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Pierre Millet

Pierre Millet

( Or Milet).

A celebrated early Jesuit missionary in New York State, b. at Bourges, France, 19 November, 1635 (al. 1631); d. at Quebec, 31 December, 1708. Having graduated Master of Arts, he entered the Society of Jesus at Paris on 3 October, 1655, studied philosophy at La Flèche (1657-8), taught various classes there (1658-61) and at Compiègne (1661-3), and then returned to La Flèche for a second year of philosophy (1663-4). After a four years' course in theology at the College of Louis-le-Grand in Paris (1664-8), he was sent to Canada, and had already been chosen to help Father Allouez in the west, when, quite unexpectedly, his destination was changed. The Onondaga ambassadors had received the answer to their address, on 27 August, 1668, and Fathers Millet and de Carheil were assigned them as missionaries. In an incredibly short time Millet picked up enough of the language to enable him to preside at public prayers and to his still greater satisfaction, to teach catechism. This joy, however, was soon turned to sadness and pity at the sight, new to him, of some captive Andastes, brought in by a war party to be burnt at the stake. His feelings may be gathered from what he wrote on this occasion: "I am at a loss to know how to interpret this presage. Would to God that it might betoken that I was to make of these tribes captives of Jesus Christ and prevent their burning throughout eternity. What happiness for me if it foreshadowed that one day I also might be a captive to be burnt for Jesus Christ."

His method of evangelizing the Onondagas may be judged from a letter written from the mission of St. Jean Baptiste, 15 June, 1670 (Rel. 1670, vii). In 1671 he made his solemn profession of the four vows, and received from the Onondaga nation the name of Teahronhiagannra, that is "The Looker-up to Heaven". In 1672 he was appointed missionary of the Oneidas (q.v.), "the most arrogant and least tractable of all the Iroquois" (Rel. 1672, iii), and laboured among them until 1685 with marvellous success. He was then recalled to act as interpreter at the Grand Council of Peace to be held at Catarakouy (now Kingston, Ontario). Both he and the other missionaries were shamefully duped by the governor and used to lure the Iroquois into the pitfall prepared for them (see Missions, Indian; Charlevoix, I, 510). Late in 1687 or early in 1688 Millet was sent as chaplain at Fort Niagara. Here, as at Catarakouy, scurvy was decimating the troops, affording ample scope for Millet's charity and zeal. To invoke God's mercy in behalf of the stricken garrison, a cross eighteen feet high was erected in the fort by the officers and blessed by Father Millet on Good Friday, 16 April, 1688. On 15 Sept., 1688, however, the remnants of the garrison were informed the fort was to be evacuated, and all were to embark for Catarakouy.

Millet was still engaged at Catarakouy in the ordinary routine of a military chaplain, when about 30 July, 1689, a party of Iroquois presented themselves at Fort Frontenac and asked for an interview. They professed to be on their way home from Montreal whither they had gone with propositions of peace. They needed a surgeon, they said, for some of their chiefs who were sick and Father Millet's services for one who was dying, while the elders wished also to consult with him (Millet's letter in Rels., Cleveland ed., LXIV, 64). They story looked suspicious, but as there was question of a soul to save, Millet undertook the risk, and St. Armand, a surgeon, accompanied him. Both were immediately set upon and bound; his captors first took Millet's breviary, and were divesting him of all he carried, when Manchot, an Oneida chief, interposed on his behalf, and recommended him to the care of the other chiefs. But, when Manchot left to join the three hundred Iroquois who were lying in wait to attack Fort Frontenac, the maltreatment recommenced. Having stripped him almost naked, the Indians bitterly reproached him for all that their countrymen had suffered from the French; they then threw him into the water and trampled him under foot (ibid., 69). When the other Indians returned after their failure to surprise Fort Frontenac, he was escorted to an island two leagues below the fort, where the main body of 1400 Iroquois warriors were encamped. Derisive shouts and yells went up at his approach. According to custom, he was made sing his death-song, the words which came first to his mind being Ongienda Kehasakchoüa (I have been made a prisoner by my children). For all thanks a Seneca Indian struck him a brutal blow in the face with his fist in such a way that the nails cut him to the bone. He was then led to the cabins of the Oneidas where he was protected from further insult. That same evening the whole force moved down the river eight leagues from the fort, and there halted three days.

