The King of France Cannot Have Given You Our Land, Because it Was Not His
From the blog at http://JohnWood1946.wordpress.com
The King of France Cannot Have Given You Our Land, Because it Was Not His
This blog posting is much longer than I would like. However, it is interesting and important enough to share in full. It is from James Baxter’s The Pioneers of New France in New England, with contemporary letters and documents, Albany, N.Y., 1894.
Sebastien Ralé was a Jesuit priest assigned to minister to Native groups in New France, and following is his letter to his brother dated more than thirty years after his arrival. It is a firsthand account of Native life extending from Illinois to Acadia in the early 18th century. Ralé is mostly remembered as a provocateur among the Wabanaki Indians, the people of the first light, including the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Penobscot and Nanrantsouak people (the Nanrantsouak were from the interior of Maine). He was eventually killed in battle by the English.
I have resisted the urge to edit some parts of the letter, such as his many references to “savages” and his gruesome details of the torture of prisoners. He was writing from Nanrantsouak, also known as Norridgewock, i.e., Kennebec.
Maliseet Men and Canoe, ca. 1863
New Brunswick Museum
Nanrantsouak, this 12th of October 1723
Monsieur and very dear brother;
The peace of Our Lord.
I can no longer refuse the kind requests which you make me in all your letters, to inform you a little in detail of my occupations and of the character of the Savage nations, in the midst of which Providence has placed me for so many years. I do it the more willingly, because in conforming in this regard to wishes so urgent on your part I satisfy yet more your affection and curiosity.
It was the 23 of July of the year 1689 that I embarked at Rochelle; and after three months of a pleasant enough voyage, I arrived at Quebec the 13 of October of the same year. I applied myself at first to learning the language of our Savages. This is difficult; because it is not sufficient to study the terms and their signification and to make a collection of words and phrases, it is still necessary to know the turn and the arrangement which the savages give them, which one hardly acquires except by intercourse and association with these people.
I went then to dwell in a village with the Abnaki nation, situated in a forest, which is only three leagues from Quebec. This was inhabited by two hundred savages nearly all Christians. Their cabins were arranged a little like the houses in the towns; an inclosure of stakes, thick and high, form a kind of wall which shelters them from the incursions of their enemies.
Their cabins are very soon set up; they plant poles which they join at the top; and they cover them with great sheets of bark. The fire is made in the middle of the cabin; they spread all round rush mats, on which they sit during the day; and take their repose during the night.
The clothing of the men consists of a cassock of skin, or else of a piece of red or blue stuff. That of the women is a blanket; which hangs from the neck quite to the middle of the legs and which they adjust quite properly. They put another blanket on the head, which descends even to the feet and which serves them for a cloak. Their stockings extend only from the knee to the ankle. Socks made of elk hide and lined inside with hair or wool serve them in place of shoes. This sock is absolutely necessary to them in order to be adjusted to the snow-shoes, by means of which they walk upon the snow. These snow-shoes are made lozenge shape, are more than two feet long and a foot and a half wide. I did not believe that I could ever walk with such machines; when I made trial of them I soon found it so easy that the savages could not believe that it was the first time that I had made use of them. The invention of these snow-shoes is of great use to these savages not only to travel on the snow, with which the ground is covered a great part of the year, but also to go in pursuit of beasts and above all of the moose; these animals, larger than the largest oxen of France walk only with difficulty upon the snow; thus it is not difficult for the savages to overtake them, and they often kill them with a common knife attached to the end of a stick, they feed upon their flesh and after having well dressed their skins in which they are skillful they trade them with French and English who give them in exchange cassocks, blankets, kettles, guns, hatchets and knives.
To give you an idea of a savage, picture to yourself a large man strong, agile, of a swarthy tint, without beard, with black hair, and whose teeth are whiter than ivory. If you wish to see him in his accoutrements you will only find for his whole adornment what is called beads; this is a kind of shell or stone which they fashion into the form of little grains, some white and others black, and which they string in such a manner, that they represent divers very regular figures which are agreeable to them. It is with this bead that our Savages knot and plait their hair above their ears and behind, make collars, garters, belts, five or six inches wide and with this sort of ornaments they estimate themselves a great deal more than an European does with all his gold and his jewels.
The occupation of the men is hunting or war, that of the women is to remain in the village and to make there out of bark, baskets, bags, boxes, dishes, plates, etc. They sew the bark with roots and make of them various utensils very appropriately wrought, the canoes are likewise made solely of bark, but the largest can scarce hold more than six or seven persons.
It is with these canoes made of a bark which has hardly the thickness of a crown, that they cross the arms of the sea, and that they navigate the most dangerous rivers and lakes of four or five hundred leagues around. I have thus made many voyages without having run any risk. Only once, that in crossing the river Saint Lawrence I found myself suddenly surrounded with masses of ice of enormous size and the canoe was wedged in them; at once the two savages who conducted me cried out; “we are dead men; it is done, we must perish,” in the meantime making an effort, they leaped upon the floating ice. I did like them, and after having drawn up the canoe we carried it to the extremity of this ice. Then it was necessary for us to place ourselves again in the canoe to gain another ice cake, and thus then leaping from ice cake to ice cake, we arrived at last at the bank of the stream without other inconvenience than being very wet and numb with cold. Nothing equals the affection which the savages have for their children. As soon as they are born, they place them on a little piece of board covered with cloth and a little bear skin in which they envelope them, and this is their cradle. The mothers carry them on their back in a manner convenient for the children and for them. Hardly do the children begin to walk when they are trained to draw the bow. They become so adroit in this, that at the age of ten or twelve years they do not fail to kill the bird that they shoot at. I have been surprised at it, and I should have hardly believed it, if I had not been witness of it.
That which I most revolted at when I began to live with the savages was to find myself obliged to take my repast with them; nothing is more disgusting. After having filled their pot with meat they make it boil at the most three quarters of an hour, after which they take it from the fire, serve it in bark porringers and divide it with all those who are in the cabin. Each one bites into this meat as he would into a piece of bread. This spectacle did not give me much appetite, and they very soon noticed my repugnance. “Why dost thou not eat?” they asked. I replied to them that I was not accustomed to eat meat thus, without adding to it a piece of bread. “It is necessary to conquer thyself,” they replied, “is it so difficult as to be a patriarch who knows prayer perfectly? We overcome a great deal to believe that which we cannot see.” After this there was no more to consider. It was best to bring one’s self to their manners and customs in order to merit their confidence and gain them to Jesus Christ.
Their meals are not regular as in Europe, they live from hand to mouth, whilst they have somewhat from which to make good cheer, they profit by it, without troubling themselves about having anything to live on the following days.
They passionately love tobacco; men, women, children smoke almost continually. To give them a piece of tobacco, is to give them more pleasure than to give them their weight in gold.
In the beginning of June, and when the snow is nearly all melted, they sow the skamgar, this is what we call Turkey or Indian wheat. Their style of sowing is to make with the fingers or with a little stick, different holes in the ground, and to throw in each eight or nine kernels, which they cover with the same earth which they have withdrawn to make the hole. Their harvest takes place at the end of August.
