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Heroine of Verchères

For the week of Monday March 3, 2003

On March 3, 1678, Madeleine Jarret was born at the Seigneury of Verchères in New France. Little Madeleine would soon be caught in the struggles between the French colony and the Iroquois Confederacy for control of the district around Montréal.

A young Madeleine de Verchères as imagined by artist, Gerald S. Hayward, 1915.

A young Madeleine de Verchères
as imagined by artist,
Gerald S. Hayward, 1915.

© LAC / C 83513

A particular event marked the life of Madeleine and this event made her a legendary figure. During her lifetime, Madeleine wrote two separate accounts of her heroic actions. Since then, many versions of her exploits have been retold and over time, detailed accounts containing embellishments have surfaced. Even though their accuracy remains questionable, most versions agree on the story that follows.

In October 1692, Madeleine’s father, the Seigneur of Verchères, and his wife were called away on business. During their absence, 14-year-old Madeleine was left in charge of the fort. As the little fort was situated on the path the Iroquois took on their raids around Montréal, its occupants lived in dread of sudden attacks. Nevertheless, the habitants had to leave the safety of the fort to work in the fields. On October 22, the habitants were caught unawares by Iroquois warriors and were captured within minutes. Madeleine was also outside the fort during the attack. As she ran for safety, an agile assailant managed to catch her scarf, which she quickly untied. Freed from his grasp, she slipped inside the gates and took up armed defence of the fort, beginning by firing the fort’s cannon.

Monument to Madeleine at Verchères, Quebec

Monument to Madeleine at
Verchères, Quebec

© Parks Canada / Louis-Philippe Hébert

In order to convince the Iroquois that the fort was well protected, Madeleine and her younger brothers fired muskets and incited those in the fort to make noise. To complete the illusion, Madeleine paraded along the walls wearing a soldier’s cap. Facing the volley of fire, the Iroquois retreated with their prisoners. The cannon shots notified neighbouring settlements that Verchères was under siege and the message was passed along to Montréal. Reinforcements were dispatched and Madeleine kept watch until their arrival, barely eating and refusing sleep. Madeleine’s determination and quick response saved the fort from certain destruction. Most prisoners were eventually released when French troops caught up with the warriors.

Madeleine’s fame spread throughout the colony, and she was awarded a military pension. Madeleine’s popularity surged during the 20th century, when she re-emerged as a symbol of bravery for French Canada. Madeleine de Verchères is commemorated through innumerable works of literature and art, including a statue erected by the Canadian Government in 1913.

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