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Wacousta is a fictitious novel, with some rather outlandish inventions, but yet partakes in history, as well. Examples of real-world history depicted in the novel are mapped out below, with the accuracy of John Richardson's depictions explained.

Wacousta. McCrea, Harold. Wacousta or, The Prophecy: A Tale of the Canadas. 1987. Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9196092-wacousta-or-the-prophecy. Accessed 13 June 2020.
Wacousta. McCrea, Harold. Wacousta or, The Prophecy: A Tale of the Canadas. 1987. Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9196092-wacousta-or-the-prophecy. Accessed 13 June 2020.

John Richardson, b. October 4th, 1796, was one of eight children and the only survivor. After his father (an officer for the Simcoe Rangers) left on assignment, he was left in the care of the Erskines, his maternal grandparents. He spent time with Mr. Erskine, a volunteer runner of supplies and goods to Fort Detroit during the historical takeovers by Ponteac and began his education with him in Detroit. Relocated to Strabane, he was laden with stories of the era in which the garrison takeovers occurred by Mrs. Erskine, his grandmother, which he claims inspired Wacousta. He then became a cadet with the 41st regiment until he could join the King’s service under General Brock, at which he met Chief Tecumseh and General Brock (Richardson,Preface). He fought alongside Tecumseh in the War of 1812, and he eventually died impoverished after pursuing a literary career in New York (d. May 12th, 1852) (Duffy,1).

Robin Mathews states that Wacousta is "the first major novel to be written by an author born in this country." (Mathews, 72) It does create a very vivid, historical picture based within true stories passed down through his grandparents and military education. It also avails perspectives of his own life experiences, allowing descriptions of land as he saw it, as well as militant actions that would have been experienced from his time serving. The conflicting perspectives between empathy for Indigenous people and the views of the British military show up through his lineage. Mrs. Erskine was the daughter of “one of the earliest settlers from France” who would have provided Richardson with many stories of how the French interacted and traded with the Indigenous people, compared to his lived experiences of the British allowing for empathetic writing and humanizing of the “savages” they became known as (Richardson,Preface). Historical fiction as a genre is as old as storytelling, with many oral myths and folklores being based in history. The ancient civilizations utilized historical fiction, such as the Greeks with The Illiad and historical fiction has been traced back through nearly every form of human civilization (eg. Chinese, Japanese, French classics).


[edit] Introduction

[edit] Why History Is Important

When considering why history is important, there are many different philosophers one can consider. Collingwood suggests that the evolution, or progress, “of nature is uniform and ‘the future will resemble the past’” and that “any specific form can come into existence only as a modification of one already established” (Collingwood, 321). This states that history is important to understand because any new situation that humans come into contact with is an evolution of one that previously occurred and therefore can be better understood, and therefore solved, with the understanding of the previously occurring situation. Kant spoke on the valuation of moral goodness (that which is “independent of human purposes” (Collingwood, 321), given that in order for something to be progressive, it must be an improvement on the previous situation and therefore humans can be monitored in terms of the progressiveness of human moral goodness. However, since historical progress means that the situation is bore out the previous situation, this could also mean “the new act may be a new act of the exact same kind” in which “that process seems most akin to the historical” (Collingwood, 324). This states that knowing the previous historical act, such as the French creating relationships with the Indigenous people, could provide insight, and perhaps even a direct solution to how the British could also have created relationships with the Indigenous people.

When evaluating the progression of the moral goodness in the situation of the relationship with the French, Kant’s model would argue that the changeover in colonial power presented a regression in moral goodness, as per the historical progress evaluation and judged by the perspectives of the Indigenous people and their satisfaction with the French governance vs. the British governance. This would be a similar perspective to Richardson, in that his experiences in Canada provided the view within Wacousta that the French had a preferred relationship with the Indigenous than the British. This would require further research of primary Indigenous perspectives of the 18th century to determine if this is actually so.

Nietzsche states that the “excess of history has attacked the plastic power of life that no more understands how to use the past as a means of strength and nourishment” (Collins, 69). This addition as to how to view history suggests that history must be picked between and re-evaluated as time goes on and progresses, otherwise one can “perish on the rock of history” (Collins,72). He clarifies this with an example of the Greeks, in that when they were in “danger of being overwhelmed by what was past and foreign.. the Greeks gradually learned to organize the chaos by.. thinking back to themselves” (Collins, 72). Ultimately, he is suggesting that history must be used with precaution, in that creativity, forward thinking and the “desires to experience something for himself [can] be drowned and dizzied” within the historical knowledge forced into your head (Collins, 67). He calls this complete subjection of oneself to history a “disease” in which science must be monitored for this reason (Collins,70).

Therefore, the importance of history in solving modern problems is very key. It can provide a clear course of action that may ultimately solve the issue at hand based upon past events. However, as the antithesis requests, one must also allow for the experience of life as it has evolved to the present time in order to allow for the progression of thought. Praise can hereby be given to John Richardson, in that basing fiction within history allows for both important elements of history to come to play, but also allows for the element of creative thought and life experiences.

