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French Renaissance Paleography

 

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Letter: Residence de la Conception-aux-Hurons, to M. le curé de St. Martin, à Beauvais [France], 1639 May 25

Description: 

Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, 25 May 1639
Letter from Father Simon Le Moyne to his cousin priest in Beauvais
Newberry VAULT box Ayer MS 507

 

Background: 

Father Simon Le Moyne wrote this autograph letter at La Conception-aux-Hurons, which was then a newly-founded Jesuit mission in the Wendat (Huron) village of Ossossané. Today, the historic site of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons or Sainte-Marie-au-pays-des-Hurons, in Ontario, commemorates the mission.

By 1639 the Wendat (a confederacy of five Iroquoian-speaking nations) had become important suppliers of furs to the French, but their numbers were declining rapidly, due to epidemics. The mission at Ossossané would last only ten years. A report by Father Paul Ragueneau, dated March 1, 1649, indicates that the French presence in the settlement had grown in just a decade to more than 60 men, including priests, laymen, servants, and soldiers. But only a couple of weeks later, the Haudenosaunee (commonly referred to as the Iroquois or Six Nations) would capture two Jesuits, Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant, near Sainte-Marie, and kill them. By May, in the wake of continuing violence, and seeing that fifteen Wendat villages had already been destroyed, the Frenchmen and the Wendat at Sainte-Marie burned their settlement and fled to St. Joseph Island (now Christian Island), where they tried to establish a new Sainte-Marie. But after a terrible winter of starvation and constant attack, the Frenchmen and those Wendat who had become Christians retreated to Quebec, in summer 1650. Father Le Moyne subsequently became a negotiator between the French and the Haudenosaunee.

When Le Moyne wrote this letter though, he had only just arrived in New France. He addressed the letter, sharing news about the founding of the mission, to his cousin Charles Maine, a parish priest at the church of St. Martin in Le Moyne's home town of Beauvais, France.

- Carla Zecher

 

English Translation: 

The Peace and Love of the great Jesus.

Sir and Dearest Cousin,

Marvelous! That this scrap of paper should reach you after shooting so many rapids and enduring so many dangers. Is it not because my spirit had paved the way for it more than a thousand times, without [making] the journey? Oh, if you could see me here in this end of the world, blessing and singing over the holy water, and saying Holy Mass for the parishioners of our district; for, after eight or nine months, we count in this barbaric region two or three churches or assemblies of neophytes. But what consolation it is to a sympathetic heart, to see here every day in our cabins how our good Jesus is adored by a people to whom he is still only half known. I say every day, for, although they do not come to hear Mass, except on solemn feasts and Sundays, they still come to our bark chapel every morning, and often every evening, to say their prayers. Do you know how? We have translated into their language the Sign of the Cross, an appropriate Act of Contrition, of twelve or thirteen lines; the Pater; the Ave; and other prayers of that sort, which these faithful neophytes -- most of them older men -- recite after me, on all sides, with deep feeling. From the beginning God must indeed have enhanced their defects of understanding, since they themselves so discreetly feign not to notice our errors in pronouncing their language. Until you have the satisfaction of reading our Relation of this year, which will be published, I believe, in Paris, I am addressing to my Jesuit brother something to whet rather than to assuage your curiosity. I hope that my mother will cause you to see it, I recall her and myself to your holy sacrifices and prayers; for I am [crossed out: to you], cordially, in this other world, the same as always, which is to say,

Sir and dearest cousin,

Very dear and obliged servant and cousin,

Simon Le Moyne, of the Society of Jesus

From our residence of La Conception, among the Hurons, this 25th of May, 1639

 

Bibliography: 

On Le Moyne, Ragueneau, Brebeuf, and Lallemant, see the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (University of Toronto, Université Laval, 2003–).

For documents pertaining to the misions in New France, see Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791. The Jesuit Relations & Allied Documents, ed. Ruben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1898). For the Le Moyne letter, see vol. 15: Hurons and Quebec: 1638-1639, 191-95; and for Ragueneau's report, see vol. 33: Lower Canada, Algonkins, Hurons: 1648–1649, 251-69.