THE OHIO VALLEY-GREAT LAKES ETHNOHISTORY ARCHIVES: THE
It is noted that the following work from the Miami Archives should be read and considered within the historical context in which it was composed and printed. The opinions expressed and the language used do not reflect the opinions or standards of the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, but are, rather, indicative of thought in that historical moment during which the document was published.
(Due to length divided here into three parts)
Paré, George in: Mississippi
Valley Historical Review,
vol. 17, pp. 24-54.
There is little more to be told of Father Potier. For the next twenty years he managed with scrupulous care the affairs of his parish in Sandwich. When Father Meurin died in Prairie du Rocher on the Mississippi in 1777, the aged Jesuit in Sandwich became the last of his line. On July 16, 1781, he was found dead before his fireplace. The story of the Jesuit missions in the West begins with Brébeuf paddling up the Ottawa River. It ends with the poor, spent figure of Father Potier dying alone.63
With the visit of Father Potier might end, also, the history of the St. Joseph Mission, as a mission. The subsequent history of the locality becomes that of a French settlement clustered about Fort St. Joseph.
By her victory on the Plains of Abraham, England tore from France her vast colonial empire. The western posts, among them Detroit, Mackinac, and Fort St. Joseph, were regarrisoned by English troops. They had been of strategic value to the French; they were no less so to their new masters.
When the smoldering hatred of Pontiac against the English flared upon in open warfare, Detroit alone of all the posts in the West resisted the besiegers. The story of the lacrosse game which ended in the massacre of the garrison at Mackinac is too well known to need retelling here. There were fourteen soldiers at Fort St. Joseph on the morning of May 25, 1763. By night four of them were on the road to Detroit to be exchanged for Indian prisoners. The other ten had been slain.
The fort was not re-occupied at the close of hostilities, although as a center of strategic and commercial importance, St. Joseph continued to command the watchful attention of the British officials in Detroit and Mackinac. With the opening of the Revolution, this watchfulness was redoubled; from a center of Indian trade and diplomacy St. Joseph became for a time the goal of contending white armies, and even a pawn in Old World diplomacy. From Detroit and Mackinac, British expeditions were launched against the colonists in Kentucky and the French (page 47) Illinois, and against their Spanish allies in St. Louis; and in their turn armed forces from the Illinois towns and from St. Louis were launched against St. Joseph, as one of the few outposts of Great Britain within accessible striking distance. In June, 1779, Major De Peyster at Mackinac dispatched Lieutenant Bennett with a party of twenty soldiers and sixty traders and Indians to St. Joseph to intercept a hostile force which was reported to be en route from the Illinois via St. Joseph, when increasing disaffection and desertion of the part of his Indian allies caused him to retire in the direction of Mackinac.
The following summer the British conceived an ambitious project for a comprehensive assault upon the American and Spanish strongholds in the West. While most of the program miscarried, a large British-Indian force attacked St. Louis, and although beaten off, caused much distress and considerable loss to the defenders. The British offensive provoked a prompt counterstroke which was to involve the fortunes of St. Joseph. In the autumn, a French force under La Balme was launched against Detroit from the Illinois towns, and another raiding party from Cahokia, led by Jean Baptiste Hamelin, was directed against St. Joseph.
Hamelin arrived early in December, when the Indians were absent on their periodical hunt. In their absence he overpowered the traders, loaded their goods on packhorses, and with a score of prisoners beat a hasty retreat in the direction of Chicago. But the raiders quickly came to grief, for Lieutenant Desquindre, a British officer, reaching St. Joseph shortly after their departure, rallied the natives and set out in pursuit. Somewhere in the vicinity of modern Michigan City, he overtook the Cahokians, killed or captured most of them, and recovered the plunder.
A second and more formidable expedition against St. Joseph, however, was promptly launched, this time by the Spanish governor in St. Louis. Alarmed over the plans the British were making for a renewed attack upon St. Louis in 1781, and inspired, possibly, by the example of Clark's brilliant campaign of February, 1779, against Vincennes, Governor Cruzat at the be- (page 48) ginning of January, 1781, dispatched a small body of soldiers against St. Joseph. At Cahokia they were joined by twenty townsmen, eager for plunder and revenge, and en route by a dozen additional Spanish soldiers and a large party of Indians. The motley array ascended the Illinois River in boats as far as Lake Peoria, and there, the river having frozen, began their overland midwinter march of three hundred miles to St. Joseph. Their sufferings from cold, hunger, and other privations on the three-weeks' wilderness journey only the imagination can picture. On February 12, 1781, St. Joseph was occupied without resistance from the Indians, the traders were plundered anew, and a large supply of corn, gathered for the use of the British in the coming attack upon St. Louis, was burned. The Spanish flag had kissed the winter breeze for twenty-our house when the invaders, their work of destruction completed, began their return journey, reaching St. Louis in early March without the loss of a single man. Governor Cruzat sent to distant Madrid a somewhat imposing relation of his bloodless conquest, and this report, duly published in the Madrid Gazette, became a factor in the involved peace negotiations between Spain and France, Great Britain, and the United States which attended the termination of the Revolution.64
Through all these turbulent times the little colony in the neighborhood of the fort lived on. Deprived of the ministrations of a priest, perhaps even of a chapel, it is easy to believe that they met for prayer and worship under the guidance of some one of their number. At least, in some rude cabin was sheltered the precious baptismal register against the coming of a missionary, or its final pages are signed with the grandiose signature of Pierre Gibault.
