Jacques Gravier

Last updated

Jacques Gravier (17 May 1651 17 April 1708) was a French Jesuit missionary in the New World. He founded the Illinois mission in 1696, where he administered to the several tribes of the territory. He was notable for his compilation of the most extensive dictionary of Kaskaskia Illinois-French among those made by French missionaries. In 1705 he was appointed Superior of the mission.


Early life and education

Gravier was born in 1651 in Moulins, Allier, France. He became well educated with the Jesuits, entering the Society of Jesus in the fall of 1670. He made his novitiate at Paris. [1]

From 1672 to 1680, Gravier taught and tutored in the Jesuit schools of Hesdin, Eu, and Arras. He then studied philosophy at the Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris (1678–79). After teaching, he returned there for his studies in theology (1680–84). After his third year of theology, Gravier was ordained a priest. Upon completing his studies, he set out for Canada, where he would be a missionary. He studied and taught at the college in Quebec, and then spent a year at Sillery studying Algonquin (1685–86). [1]

Career in North America

Father Gravier carried out important tasks for the Jesuits in New France, including the founding of the Illinois mission. Such a mission was first proposed by Father Jacques Marquette.

When Gravier arrived in New France, he first studied at the seminary at Sillery, then studied the Algonquin language during 1685–1686. [1] In 1687 he was called westward to the Ottawa tribes.

In 1689 Gravier was assigned to the Illinois in the Mississippi Valley. First he worked among them at Starved Rock on the Illinois River, where he started compiling a grammar and dictionary. He worked to convert the Kaskaskias. In 1694, he helped broker the marriage of the Kaskaskia Aramepinchieue to the French trader Michel Aco, [2] which helped to cement the alliance among the Jesuits, traders, and Kaskaskias. In 1696 Gravier was named to found the Illinois mission among the Illinois, Miami, Kaskaskia and others of the Illiniwek confederacy situated in the Mississippi River and Illinois River valleys. [1] Bishop Saint-Vallier (La Croix), the Bishop of Quebec, named him vicar general of these missions.

Gravier's most enduring work was his compilation of a Kaskaskia-French dictionary, with nearly 600 pages and 20,000 entries. The manuscript is held by Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. It is the most extensive of dictionaries of the Illinois language compiled by French missionaries. The work was finally edited and published in 2002 by Carl Masthay, providing an invaluable source of the historic Kaskaskia Illinois language. [3] [4]

In November 1700 Gravier traveled by canoe to minister to French settlers and Native Americans in Mobile, La Louisiane, the colony along the Gulf Coast. There he befriended explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, later the founder of New Orleans, who impressed him with his knowledge of Indian languages. Gravier left the colony and Mobile in February 1702 to return to the Illinois mission.

After continuing work among the Illiniwek, in 1705 Gravier was named Superior of the Illinois Mission. That fall during a time of tension, he was shot with an arrow and wounded by a Peoria warrior. Although Gravier sought treatment, the wound became infected and long caused him problems, through a return to Mobile, Alabama, then a trip to France. In February 1708, he returned from France to Mobile, where he died April 16. [1]

Related Research Articles

Illinois Confederation Group of 12–13 Native American tribes

The Illinois Confederation, also referred to as the Illiniwek or Illini, were made up of 12 to 13 tribes who lived in the Mississippi River Valley. Eventually member tribes occupied an area reaching from Lake Michicigao (Michigan) to Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas. The five main tribes were the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Peoria, and Tamaroa. The name of the confederation was derived from the transliteration by French explorers of "Illiniwek" to a simplified Illinois, more in keeping with the sounds of their own language. The tribes are estimated to have had tens of thousands of members, before the advancement of European contact in the 17th century that inhibited their growth and resulted in a marked decline in population.

Charles Albanel, born in Ardes or Auvergne, was a French missionary explorer in Canada, and a Jesuit priest.

Algonquin is either a distinct Algonquian language closely related to the Ojibwe language or a particularly divergent Ojibwe dialect. It is spoken, alongside French and to some extent English, by the Algonquin First Nations of Quebec and Ontario. As of 2006, there were 2,680 Algonquin speakers, less than 10% of whom were monolingual. Algonquin is the language for which the entire Algonquian language subgroup is named; the similarity among the names often causes considerable confusion. Like many Native American languages, it is strongly verb-based, with most meaning being incorporated into verbs instead of using separate words for prepositions, tense, etc.


The Kaskaskia were one of the indigenous peoples of the Northeastern Woodlands. They were one of about a dozen cognate tribes that made up the Illiniwek Confederation, also called the Illinois Confederation. Their longstanding homeland was in the Great Lakes region. Their first contact with Europeans reportedly occurred near present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1667 at a Jesuit mission station.

