Copy of the letter from Fr. Jean Mongin,
missionary in America,
to a person of quality from Languedoc,
written on the Island of Saint Christopher,
For some time now, you have been asking me for a letter delving into the details of the work that the missionaries have undertaken here for the salvation of the souls of the Negroes. The general idea that you have of this endeavor inspires you to say that you admire us, in that mission, more than you are able to express. For six months, you say, your mind was so filled with what God is accomplishing through us in this land that you spent all your leisure time studying and seeking to understand it. These are the terms of your letter about our mission, dictated to you by charity and piety. I hope that you will understand with less time and less study that which amazes you and leads you to ask with such insistence that I teach you, as you say, the ways in which the Holy Spirit guides me to lead forth, along its paths, people without religion and without reason. Your distinction and your friendship (you will approve, I hope, of my use of the word) demanded that I satisfy such a just and urgent desire. I nonetheless delayed for some time, but that was only to better acquit myself of the task, telling myself that I needed to justify the ancient proverb “Say enough and say it well enough.” I wanted to know by way of personal experience what I was going to write to you about the Christianity of the Negroes. Previously, I would not have been able to apply myself using that knowledge, having been charged at first with the care of whites only and later of whites and blacks together. But now I am entirely devoted to these poor slaves and am consequently better informed about everything that concerns them.
The knowledge that I have acquired through experience will be necessary for me to impart to you the knowledge that you wish to have. Even if you had only the same level of curiosity that other people in Languedoc have, I would still have quite a bit to say in order to satisfy it, since Languedoc is, of all our provinces, the one that knows the least about what is happening in all of America. But your letters, as well as our past conversations, have revealed to me that one must leave nothing out of one’s responses to your questions and that one must be specific in all the details, as I was in my first letter, concerning my voyage, and as I will be again in this one, having realized from reading your letter that the idea you have formed of our mission is a bit too general.
You will remember, perhaps, that I wrote to you explaining that there are three types of people here, natives of three different places: those from Africa; those from Europe; and those from America. As for Asians, there are nearly none and they are predominantly of French nationality and Roman religion. The natives of the land are savages and are very few in number, because by their treachery, they brought upon themselves a number of wars, which exterminated most of them, with the exception of a few among us, who are almost all slaves and Christians. They are red or light brown in complexion. Those who come from Europe are the only whites. Those from Africa are perfectly black or Moorish in tone.
Since the whites are here only to make sugar, which is harvested every month of the year, they need a large number of people to work at it. The first Europeans who inhabited this land employed poor people who, in French ports, would sign on with sea captains who would bring them over and would then work for three years for the masters to whom those sea captains delivered them. After that three-year period, they would begin to earn wages, so successfully, in certain cases, that some of the richest inhabitants here are people who arrived by that route.
But the labor, the heat and the bad treatment those poor indentured workers endured having killed most of them, the idea arose that the Moors of Africa would be more useful, being more accustomed to a miserable life and the extreme heat of this land, similar to the climate of their own, despite being 1,200 leagues to the east of us. To make this happen, slaves began to be brought here, to which condition they seemed to have been born par excellence, possessing above all other nations the qualities Aristotle deems necessary for slavery: physical strength and mental weakness. Thus, they are, of all the people in the world, those who suffer most patiently the miseries of that state.
The Portuguese were the first to undertake this commerce on the west coasts of Africa, where they made the first discoveries and the first conquests, two hundred years ago. This strange traffic gave the theologians some work to do at first. Although they recognized of a common accord the conditions that justify legitimate servitude—which were limited to birth, condemnation, and the rights of war—most authors, even in Portuguese universities, nonetheless denied that one had the right to buy slaves from the hands of their compatriots, because it must be assumed that such people are so brutal as to have no justice, neither in war, where prisoners were taken; nor in the dealings of those who, from time immemorial, had reduced hundreds of families, with their posterity, to slavery; nor even in the sale of children by their fathers in those countries.
In order to assuage the scruples that these arguments created, the kings of Portugal gave very precise orders, which were nonetheless not always very closely obeyed, that the merchants who travelled along those coasts were not to buy any slave without having ascertained that the seller indeed had the right to do so. Since then, in imitation of the Portuguese, the other Europeans established in America have continued that commerce. The French, however, engage in it with the greatest equity and the Catholics with the greatest usefulness for the poor Negroes, since the slightest injustice committed is punished secretly by order of the Court, as I learned from merchants who were going to enter into that traffic. In fact, the King allowed it on our islands only– as soon as a Negro is brought to France, he is free everywhere, because the slavery that existed under the first and second race of our kings, whose principal domestic officers were sometimes slaves, was completely discontinued by orders of the Parliaments of Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse. As a matter of fact, although it is true that the Christian religion, according to an ancient law, forbids the making of a Christian prisoner of war into a slave, it does allow one to make a slave into a Christian, as an English, Protestant author has rightly said, in a complaint against his compatriots, who let their slaves live and die here in a state of faithlessness, on the pretext that a Christian must not be a slave—as if it weren’t a greater evil for these wretches to be slaves than to be damned. Thus, the Negroes belonging to Catholics are Catholics, just like their masters, and they owe their salvation to their enslavement. I would like to point out that they are visibly moved when I point out that they would never have known God if they hadn’t been pulled out of their countries in order to serve Catholics. They appear all the more convinced of it when they compare their happiness with the unhappiness of their compatriots who belong to the English, our neighbors on this island, who take as little care of the souls of their slaves as those of their horses. This is why I find nothing so effective, in the corrections that I give to our slaves when their debauchery renders them unworthy of the sacraments, as to tell them, in their own jargon: “You the same as English Negroes, no baptism, no church, no funeral.”
This is how these poor people are brought here. But before explaining how we work for their salvation, I must bring to your attention the fact that, these are, in both temporal and spiritual terms, the most wretched people on earth. In terms of the temporal, suffice it to say that they are truly slaves, with all the hardships that the law has established for the condition of servitude. They are sold in the same way that animals are sold, to be used for all the types of work that a master can require of a servant. Some have even begun to put them to work in the galleys, since a company formed for that commerce has had to furnish a certain number of them for that purpose.
Their wretched condition is made worse by the fact that their work earns them nothing; even the children they bring into the world belong to the master of their parents. So you will not be surprised to learn that most of the men are clothed in only a loincloth and the women in a shift, all of which is made of rough canvas. As for food, each week they get a pound-and-a-half of salted meat and four pounds of cassava, which is a kind of bread in this country and which is not as good as the brown bread in France. Their bed is a plank of wood and their house a hut made of leaves and reeds, in which they nonetheless set up so many partitions, rooms and niches that I recently counted eight, none of which could be seen from any of the others, in a space that measured twenty-four feet long and twelve feet wide. And what I’ve just described is only for the more well-off among them. The only relief to this extreme poverty that any of them can find comes from the time they are given to rest and take their meals.
The wretchedness of their minds is even greater. Some of them are so half-witted that the Portuguese sometimes doubted that they were men; those who are born among us nonetheless have more agile minds. I remember one of them telling me one day, rather cleverly, that God made them slaves because they aren’t smart enough to provide food for themselves, a task the master takes upon himself. Free Negroes are often more wretched than slaves; thus, an enslaved Negress, one of the brighter ones, whose mother and two sisters were free, told me recently that she wouldn’t want to change places with them. But most of these people are nonetheless more animal than human as far as physical sensation is concerned; for, while they are almost insensitive to the lashes of the whip, which leave them covered in blood, at the same time they dive into the pleasures of drunkenness and indecency in such a frightful way that many missionaries cite that reason as the cause of their own despair, abandoning their task to others of our Company, most of whom were attracted to missionary work by the very wretchedness they came to alleviate.
For, in fact, although these wretches are fairly often condemned to slavery in their own countries, along with their entire family and their descendants, for having committed no other crime than that of having removed a peacock feather from their king or touched a gourd that he had attached to palm-tree in order to gather its liquor. And although people used to trade twenty horses for a slave in the kingdom of Bonne, and even a dog in Angola, an elephant-tail in the Congo, or a little knife in Guinea, nonetheless this merchandise, sold at such an ignoble price and so little esteemed in the land of idolatry, has greatly risen in value in the eyes of apostolic men since Jesus Christ, their master, and the final bidder, has put such a high price on the heads of slaves, raising the stakes by way of all the blood he shed in order to redeem them. It is in consideration of this ransom that we judge them precious enough to feel obliged to give in exchange for them not three hundred pounds [cent écus], as do our planters when they buy them, but our own sweat and blood, which we gladly use for their salvation, despite the repugnant aspects of their wretchedness.
Now that I have explained the condition of the Negroes in general, the detail in which I am about to enter will be all the more intelligible. We have four missions on the island of Martinique, one on Guadeloupe, two on this island of Saint Christopher, and one in Cayenne, where we are the only priests for the French, the Negroes, and the Indians. I will not go into the work we do among the French in all those places. All you need to know is that people live there now with more rectitude than in France, that we convert many Huguenots every year, and give all necessary aid to the roughly one hundred ships that arrive every year to conduct trade. Only the Jews, attracted by the commerce that the Dutch used to engage in here, are less docile than in Europe, for we cannot for all practical purposes convert a single one of them. They are only found on one of the islands, Martinique.
The area of the island of Saint Christopher I take care of is approximately four leagues in circumference. It is a charming plain, covered with sugar cane in several places, a crop so profitable for the planters, that although the cultivated fields cover no more than one square league, they produce, in a typical year, three million pounds of sugar. The area is dotted with a large number of houses, like so many little farm communities [métairies] or villages, and bordered on one side by the sea and on the other by mountains that rise gently and are easy for me to climb, in those places where they are inhabited. Our house is located in this beautiful country, which allows me to get home very conveniently every night; it is necessary, at least for the purposes of edification, that missionaries never sleep away from their own houses, except when spending the night at the bedside of extremely sick people. In short, the location of this place greatly facilitates the care we take of the slaves, which consists of administering the sacraments to them and preparing them to receive those sacraments.
This is what all our missionaries agree to do, along with attending church assiduously on feast-day mornings, to say Mass for these Negroes, to administer the sacraments of penitence and communion to them, and to teach them catechism. But those things make up only the smallest part of the work that keeps us busy the rest of the week. That consists of whatever each one deems most appropriate in the eyes of God, according to the weather, the place and the people concerned. My own method is, I think, what you are inquiring about so insistently, Sir, when you ask that I send you information about the ways in which I go about converting these people, seeking to know on which paths the Holy Spirit guides me. I must now satisfy your desires on this matter, but not before I have said a word about the work of the person whom I succeeded in this endeavor and whose mission, if I were able to know it in detail, would make for more worthy reading material than all that you have asked me to tell you about my own ways.
That missionary is a man in whom God wanted to make manifest an example of the zeal and faithfulness that an apostle owes to his work, qualities that never shine forth quite so much as in the difficulties that present themselves in the execution of that work. Indeed, I have never seen a man work with such application. He rarely showed up for our discussions, even less often for meals, and no one knew when he found the time to sleep. He was seen at the sides of the poor slaves, ceaselessly, in one place and then in another. He often spent hours at a time exhorting and instructing some individual, in the middle of a field, exposed to the burning sun of our part of the world. He was not content to attract them to virtue by way of a few gifts of handsome devotional objects, like the pictures, medals and rosaries that are our usual currency here; to these, he added all sorts of gewgaws and even canvas clothing, obtained through his ingenuity.
But God, who wanted to test his faithfulness, did not allow his success to correspond entirely to the efforts of this fervent missionary. After having poured out his sweat for seven or eight years, he decided that the debauchery of the slaves was so great and so widespread that he couldn’t give them the sacrament at Easter, nor marry them, nor baptize them, except on rare occasions. He assured me of these hardships when he handed the job over to me. He was so persuaded of it that, some time after his departure, when, having received one of my letters in which, in an attempt to console him, I had written that I was beginning to understand that the disorders were not quite as enormous as he had told me, he responded, a bit angrily, that I would come to believe him entirely only when I had applied myself—then would I realize that what he had said was true.
Sure enough, the evil would have been great enough to make me lose the will to work following in the footsteps of a laborer of such extraordinary strength, if I hadn’t felt disposed to forego the consolation of success and seek nothing but the consolation that one savors in doing what one can in the service of God, who has no need for our work to lift souls out of error and sin.
It was in that frame of mind that I began this mission, with much joy, in August 1680. My first recourse was prayer, asking for the prayers of pious persons for the work I was about to undertake. I began right away, and have continued since, to say two Masses a week for that intention: one for the salvation of these poor Negroes, the other for those whom I was burying, so that their prayers would reinforce in paradise the trouble I was taking on behalf of their compatriots.
