Isaac Jogues: Missionary and Martyr - Martin J. Scott

French and Dutch Intervention

After Jogues' capture he was given up for dead by his brethren at Quebec. Both in Europe and America his loss was keenly mourned. His religious brethren, however, envied him his glorious death as an apostle and martyr, and were spurred on by his fate to emulate his zeal. Thus are the patriots of Christ's kingdom fired with enthusiasm by what causes discouragement and failure in less heroic souls.

Joseph, a Christian of the Huron tribe, who had been captured along with Jogues, and had been led into captivity with him, succeeded in making his escape while he was on a fishing expedition to the St. Lawrence with his captors. This was the man 'who brought to Quebec the news that Jogues was alive, a slave among the Mohawks.

The Governor, Montmagny, on hearing of the arrival of Joseph and the news he brought, sent for him to learn all the details possible about the Father. He was deeply affected by the recital of the frightful sufferings undergone by Jogues, and by the shocking description of his captivity. At the time he felt himself powerless to rescue Jogues by force since the military at his command was absolutely inadequate. He knew that unless he should decisively defeat the Mohawks they would kill all the prisoners, and moreover be a menace to the colony. Hence he sought a way of accomplishing his purpose by peaceful means.

While he was giving the matter his close and constant attention an event occurred which enabled him to start negotiations for the release of the prisoner. The Sokoki Indians were allies of the Iroquois. A Sokoki had recently been captured by the Algonquins, allies of the Hurons. The captive was one of the chief men of the tribe, and in retaliation for their cruelties to Algonquin prisoners this man was condemned to most horrible tortures. They tore out his nails, cut off two of his fingers, drove a sharp stick through one of his feet and punctured his whole body with awls. A knotted cord was tied about his wrists and drawn until it cut the flesh through to the bone. The pain was so intense that although through bravado he made no outcry, nor gave any sign of suffering, he swooned, and for a time seemed lifeless. However he revived and was reserved for further torture and death.

The Governor, learning of the capture of the Sokoki hastened to the Algonquin village where he was detained, in hopes that as the Sokokis were allies of the Iroquois, this captive might be employed in negotiations for the liberation of Jogues. Accordingly he asked his allies, the Algonquins, to turn their prisoner over to him. On learning his object they complied with his request. The Governor informed the condemned man that he had obtained for him life and freedom. Then he had him conveyed to the hospital presided over by the nuns, who bestowed on him a mother's care, and nursed him back to health. When he was strong enough to travel, the Governor presented him with many gifts, and asked him in return for his kindness, to use his efforts with the chiefs of his tribe to have them intercede with their ally, the Mohawks, for the liberation of Jogues.

The Indian was truly grateful for his preservation, and on his return to his village extolled the goodness of the Governor, and expressed his admiration for the missioners. He conveyed to the chief men of the tribe the ardent wish of the Governor for 'the release of Jogues through their intervention, Their sense of gratitude made them favorable to this request, and in April, 1643, they sent an embassy to the Mohawks for this purpose. The perfidious Mohawks promised to comply with their ally's request, and said that they, themselves, would escort Jogues to the French colony, just as soon as they could arrange for the journey.

But the wily savages had no intention of liberating Jogues. Their promise was forgotten with the departure of the Sokokis. However the embassy was not without results. It showed the Mohawks the value of their prisoner, and greatly modified their treatment of him, which henceforward was very much more considerate.

Notwithstanding the friendly attitude of the tribe as a whole towards him, he was constantly in danger from individual animosity. While quietly engaged in his cabin on a certain day, a wild-eyed Indian rushed upon him and began to beat him with a club. Two blows had already fallen on his head and felled him to earth, when someone intervened and saved his life. The would-be assassin was neither punished nor reproved. Fear of sudden attacks kept the captive in constant dread. His one comfort amidst these apprehensions was the kindness and solicitude of his "aunt" who used every means in her power to protect and warn him, and in various ways to show him motherly devotion.

When she was convinced that her tribe had no intention of conducting him to the French colony, nor of liberating him at all, and fearing hourly for his violent death, she advised him to make his escape. If Jogues considered himself only he might easily have made his escape. But he had in mind the Christian captives to whom he was a source of spiritual and corporal comfort, and he also feared that if he escaped, the savages would revenge it by torturing his fellow-captives in this and other villages. Not only was he content to remain a slave for the love of God, but he furthermore placed his life in new jeopardy for love of his country.

