[Note: This is a single part of what will be, by my classification, about 240 compact tribal histories (contact to 1900). It is limited to the lower 48 states of the U.S. but also includes those First Nations from Canada and Mexico that had important roles ( Huron, Assiniboine, etc.).

This history's content and style are representative. The normal process at this point is to circulate an almost finished product among a peer group for comment and criticism. At the end of this History you will find links to those Nations referred to in the History of the Nipissing.

Using the Internet, this can be more inclusive. Feel free to comment or suggest corrections via e-mail. Working together we can end some of the historical misinformation about Native Americans. You will find the ego at this end to be of standard size. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to your comments... Lee Sultzman.

Nipissing Location

Northern Ontario. Strategically located on Lake Nipissing just east of Lake Huron's Georgian Bay, the Nipissing occupied the important portage between the Ottawa and the French Rivers which linked Lake Huron to the St. Lawrence.


Always a small tribe, the Nipissing were probably less than 1,000 in 1615. By 1756 there were only two hundred, most of whom were living at the Lake of Two Mountains mission just west of Montreal. The enrollment of the Nipissing First Nation at North Bay, Ontario currently lists more than 1,800 members.


Askicouaneronnon (Huron), Nation of Sorcerers (French), Nepcinqui, Nepissing, Nipercinean, and Skekwanenhronon (Iroquois).


Algonquin. Closely related to the dialects spoken by the Ojibwe, Ottawa and Algonkin. Because of their language and small size, the Nipissing are frequently considered to be either an eastern group of the Ottawa, a southern part of Ojibwe, or a northern band of Algonkin.




The Nipissing were too far north for reliable corn agriculture and, like most of the other tribes in the region, were primarily hunter-gatherers. As a rule the Nipissing were friends with both the Huron and Algonkin and, because of their location, had been active in

trade for a long time before the arrival of the Europeans - their most trade item being copper from the upper Great Lakes which was highly prized by the Algonquin tribes on the Atlantic coast. Probably their most interesting feature was their reputation among other tribes for the spiritual power of their shamans. Unfortunately, some of their neighbors were also prone to accusing them of sorcery as a result. At least this is warning the Algonkin and Huron passed along to the French so they avoid the Nipissing. It should be noted that, at the same time, the Huron were telling the Neutrals and Tionontati that French Jesuits were using witchcraft to cause epidemics.


The first French contact with the Nipissing was in 1615. Ignoring Huron stories of Nipissing sorcery, Samuel de Champlain visited their village while enroute to the Huron villages on Georgian Bay. At the time, the Nipissing occupied one of the most important beaver producing areas in Canada and also had trading connections to the Ojibwe and Cree to the north and west. These reasons were more than enough to have made the Nipissing an invaluable trading partner for the French, but their location on the portage between the Ottawa Valley and Lake Huron meant that virtually all of the French fur trade from the western Great Lakes passed through the Nipissing homeland. The fur trade provided the Nipissing with steel weapons and, after 1632, their first firearms for "hunting." Despite their small population, these made the Nipissing formidable to the much-larger neighboring tribes.

The numerous lakes and small streams of the Nipissing homeland had a lot of beaver, but the huge demand by the French for fur quickly used up what was available. This forced the Nipissing and other French trading partners to look elsewhere for new hunting territory which, of course, belonged to other tribes, many of whom were inclined to resist unauthorized poaching. During the 1630s and 40s, alliances were formed between the Nipissing, Ottawa, Tionontati, Huron, and Neutrals to seize territory from the Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Mascouten, Fox, and Sauk who apparently were the original resident tribes on the lower Michigan peninsula to the west. The attacks by the warriors of these alliances - what would become known as the Beaver Wars (1630-1700) - forced the Michigan tribes to surrender territory and relocate farther west. The Iroquois would complete the process during the 1650s and force them across Lake Michigan into Wisconsin.

While the Nipissing certainly prospered from their trade with the French, they suffered as well. Competition for fur quickly disrupted what had been, for the most part, a relatively peaceful region. Disturbed that most of the French trade had shifted west to the Great Lakes, the Algonkin living in the Ottawa River Valley began to collect tolls for passage through their territory and occasionally robbed Nipissing trading parties enroute to Quebec and Montreal. Even worse were the epidemics which followed the fur trade west, and since they were located on the main trade route, the Nipissing missed very few of these. The first to hit was smallpox which began in New England during 1634 and by 1636-37 had spread to the St. Lawrence and then up the Ottawa River to the Nipissing. Jesuit missionaries visited in 1640 but soon moved on to the Huron villages allowing the Nipissing, for the moment, to remain devoted to their traditional "sorcery."