[edit] What It Says About the Time It Was Written

Wacousta was written in an era (c.1832) that was beginning to be post-Indigenous relationships. This included the deaths of some of the great Indigenous leaders (eg. Tecumseh) who enabled a more peaceful time in which Indigenous people were respected by Europeans, at this point in time, the French. When these figures died and the British won the war over the French in 1763, the relationships between Indigenous people and Europeans changed drastically. There is a particular reason that Richardson chooses to begin his book in the year of 1763. This marked a turning point for North America, and specifically in Richardson’s eyes, it displayed the “end of Indigenous sovereignty and of the nascent Canada, its distinctiveness as a nation destroyed by its inability to maintain an honourable relationship with Indigenous peoples” (Fee, 41). The way in which this story begins says a lot about the perspective of the time it was written. Richardson displays the British views at the beginning of the book, as he was “immersed in discourses depicting Indians as exotic savages” (Fee, 41). This shows that when the relationships in history changed from the French to the English, the ways in which Indigenous people were viewed changed as well. He is also writing from a post-war of 1812 era, in which the Indigenous people were largely responsible for aiding the British in preventing the Americans from taking more land. However, despite these trusting relationships, the British continued to take away hunting grounds, broke treaties and viewed them as savages (a failure that Richardson returns to in the sequel to Wacousta, The Canadian Brothers). The means in which this book acts as a revenge tale (albeit based within love) of the Indigenous people against the British and the fact that Wacousta is a European who took the side of the Indigenous displays an inherent aspect of Richardson’s perspective. Perhaps internally, he too wanted to side with the Indigenous people against the British because he had seen first-hand, despite their loyalty to the British in wartime, how they had betrayed and turned their back on the native people.

[edit] Volume One

Volume one of Wacousta introduces the reader to the landscape of North America and outlines the way people function there. Richardson depicts the waterways that divide the United States from Canada as mythical and encourages his European audience to take an interest in the affairs of this continent as it has allegiance to the British crown so English men should take notice (Richardson,3). Richardson wrote this as the first novel or first real story of America for the Europeans. He begins the chapter describing the landscape as different from that of Europe, depicting the bodies of water as “stupendous,” “gorgeous,” and “mythical” (Richardson,34). This description of the land to the Europeans marks history. The goal was to convince Europeans of Canadas' worth and beauty.

[edit] The Fort of Detroit

One of the most important locations within volume one is the Fort of Detroit. The majority of the events in volume one take place in and around the fort. The Fort of Detroit was constructed by the French and lays in the center of a small prairie surrounded by trees, half a mile from the river, far enough away from the woods that they were safe from Indian fire (Richardson,12). Detroit had a river that flowed into a large lake or river which was crossed from land using the high road bridge, later known as the “Bloody Bridge" (Richardson,14). The Battle of Bloody Bridge in this introduction is seen as a “tragic event,” one whose story is passed down through families and remembered by all as the event that “blood erst crimsoned the once pure waters” of the river(Richardson,14). The Fort of Detroit’s vague history is run down in the span of one page, outlining the events we are to begin going into depth about through the story (Richardson,12). First, the fort is built by the French, then given up to the British, who kept the fort until the colonists became independent from England (Richardson,12).

The Fort of Detroit. McNamara, Robert.The 1812 Surrender of Fort Detroit.'ThoughtCo, 2020, https://www.thoughtco.com/the-1812-surrender-of-fort-detroit-1773546. Accessed 14 June 2020
The Fort of Detroit. McNamara, Robert.The 1812 Surrender of Fort Detroit.'ThoughtCo, 2020, https://www.thoughtco.com/the-1812-surrender-of-fort-detroit-1773546. Accessed 14 June 2020

The fort, like the Michilimackinac, was “one of the first posts of the Americans that fell into our hands.” It was taken by Isaac Brock (and Tecumseh who is not yet mentioned) just as the Americans declared war. The fort was maintained by the Canadians until it was abandoned after being destroyed a year later as the Americans took hold (Richardson,12). The Americans then built up a new fort on the land of The Fort of Detroit, emphasizing its importance as it is seen as “a key to the more western portions of the union” (Richardson,12). The Fort of Detroit was just part of one regiment that was divided into three forts, fort Detroit, Michilimackinac and Niagara. These forts were so far apart communication could be cut off leaving them in isolation (Richardson,17). Garrisons were on their own so when “Hostile Indians” came, their only option was to hold out (Richardson,8). In these garrisons, an attack on the structure would leave the Indigenous people on a significant disadvantage as the only way to realistically penetrate the fort would be to wait until the inhabitants ran out of provisions. The Governor of Detroit, however, had a “plentiful supply” of food and weapons anticipating the Indigenous peoples' eventual attack (Richardson,19). Because of this sudden “band of savages” that surrounded the fort, policies were put in place to strictly prohibit the coming and going of people within the fort without the permission of the Governor (Richardson,19).

[edit] Indigenous – Settler Relations

The “Indian” and the Canadian shared similar concerns making them unified in some way in their interests. It was their “natural instinct...to hold a communionship of purpose” displaying Indigenous people not as enemies but as a group equal to the Europeans with the same goals (Richardson,10). Hostility between the French Canadians and the British disappeared when the government made efforts to preserve each of their customs, however, those same agreements were not upheld with the Indigenous populations(Richardson,11). Connections between the two parties seemed to be going well until the summer of 1763 when suddenly the western tribes of Indigenous people attacked several English garrisons “without mercy” (Richardson,18).

