The Old Regime in Canada

by Francis Parkman

Chapter XXI



The Jesuits and the Iroquois Mission Villages Michillimackinac Father Carheil Temperance Brandy and the Indians Strong Measures Disputes License and Prohibition Views of the King Trade and the Jesuits

FOR a year or two after De Tracy had chastised the Mohawks, and humbled the other Iroquois nations, all was rose color on the side of that dreaded confederacy. The Jesuits, defiant as usual of hardship and death, had begun their ruined missions anew. Bruyas took the Mission of the Martyrs among the Mohawks; Milet, that of Saint Francis Xavier, among the Oneidas; Lamberville, that of Saint John the Baptist among the Onondagas; Carheil, that of Saint Joseph among the Cayugas; and Raffeix and Julien Gamier shared between them the three missions of the Senecas. The Iroquois, after their punishment, were in a frame of mind so hopeful, that the fathers imagined for a moment that they were all on the point of accepting the faith. This was a consummation earnestly to be wished, not only from a religious, but also from a political point of view. The complete conversion of the Iroquois meant their estrangement from the heretic English and Dutch, and their firm alliance with the French. It meant safety for Canada, and it ensured for her the fur trade of the interior freed from English rivalry. Hence the importance of these missions, and hence their double character. While the Jesuit toiled to convert his savage hosts, he watched them at the same time with the eve of a shrewd political agent; reported at Quebec the result of his observations, and by ever, means in his power sought to alienate them from England, and attach them to France.

Their simple conversion, by placing them wholly under his influence, would have outweighed in political value all other agencies combined; but the flattering hopes of the earlier years soon vanished. Some petty, successes against other tribes so elated the Iroquois, that they ceased to care for French alliance or French priests. Then a few pert, reverses would dash their spirits, and dispose them again to listen to Jesuit counsels. Every success of a war-party was a loss to the faith, and every reverse was a gain. Meanwhile a more repulsive or a more critical existence than that of a Jesuit father in an Iroquois town is scarcely conceivable. The torture of prisoners turned into a horrible festivity for the whole tribe; foul and crazy orgies in which, as the priest thought, the powers of darkness took a special delight; drunken riots, the work of Dutch brandy, when he was forced to seek refuge from death in his chapel, - a sanctuary which superstitious fear withheld the Indians from violating; these, and a thousand disgusts and miseries, filled the record of his days, and he bore them all in patience. Not only were the early Canadian Jesuits men of an intense religious zeal, but they were also men who lived not for themselves but for their order. Their faults were many and great, but the grandeur of their self-devotion towers conspicuous over all.

At Caughnawaga, near Montreal, may still be seen the remnants of a mission of converted Iroquois, whom the Jesuits induced to leave the temptations of their native towns and settle here, under the wing of the church. They served as a bulwark against the English, and sometimes did good service In time of war. At Sillery, near Quebec, a band of Abenaquis, escaping from the neighborhood of the English towards the Close of Philip's War, formed another mission of similar char acter. The Sulpitians had a third at the foot of the mountain of Montreal, where massive stone towers of the fortified Indian town are standing to this day. All these converted sav ages, as well as those of Lorette and other missions far and near, were used as allies in war, and launched in scalping parties against the border settlements of New England.

Not only the Sulpitians, but also the seminary priests of Quebec, the Recollets, and even the Capuchins, had missions more or less important, and more or less permanent; but the Jesuits stood always in the van of religious and political propagandism; and all the forest tribes felt their influence, from Acadia and Maine to the plains beyond the Mississippi. Next in importance to their Iroquois missions were those among the Algonquins of the northern lakes. Here was the grand domain of the beaver trade; and the chief woes of the missionary sprang not from the Indians, but from his own countrymen. Beaver-skins had produced an effect akin to that of gold in our own day, and the deepest recesses of the wilderness were invaded by eager seekers after gain. The focus of the evil was at Father Marquette's old mission of Michillimackinac. First, year after year came a riotous invasion of cou- reurs de bois, and then a garrison followed to crown the mischief. Discipline was very weak at these advanced posts, and, to eke out their pay, the soldiers were allowed to trade; brandy, whether permitted or interdicted, being the chief article of barter. Father Etienne Carheil was driven almost to despair; and he wrote to the intendant, his fast friend and former pupil, the long letter already mentioned. 'Our missions," he say's, "are reduced to such extremity that we can no longer maintain them against the infinity of disorder, brutality, violence, injustice, impiety', impurity, insolence, scorn, and insult, which the deplorable and infamous traffic in brandy has spread universally among the Indians of these parts. . . . In the despair in which we are plunged, nothing remains for us but to abandon them to the brandy sellers as a domain of drunkenness and debauchery'."