The epidemics struck with frightening regularity throughout the 1640s to which Nipissing shamans, despite their reputation, had no answer. This continuing tragedy, however, provided an opportunity for the French priests to make their first converts among the Huron and Nipissing. Unfortunately, French medical knowledge was limited and Christianity conferred no special immunity to disease. The Nipissing steadily lost population, but the Huron who were concentrated in their large fortified villages were especially vulnerable. After epidemics decimated their population during the 1640s, the Huron lost their ability to resist the Iroquois who were expanding northward to take hunting territory needed for their trade with the Dutch. French firearms initially had helped the French trading partners stem the tide, but in 1640 the Dutch had begun providing large quantities of firearms and ammunition to the Iroquois. With this, the Beaver Wars suddenly became very deadly.

Better armed than the French themselves, the Mohawk attacked the Algonkin and Montagnais along the upper St. Lawrence River. The Montagnais were soon forced to retreat east towards Quebec, and the Algonkin were driven from the south end of the Ottawa Valley. The French built a new trading post at Montreal in 1642, but Iroquois war parties moved into the Ottawa Valley cutting access from the west. By 1645 the French were forced to ask for peace, but the treaty they signed that year with the Mohawk did not extend to their native allies. After a brief period of peace, fighting resumed between the Iroquois and the French trading partners. While the French stood by maintaining a nervous neutrality, the Mohawk and Oneida decimated the southern bands of the Algonkin. A hasty alliance forged out of necessity between the Nipissing, Montagnais, and Algonkin had little effect. Meanwhile, the western Iroquois (Cayuga, Onondaga, and Seneca) had concentrated their attacks on the Huron Confederacy.

With their enemies in the east subdued, the Mohawk joined with the western Iroquois to finish off the Huron. Huronia was overrun during 1649, and the Tionontati, who were Huron allies, suffered a similar fate that winter. The western Iroquois then turned on the Neutrals, leaving the Mohawk to deal with the remaining Algonkin and Nipissing. During 1650 a large Mohawk war party moved into the upper Ottawa Valley. Besides the Algonkin, it also attacked and massacred many of the Nipissing. During the next three years of war and death, the Nipissing held their ground against the Iroquois juggernaut, but by 1653 the survivors were forced to abandon their homeland and flee west to the Ottawa and Saulteur Ojibwe near Sault Ste. Marie. Already dominating trade with the Dutch along the Hudson River in New York, the Iroquois had similar ambitions for a similar status with the French on the St. Lawrence, and to accomplish this, they were determined to drive any potential rivals as far west as possible away from the French trading posts.

Iroquois attacks near Sault. Ste. Marie in 1653 and 1655 forced the Ottawa to leave and move south near Green Bay, Wisconsin. By 1661 the Nipissing had also relocated farther west with the Amikwa Ojibwe on the northern shore of Lake Superior. Meanwhile, the Ottawa and Wyandot (Huron) had found their way to Chequamegon Bay on the south shore. Throughout this disaster, the French had clung to their precarious truce signed with the Mohawk in 1645 and to this added a second, equally fragile, peace with the western Iroquois during 1656. At the time, there were fewer than 300 French in all of North America, so their reluctance to intervene while the Iroquois were destroying their trading partners and allies is somewhat understandable. Aware of their danger, the French carefully avoided any travel to the western Great Lakes which might offend the Iroquois, but they still wanted to trade for fur and did not wish to become subservient to the League to do so.

In the year immediately after 1649, the French encouraged the native fur traders to come to Montreal, but Iroquois war parties roaming along the length of the Ottawa River made this very dangerous. Few dared, but after the Ottawa and Wyandot found a refuge on the south shore of Lake Superior, they were willing to try. Having maintained their trading ties with the Cree to the north, they had a lot of fur and a taste for European goods. Supported by the Ojibwe and Nipissing, they formed large canoe flotillas which forced their way past the Iroquois blockade on the Ottawa River and reached Montreal. This activity brought renewed Iroquois attacks to the northern Great Lakes, but the shores of Lake Superior stretched Iroquois military power just a little too far. In 1662 the Nipissing got a taste of sweet revenge, when they combined with Ojibwe and Ottawa warriors to annihilate a large Mohawk-Oneida war party just west of Sault Ste. Marie. Despite this setback, the Iroquois still dominated the area to the east, and Nipissing, Ojibwe, and Ottawa fur traders still had to fight their way to Montreal. Their trade convoy in 1664 was ambushed twice in the Ottawa Valley by Iroquois war parties.

