PONCET DE LA RIVIÈRE, JOSEPH-ANTOINE, priest, Jesuit, and missionary; b. 7 May 1610 in Paris, son of Jean Poncet de La Rivière et de Brétigny, a member of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, and of Marguerite Thiersault; d. 18 June 1675 in Martinique (he must not be confused with Joseph-Antoine Poncet, another Jesuit, b. 1652, and d. 12 Aug. 1697 in Newfoundland on his way to Canada).
Joseph-Antoine Poncet de La Rivière was admitted into the noviciate of the Jesuits in Paris on 30 July 1629. He taught at the Collège in Orléans (1631–34), then began his theological studies at the Collège de Clermont (1634–35), and went to Rome to finish them (1635–38). Having completed his spiritual training in Paris (1638–39), he sailed for Quebec, where he arrived on 1 Aug. 1639. That same year Father Poncet went up among the Hurons, but remained there only a year and returned to Quebec. At the beginning of 1642 he was at Trois-Rivières with Father Buteux, and in July went to take charge of the parish of Montreal, where he remained until the spring of 1643. The last years of his stay in Canada seem to have been taken up with various occupations at Quebec and on the St. Lawrence.
Three points are noteworthy in his career in Canada. The first is the part he played in the missionary vocation of Marie de l’Incarnation [see Guyart], whose son, Claude, he had known at the Collège in Orléans, and whom he had put in touch with Mme Chauvigny de La Peltrie in the autumn of 1638. The two women became friends and came to Canada in 1639 with Father Poncet himself. The second episode is his capture by the Iroquois on 20 Aug. 1653. They took him into their country and subjected him to the usual tortures inflicted on prisoners. Father Poncet lost his left index finger and apparently acquired a certain aversion for the Iroquois; but he got off with his life, was adopted by an old woman, and was finally freed in October 1653. The third incident was brought about by the arrival in 1657 of Abbé Queylus [see Thubières], with a vicar general’s powers received from the archbishop of Rouen. Father Jean de Quen, the superior of Quebec, a man of peace if ever there was one, and who possessed the same powers, found himself in a most delicate situation. Father Poncet, at that time priest of the parish of Quebec, had already shown signs of being an unreliable and capricious character; by his refusal to obey Father de Quen he caused a conflict of jurisdiction between the superior and the dictatorial abbé. Father de Quen’s gentleness smoothed things over fairly well, but Father Poncet, named to go among the Iroquois, preferred to be repatriated, and his wish was granted that same year, 1657.
However, Father Poncet never gave up the idea of returning to Canada; in France he took one step after another to achieve this. Not being successful, chiefly because of opposition from the Canadian Jesuits, he asked to be transferred to Rome. He went there in 1665, but was no more successful, so that finally in 1671 he agreed to be sent to the West Indies. His last years were spent teaching the gospel to the black inhabitants of Martinique. He died on that island at the age of 65, attended by his former Canadian superior, Father François-Joseph Le Mercier. Father Poncet had an attractive personality, and did not lack talent, virtues, or zeal, although his suspicious and irritable character made him unhappy and difficult to handle. He has left an account of his captivity among the Iroquois, quoted by Father Le Mercier in his 1653 Relation.
Marie Guyart de l’Incarnation, Écrits (Jamet), III, 93, 109–56, et passim. JR (Thwaites). Faillon, Histoire de la colonie française, II, 276–83. Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la Nouvelle-France au XVIIe siècle, I, 301–6; II, 137–40, 210–32.