CAPITANAL (Kepitanal, Kepitenat), Montagnais chief, orator, friend of the French; fl. 1615–34.
Capitanal’s father, a friend of Champlain, was killed in the battle (1615) against the Iroquois in which Champlain himself was wounded. Capitanal was only a child when his father died; but with the passing of the years he heard the old men of his nation narrate how Champlain first came to their country and how the Montagnais endeavoured to persuade him to live with them.
Capitanal and a number of Montagnais from the direction of Trois-Rivières arrived at Quebec on 24 May 1633 in 18 canoes, only a few days after Champlain’s return following the English occupation of New France [see Kirke]. He had been absent for almost four years. Champlain, on his voyage up-river, had seen three English vessels at Tadoussac, which had received permission to trade in the St. Lawrence. Fearing that the Montagnais would continue down the St. Lawrence to barter with the English, Champlain addressed the Indians through Olivier Letardif, the interpreter, recalling the former friendship that had existed between the Montagnais and the French; how the father of Capitanal fought and was killed at Champlain’s side; how he, Champlain, had returned to see them again; and further, how the Montagnais, despite their earlier good relations with the French, now intended to trade with the English at Tadoussac instead of remaining at Quebec to deal with their friends and allies. When Champlain ended his address, Capitanal replied with modesty and dignity, and “with a keenness and delicacy of rhetoric that might have come out of the Schools of Aristotle or Cicero,” assuring Champlain that he and the other Indians had heard the old men speak in favour of the French, that he would instruct the members of his group not to approach the English at Tadoussac, and that the French missionaries would be welcome among his people.
During the autumn of the next year (1634) Capitanal died. He was survived by his wife and three children, a boy of about 17 and two little girls. Before dying, Capitanal charged the principal men of his nation to preserve the good understanding with the French which he had established. As a proof of his love for the French, he had himself carried to the new settlement of Trois-Rivières to be buried near his friends. He also requested that he be borne to his grave by Frenchmen for whom he designated a present. Capitanal’s wishes were granted, as Champlain caused an enclosure to be placed around the grave. The Jesuit, Father Paul Le Jeune, considered Capitanal to be a man of good sense and a firm friend of the French.