WITH A LETTER IN ALGONQUIN - The Canadian Relation for 1642 and 1643

CANADA. NATIVE AMERICANS. Vimont, Barthelemy, S.J. (1594-1667)

RELATION DE CE QUI S'EST PASSE EN LA NOUVELLE FRANCE en l'année 1642. & 1643. Envoyée au R.P. Iean Filleau Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus, en la Province de France

Paris: Sebastien Cramoisy, 1644


Octavo: 17 x 11 cm. [6], 309, [3] pp. Collation: a4, A-T8, V4

FIRST EDITION, second issue, with the pagination errors pp. 306-309 corrected. (McCoy 50, variant 2.)

Bound in contemporary stiff vellum. A tall copy, contents in fine condition, lightly toned as usual due to the paper, title and final leaf foxed. (The privilege is printed very close to the bottom edge of the title leaf. Consequently, it is cut a bit close but the text “Avec Privilege du Roy” is not trimmed.) Discreetly repaired tears in blank margin of opening leaves. Provenance: 17th c. printed label on front pastedown, “S. & F. Ex Libris Sodalitij S. Nicolai è Cardineto” (the Sodality of Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet, Paris.) 

Mc Coy, Jesuit Relations of Canada 1632-1673, 50 "variant two". Cole, Church Cat., 464. Harisse Notes 81. Sabin 99751.

This rare relation deals with, among other things, the Quebec residence, the Ursuline seminary and the progress of the Native American girls assigned to the nuns, the Augustinian hospital Hôtel-Dieu de Québec and the hospital nuns, the gradual settlement of the nomadic Sillery Indians, the near-collapse of the Huron mission at the hands of the Iroquois, and the first captivity, mutilation, and deliverance of Isaac Jogues. 

The relation was written wholly by the Superior of the Jesuit missions in New France, Barthelemy Vimont. It is without date, but doubtless was written in the early autumn of 1643, in time for the vessel returning to France. At the outset, Vimont informs his readers that the part of the relation regarding the Hurons was captured by the Iroquois, during the attack near Montreal. It had been given to Isaac Jogues, who was captured in the raid and subsequently tortured and mutilated. However, Vimont has letters from other Jesuits in the Huron mission, and incorporates their information into his relation.

We hear a number of Native voices throughout, some zealous for the new faith and grateful for the protection of the Jesuits, others resistant, accusatory, or defiant. The Hurons question why God has not protected them from the Iroquois, who were not a problem before the Jesuits came. The Algonquins of Three Rivers accuse the missionaries of having taken away their success in hunting, nullified the predictions of their soothsayers, and caused their deaths, all through the introduction of Christianity. We get a good sense of the personalities of several Native children at the Ursuline monastery, with whom Vimont had conversations, and whose own words he purports to be quoting in his narrative.

The most remarkable feature of this relation is a letter composed in Algonquin, a dialect of Ojibwa, by a native speaker of the language living at the mission in Sillery, near Quebec (See “A Letter in Algonquin” at the end of this description.)

Table of the Chapters:
I. The Residence at Kebec, and the state of the colony
II. The Ursuline Seminary
III. The Residence at Sillery, and how the Savages spent the year
V. The manner of living among the Christians at Sillery
V. A continuation of the same subject
VI. The coming of some Atticamegues, and of their Baptism.
VII. The Hurons who wintered at Québec and Sillery
VIII. The Mission at Tadousac
IX. The Hospital
X. Events at the Three Rivers, and at the Fort Richelieu
XI. Occurrences at Montréal
XII. Incursions by the Iroquois, and the captivity of Father Jogues
XIII. Some observations touching the Hurons
XIV. The deliverance of Father Isaac Jogues, and his arrival in France

“A Letter in Algonquin”:

“[The letter is] composed in Algonquin, a dialect of Ojibwa, by a native speaker of the language living at the mission in Sillery, about 2 leagues (= 9.6 km) from Quebec City. It was apparently dictated to Father Barthelemy Vimont, the head of the mission at that time and the author of this particular Relation, taken down by him in a transcription based on French spelling norms, and published with an interlinear French translation. It occurs on pages 56-58 of the volume. The letter was addressed to a patron of the mission living in France, and announces the composer's thanks for what has been done for the Indians living in the mission, and asks for more aid. The name of neither the composer nor the recipient of the letter is mentioned.

