Libraries & Spaces
Three Literary Missionaries
Three Literary Missionaries examines the careers of some of the most remarkable Roman Catholic missionaries to Native American peoples in the 19th century. Themselves the products of three very different European backgrounds, Frederic Baraga, Peter John De Smet, and Eugene Vetromile (as they eventually styled themselves in America), all found personal fulfillment in doing what nominal “American” priests generally would not do: living among, educating and generally ministering to, and sometimes even converting, “Indians” all the way from Maine to Montana. Each one found it necessary to his ministry to write not merely the usual official letters and reports, but books, and each one left a significant literary record of his career. Each took quite a different approach to the problems that dealing with Native Americans brought, perhaps in part because of their own personalities, but certainly largely because of the widely divergent situations in which they found themselves.
Frederic Baraga (1797-1868) was born near Ljubljana in present-day Slovenia, then better known in its Germanic form as Laibach, capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Carniola., where he was ordained on September 21, 1823. After serving in two parishes in the diocese of Laibach, he left Europe in November, 1830, and landed in New York on New Year’s Eve, the first candidate for the North American missions of the Leopoldine Society, itself then only recently founded.
Peter John De Smet (1801-1873), a native of Dendremonde, a port on the Scheldt, also responded to the European missionary fever of the early 19th century. Profoundly moved upon hearing Father Charles Nerinckx, who had labored for a decade in Kentucky, he abandoned his family in 1821 to emigrate to America, where he enrolled in the Society of Jesus. Like Baraga, he was ordained in 1823, but in Missouri, where the Jesuits had taken up offers from Bishop DuBourg of land on which to build a novitiate and freedom to evangelize among the native population.
Eugene Vetromile (1819-1881) spent his earliest years in Gallipoli, in the southern Italian province of Puglia.
Items in the Exhibition:
Includes, on pages 72 to 95, Baraga’s earliest account of his missionary activities in America, where he served beginning in 1831 among the Ottawa tribe living near today’s Harbor Springs in the northern Michigan settlement then known as L’Arbre-croche. Attribution of the authorship–or editorship–of the work in general is by no means certain. First edition, in the original printed wrappers.
The accompanying text attributes the original painting to “Otis.” From the second volume of the first edition of McKenney and Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America. Ka_Na_Pi_Ma, or Augustin Hamelin, Jr. as anglicized, was one of two Ottawas sent to study for the priesthood in Rome in 1832; he returned to America after the tragic death of his brother and later became chief of the Ottawas settled near L’Arbre-croche. From the collection of Eric F. Menke.
The historical part of the work is relatively brief; the concluding two-thirds of the text address, through a discussion of their habits and way of life, the needs of Baraga’s Indian charges in northern Michigan. First French edition of a work written originally by Baraga in German; rebound. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
Written in the Ottawalanguage, this book was described by Baraga in a letter of 1854 to John Gilmary Shea as “a prayerbook, a hymnbook and a catechism, all in one volume.” It was composed during the first year of his stay in L’Arbre-croche. First Paris edition, in contemporary half sheep and marbled paper boards. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
“My second Indian work was an Extract of the Bible of the Old and New Testaments, containing the Life of Jesus Christ, and the Epistles and Gospels of the whole year; published in . . . 1837.” Thus Baraga in an 1854 letter to Shea (see below). First Paris edition, in contemporary half sheep and marbled paper boards. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
A collection of Baraga’s sermons in Chippewa; for some unknown reason, however, in his bibliographical letter to Shea Baraga omits this item entirely. First edition, in original full sheep. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
Baraga, Frederic. A Theoretical and Practical Grammar of the Otchipwe Language, the Language Spoken by the Chippewa Indians; Which Is also Spoken by the Algonquin, Otawa and Potawatami Indians, with Little Difference. For the Use of Missionaries and Other Persons Living among the Indians of the Above Named Tribes. Detroit: Jabez Fox, 1850.