Jogues was truly a patriot, not only of Christ's Kingdom but also of his own dear France, as the following event proves. A band of Mohawks was preparing to take the war-path. Jogues learned its destination, which was the St. Lawrence. He determined to warn the French colony of its danger. Finding an opportunity of transmitting a letter to his countrymen, he, at the risk of his life, took advantage of it. The mere fact of handing a packet to one of the Indians going on a journey towards the French was suspicious in the eyes of the savages. But he took the risk, and the messenger agreed to deliver the letter.

In mid-August 1643, a lone Mohawk Indian, in a canoe, approached Fort Richelieu. As he paddled to the landing he was challenged by the guard. On stating that he had a packet from the Black-Gown for the Governor he was allowed to land, and was escorted to the Governor. The messenger wanted to leave directly after presenting the letter, but was detained until the Governor should learn its contents. Meanwhile a cannon was fired to indicate the termination of the truce. On hearing this the Mohawks, who were in ambush a short distance off, took alarm and fled, leaving the messenger behind. This supposed treachery on the part of the French was the source of renewed animosity against Jogues, as we shall see.

The letter which Jogues sent was written partly in Huron, partly in French and partly in Latin. This was done so that in case it fell into hostile hands it could not be comprehended. The original of this letter is preserved in the archives of the Gesu at Rome.

"Village of the Iroquois, June 30, 1643.

"My Lord: This is the fourth letter I have written since my detention as a prisoner in the hands of the Iroquois. Time and paper both fail me, and prevent my repeating here what I have said elsewhere at greater length.

"We are still alive. Henry, taken prisoner by the Iroquois near Montreal, on St. John's Eve, has been brought among us. He did not indeed run the gauntlet on entering the village, nor have his fingers been cut off, as ours were. He and the Hurons brought in with him are still alive.

"Fear constantly and everywhere the ambuscades of these men, for bands of braves leave the village every day to go on the war-path, and you must not think that the St. Lawrence will be free from these savages before the end of autumn.

"They are here to the number of seven hundred; possess three hundred guns, which they use with great skill; and know several routes to reach the station of Three Rivers. Fort Richelieu arrests them indeed somewhat, but yet does not entirely prevent their raids.

"If the Iroquois had known that the Sokoki prisoner was indebted to the French for his deliverance from the hands of the Algonquins, they would, they say, have spared the French who have been taken and killed near Montreal. But it was already mid-winter when this news came to their knowledge.

"However, a new party has just taken the field. The chief is the very same who commanded the expedition which took us prisoners. They intend to attack the French no less than the Algonquins.

"Do not, I beg of you, take me personally into consideration, and let no sympathy for me prevent your taking any measure that seems to you best fitted to advance the greater glory of God.

"So far as I can divine, it is the design of the Iroquois to capture all the Hurons, if it is possible; to put the chiefs and a great part of the nation to death, and with the rest to form one nation and one country.

"I shed tears over the lot of these unfortunate people, most of whom are already Christians, the rest catechumens, and well-disposed to receive baptism.

"When will it be possible to apply a remedy at last to so many evils? Perhaps when there are no more prisoners to take.

"I have here a record written by our Fathers on what had occurred among the Hurons, and some letters written by the same Fathers. The Iroquois captured them from the Hurons and handed them to me.

"The Dutch have already made several efforts to deliver us, but always to no purpose. They are now renewing their attempts; but I think it will be with the same result.

"I form a resolution which daily becomes more decided, to remain here as long as it pleases Our Lord, and not to seek to achieve my liberty, even if an opportunity offers. I do not wish to deprive the French, Hurons, and Algonquins of the benefit they receive from my ministry. I have administered baptism here to some, several of whom have already soared to heaven.

"My only consolation amid my sufferings is to think of the most holy will of God, to which I most willingly submit mine.

"I beg your Excellency to have the kindness to have prayers said and Masses celebrated for us all, and especially for him who is in Our Lord.

"Sir, your most humble and obedient servant,


"of the Society of Jesus."

The Superior of the mission added the following words when he inserted this letter in the Relations for 1644: "There is more juice here than words. The tissue is excellent, although the hand that formed these letters is all mangled. His style is more sublime than that which emanates from the most pompous schools of rhetoric. . . . Although his words have drawn tears from our eyes, they have nevertheless increased the joy of our hearts. Some of us rather envy than compassionate him."

