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The Return to Huronia

After the Treaty of St Germain-en-Laye, which restored to France all the posts in America won by the Adventurers of Canada, the French king took steps to repossess Quebec. But, by way of compensation to the Caens for their losses in the war, Emery de Caen was commissioned to take over the post from the Kirkes and hold it for one year, with trading rights. Accordingly, in April 1632, Caen sailed from Honfleur; and he carried a dispatch under the seal of Charles I, king of England, addressed to Lewis Kirke at Quebec, commanding him to surrender the captured fort.

On the 5th of July the few French inhabitants at Quebec broke out into wild cries of joy as they saw Caen's ship approaching under full sail, at its peak the white flag sprinkled with golden lilies; and when they learned that the vessel brought two Jesuit fathers, their hearts swelled with inexpressible rapture. During the three years of English possession the Catholics had been without priests, and they hungered for their accustomed forms of worship. The priests now arriving were Paul Le Jeune, the new superior-general, and Anne de Noue, with a lay brother, Gilbert Burel. They hastened ashore; and were followed by the inhabitants to the home of the widow Hebert, the only substantial residence in the colony, where, in the ceremony of the Mass, they celebrated the renewal of the Canadian mission.

Quebec was in a sad condition. The English, knowing of the negotiations for its return to the French, had left the ground uncultivated and the buildings in ruins. The missionaries found the residence of Notre-Dame-des-Anges plundered and partly destroyed; but they went to work cheerfully to restore it, and before autumn it was quite habitable. Meanwhile Le Jeune had begun his labors tentatively as a teacher. His pupils were an Indian lad and a little negro, the latter a present from the English to Madame Hebert. The class grew larger; during the winter a score of children answered the call of Le Jeune's bell, and sat at his feet learning the Credo, the Ave, and the Paternoster, which he had translated into Algonquin rhymes. In order to learn the Indian language Le Jeune was himself a pupil, his teacher a Montagnais named Pierre, a worthless wretch who had been in France and had learned some French. Le Jeune passed the winter of 1632-33 in teaching, studying, and ministering to the inhabitants at the trading-post. Save for a short period, he had the companionship of Noue, a devoted missionary, eager to play his part in the field, but, as we have seen, without the necessary vigor of mind or body. Though Noue had failed in Huronia, he thought he might succeed on the St Lawrence. And in the autumn, just as the first snows were beginning to whiten the ground, when a band of friendly Montagnais, encamped near the residence, invited him to their wintering grounds, he bade farewell to Le Jeune and vanished with the Indians into the northern forest. But the rigors of the wigwams were too much for him, and after three weeks he returned to Notre-Dame-des-Anges in an exhausted condition.

In the meantime the Hundred Associates were getting ready to enter into the enjoyment of their Canadian domain, but now without the hopeful ardor and exalted purpose which had characterized their first ill-fated expedition. The guiding hand in the revival of the colony, under the feudal suzerainty of Richelieu's company, was Champlain. He was appointed on March 1, 1633, lieutenant-general in New France, 'with jurisdiction throughout all the extent of the St Lawrence and other rivers.' Twenty-three days later he sailed from Dieppe with three armed ships, the St Pierre, the St Jean, and the Don de Dieu. These ships carried two hundred persons, among them the Jesuit fathers Jean de Brebeuf and Ennemond Masse. At Cape Breton they were joined by two more Jesuits, Antoine Daniel and Ambroise Davost, who had gone there the year before.

There were no Recollets in the company, for, greatly to their disappointment, the Recollets were now barred from the colony. For this the Jesuits have been unjustly blamed. It was, however, wholly due to the policy of the Hundred Associates. At one of their meetings Jean de Lauzon, the president, afterwards a governor of New France, formally protested against the return of the Recollets. The Associates desired to economize, and did not wish to support two religious orders in the colony; and so the mendicant Recollets were excluded.

