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Document Number: AJ-055
Author: St. Cosme, Jean François de
Title: Voyage of St. Cosme, 1698-1699
Source: Kellogg, Louise P. (editor). Early Narratives of the Northwest, 1634-1699. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917). Pages 337-361.
Pages/Illustrations: 25
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-055/

Author Note

Father Jean François Buisson de St. Cosme, a native Canadian, born in Quebec, in 1667, accompanied a group of Franciscan friars to Canada to establish missions in the newly charted areas along the Illinois, Mississippi, and Arkansas Rivers. He began his mission work among the Cahokia and Tamarois Indians but was killed in 1707 by Chitimachas Indians on an expedition further south along the Mississippi River. The mission he founded at Cahokia was taken over by Jesuits in 1722, and closed.

Francois Laval de Montmorency, was born in Montigny-sur-Avre, France in 1623, to a noble French family. He formed the Société des Mission Étrangères with a group of young religious men to further the conversion of the North American Indians to Catholicism. When he became the Bishop of New France, he then established a seminary to train priests and missionaries. With La Salle’s conquests, Laval dispatched three young priests to convert the newly identified tribes of the lower Mississippi. He died in Quebec in 1708.

St. Cosme Expedition

In 1698, St. Cosme and Father Antoine Davion joined expedition vicar-general, Francois Jolliet de Montigny, and a group of lay brothers to convert the Indians of the lower Mississippi. At Mackinac, Henri de Tonti shepherded the missionaries south to the Illinois River to avoid an uprising by the hostile Fox tribe that commanded the portage route of the Fox-Wisconsin River. In his letter to Bishop Laval, reprinted here, St. Cosme describes the different Wisconsin tribes and the trade barrier created by the Fox uprising. As they eased past present-day Green Bay and around the Door Peninsula, he describes the harbors on the Wisconsin shore as they warily canoed to Chikagou (Chicago), and then to their fort at Cahokia by way of the Illinois River. St. Cosme’s letter describes the difficulty traveling the river because of low water, but he praises the thriving mission near Peoria, and the faithful Tamarois tribe who celebrated the priests’ arrival with feasts. St. Cosme and party proceeded south on the Mississippi River past the Arkansas and Missouri Rivers. His letter includes observations of pelicans, herons, and sweet gum trees as they passed the mouth of the Tennessee River. They soon found a camp of Arkansas Indians devastated within the previous month by smallpox, and returned to the Illinois mission.
St. Cosme sent a series of letters to the Bishop of Quebec throughout the journey, detailing their route and plans for mission work. In this letter from January 2, 1699, St. Cosme provides information on the expedition’s inland journey from Sault Ste. Marie to the French post on the Arkansas River, first established by Joliet and Marquette.

Document Note

John Shea discovered St. Cosme’s letter in the Laval University Archives during the mid-nineteenth century. Published simultaneously in French and English, the French version was included in Shea’s Relation de la Mission du Mississippi du Séminaire de Quebec en 1700 (New York, 1861), with shorter letters from Montigny and La Source. Joel Munsell published the English version, Early Voyages up and down the Mississippi (Albany, N.Y.: 1861). Rueben Gold Thwaites obtained a transcript in 1898, and once translated, it was published by permission by Milo M. Quaife of the Wisconsin Historical Society, in the version included here.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The Catholic Encyclopedia has a biography of St. Cosme at
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13343a.htm

Bishop Laval’s biography in the Catholic Encyclopedia is found at
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09045a.htm

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