Map of Detroit. Fort Detroit. Wikipedia, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Detroit. Accessed 14 June 2020
Map of Detroit. Fort Detroit. Wikipedia, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Detroit. Accessed 14 June 2020

The governor thought of the overtake of the Indigenous people as vital to the future interests of England and as an action that must be carried out with “confidence and kindness” (Richardson,18). Even when treaties were created, as soon as the early Canadians were in some sort of power the treaties were broken (Richardson,8). The hatred Indigenous people felt towards those who colonized their land lives on through their descendants (Richardson,12). The Europeans had a fear of getting scalped by the Indigenous people as Sir Everard mentions his “love-locks dangling at the top of an Indian pole” (Richardson,26). Colonel de Haldimar states “the fellow [Frank Halloway] has been bribed by, and is connected with –,” he does not finish this sentence as if he cannot even say the word “Indian” concerning Halloway. There is a clear fear, not only of Indigenous people but of betrayal of the English crown (Richardson,37). The Europeans feared for the diminishing of their populations in America as Captain Bessington states “few enough in number already, without looking forward to each other's death as a means of our own more immediate personal advancement” (Richardson,27). Meaning that their group should be prioritizing the livelihood of its members rather than their executions. Again the fear of the loss of population among comes up again, on page 31 when Mr. Lawson says, “I greatly fear, too, these casualties may have a tendency to discourage the men” (Richardson,31). Conflict among the men in the fort, most likely because they are so isolated, results in the execution and sometimes murder of their men(Richardson,31). The Europeans seem to be portrayed as having an overwhelming fear of the Indigenous people and the betrayal of their people. This sort of mass hysteria around eliminating an enemy that may not even be an enemy at all is what leads to the execution of Frank Halloway.

[edit] Volume Two

Volume two of Wacousta is called ‘The Tale of the Pontiac Conspiracy’. Throughout the volume that is still set in the 1760s, the beginning of the Ponteac Wars is portrayed. Volume two incorporates countless depictions of real-world history throughout; including representations of Indigenous traditions such as making sounds and yells as communication, their spiritual pipes and the interconnected relationship between nature and Indigenous people. The two very important historical events that are depicted in this volume are the attack on Fort Michilimackinac, and the failed attempt to invade Fort Detroit by the Indigenous people.

[edit] History of Indigenous Traditions

[edit] Communication Through Sounds and Yelling

Throughout the volume, the way of life of communicating through sounds and yells in Indigenous culture in depicted many times. In chapter four, when meeting with the British and their council, the Indigenous groups uttered: “their guttural "Ugh!" whenever any observation of the parlant parties touched their feelings” (Richardson,31). These yells can mean agreeing or disagreeing with what is being spoken, and similarly, it can also be used to alert people for something. In chapter six which was the attempted ambush of Fort Detroit, as Ponteac led the tribes through the fort, a few of the warriors yelled, he stumbled, “and then [Ponteac] sprang lightly again to his feet, responding to the yell of his confederates by another even more startling, fierce, and prolonged than their own” (Richardson,44). This communication was used as a signal the warriors as it is explained that Ponteac’s yell was “in reality a signal intended for the guidance of the Indians” (Richardson,47) with the invasion. A few moments later while in the meeting room, loud cries could be heard in the Indigenous people communicating with each other from distances.

In chapter seven when the fictional character of Frederick de Haldimar is at the Indigenous camp, he is able to observe this way of communication. As he watches, many of the leaders are awaiting someone, and all of a sudden they hear the sound of a rifle, and it was “then followed a long and piercing cry, that brought every warrior, even of those who slept, quickly to his feet” (Richardson,58). The style of communication is beneficial when powerful people are announcing themselves, and asserting their dominance, as what happened here. Similarly, in chapter nine, when Wacousta enters back into camp, Frederick hears a flurry of “repeated "waughs!" and "Wacousta!—Wacousta!"” (Richardson,79). These yells are also announcing someone powerful, but it is not coming from the person themselves, but the people around them, showing that the announcing through yells can go either way. Overall, communicating with sounds in Indigenous culture is highly beneficial and proper for their communities.

Indigenous Person Smoking a Peace Pipe. White Wolf Pack. 2011, http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-WUbAWmPyU6o/VUifNXWQY9I/AAAAAAAA03Y/qZ5xdmluJB0/s1600/ScreenShot4074.jpg. Accessed 13 June 2020.
Indigenous Person Smoking a Peace Pipe. White Wolf Pack. 2011, http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-WUbAWmPyU6o/VUifNXWQY9I/AAAAAAAA03Y/qZ5xdmluJB0/s1600/ScreenShot4074.jpg. Accessed 13 June 2020.

