Isaac Jogues: Missionary and Martyr - Martin J. Scott

The Embassy to the Mohawks

The Governor convened a solemn assembly at Three Rivers, July 12, 1644, at which were present representatives of the French, Hurons, Algonquins, Iroquois, Montagnais and other tribes. When everything was in readiness Kiotsaeton arose and spoke as follows: "Onontio (Governor), give ear to my voice. I am the mouth of my whole nation. You hear all the Iroquois when you listen to my words. My heart has no crooked thoughts; my intentions are upright. We wish to forget all our war-cries and change them to songs of joy."

He paused for a moment prancing up and down, gesticulating, and holding in his hand a wampum belt. "This belt which I present to you, thanks you for sparing the life of my brother, Tokrahenchiaron, whom you rescued, from the fire and the teeth of the Hurons; but why did you let him set out alone? If his canoe had capsized who was there to help him right it? If he had drowned or perished by any other accident you would have heard no news of peace, and would perhaps have blamed us for a fault that was all on your own side."

Taking a second belt or string of wampum he placed it about Couture's arm saying, as he addressed the Governor: "Father, this belt brings back your subject; but I was far from saying, 'Take this canoe and go back to Quebec.' My mind would not have been at ease till I heard positive tidings of his safe arrival. My brother whom you sent back suffered much, and encountered many dangers. He had to carry his baggage alone; to paddle all day, and drag his canoe around the rapids. He had at the same time to be always on his guard against being surprised."

Referring to Bressani and Jogues, and not knowing that Jogues was actually present and listening to him he said: "We wished to bring them both back to you, but we could not accomplish our design. One escaped from our hands, in spite of us, and the other insisted on being given up to the Dutch. We yielded to his desire. We regret not that they are free, but that we don't know what has become of them. Perhaps at the very moment that I am speaking of them they have been swallowed up in the waves or have fallen victims to some cruel enemy; but the Mohawks did not intend to put them to death."

On hearing this Jogues remarked to those near him: "For all these fine words the stake was prepared and the executioners were in waiting. If God had not rescued me from their hands, I should have been well and thoroughly burned, and have endured a hundred deaths in one; but let him talk."

After an interval of two days the assembly was again convened and the Governor made his speech in reply, accepting the terms of peace, in Indian fashion, presenting a belt of wampum with each acceptance of the various proposals. When all was over he ordered a discharge of cannon in order, as he informed the Indians, "to drive away the evil air, and to carry the news of peace to all the land." This was followed by a grand banquet, interspersed with speeches by the Indians, who are as fond of making speeches as they are of eating.

When the festivities were over, and the Indian embassy was about to start for home, Kiotsaeton requested a private audience with the Governor in order to make him a present. This was only a ruse by which he could convey to the Governor in private what he held back in public: namely, that the Algonquins would not be included in the treaty. On hearing this the Governor refused to accept the present, and threatened to break off all negotiations with the Iroquois. The Mohawk Chief was obdurate, however, insisting that his people could not come to terms of friendship with a tribe against which they held such enmity.

Finally, the Governor, who realized that the salvation of the colony depended on the goodwill of the Mohawks, agreed on a compromise. He pointed out that there were two kinds of Algonquins: one Christian, who were friends and allies of the French; the other not Christian, who were more independent of the French. He stated that unless the treaty embraced the Christian Algonquins, negotiations would have to be broken off. On this understanding the treaty was concluded as far as the Iroquois ambassadors were concerned. Before ratification, however, the treaty had to receive the approval of the sachems of their nation. Although this was only the preliminary of peace it sent a wave of joy throughout the French settlements.

The Iroquois embassy left for home in order to obtain confirmation of the pact by the sachems of the nation. Meanwhile, for the purpose of impressing all concerned with the significance of the treaty, the Governor assembled at Three Rivers to meet the Iroquois on their return, delegates from all the Indian tribes which were to benefit by the treaty. Accordingly on the return of the Iroquois in September they were met by an assemblage of over four hundred Indians from the Hurons, Algonquins, Montagnais and other tribes. The four Iroquois ambassadors proclaimed the conditions on which peace could be concluded; Couture acting as interpreter. The terms were acceptable to the French and their allies, and the peace treaty was accordingly drawn up.

