Dateline, Philadelphia, 1689 to 1712. What if the French couple who lived in the Pennsylvania frontier were spies? Would they form an alliance with Indians to attack the English? Primary sources. Great for students and teachers and any and all readers.
If you’re in a hurry, scroll down to the end, and look for the summary highlights.
First, the big picture.
From New France or French Canada, France was attacking New England and especially Albany, New York. France was a Catholic country.
Further, colonists feared an invasion by Spain, another Catholic country. Even a small flotilla could do real damage to the unprepared Americans.
England was at war with France in King William’s War (1687-97), where the main theater of war was New France. Then Queen Anne’s War (1701-13) carried it on in the same area.
So in addition to theological differences, war and politics influenced the English attitudes towards their French neighbors.
Let’s return to the documents here.
Jacques and Ann Le Tort were an odd French couple. The records do not show they had kids. What were they doing up the Schuylkill River?
In French, tort means “wrong, mistake, fault, harm, hurt, injury.” Surely one or two Pennsylvanians knew this (or maybe the English misspelled their French names, though they uniformly spelled it Tort. Their name adds to the mystery of these inhabitants because it may be code for their mission. But if it is a code, why so obvious?
Frenchman Pierre (Peter) Basilion also appears in these records, and his last name is spelled variously, like Bezalion or Bizalion. I made it uniform: Basilion.
Others: Michel, a Swiss, Martin Chartiere, a glover of Philadelphia, and Frank, a young man of Canada. None of them appear in these records, but the Le Torts knew them and they appear in other records, next:
However, a council record dated 24 Feb 1707 says those men settled in Pennsylvania to mine for minerals and ore, but they did not seek a license to do business. They even told the local Indians that they must work with them, and the governor would pay the Indians. The Indians were suspicious and asked the Council. The French were summoned forthwith. After an investigation carried over on the next day, 25 Feb., the Council concluded unanimously:
All the aforementioned persons and all others settle at or near the above-mentioned place, and the forks of the Potomac, whose residence has of late been in this government and have not a special order from the Governor for their going thither [to there] shall forthwith repair [go or return] to Philadelphia or to their respective places of abode, as they will answer the contrary to their peril (pp. 421-22).
With that background, let’s begin this interesting story.
29 Aug 1689
John Blackwell, Esq. Governor, a Puritan (!)
Samuel Carpenter, Griffith Jones, John Curtis, William Clark, John Hill, Peter Aldrichs, John Simcock, John Bristow, Bartholomew, Wm. Markham, Secretary
In this record, the Council did not heed a letter received from Capt. Le Tort that warned the colonists. Mistake?
Whereof he then gave the Council … a letter he [the Governor] had received from one Capt. Le Tort—a Frenchman living up in the country—agreeing therewith [of the reported dangers], which they did not see any reason to give heed unto. (p. 299)
24 Apr 1690
Council meeting in the Council room in Philadelphia:
Thomas Lloyd, President
Arthur Cook, Samuel Richardson, Griffith Jones, Thomas Duckett, Griffith Jones, William Markham, Secretary
Here the Council asks Swede Lawrence (Lassie, Lacey or Lassy) Cock, a translator between the Indians and English, to give a report about the French who live up Schuylkill River. A spy mission, in effect. If he finds too much ammunition, he is to confiscate it.
Modernized transcription begins:
… The board [Council] being informed that Lassie Cock intends [to go] up the Schuylkill [River] among our Indians, the beginning of the next week, do request that the President with the present members give instruction to the said Lacy [sic] Cock to make particular enquiry concerning the store and quantity of ammunition in the custody of the French families seated up the said River; and in case he shall find greater store than shall be judged expedient to be left there, to have the same secured in order to be brought to Barnabas Wilcox’s store, assuring the owner’s reasonable satisfaction for the same;
And further that such of the said French who may be justly suspected of unfaithfulness to this province may be the most suitable means persuaded [to come] down here;
And that the Chief Sachem of our Indians may be assured of our good intentions towards them and their people;
And that we desire a meeting with their Chief men as soon as they can conveniently, giving us notice of the time nine or ten days before;
And if he sees occasion to employ four or six likely persons for the discovering of any designs [plans or strategies] of the French or their Indians against the peace, who shall have competent satisfaction at their return to us. (p. 334)
22 May 1690
Councilmen meeting in the Council room in Philadelphia:
Thomas Lloyd, President
John Simcock, Griffith Owen, William Clark, Samuel Richardson, Arthur Clark, William Markham, Secretary
Capt. Le Tort, making his application to the Council that her may have liberty to go for England, resolved that he may, provided he perform the laws of government in that case provided. (p. 340)
19 Dec 1693
A council held at Philadelphia:
Wm. Markham, Esq. and Lt. Governor
Andrew Robson, Robert Turner, Wm. Salway, Lacey Cock, all Esquires, and Patrick Robinson, Secretary
The next passage amounts to a complaint by Thomas Jenner and Polycarpus Rose, who report strange happenings up the river at the Le Tort’s plantation. Letters wrapped in blue linen was observed in the hands of Ann, which concerned Natives. What was that about? And why did Ann ride furiously towards two men and whip one?
