Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Bishop Lavel
Chapter V Mgr. De Lavel and the Savages


NOW, what were the results accomplished by the efforts of the missionaries at this period of our history? When in their latest hour they saw about them, as was very frequently the case, only the wild children of the desert uttering cries of ferocious joy, had they at least the consolation of discerning faithful disciples of Christ concealed among their executioners? Alas! we must admit that North America saw no renewal of the days when St. Peter converted on one occasion, at his first preaching, three thousand persons, and when St. Paul brought to Jesus by His word thousands of Gentiles. Were the missionaries of the New World, then, less zealous, less disinterested, less eloquent than the apostles of the early days of the Church ? Let us listen to Mgr. Bourgard: "A few only among them, like the Brazilian apostle, Father Anthony Vieyra, died a natural death and found a grave in earth consecrated by the Church. Many, like Father Marquette, who reconnoitred the whole course of the Mississippi, succumbed to the burden of fatigue in the midst of the desert, and were buried under the turf by their sorrowful comrades. He had with him several Frenchmen, Fathers Badin, Deseille and Petit; the two latter left their venerable remains among the wastes. Others met death at the bedside of the plague-stricken, and were martyrs to their charity, like Fathers Turgis and Dablon. An incalculable number died in the desert, alone, deprived of all aid, unknown to the whole world, and their bodies became the sustenance of birds of prey. Several obtained the glorious crown of martyrdom; such are the venerable Fathers Jogues, Corpo, Souel, Chabanel, Ribourde, Brebeuf, Lalemant, etc. Now they fell under the blows of raging Indians; now they were traitorously assassinated; again, they were impaled." In what, then, must we seek for the cause of the futility of these efforts ? All those who know the savages will understand it; it is in the fickle character of these children of the woods, a character more unstable and volatile than that of infants. God alone knows what restless anxiety the conversions which they succeeded in bringing about caused to the missionaries and the pious Bishop of Petraea. Yet every day Mgr. de Laval ardently prayed, not only for the flock confided to his care but also for the souls which he had come from so far to seek to save from heathenism. If one of these devout men of God had succeeded at the price of a thousand dangers, of a thousand attempts, in proving to an Indian the insanity, the folly of his belief in the juggleries of a sorcerer, he must watch with jealous care lest his convert should lapse from grace either through the sarcasms of the other redskins, or through the attractions of some cannibal festival, or by the temptation to satisfy an ancient grudge, or through the fear of losing a coveted influence, or even through the apprehension of the vengeance of the heathen. Did he think himself justified in expecting to see his efforts crowned with success ? Suddenly he would learn that the poor neophyte had been led astray by the sight of a bottle of brandy, and that he had to begin again from the beginning.

No greater success was attained in many efforts which were exerted to give a -European stamp to the character of the aborigines, than in divers attempts to train in civilized habits young Indians brought up in the seminaries. And we know that if success in this direction had been possible it would certainly have been obtained by educators like the Jesuit Fathers. "With the French admitted to the small seminary," says the Abbd Ferland, "six young Indians were received; on the advice of the king they were all to be brought up together. This union, which was thought likely to prove useful to all, was not helpful to the savages, and became harmful to the young Frenchmen. After a few trials it was understood that it was impossible to adapt to the regular habits necessary for success in a course of study these young scholars who had been reared in complete freedom. Comradeship with Algonquin and Huron children, who were incapable of limiting themselves to the observance of a college rule, tended to give more force and persistence to the independent ideas which were natural in the young French-Canadians, who received from their fathers the love of liberty and the taste for an adventurous life."

But we must not infer, therefore, that the missionaries found no consolation in their troublous task. If sometimes the savage blood revealed itself in the neophytes in sudden insurrections, we must admit that the majority of the converts devoted themselves to the practice of virtues with an energy which often rose to heroism, and that already there began to appear among them that holy fraternity which the gospel everywhere brings to birth. The memoirs of the Jesuits furnish numerous evidences of this. We shall cite only the following: " A band of Hurons had come down to the Mission of St. Joseph. The Christians, suffering a great dearth of provisions, asked each other, 4 Can we feed all those people ?' As they said this, behold, a number of the Indians, disembarking from their little boats, go straight to the chapel, fall upon their knees and say their prayers. An Algonquin who had gone to salute the Holy Sacrament, having perceived them, came to apprise his captain that these Hurons were praying to God. 'Is it true?' said he. 'Come ! come ! we must no longer debate whether we shall give them food or not; they are our brothers, since they believe as well as we.'"

