The Jesuit Relations, also known as Relations des Jésuites de la Nouvelle-France, are chronicles of the Jesuit missions in New France. The works were written annually and printed beginning in 1632 and ending in 1673. Written as reports for their Order and for helping raise funds for the mission, the Relations were so thorough in descriptions of First Nations and their cultures that these reports are considered among the first ethnographic documents.
Originally written in French, Latin, and Italian, The Jesuit Relations were reports from Jesuit missionaries in the field to their superiors to update them as to the missionaries' progress in the conversion of various Native American tribes. Constructed as narratives, the original reports of the Jesuit missionaries were subsequently transcribed and altered several times before their publication, first by the Jesuit overseer in New France and then by the Jesuit governing body in France. The Jesuits began to shape The Relations for the general public, in order to attract new settlers to the colony and to raise enough capital to continue the missions in New France.
Jesuit missionaries had to write annual reports to their superior in Québec or Montréal, as an account of their activities. Annually, between 1632 and 1673, the superior compiled a narrative or "Relation" of the most important events which had occurred in the several missionary districts under his charge, sometimes using the exact words of the missionaries and sometimes summarizing the individual journals in a general account, based in part also upon the oral reports of visiting fathers. This annual "Relation" was forwarded to the provincial of the Order in France. After he reviewed and edited it, he published the account in a series of duodecimo volumes, known collectively as The Jesuit Relations.At times the Jesuit Relations read like travel narratives, describing geographical features and observations about the local peoples, flora, and fauna.
According to Thomas Campbell, missionary Charles Lallemont wrote a letter to his brother, dated 1 August 1626, which marks the beginning of the fathers' accounts and the series Relations des Jésuites de la Nouvelle-France about the missionary work in New France.The Relations were published in Paris annually until 1673. It is believed that Louis de Buade de Frontenac, who disliked the Jesuit order, strongly influenced ending this publication.
As the Jesuit order used The Jesuit Relations to help raise money for the missions, scholars have scrutinized the reports for the possibility of textual incongruity or fictionalized accounts. Certainly the Jesuits may have worked to convey optimism about their progress in converting the Native Americans, as it was very slow. Daniel K. Richter says that the fact "[t]hat printed reports were designed to raise money for the mission suggests a need for caution."When examined with care, The Jesuit Relations still function as an important resource in the study of the relationship of cultural exchange that occurred between the settlers of New France and Native Americans.
Jesuit Relations were publicized as field letters from the missionary priests, reports of eyewitness, and testimony. Allan Greer notes that the process of passage up the hierarchy meant that accounts would be summarized and shaped according to each man's view. He notes that the editing journey "began with detailed letters from priests in the field, the most important usually being the one brought down by the summer canoe brigade from the Huron Country. The superior at Quebec would compile and edit these letters, paraphrasing some parts, copying others verbatim, and forwarding the whole package to France."The Jesuit Society in France approved any documents that they published and they likely altered some material before printing. Likewise, John Pollack notes the account of Father Isaac Jogues in 1641 "is not an eyewitness testimony" but, rather, a second-hand relation by his superior, "drawn from Jogues' letters." Pollack notes further that the Relations "were edited by Jesuit missions in Paris before publication."
Because of the wide distribution of the letters after publication, scholars ask the question: who decided the relevance of information contained in these field letters? Although the Jesuits tried to avoid disclosing any compromise in their principles, "it is possible to detect evidence of soul searching and shifting points of view"relative to their success at converting Native peoples. After extensive cultural immersion, the missionaries may have moved from tolerating native belief systems to assuming native idiosyncrasies. Jesuit officials in France would be liable to omit any threat to their philosophies in the final document. The issue concerns less the basic accuracy of the Jesuit Relations than the "manipulative literary devices" employed by the editors. Greer notes that European writings were popularly documented in one of two forms, as travel narratives or as encyclopedic catalogs. He notes that the Jesuits obscured the boundaries between these two genres in an attempt to raise funds to continue Jesuit missions in New France: "One of the peculiarities of the Jesuit Relations is that they combine both types of writing: Jacques Marquette's personal narrative of his trip down the Mississippi, for example, shares space with Jean de Brébeuf's systematic description of Huron society."
What are generally known as the Relations proper, addressed to the superior and published in Paris under direction of the provincial, commence with Le Jeune's Brieve Relations du Voyage de la Noevelle-France (1632). Thereafter a duodecimo volume, neatly printed and bound in vellum, was issued annually from the press of Sebastien Cramoisy in Paris until 1673, when the series was discontinued.Several similar texts that were published prior to 1632 are sometimes considered part of the corpus.
No single unified edition existed until Reuben Gold Thwaites, secretary of the Wisconsin Historical Society, led the project to translate into English, unify, and cross-reference the numerous original Relations. Between 1896 and 1901 Thwaites and his associates compiled 73 volumes, including two volumes of indices. The Relations effectively comprise a large body of ethnographic material. He included many other papers, rare manuscripts, and letters from the archives of the Society of Jesus, spanning a period from the founding of the order to 1791.
