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Sainte Marie

 Native American Nations | The Jesuits in North America                   


The River Wye enters the Bay of Glocester, an inlet of the Bay of Matchedash, itself an inlet of the vast Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. Retrace the track of two centuries and more, and ascend this little stream in the summer of the year 1648. Your vessel is a birch canoe, and your conductor a Huron Indian. On the right hand and on the left, gloomy and silent, rise the primeval woods; but you have advanced scarcely half a league when the scene is changed, and cultivated fields, planted chiefly with maize, extend far along the bank, and back to the distant verge of the forest. Before you opens the small lake from which the stream issues; and on your left, a stone's throw from the shore, rises a range of palisades and bastioned walls, inclosing a number of buildings. Your canoe enters a canal or ditch immediately above them, and you land at the Mission, or Residence, or Fort of Sainte Marie.

Here was the centre and base of the Huron missions; and now, for once, one must wish that Jesuit pens had been more fluent. They have told us but little of Sainte Marie, and even this is to be gathered chiefly from incidental allusions. In the forest, which long since has resumed its reign over this memorable spot, the walls and ditches of the fortifications may still be plainly traced; and the deductions from these remains are in perfect accord with what we can gather from the Relations and letters of the priests. [Before me is an elaborate plan of the remains, taken on the spot.] The fortified work which enclosed the buildings was in the form of a parallelogram, about a hundred and seventy-five feet long, and from eighty to ninety wide. It lay parallel with the river, and somewhat more than a hundred feet distant from it. On two sides it was a continuous wall of masonry,1 flanked with square bastions, adapted to musketry, and probably used as magazines, storehouses, or lodgings. The sides towards the river and the lake had no other defenses than a ditch and palisade, flanked, like the others, by bastions, over each of which was displayed a large cross.2 The buildings within were, no doubt, of wood; and they included a church, a kitchen, a refectory, places of retreat for religious instruction and meditation,3 and lodgings for at least sixty persons. Near the church, but outside the fortification, was a cemetery. Beyond the ditch or canal which opened on the river was a large area, still traceable, in the form of an irregular triangle, surrounded by a ditch, and apparently by palisades. It seems to have been meant for the protection of the Indian visitors who came in throngs to Sainte Marie, and who were lodged in a large house of bark, after the Huron manner.4 Here, perhaps, was also the hospital, which was placed without the walls, in order that Indian women, as well as men, might be admitted into it.5

No doubt the buildings of Sainte Marie were of the roughest,--rude walls of boards, windows without glass, vast chimneys of unhewn stone. All its riches were centered in the church, which, as Lalemant tells us, was regarded by the Indians as one of the wonders of the world, but which, he adds, would have made but a beggarly show in France. Yet one wonders, at first thought, how so much labor could have been accomplished here. Of late years, however, the number of men at the command of the mission had been considerable. Soldiers had been sent up from time to time, to escort the Fathers on their way, and defend them on their arrival. Thus, in 1644, Montmagny ordered twenty men of a reinforcement just arrived from France to escort Brébeuf, Garreau, and Chabanel to the Huron, and remain there during the winter.5 These soldiers lodged with the Jesuits, and lived at their table.6 It was not, however, on detachments of troops that they mainly relied for labor or defense. Any inhabitant of Canada who chose to undertake so hard and dangerous a service was allowed to do so, receiving only his maintenance from the mission, without pay. In return, he was allowed to trade with the Indians, and sell the furs thus obtained at the magazine of the Company, at a fixed price. [Registres des Arrêts du Conseil, extract in Faillon, II, 94.] Many availed themselves of this permission; and all whose services were accepted by the Jesuits seem to have been men to whom they had communicated no small portion of their own zeal, and who were enthusiastically attached to their Order and their cause. There is abundant evidence that a large proportion of them acted from motives wholly disinterested. They were, in fact, donnés of the mission,7 --given, heart and hand, to its service. There is probability in the conjecture, that the profits of their trade with the Indians were reaped, not for their own behoof, but for that of the mission.8 It is difficult otherwise to explain the confidence with which the Father Superior, in a letter to the General of the Jesuits at Rome, speaks of its resources. He says, "Though our number is greatly increased, and though we still hope for more men, and especially for more priests of our Society, it is not necessary to increase the pecuniary aid given us."9

Much of this prosperity was no doubt due to the excellent management of their resources, and a very successful agriculture. While the Indians around them were starving, they raised maize in such quantities, that, in the spring of 1649, the Father Superior thought that their stock of provisions might suffice for three years. "Hunting and fishing," he says, "are better than heretofore"; and he adds, that they had fowls, swine, and even cattle.10 How they could have brought these last to Sainte Marie it is difficult to conceive. The feat, under the circumstances, is truly astonishing. Everything indicates a fixed resolve on the part of the Fathers to build up a solid and permanent establishment.

