Native American Nations
                   Your Source for Indian Research
                   Rolls ~ History ~ Treaties ~ Census ~ Books

Vallemarie

 Native American Nations | The Jesuits in North America                    

 

Let us now ascend to the island of Montreal. Here, as we have seen, an association of devout and zealous persons had essayed to found a mission-colony under the protection of the Holy Virgin; and we left the adventurers, after their landing, bivouacked on the shore, on an evening in May. There was an altar in the open air, decorated with a taste that betokened no less of good nurture than of piety; and around it clustered the tents that sheltered the commandant, Maisonneuve, the two ladies, Madame de la Peltrie and Mademoiselle Mance, and the soldiers and laborers of the expedition.

In the morning they all fell to their work, Maisonneuve hewing down the first tree,--and labored with such good-will, that their tents were soon inclosed with a strong palisade, and their altar covered by a provisional chapel, built, in the Huron mode, of bark. Soon afterward, their canvas habitations were supplanted by solid structures of wood, and the feeble germ of a future city began to take root.

The Iroquois had not yet found them out; nor did they discover them till they had had ample time to fortify themselves. Meanwhile, on a Sunday, they would stroll at their leisure over the adjacent meadow and in the shade of the bordering forest, where, as the old chronicler tells us, the grass was gay with wild-flowers, and the branches with the flutter and song of many strange birds. [Dollier de Casson, MS.]

The day of the Assumption of the Virgin was celebrated with befitting solemnity. There was mass in their bark chapel; then a Te Deum; then public instruction of certain Indians who chanced to be at Montreal; then a procession of all the colonists after vespers, to the admiration of the redskinned beholders. Cannon, too, were fired, in honor of their celestial patroness. "Their thunder made all the island echo," writes Father Vimont; "and the demons, though used to thunderbolts, were scared at a noise which told them of the love we bear our great Mistress; and I have scarcely any doubt that the tutelary angels of the savages of New France have marked this day in the calendar of Paradise." [Vimont, Relation, 1642, 38. Compare Le Clerc, Premier Etablissement de la Foy, II. 51.]

The summer passed prosperously, but with the winter their faith was put to a rude test. In December, there was a rise of the St. Lawrence, threatening to sweep away in a night the results of all their labor. They fell to their prayers; and Maisonneuve planted a wooden cross in face of the advancing deluge, first making a vow, that, should the peril be averted, he, Maisonneuve, would bear another cross on his shoulders up the neighboring mountain, and place it on the summit. The vow seemed in vain. The flood still rose, filled the fort ditch, swept the foot of the palisade, and threatened to sap the magazine; but here it stopped, and presently began to recede, till at length it had withdrawn within its lawful channel, and Villemarie was safe.

[A little MS. map in M. Jacques Viger's copy of Le Petit Registre de la Cure de Montreal, lays down the position and shape of the fort at this time, and shows the spot where Maisonneuve planted the cross.]

Now it remained to fulfil the promise from which such happy results had proceeded. Maisonneuve set his men at work to clear a path through the forest to the top of the mountain. A large cross was made, and solemnly blessed by the priest; then, on the sixth of January, the Jesuit Du Peron led the way, followed in procession by Madame de la Peltrie, the artisans, and soldiers, to the destined spot. The commandant, who with all the ceremonies of the Church had been declared First Soldier of the Cross, walked behind the rest, bearing on his shoulder a cross so heavy that it needed his utmost strength to climb the steep and rugged path. They planted it on the highest crest, and all knelt in adoration before it. Du Peron said mass; and Madame de la Peltrie, always romantic and always devout, received the sacrament on the mountain-top, a spectacle to the virgin world outstretched below. Sundry relics of saints had been set in the wood of the cross, which remained an object of pilgrimage to the pious colonists of Villemarie. [Vimont, Relation, 1643, 52, 53.]

