Historical Markers
Montour County Historical Marker
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Montour County

Valleys of the Susquehanna


Marker Location:
County Courthouse, Mill St., Danville

Dedication Date:
November 10, 1982

Behind the Marker

Interpreters played a key role in the negotiation of Indian-European relations in Pennsylvania, but the historical record tells us precious little about them. Although skilled in languages, many of them were not literate and so left few documents in their own hand. It is even harder still to recover the inner life of the people who spent much of their lives suspended between Indian and European worlds. This gap in the historical record is what makes the story of the Montour family so intriguing.
There are no actual images of Madame or Andrew Montour, but this print of an Indian male and female offers some clues as to what they may have looked like.  Their brightly colored trade blankets and musket reflect their familiarity with the colonial world while their hairstyles, jewelry, moccasins, and leggings are indicative of their native identities.
Better Life, by John Buxton.

Madame Montour and her son Andrew were interpreters conversant in French, English, and several Indian languages. In their parentage, upbringing, marriages, and careers, they played the role of go-betweens, passing among different communities of colonial and native peoples on the Pennsylvania and New York frontier, assisting in their diplomacy and trade, and trying to maintain peace between them.

The details of Madame Montour's early life are sketchy. She claimed to be the daughter of a Frenchman, taken captive by the Iroquois as a young girl and raised by the Oneidas. Historians believe she may have been Catherine Couc, who, according to baptismal records, was born in 1684, the child of French fur trader Louis Couc and an Indian wife. In the 1710s and 1720s, Madame Mountour worked frequently as an interpreter at treaty conferences in Albany. After the death of her husband, an Oneida named Carondawana, in 1729, she moved with her children to Ostonwackin, an Indian village also known as Frenchtown, on the west branch of the Susquehanna River. She made her first appearance in Pennsylvania's Indian records as an interpreter at a Philadelphia treaty conference in 1727 and remained active in such affairs until 1744.

One of Madame Montour's contemporaries referred to her as enjoying the high esteem of "the best sort of white people," who always entertained her with "abundance of civility" when she visited their homes in Philadelphia. A woman who could move easily between frontier villages and the high society of eastern cities was certainly a rarity in colonial America, and only someone of Madame Montour's unique background could have managed to cultivate such a reputation. She died sometime during the early 1750s.
Andrew Montour's efforts to transform himself from an Indian interpreter into a wealthy landowner in western Pennsylvania are reflected in this 1769 survey of the 1,080 acres that Montour had received in Berks County the year before.
Survey for Montour's Reserve, November 1769.

Andrew Montour was the most famous of Madame Montour's children, and he stepped into her shoes as a frontier diplomat during the late 1740s. Growing up in his parents" household gave him command of several European and Native American languages. He interpreted at diplomatic negotiations held in Shamokin, markerLogstown, Carlisle, Easton, and Philadelphia, easing communication between Delaware, Shawnee, Iroquois, and a number of colonial governments. His two marriages, the first to the daughter of a prominent Delaware chief and the second to an Oneida woman, extended his kinship ties and political influence among Indians living in or near Pennsylvania.

Andrew Montour also suffered from personal demons that his mother seems to have escaped. He drank heavily and, when intoxicated, often became belligerent about the colonial officials who employed him. According to markerConrad Weiser, Andrew became drunk at a treaty conference in 1754 and cursed Pennsylvania's governor and other officials, including Weiser, accusing them of cheating him and other Indians out of their lands.

In more sober moments, however, Andrew worked in conjunction with colonial officials and used his connections to acquire considerable land in western Pennsylvania. He hoped to turn one such land grant south of the Juniata River into a personal estate that would include native and colonial tenants, but his plans were dashed by the violence and land-grabbing that engulfed the Pennsylvania frontier between 1755 and 1765. Although he continued to draw a salary as an interpreter employed by colonial Indian agents, Andrew's fortunes deteriorated after the French and Indian War. His reputation in shambles, he was unable to anchor himself in either an Indian or colonial world. He fell into debt and was murdered by a Seneca Indian near Fort Pitt in 1772.

Taken together, the careers of Madame and Andrew Montour illustrate the arc of European-Indian relations in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania. Madame Montour rose to prominence at a time when shifting colonial and native populations vied for control of the Susquehanna Valley and regions farther west. Andrew inherited his mother's role but also a rapidly changing political and cultural map. During his lifetime, control over western Pennsylvania shifted decisively from Indian to British hands, a change that squeezed go-betweens such as himself out of Pennsylvania's politics and history.
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