It is by no means to be inferred that the household fared sumptuously. Their ordinary food was maize, pounded and boiled, and seasoned, in the absence of salt, which was regarded as a luxury, with morsels of smoked fish. [Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1648, 48.]

In March, 1649, there were in the Huron country and its neighborhood eighteen Jesuit priests, four lay brothers, twenty-three men serving without pay, seven hired men, four boys, and eight soldiers.11 Of this number, fifteen priests were engaged in the various missions, while all the rest were retained permanently at Sainte Marie. All was method, discipline, and subordination. Some of the men were assigned to household work, and some to the hospital; while the rest labored at the fortifications, tilled the fields, and stood ready, in case of need, to fight the Iroquois. The Father Superior, with two other priests as assistants, controlled and guided all. The remaining Jesuits, undisturbed by temporal cares, were devoted exclusively to the charge of their respective missions. Two or three times in the year, they all, or nearly all, assembled at Sainte Marie, to take counsel together and determine their future action. Hither, also, they came at intervals for a period of meditation and prayer, to nerve themselves and gain new inspiration for their stern task.

Besides being the citadel and the magazine of the mission, Sainte Marie was the scene of a bountiful hospitality. On every alternate Saturday, as well as on feast-days, the converts came in crowds from the farthest villages. They were entertained during Saturday, Sunday, and a part of Monday; and the rites of the Church were celebrated before them with all possible solemnity and pomp. They were welcomed also at other times, and entertained, usually with three meals to each. In these latter years the prevailing famine drove them to Sainte Marie in swarms. In the course of 1647 three thousand were lodged and fed here; and in the following year the number was doubled. [Compare Ragueneau in Relation des Hurons, 1648, 48, and in his report to the General in 1649.] Heathen Indians were also received and supplied with food, but were not permitted to remain at night. There was provision for the soul as well as the body; and, Christian or heathen, few left Sainte Marie without a word of instruction or exhortation. Charity was an instrument of conversion.

Such, so far as we can reconstruct it from the scattered hints remaining, was this singular establishment, at once military, monastic, and patriarchal. The missions of which it was the basis were now eleven in number. To those among the Huron already mentioned another had lately been added,--that of Sainte Madeleine; and two others, called St. Jean and St. Matthias, had been established in the neighboring Tobacco Nation.12 The three remaining missions were all among tribes speaking the Algonquin languages. Every winter, bands of these savages, driven by famine and fear of the Iroquois, sought harborage in the Huron country, and the mission of Sainte Elisabeth was established for their benefit. The next Algonquin mission was that of Saint Esprit, embracing the Nipissings and other tribes east and north-east of Lake Huron; and, lastly, the mission of St. Pierre included the tribes at the outlet of Lake Superior, and throughout a vast extent of surrounding wilderness.13

These missions were more laborious, though not more perilous, than those among the Hurons. The Algonquin hordes were never long at rest; and, summer and winter, the priest must follow them by lake, forest, and stream: in summer plying the paddle all day, or toiling through pathless thickets, bending under the weight of a birch canoe or a load of baggage,--at night, his bed the rugged earth, or some bare rock, lashed by the restless waves of Lake Huron; while famine, the snow-storms, the cold, the treacherous ice of the Great Lakes, smoke, filth, and, not rarely, threats and persecution, were the lot of his winter wanderings. It seemed an earthly paradise, when, at long intervals, he found a respite from his toils among his brother Jesuits under the roof of Sainte Marie.

Hither, while the Fathers are gathered from their scattered stations at one of their periodical meetings,--a little before the season of Lent, 1649,14 let us, too, repair, and join them. We enter at the eastern gate of the fortification, midway in the wall between its northern and southern bastions, and pass to the hall, where, at a rude table, spread with ruder fare, all the household are assembled,--laborers, domestics, soldiers, and priests.