I then resolved to work in an orderly fashion, knowing well that with a multitude of things to do, working hard counts for less than working methodically. I developed a method right away, one that I have not abandoned since, and I structured the rest of the months of that year and the following one in such a way that the remainder of the year was almost entirely spent getting to know the evil that I had to remedy and applying myself to the more pressing task of baptizing the adults when they arrived. The first half of the following year was spent preparing for the sacraments those whose were in a state to receive that preparation; the other half, for correcting, on an individual basis, the views held by several Negroes that excluded them from the sacraments. That task required that a man be entirely devoted, always in the countryside, where the poor slaves are deployed in troops, some to the ovens of the sugar factories, others to the mills, others to their meals, and the greatest number in the fields, where we have permission to have them leave their work, so that we can talk to them about their salvation. There are, however, two types of occupations, one of them at fixed times and the other occasional, that create interruptions in my rounds, which are otherwise fairly regular and continuous. The fixed one is for the vigil and the morning of all feast days, without exception, so that I can reflect upon and preach a sermon to an illustrious audience, made up of people of consideration, worthy of a preacher with more talent, more knowledge, and more leisure than I have. At that same time, I cannot neglect the catecism and confession of the Negroes, who constantly occupy every minute of all the missionaries on those mornings, as I said earlier. Since the slaves are rarely at home after dinner on feast days, I spend those afternoons seeing the ones who are in prison (there are always some to be found there) and the Negroes of our own house, because they are the ones who least like going out.
The occasional interruption is visiting the sick, who have to be given the sacrament they need exactly when they need it, day or night. I mean sick Negroes; as for sick white people, I only see those who ask for me by name or when none of the other missionaries who take care of the sick is available. The rest of the time is entirely devoted to my regular rounds.
In order to ward off all sorts of distractions and occupy myself solely with my mission, I am in the habit of saying Mass as early as I can, so that I can leave right away. I take some food with me, so that I can eat at noontime, in the shade of a tree, wherever I happen to find myself. When I don’t leave so early, I eat something at home, which sustains me until night-time, when I get back home, accompanied by one of the cleverer Negroes, whose sole occupation is to follow me wherever I go. It was thus that I began my mission, getting to know my parishioners and writing up a list of them, in keeping with Roman ritual, which very wisely ordains that all priests do so, referring to the list as the “catalog of souls” and specifying that we indicate on it those who confessed and took communion at Easter and received several other sacraments. I could have no better guide than this sacred book, to which I am particularly attached, following in the footsteps of all true missionaries, who do not consider themselves exempt from such rules simply because they are in a foreign land, as was pronounced by a national council in Lima, on the continent of America, and approved by the Holy See.
I only added to this sort of catalog several other indications that the condition and the status of the Negroes allowed and indeed obliged me to make, noting the first and last names of each of them, as well as those of their wives and children; if they were separated or not, in an intact or failed marriage, widowers, widows, girls and boys, brothers and sisters, orphans of both sexes, true Negroes and mulattos born of a white man and a black woman. Next was indicated their country, of which there is an wide array, since they are from all our islands—French, Flemish, English and Spanish. This notation includes where they were born as well as the kingdoms from which they were taken, which includes countries occupying nearly the entire west coast of Africa, extending for more than fifteen hundred leagues, not to mention the Mediterranean countries from which many come, all of which creates a diversity in their origins with which a missionary needs to be familiar. I then noted their age, as exactly as I can, for they themselves do not know what it is.
I distinguished between those who had been baptized and those whose baptism was uncertain or was conducted with a proper ceremony, when there was a danger of death; I noted those who had made their confession and communion and those who had received the sacrament at Easter the previous year. Finally, I indicated their degree of rectitude and ability to learn the catechism- in other words, those who were very capable, somewhat capable, less than somewhat capable and incapable. There are not too many who are incapable, given that in order to be “somewhat capable,” all they need to know is that which is absolutely necessary for their salvation; one level below, “less than somewhat capable,” requires knowing the basic precepts and being able to understand the prayers.
The different levels of lifestyle were distinguished in roughly the same way, the difference being that the two lowest are occupied by evil-doers and rascals and that I added the degree of their vices- drunkenness, immodesty, larceny, indevotion, impiety, and marronage (the habit of running away and being gone from the master’s properties). For those living together without being married, I indicated “concubine.” Lastly, I noted the names of the disabled, those who help others say their prayers, and so forth.
All of these lists were catalogued under the name of each master, according to the order of the different militia companies, which were in turn organized according to the topographical order of the district, each of which has five such companies. All of these entries were designated by a single number, except the names. There are two major advantages to this system: the first being that no one knows anything about it but me; and the second, that it was portable, since it only consisted of six sheets of paper, marked off in a checkerboard pattern, avoiding all confusion, which would otherwise be inevitable with such multiplicity and diversity in the entries. You will soon see to what good use I put this catalog. This was why I decided to spend two whole months gathering information and organizing it into documents, traveling to each place in the district for that purpose. I relied on myself alone, interrogating people one after another; as for their lifestyles, I took every reasonable precaution so as not to be misled, relying on the report of the most upright of them. Talking to them, and to the whites, I would make revisions in the notations, according to the new information that I received from reliable sources.
The list having thus been completed with all due assiduousness, I found that there were at that time two hundred houses in my district that had Negroes, of which thirty-seven had fallen out of the habit of saying prayers. The slaves numbered 2,400 in total. Two hundred and sixty one adults had not been baptized. Seven hundred and twenty were married, of which 200 were in failed marriages. Seven hundred and sixty were of marrying age and 655 were living together without being married. Nine hundred of them were familiar with the basic principles of the faith but did not know the prayers. Six hundred and seventy-six of them didn’t even know those basic precepts, not including the mentally deficient and young children. One thousand two hundred of them said they had begun to go to confession, 780 of them had taken communion, and 22 of them claimed to never attend Mass or catechism class, despite having been baptized or catechized. Finally, there were 26 who were sorcerers, either in fact or by self-description or reputation.
This was the state of affairs of my district when I began to work. It would have been enough to make me lose all hope, if I had been foolish enough to invest any hope in my own capacities and in my own work. I couldn’t hope to equal the efforts of my fervent predecessor but I resolved to imitate at least the faithfulness he had had for his ministry and not to let myself get beat down by the difficulties the work presented. I would consider myself lucky if the fruits of my labors might be proportionate to those I found here when I arrived, in the midst of all the ignorance and cruelty that some have tried to eliminate here for so long.
Thus, after having set aside these documents in October, I thought that it was time to enter through the gate of Christianity, beginning with the first and most necessary of the sacraments, that of baptism. I did this not only because it had been a long time since any adults had been baptized, but also as a means of preparing certain individuals for marriages that I wished to celebrate after Epiphany, so as to rectify as soon as possible the numerous situations of debauchery.
One of the essential preparations for the baptism of an infidel is that of making him change his religion, which consists, as you put it so well in your letter, of making him recognize the imperfections of the one he has and the reasons behind the perfection of the one he is being persuaded to adopt. Following up on that idea, you wonder how we are able to persuade people who have no reason, as is the case with our Negroes; you are not the only person of quality who has sought to ponder this matter. Some ten years ago, an agent of the king, on our islands, who was a student of the late and celebrated M. de l’Esclaches, wrote up a practical and reasoned method for the conversion of Negroes, based on the principles of his teacher. I recently came across this fine manuscript and dusted it off, giving it a place of honor in our library.
But to tell the truth, all those arguments are useless here; of all the races, the conversion of Negroes is the one that best reflects the saying of Saint Paul: “Non in persuasibilibus humanae sapientiae verbis,” etc. Nothing less, therefore, than miracles are needed, you add, and then beg me not to hide from you the miracles we perform. I will certainly not be hiding them from you if I tell you that without any recourse to such devices, Grace does overcome their infidelity. The example of all their compatriots, the esteem they have for white people, the assiduousness of the missionaries, and the authority of their masters- all these things influence greatly, and without any violence, their request to be baptized. Never has faith been so blind nor less subject to temptation than in these people.
Another thing that facilitates the task was the fact that they don’t need to change their religion in order to embrace ours, because they have for all practical purposes never had one of their own. Those who come from the northern-most part of Africa have a very light tinge of Mohamadism, due to the proximity of Morocco and the Barbary Coast. They wear around their necks pieces of paper inscribed in Arabic, which protect them, they say, from various sicknesses. But as soon as I ask for them, upon their arrival, they give them to me and let me burn them without raising any objections at all. The only time I had any trouble was with three of them, who were from Cap Blanc, a place farther to the north than any of the others from which Negroes are brought to us. As for those from farther south, they informed me that they believe in a being who created everything and who sends, they say, rain to help their crops grow. The ones from Angola told me that they called him “Gambi;” those who are closer to the famous river of Senegal call this God “Reboucou.” They added that he is hidden and that he is made like we are. Those who are from Ardes or Arada call him “Boudou” and they told me that they bury their dead in the house, make a great feast on top of the grave and then throw half of it into the grave, for the dead person. But when I asked them where the dead go after this life, they replied, quite naïvely: “We don’t know that where we come from.” Usually, when they want to affirm something, they raise up their eyes and their hand, with a very gentle and respectful look about them, and say: “God up there.”
I was quite surprised recently when an old man, who was telling me about everything he had been taught concerning what one might call religion in his native land, recounted a story that was rather closely related to the one in Scripture about the shameful act committed by Ham toward his father Noah, during Noah’s drunkenness. He explained that Reboucou had three children, two sons and a daughter; the elder son, having found his father unclothed in an indecent manner while sleeping, had called the others over to mock their father. The siblings covered him with some sort of cloth from their country (he told me what it was called). Reboucou, having woken up, rewarded the younger son, naming him his heir, and punished the elder, making him the slave of the younger. Those who believe that the blackness of these people comes from the curse that Ham brought upon himself at that moment might argue that Negroes aren’t entirely ignorant of the origin of their color.
One might recount here once again what I told you about the impious man who, to justify his mockery of heaven, about which people were telling him, said that chickens had been in heaven and that God, to keep them from leaving, had told them that they wouldn’t find water to drink anywhere else. But one of them escaped one day and flew to Earth; having found water there, she drank and lifted her head up, as if to reproach God; in imitation of her, all her posterity did the same whenever they drank.
There you have what one might call religion among the Negroes. We have less trouble persuading them to leave it behind than teaching them the principles of ours and preparing them for baptism. Their extreme dim-wittedness is the reason for this. There are some who, for twenty years now, have been unable to get it through their heads how many gods there are; this is one of the greatest obstacles our missionaries face. Thus, two Spanish theologians have written entire books about the instruction of the Negroes, detailing what one can teach them, by means of what method, and the degree of ability for learning one can demand of them when the need arises. On the islands of Africa or the islands that neighbor it, there are Portuguese, whose bishops are no doubt full of zeal and most of them quite religious, according to the custom of that nation. Those who are currently there, according to the documents of the year 1680, are François de Saint-Diego, a Franciscan, bishop of the island of Cape Verde; Laurent de Castre, in Angra, Guinea; Bernard de Sainte-Marie, in St. Thomé, an island below the Equator; Antoine Poli, in Loanda, an island across from, and quite close to, the Congo; and Pierre Sanche, of the Order of Christ, in Angola.
But in spite of all of this, nearly all the Negroes who come from those lands are equally ignorant, except a few from the Congo, because they live near a Jesuit mission in Loanda and report that they have been baptized, saying that they were given salt to eat. I have discovered that this was the same response they gave in their own land, to a missionary from our order who went there in 1581. Formerly, and perhaps still today, some Spaniards and Portuguese baptize troops of Negroes, while they were putting them onto ships, and without any instruction, in spite of the certain fact that the sacrament of baptism was not valid if the poor slaves had no intention of receiving it. Thus, the French priests in Senegal no longer, as a general rule, baptize those who are being transported to our islands, since those Negroes do not stay long enough in the missions to be instructed, which takes much time, as I know from personal experience.
The dispositions they must bring to bear for baptism are rather difficult for these people: intention, faith, and repentance. Without the first of these, baptism is null and void; without the other two, it is illegitimate. When one knows that one of the three is missing, one cannot administer the sacrament of baptism without committing a great sin, a fact that is a source of great concern to the missionary dealing with dim-witted catechumens. In such cases, the missionary will find that a bit of patience and theology are extremely useful in his quest to overcome the challenges of the situation.
In my case, instructing them in October and November, I didn’t set much store by the catechism classes held on feast days, which I never failed to observe; the crowd was too large for me to be able to instruct each individual sufficiently. That is why, after having taken a quick look at my catalog and identified those who were to be baptized, I went to speak to them while they were working, to instruct them, examine them and approve them for baptism.
