Allouez, Claude-Jean (1622–1689) ethnographer, missionary - American Education
Claude-Jean Allouez was born June 6, 1622, in Saint-Didier, France. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1639 and was ordained in 1655. At the age of thirty-six Allouez went to Canada, and within seven years he had earned an appointment as vicar general to Bishop François-Xavier de Montmorency Laval (1623–1708). In the intervening years he pursued missionary activities in the forests of New France, traveling more than three thousand miles throughout the Great Lakes region and providing cartographers with the information needed to map the area. His experiences are recorded in his journals, published in part in volume fifty of The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610–1791 (1896–1901) as Recit d’un 3e voyage fait aux Illinois (Account of a Third Voyage Made to Illinois; 1679).
His journal begins in 1665 when he “embarked at Three Rivers with six Frenchmen, in the company of more than four hundred Indians of different tribes, who were returning to their country.” Throughout the journal the missionary shows his fascination with and fear of the religious practices he witnesses. After watching a shaman attempt to cure an ailing man through prayer and ritual, Allouez wrote: “I could not bear the invocation of their imaginary gods in my presence although I saw myself entirely at the mercy of all those people. I remained in doubt for some time whether it would be proper for me quietly to withdraw, or to oppose their superstitious practices.” Allouez chose to challenge the shaman and succeeded in winning a conversion from the dying man, yet in his appraisal of his impact on this group of Indians he wrote, “I had already noticed how little effect my words had on their minds.”
Allouez’s other major literary contribution was his prayer book, written in both French and Illinois for the Illinois Indians, with whom he spent a substantial period of time. By his own calculation, he baptized ten thousand Indians from twenty tribes. Allouez founded several missions in what is now Mackinac County, Michigan, and lived among the Sac and Fox tribes near present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin. His work opened the door for future missionaries, including Jacques Marquette.
Allouez’s accounts of religious practices are far from neutral in tone, but they are informative. Because of his journals, Europeans learned that the Great Lakes–region Indians counted among their deities the natural copper chunks that formed at the bottom of Lake Superior, brought to the surface and “cherish[ed] as household gods.” Jesuit missionaries were not collecting this type of information for scholarly or entertainment purposes; their goal was to understand the indigenous populations so as to better convert them to Christianity. Nevertheless, Europeans reading The Jesuit Relations found the missionaries’ accounts to be exciting, and the Jesuits at home used these tales of the exotic to entice new recruits and raise funds for the missionary work to continue.
The journals and observations of Allouez and other Jesuit missionaries are invaluable ethnographic sources. These men chronicled even the most modest details of daily life, including what to Europeans were unusual diet and eating patterns. In time, Allouez adapted to many of these same habits, such as eating tree bark, and flour made of pulverized fish bones. Claude-Jean Allouez died August 27, 1689.
- Allouez, Claude Jean. Narrative of a Voyage Made to the I[l]linois. New York, 1852.
- Allouez. Facsimile of Père Marquette’s Illinois Prayer Book. Its History by the Owner, Colonel J. L. Hubert Neilson, M.D. Quebec: Quebec Literary and Historical Society, 1908.
- La Boule, Joseph Stephen. Claude Jean Allouez: “The Apostle of the Ottawas” and the Builder of the First Indian Missions in Wisconsin. Milwaukee: Parkman Club, 1897.
- Verwyst, Chrysostom. Missionary Labors of Fathers Marquette, Menard and Allouez, in the Lake Superior Region. Milwaukee & Chicago: Hoffmann Brothers, 1886.
- White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815. New York & Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.