It was a scene that might recall a remote half feudal, half patriarchal age, when, under the smoky rafters of his antique hail, some warlike thane sat, with kinsmen and dependants ranged down the long board, each in his degree. Here, doubtless, Ragueneau, the Father Superior, held the place of honor; and, for chieftains scarred with Danish battle-axes, was seen a band of thoughtful men, clad in a threadbare garb of black, their brows swarthy from exposure, yet marked with the lines of intellect and a fixed enthusiasm of purpose. Here was Bressani, scarred with firebrand and knife; Chabanel, once a professor of rhetoric in France, now a missionary, bound by a self-imposed vow to a life from which his nature recoiled; the fanatical Chaumonot, whose character savored of his peasant birth,--for the grossest fungus of superstition that ever grew under the shadow of Rome was not too much for his omnivorous credulity, and miracles and mysteries were his daily food; yet, such as his faith was, he was ready to die for it. Garnier, beardless like a woman, was of a far finer nature. His religion was of the affections and the sentiments; and his imagination, warmed with the ardor of his faith, shaped the ideal forms of his worship into visible realities. Brébeuf sat conspicuous among his brethren, portly and tall, his short moustache and beard grizzled with time,--for he was fifty-six years old. If he seemed impassive, it was because one overmastering principle had merged and absorbed all the impulses of his nature and all the faculties of his mind. The enthusiasm which with many is fitful and spasmodic was with him the current of his life,--solemn and deep as the tide of destiny. The Divine Trinity, the Virgin, the Saints, Heaven and Hell, Angels and Fiends,--to him, these alone were real, and all things else were nought. Gabriel Lalemant, nephew of Jerome Lalemant, Superior at Quebec, was Brébeuf's colleague at the mission of St. Ignace. His slender frame and delicate features gave him an appearance of youth, though he had reached middle life; and, as in the case of Garnier, the fervor of his mind sustained him through exertions of which he seemed physically incapable. Of the rest of that company little has come down to us but the bare record of their missionary toils; and we may ask in vain what youthful enthusiasm, what broken hope or faded dream, turned the current of their lives, and sent them from the heart of civilization to this savage outpost of the world.

No element was wanting in them for the achievement of such a success as that to which they aspired,--neither a transcendent zeal, nor a matchless discipline, nor a practical sagacity very seldom surpassed in the pursuits where men strive for wealth and place; and if they were destined to disappointment, it was the result of external causes, against which no power of theirs could have insured them.

There was a gap in their number. The place of Antoine Daniel was empty, and never more to be filled by him,--never at least in the flesh, for Chaumonot averred, that not long since, when the Fathers were met in council, he had seen their dead companion seated in their midst, as of old, with a countenance radiant and majestic.15 They believed his story,--no doubt he believed it himself; and they consoled one another with the thought, that, in losing their colleague on earth, they had gained him as a powerful intercessor in heaven. Daniel's station had been at St. Joseph; but the mission and the missionary had alike ceased to exist.

1 It seems probable that the walls, of which the remains may still be traced, were foundations supporting a wooden superstructure. Ragueneau, in a letter to the General of the Jesuits, dated March 13, 1650, alludes to the defences of Saint Marie as "une simple palissade."

2 "Quatre grandes Croix qui sont aux quatre coins de nostre enclos."--Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1648, 81.

3 It seems that these places, besides those for the priests, were of two kinds,--"vne retraite pour les pelerins (Indians), enfin vn lieu plus separé, où les infideles, qui n'y sont admis que de iour au passage, y puissent tousiours receuoir quelque bon mot pour leur salut."--Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1644, 74.

4 At least it was so in 1642. "Nous leur auons dressé vn Hospice ou Cabane d'écorce."--Ibid., 1642, 57.

5 "Cet hospital est tellement separé de nostre demeure, que non seulement les hommes et enfans, mais les femmes y peuuent estre admises."--Ibid., 1644, 74.

6 Vimont, Relation, 1644, 49. He adds, that some of these soldiers, though they had once been "assez mauvais garçons," had shown great zeal and devotion in behalf of the mission.

7 Journal des Supérieurs des Jésuites, MS. In 1648, a small cannon was sent to Sainte Marie in the Huron canoes.--Ibid.

8 See ante, chapter 16 (page 214), "donnés". Garnier calls them "séculiers d'habit, mais religieux de cœur."--Lettres, MSS.

