Letter from Father Pierre Biard to the Reverend Father Privincial, at Paris
Port Royal, January 31, 1612
Father Pierre Biard, a French Jesuit, describes his first year in the new world. He is based in Port Royal in what is now Nova Scotia but undertakes several journeys including to the Kennebec River where he visits the site of Fort St George. He describes the French view of the native people and we should remember that the English view may have been less sympathetic. Parts of this text are distressing but we cannot change history; we can only hope to learn from it. During this time there was a major pandemic of European diseases devastating the native population in this area.
This comes from the publication “The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents Vol. II”, 1896, State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Only one of the letters is included here. The translation from French to English was done at that time.
The sections on his time on the Kennebec River and the description of Fort St George three years after the abandonment of the Popham Colony are of most interest to people looking at Maine’s First Ship documents. In his description of interactions with the native people, Father Biard tells us a lot about himself, much of which is relavent to the English as well.
I have included a few notes and comments enclosed in square brackets as an aid to the modern reader.
My Reverend Father,
The peace of Christ be with you.
Were we compelled to give an account before God and Your Reverence of our administration and our transactions in this newly acquired kingdom of the Son of God, this new France and new Christendom, from the time of our arrival up to the beginning of this new year, I certainly do not doubt that, in the aggregate and final summing up, the loss would exceed the profits; the foolish cost of transgression, the goodness and wisdom of obedience; and the reception of divine talents, graces, and indulgence would exceed their outlay and use in the royal and agreeable service of our great and so benign Creator. Nevertheless, inasmuch as (I believe) no one would be edified by our losses, or greatly benefited by our gains, it is better that we mourn our losses apart; as to our receipts, we shall be like the unjust steward commended by Our Lord in the Gospels, namely, by sharing our Master’s goods with others we shall make them our friends; and in communicating to many what is edifying in these early foundations of Christianity, we shall obtain intercessors with God and supporters of this work. Yet in doing this we shall in no wise diminish the debt, as did the wicked Steward, giving out Our Master’s goods with profit; but we shall, perhaps, by this prudence acquit ourselves of a part of the dues and interests. So be it.
Today, January 22nd, 1612, eight months have passed since our arrival in this new France. Soon after that, I wrote you in regard to the condition in which we found this infant Church and Colony. Here is what followed:
When Monsieur de Potrincourt went to France last June he left his son here, Monsieur de Biencourt, a young man of great integrity and of very estimable qualities, with about eighteen of his servants and us two priests of the Society. Now our duties and offices, in accordance with our calling as priests, have been performed while residing here at the house and settlement, and by making journeys abroad. Let us begin, as they say, at home, that is, at the residence and settlement; then we shall go outside.
Here then are our occupations: to say mass every day, and to solemnly sing it sundays and holidays, together with Vespers, and frequently the procession; to offer public prayers morning and evening; to exhort, console, administer the sacraments, bury the dead; in short, to perform the offices of the Curate, since there are no other priests in these quarters. And in truth it would be much better if we were more earnest workers here for Our Lord, since sailors, who form the greater part of our parishioners are ordinarily quite deficient in any spiritual feeling, having no sign of religion except in their oaths and blasphemies, nor any knowledge of God beyond the simplest conceptions which they bring with them from France, clouded with licentiousness and the cavilings and revilings of heretics. Hence it can be seen what hope there is of establishing a flourishing christian church by such evangelists. The first things the poor Savages learn are oaths and vile and insulting words; and you will often hear the women Savages (who otherwise are very timid and modest), hurl vulgar, vile, and shameless epithets at our people, in the French language; not that they know the meaning of them, but only because they see that when such words are used there is generally a great deal of laughter and amusement. And what remedy can there be for this evil in men whose abandonment to evil-speaking (or cursing) is as great as or greater than their insolence in showing their contempt?
At these christian services which we conduct here at the settlement, the Savages are occasionally present, when some of them happen to be at the port. I say, occasionally, inasmuch as they are but little trained in the principles of the faith—those who have been baptized, no more than the heathen; the former, from lack of instruction, knowing but little more than the latter. This was why we resolved, at the time of our arrival, not to baptize any adults unless they were previously well catechized. Now in order to catechize we must first know the language.