The vessels appeared at Quebec on the 23rd of May, and landed their passengers amid shouts of welcome from the settlers, soldiers, and Indians. Presently Champlain's lieutenant, Duplessis-Bochart, on behalf of the Hundred Associates, received the keys of the fort and habitation from Emery de Caen; and at that moment ended the regime of the Huguenot traders in Canada. Thenceforth, whether for good or for evil, New France was to be Catholic.

During the English occupation the Indians had almost ceased to visit Quebec. At first the fickle savages had welcomed the invaders, for they ever favored a winner, and had thronged about the fort, expecting presents galore from the strong people who had ousted the French. But instead of presents the English gave them only kicks and curses; and so they held aloof. Now, however, on hearing that Champlain had returned, the Indian dwellers along the Ottawa river and in Huronia flocked to the post. Hardly more than two months after his arrival, a fleet of a hundred and forty canoes, with about seven hundred Indians, swept with the ebb tide to the base of the rock that frowned above the habitation and the dilapidated warehouses. Drawing their heavily laden craft ashore, the chiefs greeted Champlain and proceeded to set up their camp-huts on the strand. Among them were many warriors, now grown old, who had been with him in the attack on the Iroquois in 1615. There were some, too, who had listened to the teaching of Brebeuf. For the eager missionaries this was an opportunity not to be lost; and, resolved to go up with the Hurons, who willingly assented, Brebeuf, Daniel, and Davost got ready for the journey to Huronia. On the eve of departure the three missionaries brought their packs to the strand, and lodged for the night in the traders' storehouse, hard by the Indian encampment. But they had an enemy abroad. All in this party were not Huron; some were Ottawas from Allumette Island, under a one-eyed chief, Le Borgne. This wily redskin wished for trouble between the Huron and the French, in order that his tribe might get a monopoly of the Ottawa route, and carry all the goods from the nations above down to the St Lawrence. At this time an Algonquin of La Petite Nation, a tribe living south of Allumette Island, was held at Quebec for murdering a Frenchman. His friends were seeking his release; but Champlain deemed his execution necessary as a lesson to the Indians. Le Borgne rose to the occasion. He went among the Huron, urging them to refuse passage to the Jesuits, warning them that, since Champlain would not pardon the Algonquin, it would be dangerous to take the black-robes with them. The angry tribesmen of the murderer would surely lay in wait for the canoes, the black-robes would be slain or made prisoners, and there would be war on the Huron too. The argument was effective; Champlain would not release the prisoner; and the Jesuits were forced to return to their abode, while the Indians embarked and disappeared.

There were now six fathers at Notre-Dame-des-Anges. They kept incessantly active, improving their residence, cultivating the soil, studying the Indian languages, and ministering to the settlers and to the red men who had pitched their wigwams along the St Charles and the St Lawrence in the vicinity of Quebec. In spite of Noue's failure among the Montagnais, the courageous Le Jeune resolved personally to study the Indian problem at first hand; and in the autumn of 1633 he joined a company of redskins going to their hunting ground on the upper St John. During five months among these savages he suffered from 'cold, heat, smoke, and dogs,' and bore in silence the foul language of a medicine-man who made the missionary's person and teachings subjects of mirth. At times, too, he was on the verge of death from hunger. Early in the spring he returned to Quebec, after having narrowly escaped drowning as he Crossed the ice-laden St Lawrence in a frail canoe. He had made no converts; but he had gained valuable experience. It was now more evident than ever that among the roving Algonquins the mission could make little progress.

