1668 Letter from Reverend Father Jacques Bruyas from our property, a Mission Land

May 23, 2021

1668 Letter from Reverend Father Jacques Bruyas from our property, a Mission Land

This mission took place on this very holy land we live on in central/upstate NY.

Walt (my husband) is an avocational archaeologist and has found thousands of artifacts on our land, proving that this is truly a very holy piece of land.

I share with you a letter from Fr. Jacques Bruyas who converted and baptized many of the savages, though his life was always in jeopardy.

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From The mission of St. Francis Xavier among the Iroquois, this 1st of January, 1668.

My Reverend Father,

Pax Christi

It is to satisfy your Reverence's desire, and to secure your prayers to God for me, that I write to you, rather than because I have anything important to say.

The relations of Canada have already told so much about the Iroquois that all that I can write in the future will be trite repetitions of what has been explained at length by our fathers who knew them before I did.

Nevertheless, these repetitions will perhaps not be unpleasing to you, and you will be very glad to be confirmed, by my own experience, in all that they have said, and with this idea I send you a brief abstract of what I have been able to observe, in the short time that I have spent here, touching the customs, the character, and the way of living of the Iroquois , and the progress of our religion in these Infidel lands.

It is unnecessary to repeat here, what your Reverence must know, that the Iroquois are divided into five nations, namely, the Tsonnontwannehronons, oiogwehronnons, onnontagehronnons, onneiouteronnons, and ganniegehronnons.

These last two are called Lower, to distinguish them from the other three, who are called upper Iroquois---both because they are less northerly, and because they inhabit very hilly districts; but they are all united and have the same enemies.

We have a mission among the Lower Iroquois.

I will say nothing of the success of that at agniege, where there are two Jesuits since the relation will inform your Reverence concerning it.

I only that there has been a rich harvest there, and that it seems as if God has chosen to be most glorified by those of the Iroquois who were regarded as most averse to believing our mysteries.

I will only speak of onneiout, distant about thirty leagues from ganniege, and I will say:

1st, that it is situated on the 44th parallel of latitude, upon an Eminence, whence one could see a great deal of the country if the woods which environ it were cleared away.

There is no river or lake, as except at five leagues' distance from the town, where there is a lake 12 leagues long and two wide, which furnishes fish to nearly all the Iroquois.

This place is fairly pleasant, although it has none of the features which give beauty to our country homes.

If one were to take the trouble to plant some vines and trees, they would yield as well as they do in France; but the savage is too fond of wandering to be made to cultivate them.

Nevertheless, apple, plum, and chestnut trees are seen here; but all these fruits are of little importance, and do not have the same taste as those of France, ---except the walnuts and chestnuts, which I find in no wise different in taste from our own.

There are also vines, which bear tolerably good grapes, from which our fathers formerly made wine for the Mass.

I believe that, if they were pruned two years in succession, the grapes would be as good as those in France.

The mulberries and strawberries are so abundant that the ground is all covered with them; both are dried, in order to season the sagamite when there is no fish.

I have named all that is rare in this country.

Those who inhabit it are no more attractive.

The onneiouts have hitherto had the reputation of being the most cruel of all the Iroquois, and, in fact, they have never spoken of peace until within the last two years; it is they who have always made war against the algonquins and the hurons.

Two-thirds of this village is composed of these two nations, who have become Iroquois in temper and inclination.

The nature of the onneiouts is altogether barbarous, ---that is to say, cruel, secret, cunning, and inclined to blood and carnage.

The youth are reared and nourished in war, and would never choose peace if the old men, who have some influence over them, did not compel them to it.

If they have no enemies, they make these anew; and the passion for killing men is so great that they willingly go 300 Leagues and more to remove one scalp.

What disposition this is for The Gospel, which speaks only of peace, and whose Spirit is only sweetness and gentleness.

But there are indeed other hindrances and greater obstacles to the faith.\

Among many, I have noticed three which prevail over all the others, and which are common to all the Iroquois. Drunkeness, dreams, and impurity.

They are drunkards only since they have associated with the french and dutch.

The former cannot furnish them Brandy, ---on account both of the prohibitions of our governors, and of the war which they have hitherto waged against us, ---but the flemish give them as much of it as they can carry.

They have such a mania to get possession of this baneful drink that they do not complain of going 200 leagues, to bring three or four pots of it into their own country; and the worst is that, when they have drunk it, they are demons.

