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BRUYAS, JACQUES, Jesuit missionary to the Iroquois tribes, author, interpreter, and deputy of the governor general in negotiations with the Iroquois and English; b. 13 July 1635 at Lyons; d. 15 June 1712.

Bruyas became a Jesuit novice at the age of 16, on 11 Nov. 1651, and in 1666 joined the Canadian mission. He arrived at Quebec on 3 August on the Saint-Joseph. Within a year he was assigned to the Iroquois missions which were being reopened after the expedition against the Mohawks and Oneidas led by Prouville* de Tracy and Rémy* de Courcelle. The terms of the peace which resulted from this expedition included an agreement that the Iroquois furnish hostages as security for the missionaries who would be sent to their cantons. After receiving the blessing of Bishop Laval, Bruyas left Quebec on 14 July 1667, accompanied by “some Frenchmen and some Iroquois that were instructed during their captivity and are now very good Christians.” He was delayed for more than a month at Fort Sainte-Anne, at the mouth of Lake Champlain, by a party of hostile Mohicans.

Bruyas arrived in the village of the Oneidas in September. He soon had his chapel dedicated to St François-Xavier, and said mass there for the first time on St Michael’s day. Although he found a few Christianized Indians to form the nucleus of a congregation, most of the Oneidas were insolent and hostile. The opposition of the medicine-men and the Indians’ adherence to their old religion further complicated Bruyas’ task. His first report to his superior reached Quebec on 15 Dec. 1667, by Huron runner. Another communication of 21 Jan. 1668 indicated that Bruyas was hindered in his apostolic labours by the prevalent drunkenness and licentiousness of the Indians, and by threats to his life following certain dreams to which the tribesmen were much attached. He did not as yet understand the Iroquois language, and could not, therefore, supply accurate information about the attitudes of the Indians towards the French and towards Catholicism. He believed the military campaign of Tracy had rendered the Oneidas more amenable to the gospel; nevertheless, he had succeeded in baptizing only 60 sickly infants and 4 adults. In general, however, the Oneidas were beginning to treat him with respect, had permitted him to instruct the catechumens and had regaled him with their “squash and beans and Indian corn flavoured with smoked fish.”

During his first sojourn at Oneida Father Bruyas had found a Christian Huron, François Tonsahoten*, who, though he did not openly practise his religion, had told his Erie wife, Catherine Gandeacteua*, to attend to the instructions of the missionary. It was she who taught him the Oneida dialect.

The English and Dutch continued to provide the Iroquois with prodigious quantities of brandy and wine which resulted in their being “incessantly drunk,” and beatings and murders ensued. New Netherlands had passed into English hands and the governor of New York, Francis Lovelace, gave Bruyas and his co-religionists to understand that he was not opposed to their evangelical labours but that French trade in the Iroquois country must cease. In April 1668, Bruyas received as his assistant Father Julien Garnier, the first Jesuit ordained in Canada. Bruyas’ position became almost untenable in August of the following year when news was received that some Oneidas had been robbed of their furs and killed by French traders near Montreal, that one hostage at Montreal had been flogged, and another was in irons.

Bruyas had been weakened by a tertian fever and by a famine during which he survived on dried frogs. The arrival of 60 kegs of brandy from “New Holland” on 16 Aug. 1669 decided him to leave for Lake Oneida in order to avoid the inevitable brawls and disorders in the village. He seems to have regained some strength and courage as a result of a six-day meeting of the six Jesuit missionaries in the Iroquois cantons, which was convened on 26 August at Onondaga to discuss strategy. Upon his return to the mission on 6 September he found the brandy frenzy at its height. A few weeks later an epidemic struck the community; many infants were baptized before they died. By 20 November he could write that “the lack of drink makes me enjoy a great rest.” His trials were not so soon ended, however. On 3 April 1670 traders returned with 40 kegs of brandy, which he foresaw were destined “to disturb our devotions during the coming Easter Holy days.” The following day he left to spend a fortnight with Father Millet at Onondaga.

Father Bruyas was now transferred to the Mohawks and became in 1670 the superior of the Iroquois missions. Opposition and disappointments continued to mark his evangelical labours. In 1673 when the chieftain Togouiroui*, known to the French as the “Great Mohawk,” was converted and settled with numerous fellow tribesmen on the banks of the St Lawrence, the Mohawks of Tionnotoguen reproached Bruyas with having plotted to depopulate the cantons. Bruyas gave a wampum belt to attest that neither he nor Father Garnier had instigated Togouiroui’s decision to move to a reserve. The following year was more encouraging and saw the conversion of the aged but influential Mohawk medicine-man, Pierre Assendasé. By 1676, Bruyas’ position was secure enough for him to be able to set up a statue of the Virgin Mary and to introduce special litanies to the Immaculate Conception on Saturdays and Sundays. A letter dated 31 July informs us that he had recently baptized more than 40 persons there; most of them had, however, “already taken possession of heaven.” The next summer three Indian converts arrived to assist him as catechizers.

