Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Fred W. Anderson

Second Advisor

Virginia D. Anderson

Third Advisor

Matthew Gerber

Fourth Advisor

Robert Ferry

Fifth Advisor

Douglas Bamforth


Scholars have long noted the prevalence of smuggling on the imperial borderland between New France and New York during the first half of the eighteenth century, but to date none has examined at length the commercial, political, and cultural effects of what the French called la traite illégale. This dissertation attempts to fill this historiographical lacuna by investigating contraband commerce between Albany and Montreal from 1700 to 1754, with particular attention to the crucial role Native people played in the exchanges between French and British colonists. The Five (later Six) Nations Iroquois, and especially the Mohawks, set the terms of trade on the Lake George-Lake Champlain-Richielieu River corridor, and in so doing strongly influenced imperial politics and outcomes. Mohawk women acting variously as gantowisas (clan mothers), mediators, traders, and porters were of particular importance in facilitating the trade. This project reveals how Native and colonial actors once thought insignificant were in fact crucial to the operation of empires and their colonies in northeastern North America, and indeed throughout the Atlantic world.

Factors of geography, culture, economy, and inter-group relations structure the narrative of the contraband trade. Kanienke, or Iroquoia, encompassed millions of acres of land, but its heart lay along the 196-mile water route, a riverine highway, from Montreal on the St. Lawrence River to Albany on the Hudson. Among the families whose activities illuminate the illicit trade in the early eighteenth century are those of John Hendricks Lydius, Robert Sanders, William Johnson, Catherine Dagneau, and the three daughters of Pierre Trottier-Desauniers: Marie-Anne, Marie-Madeleine, and Marguerite. All showed great ingenuity and resilience in pursuing the profits the trade afforded while generally (although not invariably) evading the punishments that imperial administrators and colonial governors could inflict on those traders whose activities became too visible, or whose success threatened to disrupt the interests of entrenched interests.

Although the trade emerged in its mature form in the decade following the Iroquois Grand Settlement of 1701, it was during the long peace between the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713 and the commencement of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1744 that smuggling truly throve in North America. King George's War, 1744-1748, witnessed the height of smugglers' importance on the Albany-Montreal corridor, particularly after the British capture of Louisbourg transformed the riverine highway into the main artery for goods, gifts, and information to French habitants and their Native allies. Following King George's War smugglers lost their resilience to government pressure. For a time thereafter, Iroquois porters, intermediaries, and traders continued a lucrative trade between Montreal and Albany, but the market and the climate had shifted; Lydius, one of the more influential British traders, shifted from contraband commerce to land speculation, while the Desauniers sisters, exiled from New France by a governor-general acting on the information from their competitors, relocated to France and succeeded in other dimensions of the Atlantic trade. Britain's decisive victory in the Seven Years' War ended la traite illégale by integrating what had been New France into the British Empire. As the trade between Albany and Montreal, which had been crucial to the redevelopment of Iroquois power in the first half of the eighteenth century when it was illegal, became legitimate, the Six Nations lost influence. The subordination of the Iroquois to British authority in the 1760s paved the way to their subsequent ruin in the American Revolutionary era, when the Six Nations paid the ultimate price of empire.