DRUILLETTES (the following forms are also found: Dreuillettes, Drouillettes, Drouillet, Droulletes, Drueillettes, Druilletes), GABRIEL, priest, Jesuit, missionary, and explorer; b. 29 Sept. 1610 at Garat (diocese of Limoges, France); d. 8 April 1681 at Quebec.
Gabriel Druillettes entered the noviciate of the Society of Jesus 28 July 1629 at Toulouse. He studied philosophy at Le Puy, taught at Mauriac, Béziers, and Puy, followed the course in theology at Toulouse, was ordained priest in 1641 or 1642, and sailed to Canada on 15 Aug. 1643, immediately after completing his training as a Jesuit. This missionary, whose name survives especially because of his explorations, has also other claims to be remembered by history. Among the Jesuits of New France, none perhaps made such a deep and rapid impression upon the Indians. No man, in any case, presented such an alliance of burning zeal with the gifts of the miracle-worker and the conquering power of gentleness.
The sources reveal Father Druillettes as specializing in wintering with Indian hunters. His career was decided by an early reverse. In September 1643 he was to accompany Brébeuf to the Huron country, but he was detained at Quebec by the Iroquois blockade. Consequently he was sent to Sillery to learn Montagnais. In the autumn of 1643 the Christian Montagnais asked him to go hunting with them. Druillettes set off in November or December, carrying his baggage on his shoulders as they did, together with his sacred vessels; like them he ranged the woods on snowshoes after moose, slept in filth amongst the dogs, shared the sagamité or the smoked meat of the natives, and their fasts of several days’ duration as well. The worst ordeal was the smoke of the lodges. Druillette’s eyes gradually grew weaker; he became completely blind, and his companions had to assign him a child to lead him. An old woman offered to give him treatment, and she scraped the cornea with a rusty knife. The remedy was worse than the disease. Finally the missionary called his flock around him and asked them to pray for him. He began a mass of the Virgin Mary, from memory. Suddenly, in the middle of the service, the light of day appeared to him again, shining and splendid. The mass was concluded with thanksgiving, and Druillettes never again suffered from his eyes. [JR (Thwaites), XXVII, 215–19.]
This was the starting point of his extraordinary power of intercession on behalf of the Indians, who were to consider him everywhere as a miraculous being. Druillettes spent other winter seasons in a similar way in 1647–48, 1649–50, and 1664–65; for these periods we have evidence, but there are probably others. He travelled through the woods of Nouveau-Québec to the north of Tadoussac, those of the south shore in the region of Matane and the Notre-Dame mountains, and perhaps went to Sept-Îles and to Lac Saint-Jean. Apart from these winter journeys, he accompanied the Montagnais in war and regularly conducted the Tadoussac mission during the summer. The natives flocked from the most distant forests to hear his words, took them back with them, and themselves made converts.
Father Druillettes is known as the missionary to the Abenakis. In 1646, influenced by Negabamat, these Indians of the Kennebec River basin asked for a missionary. Father Druillettes set off from Sillery on 29 August to go to them. He learned their language in three months, visited the Abenaki villages and the English settlements, and even went by sea to the Penobscot River, meeting the Capuchins who were missionaries in these parts. His preaching, further reinforced by amazing cures, conquered the Indians. Druillettes went hunting with the Abenakis in the region of Lake Moosehead (Maine), encountering the usual difficulties but gaining his companions’ confidence more and more. From that time on the Abenakis, without being baptized, were won over to the faith. The Capuchins declared to the superior of Quebec that they feared a conflict of authority, and consequently Father Druillettes was not sent back to Maine in 1647 or 1648, despite the Indians’ entreaties. But the Capuchin superior then changed his mind, and Father Druillettes returned there 1 Sept. 1650, with the donné Jean Guérin. This time Druillettes was the governor of Quebec’s ambassador for the preparation of an alliance with New England against the Iroquois. He also carried on missionary work in Maine, acquired valuable friendships among the English, through almost all of whose country he travelled, and returned to Quebec in the spring of 1651, with hopes which were however not to come to fruition. He set off again on 22 June of the same year, to exercise his apostolate among the Abenakis and to continue his embassy. It was a fearful journey, by an enormous detour, since he had to go far up the Saint John River in order to reach the headwaters of the Kennebec. The amazing effects of the missionary’s prayers delighted the Indians on several occasions; they adopted him as one of their own people and the English urged him to remain in the country. But he had to go back in 1652, eating on the way the boiled leather from his shoes and his moose-skin jerkin, and the thongs of his snow-shoes.
Less well known among Father Druillettes’ merits is the fact that he was the true initiator of the grandiose project for establishing the western missions. Following up the reports of Radisson* and Chouart Des Groseilliers, and also of Indians encountered at Tadoussac, he located and took censuses of the various tribes of these regions. This was in 1655. In 1656 he set off for the west with Léonard Garreau, having already joined up with a party of Algonkins. Before reaching Montreal Garreau was mortally wounded by the Iroquois, and Druillettes, abandoned by the Algonkins, was obliged to turn back. In 1661 he conceived the fantastic plan of resuming this journey by way of Tadoussac, the Saguenay, and Hudson Bay. With Claude Dablon and Guillaume Couture* he reached the watershed, at Lac Nikabau. But fear of the Iroquois, even in those distant regions, caused the defection of his Indian guides, who went back to Tadoussac. Druillettes, with his body worn out by so many hardships but his courage still indomitable, had to wait until 1670 in order to realize his dream, when, as a stiff-jointed old man of 60, he went up to take charge at Sault Ste. Marie. There the great deeds of his maturity were repeated, and each year the report from the Sault, in the Relations, gave longer lists of the extraordinary favours that lent lustre to his apostolate. Around 1680 this old campaigner for Christ was brought back to Quebec, where he died in his seventy-first year. The few writings of Father Druillettes that will be found in the works quoted below have no literary interest; his real works were the men whom he formed and inspired: Pierre Bailloquet, Charles Albanel, Jacques Marquette, Claude Dablon, Henri Nouvel*.
Charlevoix, Histoire, I, 279–81, 310–11, 326–27. JR (Thwaites). François Elesban de Guilhermy, Ménologe de la Compagnie de Jésus . . . Assistance de France, comprenant les missions de l’Archipel, de l’Arménie, de la Syrie, . . . du Canada, de la Louisiane . . . , éd. Jacques Terrien (2pts., Paris, 1892), I, 471–74. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire, I, 535. Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la Nouvelle-France au XVIIe siècle, I, 267–73; II, 131–35, 151, 368–69.