In 1634 the Huron visited the colony in small numbers, for Iroquois scalping parties haunted the trails, and a pestilence had played havoc in the Huron villages. Those who came to trade this year gathered at Three Rivers; and thither went Brebeuf, Daniel, and Davost to seek once more a passage to Huronia. The Indians at first stolidly refused to take them; but at length, after a liberal distribution of presents, the three priests and four engages were permitted to embark, each priest in a separate canoe. They had the usual rough experiences. Davost and Daniel, who had no acquaintance with the Huron language, fared worse than Brebeuf. Davost was abandoned among the Ottawas of Allumette Island, his baggage plundered and his books and papers thrown into the river. Daniel, too, was deserted by his savage conductors. Both, however, found means to continue the journey. When Brebeuf reached Otouacha, on the 5th of August, his Indian guides, in haste to get to their villages, suddenly vanished into the forest. But he knew the spot well; Toanche, his old mission, was but a short distance away. Thither he hurried, only to find the village in ruins. Nothing remained of the cabin in which he had spent three years but the charred poles of the framework. A well-worn path leading through the forest told him that a village could not be far distant, and he followed this trail till he came to a cluster of cabins. This was a new village, Teandeouiata, to which the inhabitants of his old Toanche had moved. It was twilight as the Indians caught sight of the stalwart, black-robed figure emerging from the forest, and the shout went up, 'Echon has come again!' Presently all the inhabitants were about him shouting and gesticulating for joy.

Daniel and Davost arrived during the month, emaciated and exhausted, but rejoicing. The missionaries found shelter in the spacious cabin of a hospitable Huron, Awandoay, where they remained until the 19th of September. Meanwhile they had selected the village of Ihonatiria, a short distance away near the northern extremity of the peninsula, as a centre for the mission. There a cabin was quickly erected, the men of the town of Oenrio vying with the men of Teandeouiata in the task. This residence, called by Brebeuf St Joseph, was thirty-five feet long and twenty wide and contained a storehouse, a living-room and school, and a chapel.

For three years this humble abode was to be the headquarters of the missionaries in Huronia. During the first year of the mission all went smoothly. To the Indians the fathers were medicine-men of extraordinary powers; moreover, the hired men who came with them had arquebuses that would be valuable in case of attack in force by the Iroquois. Objects which the missionaries possessed inspired awe in the savages; a handmill for grinding corn, a clock, a magnifying lens, and a picture of the Last Judgment were supposed to be okies of the white man. For a time eager audiences crowded the little cabin. Few converts were made, however; for the present the savages were too firmly wedded to their customs and superstitions to accept the new okies. Unfortunately, in 1635, a drought smote the land, and the medicine-men used this calamity to discredit their rivals the black-robes. According to these fakirs, it was the red cross on the Jesuit chapel which frightened away the bird of thunder and caused the drought. Brebeuf, to disarm suspicion, had the cross painted white; yet the thunder-bird still held aloof, and the incantations and drumming of the sorcerers availed not to bring rain. Brebeuf then advised the Indians to try the effect of an appeal to his God. In despair they consented. A procession was formed and the priests said Masses and prayers. The result was dramatic. Almost immediately a sudden refreshing rain deluged the ground; the crops were saved and the medicine-men humiliated. Still, no perceptible religious progress was made. Though children came to the residence to be instructed by the black-robes, they were attracted more by the 'beads, raisins, and prunes' which they received as inducements to come back than by the lessons in Christian truth. For the most part the elders listened attentively to the missionaries, but to the question of laying aside their superstitions and accepting Christianity they replied: 'It is good for the French; but we are another people, with different customs.'

Winter was the season of greatest trial. The cabins, crowded to suffocation, were made the scenes of savage mirth and feasting. The Huron were inveterate gamblers; sometimes village would challenge village; and, as the game progressed, night would be made hideous with the beating of drums and the hilarious shouts of the spectators. Feasts were frequent, since any occasion afforded an excuse for one, and all feasts were accompanied by gluttony and uproar. The Dream Feast was a maniacal performance. It was agreed upon in a solemn council of the chiefs and was made the occasion of great license. The guests would rush about the village feigning madness, scattering fire-brands, shouting, leaping, smiting with impunity any they encountered. Each one would seek some object which he pretended to have learned about in a dream. Only when this object was found would calmness follow; if it was not found, there would be deepest despair. Feasts, too, were prescribed by the medicine-men as cures for sickness; the healthy, not the sick, would take the medicine, and would take it till they were gorged. To leave a scrap of food on their platters might mean the death of the patient.