As for their will to be baptized, I had no trouble creating it in them, because as soon as they began to have the slightest knowledge of our religion, they began asking for the sacrament with great eagerness, seemingly convinced that without it, they wouldn’t be going up there, with the Good Lord, as they call him. There were also several of them who affirmed that, before their baptism, the “maboya” (this is what they call the Devil) beat them every night; their masters would hear them shouting loudly and see them running toward them, frightened out of their wits, dripping with sweat and battered by blows. Consequently, the masters were no less eager than the slaves for the baptisms and I took advantage of that eagerness to encourage the masters to contribute whatever they could toward the necessary preparation of the adults who had asked to be baptized (without such a request, I put it off continually).
The ability and the faith which constitute the second disposition is not as easy as the first, due to their dim-wittedness. When their ignorance comes more from a lack of intelligence than from any fault on their part, I content myself with their knowing the mystery of the Trinity and of the Incarnation and wait for them to learn the rest—the prayers of Our Lord, the Hail Mary, the Creed, and the commandments of God.
Repentance for their sins, which is the third disposition, gives me no less trouble, especially because of their various out-of-wedlock relationships, which they seem to have absolutely no desire to abandon when they ask to be baptized. And I am amazed at the surprise expressed by masters when I refuse to baptize their slaves who are currently in such relationships. Despite all of that, I hold a firm line until I am convinced, by reliable information gathered according to my own methods, that they have amended their lives. I would not dare, however, assert that I have never been wrong; but when that does happen, it is only after I have taken sufficient precautions to set my conscience to rest. I must not forget to mention here the happy conversion of one of the most likeable Negroes of my district— a man appealing for his natural personality, but who had not always been so appealing in terms of his way of life. Everywhere he saw me, he would come running after me, begging me not to put off his baptism any longer. One day, I paused a bit longer than usual, to explain to him the cause of this delay; I told him that it was because he had not been well behaved. “How I be well behaved, if not Christian?” he replied. “Me want to be Christian to be well behaved!” Nonetheless, he did what I told him to do and rendered himself worthy of being baptized with the others.
The troop was rather big, by the grace of God, and the solemnity took place at the end of the month of November of the year 1680. To assure myself of their perseverance and their amendment of life, I married some of them the same day, immediately after having baptized them, given the difficulty of getting them properly disposed to make their confession. This difficulty made the junction of baptism and marriage more or less necessary, since baptism more than makes up for the absence of the confession that is usually made before getting married. That is why I have adopted the habit of marrying as many of them as I can immediately following their baptism. I make exceptions sometimes for those who belong to the same master and who were joined together before being baptized, reciprocally and forever, which is quite rare among them; in those cases, it is not necessary to remarry them.
After the baptisms, I set about marrying the other Christians who were in a position to be married. This was a remedy made necessary, in most cases, by their debauchery. But as eager as the masters and the slaves are for baptism, they were equally reluctant to consent to my conducting marriages. The libertinism of the Negroes is the true cause of the obstacle they put up, wanting to have the freedom to take or leave their women as it pleased them, without the obligation of supporting a family.
The masters’ motivation in supporting this bad faith came from the fact that they could not sell them separately, once they were married, meaning that either the masters couldn’t easily find buyers or that they couldn’t get rid of a Negro who was not of use to them, without depriving themselves of one that was. Aside from the fact that there were Frenchwomen who, having trained some Negress to work as a servant in their houses, would no longer consent to her getting married, to avoid being deprived of the services they were getting from her, especially that of watching over the young children at night.
But the greatest difficulty came from a custom of the land which, despite ancient laws, did not permit slaves of different masters to be married. The missionaries tolerated this here, so as to avoid greater evils: frequent separations, divorces, and adultery, as well as lawsuits and constant quarrels between two masters. This made it impossible for most of the poor slaves to marry, given that one planter would have only one slave, another one would have only boys, another only girls, and even those who had enough of each could often not find two of them who wanted, mutually, to get married, despite the fact that some of them wanted to live together in sin.
So you can see that the remedy was as difficult as the malady was grave. Here’s how I went about attacking the problem. First, all my catechism lessons and feast-day exhortations were on this topic. Next, identifying in my catalog the Negroes who could be married, I went into the fields, where troops of them were working, to talk to them about it. My first proposition on the subject was met by the entire troop with laughter, which continued the rest of the day, along with vicious teasing of the people to whom I had suggested to marriage (these people are the biggest teases in the world). The taunts left out none of the faults of those in question, especially the woman. This meant that most of the time those to whom I was bringing this news did not listen to me, although very often that was only because they were ashamed to declare themselves in the midst of so much aggressive teasing. I saw this one time, among others, in a young Negress who certainly wanted to marry a Negro in the troop; when I talked to her about it in front of the others, she denied it firmly and constantly, until she saw that six others had given their consent to be married. As I was leaving, she ran after me, to tell me that she wanted to join them, but that she had been ashamed to say so in front of the others.
The inevitable teasing often tried my patience, but I nonetheless continued to work, trying to convince them of the necessity of changing an out-of-wedlock relationship into marriage. Then I would take those who needed to marry aside. I negotiated the affair with the same level of application that I would have used with people of quality. I needed to know the reasons for their refusal, which certainly had nothing to do with a dowry, for they have absolutely nothing to their name. They would both cite attachments they had elsewhere and that they would not give up for marriage. The man would say that the woman I wanted to give him was a loudmouth; she would allege that he was cruel and too lazy to keep himself fed. They would defend their position by claiming not to have a hut and not having the means to put on the wedding feast, by saying that they were not from the same country or of the same age, and other pretexts of that nature, which I had to take great pains to dismiss. If I succeeded, and they gave their consent, I still had to have the consent of their parents, then that of their masters, some of whom were so distant and so brutal that I have seen them threaten to beat their slaves, if they decided to marry, despite the fact that the masters were well aware of their various out-of-wedlock relationships. There were others whom I had to prevent by legal means from standing in the way of their slaves’ marriage. Others, in my presence, tried to force their slaves to marry by threatening them and then, in my absence, talked them out of it with fury, as I learned one time from several slaves who, after their masters had just spoken in such a manner in front of me, followed after me to take me aside and inform me of this secret iniquity.
Nonetheless, although the law has always left slaves independent of their masters concerning marriage, I always strive to obtain the masters’ consent, in order to prevent all sorts of problems. I am aided in this by the interest they take in the children that result, far more often the fruit of a marriage blessed by God than of out-of-wedlock relationships, which they believe he curses.
When everything has been thus decided, I create a sort of engagement: the two parties promise each other, in my presence, to get married. There is no need for a notary to write up a contract, as financial considerations are never at issue, as they are so often in other people’s marriages. Then I recommend that they be very much on their guard, explaining that the Devil, unable to prevent their marriage, is going to make some last-ditch efforts to bring God’s curse onto their heads by making them commit some other sin.
After all these preparations, I don’t marry them right away, in order to confirm their fidelity, which, not being extraordinarily strong among them, has created an infinite number of unhappy marriages. Fairly often I have seen situations in which a master has the good will to allow one of his Negresses to marry but she is unable to find any Negro in the house to her liking. So the master takes her to the place where they have just housed the Negroes who have recently arrived from their countries, so that she can choose one who suits her fancy. He is then bought for her. But during the several months that one spends instructing this Negro, in order to prepare him for baptism before performing the marriage, the future wife loses her taste for him and doesn’t want anything to do with him. Here we have another sign of their frivolity. There were two of them who had asked me, quite of their own free will, to marry them. Everything was decided and all the preparations had been made. On the day I had indicated to them, they set out for the church, where I was waiting to marry them. But the road was long enough to provide them with sufficient time to quarrel: the boy complained that the girl wasn’t clean enough for such an occasion. The dispute heated up to such a degree that they had to get hold of themselves and they both turned around and started walking back in the other direction. I waited for them for a long time. Despite this frivolity, they are both of a fine natural character and got back together; after a rather long period of testing their constancy, I did marry them and they now form a happy couple.
The time it takes to test their will to marry is the same time required to publish the banns of marriage three times, which normally takes about a month, since there are fewer feast days here than in Europe. I will admit that publication of the banns was such a new practice here in the islands, as far as slave marriages are concerned, that it stirred up some trouble for me. This was especially true because people could see that whites had themselves dispensed from the requirement fairly often. So it was that one day a planter sent two of his slaves to me to be married on the spot and without any further formality. When I told him that I wanted to put it off until the necessary instructions had been made and the banns had been published, he was indignant, saying that he had had sufficient standing to have two of his children married recently, without banns, in another church, and that he was surprised not to be able to do the same with his slaves. So he sent his slaves to that church instead, where they were married, without instruction and without confession, despite the fact that they both badly needed it. Nonetheless, the different way in which they had seen others marry made them so ashamed that they came to see me soon after, to compensate for the deficiencies of their marriage by way of communion and confession.
These days, the banns are published with everyone’s approval; I have made it clear that I am obliged to do so by the respect I owe to the orders of the Church and the need to discover any impediments to the marriage, which are more common than one might imagine among the Negroes, principally because of the affinities produced by out-of-wedlock relationships. I have seen proof of this rather often, having explained to them their obligation to inform me of any such situation at the time of the marriage.
The three banns having been published, we choose, to the extent that it is possible, a feast day for the wedding ceremony, which allows more Negroes to attend. If it were a work day, the masters wouldn’t even let relatives attend, so as not to lose a few hours’ worth of their work, for which the masters are so greedy. So greedy in fact that, as I sit here writing this, I have just learned that today a planter refused to let a few of his Negroes go say a last goodbye to their brothers who are being loaded onto ships for perpetual service in the galleys.
A feast day, which makes it easier for more Negroes to be present, furthers the intention I have in performing these ceremonies with all possible pomp; that intention is none other than that of the Church, in its institutional form. It is well known, after all, that the inner feelings of esteem and respect that we owe to the sacraments and all holy things are infinitely enhanced in our minds by the exterior and tangible things that strike our vision.
You still remember, perhaps, the benediction that it pleased God to bestow on the work of one Father, at a time when the Court didn’t encourage the conversion of Protestants as much as it does now. People often asked me what method I had adopted to succeed in that task, and I answered that the most effective means was the ceremony the Church prescribes for the reception of heretics, designed for that purpose with all the pomp you have witnessed in the past. It was, in some cases, salutary for the Huguenots whose curiosity led them to attend or who heard about it from others.
Those exterior things are necessary to the devotion of Negroes. I realized this with respect to several marriages of the poor idiots that had been performed previously. A number of them had no esteem for the sacrament that had been performed; some of them didn’t consider themselves married at all and were living separately and in great debauchery, on the pretext that they had been married differently from the whites—without banns, without a Mass, without a ring, without a blessing and without a church. Some of them even, according to what I have been told several times, had been married in the fields, as a result of the great zeal of a few ecclesiastical figures who, to put an end as quickly as possible to the spread of debauchery, would marry a number of people in out-of-wedlock relationships at the same time, and in the same place, where they could acquire their consent. This created tremendous difficulty for me, as I was unable to find any record of these marriages and the couples themselves disavowed them.
On the contrary, I also recognized the effect of the wise practices of the Church by the large numbers and success of the marriages performed according to its orders. My exhortations had little effect on the minds of the Negroes until they saw their peers get married with all due ceremony. After that, I no longer had nearly as much need to hunt them down to persuade them to marry—they would come on their own, and in fairly large numbers, to beg me to marry them.
That is why I don’t leave out any of the ritual prescribed by the Church for the celebration of a marriage and I allow these people to have all the respectable delights provided by that ritual.
Thus, as soon as the feast that I had indicated to them has arrived, they go to the church early in the morning, dressed as well as they can be, in the clothes that their master has lent them. They are accompanied by a band of other Negroes, all cleaned up; at the head of the procession is a banner, decorated with all the ribbons they can find. After the fiancés have made their confession, I marry them, I bless the ring, I say the Mass, and I give the benediction to the newlyweds, who are sometimes so numerous that they take up the entire communion rail, which is about thirty feet long. After all this, I give them an exhortation, which I put off until the end of the Mass, in order to give the whites the freedom to leave, since the most prominent people in the district are present at this Mass, to avoid the heat of the sun. It is unbelievable how much esteem these poor Negroes have for the sacrament of marriage and the difference between those who have been married this way and those who have not been. This makes clear that there is a particular blessing attached to the ceremonies of the Church.
