History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter X. The Jesuit Missions


WE have described the apostolic labours of the Recollet Fathers for the conversion of the Indians. But the held was too vast, and the resources at command of a poor community too slender, to support an enterprise so great. The Recollet Fathers suggested that the mighty Jesuit order might attempt the work of Indian Missions with better chance of success. The Jesuits came, saw and conquered. Their Canadian missions include a record of martyrdom and apostolic labour without parallel since the first century of Christianity. The history of Canada cannot be complete without some account of these men and their work.

The first superior of the Jesuit residence at Quebec was Father Le Jeune, who came to Canada when the piratical seizure of Quebec by the Huguenot Kirk had been annulled by order of the English King, to whose service Kirk professed to belong. Le Jeune arrived at Quebec on July 5th, 1632. He found the Jesuit residence a heap of rums, the Huguenots having entertained a special hatred of that order. The earliest settler in New France had been a man named Hebert, who had by thrift and industry made the ground around his house for some acres a tolerably thriving farm, and had built an unusually commodious house. To that house Father Le Jeune now repaired in order to celebrate his first mass in the new country. He was received with tears of joy by the widow Hebert and her pious family. That first of duties performed, Le Jeune and his companions set themselves at once to rebudd their residence, with such skill and materials as they could command, and to cultivate anew the fields left waste so long. The residence was on the eastern side of the little river St. Charles, probably on the very spot where Cartier spent the winter of 1535. It was fortified by a square enclosure of palisades', no unnecessary precaution. Within this were two buildings, one of which was store-room, workshop, and bakery; the other a rude frame building, thickly plastered with mud, and thatched with the long dry grass from the river banks. It had four principal rooms, one used as refectory, a second as kitchen, a third as a sleeping place for workmen. The remaining or largest room was the chapel. All were furnished in the most primitive manner possible. The chapel had at first no other ornament than two richly executed engravings, but the Father had now obtained an image of a dove, which was placed over the altar, seeing which, an Indian asked if that was the bird that caused the thunder. They had also images of the Jesuit Saints, Loyola and Xavier, and three statues of the Virgin. Four cells which opened from the refectory gave lodging to six priests. First, Jean de Breboeuf, a noble of ancient family in Normandy j a man stalwart and tall, with the figure and mien of a soldier. Next was Masse, who had been the associate of Father Biard in the Acadian mission of whose failure we have made mention. There were also Daniel, Davost, De Noue', and Father Le Jeune. Their first object was to learn the Algonquin language. The traders, who did not love Jesuitism, refused to help them. At last, Le Jeune sighted a hunter who had lived in France some time, and consequently could speak French or Algonquin equally well. This man, Pierre, was one of those outcasts who had learned only the vices of civilization, but whose want of practice in the woodcraft of savage life unfitted him to support himself as other savages do. By a present now and then of a little tobacco, Le Jeune prevailed on Pierre to become his private tutor, and speedily gained a working knowledge of the Indian dialect. To improve this, he resolved to accept an invitation from Pierre and his brothers to join their winter hunting party. Many were the hardships that befel Le Jeune in that expedition. His friends, with ill-judged zeal, had persuaded hilt* to take with his provisions a small keg of wine. The provisions were soon devoured by the gluttonous savages, and the first night that he spent with them, Pierre tapped the wTine cask, got drunk, and would have killed Le Jeune had he not sought refuge in the forest, where he passed the night under a tree. By day he accompanied their march, carrying his share of the baggage. Towrards evening the squaws set up the poles which supported the birch-bark covering which was their sole defence against an unusually severe winter. The men shovelled the snow with their snow-shoes till it made a wall three or four feet high, enclosing the space occupied by the wigwam. On the earth thus bared they strewed cedar or spruce boughs for a bed. A bear skin served as a door at the opening by which they entered; in the centre a huge fire of pine logs blazed fiercely through the night. At the top of the wigwam was an opening so large that Le Jeune, as he lay on his spruce bough bed at night, could watch the stars through it. In this narrow space, men, women. children and dogs were huddled together. Attempt decency there was none. Le Jeune classes the sufferings he went through in this expedition under four chief heads: cold, heat, dogs and smoke. Through crevice after crevice the icy blast crept in, threatening to freeze him on one side, while on the other the intense heat of the pine fire nearly roasted him. The smoke that filled the wigwam was an intolerable nuisance; when a snowstorm took place, it was often necessary for all of them to lie with their faces to the ground, i» order to avoid its penetrating arid fumes. The dogs were of some use, for by sleeping around where he lay they kept him warm, but they were in intimate alliance with another pest, the fleas, innumerable as voracious, which often rendered sleep impossible. At length he became so ill and worn that one of the better-natured Indians offered to carry him back to Quebec. Their frail canoe narrowly escaped being crushed by the floating ice-masses, it being the beginning of April, when the ice fields break up. They were obliged to camp as best they might on the Island of Orleans. Le Jeune narrowly escaped drowning, but his companion had sufficient strength to draw him up to the fixed ice, and at three o'clock in the morning the long absent Superior knocked at the door of the residence of Notre Dame des Anges, Our Lady of the Angels.

