« AnteriorContinuar »
SKETCHES OF EARLY CATHOLIC MISSIONS IN THE WEST.
The earliest Jesuit Missions among the Indians of the North West-Bancroft's statements
One object of the Cabinet being to publish whatever may tend to shed light on the history of Catholicity in the West, we propose to prepare for its pages a series of papers, on the early Catholic Missions in the North Western portion of our Republic. It is not of course our intention to write a full and connected history of these Missions, but only to sketch out some of their more prominent facts and features.
The subject naturally branches out into two great divisions: the Indian Missions, and those among the white population of our recently settled Western States. We may hereafter say something on the latter division of the subject; but, for the present, we will confine our attention to the former.
The history of the Indian Missions has lately been invested with peculiar interest from the brilliant success which has crowned the labours of Father De Smet, and his companions among the tribes of the Rocky Mountains and of the Oregon Territory. The Jesuits have also been very successful in their recent missions among the Pottowatomies, as appears from some sketches just published in the Cabinet. We design, in the present and following papers, rapidly to trace the history of the earliest Jesuit Missions among the Indian tribes of the North West.
Bancroft, in the third volume of his “ History of the United States," has devoted an entire Chapter* to this very interesting subject, as far at least as it came within his general scope. Considering that he is a Protestant, he has certainly done as much justice, as could have been expected, to the labours of the early
Catholic missionaries among the Indians; and, though he has done them nothing but justice, Catholics, who are usually grateful for small favours in this way, owe him a debt of gratitude.
He has availed himself of the excellent history of Charlevoix, as well as of the detailed accounts, or “ Relations” of the Jesuit missionaries themselves. As far as he goes, he is generally accurate; but we regret that he has confined himself to the first fifty years of these missions, embracing the period from 1632, to 1680. His style is brilliant and sparkling, but wanting in that natural simplicity which best suits historical narratives, especially those which treat of religious subjects. The accounts of the Jesuit fathers, from which he borrows copiously, possess this charming quality in an eminent degree. We have also detected, here and there, a lurking sneer, intended, we apprehend, as a douceur to Protestant prejudice. Yet withal, there is an apparent impartiality, and a certain air of candour and liberality pervading this portion of his history.
Chance lately threw into our way one of the oldest and most interesting of those Relations to which the American historian so often refers. It is a duodecimo volume of 103 pages, was printed at Paris, in 1650, and is entitled :* “a Relation of what passed in the Mission of the Fathers of the Society of Jesus among the Hurons, a territory of New France, in the years 1648 and 1649.” This narrative is written in that simple manner and unctious spirit, which delight and edify the reader. It enters into the most minute and interesting details, furnishes many thrilling anecdotes, and, by its copiousness, will enable the reader of Bancroft to supply the deficiency of his comparatively meagre account. We shall draw copiously on this little work; but before we introduce our readers to its interesting contents, we must rapidly review, and summarily condense, the account of the early Jesuit missions as given by the American historian, whose authority in this matter is surely unexceptionable.
It is the glory of the Catholic Church to have been in all ages signalized by successful missionary zeal. From the day that her first ministers heard the divine command: “Go, teach all Nations;” down to the present time, she has ever burned with an ardent zeal for the instruction and salvation of mankind. She alone has, in every age, fulfilled this divine commission; she alone has converted the nations; she alone has ever been the true and fruitful mother of civilization. After the lapse of eighteen hundred years, the same fire still glows in the bosom of her missionaries, as warmed the breasts of the first Apostles of the Lamb.
At every period of her history, her clergy have been among the chief pioneers of civilization. The Cross always accompanied, sometimes even pre
• “Relation de ce qui est passe en la Mission des Peres de la Compagnie de Jesus aux Hurons, pays de la Nouvelle France, es annees 1648 and 1649. Par P. Paul Raguenau, de la inesme Compagnie”- A Paris—1650.
ceded, the banner of earthly conquest. Zeal for the salvation of souls was the very life and soul of all maritime enterprise, and expeditions of conquest. The sword subjected the bodies, the Cross won the hearts, of all who successively entered, the ever widening pale of the Christian civilization !
So it had been in South, so it was also in North America. In both, Catholics had the honour of first pioneering the way. In both, the Catholic Clergy established the first missions, and made the first proselytes to Christianity from among the aboriginal inhabitants. The Catholic French in North America, were animated by a spirit of religious zeal similar to that which had actuated the Spaniards in the Southern portion of the continent. Let us hear what Bancroft testifies on the subject.
Religious zeal, not less than commercial ambition, had influenced France to recover Canada ; and Champlain, its Governor, whose imperishable name will rival with posteri the fame of Smith and of Hudson, ever disinterested and compassionate, full of honour and probity, of ardent devotion and burning zeal, esteemed “the salvation of a soul worth more than the conquest of an
Again he says:
• Thus it was neither commercial enterprise, nor royal ambition, which carried the power of France into the heart of our continent: the motive was religion. Religious enthusiasm colonized New-England; and religious enthusiasm founded Montreal, made a conquest of the wilderness on the Upper Lakes, and explored the Mississippi. Puritanism gave New England its worship and its schools; the Roman (Catholic) Church created for Canada its altars, its hospitals, and its Seminaries."'+
The religious enthusiasm which colonized New England was of a different kind altogether from that which founded and peopled Canada. No where do we read that the French Catholic pilgrims of Canada either enacted blue laws, persecuted each other for conscience sake, drove fellow christians into the wilderness, or hanged people for witchcraft! Neither do we ever hear of their having overreached the Indians, driven them from post to post, made war on and terminated them, after having goaded them into desperation by insufferable exactions ! Nor do we ever read of the Catholic clergy acting as chaplains to the armies which were marching to exterminate the poor Indians, nor making long prayers at the head of the invading army, on the eve of battle, as did the godly Stone, when the colonists of New-England were marching against the Pequods of Connecticut! In all these things, and in many more, the glory is all on the side of the Puritans !
