The Old New York Frontier/Part 2/Chapter 1

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Part 2. Missionaries and the French War (1650-1769)
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Chapter 1. Jesuits and Church of England Men (1650-1746)

AFTER the first explorers, seeking to extend the fur trade, came the Jesuits, interested in promoting the spiritual welfare of the savages. The traders came from Fort Orange and New Amsterdam, the missionaries from the ancient St. Lawrence settlements of New France. Before 1650 these devoted men from the great northern valley had arrived on territory now a part of New York State, bringing with them stout and enterprising souls. Morgan declares that the zeal and devotion which they displayed are “unsurpassed in the history of Christianity.” They “traversed the forests of America alone and unprotected; they dwelt in the depths of the wilderness without shelter and almost without raiment; they passed the ordeal of Indian captivity and the fire of the torture; they suffered from hunger and violence, but in the midst of all they never forgot the mission with which they were intrusted.”

Several of these men acquired distinction that has made their labors a part of American history. Among them were Isaac Jogues, Bruyar, Le Jeune, Brebeuf and Gamier. Later came Peter Milet, who had marked success with the Oneidas, among whom he passed many years, securing a firm hold on their devotion. While it is not unlikely that Jogues saw some of the head-waters of the Susquehanna, for here were Mohawk hunting grounds, it is more probable that Jacques Bruyar actually came into that valley. He lived many years alternately among the Oneidas, Onondagas, and Mohawks, and was in the Iroquois lands for more than thirty years before the eighteenth century began. It was the fate of these missionaries to lead roving lives like the Indians whom they sought to convert; they adopted Indian dress and names, and were often supposed to be Indians, circumstances which must have taken more than one of them on journeys along the Susquehanna trails. Campbell says they often went with the Indians on distant and hazardous expeditions, where they "astonished their savage audiences with the splendor and imposing rites and ceremonies of the Roman Church."

The life of Father Jogues, better than perhaps any other story, illustrates the truth of Morgan’s tribute. Made a captive by the Mohawks and taken to their valley, he was forced to undergo the terrible ordeal of running the gauntlet – "a narrow road to Paradise," Jogues called it. His left thumb was cut off by a woman who used a clam-shell for the purpose. He was made to lie all night on his back, with his feet and hands outstretched and tied to stakes, and while in this position children were allowed to place hot ashes and coals on his body. He was led in triumph from village to village, and in each was newly tortured. As he accompanied his captors to their hunting grounds, "shivering and half famished," says Parkman, "he followed them through the chill November forest and shared their wild bivouac in the depths of the wintry desolation." Because he would not partake of meat, chosen as an offering to one of their heathen divinities, he "starved in the midst of plenty." At night, when the savages made merry around their fire, he "crouched in a corner of the hut, gnawed by hunger and pierced to the bone with cold. He brought them fire wood like a squaw; he did their bidding without a murmur and patiently bore their abuse." Huron Indians, captives like himself, he converted. Ears of unhusked corn wet with dew were thrown to him for food, and with this dew he baptized his converts. Parkman adds that in a remote and lonely spot he "cut the bark in the form of a cross from the trunk of a great tree, and here he made his prayers."

Through the help of Corlear, a noble-hearted Dutchman, and of Dominie Megapolensis, Father Jogues finally escaped. He went to France, and Anne of Austria, the Queen, summoned him to her presence. This mother of Louis, the Sun King, "kissed his mutilated hands, while ladies thronged round to do him homage." Owing to his deformity of body, caused by torture, Jogues was unable to say mass. His case having been laid before the Pope, a special dispensation restored to him the sacred and cherished privilege. Father Jogues then returned to Canada, and the Jesuits again sent him into the Mohawk country, where he now met his fate. While entering an Indian house, to which he had been invited as a guest, he was barbarously murdered. The scene of this tragedy was near the present town of Auriersville. Parkman pronounces Jogues “one of the purest examples of Roman Catholic virtue which the western world has seen.”

