OIONHATON, Thérèse, Huron girl better known by her Christian name, niece (Du Creux states daughter) of the celebrated convert, Joseph Chihwatenha, seemingly a resident of Ossossanë, educated by the Ursulines at Quebec; fl. 1628–55.
Oionhaton was the innocent victim of the interminable strife between the Iroquois and New France. The exact date of her birth is not known, but in 1642 she is mentioned as being 13 or 14 years old. In 1640 her uncle, Joseph Teondechoren, brother of Chiwatenha, placed her in the care of Marie de l’Incarnation [see Guyart] and the Ursuline nuns at Quebec, to carry out the wishes of Chiwatenha, who had been slain by the Iroquois during the same year.
Little Oionhaton endeavoured to conform with the religious practices of the nuns and even spoke to visiting Hurons about religion. After living at Quebec for two years, Oionhaton was provided with everything necessary for her marriage and in 1642 started on her return journey to the Huron country. The convoy in which she was to travel included some of the most courageous and renowned warriors of Huronia: Ahatsistari, Totiri, Tsondatsaa, and two of her uncles, one of whom was Teondechoren. With it were three Frenchmen: Father Isaac Jogues, René Goupil, and Guillaume Couture*. At Trois-Rivières, Oionhaton wrote in Huron a short and touching letter of thanks to the Mother Superior (her Indian relatives marvelled to see her read and write) and entrusted the letter to the care of Father Joseph Du Peron.
Within two days of their departure, the travellers were attacked by a war-party of Mohawks, while still on the St. Lawrence River. The survivors were taken as captives into the Mohawk country, Oionhaton “was taken prisoner by the Hiroquois with her parents,” states the Jesuit Relation for 1642. Other references to the same episode mention only the uncles of Oionhaton. The captives received “almost as many blows as there were Iroquois” but two young children and Oionhaton were not injured.
The French made repeated efforts to secure the release of Oionhaton from the Mohawks during the critical peace negotiations of 1645 [see Kiotseaeton]. Throughout her captivity she was stead-fast in her faith and told her beads on her fingers. Father Jogues, who went with Jean Bourdon to the Mohawk country 18 May 1646, as ambassadors for the French, encountered Oionhaton among some Iroquois fishermen, spoke with her, questioned her, and instructed her. “Jogues encouraged her to hope for deliverance, telling her that for the sake of the Ursulines at Quebec Montmagny [see Huault] was doing everything possible, and that the Algonquins were doing what they could to secure her freedom. He promised to speak to the Annierronons [Mohawks] himself at the first opportunity; meantime he told her to trust in God.” Later the priest presented 5,000 wampum beads to the Mohawks for Oionhaton’s freedom (she had been given in marriage by the Mohawks to an Onondaga). The Mohawks declared themselves willing to release her as soon as she should return to their country, offering 1,500 wampum. beads as a pledge of good faith.
In 1654 Father Simon Le Moyne found Oionhaton living in a cabin apart from the Onondaga village, where she reared her family in peace. In the fall of 1655, she travelled with a baby in her arms three leagues from her home to await the arrival of the “Black Robes.” This last reference to Oionhaton is given by fathers Chaumonot and Dablon on the occasion of their journey from Quebec to Onondaga.
The day after their meeting with Oionhaton, the missionaries also met her sister, a prisoner among the Onondagas. Her name is not recorded nor are the circumstances of her capture. There is a reference in the Relation of 1652–53 to a sister of Oionhaton, who, at that time, was living as a young widow in the house of the Ursuline nuns at Quebec. There is a possibility, however, that Cécile and Agathe may be the names of these two sisters, since Du Creux mentions them at one time as the nieces of Joseph Chiwatenha and at another states that Chiwatenha was the father of Oionhaton.
Du Creux, History (Conacher), I, 252, 335; II, 436, 439, 668, 707–8. Marie Guyart de l’Incarnation, Écrits (Jamet), III, 289. JR (Thwaites), XV, 77, 89–91; XXI, 147, 149, 155; XXII, 189, 193, 195, 197; XXIII, 297; XXIV, 281; XXVI, 191; XXVII, 287; XXVIII, 297–99; XXIX, 53–55; XL, 225; XLI, 103; XLII, 81.