The marriage is then registered, according to all the proper forms, including those that the Code Louis has added. Then the newlyweds go back home, with the same procession of followers, in the same order, as when they arrived. In a beautiful prairie, they have their feast and sing and play all the instruments of their native land. They dance with visible and extraordinary joy and it is an amazing thing to see the passion they bring to these celebrations, they who are the most wretched and most tormented of all men.
In the afternoon, I drop in on the festivities, to prevent drunkenness, quarrels, and the indecent dances that some of them have imported from their native land. I stay a little while and while they are innocently enjoying themselves, I go off to the side of the prairie, staying close enough to come running if need be but far enough away to be able to say the Divine Office and my prayers, which I offer up to God for these poor people, as sincerely as Job offered up his prayers and sacrifices for his children while they were enjoying themselves: offeribat holocausta pro singulis, decebat enim ne forte peccaverint filii mei, et benedixerint Deo in cordibus suis. After this, I put a halt to the dancing and I send them all home; if you let them, they will dance all night, until the break of day and then go to work as if they had gotten a good night’s sleep.
A few weeks later, I go see the newlyweds, to make sure there is no nascent discord, which is so common in marriages here. But I have had the consolation of always being able to detect a tangible effect of the blessing of God in them. I know one of them who, several days after his wedding, having been mistreated by his master, fled to the woods. His wife, a young Negress, refused to abandon him and stayed with him in his exile for nearly a year, during which they lodged, slept and ate like animals. I know two others whom I had long refused to marry, because they were extremely wicked: the woman was a prostitute and the man was nearly always either on the run or in chains, which made me fear that theirs would be a very bad marriage. But in the end, thinking that the love of a woman would put an end to the recklessness of her husband, I let myself be defeated by their entreaties, for never had anyone been so insistent with me. Since their marriage, the husband, despite his protestations, has returned to his old habits; nonetheless, people are amazed to see how assiduously his wife gives him all means of succor after he has been recaptured and put in chains, exposed day and night to all the indignities of the open air. She takes advantage of every free moment left to her by her work to bring him food and drink and to cover him with straw and all the rags she can find to protect him from the cold of the night, to which these poor people are so sensitive, even in this torrid climate.
But I cannot forget to recount the sentiments of a good-hearted Negress, recently arrived, a short time after I had married her. I ran across her on the road, straining under a load that was beyond her strength, for she was rather delicate. She was groaning under her burden when she saw me, but right away her sorrow disappeared, she threw her heavy load to the ground and came up to me snapping her fingers, which is their way of indicating joy. Greeting me with a happy face, she said: “Ah, Father! How good Louis for me!” This was the name of her husband. “Louis Papa for me, Louis Mama for me. If I not have Louis, I die of hunger!” These are, for them, the effects of an excellent marriage. The naïveté of this creature brought tears to my eyes; having seen the consolation that her words had given me, she now repeats them every time she sees me.
The principal effect of marriage on the slaves is that it puts an end to their debaucheries. This is the point I particularly insist on in the exhortations I give during the celebration of their marriages. I have learned what admirable struggles the newlyweds undergo to preserve their fidelity to their spouses; when I talk to them, as well as to some of their elders, about their debaucheries, they respond with a sort of interjection that I cannot explain here and that conveys, albeit with a most pleasant tone, their belief that they have been asked an impertinent question. Then they add: “You not know me; me you marry with her, now I have a wife that the Good Lord give me to save me, why I run after other woman that Devil give me to damn me?” This is how they express the distinction between marriage and out-of-wedlock relationships.
The arrival of Lent meant that I had to put an end to the celebration of all marriages, since wedding feasts, without which these good people don’t consider themselves to be married and, over time, begin to doubt the validity of their union, are not permitted in that season. Thus, after having married those who came forward for it, my occupation consisted of preparing a new group of catechumens for their baptism, which had to be celebrated at Easter.
It took place on the occasion of that feast because historically the Early Church very clearly indicated that the solemn baptism of adults was to take place on the eve of Easter and Pentecost, and that it was forbidden to administer that sacrament at any other time, except in cases where there was the danger of imminent death. Saint Leon, in one of his letters, condemns some who wanted to do it at Epiphany, inspired by the fact that Our Lord’s baptism took place at that season; likewise, the Council of Châlons condemned those who did it on all the feast days of martyrs. But the Church has lifted this rigorous interdiction and simply declared that it is fitting to put off until the eve of Easter or Pentecost the baptism of adults who are seeking it around those times. This is how it is still done in Rome. Furthermore, it is up to the judgment of those who know whether the catechumens are properly disposed, since without the proper disposition they cannot be baptized.
According to this rule, when someone whose baptism has been put off due to lack of proper disposition is in danger of imminent death, you run to him immediately and try to obtain whatever you can from him or at least the bare minimum that will allow you to baptize him in good conscience. In such cases, where you are clearly not obliged to expect all the signs of preparedness you would normally expect from those who are not in danger of death, you go ahead and baptize him summarily, putting off the ceremonies until after his recovery, if it pleases God to grant him such.
This is not the only occasion where I hurry things along to get them disposed for baptism. I also do it, although much less frequently, in cases where I have to marry a catechumen, because the sacrament of marriage is so necessary to prevent their ongoing debaucheries and that of baptism is the gateway to all the other sacraments. In such cases, I consider that baptism is immediate and necessary.
Other than in those two situations, which are fairly common, I take care not to rush the baptism of adults, because you have to give them instruction, which takes a tremendous amount of work. So much so, in fact, that if I chose to spend that much time instructing all of them, it would be impossible for me to ever do anything but introduce new Christians into the Church. I would never have the time to see how they live. In addition, the habits of debauchery of the newly arrived, as well as the others, are so entrenched, and their false protestations to leave those habits behind so frequent, that a rather long trial period is necessary in order to confirm prudently their amendment of life.
This was why a certain missionary, who had the reputation of knowing the Negroes extraordinarily well, because of continual investigations that he conducted with great zeal, went for years at a time without baptizing a single adult, except in cases of imminent death. Some theologians also say that the reason why the Early Church put off adult baptisms until the feast days we have specified above was to be able to put to the test the disposition of the catechumens, whose faith was more suspect in those days. As for me, just as I believe that, of all the nations that have received baptism, there is none whose desire for it was more easily aroused than our Negroes, so too do I believe that there is none whose instruction in the proper dispositions was slower and more difficult work.
All of these things led me to resolve to perform ordinary and ceremonial baptisms only twice a year; that, along with the veneration that we are to have for the customs and will of the Church, determined my firm decision to perform baptisms at Easter and Pentecost.
Thus, the services on the eve of those feasts, and those of the octave following them, seem to be as much in honor of the newly baptized as to the glory of the two mysteries. The prayers for new Christians that the Church all over the world says at those times would be more or less pointless, or at the least more or less out of season, if we were not performing these baptisms in foreign lands, the only places when considerable numbers of adult baptisms take place.
I was motivated by all these things when I was making my rounds during Lent; in the end, I chose those whom I found to be sufficiently prepared. At Easter, I baptized a fairly large number of them, at three different ceremonies. The first were baptized on Holy Saturday, in the morning, which is precisely the day and time indicated by the Church for that solemnity. But, because of the labor that had to be done on that workday, the masters held back several of those who had been summoned and they were baptized on Tuesday of Easter Week. But among those catechumens, there were some who had to be married immediately after being baptized, which meant that we had to wait until after Quasimodo Sunday, because of the wedding feast; those in that circumstance were baptized immediately after that Sunday.
Those baptisms having been performed, I needed to think about preparing people for Easter. The Negroes do not do their Easter Duty during the same two-week period as the whites, because we are so busy with the whites at that time and because it takes so much time to hear the confession of each and every Negro, due to their lack of intelligence and the vast number of them, that it was deemed appropriate in our islands to separate their preparations from those of the whites. Some missionaries have the Negroes do it ahead of time, during Lent, but I put them off until after Easter, because of the baptisms that must be prepared ahead of it.
This is how I began spending my time the week after Quasimodo and it took me about a month to get the job done. It was the object of my catechism lessons and my usual rounds. I didn’t get out among the people until the afternoon and would send out word to various groups that they were to come the following day to the church to do their Easter Duty. The masters are aware of the ordinances and the customs of the land and do not fail to stop all work the next day for that purpose.
One of them, however, was so attached to his profit that he didn’t want to send his slaves to church then and put it off until the season of Pentecost in order to stockpile the labor of his slaves’ workdays. At that time, he sent them dressed in new clothes, to protect himself from being reproached, as he had been, for not feeding or clothing them. His slaves, indignant at the avarice of their master, headed off in the opposite direction of the church and were on the run for some time, to the great disadvantage of the miser, for whom there could not have been a more fitting punishment. This is what I told him, but in vain, since his people having at last returned, he persisted in his refusal, which provoked a new punishment from God: a year later, he lost fourteen slaves, killed in various accidents. That is, in these parts, a very serious and very rare loss and I have used it as an example for the others, for there is even now another who is like him. As for the miser himself, he has acknowledged his fault, has asked me for forgiveness of it and has promised me that he will be more obedient this year. We shall see what he will do.
After having thus informed the Negroes, in their place of work, to come to church the following day, I gather information, once again, about those who continue in their debaucheries. Having ascertained, as accurately as is reasonably possible, that all is in order, I indicate another time for them to do their Easter Duty, on the condition that in the meantime, they show signs of a genuine amendment of life. As for the others, I give them some instruction and an exhortation on the matter. After that, I go somewhere else to inform another group of the plan, until there are enough of them to keep two confessors busy the following day, since I need a colleague, both to help me out in the work and to ensure that the confessions themselves are as freely made as possible.
The next day, I get to the church early in the morning. I instruct these people again, I have them make the acts of preparation for confession, encouraging them to be as passionate and intelligible as possible, after which each confessor is kept busy until noon. After each of them has made his confession, I line them up at the communion rail, to administer the sacrament to all of them. I require that each provide me with a slip of paper from his confessor, indicating that he has in fact made his confession, and I turn away those who don’t have one. Otherwise, many of them wouldn’t hesitate to receive the sacrament without having made their confession, either because they were scatterbrained or because they were evil.
I then explain to them in the strongest possible terms the terrible fate of those who take communion after having fooled their confessor. I finish up with, more or less, the same words the deacon would pronounce to the Christians of the Early Church on such an occasion: tanda sanctis, si quis non sanctus non audeat. It is at this point that I have seen, several times, five or six of them quietly back away from the Holy Table before taking communion. Then I have the rest of them say the pre-communion prayers. I give them communion and have them say the post-communion prayers, which express the holy notion that the purity of a body having just received that of Jesus Christ must be preserved. Then I carefully record those who have fulfilled their Easter Duty and I console those who were excluded from doing so, taking advantage of their embarrassment to encourage them to resolve to prepare themselves better in the period of time I have indicated to them. Finally, I send them all off until one o’clock in the afternoon and I see at that moment so much joy on the faces of those who have received the sacrament that those who behold it can be moved to tears.
Around two o’clock, I eat a little something and then return to the countryside, to give notice to and prepare another troop for the following day; one you have begun, you have to continue without interruption. I will add here that one of the most effective practices I have put in place to lead them to fulfill their Easter Duty is the threat I made not to accept as godparents those who had not done so and to refuse them a church funeral if they were to die without having given signs of repentance. The latter situation has not arisen as often as the former but both of the threats disturb them mightily and they have seen examples of both with their own eyes. They are very embarrassed to be rejected when they show up to be godparents and their chagrin has sometimes even been shared by their masters. As far as a church funeral is concerned, they are extremely attached to it; before dying, they typically ask me to assure them that they will have one, adding that, with that knowledge, they can die happy. Thus, I make every effort to honor their burial. The author of the history of our islands, who said that we bury Negroes without a shroud, would these days see not only a shroud, but a pall, candles, and all the rest.
The Easter devotions were completed about two weeks before Pentecost, which was the amount of time needed to make preparations for the baptisms to take place at that feast. I prepared people in the same way as before. I separated them into two groups: the first were those who could come on a workday, the day before Pentecost; the others were to come the following Tuesday, which was also the day that several of them were to be married. In order to give more prestige to the grace of the sacrament in the eyes of the Negroes, one would need to perform these baptisms with grand solemnity. This is how our Fathers do it in the East Indies and on the continent of our America. I would very much like to follow their example, but I always find that that sort of pomp and ceremony pose new difficulties, which provide me with welcome occasions to prove myself worthy, if I know how to take advantage of them. For it is true, here as everywhere else I have experienced this new method, that it is impossible to perform ceremonies properly without causing sorrow to those who are excluded from them.