This was virtually the proclamation of peace, although before it was finally concluded it was necessary to have the terms ratified by the sachems of the Iroquois nation. Meanwhile pending this final ratification, there followed festivities of all sorts, dances, feasts, songs and hunting-parties.

When it was time for the Iroquois to depart they left amidst universal satisfaction with the result of the peace negotiations. On the departure of the Mohawks the other Indians dispersed to their respective homes, and the colony settled down to work, under the feeling of security. So much depended on peace at this period that the Governor left nothing undone to strengthen the friendly relations between French and Iroquois.

Couture, who hitherto had represented the French in the negotiations in the Mohawk country, had acted in the capacity of interpreter rather than that of ambassador. The Governor believed that for the honor of France and the stability of the treaty, the final arrangements should be entrusted to persons of distinguished character and rank. In looking over the field he could think of no one so well qualified for this delicate commission as Jogues. The Iroquois knew of his high rank among the French, and he understood them and their language. Moreover, the Superior of the Jesuits had been considering ways and means of establishing a mission among the Mohawks, whose land was already sanctified by the blood of the blessed martyr Rene Goupil, and by the torture of Jogues and others who had suffered for the Faith. From the time that peace negotiations began, the Jesuit Superior had Jogues in mind as missioner to the Mohawks in case the treaty should be concluded.

It was as envoy and prospective missioner, therefore, that Jogues was to set out for the Mohawk country with the returning Iroquois ambassadors. He was departing now officially as the French peace envoy but he intended to take occasion of his position to arrange for his return again to the savages as a preacher of the Gospel. Accordingly in order to lighten the burden of his subsequent expedition, he took with him on this journey a supply of missionary vestments and necessaries which he would leave with the Mohawks until he should return later in the capacity of a missioner.

In accepting the mission to the Mohawks Jogues knew just what it implied. He understood them thoroughly, their treachery, fickleness and savagery. He knew that they were no more constant than the waters of a wind-swept lake. It was not because he did not dread the fate that probably awaited him that he accepted it, but because in spite of the dread, he had the spirit of an apostle and a martyr. His sensitive nature shuddered at the frightful possibilities of a return to these savages as a missioner, but his love of God made him rise superior to his feelings. On learning of his appointment to this heroic mission he wrote as follows to his Superior, Father Jerome Lalemant:

"Montreal, April, 1646.

"Reverend Father: The letter which it has pleased your Reverence to write found me in my retreat and in the exercises which I had begun, there being no canoe to carry our letters. I chose this time, because the Indians, being at the chase, allow us to enjoy a greater silence. Would you believe that on opening your letter, my heart was at first seized with a kind of fear that what I desire, and what my soul should earnestly desire, might not arrive. Poor nature, mindful of the past, trembled; but Our Lord by His goodness, has given, and will again restore it calm.

"Yes, Father, I will all that Our Lord wills, and I will it at the peril of a thousand lives. Oh! how I should regret to lose so glorious an occasion, when it may depend only on me that some souls be saved! I hope that His goodness, which has not abandoned me in the hour of trial, will aid me still. He and I are able to trample down every difficulty that can oppose the project. It is much to be among savages without Mass, without Altar, without Confession, without Sacraments; but His holy will and Divine Providence so will it. He who, by His holy grace, preserved us without these helps for eighteen or twenty months, will not refuse us the same favor, for we do not thrust ourselves into this work, but undertake this voyage solely to please Him, without consulting all the repugnancies of nature.

"As to all these comings and goings of the Iroquois, what I can say is, that I see very few from the first two towns; yet it is with them chiefly that we are concerned, as the last killed were of these villages. Scarcely any have come, except from the last village, where Couture was; and they profess, at least in words, not to come as warriors in these parts. It is not, however, with these last that we must dwell, but with those whom we do not see.

