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Quebec and Its Tenants

 Native American Nations | The Jesuits in North America                    

 

I have traced, in another volume, the life and death of the noble founder of New France, Samuel de Champlain. It was on Christmas Day, 1635, that his heroic spirit bade farewell to the frame it had animated, and to the rugged cliff where he had toiled so long to lay the corner-stone of a Christian empire.

Quebec was without a governor. Who should succeed Champlain and would his successor be found equally zealous for the Faith, and friendly to the mission? These doubts, as he himself tells us, agitated the mind of the Father Superior, Le Jeune; but they were happily set at rest, when, on a morning in June, he saw a ship anchoring in the basin below, and, hastening with his brethren to the landing-place, was there met by Charles Huault de Montmagny, a Knight of Malta, followed by a train of officers and gentlemen. As they all climbed the rock together, Montmagny saw a crucifix planted by the path. He instantly fell on his knees before it; and nobles, soldiers, sailors, and priests imitated his example. The Jesuits sang Te Deum at the church, and the cannon roared from the adjacent fort. Here the new governor was scarcely installed, when a Jesuit came in to ask if he would be godfather to an Indian about to be baptized. "Most gladly," replied the pious Montmagny. He repaired on the instant to the convert's hut, with a company of gayly apparelled gentlemen; and while the inmates stared in amazement at the scarlet and embroidery, he bestowed on the dying savage the name of Joseph, in honor of the spouse of the Virgin and the patron of New France. [Le Jeune, Relation, 1636, 5 (Cramoisy). "Monsieur le Gouverneur se transporte aux Cabanes de ces pauures barbares, suivy d'une leste Noblesse. Je vous laisse à penser quel estonnement à ces Peuples de voir tant d'écarlate, tant de personnes bien faites sous leurs toits d'écorce!"] Three days after, he was told that a dead proselyte was to be buried; on which, leaving the lines of the new fortification he was tracing, he took in hand a torch, De Lisle, his lieutenant, took another, Repentigny and St. Jean, gentlemen of his suite, with a band of soldiers followed, two priests bore the corpse, and thus all moved together in procession to the place of burial. The Jesuits were comforted. Champlain himself had not displayed a zeal so edifying. [Ibid., 83 (Cramoisy).]

A considerable reinforcement came out with Montmagny, and among the rest several men of birth and substance, with their families and dependants. "It was a sight to thank God for," exclaims Father Le Jeune, "to behold these delicate young ladies and these tender infants issuing from their wooden prison, like day from the shades of night." The Father, it will be remembered, had for some years past seen nothing but squaws, with papooses swathed like mummies and strapped to a board.

He was even more pleased with the contents of a huge packet of letters that was placed in his hands, bearing the signatures of nuns, priests, soldiers, courtiers, and princesses. A great interest in the mission had been kindled in France. Le Jeune's printed Relations had been read with avidity; and his Jesuit brethren, who, as teachers, preachers, and confessors, had spread themselves through the nation, had successfully fanned the rising flame. The Father Superior finds no words for his joy. "Heaven," he exclaims, "is the conductor of this enterprise. Nature's arms are not long enough to touch so many hearts." ["C'est Dieu qui conduit cette entreprise. La Nature n'a pas les bras assez longs," etc.--Relation, 1636, 3.] He reads how in a single convent, thirteen nuns have devoted themselves by a vow to the work of converting the Indian women and children; how, in the church of Montmartre, a nun lies prostrate day and night before the altar, praying for the mission; [Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636, 76.] how "the Carmelites are all on fire, the Ursulines full of zeal, the sisters of the Visitation have no words to speak their ardor"; [Le Jeune, Relation, 1636, 6. Compare "Divers Sentimens," appended to the Relation of 1635.] how some person unknown, but blessed of Heaven, means to found a school for Huron children; how the Duchesse d'Aiguillon has sent out six workmen to build a hospital for the Indians; how, in every house of the Jesuits, young priests turn eager eyes towards Canada; and how, on the voyage thither, the devils raised a tempest, endeavoring, in vain fury, to drown the invaders of their American domain.

["L'Enfer enrageant de nous veoir aller en la Nouuelle France pour conuertir les infidelles et diminuer sa puissance, par dépit il sousleuoit tous les Elemens contre nous, et vouloit abysmer la flotte."--Divers Sentimens.]

