Algonquin history - European Colonization answers questions

Later Algonquin

Algonquins in the 1700s AD

When European traders began to buy huge amounts of North American furs to sell in Europe and China, Algonquin hunters began to trap and hunt lots of animals, especially beaver, to get their fur to sell to the European traders. They got in many wars with the Iroquois to their south and west over land and over the control of the fur trade in the 1500s AD. As a result, the Algonquin seem to have pushed the Iroquois further south and forced them to pay tribute. The Algonquin seem to have controlled land as far south as the upper Hudson river valley (in modern New York State).
In 1570, the Algonquins formed an alliance with the Montagnais to their east, and they continued to fight the Iroquois together.

1609 algonquin battle
Battle between the Algonquins and the Iroquois, 1609

By 1603, the Algonquins' situation had changed for the worse. They were often losing battles with the Iroquois, and this kept them from traveling on the St. Lawrence river. In 1609, Samuel de Champlain, a French leader, was eager to make an alliance with the Algonquins and agreed to help them fight off the Iroquois. French guns killed two Iroquois chiefs, and the rest retreated, afraid of the new weapons. The Algonquin were not able to get any guns from their new French allies, but they did get steel knives and other weapons, and with these the Algonquin, under their general Pieskaret, were able to push the Iroquois further south.

Now that they had some southern land, the Algonquins began to grow a little corn and beans, but they were really too far north for successful farming, and they got most of their corn and beans by trading with the Iroquois or with the French.

By 1629, the Iroquois had trapped all the beaver in their own land (modern New York State) and wanted to expand their hunting land to the north, into their old land in Canada, which was now held by the Algonquins. The Iroquois got steel weapons from their Dutch trading partners and attacked the Algonquins, and because the French were busy with a war with England, the Iroquois won. The Algonquins lost all their southern land back to the Iroquois.
In 1632, the French began to sell guns to the Algonquins, to try to help them get back the southern land (New York State), but there were not enough guns and the guns were not good enough. At the same time, French Jesuits began to convert people to Catholicism. This caused a lot of fights between the new Christian people and their leader, Tessouat, who continued to follow the traditional religion, which further weakened the Algonquin people.

By 1650 the Iroquois had gotten much stronger than the Algonquin, and the French were not supporting the Algonquin anymore. Many Algonquins had died of smallpox in 1634, and the rest were scattered in small, weak groups.

In 1667 the French finally fought off the Iroquois, and the Algonquin were able to trade furs again, but there were only about 2000 of them left. Another epidemic in 1676 and 1679 killed off most of them. With peace, their numbers slowly increased again.

In 1760, when the British conquered Quebec, the Algonquins gave up their alliance with the French and became allies of the British instead. Because they were allied with the British, Algonquin men fought on the British side in the American Revolutionary War.

Algonquin child
Algonquin child and mother (1800s)

But after the war, in the 1800s, thousands of British settlers chose to leave the United States and moved north on to Algonquin land. There they began in the 1840s to cut down the forests in order to sell the wood. This ruined the Algonquin hunting grounds. Algonquin people had to move onto smaller and smaller reservations. Canadian-European people forced many Algonquin children into government-run boarding schools where they were forced to speak English and often abused. Today most Algonquin people still live on what's left of their original land, near Quebec in Canada. Many still speak Algonquin, though with a lot of words borrowed from Cree. Many still gather wild rice. But as a result of colonialist abuse, they're mostly not very well off now.

Learn by doing: go see live beavers in the zoo or in the wild
More about the Cree
More about the Iroquois

Bibliography and further reading about the Algonquin:

Early Algonquin
Cree people
Blackfoot people
Iroquois people
American History home

Algonquin projects and activities

A cuddly stuffed beaver, if you can't see one live.

A real canoe, to take river trips the way the Algonquin did

A bag of wild rice to cook, to eat something Algonquin people ate a lot of

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

Help support! (formerly "History for Kids") is entirely supported by your generous donations and by our sponsors. Most donors give about $10. Can you give $10 today to keep this site running? Or give $50 to sponsor a page?

For the US election, check out' page on the Constitution. From the Revolution on, people have fought for the right to vote. In the 1800s, Andrew Jackson got poor white men the vote; the Civil War and Lincoln brought the vote to African-American men. In the 1900s, women got the vote, and Martin Luther King Jr. fought to force white people to actually let black people vote.