[edit] The Peace Pipe and The War Pipe

The Peace Pipe and the War Pipe are important symbols of Indigenous culture as well, as, throughout the meetings with the British, the Indigenous people speak about how it symbolizes an agreement between the two parties. During the first initial meeting, the governor understands the tradition, as he states that the Ottawa chief “says he conies to smoke the pipe of peace with the Saganaw” (Richardson,30), which means that he does respect the tradition of the Pipe of Peace, showing a somewhat mutual respect relationship between the two parties. When Ponteac does hand the governor the Pipe of Peace, as he is about to smoke it, the governor remarks that although the Ottawas came to ask for peace, “the pipe and all its ornaments are red like blood: it is the pipe of war, and not the pipe of peace” (Richardson,32). The governor was even able to see the differences between the two pipes, and the different meanings, and possibly seeing through the ruse of the Ottawas. In chapter eight, an explanation of the usage of the pipe of peace is explained, and it stated how the Indigenous people could not go “unprovided with the pipe of peace since this could not be smoked without violating everything held more sacred among themselves” (Richardson,65), depicting how important the pipe is to Indigenous culture and tradition, as it is said to be ‘sacred’ and violating any rules with the actual pipe will have consequences.

[edit] Indigenous People and Nature

The relationship between Indigenous people is interesting, and they work together with nature, and they engage in mutualism. There many instances throughout the novel that depicts this mutualism. In chapter six when the British counteract the Ottawas’ invasion, they try to injure Wacousta, but before they could make a single move, he stooped “suddenly to the earth” and “he disappeared altogether from the view of his enemies” (Richardson, 49). Wacousta is using the nature around him to his advantage, by blending right in with it to escape his enemies. In chapter 11, the Indigenous people used nature to gain the upper hand and sneak closer into Fort Michilimackinac to attack. The de Haldimar’s see “a large bold animal” (Richardson,96) in the water, that turns out to be an Indigenous person when they step out. The warrior was using nature without hurting it and using to their benefit. Throughout the volume, there are many other instances where Indigenous people are working with nature to benefit them. In Brian Maracle’s The First Words, the creation story explains how the Indigenous have a worldview of humans not dominating nature but working with it instead (Maracle), which correlates with Wacousta.

[edit] Fort Detroit and Fort Michilimackinac

Two of the most important real-world historical events that are depicted in volume two are the failed invasion of Fort Detroit, and the attack and massacre of Fort Michilimackinac by the Indigenous people. Led by Ponteac and the Ottawas, these attacks signified the beginning of the Ponteac wars ("Obwandiyag (Pontiac): Warrior Chief"). Chapter six was the attempted invasion of Fort Detroit, and chapter 11 was the attack on Fort Michilimackinac. In chapter six, Ponteac leads the warriors into the meeting to confirm their peace, having a plan of ambush. However, the British realized that they were being set up, and when the Ponteac and the Indigenous people brandished their tomahawks and weapons, the scarlet cloth in the room “was thrown aside, and twenty soldiers, their eyes glancing along the barrels of their levelled muskets, met the startled gaze of the astonished Indians” (Richardson,45). Ponteac and his warriors were not expecting the soldiers at all, causing them to be caught off guard, and the invasion did not go as planned. The British assured them that danger now awaited them, and even though the Indigenous attempted to fight, there were outnumbered and at a disadvantage. This event confirmed that the Ottawas did not want peace with the British, and a war slowly began to form.

The Massacre on Fort Michilimackinac. Sandham, Henry. Artistic Depiction of the Fort Michilimackinac Massacre. All About Canadian History, 16 June 2015, https://cdnhistorybits.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/lacrosse-massacre-fort-michilimackinac/. Accessed 13 June 2020.
The Massacre on Fort Michilimackinac. Sandham, Henry. Artistic Depiction of the Fort Michilimackinac Massacre. All About Canadian History, 16 June 2015, https://cdnhistorybits.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/lacrosse-massacre-fort-michilimackinac/. Accessed 13 June 2020.

Although there was a failed attempt at the ambush, the Indigenous people also executed a successful attack on Fort Michilimackinac in chapter 11, which was also orchestrated by Ponteac in his need to invade the British. In Wacousta, the attack was encouraged by the fictional character of Wacousta, however, in history, it was chief Ponteac who carried the idea of the attack and taking their fort. The residents of Fort Michilimackinac were not expecting the attack in the slightest, which put them at a huge disadvantage. The Ottawas and the rest of the warriors attacked in their element; by disguising themselves with nature, and gained on the fort without being noticed until the last minute. The fictional character of Clara de Haldimar heard the “well-known and devilish war-cry of the savages” (Richardson,99), however, this scene would rain true to history as Indigenous people were known to be loud and confident. The attack was described by saying that the “superiority of the Indian numbers triumphed” (Richardson,99) and they were “bloodthirsty savages”, creating a scene of absolute chaos and dominance of the Indigenous people. The British were highly outnumbered, helpless and being killed off, one by one in their own fort. Ponteac’s War was the most successful Indigenous resistance to the European invasion in history ("Obwandiyag (Pontiac): Warrior Chief"), and Fort Michilimackinac was one of the most effective massacres. The only way that a handful of British escaped was through taking a boat. They stumbled along the shores of Lake Huron, climbing onto the vessels as quickly as possible trying to save themselves. In history, escape by vessel is an accurate description as the British were more advanced with their sailing technology, and they were able to sail away faster than the Indigenous people could gain, and farther then their weapons could reach, as was depicted in the volume.

