BUISSON DE SAINT-COSME, JEAN-FRANÇOIS, priest of the seminary of Quebec, founder of the Sainte-Famille mission to the Tamaroas; b. 30 Jan. 1667 at Lauson, son of Michel Buisson (Bisson), dit Saint-Cosme and Suzanne Delicérasse (de Lizeiras); murdered in 1706 in the Mississippi country.
The family of the Abbé Buisson came originally from Saint-Cosme-de-Vair (department of Sarthe) in France [see Jean-François Buisson de Saint-Cosme (1660–1712)]. This place-name, which was often used, without commas, with the Buissons’ name to indicate their place of origin, finally became part of their surname. In his explanation of this onomastic peculiarity Monsignor Amédée Gosselin wrote concerning Jean-François the missionary: “He was the son of Michel Buisson, de Saint-Cosme, naturally, and of Suzanne . . . It was probably this sentence which, misunderstood, caused the English-language historian Webster to say, basing himself upon Gosselin, that Michel’s son was an illegitimate child, whereas he was born three years after his parents’ marriage.
When he was eight, Buisson de Saint-Cosme entered the Petit Séminaire of Quebec. In 1690 he was received into the priesthood. In choosing to serve the church he had followed a vocation that was, so to speak, a family one. Indeed, his younger brother Michel also became a priest, his sister Marie-Françoise joined the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu, and another sister, who has not been identified, received the habit of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame from Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix]. As for the parents, they gave up their station as well-to-do settlers to “give” themselves to the seminary of Quebec and administered its farm on Île Jésus.
Buisson de Saint-Cosme was parish priest for the parish of Les Mines (Grand Pré) in Acadia from 1692 (or earlier) till 1698, during the stormy period of Governor Joseph Robinau* de Villebon’s administration. Like other priests in the colony he was accused of meddling in temporal affairs. His recall was even discussed. At the same time certain of his superiors said that they were “distressed” by his “attitudes” and by his “supply of conceit” which modest talents did not redeem.
He was chosen nonetheless to become one of the pioneers in the missionary work carried on by the seminary of Quebec in the Mississippi Valley [see Davion]. In April 1699, with the aim of acting as a link between the mission to the Taensas and Quebec, which were 1,000 leagues (about 2,760 miles) apart, Buisson de Saint-Cosme settled among the Tamaroas on the east bank of the Mississippi, six leagues downstream from its junction with the Missouri.
His church was barely finished when Father Julien Bineteau arrived unexpectedly in May. He had been sent from Pimitoui (Peoria) by the Jesuits; the latter did not look kindly upon these gentlemen of the Missions Étrangères who were coming to work in their territories. According to the assertions of the priests of the seminary and of the explorer Henri Tonty, the Society of Jesus considered as part of its mission to the Illinois a village some 220 miles (80 leagues) away which had never been evangelized. Saint-Cosme’s adversaries claimed a prior right to carry on the apostleship to the Tamaroas, particularly because of the “flying missions” which they had conducted among these Indians when they came to Pimitoui or during their summer migrations. Consequently the Jesuits challenged the validity of the letters patent issued 14 July 1698. Bishop Saint-Vallier, by these letters patent, officially authorized the directors of the seminary of Quebec to create a mission in the Tamaroa country in case, the bishop specified, “other missionaries who did not belong to their body endeavoured, perhaps by virtue of letters patent granted them by us previously, to exclude them from the right to settle among the Indians called Tamaroas and to carry on missions.”
Father Bineteau accordingly entered into open competition with Saint-Cosme. According to the latter the Jesuit did everything in his power to prevent him from learning the prayers and the catechism in the Illinois language. Father Jacques Gravier even forbade him expressly to exercise any ministry, among either the French or the Indians.
When Marc Bergier replaced him at the Sainte-Famille mission, Saint-Cosme went off to the lower Mississippi in July 1700. He took the place of the vicar general, François de Montigny*, among the Natchez. His apostolate there did not bear fruit because of his limited gift for languages, the fact that the Indians lived widely dispersed, and their customs, which made them ill disposed to receiving the message of the gospel. We might add that he was not fond of the Indians and even called for servants who were “capable of standing up to the most wicked Indian,” for, he said, “it is awkward for a missionary to have to punch an Indian.”
Saint-Cosme’s misgivings were well founded, for at the end of 1706, while going down to Mobile, he was killed by the arrows of the Chitimachas. According to a document in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the origin and author of which seem to be unknown, it was supposedly discovered after his death that Saint-Cosme had been the lover of the Natchez’ Great Sun, that is to say the Indian woman who ruled over them. He was even supposed to have had a son by her, the Natchez chief named Saint-Cosme who in 1729 directed the massacre of the French by his tribe. These assertions may seem rather ironical if one bears in mind the intransigence which the missionary demonstrated to those about him as regards morals and the vigour with which he stigmatized throughout his correspondence the debauchery of the French and the depravity of the Indians.
ASQ, Lettres, M, 30, 37; N, 114, 117, 121, 122; O, 7, 12, 49; R, 26–40 (correspondance de Buisson de Saint-Cosme, 30 août 1698–8 janv. 1706), 53, 82; MSS, 29; Missions, 49; Polygraphie, IX, 17, 24, 25. BN, MS, NAF 2550, f.115. Noël Baillargeon, “Les missions du séminaire de Québec dans la vallée du Mississipi 1698–1699,” AQ Rapport, 1965, 13–56. Caron, “Inventaire de documents,” APQ Rapport, 1939–40, 1940–41. Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), IV, 250; V, 408, 433–35. Fleur de Lys and Calumet: being the Pénicaut narrative of a French adventure in Louisiana, ed. and tr. R. G. McWilliams (Baton Rouge, La., 1953), 70f. JR (Thwaites). Webster, Acadia, 194. Godbout, “Nos ancêtres,” APQ Rapport, 1955–57, 438ff. Delanglez, French Jesuits in Louisiana, 63. Giraud, Histoire de la Louisiane française, I. O’Neill, Church and state in Louisiana. Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIe siècle, III, 538f., 567; Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIIe siècle, I, 258–60. Amédée Gosselin, “Les Buisson de Saint-Cosme, prêtres,” BRH, XXX (1924), 195–98.