Isaac Jogues: Missionary and Martyr - Martin J. Scott


Jogues' captivity was drawing to a close. We shall let himself give the details of his escape, as he wrote them in a letter to Father Charles Lalemant, from the Dutch settlement of Rensselaerswyck. His master had ordered him to accompany him on a fishing expedition to the Hudson at a point near this post. This letter is included in the Relations for 1643, and gives first-hand information on the character and traits of the Mohawks.

"On the very day of the feast of our Holy Father Ignatius, I left the village where I was a prisoner to follow and accompany some Iroquois who were going first to trade, then to fish. Having got through their traffic, they proceeded to a place seven or eight leagues below the Dutch post, which is on the river where we were fishing.

"While arranging our weirs for the fish, a report reached us that an Iroquois war-party, returned from the Huron land, had killed five or six on the spot, and brought in four prisoners, two of whom had been already burned at our village with more than common cruelty. At these tidings my heart was rent with most keen and bitter grief, that I had not seen, consoled, or baptized these poor victims. Fearful that something of the kind might happen again during my absence, I went to a good old woman, who from her age and her care of me, as well as from her compassion for my sufferings, called me her nephew, as I called her aunt. 'Aunt,' said I, 'I would much rather go back to our cabin; I am very lonesome here.' I did not indeed expect more comfort or less pain at the village, where I suffered a continual martyrdom—compelled to witness before my eyes the horrible cruelties they perpetrate—but my heart could not bear that one should die without my affording him baptism.

"'Go, nephew:' said this good woman, 'go, if you are tired of this place, and take something to eat on the way.' I accordingly embarked in the first canoe going up to the village, always conducted and always accompanied by Iroquois. On reaching the Dutch post through which we had to pass, I learned that our village was furious against the French, and that they only awaited my return to burn me. The reason of it all was this: Among the war-parties Against the French, Algonquins and Hurons was one that resolved to go and prowl around Fort Richelieu to spy the French and their Indian allies. A certain Huron of this band, taken by the Iroquois and naturalized among them, came to ask me for letters to carry to the French, hoping perhaps to surprise some one by this bait; but as I had no doubt the French would be on their guard, I saw the importance of giving them some inkling of the designs, arms and treachery of our enemy. I found means to get a bit of paper to write on. The Dutch did me this charity.

"I knew well the danger to which I exposed myself. I was well aware that if any mishap befell the party I should be made responsible, and the blame thrown on my letters. I foresaw my death, but it seemed to me sweet and agreeable employed for the public good, and the consolation of our French, and the poor Indians who listen to the word of Jesus Christ. My heart was undisturbed by fear at the sight of all that might happen—God's glory was concerned. So I gave my letter to the young brave, who never returned. The story given by his comrades is that he carried it to Fort Richelieu, and that as soon as the French saw it, they fired their cannon at them; that alarmed at this, most of them took to flight all naked, leaving one of their canoes, in which were three arquebuses, powder, ball, and other articles.

"When this news was brought to the village, the cry was raised that my letter had caused them to be treated so. The rumor spread around; it reached my ears; I was taunted with the mishap; they talked of nothing but burning me; and had I been found in the village when these braves returned, fire, rage, and cruelty had deprived me of my life. To increase my misfortune, another party, returning from the neighborhood of Montreal, where they had laid an ambush for the French, said that two of their party had been killed and two wounded. All made me guilty of these mishaps. They were now beside themselves with rage, and impatient for my return. All these reports I heard, offering myself unreservedly to Our Lord, and resigning myself, all in all, to is most holy will.

"The Commander of the Dutch post where we were, aware of the evil design of the savages, and aware, too, that the Chevalier de Montmagny had prevented the Canada Indians from coming to kill the Dutch, had offered me means of escape. 'Here,' said he, 'lies a vessel at anchor, to sail in a few days. Get privately on board. It is bound first to Virginia, whence it will carry you to Bordeaux or Rochelle, where it must stop.' Thanking him with much respect and courtesy, I told him that the Iroquois would suspect them of favoring my escape, and perhaps do some injury to their people. 'No, no;' he replied, 'do not fear; get on board; it is a fine opportunity, and you will never find a surer way of escaping.'

