Chapter 13: Jesuit Priest s or Missionaries

Albert James Pickett: HISTORY OF ALABAMA.
(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)



1735: Since the revolt of the French garrison at Fort Toulose, upon the Coosa, things at that place had remained in rather an undisturbed condition. It is true that the English had given them much uneasiness, and had occasionally cut off some of the couriers de bois. In order to cultivate a better understanding with the Lower Creeks, a Jesuit priest, Father de Guyenne, went to Coweta, upon the Chattahoochie, and succeeded in building two cabins, one at that place, and the other at Cusseta. His object was to learn the language of the Indians, and to instruct them in the Christian religion; but the English of the province of Georgia prevailed upon the Indians to burn up these houses. The zealous father was therefore forced to retreat to Fort Toulouse. Father Moran had been stationed, some years, at Fort Toulouse, and used to live occasionally at Coosawda.

"The impossibility, however, of exercising his ministry there, for the benefit of either the Indians or the French, has induced the superior to recall him, that he might be entrusted with the direction of the nuns, and of the royal hospital, which is now under our charge. The English trade, as well as the French, among the Alabama Indians. You can easily imagine what an obstacle this presents to the progress of religion, for the English are always ready to excite controversy." * Among the Choctaw there were several missionaries, besides those stationed at Mobile. "The reverend Father Baudouin, the actual superior-general of the mission, resided eighteen years among the Choctaws. When he was on the point of reaping some fruits from his labors, the troubles which the English excited in that nation, and the peril to which he was evidently exposed, obliged Father Vitri, then superior-general, in concert with the governor, to recall him to New Orleans."* *

* Letter of Father Vivier, of the company of Jesus, to a father of the same company.
** Letter of Father Vivier, of the company of Jesus, to a father of the same company.

While the English of Carolina and Georgia engaged in various schemes to rid the territory of the present States of Alabama and Mississippi of its French population, by unscrupulous intrigues with the natives, the French were but little behind them in similar enterprises. The Jesuits were adventurous and brave, and men of captivating address, and obtained much influence over the leading Chiefs, wherever they appeared. An account of the artful intrigues of a German Jesuit, named Christian Priber, as related , in his singular style, by James Adair, an old British trader, who lived forty years among the Cherokees and Chickasaws, will now be introduced.

"In the year 1736, the French sent into South Carolina one Priber, a gentleman of a curious and speculative tempter. He was to transmit them a full account of that country, and proceed to the Cherokee nation, in order to seduce them from the British to the French interest. He went, and although he was adorned with every qualification that constitutes the gentleman, soon after he arrived at the upper towns of this mountainous country, he changed his clothes and everything he brought with him, and by that means made friends with the head warriors of the Big Tellico River. More effectually to answer the design of his commission, he ate, drank, slept, danced, dressed and painted himself with the Indians, so that it was not easy to distinguish him from the natives; he married, also, with them. Being endowed with a strong understanding and retentive memory, he soon learned their dialect, and by gradual advances, impressed them with a very ill opinion of the English, representing them as a fraudulent, avaricious and encroaching people. He, at the same time, inflated the artless savages with a prodigious high opinion of their own importance in the American scale of power, on account of the situation of their country, their martial disposition and the great number of their warriors, which would baffle all the efforts of the ambitious and ill-designing British colonists.