He complains bitterly of the officers in command of the fort, who, he says, far from repressing disorders, encourage them by their example, and are even worse than their subordinates, "insomuch that all our Indian villages are so many taverns for drunkenness and Sodoms for iniquity', which we shall be forced to leave to the just wrath and vengeance of God." He insists that the garrisons are entirely useless, as they have only four occupations: first, to keep open liquor shops for crowds of drunken Indians; secondly, to roam from place to place, carrying goods and brandy under the orders of the commandant, who shares their profits thirdly to gamble day and night; fourthly, to "turn the fort, into a place which I am ashamed to call by its right name;" and he describes, with a curious amplitude of detail, the swarms of Indian girls who are hired to make it their resort. "Such, monseigneur, are the only employments of the soldiers maintained here so many years. If this can be called doing the king service, I admit that such service is done for him here now, and has always been done for him here; but I never saw any other done in mv life." He further declares that the commandants oppose and malign the missionaries, while of the presents which the king sends up the country' for distribution to the Indians, they, the Indians, get nothing but a little tobacco, and the officer keeps the rest for himself.1

From the misconduct of officers and soldiers, he passes to that of the coureurs de bois and licensed traders; and here he is equally severe. He dilates on the evils which result from permitting the colonists to go to the Indians instead of requiring the Indians to come to the settlements. "It serves only to rob the country of all its young men, weaken families, deprive wives of their husbands, sisters of their brothers, and parents of their children; expose the voyagers to a hundred dangers of bodv and soul; involve them in a multitude of expenses, some necessary, some useless, and some criminal; accustom them to do no work, and at last disgust them with it for ever; make them live in constant idleness, unfit them completely for any trade, and render them useless to themselves, their families, and the public. But it is less as regards the body than as regards the soul, that this traffic of the French among the Savages is infinitely hurtful. It carries them far away from churches, separates them from priests and nuns, and severs them from all instruction, all exercise of religion, and all spiritual aid. It sends them into places wild and almost inaccessible, through a thousand perils by land and water, to carry on by base, abject, and shameful means a trade which would much better be carried on at Montreal."

But in the complete transfer of the trade to Montreal, he Sees insuperable difficulties, and he proceeds to suggest, as the last and best resort, that garrisons and officers should be withdrawn, and licenses abolished; that discreet and virtuous persons should be chosen to take charge of all the trade of the upper country; that these persons should be in pefect sympathy and correspondence with the Jesuits; and that the trade should be carried on at the missions of the Jesuits and in their presence. 2

This letter brings us again face to face with the brandy question, of which we have seen something already in the quarrel between Avaugour and the bishop. In the Summer of 1648, there was held at the mission of Sillery a temperance meeting; the first in all probability on this continent. The drum beat after mass, and the Indians gathered at the summons. Then an Algonquin chief, a zealous convert of the Jesuits, proclaimed to the crowd a late edict of the governor imposing penalties for drunkenness, and, in his own name and that of the other chiefs, exhorted them to abstinence, declaring that all drunkards should be handed over to the French for punishment. Father Jerome Lalemant looked on delighted. "It was," he says, "the finest public act of jurisdiction exercised among the Indians since I have been in this country. From the beginning of the world they have all thought themselves as great lords, the one as the other, and never before submitted to their chiefs any further than they chose to do so."3

There was great need of reform; for a demon of drunkenness seemed to possess these unhappy tribes. Nevertheless, with all their rage for brandy, they sometimes showed in regard to it a self-control quite admirable in its way. When at a fair, a council, or a friendly visit, their entertainers regaled them with rations of the coveted liquor, so prudently measured out that they could not be the worse for it, they would unite their several portions in a common stock, which they would then divide among a few of their number, thus enabling them to attain that complete intoxication which, in their view, was the true end of all drinking. The objects of this singular benevolence were expected to requite it in kind on some future occasion.