The indices are comprehensive in scope and include titles such as: Marriage and Marriage Customs, Courtship, Divorce, Social Status of Women, Songs and Singing, Dances, and Games and Recreation. Much can be learned through the examination and study of the ethnographic material compiled by the Jesuit missionaries in New France. The depth of the cross-referencing allows for several hundred years of Native American/European interaction to be easily accessed.
While Thwaites is the first and arguably the best known of modern editions, others followed. Lucien Campeau SJ (1967–2003) discussed the texts which he included as well as the historical events they refer to; his work is considered to give the most detailed and exhaustive general overviews available.
Jean de Brébeuf was a French Jesuit missionary who travelled to New France (Canada) in 1625. There he worked primarily with the Huron for the rest of his life, except for a few years in France from 1629 to 1633. He learned their language and culture, writing extensively about each to aid other missionaries.
Jacques Marquette S.J., sometimes known as Père Marquette or James Marquette, was a French-Canadian Jesuit missionary who founded Michigan's first European settlement, Sault Sainte Marie, and later founded Saint Ignace. In 1673, Marquette, with Louis Jolliet, an explorer born near Quebec City, was the first European to explore and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River Valley.
Saint Antoine Daniel was a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, and one of the eight Canadian Martyrs.
The Recollects were a French reform branch of the Friars Minor, a Franciscan order. Denoted by their gray habits and pointed hoods, the Recollects took vows of poverty and devoted their lives to prayer, penance, and spiritual reflection. Today, they are best known for their presence as missionaries in various parts of the world, most notably in early Canada.
Charles Lallemant, was a French Jesuit. He was born in Paris in 1587 and later became the first Superior of the Jesuit Missions amongst the Huron in Canada. His letter to his brother, dated 1 August 1626, inaugurated the series Relations des Jésuites de la Nouvelle-France about the missionary work in the North American colonies of New France.
Jérôme Lalemant, S.J. was a French Jesuit priest who was a leader of the Jesuit mission in New France.
François Vachon de Belmont was the fifth superior of the Montreal Sulpicians from 1700 to 1731. Vachon de Belmont was born in Burgundy, France to a wealthy family. He moved to Canada and personally funded the construction of La Montagne mission near Montreal.
Francisco María Piccolo, S.J., (1654–1729) was one of the first Jesuit missionaries in Baja California Sur, New Spain, now Mexico. His letters and reports are important sources for the ethnography and early history of the peninsula.
Emma Helen Blair was a United States historian, journalist and editor, whose most notable work was a documentary history of the Philippines.
Pierre Cholenec was a French Jesuit missionary and biographer in New France. He ministered to First Nations in present-day Canada, particularly at the village of Kahnawake south of Montreal. He served as superior of the Jesuit residence in Montréal. He is known for writing multiple biographies about Kateri Tekakwitha which contributed to her canonization in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.
François Crépieul was a Jesuit missionary in Canada and vicar apostolic for the Montagnais Indians.
Pierre-Gabriel Marest was a French Jesuit missionary in Canada.
Paul Le Jeune (1591–1664) was a French Jesuit missionary in New France. He served as the Superior of the Jesuits in Canada from 1632 to 1639. During his tenure, he began a mission at Trois-Rivières, founded the community at Sillery, and saw the establishment of the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec.
Jacques-François le Sueur was an 18th-century French Jesuit missionary and linguist, of the Abnaki mission in Canada.
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.
The Moingona or Moingwena were a historic Miami-Illinois tribe. They may have been close allies of or perhaps part of the Peoria. They were assimilated by that tribe and lost their separate identity about 1700. Today their descendants are enrolled in the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, a federally-recognized tribe.
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.
Between 1634 and 1655, the Jesuits established a home and a settlement in New France along the Saint Lawrence River. They soon moved deeper into the colony’s territory in order to live with and convert the local Huron population. During this time, however, their missionary efforts were fraught with disappointment and frustration. In other colonies, such as in Latin America, the Jesuit missions had found a more eager and receptive audience to Christianity, the result of a chaotic atmosphere of violence and conquest. But in New France, where French authority and coercive powers did not extend far and where French settlement was sparse, the Jesuits found conversion far more difficult. Nevertheless, the French missionary settlements were integral to maintaining political, economic, and military ties with the Huron and other native peoples in the region. The contact between the two had important consequences in lifestyle, social and cultural attitudes, as well as in spiritual practice. The French Jesuits and Huron found they had to negotiate their religious, social, and cultural differences in order to accommodate one another.
Henri Nouvel was a Jesuit priest who spent forty years as a missionary to Native American communities of New France. Nouvel was the first missionary on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River; and he visited Saginaw 26 years before the French built a fort in Detroit (1701).
Joseph Pierre de Bonnecamps was a French Jesuit, missionary, priest and professor and tutor.