It is true that Monsieur de Biancourt, who understands the savage tongue better than anyone else here, is filled with earnest zeal, and every day takes a great deal of trouble to serve as our interpreter. But, somehow, as soon as we begin to talk about God he feels as Moses did—his mind is bewildered, his throat dry, his tongue tied. The reason for this is that, as the savages have no definite religion, magistracy, or government, liberal or mechanical arts, commercial or civil life, they have consequently no words to describe things which they have never seen or even conceived.
Furthermore, rude and untutored as they are, all their conceptions are limited to sensible and material things; there is nothing abstract, internal, spiritual, or distinct. Good, strong, red, black, large, hard, they will repeat to you in their jargon; goodness, strength, redness, blackness—they do not know what they are. [In Algonquin languages, generic objects are not based on ideal object as they are in western European languages, they are based on extending a specific instance into the generic]. And as to all the virtues you may enumerate to them, wisdom, fidelity, justice, mercy, gratitude, piety, and others, these are not found among them at all except as expressed in the words happy, tender love, good heart. Likewise, they will name to you a wolf, a fox, a squirrel, a moose, and so on to every kind of animal they have, all of which are wild, except the dog; but as to words expressing universal and generic ideas, such as beast, animal, body, substance, and the like, these are altogether too learned for them.
Add to this, if you please, the great difficulty of obtaining from them even the words that they have. For, as they neither know our language nor we theirs, except a very little which pertains to daily and commercial life, we are compelled to make a thousand gesticulations and signs to express to them our ideas, and thus to draw from them the names of some of the things which cannot be pointed out to them. For example, to think, to forget, to remember, to doubt; to know these four words, you will be obliged to amuse our gentlemen for a whole afternoon at least by playing the clown; and then, after all that; you will find yourself deceived, and mocked anew, having received, as the saying is, the mortar for the level, and the hammer for the trowel. In short, we are still disputing, after a great deal of research and labor, whether they have any word to correspond directly to the word Credo, I believe. Judge for yourself the difficulty surrounding the remainder of the symbols and fundamental truths of christianity.
Now all this talk about the difficulty of the language will not only serve to show how laborious is our task in learning it, but also will make our Europeans appreciate their own blessings, even in civil affairs; for it is certain that these miserable people, continually weakened by hardships will always remain in a perpetual infancy as to language and reason. I say language and reason, because it is evident that where words, the messengers and dispensers of thought and speech, remain totally rude, poor and confused, it is impossible that the mind and reason be greatly refined, rich, and disciplined. However, these poor weaklings and children consider themselves superior to all other men, and they would not for the world give up their childishness and wretchedness. And this is not to be wondered at, for, as I have said, they are children.
Since we cannot yet baptize the adults, as we have said, there remain for us the children, to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs; these we baptize with the consent of their parents and the pledge of the god-parents. And under these conditions we have already, thank God, baptized four of them. We instruct the adults who are in danger of death, as far as God gives us the means to do so; and experience has shown us that then God inwardly supplements the defects of his exterior instruments. Thus, an old woman, dangerously ill, and a young girl have been added to the number of the children of God. The woman still lives, the girl has gone to Heaven.
I saw this girl, eight or nine years old, all benumbed and nothing but skin and bone. I asked the parents to give her to me to baptize. They answered that if I wished to have her they would give her up to me entirely. For to them she was no better than a dead dog. They spoke like this because they are accustomed to abandon altogether those whom they have once judged incurable. We accepted the offer, so that they might see the difference between Christianity and their ungodliness. We had this poor skeleton brought into one of the cabins of the settlement, where we cared for and nourished her as well as we could, and when she had been fairly well instructed we baptized her. She was named Antoynette de Pons, in grateful remembrance of the many favors we have received and are receiving from Madame la Marquise de Guercheville, who may rejoice that already her name is in heaven, for a few days after baptism this chosen soul flew away to that glorious place.
