Monday, May 7, 2012

Algonkin Toll Booth, 1650

In theory, toll booths are used to pay for the expensive upkeep of infrastructure.  They can also be used for local authorities to extort those passing through.  Anyone who has been forced to pay a toll motivated by the armament of the checkpoint constabulary will know that coercion can at times be an important facet of "user fees".

Jim Miller's Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens notes that coercive toll booths in North America go back at least to the seventeenth-century.  Miller wrote,

"Particularly well-situated groups, such as the Algonkin of Allumette Island in the Ottawa River, used their position and power to exact tolls from canoe brigades, including those of traders, who passed through their territory.  The mastery they exercised was demonstrated graphically by their leader Le Borgne in 1650.  Offended by the efforts of a group of Huron under Jesuit leadership to evade his toll collection, Le Borgne had the priest 'suspended from a tree by the arm-pits.'  He told 'him that the French were not the masters of his country; and that in it he alone was acknowledged as chief.'" (p.37)
Champlain with Astrolabe on the West Bank of Ottawa River, 1613 (C.W. Jefferys, Library and Archives Canada/Charles William Jefferys fonds/C-073632) Champlain visited Allumete Island in 1613. Ontario Heritage Trust

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