Modernized transcription begins:
Information against Ann Le Tort
Thomas Jenner and Polycarpus Rose exhibited to Lt. Governor and Council the information following, viz. [namely]:
The information of Thomas Jenner and Polycarpus Rose, concerning some passages and discourses that has been between the French people and some of the Pennsylvania Indians.
1.. The informant Polycarpus Rose says that about 5 weeks since, this information, having some discourse with a certain Indian king called Hicquoqueen: the said Indian resented the unkindness of the English to the Indians here;
And further said that they were not likely to hold the land much longer; for that they were not satisfied for it;
And that the French told him that it would not be long ere [before] they would buy their land of them again, for the English had but borrowed it and that they could not be so kind to them because of the English; and this was particularly told him by [Frenchman] Peter Basilion and Madam Le Tort
2.. The informants, Thomas Jenner and Polycarpus Rose say that about a month since they were in company with Benjamin Clift at Zechariah Whitpain’s plantation, where the said Clift said that one Thomas Graves and he, being together, the Indians up [the] Delaware [River] told him that the French would come in the spring of the year and burn the English and take the country for themselves.
3.. Peter Yokum told them that since the letters that the Indian woman discovered about a year ago there has been strange Indians come to LeTort’s plantation and sent them away again and gave no account to the Indian king from whence [where] they came or wither [where] they went. Peter Yokum says that several Indians told him so, viz. [namely] Shakhuppo, Kyentarrah’s wife, Olemeon’s wife.
4.. They further say that upon the 9th of December 1693, they riding by the house of Madame Le Tort, Polycarpus asked her how she did [How’s it going? Or “What are you up to?”].
She answered, “Where have you been?” He said, “At Peter Yokum’s.” She said, “There was no path for Swedes or English rogues there, for no English rogue nor Swede should come on her ground.” [She ran] in a fury with a horse and whip and whipped Polycarpus and called Louis to help her, a French Canadian prisoner taken by our Indians; and these informants and Mounce Yokum were forced to ride away, for fear they should have been shot, but saw no gun.
5.. Polycarpus Rose says that about a year since there was a packet of letters sent from Philadelphia from Peter Basilion, Capt. Dubrois [sic] and Madame Le Tort to the strange Indians called Shallnarooners, sealed up in a blue linen cloth and was left at James Stanfield’s plantation by Richard [sic] Basilion’s servant, who then ran away;
And the letters being there 3 days, James [Le Tort], the Frenchman, came and carried them away, who then belonged to the persons abovesaid.
POLYCARPUS [P.C.] ROSE (His mark) (pp. 396-97)
The men mentioned in those five articles were made to swear to each one where they were named.
How did the Council respond? The summon all the people above named to appear on the 29th, this year—immediately, in other words.
6 Feb 1694
Now the persons involved in the imbroglio recorded on 19 Dec 1693 appear before the Council.
At a Council held at Philadelphia the sixth of February 1693-94
Wm. Markham, Lt. Governor
Robert Turner, John Cann, Wm. Salway, Lacey Cock [Swede who interprets between English and French], all Esquires; Patrick Robinson, Secretary.
The information of Thomas Jenner and Polycarpus Rose exhibited top this board the 19th of December 1693 against Ann Le Tort etc. was again read and by Peter Reverdie interpreted to her and her husband from the English into French.
Shakhuppo, an Indian King, being examine by Capt. Cock, interpreter, says that he knows nothing of any letters sent to strange Indians by Ann Le Tort, nor any others, but that he has seen some strange Indians come to trade with her, but that he neither knew them nor understood their language.
Kayantarras’ wife, by the said Capt. Cock, interpreter, being examined, says that she has sometimes seen strange Indians come to Le Tort’s plantation to buy goods.
