Marie-Madeleine Jarret de Verchères (March 3, 1678 – August 8, 1747) was the daughter of a François Jarret, a seigneur in New France, and Marie Perrot. Her ingenuity is credited with thwarting a raid on Fort Verchères when she was 14 years old.
Thwarting a surprise attack
In the late 1600s, the Iroquois mounted attacks on the settlers of New France, looting and burning their homes. In October, 1692, Madeleine’s parents left the fort on business and to gather winter supplies. Madeleine and her brothers and sisters stayed at the fort. Now fourteen, Madeleine was in charge of the fort, with one very old man (Laviolette) and 2 soldiers.
One morning, some settlers left the fort to tend to the fields along with eight soldiers. Madeleine was in the cabbage garden, quite close to the fort. Suddenly, the Iroquois descended on the settlers. The men, caught off guard, fled to safety. But the Iroquois were too quick for them and they were easily caught and carried off. Madeleine, working only 200 paces from the fort had a head start on the Iroquois brave that was chasing her. Madeleine ran into the fort shouting, “Aux armes! Aux armes!” (To arms)
Madeleine ran to the bastions, she knew there was only one hope. Madeleine fired a musket and encouraged the people to make as much noise as possible so that the Iroquois would think there were many soldiers defending the fort. Then Madeleine fired the cannon to warn other forts of an attack and to call for reinforcements. The Iroquois had hoped a surprise attack would easily take the fort, so for the moment, they retreated into the bushes with their prisoners.
During the siege, Madeleine noticed a canoe approaching the landing site with a family named Fontaine. The soldiers inside the fort refused to leave, so Madeleine ran to the dock and led the family quickly inside, pretending to be reinforcements.
Late in the evening, the settlers’ cattle returned to the fort. She knew that the Iroquois could be hiding with the herd covered in animal skins. She had her two brothers wait with her to check the cattle for warriors but none were found and the cows were brought inside the fort.
Reinforcements from Montreal arrived just after the Iroquois left. A tired but relieved Madeleine greeted the French lieutenant, “Monsieur, I surrender to you my arms.” The reinforcements caught the Iroquois and returned the kidnapped settlers. By this time, Madeleine’s parents had returned and news of Madeleine’s heroic deed had spread through the colony.
François, Madeleine’s father, died on 16 February 1700, and his pension of 1000 livres was transferred to Madeleine due to her leadership in 1691, on the condition that she provide for her mother. Madeleine managed Verchères until her marriage in 1706, at age 28, to Pierre Thomas le Tarieu. They moved to Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Quebec, where Tarieu was co-seigneur. Madeleine’s seigneury at Verchères was transferred to her new husband. The complex land titles led to numerous lawsuits over the course of her life, and Madeleine sailed to France at least thrice to represent herself and her husband in court.
Marie-Madeleine de La Pérade died in 1747 at the age of 69. She was buried beneath her pew at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade.
In Modern Culture
A statue of Madeleine de Verchères stands on Verchères Point near Montreal. It was made by Louis-Philippe Hébert, who was commissioned for the project in 1911.
Madeleine de Verchères, a J.-Arthur Homier film released 10 December 1922, featured Estelle Bélanger as Madeleine. The Internet Movie Database reports this film as “lost.”
The Canadian government designated her as a Person of National Historic Significance in 1923.
Madeleine Takes Command (1946) is a historical novel based upon the siege of Verchères, by Ethel C. Brill (Whittlesey House).