Tag Archives: New France

Early Canadian Church History (4)

With Dr. Leen Joosse

With the support of Cardinal Richelieu, Samuel de Champlain was appointed governor of New France.  Both Richelieu and de Champlain were ardent supporters of the Jesuits in colonial Canada.  The policy of the Jesuits was to identify the rule of the king with the power of the Church.  They also actively supported the notion that all the colonial inhabitants and native peoples were French subjects and, as such, de facto under and within the Roman Catholic Church.  To be French was to be Roman Catholic.  It was virtually impossible for people to separate French identity from Roman Catholicism.  However, within the Roman fold, there was some room for diversity as long as the authority of the clergy was recognized.

One of the prominent Roman Catholic clergy from this period was Paul Le Jeune, a Jesuit missionary and eventually superior of the order in New France.  He made efforts to infiltrate and co-opt the fur trade.  Beginning around 1638, Jesuits began training young Hurons.  They were being educated to become commercial agents who would cooperate with French interests in New France and beyond.

The Jesuits not only promoted education for First Nations, but also for the colonists.  Those living on the frontier without European-style orderly governments and laws were in danger of becoming “wild, barbarous, and disorderly peoples.”  In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull entitled Inter Caetera.  This bull mandated the education of both native peoples and colonists, so that all would be brought “to good morals.”  On this basis, the seventeenth-century Jesuits wanted Latin and Greek to be taught in their schools in New France – this would promote the cause of civilization.  This provoked a debate.  Richelieu argued that this kind of education was unnecessary for the inhabitants of New France.  The Jesuits, however, argued that unless someone leads an orderly life, receives written laws, and knows how to communicate in a civilized language, he will remain barbarous.  In their view, Inter Caetera had been clear enough on this point.

Around the same time, the idea developed among the French that the Hurons could only participate in the fur trade if they became “Christians.”  To be a trader one had to be a Christian, i.e. a baptized Roman Catholic.  The Hurons were amenable to this, but in return asked for soldiers to provide protection from the Iroquois.  Consequently, both soldiers and Jesuits began living in native villages.  The Jesuits taught the Hurons to pray and worship in the Roman manner.  Paul Le Jeune also helped the Hurons to become skilled labourers.  They became particularly adept at making copper kettles.  The Hurons became involved in all kinds of trade and were developing up to French standards.

After 1645, we find Jérôme Lalemant as the superior of the Jesuit order in New France.  He was a remarkable missionary strategist.  His thinking developed along the same lines as his predecessors.  He promoted a greater degree of discipline among the clergy.  He argued that the Jesuits should build their own villages next to the aboriginal villages.  This led to the establishment of settlements such as Sainte-Marie among the Hurons (near present-day Midland, ON) and Fort Ville-Marie (in present-day Montreal).  In such places, the Jesuits erected stone houses and wooden church buildings; they also planted large vegetable gardens and established cemeteries.  Lalemant also encouraged intermarriage between the French and First Nations as a means of bringing people into the Church.  He employed Hurons as church workers and that also advanced his missionary agenda.  Roman Catholicism was becoming deeply entrenched in the new world.  Prospects were growing dimmer for the establishment of the biblical gospel.

There were further developments around 1659 with the arrival of the first bishop for New France, François de Laval.  Laval was not a friend of the Jesuit agenda.  For their part, the Jesuits did not trust him.  However, in due time, through some adept political manoeuvring he gained the authority he wanted in Quebec.  He took a powerful role in the governance of the region and, as a result, any remaining Huguenot influence disappeared, whether in trade or in politics.  Under Laval, the colonial Quebec identity became even more intertwined with Roman Catholicism.

Back in Acadia, the Huguenots still had some room for trade and their tobacco plantations.  The governor of Acadia at this time was Charles de Saint-Étienne de la Tour, the son of a prominent Huguenot.  La Tour resisted the Roman Catholic clergy wherever he could.  He made it difficult for Jesuits and Capuchins to hold their masses and have people baptized.  La Tour was married three times.  His second wife was a remarkable Huguenot lady named Françoise-Marie Jacquelin – she aggressively supported her husband’s efforts.  She had no patience for the “prudent Huguenots.”  She became involved with the battle to control Acadia.  La Tour was in a power struggle with Charles de Menou d’Aulnay.  Jacquelin went back to France to muster Huguenot help, but many feared to join her.  D’Aulnay attacked Fort La Tour (near present-day Saint John, NB) while La Tour was away on business in 1645.  Jacquelin took command of the Fort while it was under siege.  Unfortunately, after four days the Fort was breached and all of its inhabitants captured.  All were executed in front of Jacquelin and she herself died three weeks later.  The Huguenot cause in Acadia suffered a loss with this defeat.  After d’Aulnay’s death in 1650, la Tour was able to again become the governor of Acadia until 1654.  However, the Huguenot presence never recovered.