At that point, I had completed the principal functions of the mission for the year, having prepared all the Negroes for the sacraments of baptism and confession, the Eucharist and marriage and having administered those sacraments to all who were able to receive them. But before undertaking the second part of my mission, which I had decided to consecrate to remediating each vice in particular, I spent another month or two taking communion to the infirm, baptizing the feeble-minded, keeping after those who had not shown up to fulfill their Easter Duty or who had been rejected from doing so, and lastly, encouraging the better-behaved to receive the sacraments regularly.
Since the infirm are, by the grace of God, few in number, I was able to take the sacrament to all of them in less than a week. Among them, I came across one who has few peers, even among the whites, in terms of his judgment and his virtue. He is another Job, having watched himself decline little by little over a period of several years, with admirable patience. Nothing comes out of his mouth but blessings of God and of all who come to him to render some service. I asked him if his wife took good care of him; to answer me, he praised her as if he were describing charity itself. Thus, all the many Negroes of that house have an extreme respect for him. He gathers the little Negroes together in front of his hut and takes great pains to teach them how to pray to God. He wants me to bring him the Blessed Sacrament quite often, and never do I go see him without his asking me for that grace, with such tender devotion.
Among the feeble-minded, I only came across four who hadn’t been baptized. Having discerned, through a number of indications, that they had been in that state their entire lives, I brought all four of them together, along with their godfathers and godmothers, and I baptized them as I would children.
The number of those who had not fulfilled their Easter Duty, however, was not so small. Some of them were waiting for me to call for them, others didn’t care one way or the other. I worked toward this objective for about a month, with some measure of effectiveness and derived much consolation from the felicitous changes I saw in some of them. But I was only gathering the grain left over from the harvest I had reaped at Easter. Instead of entire sheaves of wheat, I only took away a few stalks that had been left on the ground, like the weeds that grow on rooftops, which will never be enough to fill the hands of the harvester or the bosom of the gleaner: sient fanum tu torum… de quo non implebit manum suam, qui metit nes sinum suum qui manipulos colligit.
Complete, oh Lord, I said, the conversion of our poor slaves! This bitterness was sweetened by the information I gathered about those who had persevered since Easter and all those with some disposition for receiving the sacraments regularly. In those cases, I came across a few whom I hoped to be able to raise to a level of actual devotion, which would serve as an example to the others. I thus applied myself to finding out more about them, for there is a great danger of being wrong. I realized this when I put my faith in a Negress who, through a combination of hard work and hypocrisy, had so won over the mistress for whom she served as a domestic servant, that this young lady, although quite bright, had given me a highly favorable idea of her. This was all the more convincing because her description was seconded by that of a missionary who was, it was said, greatly knowledgeable in the matter of the trickery of slaves. There was nonetheless a little something in my mind that continually contradicted the portrait that was being painted for me. I couldn’t quite swallow two things that shocked me about this creature. First, the fact that she was extremely clean and well dressed, which is grounds for suspicion here, given that Negresses, despite great effort, can barely manage to get their hands a piece of some rough cotton fabric. The second was the fact that, when I would give her some piece of salutary advice, she would reply with intolerable arrogance. At last, the sin appeared: it was discovered that she was engaging in wicked commerce with a man. This revelation sent her on the run with her suitor, who died miserably. Even this tragedy was insufficient to bring this wanton woman back to her duty; she has finally, in recent days, retreated to her hut.
Here is another example of the clever hypocrisy of these people. A young Negro, who was rather bright and of good natural character, belonged to a well-adjusted family, several of whom were virtuous people and easily deceived. He had been assigned to a post that he didn’t like; in order to get out of it, he alleged a need to be near a certain man, so as to learn how to pray to God. He was graciously taken at his word, despite the inconvenience caused by the change. Some time later, he had to be placed in a post similar to the original one. To get out of it again, he came up with an excuse tailored to those on whom he was dependent, saying that in that place, he was being solicited by some Negresses. Permission was granted a second time, despite the fact that the place where he wanted to be was much more dangerous. In fact, after a number of similar ruses, he finally showed himself for what he was: a scoundrel.
These examples keep me on my guard when trying to distinguish between appearance and fact. After having spent several weeks, with particular application, trying to make this distinction with respect to several of them, I had every reason to bless God for the number of virtuous souls who had maintained their marvelous innocence, despite the corruption that seemed to be universal. I feel as though I have found a diamond in a pile of dung, when I consider the treasures that grace and nature have caused to be contained within those souls, hidden beneath such hideous bodies. I chose a few of these good Negroes to receive the sacrament regularly. They are few in comparison to those who do not do so, because the danger of being deceived makes it necessary for me to take great precautions. Consequently, each month there are scarcely one hundred instances of people taking communion: some of them doing so only once during that period, others every Sunday, and the rest of them every time they come to Mass.
This is where these poor people derive the strength to resist such violent attacks and to perform acts that provide me with such touching consolation. One of them, while at work, preaches to his companions with admirable zeal and authority, especially when someone takes the liberty of saying some misplaced word. But he preaches even more effectively by the example he gives of modesty in church: in order to make his confession and take communion, he waits some two or three hours on his knees, immobile like a statue, in the middle of the church, surrounded by his family, whom he often bring along with him to confession.
Another one supervises the work in a large sugar-mill, performing his duties with such probity and skill that everyone agrees there is no white man in the job, which is not ordinarily done by Negroes, who does it as well.
A young Negress, whose natural character and virtue are admirable, was talking to me one day about the pain she derived from certain thoughts, which caused her great sorrow: “But what you do,” I said to her, “to chase away thoughts?” She answered: “I make big whip with good rope. I go where no one see me except Good Lord and Blessed Virgin. There I take clothes off and hit myself and hit myself, over and over and everywhere, until bad thought leave me.” “But,” I replied, “who the one teach you that?” “Good Lord teach me that,” she said.
I have seen some of them weep, including one woman quite bitterly, just four days ago. I asked her the cause of her tears. She told me that it was the Passion of Our Lord, which she was remembering during this time of Lent.
I know several who have felt suddenly seized by certain maladies, which are apparently only the result of magic spells, which are also habitually used to cure such illnesses. They consulted me to ask if they could use that resource in good conscience. After I told them no, they preferred to remain afflicted by those ailments for a long time, rather than ask the witch-doctors for the cure that they were administering to other people.
I admire the attachment some of them have to their devotions on the days when there is an indulgence to be gained. In order to get to church, they slip away first thing in the morning from their master’s house, so as to be back early, if need be. But the dearth of confessors means that they are not always able to get back home on time, which becomes a cause for complaint. To remedy the situation, I had to give them a medal that had been blessed, allowing them to gain the indulgence some other day; otherwise, they always want to take advantage of everything. There is one Negress who distinguishes herself by the admirable ardor with which she gives advice to others, both in private and in public. The example of her probity is made even more rare by the fact that it is accompanied by a great and very modest gaiety.
I will leave aside the other things I could say on this subject, things which, during the few weeks that I spent cultivating those good souls, provided me with an extraordinary consolation that abundantly recompensed my efforts. I would have liked to never do anything else, but I was obliged to cut back most of the time I gave to this task and settle for much less of it during the rest of the year. In other words, I did what I could in passing, such as in the confessional and on other occasions when I could give a word or two of direction, in an attempt to uphold those good people in their regular reception of the sacraments, so that I could apply myself to other, absolutely necessary endeavors.
At last, near the end of the month of July, I found myself nearing the end of the work I had undertaken for the first part of my mission—that is to say, what I had planned to do to prepare the Negroes for the reception of the sacraments. I then began to apply myself to the task of remediating, in part, the faults to which they are most subject, which became my occupation for the rest of the year. It is true that the sacraments are the most effective of all remedies, and I had already witnessed the great good produced by baptism, confession, communion and marriage, after the pains I had taken to exclude those who were unworthy of them. Last, I had to treat each of the specific disorders which had to be corrected in nearly everyone, since all of them had not yet received the sacraments I have just mentioned and it seemed all too clear that a great many of them who had in fact received the sacraments had done so without proper preparation or without any effect. I noted in my catalog that the most common faults were failure to pray and to attend Mass, failed marriages, immodesty, magic spells, drunkenness, flight from their master’s house (called marronage here), and the inability to grasp the principles of the faith. I resolved to make as many visits in my district as there were disorders, to talk to each and every one of the guilty parties.
To increase my chances of success, before I began this work, I went and visited all the overseers. Most of them are white, fairly often as wretched in body as in spirit. The planters hire them for wages, to oversee the work of their slaves, on whom these overseers often perpetrate barbaric cruelty, the worst of which are the attacks they wage against the modesty of the poor Negresses, abusing the power they have to deliver them from hunger, from labor, and from the punishment that they sometimes deserve.
In order to put a stop to this disorder, an ordinance was passed, long ago, condemning the fathers of the children who were the fruit of these debaucheries to a fine of two thousand pounds of sugar. But I was only able to keep it in effect in Martinique, where hospitals and churches often grow rich from that income, while at the same time the fear of that punishment keeps many people on the straight and narrow path.
These reasons led me to judge that I needed to begin the process of bringing about some reform by gaining the trust of the overseers. I spent about two weeks going to see them, taking them presents and repeatedly professing my friendship, in order to ingratiate myself with them. I convinced them of the great good they could do for the slaves in their care as well as, by the same token, how accountable they would be to God for those slaves who fell into sin because of their actions. I attached myself primarily to the cruelest of all the overseers, but God allowed him to be shamefully run off by his master, despite both the many promises he had made to me and the scorn with which he had responded to my advice. Another, who was no better, refused to be persuaded by my sweet words, and received the same treatment from the mistress of the house where he lived. She was forced to run him off because she herself had been threatened with exclusion from the sacraments if she kept him on any longer and thereby made it possible for him to continue to endanger the salvation of the troops of Negresses in the neighborhood. The other overseers were not so obstinate: several of them would come to visit me, on feast days, to the great advantage of the poor slaves who were subject to their behavior.
Having thus disposed the overseers, I made a tour of all the houses where there were Negroes, to correct the bad habit that had been adopted in several places of no longer having prayers, either in the morning or the evening, contrary to the old custom; this negligence was the cause of ignorance on the part of many of the slaves. I found that this disorder was, by the grace of God, less widespread than many others: I found it in only thirty-seven houses. I thus had less trouble remediating it. In order to do so, I appointed someone in each house to lead the communal prayers. This was ordinarily the overseer; when there wasn’t one, I chose someone else, either white or black. At the break of day, before going to work, and in the evening, when they returned from it, they gather in front of the master’s house. There, on their knees, they say the customary prayers, which consist of the prayers of Our Lord, the Angelus, the Creed, and the commandments of God, finishing up with a brief, abridged version of the principal points of the catechism. In some places, these prayers are sung; as the slaves are great in number, the sound of their voices alerts their neighbors to their own duty. I note in my catalog who has led the prayers and I take care to reward him for his faithfulness. The good people call him “the pastor” and the designation has been passed on from one generation to the next in several Negro families.
But the Negroes or their overseers are not the only ones who lead the prayers and the instruction. I know a planter who holds one of the highest-ranking offices on the island; he is worn down by age and various ailments, and yet every evening he would have some of the most ignorant of his slaves brought into his bedchamber, where, without confiding the task to any of his servants, he would teach them the catechism himself, persevering until he had rendered them capable of learning it. A young lady who is among the most highly placed on this island, despite the obstacle of a very large family, leads the morning prayers herself, at the break of day, standing at the front of the assembly of all the Negroes. I know another quite young and quite delicate woman, who owned an old Negress who had been afflicted with illness for a long time. The young woman slipped into the old Negress’s hut every night and, standing next to that living corpse, taught her to pray to God and to prepare herself for death.
But what amazed and edified me most along these lines were the charity and patience of an illustrious widow, who is known here for her virtue and her high birth, as the granddaughter of a Chancellor and Minister of Justice. I have seen her working with some of the stupidest and most brutal of the Negroes of this district, teaching them the fundamental principles of the catechism, with the same application that the governess of a young prince would have and without giving any sign of the slightest impatience or the slightest disdain.
I could cite several other examples along these lines. I will settle for noting that there are those who do no less for the bodies than for the souls of these poor slaves, in their maladies. I know a young person who seems to possess all the qualities of an angel and who renders all sorts of services, including the basest and most repugnant, to sick Negroes, with admirable gaiety and wit. And I must not fail to mention here the piety of these poor people with respect to their young children, when they have retired to their huts at night: they would never go to bed without having prayed to God, despite the prayers they have just said in public and the extreme fatigue that oppresses them at that point. As for the Huguenots who have Negroes, and no Catholic domestic servants, I have persuaded them to send their slaves to the house of a neighbor, where I assign them a Catholic to teach them how to pray every day.