Another Jesuit, who became a captive, was Joseph Bressani. In July, 1644, he wrote from the Iroquois country to the General of the Jesuits in Rome: “ I do not know if your Paternity will recognize the handwriting of one whom you once knew very well. The letter is soiled and ill written; because the writer has only one finger of his right hand left entire, and cannot prevent the blood from his wounds, which are still open, from staining the paper. His ink is gun-powder mixed with water and his table is the earth.”

Jogues, Milet, Bruyar, and Bressani belonged to an early and disinterested generation. Their eulogist, Parkman, shows that the Jesuits who came in later times had not the same apostolic simplicity. More properly they were the political agents of France, with eyes on the affairs of two worlds. For more than fifty years the English had to combat their influence, and in doing so sought aid from Protestant missionaries who really came to have an important share in the great struggle between Latin and Anglo-Saxon forces for supremacy.

First among Protestants in the Mohawk country was Megapolensis, who, before closing his labors, had learned the language, preached in it fluently, and made many converts. He began his work at Albany about 1642 and served six years. Megapolensis says he preached also “in the neighborhood,” and the Indians had been pleased to hear he intended going into “their own country and castles (about three days’ journey farther inland) when acquainted with their language.”

From the time of Megapolensis until Governor Dongan came over, was a generation, and not until Dongan’s time was vigorous work undertaken. In 1687 Dongan asked the Indians not to “receive any French priests any more, having sent for English priests whom you can be supplied with all to content.” In the same decade, in his request to the Indians to arrest unauthorized Susquehanna traders, Dongan made an exception in the case of “the priests and one man with each or either of them.” Dongan, although a Romanist, was opposed to the Jesuits, being an English Governor first, and a Romanist afterward. He was the first English Governor who interfered with the Jesuits, and he violated his instructions in so doing. But he gave evidence of that clear understanding of French intrigue and its dangers which another Irishman, William Johnson, was to have a better opportunity of putting into practice sixty years afterward.

Dongan desired James II. to send out five or six priests to live at the Indian castles, since by this means French priests “will be obliged to return to Canada, whereby the French will be divested of their pretences to the country and then we shall enjoy that trade without any fear of its being diverted.” He proposed that three priests continually travel from one Indian village to another. Though his design did not fully succeed, he made some headway with it. By 1687 he had successfully uprooted some of the French missions. That his conduct was statesmanlike, events that followed in the ensuing struggle amply proved. A few years after his time (in 1700) the Legislative Council of the province took up the war Dongan had begun and passed “an act against Jesuits and Popish priests.”

One of the Protestants of Dongan’s time was Dr. Dellius, a Dutchman. He was among the Mohawks before 1691, and baptized numbers of them. For his services he was allowed $300 in 1693, with a further sum for an interpreter. At Schenectady labored Bernardus Freeman, a Calvinist, who, in 1720, reported that out of one hundred Mohawks, thirty-five were Christians. Mr. Freeman made a translation into Mohawk of the Ten Commandments, the Athanasian Creed, and parts of the Prayer Book. His version was printed in New York in 1715.

Work assumed a more systematic form in the new century. A petition was forwarded to London asking that ministers of the Church of England be sent to “instruct the Indians and prevent their being practised upon by the French priests and Jesuits.” Six clergymen were proposed, one for each nation, with two young men to attend them.

Four years later the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts sent out the Rev. Mr. Smith and the Rev. Thoroughgood Moor, each of whom was allowed £20 for his outfit and £100 as yearly salary, with £30, given by Queen Anne, for his passage. Of Mr. Smith nothing more is known, but Mr. Moor reached the field of his labors among the Mohawks and remained three years. He had little success and set sail for England, but was never heard from again. He has been credited with the authorship of the first book printed in the Mohawk tongue, “Another Tongue brought in to Confess the Great Saviour of the World,” which traders were expected to distribute. After Mr. Moor, came Thomas Barclay, who remained from 1708 until 1712, and has historic rank as the first rector of St. Peter’s Church in Albany.

