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Title: The Jesuit Priests and Father Gibault
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It was my intention to write something of the French Jesuit priests among the first articles in these sketches but I found it rather hard to get the correct information and I am indebted to my friend, Ameil Weber, who furnisht me with much of the material that I have been trying to get. Mr. Weber is a resident of Attica and a Wabash operator at Buck Creek; he was born and raised in Attica and is well posted on the history of the Catholic church. And, whether one be a Protestant or a Catholic (or a monistic rationalist and unbeliever like myself) if fair-minded, he will hate bigotry, which not only destroys mutual friendly relations but undermines the very peace and tranquility of every community. Most bigotry in the world comes from ignorance and misunderstanding. Errors may be corrected, ignorance dispelled, and truth convincingly proven, and I know enough of the Protestant and the Catholic to know that if they understood each other better they would be less prejudiced toward each other.

The history of the Wabash Valley cannot be truthfully and accurately written without paying respect to the black-robed Jesuit priest.

Before the Northwest Territory was so designated, or even described or known the Catholic missionary was here and there were log chapels, surmounted by the cross, among the Indian villages in the Valley of the Wabash. Fifty years before Indiana was admitted into the Union as a state there wre Catholic congregations, with priests who both preacht and establisht pioneer schools, and they were first among the principle actors inthe great deeds of early history which gave the Wabash territory to the American republic. Perhaps the black-robed Jesuit priests were among the first white men to come into the Wabash Valley, and in this section they wre active participants in the events proceeding the Revolutionary War. To the fact that the Catholic missionaries and the pioneer Catholic laymen were here General George Rogers Clark was enabled to take the Northwest Territory from the British and add to the domain of the United States what are now the great commonwealths of Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, so the Catholics of the Wabash Valley naturally have intense interest in the celebration of Indiana's Centenial. In an early history of Indiana, written by Goodwich and Tuttle, the following paragraph appears: "The first white man who visited the territory, now Indiana, was a Jesuit missionary, who came from the old French mission of St. Joseph, on the shore of Lake Michigan, which was the oldest Jesuit Mission in the Lake region; this missionary came to the Miami Indians in 1675." There are those who claim, and I believe correctly, that the Jesuit fathers were visitors at Ouitenon and Vincennes as early as 1666. The first record of a baptism at Vincennes was on June 25, 1749; and this record Bishop Alerding, in his book, declared is the earliest Catholic record in the state. It was signed by Sebastian Meurin, doubtless one of the early Jesuit missionaries. According to Jacob Dunn, in his history of Indiana, the countrymen of LaSalle and Joliet had penetrated the wilds of Indiana and the Wabash Valley as early as 1670. Doubtless there were many of the Jesuit missionaries wearing their robes of black, and with nothing but an open hand of friendship ready to clasp the hand of the red man and kindly administer to his needs of the Wabash Valley, whose deeds have been forgotten, and whose service is not recorded in its annuals. I shall quote only a little from the voyage of Joliet and Marquette to show the motive that lead them and the sentiment that inspired them. Marquette wrote:

"Our joy at being chosen for this expedition aroused our courage and sweetened the labor of rowing from morning to night, as we were going to seek unknown countries. We took all precaution that if our enterprise was hazardous it should not be foolhardy. For this reason we gathered all possible information from the Indians, who had frequented those parts, and even from their accounts traced a map of all the the new countries, marking down the rivers on which we were to pass, the course of the river on which we were to sail, the names of the nations, and the places thru which we were to pass, the course of the river and what direction we should take when we got to it." And again he says, in speaking of M. Joliet and M. Tallon, joining him in the voyage to make discoveries, "I was more enraptured at this good news as I saw my designs on the point of being accomplisht and myself in the happy necessity of exposing my life for the salvation of all these nations.**** We were not long in preparing our outfir, altho we were embarking on a voyage, the during of which we could not foresee. Indian corn, with some dried meats, was our whole stock of provisions. With this we set out in our two bark canoes, M. Joliet, myself and five men, firmly resolved to do all and suffer all for so glorious an enterprise." This is the spirit with which the Jesuit father carried his tidings of great joy to the untutored red men of the Wabash Valley.

A chief of the Fox Indians, speaking of the Franciscian missionaries (who wore gray coats, while the Jesuit fathers wore black gowns as the distinctive trademark of their sect), said: "These greycoats we value very much, they go barefooted as well as we; they scorn our beaver gowns, and decline all other presents, they do not carry arms to kill, they flatter and take much of our children, and give them knives and other toys, without expecting any reward.**** The fathers of the gown have given up all to come to see us, therefore you, who are captain over all these men, be pleased to leave with us one of these graycoats, whom we will conduct to our village, when we have killed what we desire of the buffalo." And this shows conclusively that the red men of the forest appreciated the kindness of the early Catholic priests.

The coming of Father Pierre Gibault from Quebec to the Wabash, in 1770, was not only an auspisious event for the extension of the faith of Catholocism but a fortune circumstance for the young republic of the United State of America which was then not yet conceived even in the mind of Thomas Paine.

Pierre Gibault, the honored and beloved pastor of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Vincennes, Indiana, from the year 1785 to 1789, was born in the city of Montreal, Canada, on the 7th day of April, 1737, son of Peter Gibault and Mary St. Jean Gibault. In his early childhood he studied for the priesthood and became a missionary among the Indians and Canadians of the Northwest. As soona s he was ordained a priest at Quebec Seminary he started without delay for the Mississippi, Ohio and Wabash Valleys. He arrived on Lake Michigan in July, 1768, stayed but one week and proceeded at once to Kaskaska, Illinois, arrving there in the fall. There he was welcomed by all classes and out of whatever chaos existed before his arrival under service soon union and harmony prevailed.