The said Ann Le Tort, by Peter Reverdie, interpreter, being examined, says that what those informants by mistake call a packet of letters was only a book of account of what Indians owed them, wrapped up in a blue linen cloth to preserve it from the weather.
To the fifth article, about Le Tort’s whipping Polycarpus Rose and calling the English and Swedes rogues, she says that the Indians are much indebted to her and little to Peter Yokum and that he came before her house with rum and therewith enticed the Indians from her; whereupon she in anger might call him and the said Polycarpus Rose names.
To the 1st article the said Ann Le Tort says that she never had any such discourse with Hicquoqueen, nor has she seen him these past three years.
Benjamin Clift being lame and not able to travel sent to the Lt. Governor a paper wherein he says that two of our Indians kings told him that there have been several letters and powders sent to Canada by Peter Basilion; and that Louis, the French Canadian prisoner that lives at Le Tort’s told our Indians that they should see in a short time that all our English would be cut off by the French and that if the English were from amongst you, and we should live bravely [excellently].
Capt Cock says that he believes our Indians are only afraid that strange Indians will come and surprise them [take them by surprise].
Whereupon the Lt. Governor asked and desired the Council’s opinion whether from the abovesaid examinations and proofs there were sufficient grounds whereupon to being the said Ann Le Tort to a trial.
They were unanimously of opinion there were not. (pp. 435-36)
Still on 6 Feb 1694, petitions from Philadelphians and surrounding inhabitants say they were nervous—even jealous (zealous)—about the French trading in out-of-the-way places with the Natives. The French have to follow the trade rules too.
The petition of some of the inhabitants of Philadelphia and some other parts of the Province [of Pennsylvania] was read, setting forth their jealousies relating to the French in general amongst them and more specially referring to those trading in remote and obscure places with the Natives, without security and approbation [approval or permission];
And therefore, requesting that the French may be called from those places where they be permitted to retail trade that it be in places of this or other towns in the province and that neither they nor any others be permitted to freedom of trade with the Natives, but such as are approved of and upon security of acquainting the Natives and the enemies of the country.
On the same date of 6 Feb 1694, we now come to the resolution of the imbroglio on 19 Dec 1693 and this examination by the board of the defendants.
It is hereupon resolved that Capt. Jacques Le Tort give to the Lt. Governor sureties that he shall acquaint the government with all matters he can hear of or observe concerning the Natives and the enemies of the country and that he take the oaths appointed by act of parliament to be taken [sic] instead of the oaths of allegiance and supremacy [English oaths, not French ones].
Ordered that Capt. Le Tort or his wife being before the Lt. Governor and Council Louis, the Frenchman that lives at his house, the 13th instant.
Ordered that Robert Turner, treasurer, give to Shakuppo and Kyantarra’s wife two match coats and two shillings, sixpence in money. (p. 436)
17 Aug 1703
At a Council held at Philadelphia:
Edward Shippen, John Guest, Samuel Carpenter, William Clark, Thomas Story, Griffith Owen, Samuel Finney
Jacques Le Tort left for French Canada and spent two years there. The English Council claims that he was led astray to go on this adventure. To reassure the Council, he had to provide the exorbitant security of £500 sterling. Interestingly, Jacques had lived among the English since his youth (“infancy”), which does not necessarily mean he was a toddler! He was probably just a adventurous young man.
James Le Tort, who about 2 years ago went out of this Province [of Pennsylvania] to Canada and returned last spring, having been upon his return, [was] examined before several of the Council and magistrates, and no great occasion [was] found to suspect him of any evil designs against this government, he having been bred in it from his infancy had hitherto [up to now] had behaved himself inoffensively;
[But he] was seduced to depart in time of peace by the instigation of some others, without any evil intentions that could be made [to] appear in himself;
And being now in town, together with Peter Basilion another Frenchman and Indian trader, it was judged necessary to call both before the Council, and for further satisfaction to take security of them for their behavior towards the government;
Accordingly they were sent for and obliged each to give security in five hundred pounds sterling [a huge amount] that they should behave themselves as good subjects of the Queen [Anne] and of this government, and hold no correspondence whatsoever with the enemy, but at all times during the war make best discoveries they could of all designs [strategies] that should come to their knowledge against this government or any others of the Queen’s subjects. (pp. 100-01).
22 Mar 1703-04 (1704 in our dating)
John Evans, Esq. Lt. Governor
Roger Mompesson [sic], Samuel Finney, Edward Shippen, Griffith Owen, Caleb Pusey, James Logan
Ann Le Tort told the Council about conflict between Indians. The blank is original, but it has to be Ann.
