Tessouat was a sagacious and ambitious Algonkin chief whose tribe wielded a power disproportionate to their numbers because of their strategic location on the Ottawa River route of the fur trade. Not satisfied with controlling traffic on the river by tolls and customs, they continually sought a monopoly of the role of middlemen. The importance of the goodwill of this tribe was early recognized by the French. In 1620 Champlain had sent the young Jean Nicollet to live with them. In 1629 he named Le Borgne, or Tessouat, to a council of five Indian chiefs under Chomina, describing him as “a man of intelligence.” The council, however, was rendered ineffective shortly after its ratification by the Indians when the English captured Quebec.
When the French returned to the Huron country in 1634, Tessouat was engaged in deflecting the fur trade from the upper country and spread the rumour that Champlain sought revenge against the people of the village of Ihonatiria in the Attignaouantan (Bear) nation for their part in the death of Étienne Brûlé . Playing on the feeling of guilt and fear of these people, he hoped to dislodge the Jesuits from their village and thus to destroy their relations with the French. Father Brébeuf, however, foreseeing this development, determined to remain at Ihonatiria to build up confidence in the French among the inhabitants.
In March 1636, Le Borgne travelled some 300 leagues over ice and snow to the Huron country with four of his tribe and a young Frenchman, François Marguerie, who was wintering with them, seeking allies among the Hurons, Algonkins, and Nipissings for an attack against the Iroquois who had recently killed 23 of his people. He presented 23 wampum belts on this occasion. Again, Tessouat’s diplomacy was directed against the Bear nation which was traditionally most closely related to the French. Its citizens were offered no presents and Tessouat even attempted to keep the matter secret from them. His mission was unsuccessful, the Bear being the most influential of the Huron tribes, and the Nipissings refused him aid because of the extortion practised on them when they passed his island.
In his speeches, Tessouat boasted of his power, in the hearing of the Jesuits, pointing out that the preservation of his people and himself meant the continuance of the Indian trade with the French. His body “was hatchets” he explained, and its preservation “was the preservation of the hatchets, the kettles, and all the trade of the French.” He claimed further that he was master of the French. Before leaving the Hurons, however, he had a long, friendly talk with the Jesuits, urging them to leave the Huron country, especially the Bear nation; he dwelt on its wickedness in murdering Brûlé, Father Nicolas Viel, and his companion in 1616, and shortly before this, eight of his own Island Indians. The Jesuits laboured to retain Tessouat’s friendship for the French, and on his departure, presented him with a canoe and other little presents.
Tessouat died shortly after this encounter, in the spring of 1636. In August, when the Huron chief Taratouan with a Huron flotilla reached Allumette Island, he was refused passage by Tessouat’s people until Father Antoine Daniel arrived to intercede, because their recently demised chief had not yet been “cached,” that is, his name and responsibility had not yet been taken over by another. This enabled them to make greater demands in tolls than was usual.
JR (Thwaites), passim. Desrosiers, Iroquoisie, 122–24, 150–52. See also note to biography of Tessouat (d. 1654).