Again, the policy pursued by the two sets of colonists for extending the boundries of their respective territories, was widely different. The puritans seem
to have thought very little about converting and civilizing the aborigines. Missionary enterprise among them seldom, if ever, preceded shrewd contracts for additional territory, or expeditions for conquest. They rarely ever followed either: the puritans seem to have thought little about the bodies, and still less about the souls of the poor Indians. Their conversion to Christianity was an after consideration; the acquisition of their lands was the primary object of puritan missionary zeal.
We read indeed of a feeble, and, in a great measure, unsuccessful effort of the puritan minister, John Elliot, to convert the miserable remnants of the Indian tribes, which the humanity of the pious pilgrims had suffered still to drag out a miserable existence in the immediate vicinity of Boston. We read also of an entirely unsuccessful attempt made by ministers sent from Boston to break up the flourishing Catholic missions established among the Abenakis of Maine, by the sainted Catholic missionary, Sebastian Rasles. Mr. Bancroft himself, a great advocate for the puritans, is our witness for all these facts, and for many more of a similar character, which want of space compels us to omit. *
On the contrary, the same historian assures us, that “the genius of Champlain . . . . . could devise no method of building up the dominion of France in Canada but by an alliance with the Hurons, or of confirming that alliance by the establishment of missions." And he adds: “Such a policy was congenial to a church which cherishes every member of the human race, without regard to lineage or skin.”+
The genius of the pilgrims devised other means altogether for establishing puritan dominion in New England. The policy of their church, or churches, seems also to have been widely different. They were far too enlightened to cherish the tawny-skinned Indians: their delicate nerves were even greatly shocked at the bare sight of an ugly old woman, who happened to have a mole on her skin-a certain indication that she was a witch! The sublime sentiment of Champlain, who “esteemed the salvation of a soul worth more than the conquest of an empire,” never once entered into their narrow minds!
The glory of having discovered America, and of having established the first colonies, the first missions, the first college, and the first charitable institutions in North America, belongs entirely to the Catholic Religion. Mr. Bancroft's authority bears us out in all these assertions. The Franciscans were the first Catholic missionaries, and the first of any kind, who laboured among the Indian tribes of North America. As early as the year 1615, we find Franciscan missionaries among the Indians of Maine. Our historian
says: “The first permanent efforts of French enterprise, in colonizing America, preceded any permanent English settlement north of the Potomac. Years before
• See his testimonies on this subject accumulated in a Review of Mr. Webster's Bunker Hill Speech, published in the Cabinet, in the No. for October, 1843.
† P. 121, vol. 111.
the pilgrims anchored within Cape Cod, the Roman (Catholic) church had been planted, by missionaries from France, in the eastern moiety of Maine, and Le Caron, an unambitiuos Franciscan, had penetrated the land of the Mohawks, had passed to the North in the hunting-grounds of the Wyandots, and, bound by his vows to the life of a beggar, had, on foot, or paddling a bark canoe, gone onward and still onward, taking alms of the savages, till he reached the rivers of Lake Huron. While Quebec contained scarce fifty inhabitants, priests of the Franciscan order-Le Caron, Viel, Sagard—had laboured for years as missionaries in Upper Canada, or made their way to the neutral Huron tribe that dwelt on the waters of the Niagara.")*
In 1632, the “ Franciscans having, as a mendicant order, been excluded from the rocks and deserts of the new world, the office of converting the heathen of Canada, and thus enlarging the borders of French dominion, was entrusted solely to the Jesuits.” | For this change the historian can assign no better motive, than that the Franciscans were a mendicant order—as if the Jesuits who succeeded them had not also taken the vow of poverty—and the interposition of " devotees” at the French Court, which felt that the "aspiring honour of the Gallican Church was interested.”'I
In the first place, it does not appear, even from Mr. Bancroft's own showing, that the Franciscans were wholly excluded from the mission of North America. For as late as 1680, we find that the Franciscan, Hennepin, and his associates of the same order, accompanied the expedition of La Salle for exploring the Mississippi. It was he who first penetrated to the Falls of St. Anthony-called by him after the patron of his expedition, St. Anthony of Padua. “On a tree near the cateract, the Franciscan engraved the Cross, and the arms of France; and, after a Summer's rambles, diversified by a short captivity among the Sioux, he and his companions returned, by way of the Wisconsin and Fox rivers, to the French mission at Green Bay.”'s
Perhaps the intrinsic merits of the Jesuits, their more complete organization, and their greater adaptation to the Indian missions, had at least as much to do with their having been selected for this work by the French authorities, as the aspiring honour of the Gallican Church, or the interference of court devotees. Mr. Bancroft himself does justice to the character of the Jesuits, and bears us out in our mode of explaining the action of the French court on the subject. After having well spoken of the first establishment of the Jesuit order,|| he bears this testimony to the worth of the first missionaries of the Order in Canada.
“ Within three years after the second occupation of Canada, (1633-1636) the number of Jesuit priests in the province reached fifteen; and every tradition bears testimony to their worth. They had the faults of ascetic superstition(!); but
• P. 118-119. § P. 166-7.
| Ibid. p. 120. || P. 120.