The conversion which caused the most joy to Mgr. de Laval was that of Garakontid, the noted chief of the Iroquois confederation. Accordingly he wished to baptize him himself in the cathedral of Quebec, and the governor, M. de Courcelles, consented to serve as godfather to the new follower of Christ. Up to this time the missions to the Five Nations had been ephemeral; by the first one Father Jogues had only been able to fertilize with his blood this barbarous soil; the second, established at Gannentaha, escaped the general massacre in 1658 only by a genuine miracle. This mission was commanded by Captain Dupuis, and comprised fifty-five Frenchmen. Five Jesuit Fathers were of the number, among them Fathers Chaumonot and Dablon. Everything up to that time had gone wonderfully well in the new establishment; the missionaries knew the Iroquois language so well, and so well applied the rules of savage eloquence, that they impressed all the surrounding tribes; accordingly they were full of trust and dreamed of a rapid extension of the Catholic faith in these territories. An Iroquois chief dispelled their illusion by revealing to them the plans of their enemies; they were already watched, and preparations were on foot to cut off their retreat. In this peril the colonists took counsel, and hastily constructed in the granaries of their quarters a few boats, some canoes and a large barge, destined to transport the provisions and the fugitives. They had to hasten, because the attack against their establishment might take place at any moment, and they must profit by the breaking up of the ice, which was impending. But how could they transport this little flotilla to the river which flowed into Lake Ontario twenty miles away without giving the alarm and being massacred at the first step? They adopted a singular stratagem derived from the customs of these people,, and one in which the fugitives succeeded perfectly. "A young Frenchman adopted by an Indian," relates Jacques de Beaudoncourt, "pretended to have a dream by which he was warned to make a festival, 'to eat everything,' if he did not wish to die presently. ' You are my son,' replied the Iroquois chief, '1 do not want you to die; prepare the feast and we shall eat everything.' No one was absent; some of the French who were invited made music to charm the guests. They ate so much, according to the rules of Indian civility, that they said to their host, 'Take pity on us, and let us go and rest.' 'You want me to die, then?' 'Oh, no!' And they betook themselves to eating again as best they could. During this time the other Frenchmen were carrying to the river the boats and provisions. When all was ready the young man said: '1 take pity on you, stop eating, I shall not die. I am going to have music played to lull you to sleep.' And sleep was not long in coming, and the French, slipping hastily away from the banquet hall, rejoined their comrades. They had left the dogs and the fowls behind, in order the better to deceive the savages; a heavy snow, falling at the moment of their departure, had concealed all traces of their passage, and the banqueters imagined that a powerful Manitou had carried away the fugitives, who would not fail to come back and avenge themselves. After thirteen days of toilsome navigation, the French arrived in Montreal, having lost only three men from drowning during the passage. It had been thought that they were all massacred, for the plans of the Iroquois had become known in the colony; this escape brought the greatest honour to Captain Dupuis, who had successfully carried it out."

M. dArgenson, then governor, did not approve of the retreat of the captain; this advanced bulwark protected the whole colony, and he thought that the French should have held out to the last man. This selfish opinion was disavowed by the great majority; the real courage of a leader does not consist in having all his comrades massacred to no purpose, but in saving by his calm intrepidity the largest possible number of soldiers for his country.

The Iroquois were tricked but not disarmed. Beside themselves with rage at the thought that so many victims about to be sacrificed to their hatred had escaped their blows, and desiring to end once for all the feud with their enemies, the Onondagas, they persuaded the other nations to join them in a rush upon Quebec. They succeeded easily, and twelve hundred savage warriors assembled at Cleft Rock, on the outskirts of Montreal, and exposed the colony to the most terrible danger which it had yet experienced.