Peace and harmony reigned within the little fort; and so edifying was the demeanor of the colonists, so faithful were they to the confessional, and so constant at mass, that a chronicler of the day exclaims, in a burst of enthusiasm, that the deserts lately a resort of demons were now the abode of angels. [Véritables Motifs, cited by Faillon, I. 453, 454.] The two Jesuits who for the time were their pastors had them well in hand. They dwelt under the same roof with most of their flock, who lived in community, in one large house, and vied with each other in zeal for the honor of the Virgin and the conversion of the Indians.

At the end of August, 1643, a vessel arrived at Villemarie with a reinforcement commanded by Louis d'Ailleboust de Coulonges, a pious gentleman of Champagne, and one of the Associates of Montreal. [Chaulmer, 101; Juchereau, 91.] Some years before, he had asked in wedlock the hand of Barbe de Boulogne; but the young lady had, when a child, in the ardor of her piety, taken a vow of perpetual chastity. By the advice of her Jesuit confessor, she accepted his suit, on condition that she should preserve, to the hour of her death, the state to which Holy Church has always ascribed a peculiar merit.1 D'Ailleboust married her; and when, soon after, he conceived the purpose of devoting his life to the work of the Faith in Canada, he invited his maiden spouse to go with him. She refused, and forbade him to mention the subject again. Her health was indifferent, and about this time she fell ill. As a last resort, she made a promise to God, that, if He would restore her, she would go to Canada with her husband; and forthwith her maladies ceased. Still her reluctance continued; she hesitated, and then refused again, when an inward light revealed to her that it was her duty to cast her lot in the wilderness. She accordingly embarked with d'Ailleboust, accompanied by her sister, Mademoiselle Philippine de Boulogne, who had caught the contagion of her zeal. The presence of these damsels would, to all appearance, be rather a burden than a profit to the colonists, beset as they then were by Indians, and often in peril of starvation; but the spectacle of their ardor, as disinterested as it was extravagant, would serve to exalt the religious enthusiasm in which alone was the life of Villemarie.

Their vessel passed in safety the Iroquois who watched the St. Lawrence, and its arrival filled the colonists with joy. D'Ailleboust was a skilful soldier, specially versed in the arts of fortification; and, under his direction, the frail palisades which formed their sole defense were replaced by solid ramparts and bastions of earth. He brought news that the "unknown benefactress," as a certain generous member of the Association of Montreal was called, in ignorance of her name, had given funds, to the amount, as afterwards appeared, of forty-two thousand livres, for the building of a hospital at Villemarie. [Archives du Séminaire de Villemarie, cited by Faillon, I. 466. The amount of the gift was not declared until the next year.] The source of the gift was kept secret, from a religious motive; but it soon became known that it proceeded from Madame de Bullion, a lady whose rank and wealth were exceeded only by her devotion. It is true that the hospital was not wanted, as no one was sick at Villemarie and one or two chambers would have sufficed for every prospective necessity; but it will be remembered that the colony had been established in order that a hospital might be built, and Madame de Bullion would not hear to any other application of her money. [Mademoiselle Mance wrote to her, to urge that the money should be devoted to the Huron mission; but she absolutely refused. Dollier de Casson, MS.] Instead, therefore, of tilling the land to supply their own pressing needs, all the laborers of the settlement were set at this pious, though superfluous, task.2 There was no room in the fort, which, moreover, was in danger of inundation; and the hospital was accordingly built on higher ground adjacent. To leave it unprotected would be to abandon its inmates to the Iroquois; it was therefore surrounded by a strong palisade, and, in time of danger, a part of the garrison was detailed to defend it. Here Mademoiselle Mance took up her abode, and waited the day when wounds or disease should bring patients to her empty wards.

Dauversière, who had first conceived this plan of a hospital in the wilderness, was a senseless enthusiast, who rejected as a sin every protest of reason against the dreams which governed him; yet one rational and practical element entered into the motives of those who carried the plan into execution. The hospital was intended not only to nurse sick Frenchmen, but to nurse and convert sick Indians; in other words, it was an engine of the mission.