During the seventeenth century, Huguenot merchants may have had the money to build and develop Reformed churches in Canada.  Yet they never did.  It is true that they took their religion with them over the Atlantic.  However, it had no lasting effect whatsoever in the St. Lawrence Valley or in Acadia.

This can be partly explained because of French royal policy and the notion that the Roman Catholics were the only representatives of Jesus Christ among the nations.  The Roman Catholic Church fostered an ecclesiastical colonialism.  Backed with military power, it introduced an aggressive (but nominal) form of politicized Christianity in Canada that lasted centuries.  As a result, Québécois identity would long be intrinsically tied up with Roman Catholicism.

The other part of the explanation rests with the Huguenots themselves and the politics of accommodation that prevailed among them.  They failed to establish Reformed Christianity in Canada due to their willingness to compromise on certain key points.  Because of French royal policy, they were content to enjoy informal worship services with simple Bible teaching and the singing of Psalms – the chanteries.  They even went so far as to utilize the sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church, just as French policy required.  Moreover, while they believed they were holding to the true Christian religion, they did not aggressively promote their beliefs either by missionary efforts or with the sword.  Instead, they took a merely defensive stance and even that was comparatively weak.  Given all of that, it is not surprising that the Reformed faith failed to prosper in Canada during this era.


Early Canadian Church History (2)

With Dr. Leen Joosse

The St. Lawrence Valley to 1629

Because of French royal and ecclesiastical policy, the Huguenots were also obliged to take Roman Catholic priests with them overseas.  The Romanist clergy were mandated to provide pastoral care for the colonists.  However, Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit took along some Reformed pastors as well to support his plans and the Calvinist colonists.  Samuel de Champlain accompanied de Chauvin de Tonnetuit as his secretary – de Champlain had likely been born into a Calvinist family, but by this time he was a Roman Catholic.  From his reports we learn of the presence of Huguenot pastors in New France, although he did not record their names.

Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit was to clear lands and establish a ‘seigneurie’ (county or district) along the same lines as what the French had in their own country.  He and Pierre Du Gua de Monts were to provide for each colonist in terms of labour and the costs of living.  These merchants were reluctant to engage in colonization, even to a modest extent.  Instead, commerce was begun with the native peoples and the fur-trade began in the valley.  Travelling along the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers, the armed agents of de Monts won the confidence and respect of the aboriginal population.  They played a major role in the fur trade in this region.  From 1609 to 1615, they were extremely successful in expanding trade into the interior and helped to draw the Hurons into the existing alliance with the Montagnais and Algonquian.

Consequently, the Huguenot settlers in New France focussed on commerce rather than agriculture.  This led to their familiarity with the ancient trails used by the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.  However, it was only later in this period that the Iroquois allowed Frenchmen to travel deeper into the interior.  Hurons gradually became the most important middlemen between the French and all other First Nations.  The goods began flowing; copper kettles, alcohol, and weaponry were exchanged for fur that the French could use for luxury clothing items.  The French regarded hunting and trapping as consistent with biblical principles, since human beings were supposed to wear clothes.  They also saw the exchange of goods with native peoples as a way to transmit Christian culture, since the native people would see the value that the French put on clothing.

In the meantime, a Political Council was appointed to govern the St. Lawrence seigneurie, as well as the seigneurie of Acadia.  As of 1612, they would be ruled as one region.  Henry of Bourbon, the prince of Condé, was appointed as governor.  He was charged to supervise New France on behalf of the French king, together with the Political Council in New France.  They would carry this out alongside the trade company and its board.  Samuel de Champlain became the lieutenant-governor.  In 1618 a leader from among the First Nations was also granted a seat on the Council.  He received a French hat – a peculiar gesture from our perspective, but an important mark of equality in that context.  The Dutch Reformed pastors in the New York area were known to wear hats with a silver band to give credibility to their authority.  In north-eastern Brazil around the same time, the Dutch colonists would also give hats to indigenous leaders such as Nhandui, a powerful Tapuya chief.  This allowed him to be perceived as being on the same level as the Dutch colonial leaders.  Similarly, the native leader in Quebec would take his seat in the Council by making a flamboyant French gesture with his hat.  Then he would be seated next to the other council members as a peer among equals.