Great was Le Jeune's delight at the exalted rank of some of those who gave their patronage to the mission; and again and again his satisfaction flows from his pen in mysterious allusions to these eminent persons. [Among his correspondents was the young Duc d'Enghien, afterwards the Great Condé, at this time fifteen years old. "Dieu soit loüé! tout le ciel de nostre chere Patrie nous promet de fauorables influences, iusques à ce nouuel astre, qui commence à paroistre parmy ceux de la premiere grandeur."--Le Jeune, Relation, 1636, 3, 4.] In his eyes, the vicious imbecile who sat on the throne of France was the anointed champion of the Faith, and the cruel and ambitious priest who ruled king and nation alike was the chosen instrument of Heaven. Church and State, linked in alliance close and potential, played faithfully into each other's hands; and that enthusiasm, in which the Jesuit saw the direct inspiration of God, was fostered by all the prestige of royalty and all the patronage of power. And, as often happens where the interests of a hierarchy are identified with the interests of a ruling class, religion was become a fashion, as graceful and as comforting as the courtier's embroidered mantle or the court lady's robe of fur.

Such, we may well believe, was the complexion of the enthusiasm which animated some of Le Jeune's noble and princely correspondents. But there were deeper fervors, glowing in the still depths of convent cells, and kindling the breasts of their inmates with quenchless longings. Yet we hear of no zeal for the mission among religious communities of men. The Jesuits regarded the field as their own, and desired no rivals. They looked forward to the day when Canada should be another Paraguay. ["Que si celuy qui a escrit cette lettre a leu la Relation de ce qui se passe au Paraguais, qu'il a veu ce qui se fera un jour en la Nouuelle France."--Le Jeune, Relation, 1637, 304 (Cramoisy).] It was to the combustible hearts of female recluses that the torch was most busily applied; and here, accordingly, blazed forth a prodigious and amazing flame. "If all had their pious will," writes Le Jeune, "Quebec would soon be flooded with nuns." [Chaulmer. Le Nouveau Monde Chrestien, 41, is eloquent on this theme.]

Both Montmagny and De Lisle were half churchmen, for both were Knights of Malta. More and more the powers spiritual engrossed the colony. As nearly as might be, the sword itself was in priestly hands. The Jesuits were all in all. Authority, absolute and without appeal, was vested in a council composed of the governor, Le Jeune, and the syndic, an official supposed to represent the interests of the inhabitants. [Le Clerc, Établissement de la Foy, Chap. XV.] There was no tribunal of justice, and the governor pronounced summarily on all complaints. The church adjoined the fort; and before it was planted a stake bearing a placard with a prohibition against blasphemy, drunkenness, or neglect of mass and other religious rites. To the stake was also attached a chain and iron collar; and hard by was a wooden horse, whereon a culprit was now and then mounted by way of example and warning. [Le Jeune, Relation, 1636, 153, 154 (Cramoisy).] In a community so absolutely priest-governed, overt offences were, however, rare; and, except on the annual arrival of the ships from France, when the rock swarmed with godless sailors, Quebec was a model of decorum, and wore, as its chroniclers tell us, an aspect unspeakably edifying.

In the year 1640, various new establishments of religion and charity might have been seen at Quebec. There was the beginning of a college and a seminary for Huron children, an embryo Ursuline convent, an incipient hospital, and a new Algonquin mission at a place called Sillery, four miles distant. Champlain's fort had been enlarged and partly rebuilt in stone by Montmagny, who had also laid out streets on the site of the future city, though as yet the streets had no houses. Behind the fort, and very near it, stood the church and a house for the Jesuits. Both were of pine wood: and this year, 1640, both were burned to the ground, to be afterwards rebuilt in stone. The Jesuits, however, continued to occupy their rude mission-house of Notre-Dame des Anges, on the St. Charles, where we first found them.

The country around Quebec was still an unbroken wilderness, with the exception of a small clearing made by the Sieur Giffard on his seigniory of Beauport, another made by M. de Puiseaux between Quebec and Sillery, and possibly one or two feeble attempts in other quarters.1 The total population did not much exceed two hundred, including women and children. Of this number, by far the greater part were agents of the fur company known as the Hundred Associates, and men in their employ. Some of these had brought over their families. The remaining inhabitants were priests, nuns, and a very few colonists.

