Francois Joseph HERTEL
- Born: 3 Jul 1642, Trois Rivieres, Maurice, Quebec
Childhood was brief in the 17th Century. On 26 August 1657, at age 15, Francois enlisted in the local militia for the defense of Trois-Rivieres.
In July 1661, Francois was captured by the Iroquois and severely tortured. He smuggled letters out to the Jesuit missionaries in the area, pleading with them to free him and two other prisoners that with them. Remarkably, the Jesuits quoted from these letters of Francois - we have his account of his sufferings in his own words.
In the first letter he informs the Jesuits "...My Father, I pray you, bless the hand that writes to you, which has had one finger burnt in a Calumet as reparation to the Majesty of God, whom I have offended. The other hand has a thumb cut off, but do not tell my poor Mother..." A second letter is addressed to his mother directly: "...I well know my capture must have greatly afflicted you. I ask your forgiveness for having disobeyed you.... Your prayers, and Monsieur de St. Quentin's and my sisters', have restored me to life. I hope to see you again before Winter...." He signs the letter "Your poor FANCHON".
One wonders in what way Marie's "Fanchon" disobeyed her. Did he go hunting at a dangerous time or in place? Had she warned or prohibited him from doing it? This anguish from a son sorry for having disobeyed his mother is the closest we can feel to Marie in the historical documents. The entire account from the Relations of the Jesuits describes the terrible tortures Francois suffered and witnessed. Eventually, a Christian Huron Chief managed to buy 20 French prisoners from the Iroquois and began their repatriation in Montreal in October 1661.
Francois' presence back in Trois-Rivieres is not documented again until 3 October 1663. In that same year his sister Marguerite Hertel was betrothed, at age 14, to Jean Crevier, son of the baker that probably accompanied Marie Marguerie from Rouen. Jean would obtain a siegneury at St-Francois-du-Lac, founding a new settlement that would survive Indian attacks and endure for centuries.
In 1664 Francois Hertel married and seemed to be settling down, being named the Iroquois translator for the trading post. But his life was not to be a quiet one. He would become the "Hero of New France", exceeding his father and uncle in the breadth and fame of his exploits. Francois and his sons would become renowned for their bloodthirsty raids against the First Nations and the British. Can there be any doubt that the torture at the hands of the Iroquois filled Francois with hatred for the Iroquois? Or that the refusal of the Dutch and English to save him inspired him to show no mercy to their kind? He would instill the same thirst for blood in his children in turn.
Meanwhile Francois Hertel found himself enjoying the forays and raids made against the Iroquois in 1666, and became a professional soldier. He was on the 1673 Buade expedition to Lake Ontario which built Fort Frontenac. In 1678, on a mission to Hudson Bay, he tried his hand at the fur trade and ran foul of the authorities. His cargo was confiscated on his return to Quebec. He evaded a fine and prison sentence and returned, chastised, to Trois-Rivieres.
Francois sought to have his children well educated, hiring the teacher Pierre Bertrand, a graduate of the University of Paris, in 1681. But he was also training his sons in the art of war.
In 1680 Governor of New France gave Francois Hertel command of all the tribes who were allies of the French. To counter continuing the hit-and-run raids the settlers were constantly subject to, Francois developed surprise attack tactics using the Indians' own methods of silent approach. The brutal "Hertel's Raids" were said to have brought a measure of relief to the constant Indian attacks on the French settlements.
Francois Hertel and his sons became ferocious raiders. Like his father and great-uncle, Zacharie Hertel was taken prisoner by the Iroquois in a battle in 1691. Like his father, he did not return for three years. His skills in Indian languages and ways made him a fourth-generation Indian fighter and negotiator for the colony.
The Governor of New France tried from 1689 to have Francois Hertel elevated to nobility for his service to the colony. The best he could manage to get was a promotion within the military.