"At these words my heart was perplexed. I doubted whether it was not for the greater glory of Our Lord to expose myself to the danger of the savage fury and flames, in order to aid in the salvation of some soul. I therefore replied, 'This affair, sir, seems to me so important that I cannot give you an answer on the spot; give me, if you please, to-night to think it over. I will recommend it to Our Lord; I will examine the reasons on both sides, and will tell you my final resolution in the morning.' Greatly astonished, he granted my request. The night I spent in prayer, earnestly imploring Our Lord not to let me adopt a conclusion myself, but to give me light to know His most holy will; that in all, and through all, even to the stake itself, I would follow it.

"The reasons to detain me in the country were the consideration of the French and Indians; I loved them, and felt so great a desire to serve them, that I had resolved to pass the rest of my days in this captivity for their salvation; but now I beheld the face of affairs entirely changed. First, as for the three Frenchmen, brought prisoners like myself into the country, one—Rene Goupil—had already been massacred at my feet. This young man was as pure as an angel. Henry, taken at Montreal, had fled to the woods; because while he was beholding the cruelties perpetrated on two Hurons roasted alive, some Iroquois told him that they would treat him so, and me too, as soon as I got back. This threat made him resolve to run the risk of starving in the woods, or being devoured by some wild beast, rather than endure the torments inflicted by these half-demons. He had not been seen for seven days.

"As to William Couture, I could scarcely see any means of being of service to him, for he had been put in a village at a distance from mine, and the Indians kept him so busy here and there that I could no longer find him. He had, moreover, himself told me: 'Father, try to escape; as soon as I see no more of you I will manage to get off. You know well that I remain in this captivity only for your sake; do your best, then, to escape, for I cannot think of my own liberty or life till I see you in safety.' Besides, this good young friend had been given to an old man, who assured him that he would let him go in peace if I could effect my deliverance; so that I no longer saw any reason to remain on account of the French.

"As to the Indians, instructing them now was out of the question and almost hopeless; for the whole country was so excited against me that I no longer found means to speak to them or to gain them; and the Algonquins and Hurons kept aloof from me, as a victim destined to the flames, because they feared to come in for a share of the rage and hatred which the Iroquois bore me. I saw, too, that I had some knowledge of their language, that I knew their country and their strength, and that I could perhaps contribute better to their salvation in other ways than by remaining among them. All this knowledge, it occurred to me, would die with me if I did not escape.

"The wretches, too, had so little intention of giving us up, that they committed an act of perfidy against the right and custom of all these nations. An Indian of the country of the Sokokis, allies of the Iroquois, having been taken by the upper Algonquins and brought to Three Rivers or Quebec as a prisoner, was delivered and set at liberty by the intervention of the Governor of New France, at the solicitation of our Fathers. The good Indian, seeing that the French had saved his life, sent beautiful presents in the month of April to deliver at least one of the French. The Iroquois retained the presents without setting one of us at liberty; a treachery perhaps unexampled among these tribes, for they invariably observe the law, that whoso touches or accepts the present made him, must execute what is asked by the present. Accordingly, when they do not wish to grant what is desired, they send back the presents, or make others in their stead.

"But to return to my purpose. Having weighed before God, with all possible abstraction from self, the reasons for remaining among the Indians, and those for leaving, I concluded that Our Lord would be more pleased with my taking the opportunity to escape. As soon as it was day I went to salute the Dutch Governor, and told him the resolution I had come to before God; he called for the officers of the ship, told them his intentions, and exhorted them to receive and conceal me—in a word, to carry me over to Europe. They replied that if I could once set foot in their vessel, I was safe; I should not leave it till I reached Bordeaux or Rochelle.

