CHAPTER XXIX. 1649, 1650. THE SANCTUARY.
DISPERSION OF THE HURONS. - SAINTE MARIE ABANDONED. - ISLE ST. JOSEPH. -
REMOVAL OF THE MISSION. - THE NEW FORT. - MISERY OF THE HURONS. - FAMINE. -
EPIDEMIC. - EMPLOYMENTS OF THE JESUITS.
All was over with the Hurons. The death-knell of their nation had struck. Without a leader, without organization, without union, crazed with fright and paralyzed with misery, they yielded to their doom without a blow. Their only thought was flight. Within two weeks after the disasters of St. Ignace and St. Louis, fifteen Huron towns were abandoned, and the greater number burned, lest they should give shelter to the Iroquois. The last year's harvest had been scanty; the fugitives had no food, and they left behind them the fields in which was their only hope of obtaining it. In bands, large or small, some roamed northward and eastward, through the half-thawed wilderness; some hid themselves on the rocks or islands of Lake Huron; some sought an asylum among the Tobacco Nation; a few joined the Neutrals on the north of Lake Erie. The Hurons, as a nation, ceased to exist.
[ Chaumonot, who was at Ossossane at the time of the Iroquois invasion, gives a vivid picture of the panic and lamentation which followed the news of the destruction of the Huron warriors at St. Louis, and of the flight of the inhabitants to the country of the Tobacco Nation. - Vie, 62. ]
Hitherto Sainte Marie had been covered by large fortified towns which lay between it and the Iroquois; but these were all destroyed, some by the enemy and some by their own people, and the Jesuits were left alone to bear the brunt of the next attack. There was, moreover, no reason for their remaining. Sainte Marie had been built as a basis for the missions; but its occupation was gone: the flock had fled from the shepherds, and its existence had no longer an object. If the priests stayed to be butchered, they would perish, not as martyrs, but as fools. The necessity was as clear as it was bitter. All their toil must come to nought. Sainte Marie must be abandoned. They confess the pang which the resolution cost them; but, pursues the Father Superior, "since the birth of Christianity, the Faith has nowhere been planted except in the midst of sufferings and crosses. Thus this desolation consoles us; and in the midst of persecution, in the extremity of the evils which assail us and the greater evils which threaten us, we are all filled with joy: for our hearts tell us that God has never had a more tender love for us than now." [ Ragueneau. Relation des Hurons, 1649, 26. ]
Several of the priests set out to follow and console the scattered bands of fugitive Hurons. One embarked in a canoe, and coasted the dreary shores of Lake Huron northward, among the wild labyrinth of rocks and islets, whither his scared flock had fled for refuge; another betook himself to the forest with a band of half-famished proselytes, and shared their miserable rovings through the thickets and among the mountains. Those who remained took counsel together at Sainte Marie. Whither should they go, and where should be the new seat of the mission? They made choice of the Grand Manitoulin Island, called by them Isle Sainte Marie, and by the Hurons Ekaentoton. It lay near the northern shores of Lake Huron, and by its position would give a ready access to numberless Algonquin tribes along the borders of all these inland seas. Moreover, it would bring the priests and their flock nearer to the French settlements, by the route of the Ottawa, whenever the Iroquois should cease to infest that river. The fishing, too, was good; and some of the priests, who knew the island well, made a favorable report of the soil. Thither, therefore, they had resolved to transplant the mission, when twelve Huron chiefs arrived, and asked for an interview with the Father Superior and his fellow Jesuits. The conference lasted three hours. The deputies declared that many of the scattered Hurons had determined to reunite, and form a settlement on a neighboring island of the lake, called by the Jesuits Isle St. Joseph; that they needed the aid of the Fathers; that without them they were helpless, but with them they could hold their ground and repel the attacks of the Iroquois. They urged their plea in language which Ragueneau describes as pathetic and eloquent; and, to confirm their words, they gave him ten large collars of wampum, saying that these were the voices of their wives and children. They gained their point. The Jesuits abandoned their former plan, and promised to join the Hurons on Isle St. Joseph.