Last Summer, four onneiouts were killed by their comrades, while drunken, yet this accident did not make the others any wiser.

Some time, ago, while I was in the chapel, a drunken man presented himself at the door, and asked where the black gown was. "I will kill him," said he, "he is a demon, who forbids us to have several wives," but, when he saw the door closed, he went home, shouting like a madman.

This is not the only time that they have sought to kill me; but God always preserved me, ---to give me, a I hope, a more glorious death after I shall have done penance for my sins during some years.

Although they often become intoxicated with the intention of killing those to whom they bear ill will, yet all is then forgiven, and you have no other satisfaction than this "What wouldst thou have me do? I had no sense; I was drunk." Thus they atone for a man's death.

There is among them neither prison nor gibbet, each one lives according to his fancy, and I am surprised that, in so great impurity, they are not daily cutting each other's throats.

The dream is an evil still more dangerous. As it is the oldest, it is very hard to cure.

It is the divinity of the savages, for the most holy things.

All that they dream must be carried out; otherwise, one draws upon himself the hatred of all the dreamer's relatives, and exposes himself to feel the effects of their anger.

This is what often causes hardship to a poor missionary, who cannot be sure of a moment of his life; but they derive this advantage from it, that they are obliged to be upon their guard, and to live as if they were to die at any moment.

If I understood more of their language than I do, I could inform your Reverence more at length of the nature of their dreams.

This will be reserved for next year; I shall content myself, this year, with writing to you, what I have seen, and not what I have heard.

Finally, impurity triumphs so insolently among all our savages, that they even glory in a crime which makes the more modest blush.

Polygamy, introduced among them so many centuries ago, is one of the greatest obstacles in their way to Christian purity.

When they are told that there are men, and even women, in France who never marry, it appears so extraordinary to them hat they can hardly believe it.

Nevertheless, in so great and universal corruption, I have found one good neophyte, who has during the three years since he was married, kept his conjugal faith to his wife, although he has not had any children. I believe that he is the only one..

There is a great ease in breaking marriages as in making them, ---the husband leaving his wife, and the wife her husband, at pleasure.

They observe in their marriages the law of the Jews, who suscitabant semen fatris sus.. As to other degrees of relationship. They observe them fairly well.

This is, in my opinion, the greatest sin, not only of the Iroquois, but of all the savages, and the one on account of which I am expecting to sustain some severe battles.

You can see, my Reverend Father, what prevents the faith from triumphing in this country, it is these three great enemies of Jeus Christ, of whom St. John speaks ---concupicentia carnis, concuupicentia oculorum, et superba vitae.

The demon is the creator of the dreams, drunkenness may pass for the world, for among these people to be drunk is to be valiant; and do not the disorders arising from impurity express perfectly the third enemy of mankind?

I have not observed any other vices in our Iroquois. They do not know what cursing is. I have never seen them become angry, even on occasions when our frenchmen would have uttered a hundred oaths.

Their lives might be innocent enough if they were Christians. As they only live from day to day, they do not desire much, and all their wishes end in having something to eat.

It is a savage's supreme good to have fresh meat, he then considers himself the happiest person in the world; and the women do hardly anything else, all the winter, but go and get the flesh of the deer or of the moose that the men have killed, sometimes fifty leagues away from the village.

I am often asked if they eat the meat of moose, bear, etc. in paradise; and I answer them that, if they desire to eat it, their desires will be satisfied.

This answer serves me in many other instances, when they ask impertinent questions, as did one who wished to know if they went to war in Heaven, if they killed men there, if they took off their scalps. "Without these things," said he, "I will not believe."

He was satisfied when he was told, "If thou wishest to go to war, thou wilt go; and God will grant thee all that thou wish."

Judge from this of the minds of the savages. For my part, I compare them to our peasants in France, and I do not think that they are more intelligent, ---except some, who in truth surprise me by their answers.

It is time to tell Your Reverence the progress of our religion in this country.

You can judge that it is very slight, ---not only because I have already written about the opposition the Iroquois feel toward the Gospel, but still more on account of the weakness of him who announces it to them.

What can a man do who announces it to them. What can a man do who does not understand their language, and who is not understood when he speaks? Vere, Ex ore infatium, perfecit laudem.

As yet, I do nothing but stammer; nevertheless , in four months I have baptized 60 persons, among whom there are only four adults, baptized in periculo mortis; all the rest are little children, ---partly huron, whose parents have been Christians for a long time, and partly Iroquois.