From Maisonneuve to the humblest laborer, these zealous colonists were bent on the work of conversion. To that end, the ladies made pilgrimages to the cross on the mountain, sometimes for nine days in succession, to pray God to gather the heathen into His fold. The fatigue was great; nor was the danger less; and armed men always escorted them, as a precaution against the Iroquois. [Morin, Annales de l'Hôtel-Dieu de St. Joseph, MS., cited by Faillon, I. 457.] The male colonists were equally fervent; and sometimes as many as fifteen or sixteen persons would kneel at once before the cross, with the same charitable petition. [Marguerite Bourgeoys, Écrits Autographes, MS., extracts in Faillon, I. 458.] The ardor of their zeal may be inferred from the fact, that these pious expeditions consumed the greater part of the day, when time and labor were of a value past reckoning to the little colony. Besides their pilgrimages, they used other means, and very efficient ones, to attract and gain over the Indians. They housed, fed, and clothed them at every opportunity; and though they were subsisting chiefly on provisions brought at great cost from France, there was always a portion for the hungry savages who from time to time encamped near their fort. If they could persuade any of them to be nursed, they were consigned to the tender care of Mademoiselle Mance; and if a party went to war, their women and children were taken in charge till their return. As this attention to their bodies had for its object the profit of their souls, it was accompanied with incessant catechizing. This, with the other influences of the place, had its effect; and some notable conversions were made. Among them was that of the renowned chief, Tessouat, or Le Borgne, as the French called him,--a crafty and intractable savage, whom, to their own surprise, they succeeded in taming and winning to the Faith. [Vimont, Relation, 1643, 54, 55. Tessouat was chief of Allumette Island, in the Ottawa. His predecessor, of the same name, was Champlain's host in 1613.--See "Pioneers of France," Chap. XII.] He was christened with the name of Paul, and his squaw with that of Madeleine. Maisonneuve rewarded him with a gun, and celebrated the day by a feast to all the Indians present.

[It was the usual practice to give guns to converts, "pour attirer leur compatriotes à la Foy." They were never given to heathen Indians. "It seems," observes Vimont, "that our Lord wishes to make use of this method in order that Christianity may become acceptable in this country."--Relation, 1643, 71.]

The French hoped to form an agricultural settlement of Indians in the neighborhood of Villemarie; and they spared no exertion to this end, giving them tools, and aiding them to till the fields. They might have succeeded, but for that pest of the wilderness, the Iroquois, who hovered about them, harassed them with petty attacks, and again and again drove the Algonquins in terror from their camps. Some time had elapsed, as we have seen, before the Iroquois discovered Villemarie; but at length ten fugitive Algonquins, chased by a party of them, made for the friendly settlement as a safe asylum; and thus their astonished pursuers became aware of its existence. They reconnoitred the place, and went back to their towns with the news. [Dollier de Casson, MS.] From that time forth the colonists had no peace; no more excursions for fishing and hunting; no more Sunday strolls in woods and meadows. The men went armed to their work, and returned at the sound of a bell, marching in a compact body, prepared for an attack.

Early in June, 1643, sixty Huron came down in canoes for traffic, and, on reaching the place now called Lachine, at the head of the rapids of St. Louis, and a few miles above Villemarie, they were amazed at finding a large Iroquois war-party in a fort hastily built of the trunks and boughs of trees. Surprise and fright seem to have infatuated them. They neither fought nor fled, but greeted their inveterate foes as if they were friends and allies, and, to gain their good graces, told them all they knew of the French settlement, urging them to attack it, and promising an easy victory. Accordingly, the Iroquois detached forty of their warriors, who surprised six Frenchmen at work hewing timber within a gunshot of the fort, killed three of them, took the remaining three prisoners, and returned in triumph. The captives were bound with the usual rigor; and the Huron taunted and insulted them, to please their dangerous companions. Their baseness availed them little; for at night, after a feast of victory, when the Huron were asleep or off their guard, their entertainers fell upon them, and killed or captured the greater part. The rest ran for Villemarie, where, as their treachery was as yet unknown, they were received with great kindness.

