French Renaissance Paleography


Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, 25 May 1639
Letter from Father Simon Le Moyne to his cousin priest in Beauvais
Newberry VAULT box Ayer MS 507


Father Simon Le Moyne wrote this autograph letter at La Conception-aux-Hurons, which was then a newly-founded Jesuit mission in the Wendat (Huron) village of Ossossané. Today, the historic site of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons or Sainte-Marie-au-pays-des-Hurons, in Ontario, commemorates the mission.

By 1639 the Wendat (a confederacy of five Iroquoian-speaking nations) had become important suppliers of furs to the French, but their numbers were declining rapidly, due to epidemics. The mission at Ossossané would last only ten years. A report by Father Paul Ragueneau, dated March 1, 1649, indicates that the French presence in the settlement had grown in just a decade to more than 60 men, including priests, laymen, servants, and soldiers. But only a couple of weeks later, the Haudenosaunee (commonly referred to as the Iroquois or Six Nations) would capture two Jesuits, Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant, near Sainte-Marie, and kill them. By May, in the wake of continuing violence, and seeing that fifteen Wendat villages had already been destroyed, the Frenchmen and the Wendat at Sainte-Marie burned their settlement and fled to St. Joseph Island (now Christian Island), where they tried to establish a new Sainte-Marie. But after a terrible winter of starvation and constant attack, the Frenchmen and those Wendat who had become Christians retreated to Quebec, in summer 1650. Father Le Moyne subsequently became a negotiator between the French and the Haudenosaunee.

When Le Moyne wrote this letter though, he had only just arrived in New France. He addressed the letter, sharing news about the founding of the mission, to his cousin Charles Maine, a parish priest at the church of St. Martin in Le Moyne’s home town of Beauvais, France.


On Le Moyne, Ragueneau, Brebeuf, and Lallemant, see the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (University of Toronto, Université Laval, 2003–).
For documents pertaining to the misions in New France, see Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791. The Jesuit Relations & Allied Documents, ed. Ruben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1898). For the Le Moyne letter, see vol. 15: Hurons and Quebec: 1638-1639, 191-95; and for Ragueneau’s report, see vol. 33: Lower Canada, Algonkins, Hurons: 1648–1649, 251-69.