The chapel that was built for me is frequented as much as I could desire; and their constancy in coming to pray to God is admirable.

It is true that, of all those whom I have baptized, none are married; as they break their marriage bonds so easily, I ask a longer probation from these than from the others.

I hope to have with me, in three months, another Father who understands the language perfectly, and will do more in a week than I have done in six months; and besides, God will perhaps humiliate our onneiouts. who, up to the present have always lived in prosperity and abundance.

The Campaign of monsieur de tracy among their neighbors has aided not a little in their conversion.

It is this that I ask from our Lord every day, through St. Xavier, to whom I have dedicated my chapel, and whose name this mission will hereafter bear, I hope also for no little aid from the children whom I have baptized, who died after baptism.

But, above all, I have great confidence in the prayers of a good Christian woman who died four months ago, with all the signs of a predestined soul.

This poor woman was sick for a long time with a slow fever, which had made her body a skeleton and an animated corpse.

Having heard her niece speak about the prayers, and the happiness of believers, she invited me to visit her, to instruct her more fully in these truths.

I did so during an entire month; after which, seeing that her fever increased, I baptized her, with a joy deeply felt in her soul.

After her baptism, I did not fail to visit her, and to make her pray to God, up to the day of the feast of the Saints, ---when I perceived that God chose to deliver her from the miseries she was enduring.

She began from the evening of that day to lose her speech, but she did not lose her love for prayer.

She prayed with her eyes and hands, not being able longer to do so with her tongue.

Finally, on the day of he dead, about evening, I returned to her cabin, and found that God had restored her speech.

I availed myself of this moment to have her perform the acts usual on such occasions, after which she remained for some time in silence, on account of the great pain that she was suffering.

But I drew out my crucifix , and said to her, "Agatha, behold Him who has died to give thee life; dost thou not love Him? Dost thou wish again to offend Him?"

She made one last effort to say to me, distinctly, "Never more any sin; I love thee, Jesus, and I shall love thee all my life"  and, making a sign with her lips, she kissed it, ---with so much devotion, that I had difficulty in restraining my tears at the sight of so moving a spectacle, and one so entirely novel in a person reared in idolatry, and in ignorance of our mysteries.

Thus she continued to act until her last sigh, which she rendered up in the arms of Jesus, who died upon the cross both for her and for us.

It is thus that God softens the bitterness of my solitude, and sweetness all the difficulties that are encountered in the apostolic life.

I confess that this single victory the demon has given me great courage, and a great desire to work better than I have done.

I would certainly esteem all my trials in coming from France requited, if I accomplished nothing else in the future.

Ah, my dear Father, how consoling is this thought, "I have contributed to the salvation of a soul!"

How powerful it is to stimulate us to do all and to suffer all, in order to save what has cost Jesus Christ so much!

Friends write to me that this fire has reached the great college, and that many ask urgently to be assigned to Canada.

Never was there a finer opportunity to satisfy their desires, for the gate is now open to all the Iroquois.

The onnontagehronnons, with whom our Fathers have already lived, are going down to our people at Kebec, to take them back into their country; the two other nations will not delay to follow their example.

Moreover, I am assured that there are not enough workers at Kebec to supply all these peoples, unless some have come this yearn from France, which I cannot yet know; and therefore it will depend only upon these brave missionaries to come to our help as soon as possible, and upon our zeal for the fire that consumes them.

But they will receive it kindly if I inform them beforehand of the disposition that God requires from those whom he calls, above all, to the Iroquois mission; and if I tell them that they must be ready to die at any time, and to have their souls in their hands at any moment of their lives.

No fires are to be feared so long as their peace continues; all that is to be apprehended is to be beaten to death by some hot-head.

But I venture to say that the life which one leads in company with these barbarians is a continual martyrdom, and that the fires of the Iroquois would be is a continual martyrdom, and that the fires of the Iroquois would be easier to bear than the trials one endures among them.

One must expect to have all his senses martyred daily: the sight, by the smoke of the cabins ---I have almost lost my eyes from it, the hearing, by their annoying yells and wearisome visits; the smell, by the stench that is incessantly exhaled by the oiled and greased hair of both women and men; feeling, by a cold as severe as at Kebec; and finally, taste, by the unsavory and insipid food of the savages, of which it is enough to say that the daintiest and most delicate of it would be refused by the dogs in France.