"'Cheer up, then:' said the Governor, 'return with the Indians, and this evening, or in the night, steal off quietly and make for the river; there you will find a little boat, which I will have ready to take you to the ship.' After most humble thanks to all these gentlemen, I left the Dutch, the better to conceal my design. In the evening I retired with ten or twelve Iroquois to a barn, where we spent the night. Before lying down, I went out to see where I could most easily escape. The dogs, then let loose, ran at me, and a large powerful one snapped at my bare leg and bit it severely. I immediately entered the barn; the Iroquois closed the door securely, and to guard me better, came and lay beside me, especially one who was in a manner appointed to watch me. Seeing myself beset with these mishaps, and the barn well shut and surrounded by dogs that would betray me if I attempted to go out, I almost thought that I could not escape. I sweetly complained to my God, that having given the thought of escaping, 'He hath shut up my way with square stones, and in a spacious place my feet.'

"This whole night also I spent without sleep; toward day I heard the cocks crow; soon after a servant of the Dutch farmer who had received us into his barn, entered by some door I did not see. I went up to him softly, and not understanding his Flemish, made him a sign to stop the dogs barking. He immediately went out, and I after him, as soon as I had taken my little luggage, consisting of a little Office of the Blessed Virgin, an Imitation of Christ, and a wooden cross, which I had made to keep me in mind of my Saviour's sufferings. Having got out of the barn without making any noise or waking my guards, I climbed over a fence which inclosed the house, and ran straight to the river where the ship was; it was as much as my wounded leg could do, for the distance was a good quarter of a league.

"I found the boat as I had been told, but, as the tide had gone down, it was high and dry. I pushed it to get it to the water, but finding it too heavy, I called to the ship to send me their boat to take me on board. There was no answer; I do not know whether they heard me; be that as it may, no one appeared, and day was now beginning to reveal to the Iroquois the robbery which I had made of myself, and I feared to be surprised in my innocent crime. Weary of hallooing, I returned to my boat, and praying to the Almighty to increase my strength, I succeeded at last so well, by working it slowly on and pushing stoutly, that I got it into the water. As soon as it floated, I jumped in and reached the vessel alone, unperceived by any Iroquois. I was immediately lodged in the bottom of the hold, and to hide me they put a large box on the hatch. I was two days and two nights in the hold of this ship, in such a state that I expected to be suffocated and die of the stench, when I remembered poor Jonas, and prayed Our Lord 'that I might not flee from His face' nor depart from His will; but on the contrary, 'that He would infatuate all counsels' that were not for His glory, and keep me in the land of these heathen if He did not approve my retreat and flight.

"The second night of my voluntary imprisonment, the minister of the Hollanders came to tell me that the Iroquois had made much trouble, and that the Dutch settlers were afraid that they would set fire to their houses and kill their cattle. They have reason to fear them, for they are armed with good arquebuses. 'If,' I replied, 'for my sake this great tempest is upon you, cast me into the sea.' If this trouble has been caused by me, I am ready to appease it at the loss of my life. I never wished to escape to the injury of the least man of the colony. At last then, I had to leave my den; the sailors took umbrage, saying that they had pledged their word in case I could set foot on the ship, and that they were now taking me off at the very moment when they should have brought me, had I not been there; that I had put my life in danger by escaping on their promise, and that, cost what it might, they must stick to it.

"This honest bluntness touched me, but I begged them to let me go, as the captain, who had opened to me the doorway of escaping, now asked me back. I was taken to his house, where he kept me concealed. These comings and goings were done by night, so that I was not discovered. In all this proceeding I might have urged my own reasons, but it was not for me to speak in my own cause, but rather to follow the commands of others; I cheerfully submitted. At last the captain told me that we must yield calmly to the storm, and wait till the minds of the Indians were appeased: in this advice all concurred. Here, then, I am a voluntary prisoner in his house, whence I write this.