"I thank you affectionately for sending me your Huron principles. Send the rest when you please. What I need is chiefly prayers, formularies for confession, etc. I will thereby become your debtor, as I am already on so many grounds. I owe your Reverence the account of the 'Capture and Death of good Rene Goupil,' which I should have sent already. If the bearer of this give me time, I will send it by him. If God wills that I go to the Iroquois, my companion must be virtuous, docile, courageous, and willing to suffer something for God. It would be well for him to know how to make canoes, so that we can go and return without calling on the Indians"

This reply was in accordance with what his Superior had expected from his generous and humble subject. Referring to this reply of Jogues he wrote in the Relation of 1645: "He was ready before the proposition was made to him. He who had borne the weight of the war was not a man to recoil in peace. He was very glad to test their friendship after experiencing the rage of their hatred. He was not ignorant of the inconstancy of these savages or of the difficulty of the roads. He saw the dangers into which he plunged; but he who runs no risk for God will never deal wholesale in the riches of heaven."

The Governor was highly pleased with Jogues' acceptance of the ambassadorship, and assigned as his associate John Bourdon, the engineer of the colony.

Before embarking on the embassy, some Christian Algonquins implored Jogues not to speak of religion on this deputation: "There is nothing," said they, "more repulsive at first than this doctrine which seems to exterminate all that men hold dearest; and as your long robe preaches as much as your lips, it will be more prudent to travel in a shorter habit."

Jogues judged it prudent to follow this advice as he did not want to imperil the treaty in any way. In the Relation of 1646, Father Lalemant, writing of this mission to the Iroquois, says: "When I speak of an Iroquois mission, it seems to me that I am talking of some dream; and yet it is a reality. With good reason we have given it the name of 'Mission of the Martyrs' for—besides the cruelty which these savages have already inflicted on some persons devoted to the salvation of souls; besides the pains and hardships which those appointed for this mission must encounter—we can say in truth that it has already been ensanguined with the blood of a martyr, inasmuch as the Frenchman (Rene Goupil) who was killed at the feet of Father Jogues lost his life for having formed the sign of our Faith on some little Iroquois children. If we are permitted to conjecture in matters that seem highly probable, we may believe that the designs we have formed against the empire of Satan will not bear fruit till they are irrigated with the blood of some other martyrs."

The embassy set out from Three Rivers May 16, 1646. Besides the two French envoys, Jogues and Bourdon, it consisted of two Algonquins representing their nation, and four Iroquois who were deputed to act as guides. It was on this expedition that Jogues gave to the present Lake George the name of Lake of the Blessed Sacrament, by which it was known as long as the French governed Canada.

After crossing this lake the real hardships of the journey began. From now on the trail was mostly by land, and, encumbered as they were by the heavy burden of presents they were bringing to the sachems, the journey became torturesome. The Algonquins were the first to show its effects. They carried as their portion twenty-four elk skins. Part of these they decided to drop, concealing them, Indian fashion, near the shore of the lake. Jogues, however, was untiring and uncomplaining, not only in keeping the pace but also in carrying his burden.

However the Iroquois noticed that although he cheerfully kept up with them, he was on the point of collapsing. Fearing to be reproached by the sachems if they introduced the envoys in an exhausted condition they gave up the plan of going directly to the Mohawk town, and turned aside to a place called Beaver Dam, where the Indians frequently camped on fishing excursions. Here fortunately they met a number of their tribe, who relieved them of the heaviest part of their burden, and aided them in various ways during the remainder of the journey.

This detour was not without its providential consequence, for here Jogues found the young Christian Huron girl, Theresa, who had been taken captive with him, and who was still a prisoner among the Mohawks. Jogues' presence filled her with consolation. She went to confession, and moreover received from him the news of all that had been done at Quebec for her liberation. Besides he told her that he was now delegated to offer the sachems substantial ransom for her release. In spite of her surroundings she lived a life of piety which reflected great credit on the good Ursuline nuns who had educated her. Having been deprived of her rosary she said the prayers every day on her fingers. It was now two years since she was torn from her people; but it was not lack of interest in her behalf that kept her captive but the unyielding character of the savages.