It is in the midst of these people, who pass for the least coarse of all our savages, that I passed the apprenticeship of a missionary. My principal occupation was the study of their tongue: it is very difficult to learn, above all when one has no other masters than savages. They have many sounds which they only utter from the throat, without making any movement of the lips; ou, for example is of this number, and this is why in writing it, we make it by the figure 8, to distinguish it from other sounds. I passed a part of a year in their cabins and heard them talk. It was necessary for me to maintain extreme attention, to gather what they said, and to conjecture the signification of it. Sometimes I guessed right, more often I deceived myself, because not very able to manage their guttural letters. I repeated only part of the word, and this made them laugh. At last, after five months of continual application, I reached the point of understanding all their terms, but that was not sufficient for me to express myself according to their taste. I had still a good way to go to catch the scope and genius of their tongue, which is altogether different from the genius and scope of our European languages. To shorten the time and to put myself sooner in a state to exercise my functions, I made choice of some savages who had more wit and spoke better. I told them roughly some articles of the catechism, and they rendered them to me in all the delicacy of their language. I put them at once on paper, and by this means I made myself in a little while a dictionary and a catechism which contained the principles and the mysteries of religion.
One cannot deny that the language of the savages has true beauties, and I know not what of energy, in the turn and manner in which they express themselves. I am going to give you an example of it. If I should ask you, Why God has created you? You would reply to me, that it is to know him, to love him and to serve him, and by this means to merit eternal glory. But should I put the same question to a savage, he would reply to me thus in the term of his language; The great Spirit has thought of us; let them know me, let them love me, let them honor me, and let them obey me for then I shall make them enter into my glorious felicity. If I should wish to tell you in their style, that you would have much difficulty in learning the savage tongue, see how it would be necessary to express myself; I think of you my dear brother, that he will find difficulty in learning the savage tongue. The language of the Hurons is the master language of the savages; and when one possesses it in less than three months one can make himself understood by the five Iroquois nations. It is the most majestic and the most difficult of all the savage tongues. This difficulty does not come alone from their guttural character, but still more from the diversity of accents, because two words composed of the same characters have significations quite different. Father Chaumont, who has dwelt fifty years among the Hurons, has composed a grammar of it, which is very useful to those who newly arrive in that mission, nevertheless a missionary is most happy when, with those helps, after ten years constant labor, he expresses himself elegantly in this language.
Each savage nation has its particular tongue; thus the Abnakis, the Hurons, the Iroquois, the Algonkins, the Illinois, the Miamis, etc., have each their language. They have no books to learn these languages, and, when they shall have them, they will be useless enough. Practice is the only master which can instruct us. While I have labored in four different missions of savages, namely among the Abnakis, the Algonkins, the Hurons and the Illinois, I have been obliged to learn these different languages. I am going to give you a specimen, to the end that you may know the little relation which there is between them. I choose the strophe of a hymn of the Holy Sacrament, which they ordinarily chant during the Mass at the elevation of the sacred host and which begins in these words, O Salutaris, hostia; Such is the translation in verse of this strophe in the four languages of these different nations.
[He then presents the tract which in English would read “O saving sacrifice who art continually offered, and who givest life; thou by whom we enter heaven, we are continually assaulted; come strengthen us” into four languages.]
It was nearly two years that I lived with the Abnakis, when I was recalled by my superiors; they destined me to the mission of the Illinois, who had lost their missionary. I went then to Quebec, where, after having employed three months in studying the Algonkin tongue, I embarked the 13th of August in a canoe, to go to the Illinois; their country is distant from Quebec more than eight hundred leagues. You may well judge that so long a voyage in these barbarous lands cannot be made without running great risks, and without suffering great inconvenience. I had to traverse lakes of immense extent, and where storms are as frequent as on the sea. It is true that one has the advantage of setting foot on land every night; but one is fortunate when one finds some flat rock where one may pass the night. When the rain falls, the only means of protection is to place oneself beneath the turned over canoe.
One runs still greater dangers on the rivers, principally in places where they flow with extreme rapidity. Then the canoe flies like an arrow, and if it comes in contact with rocks, which one finds there in abundance, it breaks into a thousand pieces. This misfortune happened to some of those who accompanied me in other canoes, and it is by a singular protection of divine goodness that I did not suffer the same fate; because my canoe struck several times against the rocks, without receiving the least damage. In fine, one risks suffering from hunger that which is most cruel. The length and the difficulty of these kinds of voyages only permits bringing with one a sack of Indian corn. One would suppose that the chase would furnish on the route something to live upon; but if the game fails, one finds oneself exposed to many days of fasting. Then all the resource which one has is to search for a kind of leaves, which the savages call Kingnessanack and the French tripes de roches. One would take them for Cerfeuil, of which they have the shape, if they were not much larger; they serve them either boiled or roasted; those which I have eaten are not so bad.
I did not suffer much from hunger as far as the lake of the Hurons, but it was not the same with the companions of my voyage; the bad weather having scattered their canoes, they could not join me. I arrived the first at Missilimakinak, from whence I sent them food, without which they would have died of hunger. They had passed seven days without any nourishment but that of a crow, which they had killed rather by chance than by skill, for they had not strength to support themselves.
The season was too far advanced to continue my route as far as to the Illinois, from whence I was yet distant about four hundred leagues. Thus it was necessary for me to remain at Missilimakinak, where there were two of our missionaries, one among the Hurons, and the other with the Outaouacks. The latter are very superstitious and much attached to the jugleries of their medicine men. They attribute to themselves an origin as senseless as ridiculous. They pretend to spring from families, and each family is composed of five hundred persons.
Some are of the family of Michabou, that is to say of the great hare. They pretend that this great hare was a man of prodigious size, that he could spread nets in the water at eighteen feet in depth, and that the water came hardly to his armpits; that one day, during the deluge, he sent the beaver to discover the land; but as this animal did not return he sent out the otter, who brought back a little earth covered with foam; that he repaired to the place in the lake where he found this earth, which formed a little isle; all around which he walked in the water, and that this island became extraordinarily large. This is why is attributed to him the creation of the earth. They add that after having accomplished this work he flew up to heaven, which is his ordinary abode, but before quitting the earth, when his descendants came to die, that they should burn their bodies and throw their ashes into the air, so that they should more easily raise themselves towards heaven; that if they should fail in this, the snow would cease to cover the earth, that their lakes and their rivers would remain frozen, and that, not being able to angle for fish, which is their common food, they would all die in the spring.
In fact, a few years ago, the winter having continued longer than ordinary, there was a general consternation among the savages of the family of the great hare. They had recourse to their accustomed jugleries; they assembled many times in order to advise on the means of dissipating this snow enemy who seemed obstinate to remain upon the earth; when an old woman approached them. “My children,” said she, “you have no wit, you know the orders that the great hare has left to burn the bodies of the dead and to throw their ashes to the wind, to the end that they should return more promptly to heaven, their country; and you have neglected his orders by leaving some days journey from here a dead man without burning, as if he was not of the family of the great hare. Repair forthwith your fault, take care to burn him if you wish that the snow should disappear.” “You are right our mother” replied they, “thou hast more wit than we and the council which thou givest us restores life to us.” They immediately deputed twenty-five men to go and burn this body. They employed about fifteen days in this journey. During that time the thaw came and the snow melted. They loaded with praises and presents the old woman who had given the advice; and this event, quite natural as it was, served much to confirm them in their folly and superstitious credulity.