This was also our firstborn, for whose sake we could say, as Joseph did about his, that God had made us forget all our past hardships and the homes of our Fathers. But in speaking of the Savages abandoning their sick, another similar occasion to exercise charity toward those who are deserted has had a more happy issue and one more useful in undeceiving these people. This occasion was as follows:
The second son of the grand sagamore Membertou, of whom we shall speak by and by, named Actodin, already a christian, and married, fell dangerously ill. Monsieur de Potrincourt, as he was about to depart for France, had visited him; and being a kind-hearted gentleman, had asked him to let himself be taken to the settlement for treatment. I was expecting this suggestion to be carried out; but they did nothing of the kind. When this became evident, not to leave this soul in danger, I went there after a few days (for it was five leagues from the settlement). But I found my patient in a fine state. They were just about to celebrate tabagie, or a solemn feast, over his last farewell. Three or four immense kettles were boiling over the fire. He had his beautiful robe under him (for it was summer), and was preparing for his funeral oration. The oration was to close with the usual adieus and lamentations of all present. The farewell and the mourning are finished by the slaughter of dogs, that the dying man may have forerunners in the other world. This slaughter is accompanied by the tabagie and what follows it—namely, the singing and dancing. After that it is no longer lawful for the sick man to eat or to ask any help, but he must already consider himself one of the “manes,” or citizens of the other world. Now it was in this state that I found my host
I denounced this way of doing things, more by actions than by words; for, as to talking, my interpreters did not repeat the tenth part of what I wanted them to say. Nevertheless, old Membertou, father of the sick man, understood the affair well enough, and promised me that they would stop just where I wanted them to. Then I told him that the farewells and a moderate display of mourning, and even the tabagie, would be permitted, but that the slaughter of the dogs, and the songs and dances over a dying person, and what was much worse, leaving him to die alone, displeased me very much; that it would be better, according to their promise to Monsieur de Potrincourt, to have him brought to the settlement, that, with the help of God, he might yet recover. They gave me their word that they would do all that I wished; nevertheless, the dying man was not brought until two days afterward.
His symptoms became so serious that often we expected nothing less than that he would die on our hands. In fact, one evening, his wife and children deserted him entirely and went to settle elsewhere, thinking it was all over with him. But it pleased God to prove their despair unfounded; for a few days afterwards he was in good health and is so to-day (to God be the glory); which M. Hébert, of Paris, a well-known master in Pharmacy, who attended the said patient, often assured me was a genuine miracle. For my part, I scarcely know what to say; inasmuch as I do not care either to affirm or deny a thing of which I have no proof. This I do know, that we put upon the sufferer a bone taken from the precious relics of the glorified Saint Lawrence, archbishop of Dublin in Ireland, which M. de la Place, the estimable abbé d’Eu, and the Priors and Canons of the said abbey d’Eu, kindly gave us for our protection during the voyage to these lands. So we placed some of these holy relics upon the sick man, at the same time offering our vows for him, and then he improved.
Influenced by this example, Membertou, the father of the one who had recovered, as I have said before, was very strongly confirmed in the faith; and because he was then feeling the approach of the malady from which he has since died, he wished to be brought here immediately; and although our cabin is so narrow that when three people are in it they can scarcely turn around, nevertheless, showing his implicit confidence in us, he asked to be placed in one of our two beds, where he remained for six days. But afterwards his wife, daughter, and daughter-in-law having come, he himself recognized the necessity of leaving, and did so with profuse excuses, asking our pardon for the continual trouble he had given us in waiting upon him day and night. Certainly the change of location and treatment did not improve him any. So then, seeing that his life was drawing to a close, I confessed him as well as I could; and after that he delivered his oration (this is their sole testament). Now, among other things in this speech, he said that he wished to be buried with his wife and children, and among the ancient tombs of his family.
I manifested great dissatisfaction with this, fearing that the French and Savages would suspect that he had not died a good Christian. But I was assured that this promise had been made before he was baptized, and that otherwise, if he were buried in our cemetery, his children and his friends would never again come to see us, since it is the custom of this nation to shun all reminders of death and of the dead.
I opposed this, and M. de Biancourt, for he is almost my only interpreter, joined with me, but in vain; the dying man was obdurate. Rather late that evening we administered extreme unction to him, for otherwise he was sufficiently prepared for it. Behold now the efficacy of the sacrament; the next morning he asks for M. de Biancourt and me, and again begins his harangue. In this he declares that he has, of his own free will, changed his mind; that he intends to be buried with us, commanding his children not, for that reason, to shun the place like unbelievers, but to frequent it all the more, like christians, to pray for his soul and to weep over his sins. He also recommended peace with M. de Potrincourt and his son; as for him, he had always loved the French, and had often prevented conspiracies against them. A few hours afterward he died a christian death in my arms.
