group built a trading house and displayed the French colours. By this somewhat unscrupulous exploitation of the Seneca trust in him, Joncaire had once more gained his ends.
Joncaire commanded at Niagara until 1726. In 1723 he again demonstrated his great influence over the Iroquois by obtaining their permission to replace the original trading house by a wooden stockade large enough to hold 300 defenders. In 1731, he was chosen by Governor Charles de Beauharnois* de La Boische to command a group of Shawnees who had migrated from the Susquehanna to the Allegheny River. His mission was to prevent them from trading with the English and if possible to induce them to move their village farther west, preferably to Detroit, where French influence was greater. Joncaire was apparently working at this task when he died at Fort Niagara on 29 June 1739.
On 1 March 1706, in Montreal, he had married Marie-Madeleine Le Gay, the 17-year-old daughter of Jean-Jérôme Le Gay, Sieur de Beaulieu, merchant and bourgeois of Montreal, and Madeleine Just. Of the ten children born of this marriage between 1707 and 1723, two played a part in the colony’s history. The eldest son, Philippe-Thomas*, was presented by his father to the Senecas at the age of ten, became a captain in the colonial regular troops, and died in Canada shortly after the conquest. His brother Daniel, known as the Sieur de Chabert et de Clausonne, was a prominent figure in the Niagara region during the Seven Years War. Implicated in “the Canada affair,” he spent some time in the Bastille following the conquest and after his release returned to America to die at Detroit in 1771. According to Bacqueville de La Potherie [Le Roy], Joncaire also had had a wife among the Iroquois whom he had married in the 1690s.
Courageous and arrogant, ruthless and unscrupulous, hated and feared by the English whose intrigues and designs he so frequently uncovered and disrupted, admired by the Iroquois who considered him one of their own, Joncaire was a mighty agent of French influence among the Indians for over 40 years. It was with men like him that France built her wilderness empire in America.
AN, Col., C11A, 18–70 contains a great number of references to Joncaire. AJM, Greffe d’Antoine Adhémar, 1 March 1706. Charlevoix, Histoire. Colden, History of the Five Nations (1747). Livingston Indian Records (Leder). NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), IV, V, IX. Wraxall, An abridgement of Indian affairs (McIlwain). F. H. Severance, An old frontier of France: the Niagara region and adjacent lakes under French control (2v., New York, 1917).