Madame Montour (c. 1684-c. 1752), interpreter & Indian agent for the colonies of New York & Pennsylvania, spent most of her life among the Native Americans & was presumably of French & Indian descent. She had an air of distinction that led contemporaries to credit her with a genteel background. One observer (Witham Marshe) described her in 1844 as “a handsome woman, genteel, & of polite address” & reported that she had been well received by Philadelphia gentlewomen while on a treaty mission to that city. Conrad Weiser, the Pennsylvania Indian agent, referred to her in 1737 as “a French woman by birth, of a good family” (Journal, Mar. 22), & Cadwallader Colden of New York asserted that she had had “a good education in Canada before she went among the Indians” (New York Historical Society, Collections, I, 1868, p. 200).
She herself said in 1744, according to Marshe, “that she was born in Canada, whereof her father (who was a French gentleman) had been Governor;” & tradition would have her the daughter of Count Frontenac by an Indian woman. Forntenac, however, was recalled from Canada in 1682 & did not return until 1689, whereas Madame Montour must have been born about 1684, for she said in 1744 that it was then “nearly fifty years” since, at about the age of ten, she had been taken prisoner & carried away by Iroquois warriors. There is, moreover, some evidence that she was brought up from earliest childhood (before her presumed Iroquois captivity) in the family of half-breed “Louise Couc surnomme Montour,” son of Pierre Couc of Cognac, France, & his wife, an Algonquin named Mitewamagwakwe. Louis was a coureur de bois, a trapper & hunter, who lived at Three Rivers, Quebec, with his Indian wife of the Sokoki tribe, listed in local records as Madeline Sakokie. Madam Montour’s first husband, to further complicate the story, was reportedly a Seneca named Roland Montour (Hewitt, p. 937). But his surname may have been merely a coincidence, or he may possibly have taken the Montour name from her, rather than she from him; the evidence on this, as on her relationship with Lois Couc Montour, in inconclusive. Her husband Roland is thought to have been the Montour who was killed by French agents in April 1709. Though her first name is sometimes given as Catherine or Madeleine, in contemporary records she is simply Mrs. Or Madame Montour.
Whatever her background, she was a woman of character. She first entered the service of the English colonies on Aug. 25, 1711, when she acted as interpreter at a conference in Albany between Gov. Robert Hunter & chiefs of the Iroquois, or Five Nations. She was at this time married to Carandowana, or Big Tree, an Oneida chief who, in compliment to the governor, subsequently took the name Robert Hunter. In 1712, Madame Montour & her husband accompanied Col. Peter Schuyler of Albany on a mission to Onondaga (Syracuse, N.Y.), capital of the Iroquois Confederacy, seeking to dissuade the Five Nations from joining the Tuscaroras in the war against North Carolina. For her services it was arranged that she should thereafter receive a man’s pay from each of “the four independt. Companies posted in this Province [New York].” So important did the French regard Madame Montour’s influence in preserving the entente between the English colonies & the Iroquois that the governor of Canada repeatedly sought to draw her over to the French side, offering her higher compensation; in 1719 he reportedly sent her sister as a special emissary.
In 1727 & again in 1728 Madame Montour was “Interpretress” at a conference in Philadelphia between the Iroquois & Gov. Patrick Gordon of Pennsylvania, she & her husband being paid 5 pounds. She attended a similar conference at Philadelphia in 1734 & was present unofficially at another in Lancaster in 1744. Meanwhile her husband had been killed in the Catawba War in 1729. After 1727 she made her home in Pennsylvania, on the West Branch of t he Susquehanna River at Otstonwakin (later Montoursville). She subsequently (about 1743) moved to an island in the Susquehanna at Shamokin (Sunbury) & thence to western Pennsylvania. Although late in life she became blind, she retained enough vigor to make the sixty-mile journey from Logs town (near present-day Pittsburgh) to Venango (Franklin) -her son Andrew on foot leading her horse- in two days. She died about 1752.
There has been confusion about her children, partly because Indian & European kinship terms do not agree, the Indians, for example, calling the children of an Indian woman’s sister, as well as her own, her sons & daughters. It is certain, however, that Madame Montour bore at least two sons, Andrew (sometimes called Henry) & Louis, & one or two daughters. “French Margaret,” sometimes called her daughter, was probably so only in the Indian sense; but the latter’s children (by her Mohawk husband, Katerionecha, commonly known as Peter Quebec) preserved the French traits of the Montour connection. Margaret’s daughter Catharine, “Queen” of Catharine’s Town at the head of Seneca Lake, & her presumed daughter “Queen Esther” (identified, on uncertain evidence. As the Indian woman who killed prisoners taken in the Battle of Wyoming in 1778) have been called granddaughters of Madame Montour.
Andrew Montour (Sattelihu), her son, for a time lived with his mother, but after serving the Pennsylvania authorities for some years as an interpreter, often in company with Conrad Weiser, he requested permission to settle near the whites & was granted a large tract of land near Carlisle. During the French & Indian War he commanded a company of Indians in the English service, rising to the rank of major. Pennsylvania has honored Madame Montour & her son by naming a county after them, & a town & a mountain also bear their name.
Suzanne Bolvin Sommerville. All Sources Are Not Created Equal: The Couc/Montour Family of Nouvelle France and the British Colonies. French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan, 2009.
Simone Vincennes. Madame Montour et son temps. 1979 by Quaebec/Amaerique
Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971