It became evident to the Jesuit Fathers that their efforts would be wasted on the scattered and wandering Algonquin hunters, and that in order to produce a permanent effect, it would be necessary to attempt the conversion of some settled race, the dwellers in villages and towns. Such a race was that to which the Recollet, Le Caron, had made a mission journey which produced no converts owing to the brief period of his stay; the Huron tribes whose seventeen or eighteen towns had, most of them, been visited by Le Caron and Champlain. A description has been given n a former chapter of the superior agriculture and social organization of this race of Indians. They were akin to other powerful and settled communities; to the Tobacco Nation whose territory was south west of the Georgian Bay; and to the Neutral Nation which extended south towards Niagara, between the Iroquois and the Canadian Indians. The Jesuits had ever before their eyes the great things accomplished by their order among a people akin to these Indians in Paraguay. Could the history of that success be made to repeat itself ia Canada, what mattered the long and terrible journey through a wilderness haunted by savage beasts and more savage men, amid the gloom of pathless forests, by rock and cataract, till the dismal travel led to a drearier termination. What mattered a life passed remote from every pleasure and every prize, amid the filth and squalor of naked savages; day after day attempting conversion that seemed hopeless, rolling the stone of Sisyphus up an interminable hell. If the Church of God and the Order of Saint Ignatius Loyola could but gain thereby, what mattered the life of martyrdom, the death of fire?

In July, 1633, the three priests chosen by their superior La Jeune for the Huron Mission were introduced by Champlain to the assembled Hurons who had come down to the Sault (Montreal), as was their annual custom, to trade the furs which they had collected during the winter. The three Jesuit missionaries were Brebceuf, Daniel, and Davost. Champlain earnestly commended them to the reverence and good offices of the Hurons, who made every promise of charity and friendship, as is invariably the custom of their race. But Champlain refusing to set at liberty an Algonquin who had murdered one of his French soldiers so angered them that they refused to take with them "the three Black robes." The Jesuits gave a year to their study of the Huron language at their convent. Next year the unstable savages changed their minds, and consented to carry back the missionaries. Terror of the Iroquois made it necessary, as usual, to take the long and circuitous route by the Upper Ottawa. The distance was at least nine hundred miles. The toil was severe, all day toiling with unaccustomed heat, and faring far worse than the galley slaves in their own country, since the only food given to them was a little maize pounded between two stones and mixed with water. There were thirty-five portages, where they had to carry the canoes, often by tortuous and difficult paths, round rapids or cataracts. More than fifty times they had to wade through the water, pushing their canoes before them by main force. Add to this, that the fickle savages soon lost their first good-humour, and treated the priests as prisoners, whose work they exacted to the uttermost. Davost's baggage they threw into the river, and it was with the greatest difficulty, even when the party reached the Huron country, that the three priests made their way to the town of Ihonatiria. Here, at first, they were welcomed, the whole town turning out to assist in building them a house, which was erected on the usual Huron pattern, but which they divided in the interior by a partition, into dwelling place and chapel. As long as the novelty of their visit lasted, "the Black-robes " were caressed and petted. The savages were never tired of looking at several wonderful things which the Jesuits brought with them, especially a magnifying glass, a coffee mill, and above all a ticking and striking clock. The Jesuits, as usual, neglected no means to impress and attach the Indians among whom they had cast their lot for life. They visited and tended the sick, baptizing any child that seemed likely to die. They gathered the children to their chapel, and after each lesson gave presents of a few beads or sweetmeats. The children learned prayers n the Huron tongue; the ave, credo, and the commandments in Latin; and were proficients in the art of crossing themselves. The Jesuits also taught the Hurons to build fortifications with tanking towers wherefrom the arquehusiers could harass an attacking foe.