Meanwhile, the French peace with the Iroquois had collapsed in 1658 following the murder of a Jesuit priest acting as a French ambassador. By 1664 the French had decided they were not getting anywhere appeasing the Iroquois and brought a regiment of French soldiers to Canada. Their subsequent attacks on the villages in the Iroquois homeland finally brought a lasting peace which was signed in 1667. Having learned from experience, the French also got the Iroquois to extend the peace to include French trading partners and allies. During the next thirteen years, the French resumed travel to the western Great Lakes eventually laying claim to the entire region and the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys to the south. For the Nipissing, this meant they could return (after almost 20 years) with a certain amount of security to their old homes near Lake Nipissing. Strangely enough, while men had been at war, the beaver had been at peace, and the area had recovered to become once again the best fur-producing area in North America.

The Nipissing came home gradually and in small groups, to which the French responded with trading posts and missionaries. This time, however, the priests met with more success and made numerous conversions. At the same time along the St. Lawrence, there was growing confrontation between the French and British. Two wars resulted: the King William's War (1688-97) and the Queen Anne's War (1701-13). Completely outnumbered by the growing number of British colonists to the south, the French needed every native ally they could find to defend Canada against invasion during these conflicts. In 1721 the French convinced 250 Nipissing at Ile aux Tourtes and about 100 Algonkin from St. Anne de Boit de Ille missions in the upper Ottawa Valley to settle with 300 Christian Mohawk living at the Sulpician mission village of Lake of Two Mountains (Lac des Deaux Montagnes) just west of Montreal. Considering the past animosities between these peoples, this must have been "one heck of a sales job." The most amazing thing is that it worked out fairly well, although the Nipissing and Algonkin insisted on calling the combined village Oka (pickerel), while the Mohawk stayed with their own name, Kanesatake or "sandy place."

As part of the mission community at Oka, the Nipissing became part of the alliance known as Seven Nations of Canada (Seven Fires of Caughnawaga). Its membership included the: Caughnawaga (Mohawk), Lake of the Two Mountains (Iroquois, Algonkin, and Nipissing), St. Francois (Sokoki, Pennacook, and New England Algonquin), Bécancour (Eastern Abenaki), Oswegatchie (Onondaga and Oneida), Lorette (Huron), and St. Regis (Mohawk). The name of this alliance is not familiar to most Americans, but the Seven Nations of Canada were the primary French native allies used against the British during the King George's War (1744-48) and the French and Indian War (1755-63). Although Oka was struck by smallpox in 1748, the Nipissing and Algonkin warriors living there remained loyal to the French cause helping destroy Braddock's army in 1755 at Fort Duquesne and fighting at Lake George in northern New York during 1758.. this last campaign earning them another experience with smallpox. By 1760, however, it became obvious the French had lost the war. In August of that year, the Seven Nations signed a peace with the British which assured the French loss of their claims in North America.

Through the efforts of Sir William Johnson after 1763, the Seven Nations of Canada merged with the Iroquois League to form a single alliance in support of the British interest. The enormous power of this coalition allowed the British to crush the Pontiac Uprising in the Great Lakes that and afterwards put the Nipissing at Oka on the British side during the American Revolution (1775-83). The size of the Oka reserve shrank following the war through lands sales to accommodate the resettlement in Upper Canada of British Loyalists who had been forced to leave the newly-formed United States. The Nipissing also fought beside the British during the War of 1812 (1812-14), but by then Oka was having trouble supporting its population because of continued loss of lands to white settlement. The final blow came in 1835 when cholera swept the reserve. Only a few Nipissing descendents can be found with the Mohawk at Oka today. The vast majority live in the vicinity of Lake Nipissing and will be quick to tell you that they are Nipissing, not Algonkin, Ottawa or Ojibwe.

First Nations referred to in this Nipissing History:


Comments concerning this History would be appreciated. Direct same to Lee Sultzman.

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