A letter from ____ Le Tort, the French woman at Conestoga, directed to Edward Farmer, bearing date 15th instant, being brought to the Governor, informing that the Towitois Indians had come down and cut off two families of neighboring Indians at Conestoga; and that they were all there under great apprehensions of further mischief from them and were preparing to demand succor [help] of this government (of Pennsylvania) in case the disorders should continue.
The Governor laid the said letter before the board to be considered how far the said information ought to be regarded and would be judged necessary to be done therein.
Resolved: That some messenger or messengers be forthwith dispatched away to Conestoga by way of New Castle to know the true grounds of the said information, the relation [narration or report] as it now appears being somewhat suspicious. (p. 123)
So Ann’s letter was suspicious. Did the Council trust the Le Torts?
9 May 1704
John Evans, Esq. Lt. Governor
Roger Mompesson (sic), Edward Shippen, John Guest, William Clark, Griffith Owen, Caleb Pusey, William Trent, James Logan
In a long passage, not transcribed here, Jacques Le Tort is recorded as serving as an interpreter between the Indians and the English Council of Philadelphia, so evidently he knew English and a Native language very well. Maybe they did trust him up to a point, unless a third person in the group knew French and the Native language and was double-checking Le Tort’s translations. Peter Basilion’s (unnamed) wife also knew the Native language well and was called on to interpret (pp. 140-42).
18 May 1704
John Evans, Esq., Lt. Governor
Roger Mompesson (sic), Edward Shippen, Samuel Carpenter, William Clark, William Trent, James Logan
Peter Basilion, the French trader, coming to town and being sent for, informed the board that he had heard that those of the Five Nations who intended shortly [to go] down this way had a design of carrying off the Shawanah Indians, both those settled near Conestoga and those near Lechay, they being the colonies of a nation that were the enemies;
Which being fully considered, it was resolved:
That it would be necessary to send an embassy as well in behalf of our friends and allies, as the Shawanahs are as of ourselves, and that all the belts of wampum be procured and sent up that were collected among the Indians three years ago for that purpose (p. 148)
6 Oct 1704
John Evans, Esq., Lt. Governor
Edward Shippen, John Guest, William Clark, Samuel Finney, James Logan
Disaster struck Jacques Le Tort. The next records see him in jail.
A petition from James Le Tort, prisoner in the common jail of Philadelphia, was read, setting forth that he had always been faithful and bore true allegiance to the crown of England and was ready to give further security as should be thought reasonable.
Yet [he] was abridged of his liberty and detained a prisoner, praying relief therein.
It is ordered to be further considered and then [they] adjourned. (p. 167)
31 Oct 1704
John Evans, Esq. Lt. Governor
Edward Shippen, Thomas Story, Griffith Owen, Richard Hill, James Logan, Joseph Pidgeon, William Trent, all Esquires
A petition from James Le Tort, prisoner in Philadelphia jail, was read, setting forth he always bore true allegiance to the Crown of England and was ready to give all possible assurance of his resolution in the same; that he has been detained a prisoner a considerable time in the said jail, only on suspicion and therefore prays relief;
Which being considered, it is ordered:
That unless the said Le Tort can give sufficient security for his good behavior in the sum of one thousand pounds to be produced at the next sitting Council, he [is to be] still detained prisoner (p. 174)
1 Nov 1704
John Evans, Esq. Lt. Governor
Edward Shippen, Griffith Owen, Caleb Pusey, Richard Hill, William Trent, George Roche, Joseph Pidgeon, James Logan, all Esq.
The case of James Le Tort was also further considered, and then [they] adjourned till tomorrow morning at nine o’clock. (p. 175)
2 Nov 1704
John Evans, Esq. and Lt. Governor
Edward Shippen, Thomas Story, Griffith Own, Caleb Pusey (all Esq.), Richard Hill, Jasper Yeats, James Logan
… And le Tort’s business further considered, but [it was] ordered according to the former minutes …. (p. 176)
22 July 1707
John Evans, Esq. and Lt. Governor
John Guest, Thomas Story, Griffith Owen, James Logan, Richard Hill, all Esquires
In a great meeting with various Indians tribes, the recount stories of recent events, in Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, for example on 1 July. A certain Frenchman named Martin Chartiere entered an Indian village with James Le Tort. So it looks like he got out of jail. Good for him (pp. 402-06).
