BESCHEFER, THIERRY, priest, Jesuit, missionary, superior of the Canadian mission; b. 25 March 1630 at Châlons-sur-Marne (province of Champagne); d. 4 Feb. 1711 at the Jesuit college in Reims.
Thierry Beschefer entered the noviciate at Nancy, in the ecclesiastical province of Champagne, on 24 May 1647. If we are to believe what we read in the registers of the society, we gather that he had superior intellectual gifts which won him his colleagues’ esteem. By the time he was in his second noviciate year he was teaching at Pont-à-Mousson, where from 1650 to 1653 he devoted himself to the study of philosophy. He then taught in several Jesuit colleges. On finishing his studies and being ordained a priest in 1661 he taught rhetoric, again at Pont-à-Mousson, then classics at the college in Metz. He must have done his Third Year at Nancy, since he made his profession at the noviciate there on 15 Aug. 1664.
On 19 June 1665 Beschefer arrived at Quebec on Captain Le Gagneur’s ship, which likewise carried four companies of the Carignan-Salières regiment. His superiors immediately urged him to study the Huron language at Quebec. The energy with which Prouville* de Tracy undertook at that time to subdue the Iroquois gave the most turbulent members of the Five Nations, the Mohawks and the Oneidas, cause for reflection, and in the summer of 1666 an embassy from the two tribes appeared at Quebec and asked for peace talks. The lieutenant general then decided to send Father Beschefer, with some of the envoys, as ambassadors to the English, the new masters of New Amsterdam (New York). The Jesuit departed 20 July 1666, accompanied by an interpreter, Jacques de Cailhault de La Tesserie, and a donné, Charles Boquet*. By 28 July, however, he was back at Quebec with his whole escort: the embassy had been stopped at Trois-Rivières by the news that the Mohawks had massacred three Frenchmen and captured M. de Lerole Canchy, M. de Tracy’s cousin.
Beschefer went back to studying the Huron language. According to the register for 1667 he was sent in the last months of that year to spend the winter on the Îles Percées (across from Boucherville); it is more probable that he spent it at Pierre Boucher’snewly cleared farm at Boucherville. In 1668 Beschefer was appointed superior of the mission to the Algonkins at Cap-de-la-Madeleine; this mission post was in decline then because of the disorders arising from the trade in spirits and does not seem to have been kept up after 1670, when Beschefer left it. Father Jean Pierron*, another native of Champagne, was at the time in charge of the Martyrs’ mission in the Mohawk country, one of the most unrewarding of the period because of the influence which the inhabitants of Albany had on these Indians. In 1670 Pierron came to Quebec to seek help, and Beschefer was sent to aid him, along with Father François Boniface. During the years 1670–71, 84 persons were baptized at the mission, but 74 of these neophytes died after receiving the sacrament, most of them being children under seven years of age.
On 12 July 1671 Father Claude Dablon* took over the office of rector of the Jesuit college in Quebec and superior general of the mission. In 1672 he called Beschefer to Quebec and entrusted to him the duties of minister of the college, prefect of studies, prefect of the church and confessor, and catechist at the church. During the whole of Father Dablon’s superiorship Beschefer fulfilled these functions, to which he added that of chaplain of the prison of Quebec. On 6 Aug. 1680 he became superior in his turn. His administration coincided with the renewal of the Iroquois peril, for the fear which had kept the cantons quiet since Tracy’s campaigns had been dispelled. The governor of New York, Thomas Dongan, was planning to dominate all trade to the north and west by using the Iroquois, to whom he offered prices for their furs that the French could not compete with. The Iroquois began systematically to destroy the most distant allies of the French, with the intention of falling upon the colony along the St Lawrence when they had isolated it. Meanwhile Buade* de Frontenac left Canada and was succeeded by Le Febvre* de La Barre. On 10 Oct. 1682 the new governor convened an assembly of the notables of the country at the Jesuit college. Beschefer, as the superior, attended it with Fathers Dablon and Frémin*. The peril was lucidly analysed and energetic measures were decided upon. But we know that the governor’s indecision and blunders served only to make the Iroquois more daring.
In a letter to the provincial in Paris dated 21 Oct. 1683 Father Beschefer, as superior, reported on the state of the missions. The most distant were assigned to three large districts, each with a superior responsible to Quebec. The Tadoussac mission covered all the basin of the Saguenay up to its source, both shores of the St Lawrence as far as its mouth, and part of the Maritimes. It was directed by Father François de Crespieul, who was aided by two missionaries and who followed the nomads over this territory on their hunting and trading expeditions. The mission to the Ottawas was run by Father Jean Enjalran, whose assistants ranged over the three lakes, Huron, Michigan, and Superior, and even at this time were going among the Sioux. The mission to the Iroquois was divided among the Five Cantons and was under the direction of Father Jean de Lamberville. Finally, closer to Quebec and directly dependent upon it were: the mission to the Hurons at Lorette, the mission at Sillery, where several Abenakis had just arrived seeking refuge, the mission at Sault-Saint-Louis (Caughnawaga), to which came Christians abandoning the Iroquois tribes. The main difficulty encountered by the missionaries was the Indians’ fondness for spirits, a fondness which the European traders, English, Dutch, or French, exploited shamelessly.
On 18 Aug. 1686 Beschefer was replaced as superior by Father Claude Dablon and again became prefect of studies at the college, adviser to the mission, and confessor at the church. He was to carry out these duties until 1690. Two letters, all that remains of a close correspondence with M. Cabart de Villermont, are the only documents by him that we have for this period. The first, dated 19 Sept. 1687, recounts in detail Brisay de Denonville’s expedition against the Senecas (1687) and a military exploit by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville in the Hudson Bay region (1686). The second letter, written on the 22 October following, gives information concerning Canada’s riches in natural resources, several samples of which the Jesuit sent to France.
In 1690 the provincial of France recalled Beschefer to Paris to be procurator of the Canadian mission, with his residence at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. However Beschefer gave up this charge and sailed again for Canada in the summer of 1691, but he was obliged to take advantage of a meeting with another ship to return to France because of illness. He went back to his native province of Champagne and lived at the Jesuit college in Reims, where he served as minister and prefect of the church. In 1707, as his health was declining, he no longer had any role but that of confessor. From 1709 on he is referred to as an old man but nevertheless retained the office of adviser. He died two years later, having almost reached the age of 81.
ARSI, Francia 23 and 24; Gallia 10, ff.153–54. JR (Thwaites). Catalogi sociorum et officiorum provinciae Campaniae Societatis Iesu ab anno 1616 ad annum 1773, éd. L. Carrez (10v., Châlons, Paris, Lille, 1897–1914).