All seemed to go smoothly for a time. Then came a drought, want of water, and fear of famine in the maize fields. The Black robes were sorcerers; the huge cross; painted red, which stood before their chapel, had frightened the bird that brings the thunder. Worse still, a terrible pestilence broke out; all the chief medicine men of the tribe declared that it was the witchcrafts of the Black robes, their baptisms and crucifixes and other White Medicine which had brought the sickness. The lives of the Jesuits were at this time frequently in danger. They faced it with courage as unflinching as that of any Iroquois prisoner whom the Hurons had tortured at the stake. In vain they toiled through the snowdrifts from one plague-stricken town to another, bending over the victims of pestilence to catch the slightest confession of faith uttered by that tainted breath, risking instant death from the parents who looked on baptism as a dangerous act of sorcery, and by stealth giving the indispensable sacrament to some dying infant with a touch of a wet finger and formula noiselessly uttered. They met with no immediate success, but when the panic of the pestilence had passed off, the savages, ungrateful as they were, began dimly to recognize in the Black robes the goodness of superior beings.

But the Black robes were no longer at their town. They thought it better to choose a more central position for a mission settlement, and chose a spot where the river Wye, about a mile from its debouc.hemeiit into Matchedash Bay, flows through a small lake. The new station was named Sainte Marie. It had a central position with regard to every part of the Huron country, and an easy water communication with Lake Huron. From thence Fathers Gamier and Jogues were sent "on a mission to the Tobacco Nation. Though they escaped torture and death, their preaching produced no effect whatever on these obdurate savages. When they entered the first Tobacco town, a squalid group of birch-bark huts, the Indian children, as they saw the Black robes approach, ran away, screaming "Here come Famine and Pestilence.'' They found themselves everywhere regarded as sorcerers, sent thither by the white man to compass the destruction of the Indians. In other towns no one would admit them into his house, and from within they could hear the women calling 011 the young men to split their heads with hatchets. Only the darkness of night and of the forest enabled them to escape.

On November 2nd, 1640. Fathers Breboeuf and Chaumonot left Sainte Marie for a mission to the Neutral Nation. Their mission produced no other results than the curses and outrages of the heathen. But in the Huron country the Jesuit mission had begun to bear fruit. Each considerable Huron town had now its church, whose bell was' generally hung in a tree hard by, whence every morning was heard the summons to mass. The Christian converts were already a considerable power in the councils of the tribes, and exercised a most salutary influence in humanizing to some degree even their still heathen kinsmen. The Christian Hurons refused to take part in the burning and torturing of prisoners. In March, 1649, there were engaged in missionary work m the Huron country eighteen Jesuit priests, four lay brothers, twenty-three devout Frenchmen who served the mission without pay, and by their success in fur-trading—not for their own profit but that of the order —made the mission self-supporting. Fifteen of these priests were stationed at various towns throughout the Huron country; the rest at Sainte Marie. Every Sunday the converts resorted to Sainte Marie from all the surrounding country, and were received with the most hospitable welcome. The august rites of the Catholic Church were celebrated with unwonted pomp. Eleven successful mission stations had now-been established among the Hurons, and two among the Tobacco Nation. The priests who served these stations endured hardships through which it seems incredible that men could live. To toil all day paddling a canoe against the current of some unknown river; to carry a heavy load of luggage under the blaze of a tropical sun; to sleep on the bare earth; in winter to be exposed to storm and famine; the filth and indecencies of an Indian hut: these were held as nothing, if only it was "ad majorcm gloriam Dei,"— "to the greater glory of God." The first death among their ranks was that of De None', a Jesuit Father who was found in the snowdrift kneeling, his arms crossed on his heart, his eyes raised heavenwards, frozen while he prayed. The efforts of the Jesuit priests at last were being crowned with success, and the Huron country might have become a second Paraguay but for the annihilation of the Huron tribes, whom it had taken such heroic efforts to convert. The fair prospects of the mission were overshadowed by a dark cloud of war as early as 1648. Had the Hurons been united and on their guard they might have been a match for the Iroquois, to whom they were not so much inferior in courage as in organization and subtlety.