26 July 1709
Cha. Gookin, Esquire and Lt. Governor
James Logan, Samuel Preston, Anthony Palmer, all Esquires
James Le Tort appears in another record (not transcribed here) that says Indians felt that traders, particularly Le Tort, wrong them about matchcoats that Le Tort and others sold them. The Indian desired satisfaction, but the council advised a strange thing—to find a method (design or strategy) to “scare” them. In other words, take matters into your own hands, but don’t kill anyone (pp. 490-91).
23 July 1712
Edward Shippen, President
Joseph Growdon, James Logan, Richard Hill, Isaac Norris, Samuel Preston, Jonathan Dickinson, Robert Assheton, all Esquires
Indians came into town complaining to the Council that other Indians and the English mistreated them in their trade and crops. The plaintiff Indians had to wait eight days for their translator. Ann Le Tort appears in their complaint, being referred to as “an old French woman.” This indicates that Jacques Le Tort may be absent or deceased. Anyway, Ann was as cantankerous as ever.
… They present a fifth bundle [of furs] and said the cattle of the traders kept, hurt, and destroyed their corn; Civility [a war captain and chief] gave an account of his coming with divers [various] of their people in a friendly visit to the old French woman, M. [Madam] Le Tort’s house;
That without any provocation she turned them out of doors;
And that upon their expostulating upon it she told them the house was her own and that the land was hers, for she had bought it of Gov. Penn and proceeded to insult them very rudely;
They therefore desired to know whether this was so or not, and whether she had any authority to act in such a manner. …
They proceeded to complain of M. Le Tort; and particularly the old Queen Conguegos represented that the said M. Le Tort did them great damages by keeping of hogs and that at twice she turned them into the Queen’s corn in her own sight. (p. 679)
Let’s end with a record out of sequence with the previous one. Here the story ends happily for Peter Basalion.
13 May 1712
Cha. Gookin, Esq. and Lt. Governor
Edward Shippen, Joseph Growdon, Thomas Story, Griffith Owen, James Logan, George Roche, Jonathan Dickinson, Robert Assheton, all Esquires
A petition of Peter Besalion being now read, praying the governor would permit him to trade with the Indians as he had formerly done.
And the same being considered, the governor admits him to a license under the restrictions and directions of the laws of this province (p. 570).
Capt. James (Jacques) Le Tort gave the Council a letter that warned of possible attack. The Council ignored it. Did he do this just to win their trust?
The Council asked Swede Lacy (Lacey, Lassey) Cock, a name which the English anglicized to Lawrence, to give a report about the goings-on of the French up river. How much ammunition? Then the Council decided to send four to six men up river to discover any strategies between the French and Indians against the English.
In 1693 Thomas Jenner and Polycarpus Rose relate the information (or intelligence) about the French and Pennsylvania interaction about land. Would the French ally themselves with disgruntled Indians, as they had up north? In the second article an informant told them that the French would invade next spring.
Still in 1693, the conversation in the fourth article is a living witness of real life back then.
In Feb. 1694, the conflict reported in 1693 is concluded before the Council of Philadelphia. Jacques (James) Le Tort and his wife Ann must swear oaths of allegiance to the Crown of England, not France, and mind themselves, and report back to the Council strange goings-on with Natives. The Council required them to bring in Louis, the French Canadian prisoner, but the record does not exist that they did so. The Council also gave small gifts to the Natives who appeared before them. Case dismissed.
In 1703 Jacques and Pierre have to give security that they will remain faithful to the Pennsylvanian government and report any designs against it.
The Council trusted the Le Torts up to a point, but then the trust—if it really existed—deteriorated.
In or before 1704 Jacques was put in prison, without the records stating why. He was required to come under a bond of a thousand pounds, a massive amount, before he could be released.
In July 1704 he appears alive interacting with Natives, so let’s hope his life went smoothly.
In 1709, Jacques / James Le Tort appears in another record.
The next record is in 1712, and Ann Le Tort was very cantankerous. She even released her herd of hogs into an Indian Queen’s cornfield, in the Queen’s plain sight. Mean. She and other Indians came into town to complain about it. They had to wait eight days for a translator to come into town. Her husband Jacques is never named in that record.
Finally, Peter Besalion received a license to trade with Indians as he had done before.
Minutes of the Provincial Council, vol. 1, 1683-1700, (Jo. Severns and Co. 1852).
Minutes from the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, vol. 2, 1700-1717 (Harrisburg: Theophilus Fenn, 1838).