Now all of that tells us something about the economic and social situation.  But did the Huguenots also introduce their Christian beliefs?

From the outset, the Huguenots had several strategies.  First, colonists began to meet every Sunday.  They organized open air worship services aboard ships and in the houses they built.  They did not endeavour to build churches because they were satisfied simply to have some place to gather.  Besides, the French government did not allow public meetings other than those conducted by the Roman Catholic priests.  Therefore, the Huguenots were prevented from building something.  They avoided conflict with the government in New France.

Nevertheless, they would have their gatherings for worship.  They would sing psalms – Psalm 68 and Psalm 79 were favourites.  There was preaching as well, but it was really the singing that stands out in the historical record.  Their gatherings became known as “chanteries.”  From the complaints of the Jesuits in this region we learn that the Genevan melodies of Clement Marot were sung loudly.

Furthermore, agents were sent with Huron interpreters to penetrate deeper into the interior.  Many young soldiers went into the woods and visited hidden villages.  They became familiar with native customs and won friendships with the Montagnais and Algonquians.  Gradually they even took over some of their lifestyle and culture.  Since these endeavours were oriented to the fur trade, the emphasis fell on transforming native people by setting an example of Christian behaviour.

Also, some young native people were sent to Paris to receive an education.  The French hoped that these native people would be overwhelmed with their immersion into French culture.  They envisioned that they would adopt the Christian culture and be willing to spread the message of change through Christianity.   However, this was an unrealized ideal since it met with fierce opposition from the French crown and government.  They required the promotion and expansion of the Roman Catholic Church overseas, including in the St. Lawrence Valley.  Additionally, the French regime promoted the development of agriculture instead of trade.

While the Protestants were making efforts to develop the fur trade, Samuel de Champlain was making plans to bring more Roman Catholics overseas.  He urged the French king to send plenty of Roman Catholic Frenchmen from the streets and all kinds of orphanages.  De Champlain wanted to spread the Roman Church through immigration, but his plans did not meet with any success until 1632.  In that year, de Champlain was appointed governor of New France and his plans began to fall into place.  In his mind colonists were to work the land and he also urged the Six Nations to become farmers.  Hence, repeatedly he overtured the French government to publicize the availability of free farmland.  He also encouraged the exploration and development of more farmland in the St. Lawrence Valley.  The Jesuits endorsed his plans, but the trade company did everything to resist.

Meanwhile, Pierre Du Gua de Monts died and Guillaume de Caen replaced him.  He was a Huguenot as well.  De Caen charged the trade company to follow the articles of the Edict of Nantes – that meant that there was to be a certain degree of toleration for the Reformed religion.  That is why “chanteries” continued along the St. Lawrence River at places such as Cap Tourmente (just downriver from present-day Quebec City).

Nevertheless, church buildings were not erected by the Huguenots.  Moderate church politics prevailed.  Because the Reformed people obeyed the Roman Catholic government, one does not find anywhere a Huguenot church building from the seventeenth century in the St. Lawrence Valley.  Yet, the Reformed believers did seriously worship our Lord God.

De Champlain was powerful and had some say in all sorts of developments.  Still, the trade company was able to push its trade and mild ecclesiastical politics forward until 1629.  Many people, especially aboriginals, detested de Champlain’s Roman Catholic politics, his policy of migration, and of agriculture.  As a consequence, the trade company worked together with First Nations to help English merchants and the English crown get a toehold in this area in 1629.  For a brief period, the French Roman Catholic authorities were driven out and the English took possession of the St. Lawrence Valley, including Quebec City.  Quebec had been established as the capital of New France through the efforts of the Jesuits.  Meanwhile, elsewhere the Scottish took Acadia and established the colony of Nova Scotia.  We’ll look at that history in our next instalment.

Early Canadian Church History (1)

With Leen Joosse

On the European continent scholars are continuously exploring past methods of colonization.  These days they are especially interested in researching the relationship of Europeans with aboriginals on the other side of the Atlantic.  It is now clear that colonization has never been a one-sided development.  Both sides, natives and Europeans alike, have experienced benefits and losses.  These investigations have implied a reassessment of what Christian culture was about and what kind of religion had been promoted in the transformation of the Americas.