This was the greatest, most renowned and most formidable savage within the memory of man; of splendid physique, taller and larger-limbed than is usual among them; bearded like a Frenchman, although scarcely any of the others have hair upon the chin; grave and reserved; feeling a proper sense of dignity for his position as commander. God impressed upon his soul a greater idea of Christianity than he has been able to form from hearing about it, and he has often said to me in his savage tongue: “Learn our language quickly, for as soon as thou knowest it and hast taught me well I wish to become a preacher like thee.” Even before his conversion he never cared to have more than one living wife, which is wonderful, as the great sagamores of this country maintain a numerous seraglio, no more through licentiousness than through ambition, glory and necessity; for ambition, to the end that they may have many children, wherein lies their power; for fame and necessity, since they have no other artisans, agents, servants, purveyors or slaves than the women; they bear all the burdens and toil of life.
He was the first of all the Savages in these parts to receive baptism and extreme unction, the first and the last sacraments; and the first one who, by his own command and decree, has received a christian burial. Monsieur de Biancourt honored his obsequies, imitating as far as possible the honors which are shown to great Captains and Noblemen in France.
Now, that the judgments of God may be feared as much as his mercies are loved, I shall here record the death of a Frenchman, in which God has shown his justice as much as he has given us evidence of his mercy, in the death of Membertou. This man had often escaped drowning, and only recently upon the blessed day of last Pentecost. He showed but little gratitude for this favor. Not to make the story too long, the evening before St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s day, as they were discoursing upon the perils of the sea, and upon the vows made to the Saints in similar dangers, this wretch began impudently to laugh and to sneer, jeering at those of the company who were said to have been religious upon such occasions. He soon had his reward. The next morning a gust of wind carried him, and him only, out of the boat into the waves, and he was never seen again.
But let us leave the water and come on shore. If the ground of this new France had feeling, as the Poets pretend their goddess Tellus had, doubtless it would have experienced an altogether novel sensation of joy this year, for, thank God, having had very successful crops from the little that was tilled, we made from the harvest some hosts [wafers for consecration] and offered them to God. These are, as we believe, the first hosts which have been made from the wheat of these lands. May Our Lord, in his goodness, have consented to receive them as fragrant offerings and in the words of the Psalmist, may he give graciously, since the earth has yielded him its fruits.
We have stayed at home long enough; let us go abroad a little, as we promised to do, and relate what has taken place in the country
I made two journeys with M. de Biancourt, the one lasting about twelve days, the other a month and a half; and we have ranged the entire coast from Port Royal to Kinibéqui [Kennebec], west southwest. We entered the great rivers St. John, Saincte Croix [Saint Croix], Pentegoët [Penobscot], and the above-named Kinibéqui; we visited the French who have wintered there this year in two places, at the St. John river and at the river Saincte Croix; the Malouins at the former place, and captain Plastrier at the latter.
During these journeys, God often delivered us from great and very conspicuous dangers; but, although we ought always to bear them in mind, that we may not be ungrateful, there is no need of setting them all down upon paper, lest we become wearisome. I shall relate only what, in my opinion, will be the most interesting.
We went to see the Malouins; namely, Sieur du Pont, the younger, and captain Merveilles, who, as we have said, were wintering at St John River, upon an island called Emenenic, some six leagues up the river. We were still one league and a half from the island when the twilight ended and night came on. The stars had already begun to appear, when suddenly, toward the Northward, a part of the heavens became blood-red: and this light spreading, little by little, in vivid streaks and flashes, moved directly over the settlement of the Malouins and there stopped. The red glow was so brilliant that the whole river was tinged and made luminous by it. This apparition lasted some eight minutes, and as soon as it disappeared another came of the same form, direction, and appearance.
There was not one of us who did not consider this meteoric display prophetic. As to the Savages, they immediately cried out, Gara gara enderquir Gara gara, meaning we shall have war, such signs announce war. Nevertheless, both our arrival that evening and our landing the next morning were very quiet and peaceful. During the day, nothing but friendliness. But (alas!) when evening came, I know not how, everything was turned topsy-turvy; confusion, discord, rage, uproar reigned between our people and those of St. Malo. I do not doubt that a cursed band of furious and sanguinary spirits were hovering about all this night, expecting every hour and moment a horrible massacre of the few Christians who were there; but the goodness of God restrained the poor wretches. There was no bloodshed; and the next day, this nocturnal storm ended in a beautiful and delightful calm, the dark shadows and spectres giving way to a luminous peace.