[I have followed Dollier de Casson. Vimont's account is different. He says that the Iroquois fell upon the Hurons at the outset, and took twenty-three prisoners, killing many others; after which they made the attack at Villemarie.--Relation, 1643, 62.

Faillon thinks that Vimont was unwilling to publish the treachery of the Hurons, lest the interests of the Huron mission should suffer in consequence.

Belmont, Histoire du Canada, 1643, confirms the account of the Huron treachery.]

The next morning the Iroquois decamped, carrying with them their prisoners, and the furs plundered from the Huron canoes. They had taken also, and probably destroyed, all the letters from the missionaries in the Huron country, as well as a copy of their Relation of the preceding year. Of the three French prisoners, one escaped and reached Montreal; the remaining two were burned alive.

At Villemarie it was usually dangerous to pass beyond the ditch of the fort or the palisades of the hospital. Sometimes a solitary warrior would lie hidden for days, without sleep and almost without food, behind a log in the forest, or in a dense thicket, watching like a lynx for some rash straggler. Sometimes parties of a hundred or more made ambuscades near by, and sent a few of their number to lure out the soldiers by a petty attack and a flight. The danger was much diminished, however, when the colonists received from France a number of dogs, which proved most efficient sentinels and scouts. Of the instinct of these animals the writers of the time speak with astonishment. Chief among them was a bitch named Pilot, who every morning made the rounds of the forests and fields about the fort, followed by a troop of her offspring. If one of them lagged behind, she hit him to remind him of his duty; and if any skulked and ran home, she punished them severely in the same manner on her return. When she discovered the Iroquois, which she was sure to do by the scents if any were near, she barked furiously, and ran at once straight to the fort, followed by the rest. The Jesuit chronicler adds, with an amusing naïveté, that, while this was her duty, "her natural inclination was for hunting squirrels."

[Lalemant, Relation, 1647, 74, 75. "Son attrait naturel estoit la chasse aux écurieux." Dollier de Casson also speaks admiringly of her and her instinct. Faillon sees in it a manifest proof of the protecting care of God over Villemarie.]

Maisonneuve was as brave a knight of the cross as ever fought in Palestine for the sepulchre of Christ; but he could temper his valor with discretion. He knew that he and his soldiers were but indifferent woodsmen; that their crafty foe had no equal in ambuscades and surprises; and that, while a defeat might ruin the French, it would only exasperate an enemy whose resources in men were incomparably greater. Therefore, when the dogs sounded the alarm, he kept his followers close, and stood patiently on the defensive. They chafed under this Fabian policy, and at length imputed it to cowardice. Their murmurings grew louder, till they reached the ear of Maisonneuve. The religion which animated him had not destroyed the soldierly pride which takes root so readily and so strongly in a manly nature; and an imputation of cowardice from his own soldiers stung him to the quick. He saw, too, that such an opinion of him must needs weaken his authority, and impair the discipline essential to the safety of the colony.

On the morning of the thirtieth of March, Pilot was heard barking with unusual fury in the forest eastward from the fort; and in a few moments they saw her running over the clearing, where the snow was still deep, followed by her brood, all giving tongue together. The excited Frenchmen flocked about their commander.

"Monsieur, les ennemis sont dans le bois; ne les irons-nous jamais voir?" [Dollier de Casson, MS.]

Maisonneuve, habitually composed and calm, answered sharply,--

"Yes, you shall see the enemy. Get yourselves ready at once, and take care that you are as brave as you profess to be. I shall lead you myself."

