Amantacha: An Indigenous American in Seventeenth-Century English News from Canada to Suffolk

This post is part of Reflecting on Imtiaz Habib’s Black Lives in the English Archives: An Online Symposium, organised and edited by Rebecca Adusei and Jamie Gemmell. The blog series is introduced here. You can join Rebecca and Jamie to celebrate the publication of the posts at a free event at the London Metropolitan Archives on Friday 19 May – the event includes presentations by the post authors and a tour of the LMA’s new ‘Unforgotten Lives’ exhibition.

Nikki Clarke

Nikki Clarke is a final year PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research focuses on how people gathered and assessed news in the multimedia world of seventeenth-century England. You can find her on Twitter at @nikkiclarke1.

He delivered a prince that the French had taken in the country, who by two Jesuit priests was put to torment by a suite of apparel whose linings were full of prickes. The Jesuits in the coming home were put to tast of the same sauce. The prince was diverse days together, in the beginning of Michaelmas terme, at the Royall Exchange to be seene.[1]

With this diary entry in November 1628, the Reverend John Rous alerts us to the fact that news of the travels of Amantacha, the son of Soranhes, a Wendat leader who traded with French near Quebec in the 1620s and 1630s, had arrived in the quiet, rural parish of Santon Downham, in Suffolk.  My usual research is on multimedia news and accuracy in the seventeenth-century, and this blog tries to explore the way both English and French sources use the story of Amantacha to reinforce their own religious and political conflict on both sides of the Atlantic.

To be honest if I had not been involved in the Habib project, I would probably have passed over Amantacha’s story, because unfortunately this is one occasion when Rous said nothing about the source of the news and made no judgement upon its accuracy. Black Lives in the English in the Archives has only a small section on the presence of Indigenous North Americans in early modern England and Habib does not appear to have come across Amantacha. However, as we shall see, his experience does touch on one of Habib’s themes, that English sources often project a note of friendly cooperation between the English and the Indigenous Americans, which he goes on to point out are often contradicted by French and Spanish sources.[2] Amantacha’s story reveals how England and France both used narratives about trans-Atlantic encounters to buttress their respective colonial projects.

Rous made two diary entries about merchant adventurer David Kirke’s 1628 assaults on the French settlements in Canada, when he captured the vessel on which Amantacha was returning home from France. The first entry about these summer raids may have come in a letter from the local MP Sir Drugh Drewry, though this is not clear. The second entry about Amantacha, opens with the phrase “the former newes for Nova Francia was thus as is reported”, which along with the despatch-like nature of the entry makes me think it was probably a text not an oral source but I can’t say if it is a manuscript or print one.[3]

The only other contemporary English source I have come across, so far, for Amantacha is in one of two ballad sheets by the most prolific and famous ballad writer of the age, Martin Parker. His England’s Honour Revived was a patriotic piece of fervour, at a time around the siege of La Rochelle, when the English public would have been hungry for a reminder of the glory days of Drake and Raleigh, and when the defence of French Protestantism was at the top of the news agenda.

Newes from Canada, 1964. With kind permission of Toucan Press.

Parker referred to Amantacha in the same English hierarchical terms as Rous’s diary as a “prince” and also noted his appearances at the Royal Exchange.

He’s a brave and proper Prince,
And lives in London ever since,
Where many people see him every day
For of the walks in the Exchange,
To see our customes to him strange,
By some he’s cold the Prince of Canaday.[4]

However, he makes no reference to the Jesuit mistreatment element of Rous’s entry. As a Church of England incumbent, Rous probably didn’t have a particularly warm opinion of the Jesuits, but I think it is unlikely he simply made the story up, so the search for the source goes on.