[edit] Volume Three

[edit] Fleeing Fort Michilimackinac and St. Clair River Ambush

The volume begins with the seamen fleeing the massacre at Fort Michilimackinac. The dangers of sailing and the harsh realities of escape are magnified by Richardson’s imagery. The escape begins when the schooner is “counterbalancing advantage of the storm and tempest to drive them onward through the narrow waters of the Sinclair and enable them, by anticipating the pursuit of their enemies, to shun the Scylla and Charybdis that awaited their more leisure advance" (Richardson,342). Nature was an obstacle for adventurers as it provided them with momentum, but could also deter their travels. Richardson describes St Clair as narrower than it actually was in order to elevate the danger. Furthermore, food was difficult to find as the men ate “dried bear’s meat and venison” or whatever else they could find (Richardson,352). Richardson educates the British who have never been to the Canadas when he states, “Unslaked thirst was a misery unknown to the mariners of this lake" (Richardson,352). This alludes to the early expeditions of crossing the Atlantic wherein there was no fresh water. Furthermore, ghost ships were common in folklore and thus, Richardson includes the arrival of Madeleine de Haldimar who is mistakenly perceived to be a ghost. Oucanasta returns in this volume and points Madeleine de Haldimar “towards Detroit... that was the course intended to be pursued” (Richardson,361). Oucanasta embodies maternal love and protection. Oucanasta is a kind of Pocahantas figure as she is described to be a “generous creature” (Richardson,364). Women in the 18th century were associated with maternity and generosity rather than war.

The St. Clair river ambush, which is a direct reference to the skirmish that occurred during the siege of Fort Detroit, begins when a tree is blocking the schooner’s path as “it was quite as probable the barrier had been the barrier had been interposed by some fitful outburst of Nature” (Richardson,368). This logic outlines the wild images of the Canadas that were portrayed to Britain in the 18th century. Nature was uncanny and had not been tamed in the Canadas. The seamen become aware of the Indigenous attack when they discover Jack Fuller’s “scalped head [that] too plainly told the manner of his death, and the danger that awaited them all" (Richardson,370). Following this violence, “the appalling war-cry of the savages burst from every quarter" (Richardson,370). “The deck itself was covered with the bodies of the slain men – the sailors and the savages” (Richardson,374); this exaggerated depiction of the attack is filled with Indigenous stereotypes, including war-cries and scalping. The scene further strays from historical accuracy through the portrayal of Wacousta. Fredrick de Haldimar encounters Wacousta when “the monster spurned her [Madeleine de Haldimar] from him with his foot” (Richardson,375). To refer to Wacousta as “the monster” alludes to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and successfully integrates the historical events of the St Clair ambush during the siege of Fort Detriot with the gothic genre.

[edit] Life in Fort Detroit

Back at Detroit, the British are “uncertain whether the Ponteac had commanded the same delay in the council of the chiefs investing Michilimackinac” (Richardson,376). This reveals the difficulties surrounding negotiations, especially due to the lack of technology. Life in the fort is described when “the officers were assembled in the mess-room, partaking in the scanty and frugal supper” (Richardson,377). This emphasizes that life in the forts was not always action-filled, but rather it was commonly occupied by guarding and unsatisfactory meals. The arrival of the letters and the portrait serves to progress the mystery of the relationship between Clara de Haldimar and Wacousta. Letters and portraits are primary sources that can tell stories. Captain Erskine argues that the letters and portraits were delivered because “The savages are fully aware of the value of gold and would not so easily let it slip through their fingers” (Richardson,389). The British explorers wanted to attain resources for the motherland. Thus, the British do not suspect that Wacousta is driven by revenge due to lost love, but rather they suspect the Indigenous people want to preserve their resources.

A description of Fort Detroit is offered when the narrator states, “Immediately over the gateway of the fort there was an elevated platform, approached by the rampart, of which it formed a part, by some half dozen rude steps on either side; and on this platform was placed along eighteen pounders, that commanded the whole extent of road leading from the drawbridge to the river” (Richardson,405). This imagery provides a realistic depiction of the fort to assist the reader in envisioning the nature of the battles that would occur. The British had the advantage since they had artillery and they used platforms and hills to gain the higher ground. This historically realistic depiction is complicated by the presence of “the Fleur de lis [who] was seen towering far above the bulwarks of the schooner” (Richardson,405). This volume focusses on the gothic elements of the novel as opposed to historical accuracies. However, it is significant that Wacousta is referred to as a Fleur de lis, which is a symbol of French royalty. This symbol emphasizes Wacousta’s defiance against the British and the tensions with the Indigenous people who were allied with the French during the Seven-Years War. After the siege, the British reveal their doomed state when they say, “All is lost, Michilimackinac is taken” (Richardson,414). However, the men plan to rescue Clara and Madeleine when they state it “must be achieved by the bayonet alone and under the favour of darkness” (Richardson,414). This description emphasizes that the British have been weakened because they no longer have artillery and must use the element of surprise in darkness.

[edit] Wacousta and Historical Realism

Charles de Haldimar begins to unravel Wacousta’s past when the narrator states, “he [Wacousta] penetrated, with the band of Ponteac, into the fort, and aimed his murderous weapon at his father’s head” (Richardson,397). This quotation describes Wacousta’s plan – to disguise himself as a member of the Ponteac in order to achieve his revenge on Captain de Haldimar. Richardson intertwines historical realism through the Ponteac Uprising and the gothic genre through the creation of the vengeful Wacousta – a disguised European. The arrival of the schooner at Fort Detroit is preceded by the use of telescopes and subsequent discovery of the “savages” on Hog Island, “dancing their infernal war dance” (Richardson,402).