It will be remember that following the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Illinois mission, Father Meurin remained alone. At the end of 1766, there were only three priests in the entire western country: the Recollect chaplain in Detroit, Father Potier in Sandwich, and Father Meurin.65 How could he alone (page 49) suffice for the demands made upon him? When the Bishop of Quebec, under whose jurisdiction the territory remained, named him Vicar-General in 1767, the venerable missionary penned these mournful lines:
I would almost wish that my self-esteem might prevent me from telling you, Monseigneur, that I am as unworthy as anyone can be of the honor which you confer on me; and more than ever incapable of such an office of which I know but the name. I have never been acquainted with any jurisprudence, either notarial, pontifical, or any other. I have been too long left to myself, and I barely know the duties of a simple priest. . .
My letters of last spring must have omitted to inform you of my age, and of my weakness of body and mind. I retain only a small portion of weak judgment, have no memory, and possess still less firmness. I Need a guide for the soul and for the body; for my eyes, my ears, and my legs are likewise very feeble. I am no longer good for anything but to be laid in the ground. . .66
Move by the aged missionary's urgent request for assistance, Bishop Briand took stock of his seminarians. A hardy, zealous, trustworthy man was needed. Pierre Gibault, thirty-one years old, and a native of Montreal, suited the emergency. The Bishop advanced his ordination, fortified him with extraordinary faculties, and sent him off as Vicar-General of Quebec in the Illinois country.
In July, 1768, Father Gibault arrived at Mackinac. The voyageurs, some of whom had not been to confession for years, eagerly availed themselves of his ministry, as did the Ottawa, who had lived in Father Du Jaunay's mission. Although every possible inducement was held out to him to remain at Mackinac, Father Gibault, in obedience to his orders, tarried but a few days, and then resumed his journey.
The French settlement on the St. Joseph now claimed his attention. His first entry, dated August 17, 1768,67 records the baptism of a child born five years previously. Two days later, he performed seven baptisms, five of them conditionally. One of (page 50) these, in the case of a child born in 1762, indicates that no priest had officiated at the post since the time of Father Potier's visit.
Father Gibault went on to the Mississippi, and fixed his residence in Kaskaskia. We cannot here go into the long story of his priestly life, of his missionary journeys from Vincennes to Mackinac. On March 7, 1773, he was again in the little colony on the St. Joseph, signing himself "Vicar-General of the Illinois country and surrounding territory." He performed a few baptisms, and witnessed two marriages. His last entry is dated March 21, 1773. It is the final entry in the register of the mission, and is symbolic of the fate that had overtaken old Mission St. Joseph. It is the record of a burial.
We cannot dismiss Father Gibault without alluding to the title by which he deserves to be known in American history, "The Patriot Priest." By his influence over the French population in the Illinois country, he made it possible for George Rogers Clark to bring the Northwest Territory under the American flag without bloodshed. He induced his people to furnish supplies to the Americans, as he did himself, in return for worthless Continental paper instead of the Spanish dollars which were current. When many of the "Big Knives" themselves deserted Clark because they had not been paid, Father Gibault enlisted a company of his own people for the retaking of Vincennes from Governor Hamilton.
In later years when he and his people were poverty-stricken, Father Gibault petitioned the government to which he had given such whole-hearted allegiance for some recompense for his losses. There is no evidence that the petition was ever granted. He retired to New Madrid on the western side of the Mississippi, and there he died, it is commonly supposed, about the year 1804.68
We have sketched the history of the St. Joseph Mission, and of the priests who ministered in it. It is not out of place to add some details of the population to which they ministered. The French inhabitants were typical of many a frontier post. In the beginning there were a few soldiers and their wives. However, (page 51) the number of soldiers stationed at the fort at any time must have been insignificant compared to the colonists and traders, who came in increasing numbers.