Father Daniel had just returned from one of those brief visits to Sainte Marie, which converse with his brethren, and some approach to stateliness of religious ceremonial, made the one pleasant event in missionary life. He was engaged in celebrating mass at the church of his mission station of St. Joseph, when from the town without was raised the cry, "The Iroquois are coming!" A crowd of painted savages screaming their war-whoop were advancing on the defenceless town. Daniel hurried from house to house calling on the unconverted to repent and be baptised, and so escape hell. The people gathered round him imploring baptism ; he dipped his handkerchief in water and baptised them by aspersion. The Iroquois had already set the town in a blaze. "Fly," he said to his congregation—"I will remain to stop them from pursuit. We shall meet in Heaven!" Robed in his priestly vestments, he went forth to meet the Iroquois, confronting them with a face lit up with unearihly enthusiasm. For a moment they recoiled, then pierced his body with a shower of arrows. Then a ball from an arquebuse pierced his heart, and he fell gasping the name of Jesus. They flung his mutilated corpse into the flames of his church, a fit funeral pyre for such a man.

This was the beginning of the end of the Huron Nation. Next year (1649) the Huron village which the Jesuits had named after St. Louis was taken by surprise. The priests of this mission station were Brebceuf and Lalemant. They were urged by their converts to fly with them into the forest, but reflecting that they might be able to cheer some of the congregation in the hour of torture, as by baptizing a repentant heathen to snatch his soul from perdition, they refused to escape. Brebceuf and Lalemant, with a large train of Huron captives, were led away to be tortured. The Iroquois then attacked Sainte Marie, but the French laymen, with their hundred Christian Hurons, assailed them with such impetuous valour that they were glad to retreat to the ruined palisade of St. Louis. But before they left for their own country, on March 16th, 1649, the Iroquois bound Father Brebceuf to a stake. He continued to exhort his fellow-captives, bidding them suffer patiently pangs that would soon be over, and telling them how soon they would be in the Heaven that would never end. The Iroquois burned him with pine wood torches all over his body to silence him. When he still continued to pray aloud, they cut away his under lip, and thrust a red hot iron into his mouth. But the descendant of the ancient Norman nobles stood defiant and undaunted. Next they led in Lalemant, round whose body they fastened strips of bark smeared with pitch. Lalemant threw himself at Brebceufs feet. "We are made a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men!" he cried, in the words of St. Paul. They then fastened round Breboeuf's neck a collar of red hot hatchet-blades, but still the courage of the Christian martyr would not yield. A renegade Christian poured boiling water on his head in mockery of baptism; still he would give no signs of giving way. This, to an Indian, is the most provoking rebuff. If he fails by his tortures to wring out a cry of pain from a prisoner, it is held a disgrace and evil omen to himself. Enraged, they cut pieces of flesh from his limbs before his eyes. They then scalped him, and when he was nearly dead cut open his breast and drank his blood, thinking it would make them brave. 'An Iroquois chief then cut out his heart and devoured it, in the hope that then he could endue himself with the courage of so valiant an enemy. Next day the defenders of Sainte Marie found the blackened and mutilated bodies of the two priests amid the ruins of the St. Louis mission. The skull of Brebieuf, preserved in the base of a silver bust of the martyr, which his family sent from France, is preserved at the nunnery of the Hotel Dieu at Quebec.

Other Iroquois armies invaded the Huron country, and carried all before them. Fifteen Huron towns were burned or abandoned. The Jesuit fathers resolved to abandon Sainte Marie, and with a number of Huron converts which gradually swelled to over three thousand, sought refuge on an island in the Georgian Bay which they called St. Joseph. There they built a fort, and managed to sustain the wretched remains of the Huron nation through the winter, eking out what scanty supplies of food they possessed with acorns and fish purchased from the northern Algonquins. With the spring it was known that a large band of the Iroquois meditated a descent on their last place of refuge. The Huron chiefs implored the Jesuits to allow them to remove to Quebec, where, under the shelter of the fort, they might enjoy their religion in peace. To this the Superior agreed. With sorrow and "many tears the Jesuit missionaries left the land which had been the scene of their apostolic labours, and where the blood of their martyr brethren had been the seed of a church which would have proved a centre of Christian civilization, "had it not pleased Christ, since they ceased to be Pagans and became Christians, to give them a heavy share in His Cross, and make them a prey to misery, torture and a cruel death." The Superior added, truly enough, "They are a people swept away from the face of the earth."

Thus ended the Jesuit mission to the Hurons. It cannot be called a failure, for it succeeded in converting the heathen, and only collapsed by the extermination of its converts.


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