If the sagamite be without seasoning, it is without taste; if it be seasoned, this is done, a great part of the year, with rotten fish, the mere odor of which at first turns one's stomach.

You can see how the senses are pampered here.

I say nothing of the contempt that must be endured, of the frequent raillery to which a person exposes himself, when he speaks incorrectly; of the trouble and chagrin occasioned by the study of a very difficult language, ---above all, to persons advanced in age.

There is a great difference between meditating upon the Canada mission in one's oratory, and finding oneself exercising the duties of a Canadian missionary.

I do not say this to disgust those in whom God has inspired the purpose to undertake this painful and laborious life.

I persuade myself, on the contrary, that they will be more stimulated to endeavor to strive for its execution, and that it will furnish a new motive for their zeal.

And, truly, why should they lose courage, when they consider that the meanest and most unfit man in the province, not only in mind, but also as to body, manages to exist amid all these difficulties?

I say still more , and it is true, my health has never been more perfect than it has been since my arrival at onneiout; and I am so accustomed to the Iroquois life life, that it has become almost nature to me.

I find the sagamite  not only good , but it often tastes delicious to me, which is a grace of my vocation; and I attribute to the goodness of God the ease with which I accustomed myself to it from the first day when I tasted it.

If God has shown this grace to so mean a person, why will He not do still more to those whom He shall call to the same occupation and to the same manner of life?

But the principal thing I have to say to them is that they need not expect to see thousands of unbelievers converted, as in the missions of China, Tonquin, etc.

All the Iroquois together are not more than 2,000 men bearing arms.

The Outawaks, among whom we established ourselves 2 years ago, are more numerous, it is said; I know nothing certain about them.

Often a year is occupied in the conversion of five or six families, and this is not considered a loss of time.

For my part, I apply myself especially to the instruction of the children, waiting to become better acquainted with the language before working for the the instruction of the adults.

But if one could save only one soul, should one not go even to the end of the earth to seek it?

I advise all the Canada proselytes to read often the letter in the book of the Epistles of St. Francis Xavier, the (blank space) of the second book, or, above all, to meditate well upon the (blank space) of the third book, which may serve in the instruction of all those who aspire to the apostolic life.

Your Reverence and all our fathers who shall read this will be surprised that a novice and young missionary like me take it upon himself to give advice, and will think that it would be more seemly to let those write who have grown hoary in this calling.

But I have written all these things only to satisfy several of our fathers, who have requested me, above all things, to write them the plain truth, and not to disguise my story.

Moreover, I trust that Your Reverence will have the goodness not to read my letter except in private to my friends; and that you will spare me the embarrassment that I would experience, far away as I am, if I were still made to preach in the Refectory, as I had to do two years ago.

One is exempt from sermons after one's studies, and I have annoyed our Fathers enough with my voice without continuing to weary them with my letters.

I must add also this edifying word, the niece of that good Iroquois woman of whom I have spoken has proved herself in no wise inferior to her Aunt.

I have learned something about her which is all the more admirable as it is so rare amid the universal corruption of the savages.

She has never violated her conjugal faith to her husband, although she has been often solicited to do so, and has even been deprived of some charm, that she might be rendered barren; but neither her barrenness, nor all the the threats that have been made against her, have been able to turn her from her duty.

She asked me, a long time ago, to baptize her, hers is a conscience so tender that she ventures to do nothing without first asking me if there is any wrong in it, and if God forbids it.

The one of whom I have spoken above, who was so faithful to his wife, is not an onneioutronnon, but he lives at Ganniege.

This, my Reverend Father, is all that I can write to Your Reverence.

If God grant me the grace to speak Iroquois, I hope to furnish you every year with something with which to entertain yourself and your friends.

I beg you to obtain for me from his goodness the knowledge of a language which is so necessary to me.

I pray all those to whom Your Reverence shall read this letter to ask God for the same grace.

They will not forget also our poor Iroquois. These people are made for heaven, and are not less dear to Jesus Christ than we are.

He can change them in a moment, and make children of Abraham from these cannibals, Your Reverence will hasten this moment by your prayers.

But, what I ask you above all things is to remember sometimes this poor solitary, abandoned in an ungrateful and barbarous land, and exposed to the fury of peoples without faith and without mercy, that I may put no obstacle in the way of their conversion, or of the designs that God has for me.

I embrace you with all my heart in the heart of Jesus Christ, and I am, my Reverend Father,

Your very humble and very obedient servant in Our Lord,

Jacques Bruyas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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