1739: "Having thus infected them by his smooth, deluding art, he easily formed them into a nominal republican government. He crowned their old Archi-Magus, emperor, after a pleasing new savage form, and invented a variety of high sounding titles for all the members of his imperial majesty's red court and the great officers of state. He himself received the honorable title of his imperial majesty's principal secretary of state, and as such he subscribed himself, in all the letters he wrote to our government, and lived in open defiance of them. This seemed to be of so dangerous a tendency as to induce South Carolina to send up a commisioner, Colonel Fox, to demand him as an enemy to public repose. He took him into custody in the great square of their state house. When he had almost concluded his oration on the occasion, one of the warriors rode up and bade him forbear, as the man he intended to enslave was a great beloved man, and had become one of our people. Though it was reckoned our Agent's strength was far greater in his arms than in his head, he readily desisted, for, as it is too hard to struggle with the Pope in Rome, a stranger could not miss to find if equally difficult to enter abruptly into a new emperor's court and there seize his prime minister by a foreign authority, especailly when he could not support any charge of guilt against him. The warrior told him that the red people well knew the honesty of the secretary's heart would never allow him to tell a lie, and the secretary urged that he was a foreigner, without owing any allegiance to Great Britain. That he only travelled through some places of their country, in a peaceable manner, paying for everything he had of them. That in compliance with the request of the kind French, as well as from his own tender feelings for the poverty and insecure state of the Cherokees, he came a great way, and lived with them as a brother, only to preserve their liberties, by opening a water communication between them and New Orleans. That the distance of the two places from each other proved his motive to be the love of doing good, especially as he was to go there and bring up a sufficient number of Frenchmen, of proper skill, to instruct them in the art of making gunpowder, the materials of which, he affirmed, their hands abounded with. He concluded his artful speech by urging that the tyrannical design of the English commissioner owards him appaered plainly to be levelled against them, because, as he was not accused of having done any ill to the English, before he came to the Cherokees, his crime must consist in loving the Cherokees. ---- An old war-leader repeated to the commissioner the essenial part of the speech, and added more of his own similar thereto. ---- 1741: The English beloved man had the honor of receieving his leave of absence and a sufficiant passport of safe conduct, from the imperial red court, by a verbal order of the secretary of state, who was so polite as to wish him well home, and ordered a convoy of his own life-guards, who conducted him a considerable way, and he got home in safety.

"From the above, it is evident that the monopolizing spirit of the French had planned their dangerous line of circumvallation, respecting our envied colonies, as early as the before mentioned period. The choice of the man, also, bespoke their judgment. Though the philosophic secretary was an utter stranger to the wild and mountainous Cherokee nation, yet his sagacity readily directed him to choose a proper place, an old favorite religious man, for the new red empire, which he formed by slow and sure degree, to the great danger of our Southern colonies. But the empire received a very great shock, in an accident that befell the secretary, when it was on the point of rising into a far greater state of puissance by the acquisition of the Muscogee, Choctaw and the Western Mississippi Indians.

"In the fifth year of that red imperial era, Priber set off for Mobile, accompanied by a few Cherokees. He proceede by land as far as the navigable part of the Tallapoosa river, and arriving at Tookabatcha, lodged there all night. The traders of the neighboring towns soon went there, convinced the inhabitants of the dangerous tendency of his unwearied labors among the Cherokees, and of his present journey. They then took him into custody, with a large bundle of manuscripts, and sent him down to Frederica, in Georgia. The governor committed him to a place of confinement, though not with common felons, as he was a foreigner, and was said to have held a place of considerable rank in the army. Soon after, the magazine took fire, which was not far from where he was confined, and though the sentinels bade him make off to a place of safety, as all the people were running to avoid danger from explosion of the powder and shells, yet he squatted on his belly upon the floor, and continued in that position without the least hurt. Several blamed his rashness, but he told them that experience had convinced him it was the most probable means of avoiding danger. This incident displayed the philosopher and the soldier. After bearing his misfortunes a considerable time with great constancy, happily for us, he died in confinemnet, though he deserved a much better fate. In the fifth year of his secretaryship I maintained a correspondence with him. But the Indians, becoming very inquisitive to know the contents of our papers. ---- he told them that in the very same manner as he was their great secretary I was in the devil's clerk, or an accursed one, who marked on paper the bad speech of the evil ones of darkness. 1745 : Accordingly, they forbade him to write any more to such an accursed one. As he was learned, possessed of a very sagacious, penetrating judgment, and had every qualification that was requisite for his bold and difficult enterprise, it is not to be doubted that, as he wrote a Cherokee dictionary, designed to be published at Paris, he likewise set down a great deal that would have been very accessible to the curious, and serviceable to the representatives of South Carolina and Georgia, which may be readily found in Frederica, if the manuscripts have had the good fortune to escape the despoiling hands of military power." *

*Adair's American Indians: London, 1775- pp. 240-243.

