Many of the Indians clung to the idea that baptism was a safeguard against pestilence and misfortune; and when the fallacy of this notion was made apparent, their zeal cooled.
Previously in The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century.
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The Fathers are well agreed that their difficulties did not arise from any natural defect of understanding on the part of the Indians, who, according to Chaumonot, were more intelligent than the French peasantry, and who, in some instances, showed in their way a marked capacity. It was the inert mass of pride, sensuality, indolence, and superstition that opposed the march of the Faith, and in which the Devil lay entrenched as behind impregnable breastworks.
[In this connection, the following specimen of Indian reasoning is worth noting. At the height of the pestilence, a Huron said to one of the priests, “I see plainly that your God is angry with us because we will not believe and obey him. Ihonatiria, where you first taught his word, is entirely ruined. Then you came here to Ossossané, and we would not listen; so Ossossané is ruined too. This year you have been all through our country, and found scarcely any who would do what God commands; therefore the pestilence is everywhere.” After premises so hopeful, the Fathers looked for a satisfactory conclusion; but the Indian proceeded — “My opinion is, that we ought to shut you out from all the houses, and stop our ears when you speak of God, so that we cannot hear. Then we shall not be so guilty of rejecting the truth, and he will not punish us so cruelly.” — Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1640, 80.]
It soon became evident that it was easier to make a convert than to keep him. Many of the Indians clung to the idea that baptism was a safeguard against pestilence and misfortune; and when the fallacy of this notion was made apparent, their zeal cooled. Their only amusements consisted of feasts, dances, and games, many of which were, to a greater or less degree, of a superstitious character; and as the Fathers could rarely prove to their own satisfaction the absence of the diabolic element in any one of them, they proscribed the whole indiscriminately, to the extreme disgust of the neophyte. His countrymen, too, beset him with dismal prognostics: as, “You will kill no more game,” — “All your hair will come out before spring,” and so forth. Various doubts also assailed him with regard to the substantial advantages of his new profession; and several converts were filled with anxiety in view of the probable want of tobacco in Heaven, saying that they could not do without it. [Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1639, 80.] Nor was it pleasant to these incipient Christians, as they sat in class listening to the instructions of their teacher, to find themselves and him suddenly made the targets of a shower of sticks, snowballs, corn-cobs, and other rubbish, flung at them by a screeching rabble of vagabond boys. [Ibid., 78.]
Yet, while most of the neophytes demanded an anxious and diligent cultivation, there were a few of excellent promise; and of one or two especially, the Fathers, in the fullness of their satisfaction, assure us again and again “that they were savage only in name.”
[From June, 1639, to June, 1640, about a thousand persons were baptized. Of these, two hundred and sixty were infants, and many more were children. Very many died soon after baptism. Of the whole number, less than twenty were baptized in health, — a number much below that of the preceding year.
The following is a curious case of precocious piety. It is that of a child at St. Joseph. “Elle n’a que deux ans, et fait joliment le signe de la croix, et prend elle-męme de l’eau bénite; et une fois se mit ŕ crier, sortant de la Chapelle, ŕ cause que sa mčre qui la portoit ne lui avoit donné le loisir d’en prendre. Il l’a fallu reporter en prendre.” — Lettres de Garnier, MSS.]
As the town of Ihonatiria, where the Jesuits had made their first abode, was ruined by the pestilence, the mission established there, and known by the name of St. Joseph, was removed, in the summer of 1638, to Teanaustayé, a large town at the foot of a range of hills near the southern borders of the Huron territory. The Hurons, this year, had had unwonted successes in their war with the Iroquois, and had taken, at various times, nearly a hundred prisoners. Many of these were brought to the seat of the new mission of St. Joseph, and put to death with frightful tortures, though not before several had been converted and baptized. The torture was followed, in spite of the remonstrances of the priests, by those cannibal feasts customary with the Hurons on such occasions. Once, when the Fathers had been strenuous in their denunciations, a hand of the victim, duly prepared, was flung in at their door, as an invitation to join in the festivity. As the owner of the severed member had been baptized, they dug a hole in their chapel, and buried it with solemn rites of sepulture. [Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1639, 70.]
It had been the first purpose of the Jesuits to form permanent missions in each of the principal Huron towns; but, before the close of the year 1639, the difficulties and risks of this scheme had become fully apparent. They resolved, therefore, to establish one central station, to be a base of operations, and, as it were, a focus, whence the light of the Faith should radiate through all the wilderness around. It was to serve at once as residence, fort, magazine, hospital, and convent. Hence the priests would set forth on missionary expeditions far and near; and hither they might retire, as to an asylum, in times of sickness or extreme peril. Here the neophytes could be gathered together, safe from perverting influences; and here in time a Christian settlement, Hurons mingled with Frenchmen, might spring up and thrive under the shadow of the cross.
The site of the new station was admirably chosen. The little river Wye flows from the southward into the Matchedash Bay of Lake Huron, and, at about a mile from its mouth, passes through a small lake. The Jesuits made choice of the right bank of the Wye, where it issues from this lake, — gained permission to build from the Indians, though not without difficulty, — and began their labors with an abundant energy, and a very deficient supply of workmen and tools. The new establishment was called Sainte Marie. The house at Teanaustayé, and the house and chapel at Ossossané, were abandoned, and all was concentrated at this spot. On one hand, it had a short water communication with Lake Huron; and on the other, its central position gave the readiest access to every part of the Huron territory.
During the summer before, the priests had made a survey of their field of action, visited all the Huron towns, and christened each of them with the name of a saint. This heavy draft on the calendar was followed by another, for the designation of the nine towns of the neighboring and kindred people of the Tobacco Nation. [See Introduction.] The Huron towns were portioned into four districts, while those of the Tobacco Nation formed a fifth, and each district was assigned to the charge of two or more priests. In November and December, they began their missionary excursions, — for the Indians were now gathered in their settlements, — and journeyed on foot through the denuded forests, in mud and snow, bearing on their backs the vessels and utensils necessary for the service of the altar.
The new and perilous mission of the Tobacco Nation fell to Garnier and Jogues. They were well chosen; and yet neither of them was robust by nature, in body or mind, though Jogues was noted for personal activity. The Tobacco Nation lay at the distance of a two days’ journey from the Huron towns, among the mountains at the head of Nottawassaga Bay. The two missionaries tried to find a guide at Ossossané; but none would go with them, and they set forth on their wild and unknown pilgrimage alone.
The forests were full of snow; and the soft, moist flakes were still falling thickly, obscuring the air, beplastering the gray trunks, weighing to the earth the boughs of spruce and pine, and hiding every footprint of the narrow path. The Fathers missed their way, and toiled on till night, shaking down at every step from the burdened branches a shower of fleecy white on their black cassocks. Night overtook them in a spruce swamp. Here they made a fire with great difficulty, cut the evergreen boughs, piled them for a bed, and lay down. The storm presently ceased; and, “praised be God,” writes one of the travellers, “we passed a very good night.” [Jogues and Garnier in Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1640, 95.]
In the morning they breakfasted on a morsel of corn bread, and, resuming their journey, fell in with a small party of Indians, whom they followed all day without food. At eight in the evening they reached the first Tobacco town, a miserable cluster of bark cabins, hidden among forests and half buried in snow-drifts, where the savage children, seeing the two black apparitions, screamed that Famine and the Pest were coming. Their evil fame had gone before them. They were unwelcome guests; nevertheless, shivering and famished as they were, in the cold and darkness, they boldly pushed their way into one of these dens of barbarism. It was precisely like a Huron house. Five or six fires blazed on the earthen floor, and around them were huddled twice that number of families, sitting, crouching, standing, or flat on the ground; old and young, women and men, children and dogs, mingled pell-mell. The scene would have been a strange one by daylight: it was doubly strange by the flicker and glare of the lodge-fires. Scowling brows, sidelong looks of distrust and fear, the screams of scared children, the scolding of squaws, the growling of wolfish dogs, — this was the greeting of the strangers. The chief man of the household treated them at first with the decencies of Indian hospitality; but when he saw them kneeling in the litter and ashes at their devotions, his suppressed fears found vent, and he began a loud harangue, addressed half to them and half to the Indians. “Now, what are these okies doing? They are making charms to kill us, and destroy all that the pest has spared in this house. I heard that they were sorcerers; and now, when it is too late, I believe it.” [Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1640, 96.] It is wonderful that the priests escaped the tomahawk. Nowhere is the power of courage, faith, and an unflinching purpose more strikingly displayed than in the record of these missions.
– The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, Chapter 12 by Francis Parkman
The below is from Francis Parkman’s Introduction.
If, at times, it may seem that range has been allowed to fancy, it is so in appearance only; since the minutest details of narrative or description rest on authentic documents or on personal observation.
Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them, he must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.
With respect to that special research which, if inadequate, is still in the most emphatic sense indispensable, it has been the writer’s aim to exhaust the existing material of every subject treated. While it would be folly to claim success in such an attempt, he has reason to hope that, so far at least as relates to the present volume, nothing of much importance has escaped him. With respect to the general preparation just alluded to, he has long been too fond of his theme to neglect any means within his reach of making his conception of it distinct and true.