"If you ask my thought in all this affair, I will tell you first, that the vessel which had wished to save me has gone off without me; second, that if Our Lord does not in an almost miraculous way protect me, the Indians, who come and go here every moment, will discover me; and if they ever believe that I am still here, I must necessarily be restored to their hands. Now, when they had such fury against me before my flight, how will they treat me when I fall again into their power? I shall die by no ordinary death; their fire, rage, and new-devised cruelties will wring out my life. Blessed be God's name forever! We are ever in the bosom of His divine and adorable Providence. 'Yea, the very hairs of your head are numbered.' Fear not, therefore; 'you are of more value than many sparrows, not one of whom falls to the earth without your Father.' I have been hidden ten or twelve days, and it is hardly possible that an evil day will not come upon me.

"In the third place, you will see our great need of your prayers, and of the holy sacrifices of all our Fathers. Give us this alms, 'that the Lord may render me fit to love Him, patient to endure, constant to persevere in His holy love and service.' This and a little New Testament from Europe are my sole desires. Pray for these poor nations that burn and eat each other, that they may come to a knowledge of their Creator, and render Him the tribute of their love. 'I am mindful of you in my bonds'; captivity cannot enchain my remembrance.

I am, in heart and affection, etc.

"Rensselaerswyck, August 30, 1643"

The Dutch Commander was hard-pressed by the Mohawks to surrender their slave. But he did not greatly fear their menacing attitude until they were reinforced by a party of Indians from the village. The savages of the various towns were very much excited over Jogues' escape, and as they firmly believed that it was due to the connivance of the Dutch, they came in angry mood, to demand his release and also reparation. This party was fully armed and determined to take their prisoner by force if there was no other way.

After several parleys, in which the Commander stood firm against surrendering the missioner, the Indians were on the point of resorting to violence, when he boldly confronted them saying with dignity and authority: "The Frenchman you are seeking is under my protection. I cannot give him up. If I surrendered him to you, I would be false to my own honor and humanity. You yourselves ought to be glad to have a motive for justifying your conduct in the eyes of your countrymen, and preventing them from committing a crime. You like our nation. Well, you must know that there are rights of protection which allied nations must respect. To get these at defiance without some plausible reason would lead to a rupture that would bring on us endless bloody wars. The course I have followed is sanctioned by all the Dutch; you esteem them enough, I think, to yield to their wishes; but to give you full satisfaction, here is gold for the ransom of your prisoner."

These courageous words, together with the sight of the gold, three hundred livres, and the authoritative stand of the speaker, had the desired effect. The Indians were satisfied to withdraw without their prisoner, and with increased respect for the Dutch. Not trusting the treacherous Mohawks, the Commandant took no chances with the safety of the Father. He committed him to the care of a Dutch official who lacked everything essential to a custodian, except surveillance. For six weeks Jogues was in the care of this man, who treated him almost as cruelly as the Indians had done. He was lodged in a foul garret, where the heat was so intense that at times he was all but prostrated. Water was given him in a dirty pail only once in two weeks. It became so fetid that it nauseated him and caused excruciating pains in his stomach. He was all but starved by the miserly bit of food given him, which at times, in spite of his intense hunger, he could not eat because of its noisome condition.

All this bad treatment was directly contrary to the orders of the Commandant, who occasionally sent delicacies from his own table to the priest, but which never reached him. Jogues' guardian was the commissary of the post, and avaricious to the last degree. Whatever he saved by stinting the diet of his charge was gain to himself. Never a word of complaint escaped Jogues during this long and torturesome confinement.

One day the Protestant minister who occasionally came to see him asked him how he was treated. 'Jogues, being directly asked, stated that very little food was furnished him. "I was afraid so;" replied the minister, "the old fellow is an arrant miser, and keeps what is sent to you." From that time on the Commandant sent the food direct to the priest, who in consequence fared better at least with regard to diet.

