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Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Early History of Illinois

by
Sidney Breese

published by E. B. Myers & Company,
Chicago, 1884

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 3
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p72  Chapter II

The Jesuit Order in America,
their pilgrimages and discoveries.

On this continent they were laboring at a very early day. In Maine, relics of their presence are yet to be found, whilst the explorations of Samuel Champlain into Canada opened to them a new and enlarged field for their operations, and it was through this channel they approached this valley.

At the time of their advent to Quebec in 1622, dissensions existed there to an alarming extent, caused by some French Protestants engaging in the fur trade, and who, if successful, might secure the favor of the natives to such a degree as to deprive the Catholic portion of the adventurers from any participation in it. To heal these dissensions, and to consolidate, and render more efficient the power of the latter, a distinguished French nobleman, the Duke de Richelieu, in 1627, organized the Company of New France, and availed himself, not  p73 only of the Jesuits then in Canada, but sent others from France to counteract these Protestant exertions, and secure for this Catholic Company that confidence and regard, without which, it could not reap the rich harvest of reward the country promised. It need not be said they were successful, it was an object well adapted to the exercise of their peculiar talents, and an alliance followed with the powerful Hurons, which was never afterward interrupted.

The Hurons frequently visited Quebec, and as they supplied the costly furs and the valuable peltries, they were much caressed, particularly by the Directors of the Company of New France, who made large profits by their friendship. They, therefore, encouraged the Jesuit priests in all the measures they suggested, in which that nation was concerned, and accordingly, when, in 1634, two of them proposed to accompany a returning party to their home in the wilderness, near Lake Huron, the Company did not fail to add its weight and influence to the project, well knowing that pecuniary benefits to them would be the certain result, whether their conversion should be effected or not, as it would confirm the alliance formed with them,  p74 and furnish strong evidence of the confidence reposed in them. These are the first missionaries of whom we have any record, to light the fires of Christianity in the wilds of the upper lakes, and the mission they established near Lake Iroquois, and denominated Saint Joseph, was the first dwelling place of the members of the Company of Jesus — of those who worshiped the true God in those barbarous regions. The forest children flocked to it in crowds, and in the bosoms of many, sentiments of devotion were enkindled, which soon led to their conversion.

In 1641, two others, with Hurons as companions, advanced to the country of the Chippewas, at the outlet of Lake Superior, heard of the Sioux Nation in the far west, and of other nomadic tribes of that vast wilderness.

Before the year 1647 the Jesuits had traced the course of all the ocean lakes, except Michigan, and contended, alone and unaided, except by the Company of New France, against all the savages who roamed their borders, enduring perils and sufferings, of which we have no superior examples in any history, and but a few years afterward, we find French traders imitating  p75 their daring and establishing themselves on the shores of Lake Superior.

One missionary, René Mesnard, in 1660, penetrated as far as the bay of Chegoimegon, on the south border of that lake, and in 1665, another, Claude Allouez, established there the "Mission of St. Esprit," or the Holy Spirit. To it came besides other scattered bands, the Pottawatomies from Lake Michigan, the Saks and Foxes from their desert plains, and the Illinois from their beautiful and placid river.

In 1667, this same intrepid and zealous man with Claude Dablon and James Marquette, two equally zealous and intrepid brothers of the order, who had, in that year, arrived from France, established the "Mission of Saint Mary of the Falls," at what is now known as Sault St. Mary, and in 1668, the "Mission of Saint Francis Xavier," on that tongue of land running up between Green bay and Lake Michigan, and coasted in company the whole southern shore of Lake Superior to its western extremity, engaged for three years in strengthening the influence of the French in that vast region. In 1671, Marquette established the "Mission of St. Ignace," so called from the  p76 founder of the order, at a spot on the mainland near where Mackinaw now stands, and in the following year, with Allouez and Dablon, explored the country of the "Miamis" and of the "Mascoutins" about Chicago, and made excursions over the plains of Wisconsin, and into every part of those regions wherever a nation of Indians was understood to reside.

From these points communication was kept up with Canada, and means placed by them in the hands of its rulers further to extend the power of the Crown in the north, and which were not overlooked.

Who but Jesuits would undertake such dangerous missions — so full of personal peril and exposing them to so much suffering — bearing the fury of the elements in their bark canoes, wading and dragging them over shoals, carrying them across tedious and difficult portages, feeding on dry corn or moss from the trees, sleeping in the open air and deprived of every earthly comfort.

With no weapons but the crucifix and the breviary, with no aids but the faithful compass and their savage guides, with no hopes to cheer them in which the world bore part,  p77 prompted alone by religious enthusiasm, did they wander up those then unknown seas, and gladly meet all the dangers which beset them. Like others of their order, whom neither polar snows nor tropical suns could terrify, whose torches had illuminated the plains of India and the icy Labrador, these devoted men sought to display their little tapers in those dark and dreary regions, and when we consider the period at which they attempted it, we are at a loss which to admire the most, the courage and perseverance they manifested, or the religious ardor which animated them in the enterprise.


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