Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Jean-Baptiste Labat
Dominican missionary, born at Paris, 1664; died there, 1738. He entered the Order of Preachers in his native city at the age of twenty years and was professed on 11 April 1685. After the completion of his philosophical andtheological studies he was ordained and for several years taught philosophy publicly to the secular students of Nancy. Abandoning this work he devoted himself to missionary activity and for many years preached in the various churches of France. The missionary fields of America were proving a strong attraction to the zealous clergy of his day, and Labat became filled with a burning desire to assist in the evangelization of the Indians. Accordingly, in 1693, he obtained permission from the general of the order to depart for those colonies of the West Indies which were then underFrench domination, and laboured among the Indians for thirteen years, until 1706, when he sailed for Italy in the interests of his mission. After attending a meeting of the order at Bologna, and presenting to the general a report of his work, he prepared to return to American, but was denied permission and detained in Rome for several years. During this period he commenced a long contemplated history of the West Indies. The work wasfinally published in six volumes at Paris, in 1722, with copious illustrations made by himself ("Nouveau Voyage aux isles Françoises de l'Amérique", Paris, 1722). Labat had a wide reputation as a mathematician and wonrecognition both as a naturalist and as a scientist. He embodied in the history his scientific observations and treated comprehensively and accurately of the soil, trees, plants, fruits, and herbs of the islands. He also explained the manufactures then in existence and pointed out means forthe development of commercial relations. He published similar works on other countries, drawing information from the notes of other missionaries.His two works on Africa have become well known: "Nouvelle relation de l'Afrique occidentale", Paris, 1728 and "Relation historique de l'Ethiopie occidentale" (Congo, Angola, Matamba, after the Italian of Father Cavazzi, Cap. (Paris, 1732). The latter treatise is supplemented with notes and statistics drawn from Portuguese sources.