The Company of the Hundred Associates was bound by its charter to send to Canada four thousand colonists before the year 1643. [See "Pioneers of France," 399.] It had neither the means nor the will to fulfil this engagement. Some of its members were willing to make personal sacrifices for promoting the missions, and building up a colony purely Catholic. Others thought only of the profits of trade; and the practical affairs of the company had passed entirely into the hands of this portion of its members. They sought to evade obligations the fulfilment of which would have ruined them. Instead of sending out colonists, they granted lands with the condition that the grantees should furnish a certain number of settlers to clear and till them, and these were to be credited to the Company.2 The grantees took the land, but rarely fulfilled the condition. Some of these grants were corrupt and iniquitous. Thus, a son of Lauson, president of the Company, received, in the name of a third person, a tract of land on the south side of the St. Lawrence of sixty leagues front. To this were added all the islands in that river, excepting those of Montreal and Orleans, together with the exclusive right of fishing in it through its whole extent.3 Lauson sent out not a single colonist to these vast concessions.

There was no real motive for emigration. No persecution expelled the colonist from his home; for none but good Catholics were tolerated in New France. The settler could not trade with the Indians, except on condition of selling again to the Company at a fixed price. He might hunt, but he could not fish; and he was forced to beg or buy food for years before he could obtain it from that rude soil in sufficient quantity for the wants of his family. The Company imported provisions every year for those in its employ; and of these supplies a portion was needed for the relief of starving settlers. Giffard and his seven men on his seigniory of Beauport were for some time the only settlers--excepting, perhaps, the Hébert family--who could support themselves throughout the year. The rigor of the climate repelled the emigrant; nor were the attractions which Father Le Jeune held forth--"piety, freedom, and independence"--of a nature to entice him across the sea, when it is remembered that this freedom consisted in subjection to the arbitrary will of a priest and a soldier, and in the liability, should he forget to go to mass, of being made fast to a post with a collar and chain, like a dog.

Aside from the fur trade of the Company, the whole life of the colony was in missions, convents, religious schools, and hospitals. Here on the rock of Quebec were the appendages, useful and otherwise, of an old-established civilization. While as yet there were no inhabitants, and no immediate hope of any, there were institutions for the care of children, the sick, and the decrepit. All these were supported by a charity in most cases precarious. The Jesuits relied chiefly on the Company, who, by the terms of their patent, were obliged to maintain religious worship.4 Of the origin of the convent, hospital, and seminary I shall soon have occasion to speak.

Quebec wore an aspect half military, half monastic. At sunrise and sunset, a squad of soldiers in the pay of the Company paraded in the fort; and, as in Champlain's time, the bells of the church rang morning, noon, and night. Confessions, masses, and penances were punctiliously observed; and, from the governor to the meanest laborer, the Jesuit watched and guided all. The social atmosphere of New England itself was not more suffocating. By day and by night, at home, at church, or at his daily work, the colonist lived under the eyes of busy and over-zealous priests. At times, the denizens of Quebec grew restless. In 1639, deputies were covertly sent to beg relief in France, and "to represent the hell in which the consciences of the colony were kept by the union of the temporal and spiritual authority in the same hands." ["Pour leur representer la gehenne où estoient les consciences de la Colonie, de se voir gouverné par les mesmes personnes pour le spirituel et pour le temporel."--Le Clerc, I. 478.] In 1642, partial and ineffective measures were taken, with the countenance of Richelieu, for introducing into New France an Order less greedy of seigniories and endowments than the Jesuits, and less prone to political encroachment.5 No favorable result followed; and the colony remained as before, in a pitiful state of cramping and dwarfing vassalage.