In truth, M. de Biancourt’s goodness and prudence seemed much shaken by this tempest of human passions. But I also saw, very clearly that if fire and arms were once put into the hands of badly disciplined men, the masters have much to fear and suffer from their own servants. I do not know that there was one who closed his eyes during that night. For me, I made many fine propositions and promises to Our Lord, never to forget this, his goodness, if he were pleased to avert all bloodshed. This he granted in his infinite mercy.
It was three o’clock in the afternoon of the next day before I had time to feel hungry, so constantly had I been obliged to go back and forth from one to the other. At last, about that time everything was settled, thank God.
Certainly captain Merveilles and his people showed unusual piety. For notwithstanding this so annoying encounter and conflict, two days afterwards they confessed and took communion in a very exemplary manner; and so, at our departure, they all begged me very earnestly, and particularly young du Pont, to come and see them and stay with them as long as I liked. I promised to do so, and am only waiting for the opportunity. For in truth, I love these honest people with all my heart.
[Journey to the Kennebec River]
But dismissing them from our thoughts for the time being, as we did then from our presence, let us continue our journey. Upon our return from this river Saint John, our route turned towards the country of the Armouchiquoys [Abinaki]. Two principal causes led M. de Biancourt to take this route: first, in order to have news of the English, and to find out if it would be possible to obtain satisfaction from them; secondly, to buy some armouchiquoys corn to help us pass the winter, and not die of hunger in case we did not receive help from France.
To understand the first cause you must know that, a little while before, captain Platrier, of Honfleur, already mentioned, wishing to go to Kinibéqui, was taken prisoner by two English ships which were at an island called Emmetenic [Allen Island], eight leagues from Kinibéqui. His release was effected by means of presents (this expresses it mildly), and by his promise to comply with the interdictions laid upon him not to trade anywhere upon all this coast. For the English want to be considered masters of it, and they produced letters from their King to this effect, but these we believe to be false. [It is quite possible the English here were fishing ships sent by Sir Frances Popham as John Smith reports in 1614 that they had visited the island every year for many years.]
Now, Monsieur de Biancourt, having heard all this from the mouth of captain Platrier himself, remonstrated earnestly with these people, showing how important it was to him, an officer of the Crown and his father’s Lieutenant, and also how important to all good Frenchmen, to oppose this usurpation of the English, so contrary to the rights and possessions of his Majesty. “For,” said he, “it is well known to all (not to go back any farther in the case) that the great Henry, may God give him absolution, in accordance with the rights, acquired by his predecessors and by himself, gave to Monsieur des Monts, in the year 1604, all this region from the 40th to the 46th parallel of latitude. Since this donation, the said Seigneur des Monts, himself and through Monsieur de Potrincourt, my very honored father, his lieutenant, and through others, has frequently taken actual possession of all the country; and this, three or four years before the English had ever frequented it, or before anything had ever been heard of these claims of theirs.” This and several other things were said by Sieur de Biancourt to encourage his people.
As for me, I had two other reasons which impelled me to take this journey: One, to give spiritual aid to Sieur de Biancourt and his people; the other, to observe and to study the disposition of these nations to receive the holy gospel. Such, then, were the causes of our journey.
[Fort St George]
We arrived at Kinibéqui, eighty leagues from Port Royal, the 28th of October, the day of St. Simon and St. Jude, of the same year, 1611. Our people at once disembarked, wishing to see the English fort, for we had learned, on the way, that there was no one there. Now as everything is beautiful at first, this undertaking of the English had to be praised and extolled, and the conveniences of the place enumerated, each one pointing out what he valued the most. But a few days afterward they changed their views; for they saw that there was a fine opportunity for making a counter-fort there, which might have imprisoned them and cut them off from the sea and river; moreover, even if they had been left unmolested they would not have enjoyed the advantages of the river, since it has several other mouths, and good ones, some distance from there. [The only alternate mouth of the Kennebec is the Sasanoa River which connects to the Kennebec near Bath but does not take any of the flow of the Kennebec.] Furthermore, what is worse, we do not believe that, in six leagues of the surrounding country, there is a single acre of good tillable land, the soil being nothing but stones and rocks. [John Smith in 1614 has a similar comment about all of midcoast Maine, but at least he conceds that there might well be good farmland beyond the cliffs near the river]. Now, inasmuch as the wind forced us to go on, when the third day came, Monsieur de Biancourt considered the subject in council and decided to take advantage of the wind and go on up the river, in order to thoroughly explore it.