Only one of the social customs of the Huron had any real religious significance. Every ten or twelve years the great Feast of the Dead took place. It was the custom of the Huron either to place the dead in the earth, covering them with rude huts, or, more commonly, on elevated platforms. The bodies rested till the allotted time for final interment came round. Then at some central point an immense pit would be dug as a common grave. In 1636 a Feast of the Dead was held at Ossossane. To this place, from the various villages of the Bear clan, Indians came trooping, wailing mournful funeral songs as they bore the recently dead on litters, or the carefully prepared bones of their departed relatives in parcels slung over their shoulders. All converged on the village of Ossossane, where a pit ten feet deep by thirty feet wide had been dug. There on scaffolds about the pit they placed the bodies and bones, carefully wrapped in furs and covered with bark. The assembled mourners then gave themselves up to feasting and games, as a prelude to the final act of this drama of death. They lined the pit with costly furs and in the centre placed kettles, household goods, and weapons for the chase, all these, like the bodies and bones, supposed to be indwelt by spirits. They laid the dead bodies in rows on the floor of the pit, and threw the bundles of bones to Indians stationed within, who arranged the remains in their proper places.

The Jesuits were witnesses of this weird ceremony. They saw the naked Indians going about their task in the pit in the glare of torches, like veritable imps of hell. It was a discouraging scene. But a greater trial than the Feast of the Dead was in store for them. By a pestilence, a severe form of dysentery, Ihonatiria was almost denuded of its population. In consequence the priests, who had now been reinforced by the arrival of Fathers Francois Le Mercier, Pierre Pijart, Pierre Chastelain, Isaac Jogues, and Charles Garnier, had to seek a more populous centre as headquarters for their mission in Huronia. The chiefs of Oenrio invited the Jesuits to their village. But Brebeuf's demands were heavy. They should believe in God; keep His commandments; abjure their faith in dreams; take one wife and be true to her; renounce their assemblies of debauchery; eat no human flesh; never give feasts to demons; and make a vow that if God would deliver them from the pest they would build a chapel to offer Him thanksgiving and praise. They were ready to make the vow regarding the chapel, but the other conditions were too severe--the pest was preferable. And so the Jesuits turned to Ossossane, where the people agreed to accept these conditions.

Formerly Ossossane had been situated on an elevated piece of ground on the shore of Nottawasaga Bay; but the village had been moved inland and, under the direction of the French, a rectangular wall of posts ten or twelve feet high had been built around it. At opposite angles of the wall two towers guarded the sides. A platform extended round the entire wall, from which the defenders could hurl stones on the heads of an attacking party, or could pour water to extinguish the blaze if an enemy succeeded in setting fire to the palisades.

Here the Jesuits were to live for two years. Outside the walls of the town a commodious cabin seventy feet long was built for them; and on June 5, 1637, in the part of the cabin consecrated as a chapel, Father Pijart celebrated Mass. The residence was named La Conception de Notre Dame. For a wilderness church it was a marvel. At the entrance were green boughs adorned with tinsel; pictures hung on the walls; crucifixes, vessels, and ornaments of shining metal ornamented the chapel. From far and near Indians flocked to see this wondrous edifice. Best of all, a leading chief offered himself for baptism. The future looked promising; the Indians showed the fathers 'much affection' and a rich harvest of souls seemed about to be garnered.