On a hilltop on what is now Grenadier island a great council was held, the war-kettle swung, and all that remained was to choose a fitting victim to cast into it. The final decision was left to the Onondagas, and no doubt the lot would have fallen on Millet, whose death at the hands of the Iroquois would have set the seal to an undying enmity and an unrelenting war, such as they seemed to desire with the French, but for an apparently insignificant detail which had been overlooked. To make the proceedings legal according to their code, all the prisoners should have been present, whereas only the surgeon and Father Millet stood before the council (ibid. 73). The captors of the other prisoners had scattered in hunting parties and had taken them along. An elderly Cayuga sachem blocked all proceedings with the simple announcement: "All are not present at this assembly", and then bade Millet to pray to God. Informed that it was not in preparation for death. Millet rose and prayed aloud in Iroquois, especially for all those assembled. He was then told to resume his seat, one of his hands was unbound, and he was sent to the camp of the Oneidas. There he was acclaimed with joy by several of their leading men, who, to forestall further molestation, determined to send him to Oneida. The next day (about 2 August, 1689), thirty warriors were told off under two chiefs, of whom one was the friendly Manchot, to conduct him thither; from one of Millet's letters (ibid., 87, 91), it is certain that the main body of Indians they were leaving was the identical band of Iroquois who, about 4 August, crossed during the night to the north side of Lake St. Louis, fired the houses for several leagues along the lake shore from St. Anne's to Lachine, and butchered men, women, and children as they fled from their burning homes. Two hundred in all were massacred, and ninety carried off to be burnt at the stake. Charlevoix's statement (Hist., I, 549) that this occurrence took place on 25 August is erroneous; the contemporaneous reports of de Denonville, de Champigny, and de Frontenac (Archives Colon. Paris. Cor. Gen. Can. X) give the correct date as 4 and 5 August, 1689. The surgeon St. Amand, whom the Iroquois had brought with them to Lacine, there made his escape (Collec. MSS. Quebec, I, 571).

On the journey to Oneida, Father Millet was not badly treated; he was unencumbered by any burden until they were nearing their last night's sleeping place, ten leagues from their destination, when one of the friendly chiefs, probably to keep up appearances, gave him a light sack to carry. On 9 August, two leagues from their destination, they met Manchot's wife and daughter, belonging to the first nobility of Oneida, both of whom Father Millet had formerly baptized on the same day as Manchot himself. Manchot had left the army at Otoniata for the sole purpose of protecting Millet on the way to Oneida, and had gone ahead two days before to notify his wife of his approach. These good Christians brought with them an abundance of provisions and refreshments; they took the rope from Millet's neck, unbound his arms, and gave him clean clothing. Greatly moved by this kindness and scarcely realizing what he saw, Millet asked if their intention was to deck out the victim, and if, on his arrival, he was to die. The Christian matron answered that nothing had yet been settled, and that the council of Oneida would decide. Clothed with what he had just received and in a close-fitting jerkin which a sympathizing warrior had lent him at Otoniata, Millet made his approach to the town, wearing the livery of the two most important families of the tribe, that of the Bear and that of the Tortoise. Warned of his near arrival the aged sachems marched out to meet him, and kindled a fire in readiness for what might occur, for they did not all entertain the same benevolent feeling towards him. He was made sit down near the elders, and Manchot presented him to this preliminary council, declaring that he had come, not as a captive, but as a missionary returning to visit his flock; that it was the will of the other chiefs and himself that the father should be placed at the disposal of those who decided the affairs of the nation, and not be given over to the soldiery or populace. A sachem of the Bear Clan, a great friend of the English, then proceeded to denounce Millet as a partisan of the Governor of Canada, who was bent on over-throwing the great Iroquois lodge (i.e., the Iroquois Confederacy), and had burned the Seneca towns. The orator was so violent at the beginning of his speech, that it looked as if Millet would be condemned; but towards the close he grew milder, and admitted that since such was the will of the chiefs, the prisoner should be led to the council lodge which was a privileged cabin.

