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CARHEIL, ÉTIENNE DE, Jesuit priest, missionary; b. 20 Nov. 1633 at Carentoir, France; d. 27 July 1726 at Quebec.

Étienne de Carheil entered the Jesuit noviciate at Paris on 30 Aug. 1653. Ordained in 1666, he set out for Quebec where he arrived on 6 August. After two years of preparation, Carheil was assigned in 1668 to work among the Cayugas at the mission of Saint-Joseph. He remained labouring in that area for the next 15 years, but without gaining many converts. Carheil found that the Indians generally rejected Christianity because they feared that baptism brought sickness and death to those tribes who had accepted it, and also because neophytes were required to abjure former superstitions and hitherto accepted codes of morality. Father Charlevoix*, who knew Carheil personally, reported that despite the missionary’s lack of success in attracting converts, he was highly esteemed by the Indians who knew him.

In 1683, Carheil, together with other Jesuit missionaries working among the Iroquois, was recalled to Quebec because of the threat of war between the French and the Iroquois. On his return to Quebec, Carheil was assigned to teach grammar in the college which the Jesuits conducted there. In 1686, he was sent as a missionary to the Ottawa and Huron Indians and stationed at the mission of Saint-Ignace near the Straits of Mackinac.

After four years at Saint-Ignace, Carheil’s influence over the Indians was sufficiently effective for him to be able to dissuade them from forming an anti-French alliance with the Iroquois. In a lengthy letter, dated 17 Sept. 1690, Carheil outlined to Governor Frontenac [Buade*] why the Ottawas wavered in their loyalty, pointing out that the Iroquois, by a series of raids, had seemed to demonstrate that the French could hardly defend themselves much less aid their Indian allies. However, Carheil succeeded in inducing the Ottawas to meet with Frontenac during the summer of 1690, and at the parley they disavowed any intention of forming an alliance with the Iroquois. Eleven years later, in 1701, Governor Callière sought to effect a general peace among all the Indian tribes; the eloquence of the Huron chief Kondiaronk, called the Rat, won the day for the plan. Kondiaronk, who had embraced Christianity through Carheil’s instruction, declared, according to Charlevoix, that he respected only two Europeans, Frontenac and Carheil.

With the exploration of the Mississippi Valley, Saint-Ignace became a rendezvous for French traders whose presence exercised an unfavourable influence on the Indians frequenting the mission. Before 1690, Carheil and other missionaries held the traders in check by excluding from the area any who debauched the Indians. This situation changed radically in 1690 when Fort Buade was built quite near the mission. The fort’s garrison soon consorted with the natives to the moral detriment of the latter. Consequently the missionaries complained that instead of protecting the mission the soldiers were trading with, the Indians and debauching them with liquor. The situation grew worse when Cadillac [Laumet], who cordially disliked the Jesuits, became commandant in 1694. Matters came to a head in 1696 when the crown ordered the closing of the western posts. Cadillac, however, had no intention of compliantly abandoning his opportunity to reap the rich profits which his position offered. Returning to France, he procured permission to establish a post at Detroit, using his own funds. When the new centre opened in 1701, Cadillac induced many Indians from Saint-Ignace to migrate to his post. Carheil opposed the move, as did most of the Jesuit missionaries at Saint-Ignace, because he believed that Cadillac would give the Indians too little encouragement to lead Christian lives. On 30 Aug. 1702 Carheil wrote a lengthy letter to Callière, outlining why the Jesuits objected to the situation. Despite the efforts of the Jesuits at Saint-Ignace, the Indians migrated to Cadillac’s new post in such numbers that the mission near the Straits of Mackinac had to be abandoned and the mission buildings burned to the ground. A few years later when Fort Michilimackinac was erected by the French on the southern shore of the straits, the Jesuits again established a mission, but by this time Carheil’s career was over. During the remainder of his life, he devoted himself to the care of the French at Quebec and Montreal.

Charlevoix notes that Carheil’s contemporaries considered him a man of great talents and solid virtues. He is said to have spoken the Iroquois and Huron languages with as much ease as his native French. Carheil left a two-volume treatise on Huron called Racines Hurones.

Joseph P. Donnelly

Charlevoix, History (Shea), III, 116–17; IV, 55–57. Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), V 204, 223–24, 235–37. JR (Thwaites). NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), IX, 360, 587. P. Orhand, Un admirable inconnu: le révérend père Étienne de Carheil (Paris, [1897]). Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIe siècle, III, 497–527. J. G. Shea, History of the Catholic Church in the United States (4v., New York, 1886–92), I, 286–94, 297, 303, 328, 332.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Joseph P. Donnelly, “CARHEIL, ÉTIENNE DE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/carheil_etienne_de_2E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/carheil_etienne_de_2E.html
Author of Article: Joseph P. Donnelly
Title of Article: CARHEIL, ÉTIENNE DE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1969
Year of revision: 1969
Access Date: October 23, 2014