About five weeks after the letter to the Governor, Jogues wrote to his Provincial in France a long account of the events which had transpired in his captivity. The letter was dated August 5, 1643. Jogues took occasion while with his master at the Dutch settlement at Fort Orange, now Albany, to send the letter to his Superior over seas. From this account we give the closing lines:

"Although I could in all probability escape either through the Europeans or the Indian nations around us, did I wish to fly, yet on this cross to which Our Lord has nailed me, with Himself, am I resolved by His grace to live and die. For who in my absence would console the French captives? who would absolve the penitent? who remind the Christian Huron of his duty? who instruct the prisoners constantly brought in? who baptize them dying, and encourage them in their torments? who cleanse the infants in the saving waters? who provide for the salvation of the dying adult, the instruction of those in health? Indeed I cannot but think it a peculiar interposition of Divine Goodness, that—while a nation, fallen from the true Catholic religion, barred the entrance of the Faith to these regions on one side; and on the other a fierce war between savage nations, and on their account with the French—I should have fallen into the hands of these Indians, who by the will of God reluctantly, and I may say against their will, have thus far spared my life, that through me, though unworthy, those might be instructed, believe, and be baptized, who are predestined to eternal life.

"Since the time when I was taken, I have baptized seventy persons, children, young people and old, of five different nations and languages, that of 'every tribe, and people and tongue, they might stand in the sight of the Lamb.' Therefore do I daily bow my knee to my Lord and to the Father of my Lord, that if it be for His glory, He may confound all the designs of the Europeans and savages for ransoming me or sending me back to the whites; for many of the Indians speak of my being restored, and the Dutch, among whom I write this, have frequently offered, and now again are offering, to rescue me and my companions. I have visited them twice, and have been most kindly welcomed; they leave no stone unturned to effect our deliverance, and have made many presents to the Indians with whom I am, to induce them to treat me humanely.

"But I am now weary of so long and so prolix a letter; I therefore earnestly beg your Reverence ever to recognize me, though unworthy, as one of yours; for though a savage in dress and manner, and almost without God in so tossed a life, yet as I have ever lived a son of the most holy Church of Rome and of the Society, so do I wish to die. Obtain for me from God, Reverend Father, by your holy sacrifices, that though I have hitherto but ill employed the means He gave me to attain the highest sanctity, I may at least employ well this last occasion which He offers me. Your bounty, surely, owes this to a son who has recourse to you; for I lead a truly wretched life, where every virtue is in danger: Faith in the dense darkness of Paganism; Hope in so long and hard trials; Charity amid so much corruption, deprived of all the sacraments.

"Purity is not, indeed, endangered here by delights, but is tried, amid this promiscuous and intimate intercourse of both sexes, by the perfect liberty of all in hearing and doing what they please; and, most of all, in their constant nakedness. For here, willing or not, you must often see what elsewhere is shut out, not only from wandering, but even from curious eyes. Hence I daily groan to my God, begging Him not to leave me without help amid the dead; begging Him, I say, that amid such impurity and such superstitious worship of the devil to which he has exposed me—naked as it were, and unarmed, my heart may be undefiled in His justifications,' so that when that Good Shepherd shall come, 'Who will gather together the dispersed of Israel,' 'He may gather us from among the nations to bless His holy name. Amen! Amen!'

"Your Reverence's most humble servant and son in Christ,


"Permit me through your Reverence to salute all my dear Fathers and Brothers whom I tenderly love and cherish in Christ, and to commend myself to their holy sacrifices and prayers.

"Your most humble servant and son in Christ,


"Rensselaerswyck, in New Netherland, August 5, 1643."

On his return to the Mohawk village, Jogues had but a brief respite when he was ordered to accompany his master on a march of two hundred miles to a tribe which was tributary to the Mohawks. The sufferings on this march were beyond description. The Indians took no provisions with them, counting on finding game on the way. But being disappointed in this, were forced to subsist on wild berries gathered at haphazard. They were reduced almost to starvation before they reached their destination, Jogues, of course, having suffered most of all.

Arriving at the village there occurred an incident which repaid the missioner for all his sufferings. Entering one of the cabins he heard himself called by name, by a young man lying on the floor in his death-agony. "Do you not recognize me, Ondessonk," said the dying man, "do you not remember the good turn I did you in the Iroquois country, and how it relieved you?" "I do not recollect ever to have seen you," replied the Father, "but that matters not: I thank you since you did me a service. What did you do for me?" "It was in the third Mohawk town," said the young man, "when you were hung up, and could no longer endure your intense sufferings: do you recollect an Indian's coming up and cutting the ropes?" "Yes, indeed," replied the missioner, "many a time have I blessed the Lord for inspiring him to do that charitable act. I have never met him since, and I should be happy to see him, and, if I could, show him all my gratitude."

The missioner proceeded to instruct the dying man, who proved to be a most willing learner. Jogues had the happiness of baptizing him and of assisting him as he passed from time to eternity. The savage in pity had severed the cord which threatened the missioner's life; the priest in turn had broken the chains of this sin-bound captive, and set his soul free unto life everlasting.