The second family of the Outaouacks pretend to have sprung from the Namepick, that is to say from the carp. They say that a carp having laid his eggs upon the bank of the river, and the Sun having darted its rays there, he formed a woman from them from whom they are descended. Thus they call themselves of the family of the carp.
The third family of the Outaouacks attributes its origin to the paw of the Mackova, that is to say, of a bear, and they call themselves of the family of the bear, but without explaining in what manner they are sprung from it. When they kill any of these animals they make a feast to him of his own flesh; they speak to him, they harangue him; “do not have any design against us,” they say to him, “because we have killed thee; thou hast wit, thou seest that our children suffer for hunger, they wish to make thee enter into their bodies, is it not glorious for thee to be eaten by the children of the chief?”
It is only the family of the great hare which burns dead bodies, the two others bury them. When any chief dies they prepare a vast coffin, where, after having laid the body clothed in its finest garments, they enclose with him his blanket, his gun, his supply of powder and lead, his bow, his arrows, his kettle, his platter, some provisions, his tomahawk, his pipe, his box of vermillion, his mirror, some collars of beads, and all the presents which were made at his death according to usage. They imagine that with this outfit he will make his journey more happily to the other world, and will be better received by the great chiefs of the nation, who will conduct him with them into a place of delights.
While all is being adjusted in the coffin the relatives of the dead assist at the ceremony by mourning after their fashion, that is to say, by chanting in a lugubrious tone and beating time with a stick to which they have attached many rattles.
Where the superstition of these people appears the most extravagant is in the worship that they render to that which they call their manitou. As they scarcely know anything but the beasts with which they live in the forests, they imagine within these beasts, or within their skin, or within their plumage, a kind of spirit which governs all things, and which is the master of life and death. There are, according to them manitous common to all the nation, and there are particular ones for each person. Oussakita, say they, is the great manitou of all the beasts which walk upon the earth, or which fly in the air. It is he who governs them; thus when they go to chase, they offer him tobacco, powder, lead, and skins well dressed, which they attach to the end of a pole, and elevate it in the air. “Oussakita”, they say to him, “we give thee to smoke, we offer thee of that to kill the game, deign to accept these presents, do not permit that they should escape our arrows, let us kill a great number of the fattest of them, so that our children shall neither fail of clothing, nor of nourishment.”
They call Michibichi the manitou of the waters and of the fish, and they make a sacrifice to him nearly similar when they go to fish or when they undertake a journey. This sacrifice consists of throwing into the water some tobacco, food, kettles, and asking him that the waters of the river should flow more slowly, that the rocks should not break their canoes, and that he accord to them fish in abundance.
Besides these common manitous, each has his own particular one, which is a bear, or a beaver, or a bustard, or some similar beast. They carry the skin of this animal to the war, to the chase, and on their journeys, persuading themselves that they preserve them from all danger and that they will make them successful in their undertakings.
When a savage wishes to get a manitou, the first animal which presents itself to his imagination during his sleep is commonly the one upon which his choice falls. He kills a beast of this kind; he puts his skin, or his plumage, if it is a bird in the most honorable place in his cabin; he prepares a feast in his honor, during which he makes to him his harangue in terms the most respectful, after which he is known as his manitou.
As soon as I saw the spring arrive, I left Missilimakinak to go to the Illinois. I found on my route many savage nations, among others Maskoutings, Jakis, Omikoues, Iripegouans, Outagamis, etc. All these nations have their peculiar language but for all the rest they differ in nothing from the Outaouacks. A missionary who dwells at the bay of the Puants, makes from time to time excursions among these savages to instruct them in the truths of religion.
After forty days walking, I entered the river of the Illinois, and having advanced fifty leagues I arrived at the first village, which was of three hundred cabins, all of four or five fires. One fire is always for two families. They have twelve villages of their nation. On the morrow after my arrival I was invited by the principal chief to a grand repast, which he gave to the more considerable persons. He had caused to be killed for this a number of dogs; such a banquet passes among the savages for a magnificent feast; it is why they call it the feast of the chief. The ceremonies which they observe are the same among all the nations. It is common in these sorts of festivals that the savages deliberate upon their most important affairs, as, for example, when it is agitated, either to undertake war against their neighbors, or to terminate it by a proposition of peace.
When all the guests have arrived, they range themselves all around the cabin, seating themselves either on the bare earth, or on mats. Then the chief arises and begins his harangue. I avow to you that I admired his flow of words, the justice and the force of reasons which he displayed, the eloquent turn that he gave them, the choice and delicacy of the expressions, with which he adorned his discourse. I am persuaded that if I could put in writing what this savage said to us on that moment and without preparation, it would convince you without difficulty that the most able European, after much meditation and study, could scarcely compose a discourse more solid and better termed.
Their harangue finished, two savages who performed the function of carvers, distributed the plates to all the assembly, and each plate was for two guests, they ate conversing together of indifferent things; and when the repast was finished, they retired, carrying, according to their custom, that which they had remaining in their plates.
The Illinois do not give those feasts which are customary with many other savage nations, where one is obliged to eat all that has been served to him, should one burst by it. When it happens that anyone has not the power to observe this ridiculous rule, he addresses himself to some one of the guests, whom he knows to be of a better appetite; “My brother,” says he to him, “have pity on me, I am dead if thou dost not give me life, eat that which remains to me, I will make thee a present of something.” It is the only means to escape from embarrassment.
The Illinois only cover themselves about the waist, and as to the rest, they go all naked; different compartments of all sorts of figures, which they engrave on the body in a way which is ineffaceable, hold for them the place of garments. It is only in the visits which they make or when they assist at church, that they wrap about them a covering of dressed skin during the summer, and during the winter, of a skin, with the hair on, which they leave to retain more warmth. They adorn the head with feathers, of different colors, with which they make garlands and crowns, which they adjust quite properly; they take care to paint the face with different colors, but above all with vermillion; they wear collars, and pendants from the ears made of different stones which they cut in the form of precious stones; some are blue, red and white like alabaster, to which it is necessary to add a plate of porcelain which finishes the collar. The Illinois persuade themselves that these fantastic ornaments give them grace and attract respect.
When the Illinois are not occupied in war or in the chase, the time is passed either in sport, or in feasts, or in the dance. They have two sorts of dances; some which are used in token of rejoicing, and to which they invite the most distinguished women and girls; the others are used to mark their grief, the death of the more important of their nations. It is by these dances that they pretend to honor the deceased, and to dry the tears of their relatives. All have the right to mourn in this way the death of their relations, providing they make presents for this purpose. The dances last more or less time, in proportion to the price and value of the presents and they immediately distribute them to the dancers, their custom is not to bury the dead; they wrap them in skins and attach them by the head and feet to the tops of trees. Excepting their times of sports, of feasts and dances, the men remain quietly on their mats, and pass their time in sleeping, or in making bows, arrows, pipes, and other things of this nature. As for the women, they work from morning till night like slaves. It is for them to cultivate the land, and to sow the corn during the summer; and from the beginning of winter they are occupied in making mats, in dressing skins, and in many other kinds of work; because their first care is to provide the cabin with all that is necessary therein.
Of all the nations of Canada, there are none who live in so great abundance of all things as the Illinois. Their rivers are covered with swans, with bustards, with ducks, and with teals. Hardly can one go a league, but he finds a prodigious multitude of turkeys, which go in flocks, sometimes to the number of two hundred. They are bigger than those which one sees in France. I had the curiosity to weigh some which were of the weight of thirty pounds. They have at the neck a kind of wattle of hair a half a foot in length. The bears and the stags are there in very great quantity; one also sees there an infinite number of buffaloes and deer; there is not a year that they do not kill thousands of deer, and more than two thousands of buffaloes; one sees on the prairies till lost to view from four to five thousand buffaloes which feed there. They have a hump on the back, and a head extremely large. Their hair, except that on the head, is curled and soft as wool, their flesh is naturally salt, and is so light, that although one eats it quite raw, it does not cause indigestion. When they have killed a buffalo, which appears to them too lean, they are contented to take the tongue, and go to seek one fatter.
Arrows are the principal arms which serve them, in war and in the chase. These arrows are armed at the end with a cut stone and sharpened in the form of a serpent’s tongue; lacking a knife they serve them also to skin the animals which they kill. They are so adroit in drawing the bow that they hardly ever miss their stroke, and they do it with so much swiftness that they will have sooner discharged a hundred arrows than another will have charged his gun. They put themselves to little trouble in working with the proper nets to fish in the rivers, because the abundance of animals of all sorts which they find for their subsistence, renders them quite indifferent to fish. However, when they take a fancy to have them, they embark in a canoe with their bows and their arrows, standing upright the better to discover the fish, and as soon as they have perceived him, they pierce him with an arrow.
The only means among the Illinois to public esteem and veneration is, as with other savages, to make the reputation of a skillful hunter, and yet more of a good warrior; it is principally of that which they make their merit consist, and it is that which they call to be truly a man. They are so passionate for this glory that they will undertake journeys of four hundred leagues, in the midst of forests, to make a slave, or to take the scalp from a man whom they have killed. They count for nothing the fatigues and the long fasts which they have to sustain, above all when they approach the enemy’s land; because then they no longer dare to hunt, from fear that the beasts, being only wounded may fly with the arrow in the body, and warn their enemy to put himself in state of defense, because their manner of making war, the same as among all savages, is to surprise their enemies; this is why they send out scouts, to observe their number and their march, or to note if they are on their guard. According to the report which is made them, they either put themselves in ambush, or make an irruption into their cabins, tomahawk in hand, and they do not fail to kill some of them before they had dreamed to defend themselves.
The tomahawk is made of a stag’s horn, or of wood in the shape of a cutlass, terminated by a large ball. They hold the tomahawk in one hand and the knife in the other. As soon as they have dealt their blow on the head of their enemy they encircle it with their knife, and remove the scalp with a surprising rapidity.
When the savage returns to his country laden with many scalps he is received with great honors; but it is for him the height of glory when he makes prisoners, and brings them alive. As soon as he arrives all the people of the village assemble and range themselves in a line on the road where the prisoners should pass. This reception is very cruel; some tear out their nails, others cut off their fingers or ears; while others deal them blows with clubs.
After this first reception, the old men assemble to deliberate if they shall accord life to their prisoners or if they shall put them to death. When there is some dead person to revive, that is to say, if some one of their warriors has been killed, and whom they judge should be replaced in his cabin, they give to this cabin one of their prisoners, who holds the place of the deceased and this is what they call reviving the dead.
When the prisoner is condemned to death, they plant immediately in the earth a great post, to which they attach him by both hands; they make him sing the song of death, and all the savages being seated around the post, they kindle a few steps from it a great fire, where they heat hatchets, gun barrels, and other irons. Then they come one after the other, and apply them all red upon different parts of the body, there are those who burn him with fire brands; some who gash his body with their knives; others who cut off a piece of flesh already roasted, and eat it in his presence; one may be seen filling his wounds with powder, and rubbing it all over his body, after which they set it on fire. In fine each torments him according to his caprice, and that during four or five hours, sometimes even during two or three days. The more shrill and piercing the cries which the violence of these torments make him utter, the more agreeable and diverting is the spectacle to these barbarians. It was the Iroquois who invented this frightful kind of death, and it is only by way of retaliation that the Illinois, in their turn, treat their Iroquois prisoners with an equal cruelty.
That which we understand by the word Christianity, is known only among all the savages by the name of prayer. Thus, when, I shall say to you in the remainder of this letter, that such a savage nation has embraced prayer, it is saying, that it has become Christian, or that it is disposed to be so. One would have had less trouble in converting the Illinois, if the prayer had permitted polygamy among them. They avow that prayer is good, and they are pleased when it is talked to their women and children; but when one speaks of it to themselves; one finds how difficult it is to fix their natural inconstancy and to persuade them to have but one wife and to have her always.
At the hour when they assemble, morning and evening, for prayer, all repair to the chapel. There are none even among their greatest medicine men, that is to say, among the greatest enemies of religion, who do not send their children to be instructed and baptized. Here is the greatest fruit which one finds at first among the savages, and of which one is the most certain; because among the great number of infants, not a year passes but many die before they reach the age of reason, and among the adults, the most part is so fervent and so attached to prayer, that they would suffer the most cruel death rather than abandon it.
It is a blessing for the Illinois to be far removed from Quebec, because they cannot carry to them the fire-water as they do others. This drink is among the savages the greatest obstacle to Christianity and the source of an infinite number of the most shocking crimes. We know that they only purchase it in order to plunge themselves into the most furious intoxication; the disorders and the sad deaths of which one is witness every day should much overbalance the gain which one can make by traffic in so fatal a liquor.
It was two years that I abode with the Illinois, when I was recalled to consecrate the rest of my days to the Abnaki nation. It was the first mission to which I had been destined at my arrival in Canada, and it is that apparently, where I shall finish my life. It was necessary then for me to return to Quebec, to go from there to rejoin my dear savages. I have already described to you the length and difficulties of this journey; therefore, I will speak to you only of a very consoling adventure to me four leagues from Quebec.
I found myself in a kind of village, where there are twenty five French houses, and a cure, who had care of it. Near this village appeared a cabin of savages, where was found a girl of the age of sixteen years, whom a sickness of many years had reduced to extremity. M. the cure, who did not understand the language of these savages, prayed me to go to confess the sick girl, and conducted me himself to her cabin. In the conversation which I had with this young girl, on the truths of religion, I learned that she had been very well instructed by one of our missionaries, but that she had not yet received baptism. After having passed two days to put to her all the questions proper, to assure myself of her disposition; “Do not refuse me, I conjure thee,” said she to me, “the grace of the baptism that I demand of thee; thou seest how’r much my breast is oppressed and that but little time remains to me to live; how unfortunate it would be to me; and what reproaches wouldest thou not have to make to thyself, if I should die without receiving this grace?” I replied to her that she should prepare for it on the next day, and retired. The joy which my reply caused her, worked in her a change so immediate that she was in a state to repair early in the morning to chapel. I was extremely surprised at her arrival and immediately I solemnly administered baptism to her. After which she returned to her cabin where she ceased not to thank the divine mercy for so great a blessing; and to sigh for the happy moment which should unite her to God for all eternity. Her desires were granted, and I had the happiness to assist at her death. What a stroke of providence for this poor girl, and what consolation for me to have been the instrument which God had well wished to use to place her in heaven.
You do not require from me, my dear brother, that I should enter into the detail of all that which has happened to me during the many years that I am in this mission; my occupations are always the same, and I should expose myself to wearisome repetitions. I will content myself by reporting to you certain facts, which appear to me the most to merit your attention.
I can tell you in general that you would find it difficult to restrain your tears if you found yourself in my church with our assembled savages, and if you should be witness of the piety with which they recite their prayers, chant the divine offices and participate in the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. When they have been illumined with the lights of faith, and when they have sincerely embraced it they are not the same men, and the most part preserve the innocence which they have received from baptism. It is this which fills me with the sweetest joy, when I hear their confessions, which are frequent; whatever the questions which I put to them, I can often hardly find matter to absolve them from.
My occupations with them are continual. As they only expect help from their missionary and as they have in him complete confidence, it does not suffice me to fulfill the spiritual functions of my ministry for the sanctification of their souls, it is still necessary that I enter into their temporal affairs that I may always be ready to comfort them, when they come to consult me, and that I should decide their little differences, that I should take care of them when they are sick, that I should bleed them, that I should give them medicines, etc. My days are sometimes so full, that I am obliged to shut myself up in order to find time to devote to prayer, and to recite my office.
The zealous spirit with which God has filled me for the welfare of my savages was much alarmed in the year 1697, when I learned that a nation of Amalingan savages were coming to establish themselves a day’s journey from my village. I had ground to fear that the juggleries of their medicine men, that is the sacrifices which they make to the demon and the disorders which ordinarily follow, might make an impression upon some of my young neophytes; but thanks to the divine mercy, my fears were very soon dissipated by what I am going to tell you.
One of our captains, celebrated for his valor, having been killed by the English, from whom we are not distant, the Amalingans sent several of their nation into our village, to dry the tears of the relatives of this illustrious deceased, that is to say, as I have already explained to you, to visit them, to make presents to them, and to testify to them by their dances the part which they take in their affliction. They arrived on the eve of Corpus Christi. I was then occupied in hearing the confessions of my savages, which continued all that day, the night following, and the next day until noon, when began the procession of the Consecrated Host. It was done with much order and piety, and, even in the midst of these forests, with more pomp and magnificence than you yourself could imagine. This spectacle, which was new for the Amalingans, attracted them, and struck them with admiration. I thought it my duty to profit by the favorable disposition in which they were, and after, having assembled them, I made them the following discourse in savage style. “It is a long time, my children that I have wished to see you; now that I have this happiness, it wants but little that my heart should burst. Think of the joy that a father has who tenderly loves his children, when he again sees them after a long absence in which they have run the greatest dangers, and you will conceive a portion of mine; because although you pray not yet, I cease not to regard you as my children, and to have for you a father’s tenderness, because the children of the great Spirit, who has given you being as well as those who pray, who has made heaven for you as well as for them, who thinks of you as he thinks of them and me, that they may rejoice in eternal happiness. That which gives me pain, and lessens the joy that I have in seeing you is the reflection which I actually make, that one day I shall be separated from one part of my children, whose lot will be eternally unhappy, because they do not pray; while the others who pray will be in the joy which never ends. When I think of this sad separation can I have a contented heart? The happiness of some does not give me so much joy, as the unhappiness of others afflicts me. If you had insurmountable obstacles to prayer, and if abiding in the state where you are I could make you enter into heaven I would spare nothing to secure you this happiness, I would push you in, I would make you all enter there, so much I love you, and so much I desire that you should be happy; but it is this which is not possible. It is necessary to pray, it is necessary to be baptized, in order to enter into this place of delights.”
After this preamble, I explained to them at great length the principal articles of the faith, and I continued thus:
“All the words which I come to explain to you are not human words; they are the words of the great Spirit; they are not written like the words of a man upon a collar, which they make to tell all that they wish; but they are written in the book of the great Spirit, where a lie cannot have access.”
To make you understand this savage expression, it is necessary to remark, my dear brother, that the custom of these people when they write to any nation, is to send a collar, or a large belt, on which they make different figures with porcelain beads of different colors. They instruct him who carries the collar, telling him, this is what the collar says to such a nation, to such a person, and they send him forth. Our savages would have trouble in understanding what was said to them, and would be but little attentive if one did not conform himself to their manner of thought and expression; I continued thus:
“Courage, my children, hear the voice of the great Spirit who speaks to you by my mouth, he loves you; and his love for you is so great, that he has given his life to procure for you an eternal life. Alas! perhaps he has only permitted the death of one of our captains in order to draw you to the place of prayer, and make you hear his voice. Reflect that you are not immortal. A day will come when they will likewise wipe away the tears for your death; what will serve you to have been in this life great captains, if, after your death, you are cast into eternal flames? He, for whom you come to mourn with us is happy to have listened a thousand times to the voice of the great Spirit and to have been faithful to the prayer. Pray like him, and you shall live eternally. Courage, my children, we will not separate that some should go to one side, and others to another; let us all go to heaven, it is our country, it is that to which the sole master of life calls you of whom I am only the interpreter; think of it seriously.”
As soon as I had done speaking, they conversed together some time, afterwards their orator made me this reply on their part; “My Father, I am glad to listen to thee. Thy voice has penetrated even into my heart, but my heart is yet closed, and I can not open it at present, to make you know what is there, or on what side it will turn; it is necessary that I should wait a number of chiefs and other considerable people of our nation who will arrive the next autumn, it is then that I will disclose to thee my heart. Behold, my dear father, all that I have to say to thee at present.”
“My heart is content,” replied I to him; “I am very glad that my word has given you pleasure, and that you demand time to think of it; you will only be more firm in your attachment to the prayer when you shall have once embraced it. In the meantime I shall not have ceased to address myself to the great Spirit, and to ask of him that he should regard you with eyes of pity, and that he should strengthen your thoughts to the end that they should be turned to the side of prayer.” After which I quitted their assembly and they returned to their village.
When autumn had come, I learned that one of our savages would go to the Amalingans to seek corn to sow their lands. I made him come to me and charged him to say to them on my part that I was impatient to see my children again, that I had them always present in mind, and that I prayed them to remember the word that they had given me. The savage acquitted himself faithfully of his commission, and this is the response that the Amalingans made him.
“We are much obliged to our father for thinking of us without ceasing. On our side, we have thought much on that which he has said to us. We cannot forget his words, while we have a heart because they have been so deeply graven there, that nothing can efface them. We are persuaded that he loves us, we wish to listen to him, and to obey him in that which he desires of us. We accept the prayer which he proposes to us and we see nothing in it but what is good and laudable; we are resolved to embrace it, and we should already have gone to find our father in his village, if there had been sufficient provisions for our subsistence during the time that he should devote to our instruction; but how can we find it there? We know that hunger is in the cabin of our father, and it is this which doubly afflicts us, that our father should be hungry and that we should not be able to see him that he may instruct us. If our father could come here to pass some time with us he would live and would instruct us. This is what you shall say to our father.” This answer of the Amalingans was returned at a favorable juncture; the greater part of my savages had been gone for some days to seek wherewith to live upon until the gathering in of corn; their absence gave me leisure to visit the Amalingans, and on the next day I embarked in a canoe to repair to their village. I was no more than a league distant, when they perceived me; and immediately they saluted me with continual discharges of guns which ceased only at the landing of the canoe. This honor which they rendered me assured me of their present dispositions. I lost no time and as soon as I arrived I caused a cross to be planted, and those who accompanied me very soon raised a chapel which they made of bark in the same manner as their cabins were made, and erected an altar in it. While they were occupied with this work, I visited all the cabins of the Amalingans, to prepare them for the instruction which I should give them. As soon as I commenced they became very assiduous to understand. I assembled them three times a day in the chapel; namely, the morning after my mass, at midday, the evening after prayer. The rest of the day I went about the cabins where I gave them more particular instructions.
When after several days of continual work, I judged that they were sufficiently instructed I fixed the day when they should come to regenerate themselves in the water of the holy baptism. The first who repaired to the cabin, were the chief, the orator, three of the more considerable of the nation, with two women. After their baptism, two other bands, each of twenty savages, succeeded them, who received the same grace. In fine all the others continued to come there on this day, and the morrow.
You can judge well enough, my dear brother that however the missionary labors, he is well recompensed for his fatigue by the sweet consolation that he receives in leading an entire nation of savages into the way of salvation. I prepared to leave them, and return to my own village, when a deputy came to tell me on their part that they had all assembled in the same place, and that they prayed me to repair to their assembly. As soon as I appeared in the midst of them, the orator addressed these words to me in the name of all the others. “Our father,” said he to me, “we have not words to testify to thee the inexpressible joy that we all feel in having received baptism. It seems to us now that we have another heart; everything which gave us trouble is entirely dissipated, our thoughts are no more wavering, the baptism interiorly fortifies us, and we are fully resolved to honor it all the days of our life. Behold what we say to thee before thou quittest us.” I replied to them in a little discourse, wherein I exhorted them in the singular grace which they had received, and to do nothing unworthy of the character of a child of God, with which they have been honored by the holy baptism. As they prepared to depart for the sea, I added that on their return, we should determine what would be most proper, either that we should go to dwell with them or that they should come to form with us one and the same village.
The village where I dwell is called Nanantsouack, and is placed in a country which is situated between Acadia and New England. This mission is about eight leagues from Pentagouet, and they count it a hundred leagues from Pentagouet to Port Royal. The river of my mission is the greatest of all those which water the lands of the savages. It should be marked on the chart, under the name of Kinibeki; which has brought the French to give to these savages the name of kanibals. This river empties into the sea at Sankderank, which is only five or six leagues from Pemquit. After having ascended forty leagues from Sankderank, one arrives at my village which is on the height of a point of land. We are only the distance of two days at the most from the English habitation; it takes more than fifteen days for us to reach Quebec, and the journey is very painful and difficult. It would be natural that our savages should do their trading with the English, and there are no advantages which the latter have not offered them to attract and to gain their friendship; but all their efforts have been useless and nothing has been able to detach them from alliance with the French. The only tie which has so closely united us with them is their firm attachment to the Catholic faith. They are convinced that if they gave themselves up to the English, they would very soon find themselves without a missionary, without a sacrifice, without a sacrament, and nearly without any exercise of religion, and that little by little they would be plunged into their first infidelity. This firmness of our savages has been put to all sorts of tests on the part of their powerful neighbors, without their ever having been able to gain anything.
In the time when the war was on the point of being kindled between the powers of Europe, the English governor newly arrived at Boston, requested of our savages an interview on the sea-shore, or an island which he designated. They consented to it, and prayed me to accompany them there, to consult me on the artful proposals which might be made to them, in order to be assured that their replies should have nothing contrary neither to religion, nor to the interests of the king’s service. I followed them, and my intention was to keep myself simply in their quarters, to aid them by my counsels, without appearing before the governor. As we approached the island, to the number of more than two hundred canoes, the English saluted us by a discharge of all the cannons of their ships, and all the savages responded to this salute by a light discharge of all their guns. Afterwards the governor appearing on the island, the savages landed there with precipitation; thus I found myself where I desired not to be and where the governor desired not that I should be. When he perceived me, he came some steps toward me, and after the ordinary compliments, he returned to the midst of his people, and I to the savages.
“It is by order of our queen,” said he to them, “that I come to see you; she desires that we should live in peace. If some English man should be imprudent enough to do you wrong, do not dream to avenge yourself for it, but address your complaint immediately to me, and I will render you prompt justice. If it happens that we should have war with the French, remain neutral, and do not mix yourselves in our differences. The French are as strong as we, therefore let us settle our quarrels together. We will supply all your needs; we will take your furs, and we will give you our goods at a moderate price.” My presence hindered him from saying all that he intended, for it was not without design that he had brought a minister with him.
When he had ceased speaking, the savages retired, to deliberate together on the reply which they had to make. During this time, the governor drawing me apart “I pray you sir” said he to me, “not to lead your Indians to make war against us.” I replied to him that my religion and my character engaged me to give them only counsels of peace. I should have spoken more, when I saw myself suddenly surrounded with a score of young warriors, who feared lest the governor wished to carry me away. In the meantime the savages came forward, and one of them made the following reply to the governor.
“Great chief, thou didst tell us not to join with the French. Supposing that thou shouldst declare war against him; know that the French man is my brother; we have the same prayer he and I, and we are in the same cabin at two fires; he has one fire and I the other. If I see thee enter into the cabin on the side of the fire where the French man is seated I should watch thee from my mat, where I am seated at the other fire; if, in watching thee, I should perceive that thou carriest a hatchet, I should have the thought what does the Englishman intend to do with this hatchet? I should raise myself then upon my mat, to observe what he will do. If he raises the hatchet to strike my brother the Frenchman, I take mine, and I run to the Englishman to strike him. Is it that I should be able to see my brother struck in my cabin, and remain quietly on my mat? No, no, I love my brother too much, not to defend him. Thus I would say to thee, great chief; do nothing to my brother, and I will do nothing to thee; remain quiet on thy mat, and I will remain in repose on mine.”
It is thus that this conference ended. A little time after some of our savages arrived from Quebec, and reported that a French vessel had brought there the news of war kindled between France and England. Our savages immediately, after having deliberated according to their custom, ordered the young men to kill the dogs, to make the war feast, and to learn there those who wished to engage themselves in it. The feast took place; they hung a kettle, they danced, and two hundred and fifty warriors met there. After the feast they fixed upon a day to come to confess themselves. I exhorted them to be as attached to their prayer as they were in the village, to well observe the laws of war, not to exercise any cruelty, not to kill anybody except in the heat of combat, to treat humanely those who surrendered themselves prisoners, etc.
The manner in which these people make war, renders a handful of their warriors more formidable than a body of two or three thousand European soldiers would be. As soon as they have entered into the enemy’s country, they divide themselves into different parties, one of thirty warriors, another of forty, etc. They say to the first; “to you is given this hamlet to devour,” this is their expression “to you others, is given this village, etc.” At once, the signal is given to strike all together, and at the same time in different places. Our two hundred and fifty warriors, spread themselves over more than twenty leagues of country, where there are villages, hamlets, and houses; on the day mentioned they struck all together early in the morning; in a single day they swept away all that the English had there, and they killed more than two hundred of them, and they made more than one hundred and fifty prisoners, and had on their part only a few warriors slightly wounded. They returned from this expedition having each one two canoes loaded with booty which they had taken.
During all the time that the war lasted, they carried desolation throughout all the land which belonged to the English; they ravaged their villages, their forts, their farms, carried away a great number of cattle and made more than six hundred prisoners. Therefore these gentlemen persuaded with reason, that in keeping my savages in their attachment to the Catholic faith I strengthened more and more the bonds which united them to the French, have put in operation all sorts of tricks and artifices to detach them from me. There are no offers nor promises which they have not made them, if they would deliver me into their hands, or at least send me back to Quebec, and take in my place one of their ministers. They have made several attempts to surprise me and carry me off; they have gone even so far as to promise a thousand pounds sterling to him who would carry my head to them. You may well believe, my dear brother, that these menaces are not capable of intimidating me, nor to diminish my zeal; too happy if I should become their victim, and if God should judge me worthy of being loaded with irons and to pour out my blood for the salvation of these savages.
At the first news which came of the peace made in Europe, the governor of Boston caused our savages to be told that if they would properly assemble in a place, he would confer with them on the present juncture of affairs. All the savages presented themselves at the place indicated, and the governor spoke to them thus.
“To the men of Naranhous, I inform thee that peace is made between the King of France and our queen, and that by the treaty of peace, the King of France ceded to our queen, Plaisance and Portrail with all the lands adjacent. So, if thou wishest, we will live in peace thou and I. We have done so formerly; but the suggestions of the French have made thee break it, and it was to please him that thou hast come to kill us. Let us forget all these wicked doings and cast them into the sea, to the end that they shall appear no more and that we shall be good friends.” “That is well”, replied the orator, in the name of the Savages, that the Kings should be at peace, “I am very glad of it, and I have no more trouble in making it with thee. It is not I who struck thee during twelve years, it is the Frenchman who has used my arm to strike thee. We are at peace, it is true, I have even thrown away my hatchet, I know not where, and while I was in repose on my mat, thinking of nothing, some young men brought me word, which the governor of Canada sent me by which he said to me; My son the English man has struck me, help me to avenge myself on him, take thy hatchet, and strike the Englishman. I who have always listened to the word of the French governor, I sought my hatchet, I found it at last all rusted, I burnished it, I hung it at my belt to come to strike thee, now the Frenchman tells me to put it down; I throw it far away, that one may no longer see the blood with which it is red. I consent to it.”
“But thou sayest that the French man hast given thee Plaisance and Portrail which is in my neighborhood, and all the lands adjacent; he shall give it to thee as much as he will, for me I have my land which the great Spirit has given me to live on as long as there shall be a child of my nation, he will fight to preserve it” All ended thus pleasantly. The governor made a great feast to the savages, after which each withdrew. The happy expectations of peace, and the tranquility which they began to enjoy, gave birth to the thought among our savages to rebuild what has been ruined in a sudden eruption which the English made, while they were absent from the village. As we are very distant from Quebec and much nearer Boston, they deputed some of the principal men of their nations to demand workmen, with the promise to pay liberally for their work. The governor received them with great demonstration of friendship, and bestowed upon them all sorts of blandishments. “I wish myself to rebuild your church,” said he to them, “and I will use you better in it than the French governor has done whom you call your father. It should be for him to rebuild it, since it was he who in some sort has ruined it, in leading you to strike me; as for me, I defend myself as I can; as for him, after being served by you for his defence, he abandons you. I shall act much better with you, for not only do I grant you workmen, I wish moreover to pay them myself, and to bear all the expense of the building which you wish to construct; but as it is not reasonable that I, who am an Englishman should build a church without putting into it an English minister to keep it, and to teach prayer in it, I will give you one with whom you will be contented and you shall send back the French minister to Quebec, who is in your village.”
“Thy word astonishes me” replied the deputy of the savages, “and I wonder at the proposition that thou hast made me. When thou camest here, thou didst see me a long time before the French governor; neither those who preceded thee, nor thy ministers have ever spoken to me of prayer, nor of the great Spirit. They have seen my furs, my skins of the beaver, and the moose, and it is on them alone they have thought; it is these that they have sought with eagerness, I could not furnish them to the French governor, my father, to send them to me.”
In effect, M. the governor had no sooner learned the ruin of our church, than he sent his workmen to rebuild it. It is of a beauty, which might be admired in Europe, and I spared nothing to adorn it. You have been able to see by the details that I have given in my letter to my nephew, that in the depths of these forests, and among these Savage nations, the divine Service is performed with much propriety and dignity. It is to this I am very attentive, not only while the Savages reside in the village, but yet all the time that they are obliged to inhabit the seashore, where they go twice each year to find there something to live on. Our savages have so fully despoiled their country of beasts, that for ten years they have no longer found there either moose or deer. Bears and beavers have become very rare there, they have scarcely anything to live on except corn, beans, and pumpkins. They crush the corn between two stones to reduce it to flour, then they make a broth of it which they sometimes season with grease or with dry fish. When the corn fails they search in the tilled fields for potatoes or acorns, which they esteem as much as corn. After having dried it, they cook it in a kettle with ashes, to remove the bitterness from it. For myself, I eat it dry, and it holds for me the place of bread.
At a certain time, they repair to a river a short distance off, where during a month the fish ascend the river in so great quantity, that one could fill fifty thousand barrels of them in a day, if one could have sufficient strength for the work. They are a kind of great herring very agreeable to the taste when they are fresh; they press forward one upon another a foot in thickness, and they dip them out like water. The savages dry them during eight or ten days, and they live upon them during all the time they sow their lands.
It is only in the spring that they sow their corn, and they only give it the last hoeing towards Corpus Christi Day. After which they deliberate as to what place on the sea they shall go to seek something to live upon till the harvest, which is not ordinarily made until a little after the Assumption. After having deliberated they send to pray me to repair to their assembly. As soon as I have arrived there, one of them speaks to me thus in the name of all the others. “Our father, what I say to thee, is what all of those whom thou seest here would say to thee, thou knowest us, thou knowest that we want food; scarcely have we been able to give the last hoeing to our fields, and we have no other resource until the harvest, but to go and seek food on the shore of the sea. It will be hard for us to abandon our prayer; that is why we hope that thou wilt accompany us, so that in seeking something to live upon we shall not interrupt our prayer. Such and such persons will embark thee, and that which thou wilt have to carry will be dispersed among the other canoes. That is what I have to say to thee.” I have no sooner replied to them Kekikberba (this is a savage term which means, I hear you, my children, I agree to what you demand), than all cry together ouriourie, which is an expression of thanks. Immediately after they leave the village.
As soon as they arrive at the place where they should pass the night, they plant poles at intervals in the form of a chapel, they surround them with a large tent of ticking, and it is open only in front. All is finished in a quarter of an hour. I always carry with me a fair cedar board four feet in length with what should support it; it is this which serves for an altar, above which is placed a very appropriate canopy. I adorn the interior of the chapel with very fine silk stuff; a mat of reeds dyed and well wrought, while a great bearskin serves for a carpet They carry this all prepared, and they have only to place it when the chapel is arranged. At night I take my rest on a carpet. They sleep in the air in an open field if it does not rain; if it rains or snows they cover themselves with bark which they carry with them, and which is rolled up like cloth. If the excursion is made in the winter, they remove the snow from the space which the chapel should occupy and they arrange it as usual. Then they make each day the evening and the morning prayer, and I offer the holy sacrifice of the mass.
When the savages have reached their destination, on the next day they occupy themselves in erecting a church, which they cover with their bark. I carry with me my chapel, and all that is necessary to adorn the choir, which I hang with silk stuffs and fair calicoes. The divine service is performed as in the village and indeed, they form a kind of village of all their cabins made of bark, which they set up in less than an hour. After the Assumption, they quit the sea and return to the village to make their harvest. They fare then very poorly until after All Saints, when they return a second time to the sea. It is in this season that they make good cheer. Besides large fish, shell fish, and fruits, they find bustards, ducks, and all sorts of game, with which the sea is all covered in the place where they encamp, which is divided by a great number of little islands. The hunters who go out in the morning to hunt ducks, and other kinds of game sometimes kill a score at a single shot. Towards the Purification, or later toward Ash Wednesday they return to the village, it is only the hunters who scatter themselves abroad to go in pursuit of the bears, of the moose, of the deer and of the beavers.
These good savages have often given me proofs of the most sincere attachment for me, above all on two occasions, when, finding myself with them on the shores of the sea, they took lively alarm on my account. One day when they were occupied with their hunting, a rumor was suddenly spread that an English party had made an irruption into my quarters, and had carried me away. In that very hour they assembled, and the result of their deliberation was that they should pursue the party until they had overtaken it, and had snatched me from their hands, should it cost them life. They set off at the same instant toward my quarter, rather far into the night. When they entered into my cabin, I was occupied in composing the life of a saint in the savage language. “Ah, our father”; they cried, “How glad we are to see thee.” “I am eagerly rejoiced to see you, but what is it brings you here at so frightful a time?” “It is mainly that we are come, they had assured us that the English had carried thee off; we came to observe their tracks and our warriors could hardly wait to come and pursue them, and to attack their forts, where, if the news had been true, the English would have without doubt have imprisoned you.” “You see, my children” I replied to them, “that your fears are unfounded; but the friendship my children show me fills my heart with joy; because it is a proof of their attachment to the prayer. Tomorrow, you shall depart immediately after mass at the earliest hour to our brave warriors, and deliver them from all uneasiness.”
Another alarm equally false threw me into great embarrassment, and exposed me to perish with hunger and misery. Two savages came in haste to my quarters to inform me that they had seen the English within a half day’s journey. “Our father” said they to me, “there is no time to lose, it is necessary that thou shouldest retire, thou wilt risk too much to remain here; for us we will await them, and perhaps we will go in advance of them. The runners depart at this moment to observe them; but for thee it is necessary that thou shouldest go to the village with these men whom we bring to conduct thee there. When we shall know thee in a place of safety, we shall be easy.” I set out at break of day with ten savages who served me for guides; but after some days march, we found ourselves at the end of our small provisions. My conductors killed the dog which followed them, and ate it; they soon came to their wolf bags which they likewise ate. This is what it was not possible for me to taste, nevertheless I lived on a kind of wood which they boiled, and which, being cooked, is as tender as radishes half cooked, except the heart which is very hard and which they throw away; this wood had not a bad taste, but I had extreme difficulty in swallowing it. Sometimes they found attached to the trees those excrescences of wood which are white like large mushrooms; they cook them and reduce them to a kind of pulp, but it is quite necessary to acquire a taste for them. At other times they dried in the fire the bark of the green oak, they pounded it immediately, and made it into a pulp or else they dried the leaves which grew in the clefts of the rocks and which they called tripes de roche; when they are cooked, they make a pulp very black and disagreeable. I ate of all this, because there is nothing that hunger does not devour.
With such food, we could make only very short journeys. We arrived in the meantime at a lake which began to thaw, and there was already four inches of water on the ice. It was necessary to cross it with our snow shoes; but as these snow shoes are made of strips of skin, as soon as they were wet, they became very heavy, and rendered our march much more difficult. Although one of our men marched at our head to sound the way, I sank suddenly as far as to the knees; another who marched beside me sank presently up to the waist, crying out; “My father, I am dead.” As I approached him to offer him my hand, I sank myself still deeper. At last, it was not without much hardship that we extricated ourselves from this danger, through the encumbrance which our snow shoes caused us, of which we could not rid ourselves. Nevertheless, I ran still less risk from drowning, than from dying from cold in the midst of this half frozen lake.
But new dangers awaited us the next day, in the passage of a river which it was necessary we should cross on the floating ice. We extricated ourselves from it happily, and at last arrived at the village. I at first dug up a little Indian corn, which I had left in my house, and I ate of it, all raw as it was to appease my first hunger, while these poor savages made all sorts of efforts in order to regale me. And in effect the repast that they brought me, although frugal and but little appetizing, as it might appear to you, was, in their eyes, a veritable feast. They served me at first a plate of mush made of Indian corn. Now for the second course, they gave me a small morsel of bear, with acorns and a little cake of Indian corn cooked under the ashes. When I asked them why they had prepared for me such good cheer; “How now, our father,” they replied to me, “it is two days that thou hast eaten nothing; could we do less; would to God that we could very often regale thee in this way.” While I was thinking to recover from my fatigue, one of the Indians who were encamped on the sea shore, and who was ignorant of my return to the village caused a new alarm. Having come to my quarters, and not finding me there, nor yet those who were encamped with me, they did not doubt that we had been carried away by a party of English; and while on his way to give warning to those in his quarters, he reached the bank of the river. There, he tore the bark from a tree upon which he drew with charcoal the English about me, and one of them cutting off my head. This is all the writing of the savages, and they understand as well among themselves, by these kinds of figures, as we understand each other by our letters. He then placed this sort of letter around a stick which he planted on the bank of the river, in order to instruct the passersby what had happened to me. A short time after, some savages who passed there in six canoes to go to the village, discovered this bark. “There is a writing,” said they; “let us see what it tells.” “Alas,” they cried on reading it, “the English have killed those of the quarter of our father; as for him, they have cut off his head.” They immediately plucked off the lock of hair which they leave negligently flowing over their shoulders and seated themselves around the stick until the next day, without saying a single word. This ceremony among them is the mark of the greatest affliction. The next day they continued their route to within a half league of the village where they stopped; then they sent one of them into the woods quite near to the village, in order to see if the English had not come to burn the fort and the cabins. I was reciting my breviary while walking along by the fort on the river, when this savage arrived opposite me on the other side. As soon as he perceived me “Ah, my father,” cried he, “how glad I am to see thee. My heart was dead, and it revived on seeing thee, we have seen the writing which said the English had cut off thy head. How glad I am that it has lied.” When I proposed to him to send him a canoe to cross the river. “No,” replied he, “it is enough that I have seen thee; I return upon my steps to carry this pleasant news to those who await me, and we shall come very soon to rejoin thee.” Indeed they arrived there the same day.
I believe, my very dear brother, to have fulfilled that which you desired of me, by the summary which I undertake to make you of the nature of this country, of the character of our savages, of my occupations, of my labors, and of the danger to which I am exposed. You judge without doubt that it is on the part of my gentlemen, the English of our neighborhood, that I have the most to fear. It is true that for a long time they have sworn my destruction; but neither their ill-will for me, nor the death with which they threaten me, shall ever be able to separate me from my old flock; I recommend it to your holy prayers, and am, with most tender attachment, etc.