There has been a surge of interest also in the historic relationships between Europe and what we today call Canada.  Europeans identified themselves as colonizers and migrants identified themselves as Christians when they met native inhabitants.  There are also the questions of what kind of Christianity was introduced into Canada, how it was introduced, and why.  The French Huguenots in Canada had a unique self-understanding with regard to being Calvinists and how they interacted with First Nations during the seventeenth century.  This was different from the Reformed Dutch in the new world.  Whereas the Dutch focussed on planting churches (for example, in today’s New York State), French Calvinists were engaged merely in spreading the gospel in Canada.  Consequently, we find no Protestant church buildings from the early period in either the area around the St. Lawrence River or in Nova Scotia.  Instead, there are only Roman Catholic buildings.  It may be instructive to explore the origin of Christianity in Canada in order to understand the way French Calvinists acted.

France and the Americas

During the sixteenth century, European nations were looking for a new western route to China.  This is why the other side of the Atlantic Ocean was explored.  French sailors thought they could discover a route to China and to the East Indies by travelling west.  They met the St. Lawrence River and the land which is nowadays called Canada.  When word of this reached the French king, he urged his people to begin colonizing whatever area could be taken from the indigenous nations.

This situation has to be understood in its Roman Catholic context.  The Roman pope deemed the whole world to be under his dominion.  Therefore, he thought he could claim all authority to distribute the lands and nations in the name of Christ to the governments of Roman Catholic kings as his papal representatives, whether in Italy, Spain, or Portugal.  This he did in the famous Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 – the agreement which divided up the Americas between Spain and Portugal.

The Roman Catholic king of France also acted as one of the owners of the world on the other side of the Atlantic.  He did this wherever French fishermen and merchants operated and the peoples in those areas were regarded automatically as his French subjects.  He also promoted the expeditions of Jacques Cartier in 1532 and 1541 and Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval in 1541-1543.  They were mandated to gain control over the St. Lawrence Valley and have it colonized.  However, these sixteenth century efforts ultimately failed due to conflicts between the colonists and the Iroquois.  The Iroquois did not think that the French behaved as those who owned the land.

During this period, the Wars of Religion were raging in France.  Consequently, persecuted Reformed people fled from France.  Slightly earlier, John Calvin and Admiral Gaspar de Coligny encouraged Reformed church members to spread the gospel across the Atlantic by means of colonization.  Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon gathered about 600 people and started a colony in South America in 1555.  He landed in present-day Brazil in the area of Rio de Janeiro.  Working together with the native inhabitants, they established a colony and a military fort (Fort Coligny).  They clearly showed a desire to be Reformed.  Unfortunately, the leader of the colony, Villegaignon, went back to the Roman Catholic Church and then turned on the Reformed colonists, even killing many.  This persecution led to the first Protestant martyrs in the new world and the first Reformed confession to be written in the Americas.  As they were waiting in prison for their date with the executioner, Reformed pastor Jean du Bordel wrote a confession with the help of his colleagues Matthieu Vermeuil, Pierre Bourdon, and André la Fon.  The Guanabara Confession contained sixteen articles and it was meant to be an outward-looking witness both to the Roman Catholics and to the pagan Brazilians.

Much further north, where the royal plans for colonization had come to nothing up till 1598, the French king Henry IV took a different tack.  He wanted to stimulate private enterprise.  That led to his allowing Huguenots to renew their efforts to build colonies in North America.  Let’s now turn to the beginnings of New France and consider how Reformed people introduced Calvinism into this new environment.

The Early Beginnings

The period of 1623 to 1629 is often remembered as the time in which the famous Roman Catholic Samuel de Champlain was married to a Calvinist lady.  However, this period should really be understood as the era of a fierce struggle between the Huguenots and Jesuits in Canada.  They were struggling on several fronts, including and especially with the planting of true Christian religion among colonists and First Nations.  What happened?

French, Spanish, and Basque fishermen became familiar with the coastal areas of the east and their peoples, especially in the area of Newfoundland.  They did not see any need to live in that area on a permanent basis.  They just built temporary settlements for whaling and fishing.  Meanwhile, they gradually became better acquainted with the Six Nations of the Iroquois, the Montagnais along the St. Lawrence, and the Huron peoples of the Georgian Bay region.  Only once the fur trade began was the need felt for establishing permanent settlements.  Colonization really began with economic interests in mind.  Colonists needed to ask permission and pay for the documents required from the French crown to settle down overseas.

