Date of Award

Spring 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Foster, Kristen

Second Advisor

Ruff, Julius R.

Third Advisor

Matthew, Laura E.


This doctoral dissertation is entitled, A Place Under Heaven: Amerindian Torture and Cultural Violence in Colonial New France, 1609-1730. It is an analysis of Amerindian customs of torture by fire, cannibalism, and other forms of cultural violence in New France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Contemporary French writers and many modern historians have described Amerindian customs of torturing, burning, and eating of captives as either a means of military execution, part of an endless cycle of revenge and retribution, or simple blood lust. I argue that Amerindian torture had far more to do with the complex sequence of Amerindian mourning customs, religious beliefs, ideas of space and spatial limits, and a community expression of aggression, as well as a means of revenge. If we better understand the cultural context of Amerindian torture, we see more clearly the process of cultural accommodation in New France. To torture a captive offered communities an opportunity (men and women), young and old, to engage in a relationship with an adversary that tread what in the Amerindian cultural context was a thin or even non-existent line between the worlds of the living and the dead. Both Amerindian captives and captors understood this, and torture became an opportunity to push this barrier as a tortured captive came closer to death. When French colonists, soldiers, and missionaries became involved, torture complicated and altered missionary efforts, and had a direct effect on the political and military relationships between the French and these various Amerindian groups, both friend and foe. These new dynamics of alliances, rivalry, economics, and religion often caused Amerindians to change the circumstances under which they tortured captives and endured torture themselves, but colonization did not bring an end to this violence, only adaptation. The French also adapted when they found themselves captured and tortured. They altered their own religious, military, and political goals in North America at times to combat and at other times manipulate Amerindian cultural violence to their advantage.

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