The King's Soldiers

Irregular Soldiers And Hardened Voyageurs

French colonists of the second half of the seventeenth century were people who had developed many talents, by virtue of their very way of life. The entire population of New France was gathered along the banks of the St. Lawrence River, where many owned land. It was not unusual to see people who farmed in the summer become hunters in the fall and then adopt other occupations in the winter, such as trapping or trading. This required them to cover great distances on snowshoes, then return to their fields in the spring. There were also fishing expeditions, when they learned how to handle canoes. One observer provided the following description of the Canadians of this era: "They are well proportioned, agile, vigorous, in perfect health, able to withstand all sorts of fatigue ... and bellicose ... born in a country with good air, nourished on good, abundant food ... they are free from birth to engage in fishing and hunting and to go on canoe trips, during which there is much exercise." 51 Another added that Canadians were "very brave" and more skilled at shooting muskets "than any others in the world." 52

This would seem to be a people with excellent aptitudes for mounting military raids, but Canadians were rather loath to participate in military activities. Frontenac noted that the militiamen were reluctant, compared with professional soldiers, to leave their homes and that they were not very useful for long expeditions. However, this pertained to the relatively peaceful years of the 1670s. Twenty-five years later, attitudes had changed considerably as a result of the intermittent war conducted against them by the Iroquois since the early 1680s. By now, the robust Canadians were taking part in all the raids, alongside their Amerindian allies, even though the expeditions were so difficult that there "were not 300 men of the regular troops able to follow them." 53