| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
The Jesuit Relations
The Jesuit Relations, a series of reports from Jesuit
missions in New France, were published annually in Paris between 1632 and 1673.
The Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic male order founded in 1540 by Ignatius
Loyola (1491–1556) and whose members were known as Jesuits, viewed the preparation
of such reports as part of their worldwide missionary program. But the Relations
do more than narrate the Jesuits’ spiritual progress: they also present
detailed views of the state of the French colony, accounts of expeditions to
the interior of North America, and descriptions of the diverse Native American
cultures of eastern Canada and the Great Lakes. The Relations were
published by the French royal printer and seem to have reached a large
audience. The excerpt in the book, for instance, includes testimony from Anne of
Austria, the French queen, that she finds the story of Isaac Jogues’s
sufferings more powerful than any romance.
In 1632, the year of the
first Relation, the French began to rebuild settlements along the St.
Lawrence River and to re-establish trade alliances with Montagnais, Huron, and
Algonkian peoples, all of which had been disrupted by an English attack in
1629. In order to obtain greater control over the religiously divided colony
and to compete with English settlements to the south, Cardinal Richelieu, the
powerful chief minister of King Louis XIII, formed the Company of New France to
manage the colony’s affairs. The company excluded
from Canada both the Huguenots, French Protestants who had controlled
the New France trade, and the Franciscan Récollets, rivals of the Jesuits.
Richelieu granted the Jesuits a monopoly on missionary work and allowed them to
operate as negotiators in the fur trade. By 1640, although the French
population in Canada remained under four hundred, the Jesuits had amassed large
landholdings and had sponsored the construction in Quebec of a college to
educate the sons of French settlers, a hospital, and a convent for Ursuline
During this decade, the
focus of the Jesuit missionary effort was Huronia, a region lying to the east
of Lake Huron. The Hurons were sedentary agriculturists who also served as
intermediaries in the fur trade, delivering high-quality furs from the north to
French ships. The Jesuits had built five chapels in the Huron country by the late
1630s and were anticipating great spiritual success. Explanations for the
relatively high number of Huron converts to Catholicism vary. Some scholars
argue that the Jesuits’ importance in the economy of Huronia compelled the
Hurons to follow their spiritual direction; others suggest that Hurons may have
turned to the Jesuits’ religion when they began to suffer the effects of
However, in the early
1640s tensions between the French and their major enemy, the five Iroquois
tribes, rose dramatically. The Five Nations were enduring population losses
from disease and the economic challenge posed by French, Dutch, and English
fur-trading companies, who sought alliances with rival Native American groups.
In 1642, the Iroquois began a series of attacks upon the Hurons, themselves an
Iroquoian-speaking people but long the enemies of the Five Nations. These
attacks, known as “mourning-wars,” were intended not simply to spread death or
destruction but to capture enemies. Following an often-grueling initiation
period, these captives were either adopted into the clan or executed. By the
1650s, the Iroquois had forced the Jesuits to abandon their missions in Huronia
and sparked a massive migration of Indian refugee populations to the west.
Father Isaac Jogues’s
narrative, the centerpiece of the Relation for the year 1647, provides
one view of the devastating French-Iroquois wars. Jogues’s first encounter with
the Mohawks, one of the five Iroquois tribes, came in 1642, when he was
captured along with several Frenchmen and Huron converts while traveling from
the Huron country to Quebec. The Mohawks kept Jogues and the other captives,
resisting ransom overtures, until Jogues managed to evade his captors and
escape to the Dutch. Despite the tortures he endured, Jogues’s captivity was
not entirely a nightmarish experience. Indeed, his ability to withstand
punishment enhanced his reputation among the Mohawks. Jogues was adopted into
the Wolf clan and visited Mohawk territory in 1646 to initiate a Jesuit mission
in Iroquoia. The mission was short-lived: shortly after he returned to the
Mohawks in 1647, Jogues was put to death, perhaps by Bear clan members angry
over an outbreak of sickness that they blamed on the Jesuit.
The following account
should not be read as eyewitness testimony. Father Jerome Lalemant, the
superior of the Jesuit missions in Canada, drew from Jogues’s letters and those
of other Jesuits when preparing this Relation; the text was further
edited by Jesuits in Paris before its publication. In its published form, the
narrative effectively conveys the devotion of both Jogues and the Huron
converts to their faith, while providing only limited insight into Mohawk views
of the same events. Jogues’s story circulated widely, and readers may wish to
consider why it became so popular in seventeenth-century France. This narrative
should also be compared with other colonial “captivity narratives” like that of
Mary Rowlandson or John Williams. Unlike those two captives, Jogues actually
seeks to return to his captors. What tone does Jogues adopt to describe the
sufferings he endures? What might captivity itself have meant for a missionary
and a group of converts prepared and even eager to die for their faith?
University of Pennsylvania
In the Heath Anthology
How Father Jogues was Taken by the Iroquois, and What He Suffered On his First Entrance into their Country
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References to Beavers in the Jesuit Relations
An interesting and odd compilation of all beaver references (mostly about hunting them) in The Relations.
The Jesuit Relations
An introduction to the documents and an excerpt of 16 scanned pages.
The Jesuit Relations (1632-1673)
Scans and an introduction to these documents spanning forty years of history.
The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents 1610 to 1791
A fully searchable, almost complete text of The Relations.
James Axtell, "Agents of Change: Jesuits in the Post-Columbian World," in Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America, 1992
Dennis Delage, Bitter Feast: Amerindians and Europeans in Northeastern North America, 1600-64, 1993
W.J. Eccles, The French in North America, 1500-1783, 1998
Cornelius J. Jaenen, Friend and Foe: Aspects of French-Amerindian Cultural Contact in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 1976
Daniel Richter, The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization, 1992
Bruce G. Trigger, Natives and Newcomers: Canada's "Heroic Age" Reconsidered, 1985