The nature of Frank Halloway’s trial and execution was common amongst the British during the 18th century. Colonel de Haldimar argues that Halloway brought shame upon his country and labels him as a traitor for allowing the stranger to enter the fort. A detailed description of Halloway’s past in the military is provided when the narrator states, “He was punctual at all parades and drills; kept the company to which he was attached in perfect hot water of discipline; never missed his distance in marching past, or failed in a military maneuver; paid his mess-bill regularly to the hour...” (Richardson,418). These exemplary British standards are used to characterize Halloway as an honourable soldier in the eyes of the British. Halloway’s execution is revealed to be a case of Colonel de Haldimar’s own “wounded dignity" (Richardson,420). His execution is rushed because Colonel de Haldimar does not want to be humiliated and furthermore, he compares the exemplary Halloway to Charles and Clara. This scenario displays how important honour was to the British and how treason was such a high crime to be accused of.

[edit] Wacousta's Story

Wacousta provides his own history as a soldier and gives the background which led him to seek revenge on the British. Wacousta begins his origin story when he states, “Cornwall is the country of my birth... at the age of eighteen I first joined the – regiment, then quartered in the Highlands of Scotland” (Richardson,442). This quotation displays that Wacousta was a soldier in the British Army during the Seven-Years War in North America. Wacousta’s character is complicated by his own telling, since he is not Indigenous. Wacousta uses storytelling and history to his advantage when he entices Clara de Haldimar. Clara is drawn into Wacousta’s story when the narrator describes, “her soul was intent only on a history that related so immediately to her beloved mother, of whom all that she had hitherto known was, that she was a native of Scotland and that her father had married her while quartered in that country” (Richardson,459). Wacousta attempts to use his history in order to make Clara his new bride. Clara listens intently as she knows that her mother was native to Scotland. Similarly, Richardson tells the story of Wacousta using historical realism and the popular gothic genre in order to entice the British into reading his novel.

Finishing his tale, Wacousta mentions, “The rebellion of forty-five saw me in arms in the Scottish ranks; and, in one instance, opposed to the regiment from which I had been so ignominiously expelled” (Richardson,494). This quotation refers to the Jacobite rising of 1745, which was a Scottish rebellion against the British. This reference to historical events serves to establish Wacousta's rebellion against the British. Wacousta’s story is interrupted by the sounds of the rescue and he responds by grabbing his “tomahawk” (Richardson,494). The tomahawk is synonymous with Indigenous violence and war in this novel, but tomahawks were also used during celebrations. The British gain the fort back when the text states, “The retreat of the detachment then commenced rapidly; but it was not without being hotly pursued by the band of warriors the yell of Wacousta had summoned in a pursuit that they finally gained the fort: under what feelings of sorrow for the fate of an officer” (Richardson,506). Historically, the British did secure Fort Detroit, however they did so with reinforcements and Wacousta was not the main oppositional force. Wacousta is included in order to blur the boundary between British and Indigenous people, rather than to represent a real person.

Now revealed to be Reginald Morton, Wacousta is sentenced to death by Colonel de Haldimar by hanging on the flagstaff. Haldimar proclaims Morton’s death sentence when he says, “one whose life has already been forfeited through his treasonable practices in Europe, and who has, moreover, incurred the penalty of an ignominious death, by acting in this country a spy of the enemies of England” (Richardson,520). Morton convinces the colonel that he will send a message to the Ottawa chief to liberate the colonel’s son. Morton argues that he has learned the Indigenous traditions when he says, “My wampum belt will be the passport, and the safeguard of him you send; then for the communication" (Richardson,523). Wampum belts are used for communication and peacemaking. Morton is not peaceful as he uses Indigenous traditions to fool the British, attempt to escape, and murder Clara.

[edit] Peace Between the Indigenous and the British

Richardson’s sprawling novel concludes with peace between the Indigenous people and the British. The Ottawas initiate the peace in their language, which is described when the narrator states, “the motive of the Ottawa’s coming was, to assure the British, that on this occasion, their great leader was purposefully sincere of a resolution, at which he had the more readily arrived, now that his terrible coadjutor and vindictive advisor was no more" (Richardson,542). The Ponteac War was traditionally viewed as an Indigenous loss, but Wacousta portrays the British losses more heavily. Furthermore, the true enemy is not the Indigenous people like history has often preached, but rather the true antagonist is Reginald Morton who disguises himself as an Indigenous “monster” even though he is a European. The true threat is abolished once Morton is killed and the soldiers can grieve.

[edit] Historical Accuracy of Wacousta

Stories which are based on past events often beg the question of their adherence to historical truth. The historical content of Wacousta is centered on the divide in the New World between colonialists in Canada, the United States and the Indigenous people. Richardson focuses his story on the Pontiac Rebellion, providing accounts on the fall of fort Michilimackinac as well as the foiled attempt to take down Fort Detroit.

