Madeleine de Verchères rescued by the Virgin Mary
Beginning of her life:
Madeleine’s father, François Jarret, of Saint-Chef (in the department of Isère in France), joined the company of his uncle Antoine Pécaudy de Contrecœur to battle the Iroquois in New France. They arrived there in August 1665, and on 17 September 1669 Jarret married the twelve-year-old Marie Perrot in Île d’Orléans. He was awarded a land grant on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River on 29 October 1672 in a seigneury called Verchères, and thereafter continued to increase his land holdings. The couple was to have twelve children, the fourth of whom was Madeleine de Verchères, born in Verchères on 3 March 1678 and baptised that 17 April.
The seigneury underwent periodic Iroquois raids. In 1690 the matron of Verchères took command of a successful defense against an Iroquois assault on the stockade there. By 1692 the Iroquois had killed the Jarrets’ son François-Michel and two successive husbands of their daughter Marie-Jeanne. Before she performed this courageous act, she usually worked in the family field during her spare time.
Thwarting a surprise attack
In the late 1600s the Iroquois mounted attacks on the settlers of New France, looting and burning their homes. On 22 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, tried to flee 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 who were chasing her. One Iroquois caught up to her and grabbed her by her kerchief which she quickly untied, then 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 over the fort, so for a moment, they retreated into the bushes with their prisoners.
During the siege, Madeleine noticed a canoe approaching the landing site with a cupcake 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. Tired but relieved, Madeleine greeted the French lieutenant, “Monseigneur, 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.
Help of the Virgin Mary:
Madeleine de Verchères reported a little later that she attributed her survival to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. She will say that she invoked her help so that the Good Mother would protect her against the Iroquois: “Holy Virgin,” said the admirable child from the bottom of her heart, “Mother of my God, you know that I have always honored and loved you as my dear mother, do not abandon me in the danger in which I find myself! I would rather perish a thousand times than fall into the hands of a nation that does not know us.”
–Histoires canadiennes, la Vierge Marie, second edition, by Brother Ernest-Béatrix, marist, page 17.