Unsurprisingly, French writers project a completely different angle on Amantacha’s treatment, but maintain a sense of cooperative relations between themselves and the Wendat and reference their competitive relationship with the English. In Les Relations des Jésuites 1633, Fr. Paul Le Jeune, quoted in detail an oral source (albeit via a French interpreter) claiming that the English captain who took Amantacha, despite being a “heretic”, remarked on looking at the young man’s deportment that the Jesuits knew how to bring up children well.[5] Jesuit and Récollet reports suggest that Amantacha’s father had allowed him to go to France, and they seem to have valued his cooperation, which one might think would make them treat his son well. Amantacha, according to French sources, was baptised Louys de Saincte Foy, with some ceremony, in Rouen Cathedral with the Duc de Longueville and Madam de Villars as his godparents and as we can see from Les Relations continued to be involved with the Jesuits on his return.

Amantacha is a significant visitor to the eastern side of the Atlantic, a man who came to know the homelands of both the colonial actors that his nation would encounter, who spoke French and acted as an interpreter and presumably had a working knowledge of English as well. He was something a media figure in England in the late 1620s, his story reaching rural Suffolk suggests it was not just a metropolitan event and, appearing in a Parker ballad, would have meant that his travels would have reached those who could not read, as well as those who could. At the moment, I can’t offer a definitive explanation for how his story came to Santon Downham. A number of letter writers mention Kirke’s 1628 expedition, but none of those I have seen mention Amantacha, I haven’t seen a newsletter as yet that mentions the 1628 events though Pory writes about Kirke’s 1629 campaign, and as yet I haven’t found Amantacha in any of the corantos of the period. I think it is plausible it could have been another letter from Drewry or a newsletter I have not yet found, which brought him to Suffolk. No other source I have only seen so far mentions the tale of Jesuit mistreatment.

Amantacha’s London experience makes few appearances in secondary sources, not only is he absent from Habib, but he does not figure either in Alden T. Vaugan’s Transatlantic Encounters: North American Indians in Britain 1500-1776. This may be because his story reflects all the difficulties of researching the presence of Indigenous Americans in England. They are frequently transient visitors, and so they don’t often appear in parish records, don’t pay hearth tax, or make many court appearances.

The most difficult part of tracking Amantacha’s story is hearing his voice or seeing his perspective. English and French sources reveal how Amantacha’s story was used, but as Caroline Dodds Pennock says we can end up “with a world in which exchange and encounter – in both directions – are mediated by Europeans.”[6] Le Paul referred tantalisingly in the 1633 Relations to letters which Amantacha had written to the Provincial of the Jesuits in France thanking him for the assistance he had sent. I am still searching for the letters and I am also looking for Wendat sources on him. The real gap in this blog is that we know what the English and the French thought of Amantacha and how his story was told in both languages, but I haven’t yet tracked down Amantacha’s thoughts on his travels or his view of the English and the French.

Click here for links to all the posts in this series.

[1] John Rous and Mary Anne Everett Green, Diary of John Rous: Incumbent of Santon Downham, Suffolk, from 1625 to 1642, Camden Society, no. 66 (London: Printed for the Camden Society, 1856), 33.

[2] Imtiaz H. Habib, Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677: Imprints of the Invisible, (London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008), 253-4.

[3] Diary of John Rous, 33.

[4] M P (Martin Parker), News from Canada, 1628: The Earliest Known Separate Publication in English Relating to Canada, and Describing the First English Conquest of Canada Entitled England Honour Revived by the Valiant Exploytes of Captaine Kirke [by M. P., i.e. Martin Parker]. Now First Printed from the Two Recently Discovered Unique Poetical News-Sheets Published October, 1628. Edited by J. Stevens Cox … With an Introduction by Dr. C. V. Wedgewood. [With a Facsimile.] (Beaminster: Toucan Press., 1964).

[5] Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (Cleveland, Burrows Bros. Co., 1896) <> [accessed 2 April 2023], 246.

[6] Caroline Dodds Pennock. On Savage Shores: How Indigenous Americans Discovered Europe, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London. 2023), 19.

1 thought on “Amantacha: An Indigenous American in Seventeenth-Century English News from Canada to Suffolk

  1. Pingback: Reflecting on Habib’s Black Lives in the English Archives: An Online Symposium | the many-headed monster

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