View of the Mission of Sault-Saint-Louis


This drawing depicts the French mission to the Iroquois at Sault-Saint-Louis (present-day Caughnawaga or Kahnawake, near Montreal, Canada). Founded on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River in 1680, the mission was where the Jesuit Joseph-François Lafitau lived among the Iroquois for five years, from 1712 to 1717. Lafitau was educated in rhetoric and philosophy and steeped in theology and the classics. At age 31, he went to Canada as a missionary, where, with the help of Father Julien Garnier, he studied the language and culture of the Iroquois. He was appointed the head of the missions to New France in 1722, and in 1724 completed his major work Mœurs des sauvages américains (Customs of the American Indians). Lafitau’s approach was to try to use what was known about ancient peoples, such as the Hebrews and the Greeks, to better understand the culture of the Native Americans. His goal was to prove the common origins of Indians and Europeans, and thereby to corroborate the Christian belief in the unity of creation. Lafitau systematically employed a method of comparative scientific anthropology, which also had been used by André Thevet and Marc Lescarbot. He was extremely precise in his descriptions, which was rare at the time. He came to understand the system of classifying relationships used by the Iroquois, as well as the importance of women in Iroquois society, which he called a “gynecocracy.” He also discovered that ginseng was native to North America and was used as a remedy for fever by the Iroquois. Lafitau became head of Sault-Saint-Louis mission in 1727, before permanently returning to France in 1729. He held the office of procurator of the Jesuit missions in New France from 1723 to 1741. The drawing shows the mission church, the compound where the missionaries lived, and the Iroquois village. In the foreground is the Saint Lawrence River. It is not known who made the drawing.

Last updated: January 8, 2018