This is how one reinstitutes the practice of daily prayers, which had been so badly neglected in some houses. And even more so in a large sugar-mill, where a band of slaves revolted and went on the run, when, following my decree, it was decided that they would be obliged to go to prayers every day. In another case, there was a shack where many adult Negroes, who had been born in this land, lived; they did not know any prayers, because none were ever said there. When it was decided that they would be obliged to pray, they replied that they were too old to learn anything. This was the pretext they used to excuse the ignorance that I encountered among them when I went, a short while later, to examine their potential for learning. But since then, all of them have come into line with respect to their duty.
Having thus settled the matter of daily prayers, I had to turn my attention to the question of the Mass on feast days. I undertook a general tour to gather information on that subject and found that more than two hundred of them never went to Mass on feast days, using that time to sleep, to run around or to slip away. I went after their most vulnerable spot, threatening to deprive them of a church funeral if they were to die without having given signs of their repentance; because, I told them, you cannot take to the church, after their death, those who refused to go there during their lives. I noted once again that they were mindful of the due compassion they have for the Negroes belonging to the English, so much so that none of our slaves would want to trade places with them, despite the fact that the English slaves are often better fed and better dressed. After all, however, our slaves say, there is no Mass and no church for them, no more than for the horses. But if you don’t come to Mass, I told them, your condition is no better and you might as well trade places with them.
I found that the poor people considered this argument quite convincing. When I presented it to them in the fields, they gestured with their hands and their heads to indicate that they held in great esteem the advantage they had over the others in this domain. As soon as I had finished speaking, they went after their fellow slaves in the troop who were guilty, persuading them in front of me and reproaching them rather bitterly (though it was, nonetheless, a sweet thing for me to behold). By this means, I saw, by the grace of God, a significant amendment of life.
However, I noted that there were still many people missing from Mass and from the catechism lesson that immediately followed. The cause was the market that the Negroes have at that time, to sell their fruits and vegetables, despite an ordinance from our governor forbidding the practice. But the ordinance was not adhered to at all, because the governor was in France at that time and his jurisdiction was in dispute. So I went to the magistrate and I explained to him not only the religious matter at stake but also the public interest, since the innkeepers and merchants took advantage of that time, when most people were at Mass, to buy whatever they wanted from the slaves and sometimes even showed up ahead of time, to gain an advantage over the general public. Thus, I was able to have a second ordinance passed, forbidding this market at the time of Mass and catechism, with a penalty of confiscation for the seller and a fine for the buyer, all of which proceeds would go to the hospital. This having been duly executed, I had the consolation of seeing my church quite full of my Negroes, during catechism, despite the fact that the church is both very long and very wide and its chapels very large.
I say that it was full of Negroes during catechism, for very few of them could come in during the Mass, despite the fact that it is called “the Negro Mass.” This overcrowding is due to the fact because it takes place at daybreak and everyone from more than three leagues around comes pouring in, to avoid the heat. The best you can do is to find a place for about a hundred Negroes, among those who are better trained to sing the fundamentals of the catechism and the prayers in French, which they do at several points during the proceedings. Everything ends with the Domine, salvum fac, etc. but sometimes we substitute for those prayers hymns which are suitable for the solemnity being celebrated. These cantors are Negroes and Negresses, are very well trained and usually sing the devotional texts using the most unusual and most delicate melodies, which inspire great feelings of admiration and piety, especially in the hearts of those newly arrived from France. There are also twenty or so Negro children, of both sexes, who are no less skillful and it is an extraordinary pleasure to hear them sing.
At the end of that Mass, it is quite edifying to see, on every feast day without exception, a goodly number of these poor slaves take communion. After the whites have left the church that they had filled, the other Negroes, who had had to stand outside the door and windows, which are only three feet from the ground, take their places; then I climb into the pulpit and teach them the catechism.
Having thus attempted to remediate the indevotion concerning prayers, Mass, and the catechism, I set out to do the same with respect to immodesty, which is the most widespread disorder. I was amazed when I first took stock of it; it was then that I particularly needed to rely on the aid of God and the trust I had put in Him, in order to succeed at my task and not be repelled by it. I also needed to rely on the disposition in which I found myself, being satisfied that I had done everything in my power and handing over the success or failure of those efforts to Providence. I divided the work into two parts: the first part was for the married couples; the second, for all others. Since that sin on the part of married people is among the most grave, I made it the first objective of my mission.
The adulteries that occurred so frequently were nothing but the fruit of failed marriages. I counted two hundred of them and undertook to bring the husbands and wives back together, but there seemed to be so many obstacles that I soon realized that the Devil and his wicked spells were at play. One time, I was instructing a troop of Negroes out in the country, when a woman, in order to respond to my question, came closer and accidentally brushed up against her husband, from whom she was divorced. The man let out a scream so sudden and so horrible as to make your hair stand on end; the sight of the Devil himself wouldn’t have provoked a worse cry. Another time, I was exhorting a woman to return to her husband, reminding her that death could surprise her in her state of out-of-wedlock sin; she replied, enraged, that she wanted to stay just as she was until the day she died.
Jealousy is still fairly often the cause of these quarrels, but to tell the truth, it is usually justified and almost always petty, since the husbands and wives don’t take each other’s debaucheries very seriously. I know of one case when a Negress was caught in the hut of a married Negro and the man’s wife took great pains to hide her, to save her from the punishment that was inevitably coming her way.
The other causes of divorce are the husband’s being too lazy to feed, lodge and clothe his wife and the bad treatment she receives at his hands, by either beating her unsparingly or by taking her food away from her. So to get all these Negroes back together, I had to threaten, flatter, negotiate and carry messages back and forth between the parties, eventually bringing about peace, after many rebuffed attempts and much back and forth.
But I didn’t have to go to all that trouble the time I was called to hear the confession of a Negress who was in danger of death, the consequence of an evil design. She had just had a miscarriage, having been kicked by her husband. In fact, he had kicked her in precisely such a way as to bring about that unhappy result, just as he had threatened he would. I was nonetheless amazed by the feelings of the poor creature: she didn’t wait for me to exhort her to forgive her husband, instead she urged me, with incredible ardor and sweetness, to do everything I could to save him from the chains in which he was already bound and the whip to which he had been condemned. In spite of myself, I did promise her and she did recover. Theirs is now one of the best marriages, the wife having tamed her husband’s brutality by her own innocence, sweetness, and patience.
The debaucheries of the unmarried are much more common and much less easily cured. Everything seems to contribute to it: the temperament of these people, the upbringing they import from their own lands or that they receive from their parents here, the bad examples they observe, their all-night vigils in the sugar mills and in the fields, their nudity, their indigence, the difficulty and sometimes impossibility of getting them married, and their persecution by the whites. There is also the tolerance of their masters, some of whom, owning only Negresses, have gone so far as to pay Negroes from other plantations to serve as studs, in order to produce children, who are always the property of their mother’s master. One of the planters around here was accused of such a detestable arrangement; indeed, he never bought men, always only women. Having thus increased the number of his slaves, he packed them off, with his entire family, to go cultivate a property on a neighboring island. But a storm blew him so far off his course that it was learned, a year later, that he had perished miserably, with all his company, some of them on the water, some of them on land.
The more common these debaucheries are, the less shame girls feel about them. One fairly often sees them with five or six children of whom they are not at all ashamed. This does not repel the boys who want to marry them. Worst of all are the women who have been made to abort several children—if you reproach them for it, using rather strong language, they appear as impassible as a statue. A while ago, I was expressing such reprobation to a prostitute, in front of others who knew her evil ways; she was eating a piece of sugar cane and continued doing so the entire time I was talking to her, never missing a single drop.
The remedy I attempted to apply to this disorder took up an entire month of my time and would indeed have taken up more than a year if I hadn’t had other things to do. Those things could not be set aside unless I abandoned the plan I had made at the beginning of my mission. So I went from house to house, talking to those whom I had indicated in my catalog as guilty, having also indicated the name of the accomplice of each of them.
I gathered together those who worked in the same field and spoke to them as forcefully as I was able; I addressed in particular those whom I had noted as guilty of that vice, which is public knowledge among them. I finished by telling them that I was going to show them a Negro who was in Hell for having lived as they were living; it was a small but excellent portrait of a soul in damnation. I have never seen any example of the genre quite so hideous. I know several intelligent people among the local whites who, having glimpsed it by chance, backed away and turned their heads, in terror, as if they had seen an actual demon in flames. When I began using this method with the Negroes, I encountered a few who laughed at it; all the others, however, demonstrated a great consternation. When I had explained to them what it was, and what the cause and the duration of the torment were, I heard great protestations, both in public and in private conversations. These protestations were followed by many virtuous consequences, sent by God to temper the pain I felt at the obstinance of some of the others. To be sure, these converts, both men and women, prove each and every day that Grace abounds.
There is one woman who recently put up a glorious fight resisting a Frenchman, who had come into her room, by way of a garden wall, five nights in a row. The last night, which was last week, everyone heard a commotion and came running. When they got there, they saw the wicked man in retreat, unsheathed sword in hand, running toward the wall, with the intrepid creature in hot pursuit, throwing stones at his head. The next morning, I was informed of the entire incident. The complaint was registered in front of the judge, the witnesses were heard, and the criminal written up for his offense. One can only hope that he will soon serve as an example to his peers.
I know of other instances of resistance, more difficult and of longer duration, though less spectacular. There have also been disastrous descents back into sin, but I have seen tears flow soon after, tears whose extreme bitterness tempered my own, which the unfortunate backsliding had caused me to shed. Finally, I must not fail to mention here that several Huguenot merchants serve the Devil on our island by bringing about the perdition of these Negroes. We had two of them, half-rotted by the shameful maladies they had managed to acquire: one of them went home to France to seek remedies; the other recently had himself transported to the English district of our island for the same purpose—there he suffered, repudiating God until his very death. And there you have the Reformed Church!
While all this was going on, the year was passing by and I still wanted to achieve my goal. That is why, having visited all the houses where such disorders were present, I wanted to find out, in somewhat more detail, about the witch doctors to whom the Negroes attributed, every day, so many astonishing maladies. I actually believed part of what I was being told about them, because it is true that the cruder a people is, the more likely the Devil is to deceive them by way of his evil spells. All the accounts of foreign lands attest to this, but especially those of the Negro countries. I have often been told, and several trustworthy people claim to have seen these things, that the Negro sorcerers divine things they couldn’t otherwise know; that they pull stones and seashells and such from various parts of the bodies of sick people; that they can make a gourd speak and bring forth an answer that sounds like the voice of a man; that they give people magic belts that will prevent them from feeling the blows when they are being beaten. They even call “witch doctors” genuine poisoners who give people fatal illnesses using certain herbs whose properties are known only to them. This is why one sometimes sees a sick person dry up to the point of death, others swell up as if with dropsy and still others who feel little tumors passing successively from one part of their body to the next, accompanied by tremendous pain.
They inflict these maladies so imperceptibly that you can only see their effects, but as soon as someone gets the reputation for having this power, the others rush to him in a frenzy when they feel the slightest pain of any kind. Recently, I was called to go hear the confession of a man who had just been stabbed by a Negress, who accused him of having thrown something into her stewpot. I have taken the sacraments several times to a young Negress, fourteen years old, who was consumed by one of the wasting sicknesses I have just described. It seemed as though there were something superhuman in her patience, her sweetness and her good judgment; she always assured me that her ailment had come to her after she was threatened by a Negro who had tried in vain to corrupt her.
This is even more astonishing: a missionary, who had more experience than I, warned me not to declare in front of the Negroes the esteem in which I held the virtue of some rather than others, for fear of provoking envy, which would be followed by some sort of evil spell. I forgot this piece of advice and experience taught me just how salutary it was. One time, speaking in front of several Negroes, I cited the example of two slaves who were quite virtuous; a short time later, those same two fell sick in the way I have described, from which regular reception of the sacraments delivered them. They refused to have recourse to the witch doctors, as they were urged to do on a daily basis. Another time, without thinking, I let myself propose as a model of conduct a Negress whose life was certainly exemplary. She found about it and, encountering me one day, asked me, with great seriousness and a touch of anger, to never again put her in the position of attracting the envy of others. She then added that she was certainly no better than they were anyway.
All these things made it necessary for me to conduct accurate research concerning the witch doctors, be they real or false. I found twenty-six of them and set out to examine each, individually, in his own dwelling. Several told me ingenuously what they were doing and showed me their drugs; others denied everything. Finally, after many difficult discussions on the matter, I realized that some of them only applied certain herbs and natural remedies, without appearing to engage in magic spells at all, and that they were called “witch doctors” only because the Negroes use that term for anyone who gives out remedies of any kind. Thus, there was one who, to justify himself, made the gesture of a surgeon bleeding someone and said: “Frenchman, him heal like that; Negro, him heal in different way.”
