Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Voyagers to the East, Part XXIII

For the previous entry in this series, click here. For the index, link here. 

For much of the seventeenth century, according to Alden Vaughan, few Native American travelers crossed the Atlantic Ocean to England. Such was also the case in France and Spain, two of the other principal colonial powers in the Americas. France had in the sixteenth century received Carijo princes, Guarani archers, Huron chiefs’ sons, and bewildered Miq'maqs, but in the 1600s Indian visitors fell off. Perhaps this overall decline resulted from the changing dynamics of European colonization. Once English and French adventurers had established stable settlements in the Americas, they no longer needed to transport Indians as living promotional displays for colonial projects. Translators they could now train in America, either by bringing Native children to European outposts or placing European children with Indian families. And while Europeans would always want Indian slaves, they could now more profitably employ them on New World plantations, rather than pay to bring them into western Europe’s oversupplied labor market.

Granted, none of these rules held hard and fast. One of the first Indians to visit France in the seventeenth century, a Huron named Savignon, sailed to Honfleur to become a translator. Samuel de Champlain wanted him trained in the French language for the benefit of New France. The visit did not leave Savignon well-disposed toward his patrons. After his return home in 1611 he reportedly told his kinsmen that he had found Europeans’ practice of capital punishment and their maltreatment of beggars appalling. Meanwhile, Champlain had taken a preliminary step toward making such dangerous oceanic transits unnecessary: he sent a French boy, probably future trader Etienne Brule, to live with a Huron family. Subsequently trade and intermarriage would make formal language training increasingly unnecessary for Quebec’s Indian neighbors. (Harald Prins, "To the Land of the Mistigoches," 187; Denys Delage, Bitter Feast: Amerindians and Europeans in Northeastern North America [UBC Press, 1995], 126.) 

Traders did not constitute the only European interest group in New France, and one of the colony’s more well-connected groups of newcomers, Catholic missionaries, shipped additional Native travelers to France later in the century. In the 1620s the Church sent over Huron Louis Amontacha and Montagnais Pierre-Antoine Pastedechouan, and from 1635 to 1637 the Society of Jesus transported another seven Huron and Iroquois boys and girls for religious training. The Indian students would advertise the success of missionaries' efforts in New France and bolster Church and royal support for the mission. What the converts* thought of Europe is hard to determine, but most probably found it a crowded, hungry land full of sicknesses and strange smells. One girl either hated France or fell homesick, and demanded return passage to Canada. Her father insisted that she sail back to France and finish her education. Another student, Louise, decided to settle permanently with the Hospitalieres Religieuses in Dieppe. Not everyone was as disenchanted with the Old World as Savignon.(Olive Dickason, Myth of the Savage and the Beginnings of French Colonialism, 218-20).

(Above image of the Chateau de Dieppe, in Louise's European hometown, courtesy of the French Ministry of Culture and Wikimedia Commons.)

* Given their Christian names, I assume the travelers had at least been baptized.


Gorges Smythe said...

Very interesting!

deborah harvey said...

yes, very interesting. we were not taught any of this in school.

Dave Nichols said...

You're most welcome. We don't normally think of Indians as travelers or as visitors to Europe. I hope to help change that.