Prior to the events of Pontiac’s Rebellion, France had a long presence in Canada. France became allies with certain Indigenous tribes, such as the Wendat, as France aided them in their war against the Iroquois (Wallace, 15-28). In 1698, the Great Peace of Montreal was signed in response to the emergence of the English as a greater threat than the French (Francis et al. 82). With the support of their Indigenous allies, France waged war with Great Britain in the “French and Indian War”, which came to an end when General Amherst of Great Britain seized Montreal in 1760 (Anderson, 453). Under the belief that the indigenous people would be forced to accept British rule after they defeated France, Amherst administered policies, which restricted the number of gifts given to Indigenous people, as well as the amount of gunpowder and ammunition which could be sold to them (Carley, 205; Anderson 468). Gift-giving carried a symbolic meaning and was considered necessary in maintaining a peaceful coexistence (Carley, 203-24; Borrows, 170). The restrictions to ammunition and gunpowder was set in order to prevent an uprising, however, it made it more difficult for indigenous people to hunt, thereby crippling them in the fur trade (Carley, 203-24). Although General Amherst and his capture of Montreal was mentioned in chapter one, the policy changes, which contributed to the Indigenous people’s vendetta against the English, was omitted from the story. Rather, it was described that the Indigenous animosity towards the English was due to the persuasiveness of the French, who were dispersed amongst various Indigenous tribes:

“During the first few years of the conquest, the inhabitants of Canada, who were all either European French, or immediate descendants of that nation, were, as might naturally be expected, more than restive under their new governors, and many of the most impatient spirits of the country sought every opportunity of sowing the seeds of distrust and jealousy in the hearts of the natives... The cause of the Indians, and that of the Canadians, became, in some degree, identified as one, and each felt it was the interest, and it may be said the natural instinct, of both, to hold communionship of purpose, and to indulge the same jealousies and fears.” (Richardson 12)

Prior to the outbreak of war, as early as 1761, wampum war belts were being circulated across various tribes, which signaled the Indigenous people’s unrest and intent of driving the British away (Dixon, 92-93). Richardson did not mention the prior circulation of war belts, further supporting the narrative that the Indigenous people were being influenced by the French, rather than acting on their own accord. Richardson, however, made reference to these belts during Pontiac’s initial meeting with the governor in fort Detroit: “Why did they take our hunting grounds from us? Why have they strong places encircling the country of the Indians, like a belt of wampum round the waist of a warrior?” (Richardson, 140). Although warriors would wear the war belts, they did not wear them around their waist, but rather, draped over their shoulders, around the neck (Keagle, 227). These belts were painted red because the color red signifies war (Snyderman, 474). In lieu of a belt, a pipe can be used instead, as such, Richardson’s description of the war pipe brought in by Pontiac is consistent with Indigenous culture: “The pipe and all its ornaments are red like blood: it is the pipe of war, and not the pipe of peace.” (Richardson, 145; Snyderman, 474).

The purpose of this initial meeting in Wacousta was to inspect Fort Detroit, while tricking the governor into smoking the pipe of war, disguising their true intent by proposing a truce in the name of trade. Upon leaving the fort, “The glance of the savages, and that of Ponteac in particular, was less wary than at their entrance. Each seemed to embrace every object on which the eye could rest, as if to fix its position indelibly in his memory” (Richardson, 147). The observant governor recognized the war pipe, which exposed the deceit of the Indigenous people, allowing him to prepare for the surprise attack in their following meeting, where Chief Pontiac and his followers were to return with the pipe of peace.

The real event occurred on May 1st, where Chief Pontiac and approximately forty Ottawa men arrived at Fort Detroit and asked to perform the calumet dance for the officers of the garrison (Dixon, 107-10). They were hesitantly granted permission and the warriors began to dance for Major Galdwyn and his officers, which served as a distraction, allowing the remaining Ottawas to prowl through the compound and take note of the location of storehouses, defenses and barracks (Parkman, 157). Following the dance, Pontiac informed Galdwyn that they would return to smoke the calumet before leaving with his men, without arising suspicion (Parkman, 157). Rather than through careful observation, Major Galdwyn would be made aware of Pontiac’s upcoming surprise attack by an unknown informant (Dixon, 107-10).

Thus, on May 7th, 1763, Pontiac ventured into Fort Detroit with his followers for their second meeting in an attempt to capture it by surprise (Dixon, 109-10). Pontiac and his followers were allowed entry into the Fort, where they met with Major Galdwyn and his officers, each armed with a sword and two pistols at the belt. Pontiac gave his speech and just before he signaled his attack, Galdwyn and his men drew their weapons, preventing the consummation of Pontiac’s plot (Parkman, 170-172). The council broke up and Galdwyn allowed the Indigenous people to depart. Remaining true to the historical event, Richardson’s Wacousta followed a similar narrative to the meeting, however, there were significantly fewer officers in the council house: “not more than one half of the officers who had been present at the first conference being now in the room” (Richardson 158). Furthermore, there was a scarlet cloth curtain, which concealed the armed officers in preparation for their own treachery. These minor changes add to the image of deceit, enhancing the gothic elements of Richardson’s tale.