I came across others who deserved, on several occasions, to be put to death for actually having poisoned someone. Those are the ones I threaten sternly and whom I deprive of the sacraments until they have given some sign of having repented. What really needs to be done, to provide an example, is to execute one of them. But the missionaries, in imitation of their Master, must desire the conversion of a sinner and not his death. Besides, that sort of crime is extremely difficult to prove in a court of law; furthermore, the crimes of Negroes are rarely brought to trial, because their masters take care to cover over such affairs, in order not to lose their slaves.
I saw yet others who made it their business to heal with actual magic spells. They call them marabouts. There is one here who is called by that name and who performs the duties of the job. Having heard his many protestations that he would no longer be engaging in such activities, I promised to allow him to receive the sacraments if, after a certain period of time had passed, he had given me reason to do so. But right away, I heard that a planter had sought to employ him and had then seen him making grimaces and muttering certain words about remedies that he was preparing for the planter, which led the planter to run him off.
As for the soothsayers, people have recourse to their services when they have been robbed or bewitched, in order to find out who is responsible. If the person who seeks help is married, the soothsayer, working on behalf of the Devil, often tells him that it is his wife who wants to harm him, which immediately sets the two spouses at daggers drawn against each other. A while ago, a Negro who had bought a belt from a witch doctor, so as not to feel the lashes of the whip, was whipped with abandon, deliberately in order to put to the test the power of the magic charm, in the presence of others who needed to be disabused of such notions. Each time he was whipped, he was asked if he could feel it; while this poor wretch was being tortured in an extraordinary fashion, the others only mocked him, laughing at his foolishness and his magic charm. Some Negroes have been so severely punished for these belts that recently, one of them, knowing that I had his hut searched and had the belts found there burned in front of the same hut, dared not return home and was on the run for a long time.
After much deliberation, I forbade all those whose remedies seemed merely suspect to me to distribute any more of them. I chased away all the sick people who had taken refuge in the soothsayer’s dwelling to seek treatment and sent them instead to the French surgeons, of which there are a good number in this land, as there are everywhere.
Having thus worked to reduce the influence of these sorcerers, I finally found myself in the last month of the year, and consequently in need of starting all over again, and soon, the same efforts as in the previous year, thereby retracing my steps: preparing people to receive the same sacraments and devoting myself to the same goals of diminishing the various vices, examining the causes of backsliding and of their obstinance. Pressed for time, I had to forego the work I had planned from the start to amend the lives of the runaways, the drunks and the thieves. Furthermore, the thieves didn’t seem likely to return to the path of righteousness that year anyway, through the fault of several of their masters who had, along with the ruin of the crops by two consecutive hurricanes, reduced these poor people to the necessity of having to steal everything they could get their hands on just to stay alive.
While waiting for a moment to take stock of what needed to be done the following year, I spent the month of December examining and rewarding the progress each had made with respect to the catechism and the prayers, and then revising my records according to the changes that had taken place in terms of numbers, lifestyles, etc.
The mission that I undertook at that time to acknowledge and reward the abilities of my flock was one of the most pleasant jobs for me. In order to do so, I had to stuff my bag full of handsome devotional gifts; with this heavy load, I went out into the fields, where the slaves work, in troops that sometimes number as many as a hundred. There, I would take refuge under a bush, whose branches served as my parasol, and spread out my merchandise: images, medals, all sorts of rosaries. All of these things were wrapped up in brightly-colored ribbon and were thus eye-catching and amazing to those poor people. As you read this, Sir, I guess you are imagining the shops of those ribbon-and-thread merchants who, on village feast days, spread out their wares on the doorstep of the church.
Never are the Negroes quicker to put aside their hoes and sickles and gather around me than on this occasion. After they formed a semi-circle, we would begin, according to custom, by making the sign of the cross; then, with my catalog in hand, I would interrogate each one in order and according to the degree of ability I had noted the previous year. If I found that he had made progress, first I marked that down, then, in proportion with the knowledge acquired, I would give him a prize. The others eyed the prize attentively and gave small indications of jealousy, which greatly pleased me.
Those who had made no progress walked away with their shame only, which the others did not hesitate to accentuate, all of them blaming the individual in question for his own ignorance. At these moments, they particularly demonstrated the great talent they have for mockery and I must say that it did not displease me too much. I derived my deepest satisfaction from the eagerness of the parents to make their children, aged five or six, respond to my questions. The masters themselves took pride in it, as they would for their own children.
In the end, I realized that, as long as you apply yourself rather assiduously and methodically to the task of instruction, you can justify the oft-cited claim that the slaves of our islands (excepting those who are newly arrived or too old to receive instruction) are better educated than the peasants of France. This is even more true of the Creole Negroes—that is to say, those born in our America, of whom there are more on Saint Christopher than the other islands. However, the same intelligence that allows them to learn with such ease about the virtue they do not practice also allows them to learn, with equal ease, about the evil that they practice all too much. This is what explains their disorders, which are also more common here than on the other islands.
I finished up the year with a complete revision of my catalog, which was the soul of my work and thus of the utmost necessity. In order to do so, I traveled all over, noting all the new arrivals and all the very many other changes that had taken place. These are the records on which I based a new catalog, which reflects the present state of spiritual affairs of my mission and, at the same time, of what needs to be done in the current year, following in the wake of the previous one. I performed several marriages, until the season of Lent began, at which point I began to spend my time preparing catechumens for the Easter baptisms; the rest of my time I have spent writing this letter, a useful activity since it will procure for us the succor of your prayers.
The revisions to my catalog reflect the following statistics: 2,522 slaves; 128 newly married; 88 delayed for marriage, due to a former divorce or failed marriage; 123 newly baptized adults, along with 103 children, of whom 42 are in heaven, praying for the others (for the past ten or twelve years, half of the children born here have died immediately); and 80 adult deaths. In the year 1681, 562 fulfilled their Easter Duty; 585 made progress in their ability to learn, of whom 343 have actually advanced in their studies. There are 511 who know the principles of the faith well and 626 who, in addition, know the prayers (which have been reestablished in all the houses, with one single exception). The number of the baptized and the dead is slightly greater than indicated here, because there were several baptisms and funerals in another church in my district.
There you have, Sir, an account of how I spent the first year. We ended it with prayers of thanksgiving, offered with solemnity to Him who is the author of all that is good, so much so that the glory of the conversion of a sinner is His alone and is never shared with any other creature. Epiphany came along just in time for that ceremony. Given that Epiphany commemorates the vocation and the conversion of the Gentiles, we chose to celebrate the feast of the Negroes that day; in fact, even the paintings of that mystical event unusually represent one of three kings with skin the color of that of our Negroes.
That day, in the morning, the Negroes of our house left home in procession, heading to the parish church, where the majority of the Negroes on the entire island were waiting for them. As soon as they had arrived, and settled in as best they could, among the crowd of Frenchmen who has already filled the church, High Mass began. People were surprised to see that only Negroes, who had occupied the choir and the lectern, were serving at the altar and providing the responses to the priest. This had never been seen before, due to the refusal of the usual cantors to let Negroes sing the Mass on such occasions, an interdiction that had been in effect for a year. Despite their rule, however, those same cantors had been forced to implore the aid of several Negroes with excellent voices, asking them to back up the singing on all feasts, as they were unable to manage without them. This meant that the Negroes could, in turn, do without the cantors. Having thus learned to how to sing High Mass, they did exactly that, as I have just described, and the novelty was greeted with more applause than if it were the most beautiful music in the world.
After the Gospel, there was a sermon on the conversion of infidels, and because the illustrious Chevalier de Saint-Laurent, our governor, had agreed to honor the ceremony with his presence, the preacher complimented the great man on the useful service he had been able to extract from the Negroes when he saved our island from the English by way of two prodigious victories. In the first instance, he had armed our slaves with torches, to burn, quite successfully, the territory of the enemy. And in both instances, he had delivered the slaves from the imminent danger of apostasy, to which they would have been exposed if they had fallen into the hands of the English.
After High Mass and the communion of the Negroes, there was a procession through the town; six big, beautiful banners led the way, carried by six of the most robust Negroes. The first one represented Jesus on the cross, the symbol of Christianity, on one side and Adoration of the Magi on the other. The other five depicted scenes from the life of St. Francis Borgia, who can be called “the Apostle to the Negroes,” in the same reason that the Holy Father St. Gregory the Great can be called “the Apostle to the English,” because he sent illustrious missionaries to England. In the case of St. Francis Borgia, as Superior General, he too sent forth missionaries, but to the lands of the Negroes, as representatives of the East and West Indies, for which he had been responsible during the tenure of those who had succeeded him in his post. To accomplish this goal, he joined force with his brother, who had been sent as viceroy of the missionaries in Africa, for the conversion of those peoples. We have carried the banners of this saint since his canonization.
These banners were followed by a large and beautiful silver cross. The crucifer was also a Negro, as were the two acolytes at his side, who looked, aside from their color, like two little angels. Right behind them were about thousand Negresses, modestly processing, and then the same number of Negroes, four by four, with rosaries in their hands and singing their catechism (in verse), the usual prayers, the litanies of Our Lady, Christmas carols and several other hymns. Two missionaries, in surplices, brought up the rear of the procession. Those who had only seen this large troop in church, where very few of them were able to enter, had imagined a much smaller number than there were in reality. Now those white people saw them assembled and marching down a wide and long street of the town, where the Negroes produced an admirable effect, in their number, their color, and their cleanliness on that day. You could not watch that procession without feelings of tenderness, comparing it to the processions of slaves who had been redeemed from servitude to the infidels by the Trinitarian Fathers and whom those fathers paraded with pomp through the streets of the cities of Europe. The difference is that the captives freed by the Trinitarians had triumphed over the chains of the Mohammedans, whereas our Negroes, thanks to the slavery that has put them in the hands of Christians, triumph over the chains of the Devil, and have begun to enjoy the freedom of being children of God.
I would, at last, end this letter here, if the motivation that made me write so much in the first place didn’t oblige me, in order not to leave anything out, to tell you about death among the Negroes, a topic did not fit anywhere else in this document. I can tell you that never was there any people on earth that feared it less than this one: they bring it upon themselves in response to all sorts of trivialities and, when it comes from some exterior source, they greet it with amazing tranquility.
The newly arrived are the most likely to take their own lives, due to their conviction that, in dying, they will return to their native land. Some came to me one time to tell me that, in a district close to mine, a man and a woman, recent arrivals, had hanged themselves from a tree; my own district has not been exempt from such sad events. The same thing happened here one day to a Negress and another time to a Negro, both of them also recently arrived. The Negro had just died, in that horrible way, when I happened to be passing by the tree from which he had hanged himself. It was situated on the side of a high cliff over a river, but because there was brush surrounding it, it was so obscured from the road on which I was traveling that it was impossible to see anything, particularly when you have no idea that there is anything to be seen. I had not even gone twenty steps when I heard a loud noise behind me. It was some people who had, by chance, encountered the appalling spectacle and were expressing their astonishment and lamenting the loss the death represented for the Negro’s master. As for me, I lamented much more the loss of the Negro’s soul. I quickly retraced my steps and found no signs of life in the man. Strangely, although the rotting carcass fell in the river, it was never found, despite the diligent efforts that were made to do so in order to prevent the infection of the water, which everyone in that area drinks.
This dreadful accident obliged me to choose an unusual theme for the exhortation that I gave the Negroes the following Sunday, attempting to prove to them that you must not hang yourself. I explained to them that the man who had just done so had indeed returned to his homeland, in a sense, but not in the way he had intended. I told them that the homeland of those who hang themselves is Hell. I followed up by telling them the story of the death of Judas, of whom the apostles said at the time: “He has gone to his homeland” (“ut abiret in locum suum”). But this wretched Negro had not returned to his homeland, as he had claimed to do, since no one returns to Africa by that means. To prove that, I publicly interrogated the most venerable of the Negroes, who had left their native lands at a rather advanced age, and asked each of them if he remembered ever having seen a compatriot who had died in America return to Africa. They all responded no. I then took advantage of that convincing argument to dissuade the others from trying to return by that same means.