In 1679 his 12 years of ministry in the Iroquois cantons ended and he took charge of the mission at Sault-Saint-Louis (Caughnawaga), the reserve near Montreal. Father Chauchetière spent 1681 with him at this mission and reported that Bruyas was responsible for the spiritual needs of the natives “and is a father to them for both their bodies and their souls.” His fight for temperance never ceased and he reported that over 100 Indians came to the reserve to escape the drunken debaucheries in their villages. Nevertheless, when disorders fomented by brandy erupted at the reserve many returned to their cantons. A letter addressed to Governor Buade* de Frontenac, in April 1691, reveals Bruyas’ understanding of the Mohawks. From August 1693 to August 1698, he was superior of the Canadian mission and made his headquarters in Quebec. He then returned to Caughnawaga.

His consummate skill as a negotiator was demonstrated in Boston in 1699 [see Michel Leneuf de La Vallière de Beaubassin, the elder]. In 1700 he accompanied Paul Le Moyne de Maricourt to the Onondagas to negotiate peace terms. Bruyas was well received as an official envoy of Governor Callière; he delivered the appropriate wampum and recalled the ties that the missionaries had sought to establish between the Iroquois and the French. Bruyas told the delegates of the five cantons assembled at Onondaga on 10 Aug. 1700 that, although the Dutch had promised to send them a gunsmith if they would reject the Catholic missionaries and take a Protestant pastor (the Reverend Debelius of Fort Orange), the governor of New York, Bellomont, wished to enslave them. The Dutch envoy who was present left in anger and defeat. Nineteen deputies from the Oneidas, Onondagas, Senecas, and Cayugas started for Montreal with 13 French prisoners. The governor received them on 8 September but would make only a temporary peace as he insisted on the return of all prisoners and a union of all the tribes in subscribing to the peace terms.

In June of 1701, Bruyas was again sent to the Onondagas to continue the negotiations, particularly to persuade the Mohawks and Oneidas to take part in the peace conference. On this occasion he decided not to oppose openly plans for Anglican missionary work among the Hurons, but warned the Iroquois that if they agreed to the requests of the agents of Governor Bellomont and did not attend the Montreal peace talks they could expect nothing in future from the French governor. The Iroquois delegates proceeded to Montreal. There at the conference in August 1701 Bruyas conveyed the governor’s message to the Huron chief, Kondiaronk. By the terms of the treaty concluded there, Bruyas’ objective of having the Iroquois cantons reopened to the Jesuit missionaries was achieved.

Noted for his linguistic abilities, Bruyas left a grammar of the Mohawk language, Radices verborum iroquaeorum, as well as a catechism and a prayer-book in Mohawk.

Bruyas remained active at the Caughnawaga mission until his death there on 15 June 1712.

C. J. Jaenen

ARSI, Gallia 110/I, ff.108–20. ASJ, France (Chantilly), Fonds Brotier, 162. ASJCF, Collection générale, Série A, f.XI(b). Jacques Bruyas, “Radical words of the Mohawk language, with their derivatives,” New York University Regents, Annual Report on condition of state cabinet, XVI (1863), 3–123; Radices verborum iroquaeorum (Sheas Library of American linguistics, X, 1862). Charlevoix, Histoire (1744), III, 363f. Claude Dablon, Relation de ce qui s’est passé de plus remarquable aux missions des peres de la Compagnie de Jésus de la Nouvelle-France les années 1671 et 1672 (Paris, 1673); Relation de ce qui s’est passé de plus remarquable aux missions des peres de la Compagnie de Jésus en Nouvelle-France les annés 1672 et 1673 (New York, 1861). François Élesban de Guilhermy, Ménologe de la Compagnie de Jésus . . . , assistance de France, comprenant les missions de l’Archipel, de la Syrie, . . . du Canada, de la Louisiane . . . éd.[Jacques Terrien] (2 part., Paris, 1892), première partie, 742–44. Marie Guyart de lIncarnation, Letters (Marshall) [English trans.], 329, 338–43, 417–20. JR (Thwaites). JJ (Laverdière et Casgrain), Jug. et délib., I, 742. La Potherie, Histoire (1722), IV, 152f., 186, 241. [F.-J. Le Mercier], Relation de ce qui s’est passé . . . aux années mil six cens soixante-sept et mil six cens soixante-huit (Paris, 1669). Mission du Canada. Relations inédites de la Nouvelle-France (1672–1679) pour faire suite aux anciennes relations (1615–1673), éd. F. Martin (2v., Paris, 1861), II, 10–11. Relation des affaires du Canada en 1696. Avec des Lettres des pères de la Compagnie de Jésus depuis 1696 jusqu’en 1702 (New York, 1895), 29–30. [Jeremias Van Rensselaer], Correspondence of Jeremias Van Rensselaer, 1651–1674, ed. A. J. F. Van Laer (Albany, 1932), 450f. Liste des missionnaires-jésuites, Nouvelle France et Louisiane, 1611–1800 (Montréal, 1929). F.-X. Noiseux, Liste chronologique des évêques et des prêtres tant séculiers que réguliers, employés au service de l’église . . . (Québec, 1834). J. G. Shea, History of the Catholic Church in the United States (4v., New York, 1886-92), I, 284–304.

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Cite This Article

C. J. Jaenen, “BRUYAS, JACQUES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bruyas_jacques_2E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bruyas_jacques_2E.html
Author of Article:   C. J. Jaenen
Title of Article:   BRUYAS, JACQUES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1969
Year of revision:   2014
Access Date:   October 1, 2023