But all this was to be changed. A hunch-backed, ogre-like medicine-man who claimed to be of miraculous birth came to Ossossane. The pest was still raging, and he laid the blame for it at the door of the missionaries. According to him their prayers and litanies were charms and incantations; their pictures were evil okies. It was, he declared, by the influence of these and other agencies that they had spread the pestilence among the Huron. Some of the older and most influential Huron joined with the sorcerer in his denunciation of the priests, and soon the inhabitants of the whole village turned against them. Squaws shut the doors of the cabins at their approach, young braves threatened them with death, children followed them about hooting and pelting them with sticks and stones. At last the priests were summoned to a public council and openly accused of being the cause of the misfortunes that had recently visited the Huron people. Brebeuf replied to the accusations with unflinching courage, denying the charges, and showing their absurdity. He then boldly addressed his audience on the truths of Christianity, held before them the awful future that awaited those who refused to obey the words of Christ, and declared that the pest was a punishment for their evil lives. The council was deeply impressed by his courage and evident sincerity, and for the time being the lives of the missionaries were in no danger. But they knew that at any moment the blow might fall, and none ever went abroad without the feeling that a tomahawk might descend on his unguarded head.

On October 28, 1637, Brebeuf prepared, as he thought, a farewell letter to his friends at Quebec. He and the four other missionaries at Ossossane signed it and sent it to the superior-general Le Jeune. It opens with the words: 'We are perhaps on the point of shedding our blood and sacrificing our lives in the service of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.' There is no note of fear in this letter. 'If,' it runs, 'you should hear that God has crowned our labors, or rather our desires, with martyrdom, return thanks to Him, for it is for Him we wish to live and die.' Such was the spirit of these bearers of the Cross. Their humility, courage, and disinterestedness kept them for the present from 'the crown of martyrdom.' But the hunch-backed sorcerer continued his agitation and the storm once more broke over their heads. To show the Indians that he knew their hearts, and that he could meet death with the stoical courage of one of their own chiefs, Brebeuf summoned them to a festin d'adieua farewell feast--and while his guests, in ominous silence, ate the portions set before them he addressed them in burning words. He was about to die, but before he departed this life he would warn them of the life to come. Their resistance to Christ's message, their abuse and persecution of Christ's messengers, would have to be atoned for in eternity. His actions and words took effect.

Though the sorcerer still schemed, the Jesuits went about their labors unscathed, preaching to the unregenerate, visiting and caring for the sick, and baptizing the dying.

For a year after the establishing of the mission of La Conception at Ossossane three fathers--Pierre Chastelain, Pierre Pijart, and Isaac Jogues--ministered to the remnant of the Huron at Ihonatiria. But the pest was still raging, and by the spring of 1638 Ihonatiria was little more than a village of empty wigwams. It was useless to remain longer at this spot, and the missionaries looked about for another field for their energies. The town of Teanaostaiae, the largest town of the clan of the Cord, about fifteen miles north of the present town of Barrie, seemed suitable for a central mission. Brebeuf visited the place, talked with the inhabitants, met the council of the nation, and won its consent to establish a residence. In June the mission of St Joseph was moved to Teanaostaiae. Before the end of the summer Jerome Lalemant, who for the next eight years was to be the superior of the Huron mission, Simon Le Moyne, and Francois du Peron arrived in Huronia. There was now a new distribution of the mission forces, five priests under Lalemant's immediate leadership taking up their abode at Ossossane, while three in charge of Brebeuf settled at Teanaostaiae.

