Monday, July 23, 2012


Père Marquette and the Indians
Wilhelm Lamprecht (German 1838-1906) 

I once heard the Jesuit order of priests called the Marine Corp of the Catholic Church. In their quest to convert new souls to Christianity the Jesuits were always the first men on the beach, at the forefront of exploration all over the world.

Born in 1491 a year before Columbus discovered the New World, St. Ignatius of Loyola grew up to found the Society of Jesus in 1540. Shortly after, their priests were sent off to India, China and Japan. Jesuits were heavily involved in exploring North and South America and they figured heavily in Detroit and Michigan history. 

The first missionaries to arrive in New France were Recollet priests in 1615. However, their missions ultimately failed and ten years later the Jesuits arrived. They were hearty men of action and their zeal to gather the souls of the indigenous people to God took them into the Great Lakes region and Michigan's upper peninsula. Fr. Jacques Marquette founded a mission at Sault Ste. Marie in 1668 and St. Ignace in 1671. He later traveled by canoe down the Mississippi River with explorer Louis Joliet, almost to the Gulf of Mexico.

Besides their search for new souls to evangelize, the Jesuits tried to protect indigenous peoples from exploitation by the French traders--Brandy, for furs or prostitution among the native women, drunkenness and gambling destroyed the Jesuit's good works, leaving the local tribes in chaos. The Jesuit's public denunciations of these activities set them into trouble with the powers of commerce in New France, including Detroit's founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.

"The establishment of Detroit (1701) by La Mothe Cadillac, the French commander at Mackinac, drew away the Hurons from the latter post, and (Fr.) Carheil could no longer remain there. He had, moreover, provoked the enmity of Cadillac, and also of the fur-traders, by his opposition to the brandy traffic, so prevalent at all the trading-posts, and so demoralizing to both French and Indians."

Fr. Carheil was adamant in denouncing bad behavior at the French garrisons and called to abolish them. 

"CLXXVII. (Fr.) Étienne de Carheil, who has been long stationed at Mackinac, writes (August 30, 1702) to Governor Callières a long account and vigorous denunciation of the lawless conduct and licentiousness that Prevail among both the savages and the French in that region.

“the two Infamous sorts of Commerce which have brought the missions to the brink of destruction: . . . the Commerce in brandy, and the Commerce of the savage women with the French. Both are carried on in an equally public manner, without our being able to remedy the evil, because we are not supported by the Commandants. . . . All the villages of our savages are now only Taverns, as regards drunkenness; and sodoms, as regards immorality — from which we must withdraw, and which we must abandon to the just Anger and vengeance of God.”

The Jesuits must have had successes with the native tribes because in 1728 the Hurons requested a "Black Robe" as they called the Jesuits, be sent to Detroit to minister to them. Fr. Armand De La Richardie, S.J came from Quebec to establish a mission among them. That mission eventually became Assumption Church in Windsor Ontario.

In researching The Last Lord of Paradise, I found this seventy three volume set to be especially interesting. However it is now only available through a subscription.
The Jesuit relations and allied documents : travels and explorations of the Jesuit missionaries in New France, 1610-1791 : the original French, Latin, and Italian texts, with English translations and notes / edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites..

This set is also available at though not all volumes are yet entered.

I know, it's a very long title, but these books contain first hand accounts of the earliest explorations and interactions of Jesuit priests with the indigenous peoples of North America. This collection of reports, letters, journals, reveals their sincere efforts to convert them to Christianity. Sometimes they were successful, often not, but they admit their disappointments and despair, along with their successes. Their deep faith in God and their religious zeal shows on every page.

From Lake Superior to Detroit to Little Traverse Bay, Jesuits are mentioned on fourteen historical markers that dot the state of Michigan.
The Society of Jesus exists today, a world wide community still in service to Christ and the Pope.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012


North America 1750

When I was in grade school many many ... many years ago, we studied the French and Indian War (1754-63) when Great Britain and France battled it out over their lands in North America.

The teacher explained how one British surprise attack on Quebec City, launched from the Plains of Abraham, won Great Britain all the French lands claimed in North America.  Then one bored and particularly impudent student quipped, "So what?"

The teacher walked down the row of desks and stopped in front of him. "Well...If the British had not conquered Quebec City that day," she said, pointing a finger at the boy, "You, would be speaking French right now." 

This Fourth of July we will think about the thirteen British colonies from our American history lessons, but French footprints are all over American history too.

Founded by the French in 1701, I thought the City of Detroit was old, but the City of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan's upper peninsula was founded in 1668. Both were brought to us by the same French who founded Montreal (1642) and Quebec City (1608) in Canada. By 1682 they had  explored and claimed the Mississippi River Valley for France. Then went on to found the City of New Orleans, Louisiana in 1718 and St. Louis, Missouri in 1763.

Stretching from the North Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico, all of this land was called New France, the French cousin of Britain's thirteen colonies.


PS: Please, feel free to leave comments or questions. I'd love to know what you think.

Monday, July 2, 2012


How the Detroit River Shaped Lives and History
By Jenny Nolan / The Detroit News
FEB 10, 1997, 8:00 PM

This isn't really a blog post, I just ran across an interesting article about the history of the Detroit River and thought I'd post the link for you. 

From limestone bedrock that survived the glaciers to the Motor City ... Click and enjoy.


HOW THE DETROIT RIVER SHAPED LIVES AND HISTORY  The Detroit News, February 1997, by Jenny Nolan