A drunken Indian with weapons within reach, was very dangerous, and all prudent persons kept out of his wav This greatly pleased him; for, seeing everybody run before him, he fancied himself a great chief, and howled and swung his tomahawk with redoubled fury. If, as often happened, he maimed or murdered some wretch not nimble enough to escape, his countrymen absolved him from all guilt, and blamed only the brandy. Hence, if an Indian wished to take a safe revenge on some personal enemy, he would pretend to be dumk; and, not only murders but other crimes were often committed by false claimants to the bacchanalian privilege.

In the eyes of the missionaries, brandy was a fiend with all crimes and miseries in his train; and, in fact, nothing earthly could better deserve the epithet infernal than an Indian town in the height of a drunken debauch. The orgies never ceased till the bottom of the barrel was reached. Then came repentance, despair, wailing, and bitter invective against the white men, the cause of all the woe. In the name of the public good, of humanity, and above all of religion, the bishop and the Jesuits denounced the fatal traffic.

Their case was a strong one; but so was the case of their opponents. There was real and imminent danger that the thirsty savages, if refused brandy by the French, would seek it from the Dutch and English of New York. It was the most potent lure and the most killing bait. Wherever it was found, thither the Indians and their beaver-skins were sure to go, and the interests of the fur trade, vital to the colony, were bound up with it. Nor was this all, for the merchants and the civil powers insisted that religion and the saving of souls were hound up with it no less; since, to repel the Indians from the Catholic French, and attract them to the heretic English, was to turn them from ways of grace to ways of perdition.4 The argument, no doubt, was dashed largely with hypoctlsy in those who used it; but it was one which the priests were greatly perplexed to answer.

In former days, when Canada was not yet transformed from a mission to a colony, the Jesuits entered with a high hand on the work of reform. It fared hard with the culprit caught in the act of selling brandy to Indians. They led him, after the sermon, to the door of the church; where, kneeling on the pavement, partially stript and bearing in his hand the penitential torch, he underwent a vigorous flagellation, laid on by Father Le Mercier himself, after the fashion formerly practised in the case of refractory school-boys.5 Bishop Laval not only discharged against the offenders volleys of wholesale excommunication, but he made of the offence a "reserved case;" that is, a case in which the power of granting absolution was reserved to himself alone. This produced great commotion, and a violent conflict between religious scruples and a passion for gain. The bishop and the Jesuits stood inflexible. while their opponents added bitterness to the quarrel by charging them with permitting certain favored persons to sell brandy, unpunished, and even covertly selling it themselves.6 Appeal was made to the king, who, with his Jesuit confessor, guardian of his conscience on one side, and Colbert, guardian of his worldly interests on the other, stood in some perplexity. The case was referred to the fathers of the Sorbonne, and they, after solemn discussion, pronounced the selling of brandy to Indians a mortal sin7. It was next referred to an assembly of the chief merchants and inhabitants of Canada, held under the eye of the governor, intendant, and council, in the Chateau St. Louis. Each was directed to state his views in writing. The great majority were for unrestricted trade in brandy; a few were for a limited and guarded trade; and two or three declared for prohibition8. Decrees of prohibition were passed from time to time, but they were unavailing. They were revoked, renewed, and revoked again. They were, in fact, worse than useless; for their chief effect was to trim traders and coureurs de bois into troops of audacious contrabandists. Attempts were made to limit the brandy trade to the settlements, and exclude it from the forest conntry, where its regulation was impossible; but these attempts, like the others, were of little avail. It is worthy of notice that, when brandy was forbidden everywhere else, it was permitted in the trade of Tadoussac, carried' on for the profit of government.9