So far Brebeuf had been the recognized leader in Huronia. He had been nobly supported by his brother priests and his hired men. The residences at both Ihonatiria and Ossossane had been kept well supplied with food, even better than many of the Indian households. Game was scarce in Huronia, but the fathers had among their engages an expert hunter, Francois Petit-Pre, ever roaming the forest and the shores in search of game to give variety to their table. Robert Le Coq, a devoted engage, later a donne, [Footnote: An unpaid, voluntary assistant whose only remuneration was food and clothing, care during illness, and support in old age.] was their 'negotiator' or business man. It was Le Coq who made the yearly trips to Quebec for supplies, and who with infinite labor brought many heavy burdens over the difficult trails. Brebeuf had proved himself essentially an enthusiast for souls, a mystic, a spirit craving the crown of martyrdom, yet withal a man of great tact, and a powerful exemplar to his fellow-priests. Lalemant, while lacking Brebeuf's dominating enthusiasm, was a more practical man, with great organizing ability. After viewing the wide and dangerous field to be administered, the new superior decided to concentrate the separate missions into one stronghold of the faith. The site he chose was remote from any of the centers of Indian population. It was on the eastern bank of the river Wye between Mud Lake and Matchedash Bay. Here the missionaries built a strong rectangular fort with walls of stone surmounted by palisades and with bastions at each corner. The interior buildings--a chapel, a hospital, and dwellings for the missionaries and the engages--although of wood, were supported on foundations of stone and cement.

The new mission-house they named Ste Marie; and from this central station the missionaries went forth in pairs to the farthest parts of Huronia and beyond. The missions to the Petuns and the Neutrals, however, ended in failure. The Petuns hailed Garnier and Jogues as the Famine and the Pest and the priests barely escaped with their lives. In the following year (1640), when Brebeuf and Chaumonot went among the Neutrals, they found Huron emissaries there inciting the Neutrals to kill the priests. These Huron, while themselves fearing to murder the powerful okies of the French, as they regarded the black-robes, desired that the Neutrals should put them to death. But no such tragedy found place as yet. After visiting nineteen towns, meeting everywhere maledictions and threats, Brebeuf and Chaumonot returned to Ste Marie.

The good work went on, notwithstanding trials and reverses. The story of the Cross was being carried even to the Algonquins and Nipissings of the upper Ottawa and Georgian Bay. At Ste Marie neophytes gathered in numbers, and here there were no medicine-men, 'satellites of Satan,' to seduce them from their vows. But, just at the time when the harvest seemed richest in promise, a cloud appeared on the horizon--a forerunner of darker clouds, heavy with calamity, and of the storm which was to bring destruction to the Huron people.

Meanwhile, how fared the mission at Quebec? Champlain had died on Christmas Day 1635, and the Jesuits had lost a staunch friend and never-failing protector. His successor, however, was Charles Huault de Montmagny, a knight of Malta, a man of devout character, thoroughly in sympathy with the missions. Under Montmagny's rule New France became as austere as Puritan New England.

The Relations of the Jesuits, sent yearly to France and published and widely read, had roused intense enthusiasm among wealthy and pious men and women. Thus Noel Brulart, Chevalier de Sillery, was moved to take an interest in the Canadian mission and to endow a home for Christian Indians. Le Jeune chose a site on the bank of the St Lawrence, four miles above Quebec; and in 1637 the Sillery establishment was erected there, consisting of a chapel, a mission-house, and an infirmary, all within strong palisades.

About the same time two wealthy enthusiasts, the Duchesse d'Aiguillon, a niece of Cardinal Richelieu, and Madame de la Peltrie, were likewise inspired by the Relations to undertake charitable work in New France. These ladies founded, respectively, the Hotel-Dieu of Quebec and the Ursuline Convent. In 1639 Madame de la Peltrie, who had given herself as well as her purse to the work, arrived in Quebec, accompanied by Mother Marie de I'Incarnation and two other Ursulines and three Augustinian nuns. The Ursulines at once began their labors as teachers with six Indian pupils. But a plague of small-pox was raging in the colony, and for the first year or two after their arrival these heroic women had to aid the sisters of the Hotel-Dieu in fighting the pest.

The Jesuits themselves were busy with the education of the Indians and had already established a college and seminary for the instruction of young converts. The colony, however, was not growing. The Hundred Associates had not carried out the terms of their charter. There were less than four hundred settlers in the whole of New France, and only some three hundred soldiers to guard the settlements from attack. Canada as yet was little more than a mission; and such it was to remain for another twenty and more years.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Founder of New France, A Chronicle of Champlain, 1915

 

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