We had already advanced three good leagues, and had dropped anchor in the middle of the river waiting for the tide, when we suddenly discovered six Armouchiquois canoes coming towards us. [This is most likely in the Fiddler’s Reach area]. There were twenty-four persons therein, all warriors. They went through a thousand maneuvers and ceremonies before accosting us, and might have been compared to a flock of birds which wanted to go into a hemp-field but feared the scarecrow. We were very much pleased at this, for our people also needed to arm themselves and arrange the pavesade. In short, they continued to come and go; they reconnoitred; they carefully noted our numbers, our cannon, our arms, everything; and when night came they camped upon the other bank of the river, if not out of reach, at least beyond the aim of our cannon.
All night there was continual haranguing, singing and dancing, for such is the kind of life all these people lead when they are together. Now as we supposed that probably their songs and dances were invocations to the devil, to oppose the power of this cursed tyrant, I had our people sing some sacred hymns, as the Salve, the Ave Maris Stella, and others. But when they once got into the way of singing, the spiritual songs being exhausted, they took up others with which they were familiar. When they came to the end of these, as the French are natural mimics, they began to mimic the singing and dancing of the Armouchiquois who were upon the bank, succeeding in it so well that the Armouchiquois stopped to listen to them; and then our people stopped and the others immediately began again. It was really very comical, for you would have said that they were two choirs which had a thorough understanding with each other, and scarcely could you distinguish the real Armouchiquois from their imitators.
In the morning we continued our journey up the river. The Armouchiquois, who were accompanying us, told us that if we wanted any piousquemin (corn), it would be better and easier for us to turn to the right and not, with great difficulty and risk, to continue going up the river; that if we turned to the right through the branch which was just at hand, in a few hours we would reach the great sagamore Meteourmite, who would furnish us with all we wanted; that they would act as our guides, since they themselves were going to visit him. [This is the Sasanoa River and the native settlement was in the area of Robinhood cove].
It is to be supposed, and there were strong indications of it, that they gave us this advice only with the intention of ensnaring us, and making an easy conquest of us by the help of Meteourmite, whom they knew to be the enemy of the English, and whom they supposed to be an enemy of all foreigners. But, thank God, their ambuscade was turned against themselves.
However, we believed them; so a part of them went ahead of us, part behind, and some in the barque with us. Nevertheless Monsieur de Biancourt was always on his guard, and often sent the boat on ahead with the sounding-lead. We had not gone more than half a league when, reaching a large lake, the sounder called out to us: “Two fathoms of water; only one fathom, only one fathom everywhere,” and immediately afterward, “Stop! stop! cast anchor.” Where are our Armouchiquois? Where are they? Not one. They had all silently disappeared. Oh, the traitors! Oh, how God had delivered us! They had led us into a trap. “Veer about, veer about.” We retrace our path. [This is known today as Hell Gate and you need to be very certain of the tides to make it thru, of course the depth it is not a problem in a canoe].
Meanwhile, Meteourmite having been informed of our coming, came to meet us, and, although he saw our prow turned about, yet he followed us. It was well that Monsieur de Biancourt was wiser than many of his crew, whose sole cry was to kill them all. For they were as angry as they were frightened: but their anger made the most noise.
Monsieur de Biancourt restrained himself, and not otherwise showing any ill-will toward Meteourmite, learned from him that there was a route by which they could pass; that in order not to miss it, he would let us have some of his own people in our barque; that, besides, if we would come to his wigwam he would try to satisfy us. We trusted him, and thought we might have to repent it; for we traversed such perilous heights and narrow passes that we never expected to escape from them. In fact, in two places some of our men cried out in distress that we were all lost. But, thank God, they cried too soon.
When we arrived, Monsieur de Biancourt armed himself, and thus arrayed proceeded to pay a visit to Meteourmite. He found him in the royal apparel of savage majesty, alone in a wigwam that was well matted above and below, and about forty powerful young men stationed around it like a bodyguard, each one with his shield, his bow and arrows upon the ground in front of him. These people are by no means simpletons, and you may believe us when we say so.