Between 1740 and 1750 there were probably about fifty-five families living at or near the post. The register records the baptism of seventy-nine French children, and mentions the names of thirty-five French couples. Other names of both men and women scattered throughout the entries indicate the presence off a considerable floating population.
The register is filled with the names of the hardy adventurers, who making for some time at least their headquarters at the mission, roamed up and down the western country in quest of furs. Starting out from the towns along the St. Lawrence, their trails crossed in all the outlying posts of the lake region. Later on, they and their families settled down to form the nucleus of the little communities that lay dormant until another people urged by landhunger really began the development of the great West.
There are doubtless hundreds of French-Canadians living in Michigan at the present time who are descendents of ancestors who lived clustered around the St. Joseph Mission. Glancing over the ancient register, we notice Louis Metivier, the master-carpenter, François Ménard, the interpreter, Jean Le Fevre, the farmer. Antoine Deshêtres moved to Detroit in 1751. René Bourassa followed him in 1765 with a large family. Louis Desquindre, who later became a colonel of militia in Detroit, lived for some years on the St. Joseph. The names Chevallier, Levêque, Dumay, Hamelin, frequently occur in the register. Little by little, after the British occupation, the number of French inhabitants declined. In 1780 there were eight families comprising forty-one persons, and seven individuals, "each one in his house."69
During the palmy days of French influence the place of honor at the post was held by the commandant, who had other duties than the keeping of Indians under subjection. He was in great demand as godfather, and on many occasions conferred baptism in the absence of the missionary. The register names seven officers who were in command for varying terms from 1720 to 1755. One of them, the Sieur De Muy, was a botanist as well as a sol- (page 52) dier, and on a visit to France he carried with him a collection of the flora found in the valley of the St. Joseph. He later commanded at Detroit, where he died in 1758. His epitaph is found in the records of Ste. Anne's: "He died after having received the sacraments with all the piety we could desire, at the end of a life that was always most useful."70
Another noted figure was Coulon de Villiers, in charge of the post from 1725 to 1730.71 He had married in 1706, Angélique, the sister of the heroine of Verchères.72 From this union were born seven sons and six daughters, a goodly family that made its mark from Acadia to New Orleans. When the sire was appointed to Fort St. Joseph, he brought his sons along to initiate them into the profession of arms. They were mere boys, the oldest being seventeen. In the campaign of 1730 against the Foxes, engineered by their father, the sons saw active service. Three years later at Green Bay, when De Villiers himself was killed fighting against the Sauk, a son fell with him.
The boys who played along the banks of the St. Joseph in the course of time became officers, and took part in the struggle between France and England for the possession of the West. One of them, Joseph, surnamed Jumonville, while leading a party of soldiers near the forks of the Ohio, was surprised by an English force and killed. His brother, Louis, started out from Fort Duquesne with an avenging force of French troops and Indian allies. The enemy, who were Virginia frontiersmen, took refuge in Fort Necessity. At the end of a one-day siege, their position became untenable, and the fort was surrendered by the Virginia colonel in command, George Washington.73
Living alongside the French traders, and farmers, and soldiers at Fort St. Joseph was the Indian population of the mission. As stated in the beginning of this paper, the mission was founded to care for the Miami and Potawatomi who were gradually returning to their ancestral home from which they had been driving by the Iroquois. In Father Guignas' time there was a village of (page 53) each tribe at the mission. Later on, the Miami seem to have moved into Indiana and western Ohio. In 1763 there were one hundred Potawatomi warriors at the post, ten Miami, and ten Illinois Indians from Kaskaskia.74 Thirty years later, we find Ottawa and Potawatomi, but no Miami.75 As a consequence of almost constant warfare, and of the roving habits of the Indians, there was scarcely an Indian settlement without its externs belonging to other tribes. A few such inclusions are found at the St. Joseph Mission.
Father Guymonneau, for instance, baptized two Abnaki boys. We know that when La Salle started out on his second venture to descend the Mississippi he brought with him a band of Abnaki from the French settlements along the St. Lawrence. The original home of this tribe was in Maine, where they had come in contact with Jesuit missionaries as early as 1613. The Abnaki mission proved to be a fruitful field, and the majority of the tribe were converted. Many of them came to settle at Sillery, a few miles from Quebec. The Abnaki at the St. Joseph Mission in Father Guymonneau's time were undoubtedly a remnant of the band which La Salle had taken west.76
From Father Mesaiger's entries, it is evident that a number of Sauk Indians were living at the mission. For instance: "In the 1730 I baptized a dying child of the White Cat, and named him Pierre, the twenty-ninth of June. He died the next day." When the French first knew them, the Sauk were a Wisconsin tribe, but in later years they were intimately affiliated with the Foxes. The White Cat was a noted Sauk chief, very friendly to the French, who acted as peacemaker between them and the Foxes.