This is the view of a heretic. It was the aim of the founders of New France to build on a foundation purely and supremely Catholic. What this involved is plain; for no degree of personal virtue is a guaranty against the evils which attach to the temporal rule of ecclesiastics. Burning with love and devotion to Christ and his immaculate Mother, the fervent and conscientious priest regards with mixed pity and indignation those who fail in this supreme allegiance. Piety and charity alike demand that he should bring back the rash wanderer to the fold of his divine Master, and snatch him from the perdition into which his guilt must otherwise plunge him. And while he, the priest, himself yields reverence and obedience to the Superior, in whom he sees the representative of Deity, it behooves him, in his degree, to require obedience from those whom he imagines that God has confided to his guidance. His conscience, then, acts in perfect accord with the love of power innate in the human heart. These allied forces mingle with a perplexing subtlety; pride, disguised even from itself, walks in the likeness of love and duty; and a thousand times on the pages of history we find Hell beguiling the virtues of Heaven to do its work. The instinct of domination is a weed that grows rank in the shadow of the temple, climbs over it, possesses it, covers its ruin, and feeds on its decay. The unchecked sway of priests has always been the most mischievous of tyrannies; and even were they all well-meaning and sincere, it would be so still.

To the Jesuits, the atmosphere of Quebec was well-nigh celestial. "In the climate of New France," they write, "one learns perfectly to seek only God, to have no desire but God, no purpose but for God." And again: "To live in New France is in truth to live in the bosom of God." "If," adds Le Jeune, "any one of those who die in this country goes to perdition, I think he will be doubly guilty."

["La Nouuelle France est vn vray climat où on apprend parfaictement bien à ne chercher que Dieu, ne desirer que Dieu seul, auoir l'intention purement à Dieu, etc. . . . Viure en la Nouuelle France, c'est à vray dire viure dans le sein de Dieu, et ne respirer que l'air de sa Diuine conduite."--Divers Sentimens. "Si quelqu'un de ceux qui meurent en ces contrées se damne, je croy qu'il sera doublement coupable."--Relation, 1640, 5 (Cramoisy).]

The very amusements of this pious community were acts of religion. Thus, on the fête-day of St. Joseph, the patron of New France, there was a show of fireworks to do him honor. In the forty volumes of the Jesuit Relations there is but one pictorial illustration; and this represents the pyrotechnic contrivance in question, together with a figure of the Governor in the act of touching it off. [Relation, 1637, 8. The Relations, as originally published, comprised about forty volumes.] But, what is more curious, a Catholic writer of the present day, the Abbé Faillon, in an elaborate and learned work, dilates at length on the details of the display; and this, too, with a gravity which evinces his conviction that squibs, rockets, blue-lights, and serpents are important instruments for the saving of souls. [Histoire de la Colonie Française, I. 291, 292.] On May-Day of the same year, 1637, Montmagny planted before the church a May-pole surmounted by a triple crown, beneath which were three symbolical circles decorated with wreaths, and bearing severally the names, Iesus, Maria, Ioseph; the soldiers drew up before it, and saluted it with a volley of musketry. [Relation, 1637, 82.]

On the anniversary of the Dauphin's birth there was a dramatic performance, in which an unbeliever, speaking Algonquin for the profit of the Indians present, was hunted into Hell by fiends. [Vimont, Relation, 1640, 6.] Religious processions were frequent. In one of them, the Governor in a court dress and a baptized Indian in beaver-skins were joint supporters of the canopy which covered the Host. [Le Jeune, Relation, 1638, 6.] In another, six Indians led the van, arrayed each in a velvet coat of scarlet and gold sent them by the King. Then came other Indian converts, two and two; then the foundress of the Ursuline convent, with Indian children in French gowns; then all the Indian girls and women, dressed after their own way; then the priests; then the Governor; and finally the whole French population, male and female, except the artillery-men at the fort, who saluted with their cannon the cross and banner borne at the head of the procession. When all was over, the Governor and the Jesuits rewarded the Indians with a feast. [Le Jeune, Relation, 1639, 3.]

Now let the stranger enter the church of Notre-Dame de La Recouvrance, after vespers. It is full, to the very porch: officers in slouched hats and plumes, musketeers, pikemen, mechanics, and laborers. Here is Montmagny himself; Repentigny and Poterie, gentlemen of good birth; damsels of nurture ill fitted to the Canadian woods; and, mingled with these, the motionless Indians, wrapped to the throat in embroidered moose-hides. Le Jeune, not in priestly vestments, but in the common black dress of his Order, is before the altar; and on either side is a row of small red-skinned children listening with exemplary decorum, while, with a cheerful, smiling face, he teaches them to kneel, clasp their hands, and sign the cross. All the principal members of this zealous community are present, at once amused and edified at the grave deportment, and the prompt, shrill replies of the infant catechumens; while their parents in the crowd grin delight at the gifts of beads and trinkets with which Le Jeune rewards his most proficient pupils. [Le Jeune, Relation, 1637, 122 (Cramoisy).]

