MAGNAN, PIERRE, first Frenchman known to have been tortured to death by the Iroquois; b. Tougne, in the vicinity of Lisieux, Normandy; d. 1627.
Little is known about the early life of Pierre Magnan, except that he had clubbed a man to death in France, whereupon he fled to New France. Here he became involved in the tortuous web of French-Indian diplomacy.
In 1627 Mahigan Aticq [Miristou], a Montagnais chief, informed Champlain of proposals made by the Dutch and the Mohicans at Fort Orange (Albany, New York) to Montagnais and other Indian nations that they attack the Mohawks. Champlain, who did not wish to jeopardize the peace of 1624, achieved at such cost to himself, warned the Montagnais to refuse the proposals. The Indians held a council at Trois-Rivières, which Émery de Caën attended in an endeavour to discourage the projected war. But a group of young warriors, who would not listen to the Frenchman’s advice, travelled to Lake Champlain, captured two Mohawks by feigning friendship, and brought their captives back to Trois-Rivières, where they maltreated them.
A council was held, at which Champlain again warned the Montagnais of the possible consequences of this treacherous act. The council then decided to send a peace embassy to the Mohawks, which would include one of the prisoners and also a Frenchman. Pierre Magnan agreed to join the embassy, thus undertaking a mission of great importance under the most urgent circumstances. He and the prisoner, a Montagnais chief Cherououny, known as “The Reconciled,” and two other Indians left Trois-Rivières for the Mohawk country, 24 July 1627. On 25 August, news was received at Quebec that the entire embassy had been slain upon arrival among the Mohawks.
Not until 16 April 1629 were there explanations of the fate of the embassy. Erouachy, a Montagnais chief, reported that an Algonkin of Allumette Island, who hated Cherououny, had advised the Mohawks beforehand that the ambassadors who were coming to treat for peace were actually spies. The Mohawks accepted this accusation without further inquiry and had cruelly murdered the deputies, including Pierre Magnan, the first Frenchman known to have been slain in a Mohawk village.