Crowds of drunken Indian braves and squaws, shouting and yelling, followed him to the council lodge, where he was cordially welcomed by Manchot's wife (ibid., 81). He had, however, to be hidden from the mob of drunken Indians, who stoned the cabin, threatened to batter it down or set it on fire, heaped abuse on those who were sheltering him, and vowed that, since war had begun, they would not be cheated out of its first fruits. Two days after, when the fury of the drunken rabble had somewhat abated, the friends of the captive missionary thought it wiser to have his case adjudicated without further delay, as the popular feeling might be embittered should the army returning from Montreal have to deplore the loss of some of its braves. But once again he was placed in a state of suspense as to his fate, the assembled chiefs deciding that they must wait the return of the warriors and learn what their intentions were. Three more weeks dragged on thus, but, apart from the importunities and threats of the drunkards, Millet was left in comparative quiet. That he was walking in the shadow of death, is shown by the fact that he was given the name of Genherontatie, i.e., "The Dead (or Dying) Man who walks". His everyday work as pastor served to console him, the faithful flocking to him in their spiritual necessities, even to the remote lurking places where he had frequently to be hidden, and his bodily wants were amply supplied. When the Iroquois returned after their bloody foray against Lachine and other settlements near Montreal, it was found that the Oneidas had left three dead warriors behind in the enemy's country, including a leading war-chief. The exasperated braves considered the death and torture of the number of prisoners they had brought back insufficient to atone for this loss, and demanded that Millet should be added to the number. Fearing lest this bloodthirsty faction should, by cutting off a finger or by some similar mutilation, set the mark of death upon their missionary, the Christian Indians were more careful than ever to keep him out of sight (ibid., 87). He was made pass the night sometime in one cabin, sometimes in another, and more than once under the starlight, anywhere in fact where a drunken Indian was not likely to find him. His protectress added foresight to her zeal, and secured the support of her relatives, the most influential warriors of the tribe, towards saving Millet.

The day when the final sentence was to be pronounced arrived at last. Millet had time to hear the confessions of his fellow-prisoners, two of whom eventually died by fire. As or himself, he could only commend himself to the providence and the mercy of God. His case was a knotty one for the assembled chief to decide: on the one hand, he was regarded by the Iroquois as a great criminal and deceiver, being held responsible for the seizure of their fellow-countrymen of Catarakouy (ibid., 89); but, on the other, he was protected by the Christians, among whom were the most influential and distinguished members of the nation, and thus could not be put to death without incurring their displeasure. The result was that he was sent to and fro from one special tribunal to another, his face smeared with black and red to brand him as a victim of the god of war and of the wrath of the Iroquois. At this critical juncture the family which had befriended him so often assembled anew, and ingeniously turned the difficulty in Millet's favour by offering him as a substitute -- not for one of the braves killed by the French at Lachine, nor for any prisoner at Fort Frontenac -- but for a captain named OtassetÈ, who had died long since a natural death, and whose name was famous as that of one of the founders of the Iroquois Confederation. By this presentation Chief Gannassatiron became the sole arbiter of Millet's life or death. He consulted only with warriors of his family, and, these having without hesitation pronounced in favour of life, he approached the father and in the set formula addressed him: "Satonnheton Szaksi" (My elder brother, you are resuscitated). A few days afterwards the notables of Oneida were invited to a grand banquet, and at the ceremony the name of OtassetÈ was given Millet to make it manifest to all that the Oneidas had adopted him into their nation and naturalized him an Iroquois. Everything that had been taken from him was restored.

Father Millet turned his long captivity among the Oneidas to good account. Father Bruyas writes to the General on 21 October, 1693: "We have received letters from Father Millet, a captive among the Iroquois for the last six years.... He performs with happy results all the offices of a missionary. He stands in need of one thing only, an altar outfit (a chalice, vestments, etc., so as to say Mass); but he thinks that the time to send him this has not yet come on account of the hostility of the drunkards among the tribe and of the English who have done their best to have this saintly missionary handed over to their keeping. They cannot brook the presence of a Jesuit there." Dablon had already in the same month and year, written to Rome that the father, a captive among the Iroquois, was most assiduous in opening the way to heaven for many little children by baptism, and for dying adults and old men by a careful preparation and administration of the sacraments (Letters to the Gen., MS. Copy 45,48). Father Jean de Lamberville writing from Paris on 3 Jan., 1695, says: "They [his friends among the Oneidas] made a chapel of their dwelling, where the Father performed his functions of missionary, with the result that in the midst of these hostile barbarians he maintained the worship of God and there converted many Iroquois. After having been five years among them, assisting in their death throes the French prisoners who were burned, and interceding successfully for the life of others, he was brought back to Quebec with fifteen French captives" (Rels., LXIV, 245). Belmont (Hist. Du Can., p.36) is certainly astray in giving 1697 as the date of Millet's delivery. Most authors state that the captive missionary was brought back to Quebec in 1694. Colden (History of the Five Nations, I, 210-30) states that the return took place towards the end of August; Charlevoix, however, states very positively (II, 143) that Father Millet was brought to Montreal towards the end of October (1694).

