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A Half Century of Conflict - Volume I by Parkman

Like the Norridgewock Abenakis of the Kennebec


the end of the seventeenth century the functions of the Canadian Jesuit had become as much political as religious; but if the fires of his apostolic zeal burned less high, his devotion to the Order in which he had merged his personality was as intense as before. While in constant friction with the civil and military powers, he tried to make himself necessary to them, and in good measure he succeeded. Nobody was so able to manage the Indian tribes and keep them in the interest of France. "Religion," says Charlevoix, "is the chief bond by which the savages are attached to us;" and it was the Jesuit above all others who was charged to keep this bond firm.

The Christianity that was made to serve this useful end did not strike a deep root. While humanity is in the savage state, it can only be Christianized on the surface; and the convert of the Jesuits remained a savage still. They did not even try to civilize him. They taught him to repeat a catechism which he could not understand, and practise rites of which the spiritual significance was incomprehensible to him. He saw the symbols of his new faith in much the same light as the superstitions that had once enchained him. To his eyes the crucifix was a fetich of surpassing power, and the mass a beneficent "medicine," or occult influence, of supreme efficacy. Yet he would not forget his old rooted beliefs, and it needed the constant presence of the missionary to prevent him from returning to them.

style="text-align: justify;">Since the Iroquois had ceased to be a danger to Canada, the active alliance of the Western Indians had become less important to the colony. Hence the missions among them had received less attention, and most of these tribes had relapsed into heathenism. The chief danger had shifted eastward, and was, or was supposed to be, in the direction of New England. Therefore the Eastern missions were cultivated with diligence,--whether those within or adjoining the settled limits of Canada, like the Iroquois mission of Caughnawaga, the Abenaki missions of St. Francis and Becancour, and the Huron mission of Lorette, or those that served as outposts and advance-guards of the colony, like the Norridgewock Abenakis of the Kennebec, or the Penobscot Abenakis of the Penobscot. The priests at all these stations were in close correspondence with the government, to which their influence over their converts was invaluable. In the wilderness dens of the Hurons or the Iroquois, the early Jesuit was a marvel of self-sacrificing zeal; his successor, half missionary and half agent of the King, had thought for this world as well as the next.

Sebastien Rale,[230] born in Franche-Comte in 1657, was sent to the American missions in 1689 at the age of thirty-two. After spending two years among the Abenakis of Canada, then settled near the mouth of the Chaudiere, he was sent for two years more to the Illinois, and thence to the Abenakis of the Kennebec, where he was to end his days.

Near where the town of Norridgewock now stands, the Kennebec curved round a broad tongue of meadow land, in the midst of a picturesque wilderness of hills and forests. On this tongue of land, on ground a few feet above the general level, stood the village of the Norridgewocks, fenced with a stockade of round logs nine feet high. The enclosure was square; each of its four sides measured one hundred and sixty feet, and each had its gate. From the four gates ran two streets, or lanes, which crossed each other in the middle of the village. There were twenty-six Indian houses, or cabins, within the stockade, described as "built much after the English manner," though probably of logs. The church was outside the enclosure, about twenty paces from the east gate.[231]

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