The Creole Negroes and the slaves that have been here for a longer time do not take their own lives in an attempt to return home to Africa, but they do so for other reasons. I know one of them, who is said to be an excellent cook and who would even been considered so in Europe. His master told him one day that he had been sold to the proprietor of a hotel. Indignant that this had taken place without his having been consulted, he seized a large pair of scissors, which happened to be at hand, and, in a fury, stabbed himself in the chest. People came running, I was called to the scene, the wound was not found to be fatal, and the wounded man got over his fury. I explained to him the enormity of his wrongful act. To make an example of him for the others, and having noticed that he was wearing a little crucifix on his shirt collar that I had given him at some point in the past, I ceremoniously took it off him, just as the bejeweled collar of the chivalric order to which he belongs is taken off someone who has been convicted as a State criminal. He displayed great pain and embarrassment about what he had done; several days later, he reported to the house of his new master. Last week, another man, who does not live in my district, stabbed himself in the chest to escape the punishment with which his master had threatened him.
The worst of it is that when these wretches die from the blows of their masters, the masters justify themselves by claiming that the slaves have ended their own lives in a rage. These barbarians sometimes even find doctors who are willing to adjust reports of the incidents to suit their will. This was exactly what happened three months ago to a young Negress, just twelve years old, whom I had baptized last year. The erroneous report put an end to all my attempts to pursue justice in the matter. By contrast, a short time before that, the murder of another Negro did not go unpunished. The Frenchwoman to whom he belonged, a widow, had strangled him in broad daylight, on a major road, and had buried him. I was apprised of it right away and I made my statement of denunciation, according to proper form. The royal prosecutor and the clerk of court went to the scene and wrote up the proceedings. In the end, the woman was punished—not with corporal punishment, as that rarely happens here in such cases, but with a financial penalty, which caused her significant and well-deserved pain. The poor slaves would be the victims of many other misdeeds, and more frequently, if the missionaries weren’t on their side.
The disregard they have for death is also demonstrated by the indifference with which they wait for it, both in cases of natural death and those of violent death decreed by the court. I have come to the aid of more than one awaiting the executioner, but I have never gotten over my astonishment at their imperviousness. “What difference does it make,” one of them once said to me, “by what route I go to Heaven, as long as my soul is there and my body in holy ground?” They do hold dear to their hearts the idea of a church burial, so I always have to promise that they will have one, to provide some consolation.
For a long time, I had two Negroes in prison, detained there for offenses punishable by hanging. I had reconciled them to the idea of death, without much difficulty; at the same time, and without saying anything to them about it, I was also acting as their lawyer. In the end, God gave us grace, both to them and to me, and we won the case, saving their lives. Immediately thereafter, during a session of the Sovereign Council that had just absolved them of the death sentence that had been pronounced by a lower court, I went and told them the good news. This was the very day they had expected to be hanged, so I was quite surprised by the indifference with which they received my announcement. In another case, a man who had said a few days before, when the question was posed, that he preferred to die, admitted everything he was asked to admit. This strange step on his part notwithstanding, a way was found to set everything to rights and save his life.
Another man demonstrated even greater steadfastness. He had been broken on the wheel, while fully conscious, and survived for four days there. During that entire time, he never uttered a single word of impatience. His confessor was charmed by this and the royal prosecutor who, according to his charge, had argued the case against him, did not hesitate to come to him, several times, to offer some word of encouragement, to which the patient one responded with a prayer of thanksgiving.
As for natural death, it is impossible to await it with more tranquility than do those people. They are only distressed until the priest to the Negroes has been called to prepare them for death. Before he comes, the minute they feel the slightest pain, they refuse to give rest to anyone in the shack. But after I have administered the sacraments to them, they are at peace, and if they die, it is with great trust in God and with signs of predestination.
Their loved ones, however, are nonetheless emotionally affected by these deaths. I have often seen signs of their grief that touched me. A few months ago, I buried a young Negress, eight or nine years old. Her good mother was at the edge of the grave; when they started throwing dirt on it, she began to singing a mournful tune, full of tears and sobs, a farewell to her daughter, which repeated the words her daughter had said as she was dying and telling of the good works she had done for them. I tried to console this poor mother, telling her that God had left her other children to serve her. She replied, without lifting her eyes from the grave, still crying and with the same expression still on her face: “Nothing but Charlie, nothing but Charlie!” That was the name of the boy she still had. She then took up her song again, as I have described above. Since then, I have learned that the custom of mourning the dead in this way is particular to the Negroes of Ardes or Arada, which is part of Guinea, in Africa.
There you have, Sir, all that I have to say to satisfy the desire you expressed to me to be informed about my mission to the Negroes. Please excuse the length of this letter and even more so the incongruities that you will have found in it. There is absolutely no excuse for me, having written it in fits and starts and in several sittings, setting aside as best I could the few minutes here and there that my indispensable work with both the whites and the blacks permitted me.
Furthermore, I can assure you that there is not one single other missionary who does not work with greater zeal and greater success than I, in the various districts where they serve. This is especially true in Martinique, where we have charge of four large districts, which make up the entirety of the island, and where all the ships arrive, particularly those laden with Negroes, most of whom are sold on that island. Martinique also has more Negroes than any other island and is the place of residence of the Governor General, the Chief Administrator and the fleet of warships that the King still maintains in America.
I had very much hoped to be able to send you an account of our Indians, as I have of our Negroes. I had asked our superiors for permission to open a mission on the continent, where the door is not open to us, due to our settlement in Cayenne as well as the lovely disposition of those Indians, who have invited us to come live among them and whose language is so easy to learn that most of our Frenchmen already know it. But it wouldn’t be fair, when they aren’t enough of us to do all the work as it is, to abandon both the Frenchmen and the Negroes who are our servants, to go seek other work elsewhere. We have, however, just received word in a letter from Cayenne that one of the three Fathers who are there, is taking off, with a layman as his companion, since there is no Jesuit companion available, for a journey on the great Amazon River. The river is only two or three days away from Cayenne, and in its vicinity are an infinite number of Indian nations, who have never heard of the Gospel and who, with the exception of those who live on the coast, have never even seen a European. The two other Fathers are staying in Cayenne so as to be of assistance to the Frenchmen and the Negroes, given that our Fathers have the sole charge of the spiritual life of the entire colony; this great and vast country of Indians depends on their zeal.
I send greetings to your entire illustrious family, with my deepest respect, and to you in particular I remain,
Your most humble and affectionate servant in Our Lord,
of the Society of Jesus.
[Translated by C. Rivers, September 2018; published 14 January 2019]
 Translator’s note: roughly 2,880 miles.
 Translator’s note: “Huguenots” are French (Calvinist) Protestants.
 Translator’s note: in 1682, a French lieue (league) would have been equivalent to roughly 2.4 miles, so the measurement would have been roughly 9.6 miles.
 Translator’s note: roughly 2.4 square miles (see previous note).
 Translator’s note: In Latin in the text. The full quotation, from 1 Corinthians 2:4, reads: “Non in persuasibilibus humanae sapientiae verbis sed in ostensione Spiritus et virtuti.” In English (King James Version): “Not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
 Translator’s note: Mongin does not use what we would think of as the traditional designations for the prayers listed here. He does not refer to the Angelus, a title derived from the first word of the Latin version of that prayer; instead, he says la salutation angélique. It is none theless clear that the words “angelic salutation” are a reference to the content of that prayer, which commemorates the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin (“The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary/And she conceived by the Holy Ghost…,” etc.). The term les commandements de Dieu probably refers to the Ten Commandments, but that it is not entirely clear, so I have translated his words literally. La croyance almost certainly refers to the Creed (despite his choice not to use the more usual term Credo). Les prières dominicales may or may not refer specifically to the Our Father, so I have the chosen the more generic “prayers of Our Lord” (the adjective dominical here being a reference to the Lord, rather than to Sunday).
 Translator’s note: In Latin in the text. The quote comes from Job 1:5. Mongin provides no French translation (and there may be a few mistakes in his rendering of the Latin).
In the King James Version, the passage is rendered as follows: “… offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.”
 Translator’s note: The “octave” of a feast day refers to the week following that day.
 Translator’s note: Quasimodo Sunday is the first Sunday after Easter Sunday.
 Translator’s note: To do one’s Easter Duty (in French, faire ses Pâcques) refers to the two-fold obligation of every Roman Catholic during Eastertide: to make his/her confession and receive the sacrament (take communion). The practice was established by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215): “Every faithful of either sex who has reached the age of discretion should at least once a year faithfully confess all his sins in secret to his own priest. He should strive as far as possible to fulfill the penance imposed on him, and with reverence receive at least during Easter time the sacrament of the Eucharist.”
As we see in this passage, hearing the confession of each and every communicant in a parish in the period immediately preceding Easter could pose a significant logistical challenge for a parish priest, hence Mongin’s adoption of a system in which he would make provisions for the slaves to do their Easter Duty in the month or so following Quasimodo, the whites having done theirs at the time of Easter itself (the ecclesiastical season of Easter, or Eastertide, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts a full fifty days, until the feast of Pentecost).
 Translator’s note: In Latin in the text.
 Translator’s note: It is important to note that Mongin’s use of the word consolation reveals the specifically Jesuit orientation of his spirituality. St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits, famously wrote, in his seminal Spiritual Exercises, about the opposing forces of consolation (movement toward God) and desolation (movement away from God) in spiritual and devotional life. The concepts are integral to Ignatian and Jesuit thought and have been so in all times and places.
 Translator’s note: In Latin in the text.
 Translator’s note: In Roman Catholic tradition, an “indulgence” is the reduction of the punishment for sin gained through the performance of a prescribed act of devotion. In the cases described by Mongin here, that act consists of making one’s confession (and almost certainly taking communion, although he does not specify that) on a certain day (probably a minor feast day, such as the feast of a particular saint).
 Translator’s note: Mongin uses the term divorce in this passage concerning marriage among the slaves several times (avec qui elle était en divorce, les autres causes du divorces, etc.). He is clearly using the word to refer to situations in which a husband and wife are estranged for an extended period of time, rather than the actual legal, modern state of divorce. I have nonetheless rendered the term as “divorce” in English.
In those cases, here and elsewhere, where he refers to a mauvais marriage, I have generally used “failed marriage,” rather than “bad marriage,” since he seems to be referring to a situation of estrangement.
 The meaning of Mongin’s phrase il y en a qui on fait plusieurs fois perdre leur fruit is not entirely clear. I have understood it to be a somewhat oblique reference to abortion, given that the word fruit is of course frequently used to refer to children, from which it would logically seem to follow that faire perdre leur fruit could well mean, literally, “being made to lose a child.” This would also seem to fit the general context here. The only other possibility I was able to imagine was the loss of virginity, but that wouldn’t fit, given the presence of plusieurs fois (“several times”) in the sentence. I acknowledge, however, that my understanding of the sentence could be erroneous.
 Translator’s note: Lent is a season of penitence and fasting, during which celebratory events, such as weddings, are not allowed by the Church. Exceptions include feasts that appear on the liturgical calendar during that time: notably, the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19).
 Translator’s note: St. Francis Borgia (1510-1572, canonized 1670) was the third Superior General of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit order) and a contemporary of St. Ignatius Loyola himself. Note that the canonization of Francis Borgia, to which Mongin explicitly alludes at the end of this paragraph, had taken place just twelve years before this letter was written.
St. Gregory the Great (circa 540-604, Pope 590-604) is indeed best known as the Pope who successfully converted the pagan Anglo-Saxons by sending missionaries to England. That campaign, known as the “Gregorian mission,” is considered the first large-scale missionary effort on the part of the Roman Catholic church. It was led, in situ, by St. Augustine of Canterbury (who is more commonly known as the “Apostle to the English” than is St. Gregory the Great, Mongin’s comment here notwithstanding).
 Translator’s note: The Trinitarian Fathers to whom Mongin refers are priests of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives, founded in France in 1198 and originally dedicated to freeing Christian slaves from captivity by Muslims. It is presumably to the parading of those slaves that Mongin refers here. The obvious and bitter irony inherent in the invocation of an order dedicated to the freeing of captives, in a setting where the emancipation of slaves is nowhere in sight or even in mind, is clearly lost on the author of this letter, as his sentence comparing the two situations makes abundantly and painfully clear. (Note that, in France, Trinitarians are more often referred to as “Mathurins,” an allusion to the founder of the order, St. John of Matha [1160-1213]).
 Translator’s note: The Conseil Souverain (which Mongin, curiously, does not capitalize) was a body that served as, among other things a sort of Supreme Court in New France (Quebec). Clearly, there was a comparable entity in the French islands as well. The context provided by Mongin’s anecdote does indicate that he is referring to a court that has the power to reverse decisions rendered by lower courts.
 Translator’s note: I have translated, here and in one instance above, Mongin’s term terre ferme as “continent.” This is clearly a reference to the mainland of South America.