Millet passed the year 1695 at Quebec College and in 1696 was sent to Lorette to assist Father Michael Germain de Couvert with the Hurons, and, to the ordinary duties of missionary to the Hurons, those of parish priest of Lorette were added in 1697. In 1698 he is marked in the catalogues of the Society as missionary at Sault-St-Louis (Caughnawaga), but in all probability he went there in the summer of 1697. For, on 15 February of that year, thirty-three Oneidas came to Montreal. They came, they said, to fulfil a promise they had made their Father to throw in their lot with his children and that their fellow-countrymen wished to assure him that they also would have followed if the Mohawks and Onondagas, between whose cantons they dwelt, had not held them back (Charlevoix, "Hist.", II, 199). From 1697 to 1703 inclusively, he remained as missionary at Sault-St-Louis. During this period he wrote at least once to Rome (10 August, 1700) a mild and submissive complaint that he had not yet obtained the favour of returning to the Iroquois cantons; through feelings of gratitude he begs the Father General to give a share in the prayers of the Society to Tarsha the chief and Suzanne his sister at Oneida, both of whom had acted as hosts to the Father during his captivity. Although peace had been concluded with the Five Nations on 8 September, the missions were not yet reestablished when Father Bouvart wrote to Rome 5 October, 1700. The catalogue of 1704 places Father Millet at the college in Quebec as a valetudinarian, though he himself desired to return to the Iroquois mission and continue till the end "to fight like a good soldier the battles of the Lord". In 1705 he is described as under treatment for broken-down health. He lingered on for three years more, always in the hope of going back to the scenes of his captivity, but, on the last day of 1708, he died.

Thwaites, Jesuit Relations and Allied Docs., XVII, 242; LXIV, 66-107, 119, 133, 275, 276; (de Lamberville's letter) 238, 259; LXV, 27, 261; LVI, 43; LXXI, 134, 151; O'Callaghan, Docs. Relative to Colonial Hist. Of New York, III, 621, 714, 732, 783; IV, 24, 41-55, 60-3, 78-97, 120, 169, 170, 349, 659; IX, 241, 254, 287, 387-9, 466, 499, 518, 531, 533, 566, 582, 605, 611, 665; Colden, Hist. Of the Five Nations (reprint, New York, 1902), I, 191-230; II, 249; Shea, Hist. Of the Cath. Church in U.S., I (New York, 1886), 286, 288, 302, 332-5; Idem, Hist. of Cath. Missions among the Indians (1855), 260-1, 276-81, 319, 325-6, 329; Campbell, Pioneer Priests in N. Amer., I (New York, 1908), 246; Archives St. Mary's College, Montreal; Catalogues of Soc. Of Jesus, MSS; Letters to the General, copies (Martin); Relations des JÈsuites (Quebec, 1858), Rel.1668, 19, 2 col.; Rel.1669, 10, 1, 2 cols.; Rel.1670, 48-63; Rel.1672, 18, 1 col.; 20, 2 col.; Rels. InÈdites (Paris, 1861), I, 22-30, 32-3, 38, 46, 54, 175, 239-56; II, 11, 38, 106, 197; Girouard in Proceed. Roy. Soc. Can., V. Memoirs, 87-101; Charlevoix, Hist. De la N.-France, I (Paris, 1764), 398, 501-10, 564; Sommervogel, Bibl. De la C. de J., V, 1099; De Rochemonteix, Les JÈsuites et la N.-France, III, 185-200; Margry, DÈcouvertes, etc. V, 28, 38; Collect. De Docs. rÈlatifs à la N.-France, I, 21, 239, 335, 488, 552-3, 559-62, 557, 571, 595; II, 59, 80, 87; [Saint-Vallier], Estat prÈsent (1687) de l'Eglise, etc. (Paris, 1688), 204 sqq.


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