In 1769 he reacht Vincennes where the inhabitants received him with tears of joy.

Rev. Deverni had been kidnapt in the fall of 1763, and, to use Gibault's own language in his letter to the Bishop of Quebec, dated June 15, 1770, "On their knees they said, 'Father save us, we are almost in hell." He stayed there almost two months. There were between 700 and 800 people in Vincennes at that time. He was a man of refinement and culture, very precise and exact in the discharge of the duties devolving upon him.

In the year 1808, a resolution was adopted by the legislature of Virginia whereby the service of Rev. Pierre Gibault to General George Rogers Clark was acknowledged. Next to Clark and Vigo the Wabash Valley, State of Indiana and the United States, are indebted to Father Gibault, for the acquisition of the states comprised in what was the original Northwest Territory, and Father Gibault should share honors with Clark since the fact that Clark was successful in this enterprise, was largely due to the exertions and influence of this patriotic priest.

Before the coming of Clark, Father Gibault had spoken to large audiences in Vincennes, in the old fort, and set forth the possibilities of the new republic in such glowing terms that the natives were all ready to swear allegiance to the American cause. He himself administered the oath of allegiance for the first time in the Wabash Valley, and thry his influence the American flag was hoisted over the old fort in Vincennes in February, 1778. The English soldiers were not present when this happened and when the news reacht them a force under Gov. Hamilton was sent to take possession of the fort, whcih they did without opposition. On account of this action, having incurred the displeasure of the English, Father Gibault was forced to leave Vincennes and returned to Kaskaskia, which ultimately proved a great advantage to the American cause and was the means of wresting from England the entire northwest. It was fortunate indeed that Father Gibault was in charge of Kaskaskia when Clark approacht that place on his expedition of conquest in July, 1778. Surrounding the town Clark met with no opposition and on the morning of July 5, 1778, according to Clark's memoirs, a few of the principal men were arrested. Soon afterwards however, Father Gibault and five or six citizens waited on Clark and askt permisison to assemble in the church. Clark told the priest that he had nothing to say against his religion, that it was a matter that Americans left for every man to settle with God. This pleased Father Gibault and nearly the whole population gathered at the church and selected their noble pastor to make all arrangements with Clark as to his intentions. The priest askt for the favor of allowing the wives and children of the men to remain with one another and he was told by Clark that it was to prevent the horrors of Indian butchery upon women and children that he had taken up arms and penetrated into the remote stronghold of British and Indian barbarity.

Clark was not sufficiently strong to reach Kaskaskia and lead an expedition against Vincennes, and after a long conference with Gibault, it was decided that Father Gibault would visit Vincennes himself, which was agreeable to all interested. Arriving in Vincennes he explained the American cause and all swore allegiance to the United States. Gov. Hamilton then set out from Detroit with a large force and once more occupied the fort at Vincennes. Again Pierre Gibault, the patriotic priest, was ready to sacrifice, and with his love of liberty and undaunted courage he furnisht Clark with two companies of Illinois troops, all Catholics and members of his church; one under command of McKay and the other under the command of Francis Chareville. Francis Vigo, who was at that time a devout Catholic, was also enlisted by his pastor. Clark himself knew nothing concerning Vincennes, neither did any of his men, but Gibault, the patriotic priest, possest the requisite knowledge and influence, and while it was winter and the streams were out of their banks the priest advised Clark to proceed at once. Accordingly, after the soldiers had listened to an address and received the blessing of the priest, in February 1779, Clark and his army of about 170 men started for Vincennes. When the expedition arrived there Gibault had provided for their crossing the Wabash River and also planned to have provisions furnisht when the expedition arrived exhausted, weary and hungry. So successful was this expedition that George Rogers Clark captured the fort without the loss of a life.

Regardless of the splended and valuable service rendered to the country by Father Gibault, he was never rewarded in any manner by the government, and in 1790, after a life of toil and struggle, he resided in poverty and destitution at Kahokia, Illinois. In that year he petitioned Gov. St. Claire for the grant of a few acers of land near that place for a home to shelter him in his old age; unfortunately Father Gibault was refused even this slight recognition of his valuable services and the records are at variance as to when and where he died. The place of his burial is unknown. Thus ended the career of one of America's noble-hearted, zealous and patriotic heroes. His achievements may never be fully appreciated, his glory may go unsung, yet it is to be hoped that this patriotic priest of the Wabash Valley will be given this year the glory, the honor and the place in the history and conquest of the northwest, that is so justly his.

If I should leaved out of these sketches a tribute to this gentle, untiring Catholic priest; if I should fail to recall his sainted memory, and link it with that of George Rogers Clark and the other noble and heroic soulds whose labors were united on that victorious march to Vincennes, my story would be lacking in the truth, beauty and influence that makes history valuable.

Like a golden chain, linking the past to the present in the rosary of years, is the record of the pioneer missionary, the glory of whose labors rest like a benediction on every hill and stream along the Wabash Valley and whose names, like incense, are redolent with deeds of kindness, chivalry and valor.

Date: 1/1/1916
Origin: Historical Sketches of the Wabash Valley
Author: J. Wesley Whicker
Record ID: 00001158
Type: Book
Source Archive: Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library
Date Entered: 8/10/2001
Entered By: Amber M Knipe

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