On June 4th, 1763, the Ojibwas were allowed entry into Fort Michilimackinac in order to play a game of stickball (comparable to modern lacrosse), often stating that the game was in honor of the British king, George III (Parkman, 249-50). Although tensions were high, the countless warnings given to Major Etherington, the commander of the fort, were ignored and many soldiers and officers were outside to watch the game (Parkman, 249-50). In an effort to gain entry into the fort, a ball was hurled over the wall and the Indigenous people ran in and instead of retrieving the ball, they armed themselves with weapons, which were concealed by the Indigenous women (Parkman, 250-51). The British soldiers and officers were slaughtered and scalped, however, many French-Canadian inhabitants near the fort were left unharmed, doing nothing to aid the British, nor the Ojibwas (Parkman, 251-52). Although the English were well armed, they were vastly outnumbered, approximately forty to four hundred and the fort was lost. Consisting of fur traders, some officers and soldiers, approximately twenty people, escaped the massacre (Parkman, 256-57). Richardson’s Wacousta maintains historical fidelity of this massacre. His descriptions, although brutal, accurately depicted the event, from the attack to those escaping by boat. Richardson, however, omitted the fact that many French-Canadians were left unharmed as well as the information of the numerous warnings received by the commander of the fort from French-Canadina fur traders. This omission minimizes the historical mistakes made by the British and continues to support the narrative that the French instigated and continued to perpetuate Pontiac’s War.

[edit] Works Cited

Duffy, Dennis. “John Richardson.” Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Canada. April 10, 2008. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article.john-richardson. June 15, 2020.

Mathews, Robin. Canadian Literature: Surrender or Revolution. Toronto, Street Rail Educational Publishing, 1978.

McCrea, Harold. Wacousta or, The Prophecy: A Tale of the Canadas. 1987. Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9196092-wacousta-or-the-prophecy. Accessed 13 June 2020.

Richardson, John. Wacousta or The Prophecy. E-book. Objective Systems Pty Ltd. 2008. Preface.


Collingwood, R.G. The Idea of History. London, Oxford University Press, 1980.

Collins, Adrian, translator. The Use and Abuse of History. By Friedrich Nietzsche. Indianapolis, The Liberal Arts Press Inc., 1957.

Fee, Margery. Literary Land Claims: “The Indian Land Question” from Ponteac’s War to Attawapiskat. Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2015.

Volume 1:

“Fort Detroit.” Wikipedia, 23 Apr. 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Detroit. Accessed 14 June 2020.

McNamara, Robert. “The Surrender of Fort Detroit In 1812.” ThoughtCo, 26 Jan. 2020, https://www.thoughtco.com/the-1812-surrender-of-fort-detroit-1773546. Accessed 14 June 2020.

Richardson, John. Wacousta or, The Prophecy: a Tale of the Canadas. Edited by Douglas Cronk, vol. 1, Carleton University Press, 1990.

Volume 2:

“Indigenous Person Smoking Pipe.” White Wolf Pack , 2011, http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-WUbAWmPyU6o/VUifNXWQY9I/AAAAAAAA03Y/qZ5xdmluJB0/s1600/ScreenShot4074.jpg. Accessed 13 June 2020.

Maracle, Brian. “The First Words.” Our Story, Anchor Canada, 2004, pp. 11-33.

Marsh, James H. “Obwandiyag (Pontiac): Warrior Chief.” Obwandiyag (Pontiac): Warrior Chief | The Canadian Encyclopedia, 22 July 2012, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/pontiacs-war-feature.

Richardson, John. Wacousta; or, The Prophecy. VOL II. Freeditorial. 2013. PDF file.

Sandham, Henry. “Artistic Depiction of the Fort Michilimackinac Massacre.” All About Canadian History, 16 June 2015, https://cdnhistorybits.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/lacrosse-massacre-fort-michilimackinac/. Accessed 13 June 2020.

Volume 3:

Richardson, John. Wacousta or, The Prophecy: A Tale of the Canadas. Edited by Douglas Richard Cronk, Carleton University Press, 1987.

Historical Accuracy:

Anderson, Fred. Crucible of war: the Seven Years' War and the fate of empire in British North America, 1754-1766. Vintage, 2007.

Borrows, John. "Wampum at Niagara: The Royal Proclamation, Canadian legal history, and self-government." Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada (1997): 155-172.

Carley, Georgia. "Cost, Commodity, and Gift: The Board of Trade's Conceptualization of British–Native American Gift Giving during Pontiac's War." Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14.2 (2016): 203-224.

Francis, Daniel, Angus L. Scully, and Jill Germain. Voices and visions: A story of Canada. Alberta Education, Learning Resources Centre, Specialized Services for Students with Visual Impairment, 2015.

Keagle, Jordan. "Eastern beads, western applications: Wampum among Plains tribes." Great Plains Quarterly (2013): 221-235.

Parkman, Francis. The conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian war after the conquest of Canada. Vol. 1. Little, Brown, 1912.

Richardson, John. Wacousta Or, the Prophecy: A Tale of the Canadas. Vol. 4. McGill-Queen's Press-MQUP, 1987.

Snyderman, George S. "The functions of wampum." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 98.6 (1954): 469-494.

Wallace, Paul AW. "The Iroquois: A brief outline of their history." Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 23.1 (1956): 15-28.

White, Richard. The middle ground: Indians, empires, and republics in the Great Lakes region, 1650–1815. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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