However he was by no means taken down from the cross. His injured leg had been treated, on board the vessel, with ointment prepared for scurf. This poisoned the wound which became gangrenous. The surgeon of the post was summoned, who succeeded by an operation in saving the leg.

Jogues suffered in mind as much if not more than in body. He was in constant danger of falling into the hands of his relentless enemies. Day and night they prowled about the premises where he lay concealed. Sometimes they came into the very room or section adjoining his hiding-place. This room was separated from his by a partition of thin boards with open space between them so that everything was visible from either side. The outer section was the commissary's storeroom to which the Indians came for trading purposes. Frequently Jogues was obliged to hide, in a cramped position, behind a box or cask for hours, not daring to make the slightest movement for fear of detection by the wily savages. He found this a veritable torture. Often he was at the point of losing consciousness from the intense heat, his strained position and the imminent danger of detection. Several times he was about to give himself up, preferring death to what he was enduring.

It may be said that the sufferings of Jogues during this confinement were in a certain sense almost as great as those he had endured from the savagery of the Mohawks. Truly his was virtue tried like gold by fire. True gold as the ordeal proved him to be, he was now about to be placed in a more favorable setting. His hour of delivery had come. Governor Kieft of New Amsterdam, on learning of the pitiable and dangerous condition of Jogues ordered the commander at Fort Orange to send him down by the first vessel and with every safeguard possible. Accordingly preparations were made immediately for the voyage down the Hudson.

The day after the Governor's order had reached the post, Jogues found himself on board a vessel bound for New Amsterdam and liberty. The voyage down the river was a sort of triumph for the martyr. On board with him was the Protestant minister, Domine Megapolensis, who showed him the most marked kindness during the six days of the trip.' Passengers and crew manifested reverence for the mutilated missioner, whose piety and modesty won all hearts. In fact they were so much impressed by his virtue and heroism that they r wanted to name an island in the river after him. Moreover, the minister arranged to give a special feast to the crew in honor of Jogues' deliverance, to which they evidently did justice as we may gather from the missioner's words: "Amid the noise of cannon and bottles each showed his sentiments in his own way." The Domine was in great admiration of the scholarship of the priest, which he had good opportunity of discovering by the frequent talks they had on various subjects.

Arrived at Manhattan Island, Governor Kieft gave the heroic priest a cordial welcome, invited him to his table, and placed him beside the pastor. Moreover he furnished him with suitable clothing to replace the rags which covered him. The people of the place were greatly interested in their guest.

"'It was an altogether novel thing in the colony to see a Catholic priest, and above all a Jesuit, among them. They listened intently to his narration of torture and captivity, which, in spite of the modest way he related his experiences, showed him to be of heroic mold.

Some asked him what recompense the French would make him for all that he had suffered, thinking that his treatment was due to some resentment arising from trade. To this he replied: "No thought of earthly or transitory interest induced me to leave my own country; I sought but one object, even when exposing myself to the dangers into which I fell, and that was to announce the Gospel to those who knew it not."

One day a young man, a Lutheran, after learning of some of the sufferings of the missioner, ran up to him, fell on his knees before him, kissed his mutilated hands and exclaimed repeatedly "Martyr of Jesus Christ! Martyr of Jesus Christ!"

During his stay in the colony, awaiting a vessel bound for Europe, a ship arrived in port from Virginia. One of the crew was an Irish Catholic, who when he heard that a Catholic priest was there, sought him out to profit by his ministrations, and to pay him the respect and reverence due a priest, a missioner and a martyr. The saintly man did all in his power to avoid notice, particularly such as implied esteem. His humility and modesty only added to the regard in which he was held. Finally on November 5, 1643, he set sail for Europe in a small Dutch vessel of fifty tons. The Governor gave him a letter of commendation, and made every arrangement for his comfort and safety.