CHAPTER XII. 1639, 1640. THE TOBACCO NATION. - THE NEUTRALS.
A CHANGE OF PLAN. - SAINTE MARIE. - MISSION OF THE TOBACCO NATION. -
WINTER JOURNEYING. - RECEPTION OF THE MISSIONARIES. -
SUPERSTITIOUS TERRORS. - PERIL OF GARNIER AND JOGUES. -
MISSION OF THE NEUTRALS. - HURON INTRIGUES. - MIRACLES. -
FURY OF THE INDIANS. - INTERVENTION OF SAINT MICHAEL. -
RETURN TO SAINTE MARIE. - INTREPIDITY OF THE PRIESTS. -
THEIR MENTAL EXALTATION.
It had been the first purpose of the Jesuits to form permanent missions in each of the principal Huron towns; but, before the close of the year 1639, the difficulties and risks of this scheme had become fully apparent. They resolved, therefore, to establish one central station, to be a base of operations, and, as it were, a focus, whence the light of the Faith should radiate through all the wilderness around. It was to serve at once as residence, fort, magazine, hospital, and convent. Hence the priests would set forth on missionary expeditions far and near; and hither they might retire, as to an asylum, in times of sickness or extreme peril. Here the neophytes could be gathered together, safe from perverting influences; and here in time a Christian settlement, Hurons mingled with Frenchmen, might spring up and thrive under the shadow of the cross.
The site of the new station was admirably chosen. The little river Wye flows from the southward into the Matchedash Bay of Lake Huron, and, at about a mile from its mouth, passes through a small lake. The Jesuits made choice of the right bank of the Wye, where it issues from this lake, - gained permission to build from the Indians, though not without difficulty, - and began their labors with an abundant energy, and a very deficient supply of workmen and tools. The new establishment was called Sainte Marie. The house at Teanaustaye, and the house and chapel at Ossossane, were abandoned, and all was concentrated at this spot. On one hand, it had a short water communication with Lake Huron; and on the other, its central position gave the readiest access to every part of the Huron territory.
During the summer before, the priests had made a survey of their field of action, visited all the Huron towns, and christened each of them with the name of a saint. This heavy draft on the calendar was followed by another, for the designation of the nine towns of the neighboring and kindred people of the Tobacco Nation. [ See Introduction. ] The Huron towns were portioned into four districts, while those of the Tobacco Nation formed a fifth, and each district was assigned to the charge of two or more priests. In November and December, they began their missionary excursions, - for the Indians were now gathered in their settlements, - and journeyed on foot through the denuded forests, in mud and snow, bearing on their backs the vessels and utensils necessary for the service of the altar.
The new and perilous mission of the Tobacco Nation fell to Garnier and Jogues. They were well chosen; and yet neither of them was robust by nature, in body or mind, though Jogues was noted for personal activity. The Tobacco Nation lay at the distance of a two days' journey from the Huron towns, among the mountains at the head of Nottawassaga Bay. The two missionaries tried to find a guide at Ossossane; but none would go with them, and they set forth on their wild and unknown pilgrimage alone.
The forests were full of snow; and the soft, moist flakes were still falling thickly, obscuring the air, beplastering the gray trunks, weighing to the earth the boughs of spruce and pine, and hiding every footprint of the narrow path. The Fathers missed their way, and toiled on till night, shaking down at every step from the burdened branches a shower of fleecy white on their black cassocks. Night overtook them in a spruce swamp. Here they made a fire with great difficulty, cut the evergreen boughs, piled them for a bed, and lay down. The storm presently ceased; and, "praised be God," writes one of the travellers, "we passed a very good night." [ Jogues and Garnier in Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1640, 95. ]