We have seen the methods of conversion practised among the Hurons. They were much the same at Quebec. The principal appeal was to fear. [Ibid., 1636, 119, and 1637, 32 (Cramoisy). "La crainte est l'auan couriere de la foy dans ces esprits barbares."] "You do good to your friends," said Le Jeune to an Algonquin chief, "and you burn your enemies. God does the same." And he painted Hell to the startled neophyte as a place where, when he was hungry, he would get nothing to eat but frogs and snakes, and, when thirsty, nothing to drink but flames. [Le Jeune, Relation, 1637, 80-82 (Cramoisy). "Avoir faim et ne manger que des serpens et des crapaux, avoir soif et ne boire que des flammes."] Pictures were found invaluable. "These holy representations," pursues the Father Superior, "are half the instruction that can be given to the Indians. I wanted some pictures of Hell and souls in perdition, and a few were sent us on paper; but they are too confused. The devils and the men are so mixed up, that one can make out nothing without particular attention. If three, four, or five devils were painted tormenting a soul with different punishments,--one applying fire, another serpents, another tearing him with pincers, and another holding him fast with a chain,--this would have a good effect, especially if everything were made distinct, and misery, rage, and desperation appeared plainly in his face."

["Les heretiques sont grandement blasmables, de condamner et de briser les images qui ont de si bons effets. Ces sainctes figures sont la moitié de l'instruction qu'on peut donner aux Sauuages. I'auois desiré quelques portraits de l'enfer et de l'âme damnée; on nous en a enuoyé quelques vns en papier, mais cela est trop confus. Les diables sont tellement meslez auec les hommes, qu'on n'y peut rien recognoistre, qu'auec vne particuliere attention. Qui depeindroit trois ou quatre ou cinq demons, tourmentans vne âme de diuers supplices, l'vn luy appliquant des feux, l'autre des serpens, l'autre la tenaillant, l'autre la tenant liée auec des chaisnes, cela auroit vn bon effet, notamment si tout estoit bien distingué, et que la rage et la tristesse parussent bien en la face de cette âme desesperée"--Relation, 1637, 32 (Cramoisy).]

The preparation of the convert for baptism was often very slight. A dying Algonquin, who, though meagre as a skeleton, had thrown himself, with a last effort of expiring ferocity, on an Iroquois prisoner, and torn off his ear with his teeth, was baptized almost immediately.6 In the case of converts in health there was far more preparation; yet these often apostatized. The various objects of instruction may all be included in one comprehensive word, submission,--an abdication of will and judgment in favor of the spiritual director, who was the interpreter and vicegerent of God. The director's function consisted in the enforcement of dogmas by which he had himself been subdued, in which he believed profoundly, and to which he often clung with an absorbing enthusiasm. The Jesuits, an Order thoroughly and vehemently reactive, had revived in Europe the mediæval type of Christianity, with all its attendant superstitions. Of these the Canadian missions bear abundant marks. Yet, on the whole, the labors of the missionaries tended greatly to the benefit of the Indians. Reclaimed, as the Jesuits tried to reclaim them, from their wandering life, settled in habits of peaceful industry, and reduced to a passive and childlike obedience, they would have gained more than enough to compensate them for the loss of their ferocious and miserable independence. At least, they would have escaped annihilation. The Society of Jesus aspired to the mastery of all New France; but the methods of its ambition were consistent with a Christian benevolence. Had this been otherwise, it would have employed other instruments. It would not have chosen a Jogues or a Garnier. The Society had men for every work, and it used them wisely. It utilized the apostolic virtues of its Canadian missionaries, fanned their enthusiasm, and decorated itself with their martyr crowns. With joy and gratulation, it saw them rival in another hemisphere the noble memory of its saint and hero, Francis Xavier. [Enemies of the Jesuits, while denouncing them in unmeasured terms, speak in strong eulogy of many of the Canadian missionaries. See, for example, Steinmetz, History of the Jesuits, II. 415.]