“It occurs at the end of a chapter in which the settlement at Sillery is described. Vimont says that two different groups of native peoples live there; one is Montagnais, the other is Algonquin. However, Vimont says merely that it was composed by one of the Christian neophytes at the mission, without mentioning whether this person is a Montagnais or an Algonquin. Since the letter is clearly not Montagnais, it must be in Algonquin. However, various opinions as to the language of the letter have been put forth. Pilling (1891: 512) in his Algonqian bibliography said the letter was in Ottawa, a dialect of Ojibwa different from Algonquin. Michelson, in a long footnote to an essay dealing with Montagnais dialectology (Michelson 1939:90-95), accepts the letter as being in Algonquin. Hanzeli (1969:59) in his 1969 analysis of missionary linguistics in New France mistakenly thought the letter was in Montagnais, a different language entirely from Ojibwa. And Trigger and Day (1978:792) in their article about the Algonquin in volume 15 of the Handbook of North American Indians of 1978 classify it as r-dialect Algonquin. [U]ntil further analysis shows otherwise, it is the better part of wisdom to assume that the Algonquin of 1643 is the precursor of the Algonquin of today, especially since most of the vocabulary items in the letter can be found in Lemoine's Dictionnaire français-algonquin of 1909.”(William Cowan, Philological Spadework in the Jesuit Relations: A Letter in Algonquin, in Papers of the 2nd Algonquian Conference, Carleton Univ., 1991)

The Capture and Eventual Liberation of Isaac Jogues:

Isaac Jogues was (1642) sent down to the colonies for supplies for the missions, but with his Huron companions was captured by an Iroquois war-party, who led them to the Mohawk towns. There most of the Hurons were killed, and Jogues and his donné, René Goupil, were tortured and mutilated, and made to serve as slaves to their savage jailers. Finally Goupil, a promising young physician, was killed. The Huron chief Joseph, escaping their hands, returns to Quebec, and relates the particulars of Jogues’s captivity. A letter from the captive priest is brought to Three Rivers by an Iroquois envoy; Jogues warns the French of the treacherous plans laid for them by their crafty foe, and urges them to forestall these, without regard for the safety of himself or his fellow captives.

Later in the relation the superior also announces a happy event, — the deliverance of Jogues from the hands of the Iroquois, and his safe arrival in France; this is described by that Father’s own letters, written from the Dutch settlement of Rensselaerswyck (now Albany), and from Rennes, France. Taken by some Iroquois on a fishing expedition to the vicinity of the Dutch, he hears while there that he is to be burned on his return to the place of his captivity. The Dutch provide him a way of escape, which he accepts only when he is persuaded that his return to the Iroquois would be useless for aught save his death. The commandant at Rensselaerswyck hides him in his own house for some time, and finally ransoms Jogues from the savages, sending him to Manhattan, whence he voyages across the ocean, reaching France on Christmas, 1643, after much hardship and suffering. A letter, written by a Jesuit at Rennes, is added, giving various details of Jogues’s captivity which are not included in his own letters; the latter expects to return to the Canadian mission.

The Ursuline Seminary & The Hospital:

Vimont reports that the Ursuline seminary is in a prosperous condition, and has been removed to its own new building, not far from the fort. He describes the noble work of the Hospital nuns, whose generous devotion and assistance is of the utmost aid in the colonization of the Indians, — indeed, “it bears a good part of the expenses and burdens thereof, — and I know not yet if the colony could subsist without this help.” About a hundred Indians have been received in the hospital the past year, representing nearly all the tribes between Lake Huron and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Some of these have been converted, and Vimont relates many particulars of their virtue and piety. The hospital cares for not only the bodies but the souls of the Natives; for instruction in the catechism and prayers is given there regularly, which “often makes a Chapel and a School of the sick ward,.” Their expenses have been great; but the Duchess d’Aiguillon has generously aided them.

Chapter II, Full Text: Vimont’s Report on the Ursuline Seminary

“SINCE the Ursuline Mothers are established at Quebec, I will here set forth what pertains to them. This Seminary is one of the fairest ornaments of the Colony, and a marked help for the detention and conversion of the Savages. The sisters went into their new dwelling, quitting the one which they held by lease, on the 21st of November of last year, the day on which the most blessed Virgin consecrated herself to God in the temple. Their building is large and substantial, and thoroughly and carefully constructed. They have discovered an excellent spring of water in the foundations of the dwelling, to their very great convenience. They are in a place of safety so far as is possible in Canada, being located from 80 to 100 paces from the fort of Kebec. They have always had a fairly good number of Savage girls, both permanent and temporary boarders, besides the little French girls; and many Savages, men and women, often come to visit them and to receive some help and instruction. Here are some details of the events of this year in that holy house.

“The little seminary girls have excelled in care to prepare themselves for holy Communion, which they have usually asked 8 days before approaching it. They would spend this time in preparation for it: sometimes they would cast themselves on their knees, before their mistress, in order to manifest their desire, and to declare to her their intentions of steadfastly applying the holy Communion to the conversion of their fellow countrymen and to the good of those who bestow upon them charities in France. There are some who, in addition to the customary prayers and the evening examination, spend considerable time in private prayer to God, before going to sleep. These private prayers are usually addressed to the blessed Virgin. It is a great aid to their salvation to give them this form of worship.

“They sometimes very artlessly mention in conversations their ejaculatory prayers. "My Mother," they say, " I very often speak to God in my heart. I take great pleasure in pronouncing the holy names of Jesus and Mary. " They are very easily touched with remorse for their sins, and declare them very candidly to their teachers, and have no rest until they have made their confession. The Nuns have repeatedly seen them stop to fix their attention before beginning their private tasks, and pronounce aloud the name of God, or of the Virgin, or of some Saint whom they wished to honor at that moment. A Savage woman, having come to sojourn at the seminary for some days, -in order to prepare herself for holy Baptism, which she ardently desired,—greatly edified the Nuns by her fervor. She incessantly urged them to instruct her in that which was necessary; she would even go in quest of all the little boarders, one after the other, to rehearse what had been given her to learn. A Nun, having one day found her leaping for joy, asked her the reason. " The Father, " she said, " has assured me that I should soon be baptized, and that I had learned well."

