The lack of understanding shown by the teaching nuns and missionaries with regard to the culture of the people they hoped to convert, civilize and make more like the French was not the only factor in their difficulties. The missionaries were also associated with the new diseases that decimated Native populations. On the whole, the success of conversion efforts in New France was quite modest, according to the European sources on which we must rely for such information.
In 1727, a group of 11 Ursulines coming from various convents in France were mandated by Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier to establish a hospital and school in New Orleans. Under the direction of Father Beaubois, the nuns took in colonists’ daughters as boarders and also taught the “savages, negresses and slaves.” The Compagnie des Indes had promised to build them a convent within six months of their arrival, but it was not finished until seven years later. Like the Ursulines of Québec, they spent the first years in great deprivation and in very cramped quarters.
Acadia, which guarded the eastern entrance to the continent and was thus continuously targeted by England, was part of New France along with Canada and Louisiana. The territory covered by Acadia and what is today the state of Maine was occupied by three Algonquian nations: the Mi’kmaq, the Maliseet and the Abenaki. There were fitful attempts by the French to colonize the region—led by the Marquis de la Roche on Sable Island in 1578, 1584 and 1598, and by Pierre Du Gua de Monts on Île Sainte-Croix in 1604 and at Port Royal in 1606. These expeditions’ lack of success was attributable to a combination of circumstances: a poor choice of sites, disruptions related to the succession of French rulers, attacks by the English and, finally, the ravages of scurvy, a disease that decimated the volunteer troops. Nevertheless, these attempts enabled the French to form solid friendly relations with the region’s Aboriginal populations, who remained loyal to the Acadians—that is, the colonists who eventually settled here—right up to the Deportation of 1755.
Abbé Queylus had already assumed the role of grand vicar to the archbishop of Rouen, Monseigneur François de Harlay, and he was certain that the position belonged to him. Since most of the vessels sailing for the colony left from the port of Rouen at the time, the archbishop claimed to have exclusive rights to New France. The Jesuits, however, had been in charge of the Canadian Church since 1632 and had a strong candidate in Monseigneur de Laval, who had studied at the College La Flèche, a Jesuit institution. In the end, the Jesuits won their case and Monseigneur de Laval was appointed to head the Church in Canada.
Essays on New France - Eccles W
Even though Marie de l’Incarnation showed more understanding of her pupils’ culture than did the Jesuits, she was scarcely more successful. In France, the Jesuits and Ursulines had earned a reputation as outstanding teachers, but in the New World these communities came up against both a linguistic barrier and a completely different view of childhood. In French grade schools and colleges, children were considered to be unfinished adults, imperfect beings who had to be set right, by forcible means if necessary, from early childhood on. In contrast, Aboriginal parents believed that children should be given full freedom, at least until puberty when they were initiated by elders into adult life. Melancholy, sorrow and boredom were considered by the Aboriginals as serious, even mortal diseases. In 1668, after 30 years of experience in the country, Marie de l’Incarnation described the situation in the following words:
Essays on New France, Libro Inglese di W
Marguerite d’Youville accepted society’s rejects—those who would be turned away from other hospitals: abandoned children, the mentally disturbed, orphans, disabled soldiers, the elderly and lepers. Anyone who was able to help was put to work, whether it was as tailors, cobblers or bakers. She even hired British soldiers as farm workers or orderlies, and these men taught the sisters English. Her resourcefulness enabled her social mission to survive one of the worst periods in the history of New France, marked by epidemics, bad harvests, war and, as of 1763, the perturbations accompanying the advent of British rule.