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BRUYAS, JACQUES, Jesuit missionary to the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), author, interpreter, and deputy of the governor general in negotiations with the Iroquois and the English; baptized 14 July 1635 at Lyons, son of Jacques Bruyas, a merchant, and a woman named Étienette; d. 15 June 1712 at Caughnawaga (Kahnawake, Que.).

Aged 16, Jacques Bruyas became a Jesuit novice on 11 Nov. 1651, and in 1666 he 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 that were being reopened after Prouville* de Tracy and Rémy* de Courcelles expedition against the Mohawk and Oneida. The peace terms that resulted from this expedition included an agreement that the Iroquois would give 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 hostile Mohican party.

Bruyas arrived in the Oneida village 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 Iroquois converts to form the nucleus of a congregation, most of the Oneida were antagonistic. The opposition of the medicine-men and the Iroquois’ adherence to their religion further complicated Bruyas’s task. His first report to his superior reached Quebec on 15 Dec. 1667, having been brought by a Huron (Wendat) runner. Another communication of 21 Jan. 1668 indicated that Bruyas was hindered in his apostolic labours by the licentiousness of those whom he was trying to convert; as well, his life was threatened because of dreams that had great influence over the Iroquois. He did not as yet understand the languages of the Iroquois, and therefore could not supply accurate information about their attitudes towards the French and towards Catholicism. He believed that Tracys military campaign had rendered the Oneida more amenable to the gospel; nevertheless, he had succeeded in baptizing only 60 sickly infants and 4 adults. In general, however, the Oneida were beginning to treat him with respect; they had permitted him to instruct the catechumens and 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 missionarys instructions. It was she who taught him the Oneida language.

The English and Dutch continued to provide the Iroquois with prodigious quantities of brandy and wine. Some Iroquois were “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 Iroquois territory 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 there came news that some Oneida had been robbed of their furs and killed by French traders near Montreal, one hostage being held there 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 Netherlands on 16 Aug. 1669 decided him to leave for Lake Oneida 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 who were working 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, however, were not so soon ended. 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 Mohawk and became in 1670 the superior of the Iroquois missions. Opposition and disappointments continued to mark his evangelical labours. In 1673, when Chief Togouiroui*, known to the French as the “Great Mohawk,” was converted and settled with many other Mohawk on the banks of the St Lawrence, the Mohawk from 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 near the French colony. 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 people there; most of them had, however, “already taken possession of heaven.” The next summer three 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) near Montreal. Father Chauchetière spent 1681 with him at this mission and reported that Bruyas was responsible for the spiritual needs of the residents “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 Indigenous people came to the reserve to escape the drunken debaucheries in their villages. Nevertheless, when disorders fomented by brandy erupted at Caughnawaga many returned to their cantons. A letter addressed to Governor Buade* de Frontenac, in April 1691, reveals Bruyas’ understanding of the Mohawk. Between August 1693 and 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 Onondaga 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) Governor Bellomont of New York wished to enslave them. The Dutch envoy who was present left in anger and defeat. Nineteen deputies from the Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Cayuga started for Montreal with 13 French prisoners. The governor received them on 8 September but would make only a temporary peace: he insisted on the return of all prisoners and a union of all the Iroquois nations in subscribing to the peace terms.

In June of 1701 Bruyas was again sent to the Onondaga to continue the negotiations, particularly to persuade the Mohawk and Oneida to take part in the peace conference. On this occasion he decided not to oppose openly plans for Anglican missionary work among the Huron, but warned the Iroquois that if they agreed to the requests of Governor Bellomont’s agents and did not attend the Montreal peace talks they could expect nothing in the future from the French governor. The Iroquois delegates proceeded to Montreal. There, at the conference in August 1701, Bruyas conveyed Governor Callière’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, a catechism and a prayer-book in Mohawk, and probably a dictionary of the Seneca language.

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 (Shea’s 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 pères 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 pères 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.

Bibliography for the revised version:
Arch. Municipales, Lyon, France, “Reg. paroissiaux et d’état civil, Saint-Paul, 14 juill. 1635: recherches.archives-lyon.fr/page/etat-civil (consulted 24 May 2023). Céline Gendron, Le papier voyageur: provenance, circulation et utilisation en Nouvelle-France au XVIIe siècle (thèse de phd, Univ. de Montréal, 2017).

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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 September 26, 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:   2023
Access Date:   September 26, 2023