All was bustle in the fort. Guns were loaded, pouches filled, and snow-shoes tied on by those who had them and knew how to use them. There were not enough, however, and many were forced to go without them. When all was ready, Maisonneuve sallied forth at the head of thirty men, leaving d'Ailleboust, with the remainder, to hold the fort. They crossed the snowy clearing and entered the forest, where all was silent as the grave. They pushed on, wading through the deep snow, with the countless pitfalls hidden beneath it, when suddenly they were greeted with the screeches of eighty Iroquois,3 who sprang up from their lurking-places, and showered bullets and arrows upon the advancing French. The emergency called, not for chivalry, but for woodcraft; and Maisonneuve ordered his men to take shelter, like their assailants, behind trees. They stood their ground resolutely for a long time; but the Iroquois pressed them close, three of their number were killed, others were wounded, and their ammunition began to fail. Their only alternatives were destruction or retreat; and to retreat was not easy. The order was given. Though steady at first, the men soon became confused, and over-eager to escape the galling fire which the Iroquois sent after them. Maisonneuve directed them towards a sledge-track which had been used in dragging timber for building the hospital, and where the snow was firm beneath the foot. He himself remained to the last, encouraging his followers and aiding the wounded to escape. The French, as they struggled through the snow, faced about from time to time, and fired back to check the pursuit; but no sooner had they reached the sledge-track than they gave way to their terror, and ran in a body for the fort. Those within, seeing this confused rush of men from the distance, mistook them for the enemy; and an over-zealous soldier touched the match to a cannon which had been pointed to rake the sledge-track. Had not the piece missed fire, from dampness of the priming, he would have done more execution at one shot than the Iroquois in all the fight of that morning.

Maisonneuve was left alone, retreating backwards down the track, and holding his pursuers in check, with a pistol in each hand. They might easily have shot him; but, recognizing him as the commander of the French, they were bent on taking him alive. Their chief coveted this honor for himself, and his followers held aloof to give him the opportunity. He pressed close upon Maisonneuve, who snapped a pistol at him, which missed fire. The Iroquois, who had ducked to avoid the shot, rose erect, and sprang forward to seize him, when Maisonneuve, with his remaining pistol, shot him dead. Then ensued a curious spectacle, not infrequent in Indian battles. The Iroquois seemed to forget their enemy, in their anxiety to secure and carry off the body of their chief; and the French commander continued his retreat unmolested, till he was safe under the cannon of the fort. From that day, he was a hero in the eyes of his men.

[Dollier de Casson, MS. Vimont's mention of the affair is brief. He says that two Frenchmen were made prisoners, and burned. Belmont, Histoire du Canada, 1645, gives a succinct account of the fight, and indicates the scene of it. It seems to have been a little below the site of the Place d'Armes, on which stands the great Parish Church of Villemarie, commonly known to tourists as the "Cathedral." Faillon thinks that Maisonneuve's exploit was achieved on this very spot.

Marguerite Bourgeoys also describes the affair in her unpublished writings.]

Quebec and Montreal are happy in their founders. Samuel de Champlain and Chomedey de Maisonneuve are among the names that shine with a fair and honest luster on the infancy of nations.


1 Juchereau, Histoire de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, 276. The confessor told D'Ailleboust, that, if he persuaded his wife to break her vow of continence, "God would chastise him terribly." The nun historian adds, that, undeterred by the menace, he tried and failed.

2 Journal des Supérieurs des Jésuites, MS.
The hospital was sixty feet long and twenty-four feet wide, with a kitchen, a chamber for Mademoiselle Mance, others for servants, and two large apartments for the patients. It was amply provided with furniture, linen, medicines, and all necessaries; and had also two oxen, three cows, and twenty sheep. A small oratory of stone was built adjoining it. The inclosure was four arpents in extent.--Archives du Séminaire de Villemarie, cited by Faillon.

3 Vimont, Relation, 1644, 42. Dollier de Casson says two hundred, but it is usually safe in these cases to accept the smaller number, and Vimont founds his statement on the information of an escaped prisoner.


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867

Jesuits in North America

 

Copyright 2000- by NaNations.com and/or their author(s). The webpages may be linked to but shall not be reproduced on another site without written permission from NaNations or their author. Images may not be linked to in any manner or method. Anyone may use the information provided here freely for personal use only. If you plan on publishing your personal information to the web please give proper credit to our site for providing this information. Thanks!!!