9 The Jesuits, even at this early period, were often and loudly charged with sharing in the fur-trade. It is certain that this charge was not wholly without foundation. Le Jeune, in the Relation of 1657, speaking of the wampum, guns, powder, lead, hatchets, kettles, and other articles which the missionaries were obliged to give to the Indians, at councils and elsewhere, says that these must be bought from the traders with beaver-skins, which are the money of the country; and he adds, "Que si vn Iesuite en reçoit ou en recueille quelques-vns pour ayder aux frais immenses qu'il faut faire dans ces Missions si éloignées, et pour gagner ces peuples à Iesus-Christ et les porter à la paix, il seroit à souhaiter que ceux-là mesme qui deuroient faire ces despenses pour la conseruation du pays, ne fussent pas du moins les premiers à condamner le zele de ces Peres, et à les rendre par leurs discours plus noirs que leurs robes."--Relation, 1657, 16.

In the same year, Chaumonot, addressing a council of the Iroquois during a period of truce, said, "Keep your beaver-skins, if you choose, for the Dutch. Even such of them as may fall into our possession will be employed for your service."--Ibid., 17.

In 1636, La Jeune thought it necessary to write a long letter of defense against the charge; and in 1643, a declaration, appended to the Relation of that year, and certifying that the Jesuits took no part in the fur-trade, was drawn up and signed by twelve members of the company of New France. Its only meaning is, that the Jesuits were neither partners nor rivals of the Company's monopoly. They certainly bought supplies from its magazines with furs which they obtained from the Indians.

Their object evidently was to make the mission partially self-supporting. To impute mercenary motives to Garnier, Jogues, and their co-laborers, is manifestly idle; but, even in the highest flights of his enthusiasm, the Jesuit never forgot his worldly wisdom.

9 Lettre du P. Paul Ragueneau au T. R. P. Vincent Carafa, Général de la Compagnie de Jésus à Rome, Sainte Marie aux Huron, 1 Mars, 1649 (Carayon).

10 Lettre du P. Paul Ragueneau au T. R. P. Vincent Carafa, Général de la Compagnie de Jésus à Rome, Sainte Marie aux Hurons, 1 Mars, 1649 (Carayon).

11 See the report of the Father Superior to the General, above cited. The number was greatly increased within the year. In April, 1648, Ragueneau reports but forty-two French in all, including priests. Before the end of the summer a large reinforcement came up in the Huron canoes.

12 The mission of the Neutral Nation had been abandoned for the time, from the want of missionaries. The Jesuits had resolved on concentration, and on the thorough conversion of the Huron, as a preliminary to more extended efforts.

13 Besides these tribes, the Jesuits had become more or less acquainted with many others, also Algonquin on the west and south of Lake Huron; as well as with the Puan, or Winnebago, a Dacotah tribe between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi.

The Mission of Sault Sainte Marie, at the outlet of Lake Superior, was established at a later period. Modern writers have confounded it with Sainte Marie of the Huron.

By the Relation of 1649 it appears that another mission had lately been begun at the Grand Manitoulin Island, which the Jesuits also christened Isle Sainte Marie.

14 The date of this meeting is a supposition merely. It is adopted with reference to events which preceded and followed.

15 "Ce bon Pere s'apparut après sa mort à vn des nostres par deux diuerses fois. En l'vne il se fit voir en estat de gloire, portant le visage d'vn homme d'enuiron trente ans, quoy qu'il soit mort en l'âge de quarante-huict. . . . Vne autre fois il fut veu assister à vne assemblée que nous tenions," etc.--Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1649, 5.

"Le P. Chaumonot vit au milieu de l'assemblée le P. Daniel qui aidait les Pères de ses conseils, et les remplissait d'une force surnaturelle; son visage était plein de majesté et d'éclat."--Ibid., Lettre au Général de la Compagnie de Jésus (Carayon, 243).

"Le P. Chaumonot nous a quelque fois raconté, à la gloire de cet illustre confesseur de J. C. (Daniel) qu'il s'étoit fait voir à lui dans la gloire, à l'âge d'environ 30 ans, quoiqu'il en eut près de 50, et avec les autres circonstances qui se trouuent là (in the Historia Canadensis of Du Creux). Il ajoutait seulement qu'à la vue de ce bien-heureux tant de choses lui vinrent à l'esprit pour les lui demander, qu'il ne savoit pas où commencer son entretien avec ce cher défunt. Enfin, lui dit-il: "Apprenez moi, mon Père, ce que ie dois faire pour être bien agréable à Dieu."--"Jamais," répondit le martyr, "ne perdez le souvenir de vos péchés."--Suite de la Vie de Chaumonot, 11.

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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867

Jesuits in North America


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