The reader may be interested in the text of a typical entry in the register of the mission dealing with Indian converts.
Today the twenty second day of the month of april of the year one thousand seven hundred and fifty two I solemnly administered Holy Baptism to two converts who desired it and who seemed sufficiently instructed. the first of the ottawa nation about 45 years old, the second of the Miami nation about 35 years old the daughter of pierre mekabekanga; the first pi8ssik8e took in Holy Bap. the name of (page 54) marianne, her godfather was Sieur Bolon and the godmother the wife of dumay; the second 8abak8ik8e took the name of Marie, her godfather was Louis chevalier and her godmother the wife of jutras after which I received the mutual marriage consent of pierre mekabikanga, widower of marie who died two years ago, and marianne pi8ssik8e. all this in the presence of the undersigned witness the year and day as above at St joseph
|p. du jaunay miss of the soc of jesus77|
The passing of the western country into English hands, and the conspiracy of Pontiac threw the Indians of the lake region into a general turmoil. A few years later came the slow, American advance into the Northwest Territory. Again the tribes were torn by conflicting loyalties until the issue was decided in the War of 1812. During this whole period all missionary activity, save perhaps the efforts of the Moravian brethren, ceased. The return of peace brought strange changes. In the old Jesuit mission field on the St. Joseph, the Baptists, with government aid, built Carey Mission. But the Potawatomi longed for a Black-Robe, and were not satisfied until one was sent them. During all the turbulent years that had elapsed since the closing of the St. Joseph Mission, the memory of their spiritual fathers had not been effaced. From a missionary who ministered to the last remaining band of Potawatomi in Michigan, and who gathered up their traditions, we quote the following:
There is no doubt that the greater part of the Potawatomi then on the St. Joseph were Catholics, for some three or four hundred headed by the wife of the former Naw-naw-qua-bee went to Quebec for the sole purpose of going to their paschal duties, to which place they were told that their good fathers, the Jesuits, had been exiled. Some wended their way to Vincennes for the same purpose; those who went to Quebec remained in the lower province for three years, at the end of which they returned merely a remnant, having fallen victims to that of all diseases most fatal to the Redman, the small-pox. After this, from time to time, they visited the following posts: Vincennes, Kaskaskia, and Detroit, after the death of the principal chief who annually had sent them, as it were, from post to post or the purpose of serving the God of the Jesuits. . . .78
63 Rochemonteix, op. cit., V, 59-65.
64 For opposing views of the Spanish capture of St. Jopseh, and its significance, see Clarence W. Alvord, "The Conquest of St. Joseph, Michigan, by the Spaniards in 1781," Missouri Historical Review, II, 195-210; and Frederick J. Teggart, "The Capture of St. Josphe, Michigan, by the Spaniards in 1781," ibid., 214-28.
65 For sketch of Father Sebastian Meurin, S. J., see Charles H. Metzger, "Sebastian Louis Meurin," Illinois Catholic Historical Review, III, 241-59; 371-88; IV, 43-56.
66 Ibid., III, 385.
67 In the register as published in the MISS. VAL. HIST. REV., Father Gibault's first entry is erroneously given, on account of a misreading of the manuscript, as April 17, 1768.
68 The reader will find an exhaustive account of Father Gibault in the several volumes of the Ill. Catholic Hist. Rev. Every volume, beginning with the first (1918), should be consulted. For a short account, see the American Catholic Historical Society, Records, XII, 452 ff.
69 Mich. Hist. Colls., XIII, 58-59.
70 Ibid., XXXIV, 335.
71 For the history of this family, see l'Abbe Amédée Gosselin, Notes Sur La Famille Coulon de Villiers (Levis, 1906).
72 The story of this young girl's heroic defense against a band of Iroquois can be read in Parkman's Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV (Boston, 1880), chap. xiv.
73 Thwaites, France in America (New York, 1905), 162-63.
74 N. Y. Col. Docs., IX, 10.
75 Ibid., VII, 583.
76 See the history of the Abnaki mission in Shea, History of the Catholic Missions. . . (New York, 1857), chap. ii.
77 The missionaries used a character resembling the figure eight to designate a sound in the Indian language approximating a guttural "ou."
78 This passage is taken verbatim from an anonymous manuscript history of the parish of Bertrand, Berrien County, Mich. It was evidently written by one of the first Holy Cross fathers to labor in the district, and is preserved in the archives of Notre Dame University.
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