Here was the center and base of the Huron missions; and now, for once, one must wish that Jesuit pens had been more fluent.
Previously in The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century.
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First of all, the Huron chiefs summoned the Jesuits to meet them at a grand council of the nation, when an old orator, chosen by the rest, rose and addressed Ragueneau, as chief of the French, in the following harangue. Ragueneau, who reports it, declares that he has added nothing to it, and the translation is as literal as possible.
My Brother,” began the speaker, “behold all the tribes of our league assembled!” — and he named them one by one. “We are but a handful; you are the prop and stay of this nation. A thunderbolt has fallen from the sky, and rent a chasm in the earth. We shall fall into it, if you do not support us. Take pity on us. We are here, not so much to speak as to weep over our loss and yours. Our country is but a skeleton, without flesh, veins, sinews, or arteries; and its bones hang together by a thread. This thread is broken by the blow that has fallen on the head of your nephew,  for whom we weep. It was a demon of Hell who placed the hatchet in the murderer’s hand. Was it you, Sun, whose beams shine on us, who led him to do this deed? Why did you not darken your light, that he might be stricken with horror at his crime? Were you his accomplice? No; for he walked in darkness, and did not see where he struck. He thought, this wretched murderer, that he aimed at the head of a young Frenchman; but the blow fell upon his country, and gave it a death-wound. The earth opens to receive the blood of the innocent victim, and we shall be swallowed up in the chasm; for we are all guilty. The Iroquois rejoice at his death, and celebrate it as a triumph; for they see that our weapons are turned against each other, and know well that our nation is near its end.
Brother, take pity on this nation. You alone can restore it to life. It is for you to gather up all these scattered bones, and close this chasm that opens to ingulf us. Take pity on your country. I call it yours, for you are the master of it; and we came here like criminals to receive your sentence, if you will not show us mercy. Pity those who condemn themselves and come to ask forgiveness. It is you who have given strength to the nation by dwelling with it; and if you leave us, we shall be like a wisp of straw torn from the ground to be the sport of the wind. This country is an island drifting on the waves, for the first storm to overwhelm and sink. Make it fast again to its foundation, and posterity will never forget to praise you. When we first heard of this murder, we could do nothing but weep; and we are ready to receive your orders and comply with your demands. Speak, then, and ask what satisfaction you will, for our lives and our possessions are yours; and even if we rob our children to satisfy you, we will tell them that it is not of you that they have to complain, but of him whose crime has made us all guilty. Our anger is against him; but for you we feel nothing but love. He destroyed our lives; and you will restore them, if you will but speak and tell us what you will have us do.”
[1: The usual Indian figure in such cases, and not meant to express an actual relationship; — “Uncle” for a superior, “Brother” for an equal, “Nephew” for an inferior.]
Ragueneau, who remarks that this harangue is a proof that eloquence is the gift of Nature rather than of Art, made a reply, which he has not recorded, and then gave the speaker a bundle of small sticks, indicating the number of presents which he required in satisfaction for the murder. These sticks were distributed among the various tribes in the council, in order that each might contribute its share towards the indemnity. The council dissolved, and the chiefs went home, each with his allotment of sticks, to collect in his village a corresponding number of presents. There was no constraint; those gave who chose to do so; but, as all were ambitious to show their public spirit, the contributions were ample. No one thought of molesting the murderers. Their punishment was their shame at the sacrifices which the public were making in their behalf.
The presents being ready, a day was set for the ceremony of their delivery; and crowds gathered from all parts to witness it. The assembly was convened in the open air, in a field beside the mission-house of Sainte Marie; and, in the midst, the chiefs held solemn council. Towards evening, they deputed four of their number, two Christians and two heathen, to carry their address to the Father Superior. They came, loaded with presents; but these were merely preliminary. One was to open the door, another for leave to enter; and as Sainte Marie was a large house, with several interior doors, at each one of which it behooved them to repeat this formality, their stock of gifts became seriously reduced before they reached the room where Father Ragueneau awaited them. On arriving, they made him a speech, every clause of which was confirmed by a present. The first was to wipe away his tears; the second, to restore his voice, which his grief was supposed to have impaired; the third, to calm the agitation of his mind; and the fourth, to allay the just anger of his heart.  These gifts consisted of wampum and the large shells of which it was made, together with other articles, worthless in any eyes but those of an Indian. Nine additional presents followed: four for the four posts of the sepulcher or scaffold of the murdered man; four for the cross-pieces which connected the posts; and one for a pillow to support his head. Then came eight more, corresponding to the eight largest bones of the victim’s body, and also to the eight clans of the Hurons.  Ragueneau, as required by established custom, now made them a present in his turn. It consisted of three thousand beads of wampum, and was designed to soften the earth, in order that they might not be hurt, when falling upon it, overpowered by his reproaches for the enormity of their crime. This closed the interview, and the deputation withdrew.
[2: Ragueneau himself describes the scene. Relation des Hurons, 1648, 80.]
[3: Ragueneau says, “les huit nations”; but, as the Hurons consisted of only four, or at most five, nations, he probably means the clans. For the nature of these divisions, see Introduction.]
The grand ceremony took place on the next day. A kind of arena had been prepared, and here were hung the fifty presents in which the atonement essentially consisted, — the rest, amounting to as many more, being only accessory.  The Jesuits had the right of examining them all, rejecting any that did not satisfy them, and demanding others in place of them. The naked crowd sat silent and attentive, while the orator in the midst delivered the fifty presents in a series of harangues, which the tired listener has not thought it necessary to preserve. Then came the minor gifts, each with its signification explained in turn by the speaker. First, as a sepulcher had been provided the day before for the dead man, it was now necessary to clothe and equip him for his journey to the next world; and to this end three presents were made. They represented a hat, a coat, a shirt, breeches, stockings, shoes, a gun, powder, and bullets; but they were in fact something quite different, as wampum, beaver-skins, and the like. Next came several gifts to close up the wounds of the slain. Then followed three more. The first closed the chasm in the earth, which had burst through horror of the crime. The next trod the ground firm, that it might not open again; and here the whole assembly rose and danced, as custom required. The last placed a large stone over the closed gulf; to make it doubly secure.
[4: The number was unusually large, — partly because the affair was thought very important, and partly because the murdered man belonged to another nation. See Introduction.]
Now came another series of presents, seven in number, — to restore the voices of all the missionaries, — to invite the men in their service to forget the murder, — to appease the Governor when he should hear of it, — to light the fire at Sainte Marie, — to open the gate, — to launch the ferry boat in which the Huron visitors crossed the river, — and to give back the paddle to the boy who had charge of the boat. The Fathers, it seems, had the right of exacting two more presents, to rebuild their house and church, — supposed to have been shaken to the earth by the late calamity; but they forbore to urge the claim. Last of all were three gifts to confirm all the rest, and to entreat the Jesuits to cherish an undying love for the Hurons.
The priests on their part gave presents, as tokens of good-will; and with that the assembly dispersed. The mission had gained a triumph, and its influence was greatly strengthened. The future would have been full of hope, but for the portentous cloud of war that rose, black and wrathful, from where lay the dens of the Iroquois.
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 center 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 Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, Chapter 25 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.