FLÉCHÉ, JESSÉ, also Jossé Flesche (Biard), Josué Fleche (Champlain), Fleuchy and Fleuche; priest, missionary in Acadia; b. at Lantages, in the diocese of Langres (France); d. 1611 (?) in France.
In 1607 Henri IV had allowed Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt to continue his colonizing endeavours in Acadia, but on condition that he take some Jesuits there to preach the gospel to the Indians. Not desiring the presence of Jesuits, Poutrincourt, when he finally sailed from Dieppe on 25 Feb. 1610, took with him only one priest, Abbé Fléché. The latter, according to Lescarbot, may have received his powers from the Nuncio Roberto Ubaldini. Rochemonteix, however, questions this statement, “for the Nuncio,” he said, “was not unaware that the king had appointed two Jesuits for the Canadian mission,” Fathers Biard and Massé.
Fléché landed at Port-Royal at the end of May or the beginning of June 1610. On 24 June, less than a month after his arrival, he administered baptism to the Micmac chief Membertou and 20 members of his family. One may justifiably be surprised at such haste, even if Lescarbot does warn us that during Poutrincourt’s first stay in Acadia, in 1606 and 1607, these Indians had received some instruction. Since Fléché did not know the Indian language, it was Charles de Biencourt, Poutrincourt’s son, who at his father’s request undertook to teach the catechism to the Indians.
In precipitating events Fléché had apparently yielded to the pressure of Poutrincourt, who through the zeal that he showed for evangelization hoped to retain royal favour, to obtain the financial support of pious and wealthy individuals, and to prove to the court at one and the same time that the Jesuit ministry was not really necessary in Acadia. Champlain perhaps provides the explanation for this haste when he writes that shortly after the ceremony the governor sent his son Biencourt to France, “to carry the good news of the baptism of the Indians.” It appears certain that Poutrincourt, although genuinely desirous of winning over Indians to the faith, had good reasons – perhaps of a financial nature – for displaying such fervent apostolic zeal.
Lescarbot tells us that more than a hundred Indians were thus baptized in 1610 and 1611. When the Jesuits Biard and Massé finally arrived (1611), they were astounded to discover that the baptized Indians were ignorant of even the rudiments of the faith. A fresh start had to be made to teach the gospel. The learned theologians of the Sorbonne moreover disapproved of this speedy fashion of conferring baptism. The Jesuits put this experience to good use: from then on they baptized adults in good health only after a long probation.
Jessé Fléché, who had been nicknamed the “Patriarch” by the Indians, sailed for France in June 1611. According to certain historians, he died in France that same year.