William Bacon Stevens, formerly professor of belles letters and history in the Unversity of Georgia, and now an Episcopalian minister in Philadelphia, has published one volume of the History of Georgia, in which we find the following interesting account of Priber, which we copy at length in his own style, In alluding to the arrival of Oglethorpe at Frederica, Dr. Stevens says, "On the return of the general from Florida, he ordered his strange prisoner to be examined, and was not a little surprised to find, under his coarse dress of deer-skins and Indian moccasins, a man of polished address, great abilities and extensive learning. He was versed not only in the Indian laguage, of which he had composed a dictionary, but also spoke the Latin, French and Spanish fluently, and the English perfectly. Upon being interrogated as to his design, he acknowledged that it was 'to bring about a confederation of all Southern Indians, to inspoire them with industry, to instruct them in the arts necessary to the commodties of life, and, in short, to engage them to throw off the yoke of their European allies of all nations." He proposed to make a settlement in that part of Georgia which is within the limits of the Cherokee lands, at Cusseta, * and to settle a town there of fugitive English, French and Germans, and they were to take under their particualr care the runaway negroes of the English. All criminals were to be sheltered, as he propsed to make his place an asylum for all fugtives, and the cattle and effects they might bring with them. He expected a great resort of debtors, transprted felons, servants, and negor slaves from the two Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia, offering, as his scheme did, toleration to all crimes and licentiousness, except murder and idleness. Upon his per was found his private journal, revealing, in part, his designs, with various memoranda relating to his project. In it he speaks not only of individual Indians and negores, whose assistance had been proimised, and of a private treasurer in Charleston, for keeping the funds collected; but also, that he expected many things from the French, and from another nation, whose name he left blank. There were also found upon him letters for the Florida and Spanish governors, demanding their protection of him and countenance of his scheme. Among his papers was one containing articles of government for his new town, regularly and elaborately drawn out and digested. In this volume he enumerates many rights and privileges, as he calls them, to which the citizens of this colony are to be entitled, particularly dissolving marriages, allowing a community of women, and all kinds of licentiousness. It was drawn up with much art, method and learning, and was designed to be privately printed and circulated. When it was hinted to him that such a plan was attended with many dangers and difficulties, and must require many years to establish his government, he replied, 'Proceeding properly, many of these evils may be avoided; and as to length of time, we have a succession of agents to take up the work as fast as others leave it.

* If Doctor Stevens means the "Cusseta," on the east side of the Chattahoochie and opposite old Fort Mitchell, it was within the limits of the Creek lands, and never belonged to the Cherokees. I am not aware of any town named "Cusseta" in any part of what formerly was the Cherokee nation although there may have been, for by reference to page 162 of the History of Alabama it will be found that the Cherokees had towns named "Tallase" and "Tuskegee," and such towns vere also in the Creek nation.

1745 : We never lose sight of a favorite point, nor are we bound by the strict rules of morality in the means, when the end we pursue is laudable. If we err, our general is to blame; and we have a merciful God to pardon us. But believe me,' he continued, 'before the century is passed, the Europeans will have a very small footing on this continent.'

"Indeed, he often hinted that there were others of his brethren laboring among the Indians for the same purpose. Being confined in the barracks at Frederica, he exhibited a stoical inpoliteness, and attracted the notice and favorable attention of many of the gentlemen there. His death, in prison, put an end to all further proceedings, and his plans died with him. Such was the strange being whose Jesuitical intrigues well nigh eventuated in the destruction of Georgia. A thorough Jesuit, an accomplished linguist, a deep tactician, far-sighted in his plans and far-reaching in his expedients, he possessed every qualification for his design, and only failed of bringing down great evil upon the English, beacuse he was apprehended before his scheme had been matured." *

* Stevens' History of Georgia, vol. i, pp 165-167

There were many curious characters roving over the territory of Alabama and Mississippi at this period. Traders from South Carolina and Georgia, were found in almost every Indian village; while the French from Mobile and New Orleans and the Spaniards from the Floridas continued to swell the number of these singular merchants. They encountered all kinds of dangers and suffered all kinds of privations to become successful in their exciting traffic. Adair, one of these British traders, thus describes the mode by which difficult streams were passed:

"When we expect high rivers, each company of traders carry a canoe, made of the tanned leather, the sides overlapped about three fingers' breadth, and well sewed with three seams. Around the gunnels, which are made of saplings, are strong loopholes, for large deerskin strings to hang down both the sides. With two of these is securely tied to the stem and stern, a well shaped sapling for a keel, and in like manner the ribs. Thus they usually rig out a canoe, fit to carry over ten horse-loads at once, in the space of half an hour. The apparatus is afterwards hidden with great care on the opposite shore. Few take the trouble to paddle the canoe, for, as they are commonly hardy, and also of an amphibious nature, they usually jump into the river with their leathern barge ahead of them, and thrust it through the deep part of the water to the opposite shore. When we ride with only a few luggage horses, we make a frame of dry pines, which we tie together with strong vines well twisted. When we have raised it to be sufficently buoyant, we load and paddle it across, and afterwards swim our horses, keeping at a liittle distance below them." *

* Adair's American Indians, p. 272.

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