Illinois Country Historical region in North America

The Illinois Country — sometimes referred to as Upper Louisiana — was a vast region of New France claimed in the 1600s in what is now the Midwestern United States. While these names generally referred to the entire Upper Mississippi River watershed, French colonial settlement was concentrated along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in what is now the U.S. states of Illinois and Missouri, with outposts in Indiana. Explored in 1673 from Green Bay to the Arkansas River by the Canadien expedition of Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette, the area was claimed by France. It was settled primarily from the Pays d'en Haut in the context of the fur trade. Over time, the fur trade took some French to the far reaches of the Rocky Mountains, especially along the branches of the broad Missouri River valley. The French name, Pays des Ilinois, means "Land of the Illinois [plural]" and is a reference to the Illinois Confederation, a group of related Algonquian native peoples.

Peoria people Native American ethnicity

The Peoria are a Native American people. Today they are enrolled in the federally recognized Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma. Historically, they were part of the Illinois Confederation.

River des Peres

The River des Peres is a 9.3-mile (15.0 km) metropolitan river in St. Louis, Missouri. It is the backbone of sanitary and storm water systems in the city of St. Louis and portions of St. Louis County. Its largest tributaries are Deer Creek and Gravois Creek. At St. Louis, the river has a mean annual discharge of 79 cubic feet per second.

Miami-Illinois is an indigenous Algonquian language spoken in the United States, primarily in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, western Ohio and adjacent areas along the Mississippi River by the Miami and Wea as well as the tribes of the Illinois Confederation, including the Kaskaskia, Peoria, Tamaroa, and Mitchigamea.

Jean de Quen

Jean de Quen was a French Jesuit missionary, priest and historian. As head of Jesuit missions of New France, he founded the missions to Saguenay. In 1647, Jean de Quen was the first European to reach the shores of Piékouagami.

Pierre Millet (Milet) was a French Jesuit missionary to the Iroquois people in the area that is now New York State.

Gabriel Druillettes S.J. was a French Jesuit priest in New France who was an explorer, missionary to First Nations peoples and a diplomat. He is sometimes called the "Apostle of Maine".

Jacques Buteux was a French-born Jesuit who became a missionary in Canada.

Claude Aveneau was a Jesuit missionary in New France.

Pierre-Gabriel Marest was a French Jesuit missionary in Canada.

Jacques-François le Sueur was an 18th-century French Jesuit missionary and linguist, of the Abnaki mission in Canada.

Jesuit missions in North America

Jesuit missions in North America were attempted in the late 16th century, established early in the 17th century, faltered at the beginning of the 18th, disappeared during the suppression of the Society of Jesus around 1763, and returned around 1830 after the restoration of the Society. The missions were established as part of the colonial drive of France and Spain during the period, the "saving of souls" being an accompaniment of the constitution of Nouvelle-France and early New Spain. The efforts of the Jesuits in North America were paralleled by their China missions on the other side of the world, and in South America. They left written documentation of their efforts, in the form of The Jesuit Relations.

Jacques Bigot was a Jesuit priest who arrived in Canada in 1679 as a missionary to the Abenakis.

Mission of the Guardian Angel

The Mission of the Guardian Angel was a 17th-century Jesuit mission in the vicinity of what is now Chicago, Illinois. It was established in 1696 by Father François Pinet, a French Jesuit priest. The mission was abandoned by 1700; its exact location remains unknown.

Events from the year 1708 in France.

Aramepinchieue Rouensa, also called Marie Rouensa, Marie Philippe, Marie Accault, Mary Aco, and Aramepinchone, was the daughter of a prominent Kaskaskia chief. She helped spread Catholicism and French-Indian cooperation in New France along the Mississippi River. She was particularly influential in the area near the former Fort St. Louis. She married a French trader; the children they had were among the earliest examples of the emerging Métis in New France.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Jacques Gravier", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, accessed 1 Mar 2010
  2. White, Richard (2010). The Middle Ground. Cambridge University Press. pp. 67–74. ISBN   9781139495684.
  3. "Review" of Carl Masthay, Kaskaskia Illinois-to-French Dictionary, Saint Louis: Carl Masthay, 2002, International Journal of Lexicography, 17(3):325-327, accessed 1 Mar 2010
  4. Costa, David J.; Wolfart, H.C., ed. (2005). "The St-Jérôme Dictionary of Miami-Illinois" (PDF). Papers of the 36th Algonquian Conference. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba. pp. 107–133. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 27, 2011. Retrieved March 7, 2012.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)

Further reading