Resuming their journey the party arrived at Fort Orange June 4th where the Commandant gave them a gracious welcome. It gratified Jogues immensely that he was now able to thank in person those who had saved him from his fate among the Mohawks. He who had escaped as a slave was now returning as an ambassador. In this capacity he knew that whatever had been the former sentiments of the savages towards him, he was now safe from indignity or harm.

After a two days' rest the party took leave of the hospitable Dutch, and set off on the last stage of the march, accompanied by some Mohawks who happened to be at the post. Towards evening of the next day they arrived at Ossernenon. What must have been the feelings of Jogues as his eyes rested on this place—the scene of Goupil's martyrdom and of his own frightful sufferings of body and mind! The coming of the embassy had been heralded by Indian runners, and, as it drew near the town, people from far and near gathered to witness the spectacle. Those who formerly had maltreated Jogues seemed to have forgotten their outrages; while those who had shown him pity or kindness in his captivity now expressed their pleasure at his changed and honorable condition.

The general council assembled June 10th in order to receive the embassy officially. With all the pomp and circumstance that savage ingenuity could devise, the ambassadors were formally greeted by the chiefs of the nation. Jogues, being conversant with their customs, addressed them after the manner of their own chiefs. After describing the joy which the peace treaty had caused among the French and their allies he exclaimed: "The council-fire is kindled at Three Rivers. It shall never be extinguished. The French shall be your brethren: your enemies shall be their enemies, and their arm shall be out-stretched to defend you. We were glad when we heard that you had flung far from you the scalps of the Algonquins and Montagnais whom the Sokokis massacred last year. Here are five thousand beads of wampum to break the fetters of the young Frenchman who is still among you, and another belt of five thousand for Theresa, that they may both be set at liberty and may soon arrive at Quebec." These remarks were received with the keenest attention and appreciation, and with universal approbation.

As the Algonquins could not speak the Mohawk language Jogues acted as their spokesman. He also made excuse for them on account of the fewness of their presents—which amounted to ten elk skins, only—stating that one of their young men was wounded on the way, and that the hardships of the journey had so weakened the others that they were obliged to lessen their load or give up the march.

The council appeared to be satisfied with this explanation, and replied by making two presents to the Algonquins and also two to the Hurons. But what pleased Jogues most was their liberation of the young Frenchman and of Theresa. Referring to the young man, they said, as they hung on him a wampum belt of two thousand beads: "Here is the bond which retained him. Take the prisoner and his chain, and do the Governor's pleasure with him." With regard to Theresa they said she should be set free, adding: "Here is a belt of fifteen hundred beads to guarantee our words."

Jogues did not confine himself to diplomacy during his stay at Ossernenon. He sought out the Christian captives, both Huron and Algonquin, and administered to them the sacrament of penance, besides giving them motives for bearing their hard lot with fortitude and merit. He also baptized several children who were dangerously ill.

The council over, the Mohawks seemed desirous of hastening the departure of the embassy. Jogues without saying anything, evidently showed surprise at this, whereupon they said that a party of Iroquois from the upper country had started to lay ambuscades for the Hurons who were going to the French posts. Then they added: "We do not believe that they will harm you if they meet you, but we feel uneasy about your two Algonquin companions." The Father boldly told them that any harm that was done to any member of the party would be a violation of the treaty, and would be laid to their charge. This seemed to put a new aspect on the matter, and they said they would see to it that the treaty was honored.

Knowing the treachery of the savages as he did, Jogues lost no time in taking his departure. He feared for his companions, not for himself. In fact he had already planned to come back to the Mohawks as a missioner, regardless of the peril. With that in mind he left a chest with them containing some religious articles and some personal effects. Little did he reckon on the consequences of this apparently trivial circumstance.

They left Ossernenon June 16th following the trail to the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament, where they made bark canoes in which they completed their journey home, arriving at Quebec, July 3, 1646.