As for me, I received that day the greater part of the welcome; for, as I was unarmed, the most honorable of them, turning their backs upon the soldiers, approached me with a thousand demonstrations of friendship. They led me to the largest wigwam of all; it contained fully eighty people. When they had taken their places, I fell upon my knees and repeated my Pater, Ave, Credo, and some orisons; then pausing, my hosts, as if they had understood me perfectly, applauded after their fashion, crying Ho! ho! ho! I gave them some crosses and pictures, explaining them as well as I could. They very willingly kissed them, made the sign of the Cross, and each one in his turn endeavored to present his children to me, so that I would bless them and give them something. Thus passed that visit, and another that I have since made.
Now Meteourmite had replied to Monsieur de Biancourt that as to the corn he did not have much, but he had some skins, if we were pleased to trade with him.
Then in the morning when the trade was to take place I went to a neighboring island with a boy, to there offer the blessed sacrament for our reconciliation. Our people in the barque, not to be taken by surprise under pretext of the trade, were armed and barricaded, leaving a place in the middle of the deck for the Savages; but in vain, for they rushed in in such crowds and with such greediness, that they immediately filled the whole ship, becoming all mixed up with our own people. Some one began to cry out, “Go back, go back.” But to what good? On the other hand, the savages were yelling also.
Then our people were sure they were captured, and there was nothing but cries and confusion. Monsieur de Biancourt has often said and said again, that several times he had raised his arm and opened his mouth to strike the first blow and to cry out, “Kill, kill;” but that somehow the one consideration that restrained him was that I was outside, and if they came to blows I was lost. God rewarded him for his good-will by saving not only me but also the whole crew. For, as all readily acknowledge at this hour, if any foolish act had been committed none of them would ever have escaped, and the French would have been condemned forever all along the coast.
God willed that Meteourmite and some other captains should apprehend the danger, and so cause their people to withdraw. When evening came and all had retired, Meteourmite sent some of his men to excuse the misconduct of the morning, protesting that all the disorder had originated not with him, but with the Armouchiquois; that they had even stolen a hatchet and a platter (a great wooden dish), which articles he herewith returned; that this theft had so displeased him that immediately after discovering it he had sent the Armouchiquois away from him; that, for his part, he was friendly towards us and knew very well that we neither killed nor beat the Savages of those parts, but received them at our table and often made tabagie for them, and brought them a great many nice things from France, for which courtesies they loved us. These people are, I believe, the greatest speech-makers in the world; nothing can be done without speeches.
[Stories of the Popham Colony from the Wabanaki]
But as I have spoken here of the English, someone perhaps will wish to hear about their adventure, which was related to us in this place. So here it is: In 1608 [actually 1607] the English began to settle at one of the mouths of this Kinibéqui river, as we have said before. They had then as leader a very honest man, who got along remarkably well with the natives of the country. They say, however, that the Armouchiquois were afraid of such neighbors, and so put the captain to death, as I have said. These people make a practice of killing by magic [there is no known dark magic among the Wabanaki]. But the second year, 1609 [actually 1608], the English, under another captain, changed their tactics. They drove the Savages away without ceremony; they beat, maltreated and misused them outrageously and without restraint; consequently these poor, abused people, anxious about the present, and dreading still greater evils in the future, determined, as the saying is, to kill the whelp ere its teeth and claws became stronger. The opportunity came one day when three boat-loads of them went away off to the fisheries. My conspirators followed in their boat, and approaching with a great show of friendliness (for they always make the greatest show of affection when they are the most treacherous), they go among them, and at a given signal each one seizes his man and stabs him to death. Thus were eleven Englishmen dispatched. The others were intimidated and abandoned their enterprise the same year; they have not resumed it since, being satisfied to come in the summer to fish, at this island of Emetenic, which we have said was eight leagues from the fort they had begun building.
So, for this reason, the outrage to which captain Platrier was subjected by these English having been committed upon this island of Emetenic, Monsieur de Biancourt decided to go and reconnoitre it, and to leave there some memento in assertion of his rights. This he did, erecting at the harbor a beautiful cross bearing the arms of France. Some of his crew advised him to burn the boats which he found there; but as he is kind and humane he would not do it, seeing they were fishermen’s boats and not men-of-war.
Thence, as the season was advancing, it being already the 6th of November, we turned our ships towards Port Royal, stopping at Pentegoët [Penobscot], as we had promised the Savages.