The hat making industry in Paris led to increased demand for fur.  This is why merchants were urged by King Francis I to take control of territories and not just to trade with the natives.  He also endorsed private enterprises among the Huguenots.  Merchants were to provide themselves with personnel and materials so as to be able to live in New France.  This king also considered all inhabitants of New France to be his subjects whether they were colonists or aboriginals.  However, Huguenot merchants did not respond well to this imperialistic notion.  Their trade company was mandated to work overseas with the Six Nations in terms of a partnership or alliance, rather than as imperialistic colonizers.

Thereafter several wealthy merchants planted colonies overseas.  In 1598, Queen Catherine de Medici (wife of Henry IV and niece of a pope who favoured the Jesuits) granted a fur-trade contract to Troilus de Mesgouez.  She then named him lieutenant-general of New France.  Then there was an important Huguenot merchant, Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit.  He was from Dieppe and he also obtained a royal monopoly for the fur trade and a charter to establish a colony overseas.  Having enlisted some 500 colonists and the required material, he sailed across the ocean and landed near Tadoussac, in the mouth of the St. Lawrence.  A third man, a renowned Huguenot from Saintonge, Pierre Du Gua de Monts, also started a commercial enterprise with a royal grant in 1603.   After his arrival, however, he realized that he did not like the climate of the St. Lawrence Valley.  Therefore, he eventually moved to the coastal area of Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia) and settled there.

In our next instalment, we’ll look at what happened in the St. Lawrence Valley from 1598 to 1629.  Then, later, we’ll look further at the developments among Calvinists in Acadia during this same period.

Canada in Seventeenth-Century Reformed Scholasticism

I am so bad at getting distracted.  I go to the Post-Reformation Digital Library looking for one thing, and then get totally distracted by another.  However, this works to your benefit because now I can share something interesting that I discovered this afternoon.  PRDL has a new link to a 1669 work of Johannes Hoornbeek, De conversione Indorum et Gentilium (Concerning the Conversion of Indians and Gentiles).  This book is another nail in the coffin of the idea that sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed churches had no interest in the missionary calling of the church.

In the first part, Hoornbeek does a survey of the different types of native peoples and “gentiles” of the then-known world.  Eventually, he comes to Canada.  He notes that the native people of New France regard the devil to be God, although they do not worship him (licet non adoret).  Mostly they indulge in magic arts.  This characterization is flawed in many ways, but my interest is not so much in explaining how.  Rather, I’m more interested in the roots of this view.

Hoornbeek himself had never been to New France.  So far as I know, Dutch Reformed missionaries never went there either.  However, Reformed missionaries (like Johannes Megapolensis) worked among the Mohawks of upstate New York and there were also Mohawk people living in what was then called New France (present-day Quebec).  I think Hoornbeek’s information may come from Megapolensis.  In a letter he wrote to the Netherlands about the Mohawks (and later published without his consent), Megapolensis described the religion of the Mohawks:

They are entire strangers to all religion, but they have a Tharonhijouaagon (whom they otherwise call Athzoockkuatoriaho), that is, a Genius, whom they esteem in the place of God; but they do not serve him or make offerings to him.  They worship and present offerings to the Devil, whom they call Otskon, or Aireskuoni.  If they have any bad luck in war, they catch a bear, which they cut in pieces, and roast, and that they offer up to their Aireskuoni, saying in substance, the following words:  “Oh, great and mighty Aireskuoni, we confess that we have offended against thee, inasmuch as we have not killed and eaten our captive enemies; — forgive us this.  We promise that we will kill and eat all the captives we shall hereafter take as we certainly as we have killed, and now eat this bear.”  Also when the weather is very hot, and there comes a cooling breeze, they cry out directly, Asorunusi asorunusi, Otskon aworouhsi reinnuha; that is, “I thank thee, I thank thee, devil, I thank thee, little uncle!”  If they are sick, or have a pain or soreness anywhere in their limbs, and I ask them what ails them they say that the Devil sits in their body, or in the sore places, and bites them once there; so that they attribute to the Devil at once the accidents which befall them; they have otherwise no religion.

Again, this account is undoubtedly flawed in many ways and Megapolensis probably didn’t understand what he was observing or hearing.  It is interesting that his account of the bear sacrifice sounds a lot like the Heidelberg Catechism on the Lord’s Supper in QA 75 — I wonder if this is deliberate or something that has been imported into the translation.  At any rate, I suspect that Hoornbeek was working from his memory of what Megapolensis had written.  Some of the elements in both accounts are the same, but Megapolensis is, of course, far more detailed.

BTW, if you’re interested, the latest issue of The Confessional Presbyterian has an article on Johannes Megapolensis and his missionary work among the Mohawks.