This was indeed a great peril; the dwellings above Quebec were without defence, and separated so far from each other that they stretched out nearly two leagues. But providentially the plan of these terrible foes was made known to the inhabitants of the town through an Iroquois prisoner. Immediately the most feverish activity was exerted in preparations for defence; the country houses and those of the Lower Town were abandoned, and the inhabitants took refuge in the palace, in the fort, with the Ursulines, or with the Jesuits; redoubts were raised, loop-holes bored and patrols established. At Ville-Marie no fewer precautions were taken; the governor surrounded a mill which he had erected in 1658, by a palisade, a ditch, and four bastions well entrenched. It stood on a height of the St. Louis Hill, and, called at first the Mill on the Hill, it became later the citadel of Montreal. Anxiety still prevailed everywhere, but God, who knows how to raise up, in the very moment of despair, the instruments which He uses in His infinite wisdom to protect the countries dear to His heart, that same God who gave to France the heroic Joan of Arc, produced for Canada an unexpected defender. Dollard and sixteen brave Mont-realers were to offer themselves as victims to save the colony. Their devotion, which surpasses all that history shows of splendid daring, proves the exaltation of the souls of those early colonists.

One morning in the month of July, 1660, Dol-lard, accompanied by sixteen valiant comrades, presented himself at the altar of the church in Montreal; these Christian heroes came to ask the God of the strong to bless the resolve which they had taken to go and sacrifice themselves for their brothers. Immediately after mass, tearing themselves from the embraces of their relatives, they set out, and after a long and toilsome march arrived at the foot of the Long Rapid, on the left bank of the Ottawa; the exact point where they stopped is probably Greece's Point, five or six miles above Carillon, for they knew that the Iroquois returning from the hunt must pass this place. They installed themselves within a wretched palisade, where they were joined almost at once by two Indian chiefs who, having challenged each other's courage, sought an occasion to surpass one another in valour. They were Anahotah'a, at the head of forty Hurons, and Mdtiomegue, accompanied by four Algonquins. They had not long to wait; two canoes bore the Iroquois crews within musket shot; those who escaped the terrible volley which received them and killed the majority of them, hastened to warn the band of three hundred other Iroquois from whom they had become detached. The Indians, relying on an easy victory, hastened up, but they hurled themselves in vain upon the French, who, sheltered by their weak palisade, crowned its stakes with the heads of their enemies as these were beaten do™. Exasperated by this unexpected check, the Iroquois broke up the canoes of their adversaries, and, with the help of these fragments, which they set on fire, attempted to burn the little fortress ; but a well sustained fire prevented the rashest from approaching. Their pride yielding to their thirst for vengeance, these three hundred men found themselves too few before such intrepid enemies, and they sent for aid to a band of five hundred of their people, who were camped on the Richelieu Islands. These hastened to the attack, and eight hundred men rushed upon a band of heroes strengthened by the sentiment of duty, the love of country and faith in a happy future. Futile efforts! The bullets made terrible havoc in their ranks, and they recoiled again, carrying with them only the assurance that their numbers had not paralyzed the courage of the French.

But the aspect of things was about to change, owing to the cowardice of the Hurons. Water failed the besieged tortured by thirst; they made sorties from time to time to procure some, and could bring back in their small and insufficient vessels only a few drops, obtained at the greatest peril. The Iroquois, aware of this fact, profited by it in order to offer life and pardon to the Indians who would go over to their side. No more was necessary to persuade the Hurons, and suddenly thirty of them followed La Mouehe, the nephew of the Huron chief, and leaped over the palisades. The brave Anahotaha fired a pistol shot at his nephew, but missed him. The Algonquins remained faithful, and died bravely at their post. The Iroquois learned through these deserters the real number of those who were resisting them so boldly; they then took an oath to die to the last man rather than renounce victory, rather than cast thus an everlasting opprobrium on their nation. The bravest made a sort of shield with fagots tied together, and, placing themselves in front of their comrades, hurled themselves upon the palisades, attempting to tear them up. The supreme moment of the struggle has come; Dollard is aware of it. While his brothers in arms make frightful gaps in the ranks of the savages by well-directed shots, he loads with grape shot a musket which is to explode as it falls, and hurls it with all his might. Unhappily, the branch of a tree stays the passage of the terrible engine of destruction, which falls back upon the French and makes a bloody gap among them. "Surrender!" cries La Mouche to Anahotaha. "I have given my word to the French, I shall die with them," replies the bold chief. Already some stakes were torn up, and the Iroquois were about to rush like an avalanche through this breach, when a new Horatius Codes, as brave as the Roman, made his body a shield for his brothers, and soon the axe which he held in his hand dripped with blood. He fell, and was at once replaced. The French succumbed one by one; they were seen brandishing their weapons up to the moment of their last breath, and, riddled with wounds, they resisted to the last sigh. Drunk with vengeance, the wild conquerors turned over the bodies to find some still palpitating, that they might bind them to a stake of torture; three were in their mortal agony, but they died before being cast on the pyre. A single one was saved for the stake; he heroically resisted the refinements of the most barbarous cruelty; he showed no weakness, and did not cease to pray for his executioners. Everything in this glorious deed of arms must compel the admiration of the most remote posterity.