In spite of the Sorbonne, in spite of Pere La Chaise, and of the Archbishop of Paris, whom he also consulted, the king was never at heart a prohibitionist.10 His Canadian revenue was drawn from the fur trade; and the singular argument of the partisans of brandy, that its attractions were needed to keep the Indians from contact with heresy, served admirably to salve his conscience. Bigot as he was, he distrusted the Bishop of Quebec, the great champion of the anti-liquor movement. His own letters, as well as those of his minister, prove that he saw or thought that he saw motives for the crusade very different from those inscribed on its banners. He wrote to Saint-Vallier, Laval's successor in the bishopric, that the brandy trade was very useful to the kingdom of France; that it should be regulated, but not prevented; that the consciences of his subjects must not be disturbed by denunciations of it as a sin- and that "it is well that you (the bishop) should take care that the zeal of the ecclesiastics is not excited' by personal interests and passions."11 Perhaps he alludes to the Spirit of encroachment and domination which he and his minister in secret instructions to their officers often impute to the bishop and the clergy, or perhaps he may have in mind other accusations which had reached him from time to time during many years, and of which the following from the pen of the most noted of Canadian governors will serve as an exatnplc Count Frontenac declares that the Jesuits greatly exaggerate the disorders caused by brandy, and that they easily convince persons "who do not know the interested motives which have led them to harp continually on this string for more than forty, years . They have long wished to have the fur trade entirely to themselves, and to keep out of sight the trade which they have always carried on in the woods, and which they are carrying on there now."12

TRADE OF THE JESUITS. -As I have observed in a former volume, the charge against the Jesuits of trading in beaver-skins dates from the beginning of the colony. In the private journal of Father Jerome Lalemant, their superior, occurs the following curious passage, under date of November, 1645: "Pour la traite des castors. Le 15 de Nov. le bruit estant qu'on s'en alloit icy publier la defense qui auoit este publiee aux Trois Riuieres que pas vn n'eut a traiter auec les sauuages, le P. Vimont demanda a Mons. des Chastelets commis general si nous serions de pire condition soubs eux que soubs Messieurs de Ia Compagnie. La conclusion fut que non et que cela iroit pour nous a I'ordinaire, mais que nous le fissions doucemeut." Journal des Jesuites. Two years after, on the request of Lalemant, the governor Montmagny, and his destined successor Aillebout, gave the Jesuits a certificate to the effect that "les peres tee et ce qu'ils en ont fait a ete pour le bien de la communaute et pour un bon sujet." This leaves it to be inferred that they actually traded, though with good intentions. In 1664, in reply to similar "calumnies," the Jesuits made by proxy a declaration before the council, stating, "que les dits Reverends Peres Jesuites n'ont fait jamais aucune profession de vendre et n'ont jamais rien vendu, mais seulement que les marchandlises qu'ils donnent aux particuliers ne sout que pour avoir leurs necessites." This is an admission in a thin disguise. The word necessite's is of very elastic interpretation. In a memoir of Talon, 1667, he mentions, "la traite de pelleteries qu'on assure qu'ils (les Jesuites) font aux Outaouacks et au Cap de la Madeleine; ce que je ne sais pas de science certaine."

That which Talon did not know with certainty is made reasonably clear for us by a line in the private journal of Father Le Mercier, who writes under date of 17 August, 1665, "Le Pere Fremin remonte superieur au Cap de la Magdeleine, ou le temporel est en bon estat. Comme il est delivre de tout soin d'aucune traite, il doit s'appliquer a l'instruction tant des Montagnets que des Algonquins." Father Charles Albanel was charged under Fremin, with the affairs of the mission, including doubtless the temporal interests, to the prosperity of which Father Le Mercier alludes, and the cares of trade from which Father Fremin was delivered. Cavelier de la Salle declared in 1678, "Le pere Arbanelle (Albanel) jesuite a traite au cap (de la Madeleine) pour 700 pistoles de peaux d'orignaux et de castors; luy mesme me l'a dir en 1667. Il vend le vin, le bled, le lard, et il tient magazin an Cap aussi bien que le frere Joseph a Quebec. Ce frere gagne 500 pour 100 sur tous les peuples. Ils (les Jesuites) ont bIn lent coIl&ge en partie de lent traite Ct en partie de 'em La Salle further says that Ftc-ruin, being reported to have made enor mous profits, "cc pete rc'pondit an gonverneor (qui bi en u"ait fait des plaintes) par no billet qoc by a consen'e', que c'estoit one calomnie que cc grand gain preteodo; poisque tout cc qni Se passoit par ses mains ne pon"oit prodnire par an clue quarre mille de revenant bon, tons frais faits, sans com prendre les gages des domestiqoes." La Salle gi"es also many other particu lars, especially relating to Michillimackinac, where, as he says, the Jesuits had a large stock of beaver-skins. According to Peronne Dumesnil, Memoirt de 1671, the Jesuits had at that time more than 20,000 francs a year, partlv from trade and paech' from charitable contributions of their friends in France. The king repeatedly forbade the Jesuits and other ecelesiastics in Canada to earn' on trade. On one occasion he threatened strong measures should they continue to disobey him. Le Roi d Frouteune, 28 Areil, 1577. In the same year the minister wrote to the intendant Dochesnean: "Vons ne sanriez ap porter trop de precautions pour abolir entie~remenr Ia coosrume que les Fe clesiastiqoes secoliers Cr reguliers avaicot pris de traitter 011 de faire traitter leors valets," is A 1'ril~ 1677. The Jesuits entered also into other branches of trade and indosm' with a "igor and address which the inhabitants of Canada might have emulated with adeantage. Thev were snccessfnl fishers of eels. In 1646, their eel-pots at Sil Itry' are said to have vielded no less than fo~' thousand eels, some of which they sold at the modest price of thirt,' sons a hundred. Ferland, Notes s'ir Its Registres de N. D. de Quebec, 82. The members of the order were exempted from payment of duties, and in 1674 they were specially empowered to con stIoct mills, including sugar-mills, and keep slaves, apprentices, and hired Stn'ants. Droits Coundien, iSo.