“A Seminary pupil, named Barbe, having been severely reproved for her fault, "I have well deserved that, " said she, " for I who am instructed and baptized commit a much greater fault than they who transgress, and have not yet a knowledge of the prayers."

This child has excellent notions of God; I myself have often talked with her outside the seminary. She has a lively wit and very good judgment, and a docile temper; she belongs to a man very rude and carnal, whom, on that account, it has not yet been expedient to admit to baptism; he wishes it, but he is not yet willing to forsake his bad habits. As soon as this child knows that he is approaching the seminary, she goes to hide herself. They found her one day in a corner, all chilled with fear on that account; they asked what ails her. " It is Kimichsamisman," -that man is thus called,— "who wishes to take me away; what shall I do ? They do not pray to God in his cabin,—even if he desired to, his wife would stop him; they do nothing but evil in there; there is only one person at all there who prays to God. I do not at all wish to go from you till I can read and write, and know all that is necessary for going to Heaven. Provide for me when I shall be grown up, so that I can live with the good Christians of Sillery without fear of this man.”

“A little girl, aged eight or nine years, left the seminary last Autumn, to return to her parents, and wintered with them near the fort of Richelieu. At the coming of Spring, they returned; this poor child came to beg the Mothers to take her back; they refused her at first, for some just reasons, and expressly because her parents wished to have her. She began to weep, and would stay in spite of them, and in spite of the Nuns; nevertheless, they sent her back. She returns soon afterward,- they refuse her again; finally, she seizes her opportunity, at the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament, to return the third time. The Nuns were that day feasting the Savages: her parents were there, and, when they wished to go away to Sillery, the girl escaped from them, and went to lie down near the door of the Mothers, saying to them: "I wish to be instructed; have pity on me; I have nothing to do with my parents in this matter." The rain comes on; she stirs not for that. She would have spent the night there, if her tears had not constrained the Nuns to open the door of the house to her, where she entered, as into a paradise. The poor child has not one of the quickest wits in the world,—she does what she can; her good will supplies the want of intellect.

“We have learned some news of the little Huron Therese who sojourned two years in this seminary, and was taken last year by the Iroquois, with Father Jogues, and with her uncle, called Joseph, who escaped this Spring from the hands of the Iroquois. I will speak of this at more length hereinafter. He came to Kebec after his deliverance, and went to greet the Ursuline Mothers. This is what he related of his captive niece. "She is not ashamed," he said, "of her Baptism. She prays publicly to God; she says that she believes; she often confesses herself to Father Jogues; and she obeys me in everything. I would often exhort her to do well, and not to lose courage. I am much obliged to you, my Mothers,  “the poor man said,” for the good instructions that you have given her,—she forgets them not, she knows all that you teach. She speaks to Father Jogues whenever she sees him; but these things do not prevent her from being exceedingly sad, living among our cruel enemies. She has well endured the cold and inconveniences of the Winter;. she was very sick, but God has restored her health. I would often say to her: 'Have courage,- this life is short; your labors will have an end, and you will be very happy in Heaven, if you persevere.' She has no rosary; she uses her fingers to recite it, or little pebbles, that she lays on the ground at each Ave Maria that she says. She often spoke to me of you. 'Alas,' she said, ‘if the virgin sisters should see me in this condition among these wicked Iroquois who know not God, how they would pity me!’ The good Joseph, who related this to the Nuns, was accompanied by three or four other Hurons who had escaped with him.

“The parlor of these good ladies often serves as classroom,—the Savages from without coming thither purposely to see them, and to ask to be instructed, or to repeat the prayers; there are some who have taken the time when the children were saying their prayers or answering questions, to enter the parlor or the Chapel, and join in their devotion. The Atikamegues, who are Montagnais peoples in the direction of the North, during the time that they sojourned near Quebec, often came to visit the Nuns, in order to hear or learn some good word; they would enter the parlor evening and morning, with importunity even, for the sake of repeating their prayers or the Catechism. The expenses attending these holy visits and necessary instructions are great and unavoidable, and perhaps hardly yield to those incurred for the seminary pupils ordinarily detained after the lesson; it is necessary to relieve the hunger of these poor people. I say nothing here of Madame de la Pelterie; for a year ago from Spring she went to Montreal, to be present at the beginning of that new and holy settlement. The Nuns have this year enlarged their buildings, in order to have a Chapel, and to accommodate more Nuns and Seminary pupils. It is true that this extension is only just begun,—there is more left to do than there has been done; patience will conquer everything. This virtue is the miracle of Canada.”

Mc Coy, Jesuit Relations of Canada 1632-1673, 50 "variant two". Cole, Church Cat., 464. Harisse Notes 81. Sabin 99751