The wretched Hurons suffered the fate which they had deserved; they were burned in the different villages. Five escaped, and it was by their reports that men learned the details of an exploit which saved the colony. The Iroquois, in fact, considering what a handful of brave men had accomplished, took it for granted that a frontal attack on such men could only result in failure ; they changed their tactics, and had recourse anew to their warfare of surprises and ambuscades, with the purpose of gradually destroying the little colony.

The dangers which might be risked by attacking so fierce a nation were, as may be seen, by no means imaginary. Many would have retreated, and awaited a favourable occasion to try and plant for the third time the cross in the Iroquois village. The sons of Loyola did not hesitate; encouraged by Mgr. de Laval, they retraced their steps to the Five Nations. This time Heaven condescended to reward in a large measure their persistent efforts, and the harvest was abundant. In a short time the number of churches among these people had increased to ten.

The famous chief, Garakontie, whose conversion to Christianity caused so much joy to the pious Bishop of Petraea and to all the Christians of Canada, was endowed with a rare intelligence, and all who approached him recognized in him a mind as keen as it was profound. Not only did he keep faithfully the promises which he had made on receiving baptism, but the gratitude which he continued to feel towards the bishop and the missionaries made him remain until his death the devoted friend of the French. "He is an incomparable man," wrote Father Millet one day. "He is the soul of all the good that is done here ; he supports the faith by his influence; he maintains peace by his authority; he declares himself so clearly for France that we may justly call him the protector of the Crown in this country." Feeling life escaping, he wished to give what the savages call their "farewell feast," a touching custom, especially when Christianity comes to sanctify it. His last words were for the venerable prelate, to whom he had vowed a deep attachment and respect. "The guests having retired," wrote Father Lamberville, "he called me to him. ' So we must part at last,' said he to me; 'I am willing, since I hope to go to Heaven.' He then begged me to tell my beads with him, which I did, together with several Christians, and then he called me and said to me: 'I am dying.' Then he gave up the ghost very peacefully." '

The labour demanded at this period by pastoral visits in a diocese so extended may readily be imagined. Besides the towns of Quebec, Montreal and Three Rivers, in which was centralized the general activity, there were then several Christian villages, those of Lorette, Ste. Foy, Sillery, the village of La Montagne at Montreal, of the Sault St. Louis, and of the Prairie de la Madeleine. Far from avoiding these trips, Mgr. de Laval took pleasure in visiting all the cabins of the savages, one after another, spreading the good Word, consoling the afflicted, and himself administering the sacraments of the Church to those who wished to receive them.

Father Dablon gives us in these terms the narrative of the visit of the bishop to the Prairie de la Madeleine in 1676. " This man," says he, speaking of the prelate, " this man, great by birth and still greater by his virtues, which have been quite recently the admiration of all France, and which on his last voyage to Europe justly acquired for him the esteem and the approval of the king; this great man, making the rounds of his diocese, was conveyed in a little bark canoe by two peasants, exposed to all the inclemencies of the climate, without other retinue than a single ecclesiastic, and without carrying anything but a wooden cross and the ornaments absolutely necessary to a bishop of gold, according to the expression of authors in speaking of the first prelates of Christianity."


Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus