MEMBRÉ, ZÉNOBE, Recollet, missionary in New France and companion of Robert Cavelier de La Salle on his expeditions in Louisiana; b. 1645 at Bapaume; d. 15 Jan. 1689.
He joined the Recollets of the province of Saint-Antoine in Artois around 1668. In June 1675 he took ship at La Rochelle for New France, with four of his fellow-religious. As soon as he reached Quebec, he began his priestly activities; this is confirmed by the parish registers of Sainte-Anne de Beaupré in April 1676 and by those of Trois-Rivières under the date of 17 Jan. 1678.
In October of the same year he was chosen to be one of the chaplains on La Salle’s first expedition, and he went to Port Cataracoui (Kingston. Ont.), where he was joyfully welcomed by Fathers Gabriel de La Ribourde and Luc Buisset on 2 November. They left this post during July 1679, and arrived at Fort Crèvceœur on 11 March 1680. Father Membré stayed some months among the Illinois, whom he followed in their wanderings and whose language he learned.
On 18 September he started on the return journey with the expedition. The following day he lost his companion, Father Gabriel de La Ribourde, who was assassinated by the Kickapoos, and the shipwreck of his “wretched bark canoe” forced him “to complete the journey by land, walking barefoot in the snow and over the ice, with no other food but acorns.”
The failure of this first expedition did not stop him from taking part in that of 1681–82 and reaching the Mississippi, which they went down as far as the mouth. On 6 April 1682 La Salle solemnly took possession of the whole of “Louisianne” in the French king’s name, and planted a cross which was blessed by Father Membré. Proud of his success, La Salle requested the Recollet to go to France in order to give the king the first news of the discovery. Father Membré left Fort Miami on 8 October, reached Quebec on 15 November, the day before the ships were leaving, and embarked on the vessel of the governor, Buade de Frontenac in order to make the crossing.
After staying nearly two years in France, during which time he held the office of superior of the convent at Bapaume, he left his country once more on 24 July 1684, with La Salle, and accompanied him on his third expedition. After numerous vicissitudes, the explorers reached the Gulf of Mexico and went up as far as Fort Saint-Louis it was here that Cavelier de La Salle met his death, and that Father Membré was slaughtered on 15 Jan. 1689. Thus perished a man who was the faithful friend and the steadfast associate of La Salle, and whom historians have too readily left in obscurity.
Father Zénobe Membré has left three important documents concerning all these voyages. The first is a letter dated 3 June 1682 from the Mississippi River; a copy made at the time is in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, and constitutes the first account made by an eye-witness of the 1682 expedition. The second is a detailed relation of Membré’s voyage in 1682 which the latter, on his way through Quebec, delivered to his superior. Finally, Father Habig has established by a critical study that Father Membré was indeed the author of the document known under the following title, “Relation de la découverte de l’embouchure de la rivière Mississippi dans le golfe de Mexique, faite par le Sieur De La Salle, l’année passée 1682.”
BN, MS, Clairambault 1016, ff.163–65. The official report of La Salle’s 1682 expedition, “Relation de la découverte de l’embouchure dé la rivière Mississippi dans le golfe de Mexique, faite par le Sieur De La Salle, l’année passée 1682,” by Membré, was first published in Raymond Thomassy, Géologie pratique de la Louisiane (Nouvelle-Orléans et Paris, 1860), 9–16; App. A, 197–98. Le Clercq, First establishment of the faith (Shea), I, 15, 20, 28–31, 109, 112, II, 88 et passim; Premier établissement de la foy, II, 161–95, Father Membré’s Relation of his voyage which he delivered to his superior on his way through Quebec 1682. Jean Delanglez, Some La Salle Journeys (Chicago, 1938), 67f., n.10, Marion Habig, “The Franciscan Père Marquette: a critical biography of Father Zénobe Membré . . .” (Franciscan studies, XIII, New York, 1934). Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), I, 545–70; II, 206. J. G. Shea, Discovery and exploration of the Mississippi valley with the original narratives of Marquette, Allouez, Membré, Hennepin and Anastase Douay (New York, 1852).