1 Of the officers in command at Michillimackinac while Carheil was there, he partially excepts La Durantaye from his strictures, but bears very hard on La Mottre-Cadillac, who hated the Jesuits and was hated by them in turn. La Motte, on his part, writes that the missionaries wish to be masters wherever they are, and cannot tolerate anybody above themselves" N.Y. Colonial Docs., IX 587. For much more emphatic expressions of his views concerning them, see two letters from him, translated in Sheldon's Early History of Michigan.

2 Lettre du Pere Etienne Carheil de la Compagnie de Jesus a l'Intendant Champigny, Micillimackinac, 30 Aout, 1702 (Archives Nationales), Appendix I.

3 Lalemant Rel., 1648, p. 43.

4 Ce commerce est absolument necessaire pour attirer les sauvages dans les colonies francoises, et par ce moyen leur donner les premieres teintures de la foy." Memoire de Colbert, joint a sa lettre a Duchesneau du 24 Mai, 1678.

5 Memoire de Dumesnil, 1671.

6 Lettre de Charles Aubert de la Chesnaye, 24 Oct., 1693. After speaking of the excessive rigor of the bishop, he adds: "L'on dit, et il est vrai, que dans ces temps si facheux, sous pretexte de pauvrete dans les families, certaines gens avoient permission d'en traiter, je crois toujours avec la reserve de ne pas enivrer." Dumesnil, Memoire de 1671, says that Laval excommunicated all brandy sellers, "a l'exception, neanmoins, de quelques particuliers qu'il voulait favoriser." He says further that the bishop and the Jesuit Ragueneau had a clerk whom they employed at 500 francs a year to trade with the Indians, paying them in liquors for their furs; and that for a time the ecclesiastics had this trade to themselves, their severities having deterred most others from venturing into it. La Salle, Memoire de 1678, declares that, 'Ils (les Jesuites) refusent l'absolution a ceux qui ne veulent pas promettre de n'en plus vendre, et s'ils meurent en cet etat, ils les privent de la sepulture ecclesiastique: au contraire, ils se permettent a eux mesmes sans aucune difficulte' ce mesme trafic, quoyque toute sorte de trafic soit interdite a tous les ecclesiastiques par les ordonnances du Roy et par une bulle expresse du Pape." I give these assertions as I find them and for what they are worth.

7 Deliberation de la Sorbonne sur la Traite de Boissons, 8 Mars, 1675

8 Proces-verbal de l'Assemblee tenue au Chateuau de St. Louis de Quebec, le 26 Oct., 1676, et jours suivants.

9 Lettre de Charles Aubert de la Chesnaye, 24 Oct., 1693. In the course of the quarrel a severe law passed by the General Court of Massachusetts against the sale of liquors to Indians was several times urged as an example to be imitated. A copy of it was sent to the ministter, and is still preserved in the Archives of the Marine and Colonies.

10 See, among other evidence, Memoire sur la Trait des Boissons, 1678.

11 Le Roy a Saint-Vallier, 7 Avril, 1691

12 Frontenac au Ministre, 29 Oct., 1676.