I have spoken of the colonists as living in a state of temporal and spiritual vassalage. To this there was one exception,--a small class of men whose home was the forest, and their companions savages. They followed the Indians in their roamings, lived with them, grew familiar with their language, allied themselves with their women, and often became oracles in the camp and leaders on the war-path. Champlain's bold interpreter, Étienne Brulé, whose adventures I have recounted elsewhere, ["Pioneers of France," 377.] may be taken as a type of this class. Of the rest, the most conspicuous were Jean Nicollet, Jacques Hertel, François Marguerie, and Nicolas Marsolet.7 Doubtless, when they returned from their rovings, they often had pressing need of penance and absolution; yet, for the most part, they were good Catholics, and some of them were zealous for the missions. Nicollet and others were at times settled as interpreters at Three Rivers and Quebec. Several of them were men of great intelligence and an invincible courage. From hatred of restraint, and love of a wild and adventurous independence, they encountered privations and dangers scarcely less than those to which the Jesuit exposed himself from motives widely different,--he from religious zeal, charity, and the hope of Paradise; they simply because they liked it. Some of the best families of Canada claim descent from this vigorous and hardy stock.

Nicollet, especially, was a remarkable man. As early as 1639, he ascended the Green Bay of Lake Michigan, and crossed to the waters of the Mississippi. This was first shown by the researches of Mr. Shea. See his Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley, XX.]


1 For Giffard, Puiseaux, and other colonists, compare Langevin, Notes sur les Archives de Notre-Dame de Beauport, 5, 6, 7; Ferland, Notes sur les Archives de N. D. de Québec, 22, 24 (1863); Ibid., Cours d'Histoire du Canada, I. 266; Le Jeune, Relation, 1636, 45; Faillon, Histoire de la Colonie Française, I. c. iv., v.

2 This appears in many early grants of the Company. Thus, in a grant to Simon Le Maitre, Jan. 15, 1636, "que les hommes que le dit . . . fera passer en la N. F. tourneront à la décharge de la dite Compagnie," etc., etc.--See Pièces sur la Tenure Seigneuriale, published by the Canadian government, passim.

3 Archives du Séminaire de Villemarie, cited by Faillon, I. 350. Lauson's father owned Montreal. The son's grant extended from the River St. Francis to a point far above Montreal.--La Fontaine, Mémoire sur la Famille de Lauson.

4 It is a principle of the Jesuits, that each of its establishments shall find a support of its own, and not be a burden on the general funds of the Society. The Relations are full of appeals to the charity of devout persons in behalf of the missions.

"Of what use to the country at this period could have been two communities of cloistered nuns?" asks the modern historian of the Ursulines of Quebec. And he answers by citing the words of Pope Gregory the Great, who, when Rome was ravaged by famine, pestilence, and the barbarians, declared that his only hope was in the prayers of the three thousand nuns then assembled in the holy city.--Les Ursulines de Québec. Introd., XI.

5 Declaration de Pierre Breant, par devant les Notaires du Roy, MS. The Order was that of the Capuchins, who, like the Récollets, are a branch of the Franciscans. Their introduction into Canada was prevented; but they established themselves in Maine.

6 "Ce seroit vne estrange cruauté de voir descendre vne âme toute viuante dans les enfers, par le refus d'vn bien que Iesus Christ luy a acquis au prix de son sang."--Relation, 1637, 66 (Cramoisy).

"Considerez d'autre coté la grande appréhension que nous avions sujet de redouter la guérison; pour autant que bien souvent étant guéris il ne leur reste du St. Baptême que le caractère."--Lettres de Garnier, MSS.

It was not very easy to make an Indian comprehend the nature of baptism. An Iroquois at Montreal, hearing a missionary speaking of the water which cleansed the soul from sin, said that he was well acquainted with it, as the Dutch had once given him so much that they were forced to tie him, hand and foot, to prevent him from doing mischief.--Faillon II. 43.

7 See Ferland, Notes sur les Registres de N. D. de Québec, 30.


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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867

Jesuits in North America

 

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