The Pentegoët is a very beautiful river, and may be compared to the Garonne in France. It flows into french Bay [the bay of Fundy] and has many islands and rocks at its mouth; so that if you do not go some distance up, you will take it for a great bay or arm of the sea, until you begin to see plainly the bed and course of a river. It is about three leagues wide and is forty-four and one half degrees from the Equator. We cannot imagine what the Norembega of our forefathers was, if it were not this river; for elsewhere both the others and I myself have made inquiries about this place, and have never been able to learn anything concerning it.
When we had advanced three leagues or more into the current of the river we encountered another beautiful river called Chiboctous, which comes from the northeast to discharge its waters into the great Pentegoët. [The area described here is now Castine Maine]
At the confluence of these two rivers there was the finest assemblage of Savages that I have yet seen. There were 80 canoes and a boat, 18 wigwams and about 300 people. The most prominent Sagamore was called Betsabés, a man of great discretion and prudence; and I confess we often see in these Savages natural and graceful qualities which will make anyone but a shameless person blush, when they compare them to the greater part of the French who come over here.
When they had recognized us they showed their great joy during the evening by their usual demonstrations; dancing, singing and making speeches. And as for us, we were very glad to be in a country of safety; for among the Etechemins, as these are, and the Souriquois, as are those of Port Royal, we are no more obliged to be on our guard than among our own servants, and, thank God, we have never yet been deceived in them.
The next day I went to visit the Savages, and followed my usual custom, which I have described in speaking of Kinibéqui. But there was more to be done here, as they told me they had some sick; I went to visit them; and as priest, it being thus ordained in the Ritual, I recited over them the holy Gospel and Orisons, giving to each one a cross to wear around the neck.
Among others I found one stretched out, after their fashion, before the fire, wonder expressed in his eyes and face, great drops standing out upon his forehead, scarcely able to speak, so severe was the attack. They told me that he had been sick for four months and, as it appeared, he could not last long. Now I do not know what his malady was; whether it only came intermittently or not I do not know; at all events, the second day after that I saw him in our barque, well and happy, with his cross around his neck. He showed his gratitude to me by a cheerful smile and by taking my hand. I had no means of speaking to him, as the trading was then going on, and for this reason the deck was full of people and all the interpreters were busy. Truly I was very glad that the goodness of God was beginning to make these poor and abandoned people feel that in the sign of the holy and salutary Cross there was every good and every blessing.
Finally, not to continue repeating the same story, both in this place and in all others, where we have been able to talk with these poor gentiles, we have attempted to impress upon them some of the simplest conceptions of the grandeur and truth of Christianity, in so far as our means would permit. And to sum it up in a word, this has been the result of our journey. We have begun to know and to be known, we have taken possession of these regions in the name of the Church of God, establishing here the royal throne of our Savior and King, Jesus Christ, his holy altar; the Savages have seen us pray, celebrate the mass, and preach; through our conversations, pictures, and crosses, our way of living, and other similar things, they have received the first faint ideas and germs of our holy faith, which will someday take root and grow abundantly, please God, if it is followed by a longer and better cultivation.
And indeed such is about all we are accomplishing, even here at Port Royal, until we have learned the language. However, it comforts us to see these little Savages, though not yet christians, yet willingly, when they are here, carrying the candles, bells, holy water and other things, marching in good order in the processions and funerals which occur here. Thus they become accustomed to act as christians, to become so in reality in his time.
No need is felt except that we ought to be better workers for Our Lord, and ought not to divert from ourselves and others so many of his blessings by our many sins and great unworthiness. As for me, truly I have good reason to severely reproach myself; and all those who are imbued with earnest charity ought to be deeply touched in their hearts. May Our Lord, by his sacred mercy, and by the prayers of his glorious mother and of all his Church; both heavenly and militant, be moved to compassion!
Particularly I beg Your Reverence and all our Reverend Fathers and Brothers to be pleased to remember in your most earnest devotions both us and these poor souls, miserable slaves under the tyranny of Satan. May it please this benign Savior of the world, whose grace is denied to no one, and whose bounty is ever beyond our merits, may it please him, I say, to look down with a pitying eye upon these poor tribes, and to gather them soon into his family, in the happy freedom of the favored children of God. Amen!
From Port Royal, this last day of January, 1612.
While I was writing these letters, the ship which was sent to our assistance has, thank God, arrived safe and sound, and in it our Brother Gilbert du Thet. He, who knows the dangers and necessities we were in, will appreciate the joy we felt and that we feel at its arrival. God be praised. Amen.
Of Your Reverence, the son and very humble servant in Our Lord.