Selections and Full PDFs of "The Jesuit Relations": Sainte-Marie among the Hurons and Beyond
Note: This article includes historical materials from the collections of Toronto Public Library. Who tells the story, and how the story is told creates tensions when trying to present content written by settlers about Indigenous people. These materials can reflect offensive historic attitudes, and in some cases, were created by individuals directly involved in acts of cultural genocide committed against Indigenous peoples. These materials are included as part of TPL’s commitment to the 69th Call to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which recognizes the inalienable right of Indigenous peoples to know the truth of what happened and why.
Sainte-Marie among the Hurons was a Jesuit settlement on the land of the Huron-Wendat. Completed in 1639, this French compound was the first permanent European settlement in what is now Ontario.
In 1649, the settlement was burnt down and abandoned during ongoing warfare between the Huron-Wendat and the Iroquois to the south. (It was rebuilt as a historical site in 1964.)
Toronto Public Library has digitized the extensive reports from the 17th and 18th centuries written by missionaries, known as The Jesuit Reports. Available on Digital Archive Ontario, these are invaluable firsthand accounts about Sainte-Marie among the Hurons and beyond.
In this post
- Overview of early relations between Huron-Wendat and French
- Selections from The Jesuit Relations from 1636 to 1649
- All digitized volumes of The Jesuit Relations
French explorer Samuel de Champlain made contact with the Huron-Wendat in 1609. He believed an alliance was needed for further trade and settlement in their territory. To gain trust, he joined them and their Algonquin allies on a raid against the Iroquois. During the unsuccessful attack, Champlain’s leg was wounded and the Huron-Wendat spent three days carrying him back to safety.
In 1609 when Champlain encountered the Huron-Wendat, they numbered 30,000. When Jesuit Father Jerome Lalemant arrived in 1639, he conducted a survey and found just 12,000. Many died from disease. Others died as the Iroquois and the Huron-Wendat fought over the beaver pelt market. Firearms had been introduced in the region through trade with the French and Dutch, making any skirmish that much more lethal.
For the French, "Huron" was a term of derision for unkempt, unruly peasants. Nonetheless, the French were impressed by what they perceived as the strength, stature and bountiful crops of the Huron-Wendat. The French called the territory Huronia whereas the Huron-Wendat called it Wendake, or "a land apart". It lays south of Georgian Bay and east to Lake Simcoe.
The first missionaries to the Huron-Wendat were Récollets (today known as the Franciscans). In the summer of 1626, Father Jean de Brébeuf of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit) secured a place in Champlain’s canoe travelling into Huronia-Wendake. Later, more Jesuits followed. They traveled between Indigenous villages spreading the word of Christ.
In the winter of 1638, Father Jerome Lalemant arrived from France to replace Father Brébeuf as superior of the mission Sainte-Marie among the Hurons. Lalemant brought with him two more Jesuits and a lay brother as well as supplies, tools, and twelve labourers and tradesmen to build a compound to house the mission. He negotiated with the Huron-Wendat for a plot of land on the river known today as the Wye. The compound was completed in 1639. Ten years later, it would lay in ruins.
Annual reports written by the Superieurs of the Jesuit missions across New France were sent back to France via Quebec. They were published in Paris the following year. Reports from Father Paul Rageneau from Sainte Marie among the Hurons were written in Vol. XXXIII  (published 1650). Below are selections from 1636 to 1649 from The Jesuit Reports. For full PDFs of all volumes, jump to index.
Selections from Vol.  XV (1637-1638)
Pages 17 to 35: A convert family suffers the deaths of a niece, mother, daughter and brother-in-law. The Jesuits try to visit the sick but are shunned. An old man said to them, “It is you people who are making me die; since you set foot in this house, six days ago, I have eaten nothing; and I have seen you in a dream as persons who are bringing us misfortune; it is you who are making me die." The fathers turned away and waited. They are then accused of coming to bring about the ruination of Huronia-Wedake.
Pages 37 to 51: The Huron-Wendat believe the Jesuits were killing people in their community with the pictures of Jesus and Mary. They convene a council to discuss killing the Jesuits. Father Jean de Brébeuf is there to argue for accepting the ways of God. The Huron-Wendat are not swayed. The decision of whether to kill off the Jesuits is deferred to a later council.
"The scourge of war, that has hitherto carried off a great number of these tribes, has continued to such an extent, for a year past, that one may say that this country is but one scene of massacre."
During the Huron-Wendat and Iroquois wars, eight Jesuit missionaries were martyred: St. Jean de Brébeuf (1649), St. Noël Chabanel (1649), St. Antoine Daniel (1648), St. Charles Garnier (1649), St. René Goupil (1642), St. Isaac Jogues (1646), St. Jean de Lalande (1646) and St. Gabriel Lalemant (1649).
Selection from Vol.  XXVII (1642-1645)
Pages 9 to 23: In a chapter entitled "Of the General State of Christianity in these Countries", Father Le Jeune writes of the progress made at the mission concerning its construction and the ministry of the Huron-Wendat and their allies. Amid his dehumanizing language towards the Huron-Wendat, he admits to "having no idea of the language or experience therein, and no knowledge of the customs of the country."
Selection from Vol.  XXVIII (1645-1646)
Pages 117 to 133: These pages contain a letter about Father René Goupil (donne) by Father Isaac Jogues (author of the handwritten letter above, which is on the subject of New Amsterdam). This letter about Goupil recounts the capture of both Goupil and Jogues by the Iroquois, their treatment, the subsequent killing of Goupil and the defilement of his body.
Selection from Vol.  XXXII (1647-1648)
Pages 19 to 31: Frenchmen and Huron-Wendat come upon a group of Iroquois and engage them in battle. One Frenchman pursues the Iroquois to find them wounded lying in the forest. An Iroquois is captured.
Selections from Vol.  XXXIV (1649)
Pages 25 to 35: These pages make up the chapter, "A veritable Account of the Martyrdom and Blessed death of Father Jean de Brébeuf and of Father Gabriel L'Alemant, In New france, in the country of the hurons, by the Iroquois, enemies of the Faith."
Pages 79 to 81: By 1649, the Iroquois had pushed far into Huron-Wendat territory. They were laying waste to the Huron-Wendat and their villages. Father Rageneau expresses his faith in God's work as the decimation of their mission to the Huron-Wendat continues.
Pages 83 to 85: Father Lalemant praises the governor Monsieur d'Ailleboltst for sending 60 Frenchman to fight the Iroquois. He asks Lingendes to pray for Sainte Marie among the Hurons.
The Jesuit Relations was originally written in Latin, French and Italian. In the late 19th century, they were translated into English (with the original languages still included) by Reuben Gold Thwaites. It was published in over 70 volumes in Cleveland, United States, in 1869. Toronto Public Library has digitized these volumes, available below. Additional, select volumes of the original publications are also available.
Note: the full title is "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; illustrated by portraits, maps, and facsimiles."
The Jesuit Relations: Volumes 1 to 9
The Jesuit Relations: Volumes 10 to 19
The Jesuit Relations: Volumes 20 to 29
The Jesuit Relations: Volumes 30 to 39
The Jesuit Relations: Volumes 40 to 49
The Jesuit Relations: Volumes 50 to 59
The Jesuit Relations: Volumes 60 to 69
The Jesuit Relations: Volumes 70 to 73
The Jesuit Relations: Other volumes
- Link to Volume 25 fixed. November 20, 2020.
- Note added to start of post. January 12, 2022.