When Queen Anne’s war closed, in 1712, the Rev. William Andrews, who had already been in the country and knew something of the Mohawk language, came over and spent three years among the Mohawks and Oneidas. With money supplied by Queen Anne, a fort one hundred and fifty feet square was built at the Mohawk castle known afterward as Fort Hunter, with a block-house at each corner and quarters for twenty men. The Indians built a school-house thirty feet long and twelve wide, and from distant places prepared to have children sent for instruction. At one time Mr. Andrews had twenty children at this school, between sixty and seventy regular attendants at church, and when all the Indians were at home, as many as one hundred and fifty attendants, of whom thirty-eight were communicants.

Andrews came out to teach the Oneidas as well as the Mohawks, and bore as his credentials a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury. In going to the Oneidas he passed over one hundred miles “through a vast wilderness of woods” and along a narrow Indian path. Wherever he labored the great difficulty was to overcome the demoralizing influence of hunting expeditions in which boys as well as men engaged. Mr. Andrews complained that nothing he did seemed to last. An evil influence was exerted by Dutch traders who falsely told the Indians he would claim one-tenth of all they had. He describes the Indians as a “sordid, mercenary, beggardly people, having but little sense of religion, honor or goodness among them; living generally filthy, brutish lives; ” and being of such “inhuman savage natures ” as to kill and eat each other. “Heathen they are,” he said, “and heathen they will still be.” Mr. Andrews returned in 1718. At St. Peter’s Church in Albany, has long been preserved an interesting relic of his time – a set of church plate given by Queen Anne in 1712, for use among the Onondagas, while at Fort Hunter may be seen a stone rectory of the same period.

Queen Anne’s interest in the Indians dated from the visit of several of their kings to London, in 1709-10. They were taken over by Colonel Peter Schuyler, Mayor of Albany, a man of fortune, public spirit, and great influence among the Indians, who knew him always as “Quidder,” the nearest approach they could make to pronunciation of his name. France at that time was making serious inroads against the English in New York. A critical time had come in that century-long contest between two civilizations for supremacy in the New World. Colonel Schuyler made this visit at his own expense in order to urge the English Government to take more vigorous measures against the French. Marked interest was shown in the Indians. They became the lions of social and public life, and at Court were received with all the honors of elaborate ceremonial.

In 1731 the Rev. John Miln, who, in 1728, had become rector of St. Peter’s, engaged to visit the Mohawks four times a year and to remain five days on each visit. He appointed the Rev. Henry Barclay catechist at Fort Hunter. By 1741, in two towns Barclay had five hundred Indians under his influence, of whom fifty-eight were communicants. In 1743, only a few unbaptized ones remained. Two years later war with France interfered with this work. The French laid the frontier in ashes, took one hundred prisoners, and the county of Albany, that had been populous and flourishing, became a scene of desolation. After the war closed, in 1746, the Rev. John Ogilvie, a graduate of Yale College, who had studied theology under the Bishop of London and became rector of St. Peter’s in Albany in 1750, went into the country, and labored there periodically for many years “amid great discouragements and in the very outskirts of civilization.” An assistant in his work was the Rev. John Jacob Oel, a Palatine, who remained until the Revolution began. He was long settled at Canajoharie, but labored also among the Oneidas and Tuscaroras, many of whom he baptized. Mr. Oel in the Susquehanna Valley found rivals in the Non-conformists from New England, against whom he made complaints. [1]

After Mr. Ogilvie, came to St. Peter’s the Rev. Henry Munro, who labored among the Mohawks until 1770, when his missionary duties were transferred to a resident clergyman, the Rev. John Stuart, of whom more will be read in a later chapter of this work. Just at the close of Mr. Munro’s labors he dedicated at Canajoharie the chapel for the Indians, which Sir William Johnson erected there and which still stands.


[1] Brown refers to a place "called by the Indians Awquawge (Oghwaga) where the first Gospel was taught unto the Indians, by one Elisha Gan." He gives no date however. [1]