The first major linguistic fruit of Baraga’s labors on the shores of Lake Superior. First edition, in the original cloth. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
From the first volume of the first edition of McKenney and Hall, History of the Indian Tribes of North America. From the collection of Eric F. Menke.
Baraga, Frederic. A Dictionary of the Otchipwe Language, Explained in English. This Language Is Spoken by the Chippewa Indians, as also by the Otawas, Potawatamis and Algonquins, with Little Difference. For the Use of Missionaries, and Other Persons Living among the Above Mentioned Indians. Cincinnati: Printed for Jos. A. Hemann, 1853.
Inscribed on the front fly “Presented to Mr. R. R. Elliott, with respects by the Author.” First edition of Baraga’s great dictionary. Rebound in library buckram. Acquired with the rare book collection of the University of Detroit Library.
First edition in English of Baraga’s only pastoral letter. Original printed wrappers. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
First edition of the same, in Chippewa (Otchipwe). An early hand has translated the Otchipwe title thus: “Great Black-coat Frederic Baraga, His Letter (Book) to be seen (read) by all Indians who pray.” Original printed wrappers. Once in the collection of pioneer American Catholic bibliographer Rev. Joseph M. Finotti, subsequently from the library of John Gilmary Shea (who acted as Finotti’s literary executor and had his choice of the latter’s extensive collection).
Baraga responds to Shea’s request for bibliographical details regarding his various publications, a number of excerpts from which are quoted in descriptions of items in this exhibit. From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
Baraga thanks Shea for his “kind alms” and explains that he is spending the winter as a substitute missionary at the site of his first mission to the Ottawas at L’Arbre-croche. From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
This copy extensively annotated by Baraga, the annotation reading in part (on verso of sheet): “Probably the first attempt at rhymed versification in an Indian language. The metre approaches the iambic as nearly as the peculiar accent of the language allowes it. After the air of “God save the King.” It seems entirely possible–indeed, quite likely–that Baraga was also the author of the work. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
An agreement with Nicholas Grasser, carpenter, to build “a church with an addition for a dwelling,” at Cliff Mine, the size and furnishings specified or stipulated to match a submitted plan, for the sum of $1,860 payable October 15, 1859. On the verso an unidentified priest has recorded in pencil two baptisms on February 25, 1860, at an unnamed place, probably Cliff Mine, then the richest site in the Keweenaw Peninsula “Copper Country.” From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
The letter, largely in German, concerns the means available to congregations for exacting repayment from a Father O’Neil, who has apparently collected money from his flock for a church but has failed to put the funds to the use intended. “They cannot seize the church, it belongs yet to the builders; neither can they seize the house where the priest lives, because it belongs to Bishop Baraga, as you and Mr. Finnegan can testify.” They can seize the priest’s trunks, however, or the priest himself. And further, Jacker must “Make it known to the congregations, that he [O’Neil] is interdicted or silenced; he has not the least priestly power, he is like a layman.” From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
An “illustrated” and mildly humorous account of a 48-mile-long, miserable, and muddy, and not really needful journey undertaken in northern Michigan by Jacker, Bishop Baraga, and an unnamed comrade in November, 1862. The illustration shows the bishop being supported by his fellow travelers. From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
The peripatetic and self-promoting Fowler declares of his subject in this “Phrenological Character” that Bishop Baraga’s head betrays a shape such that “I have scarcely ever, in the whole course of thirty years practice, found all the religious organs as large as in your head.” Further on, Fowler guilelessly states “You have a natural talent for philology and giving to words their exact meaning, and could make a dictionary.” Once in the Finotti collection; subsequently from the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
Jacker’s account of Bishop Baraga’s last words, expressed in German, which Jacker translates as “Father Jacker, let absolutely nobody hold my funeral sermon but a Catholic clergyman.” Having lost his voice, Baraga wrote a bit, then conveyed his meaning by pointing out letters on an alphabet which Jacker had written out in large size. From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
De Smet reports that he “had good success in Paris, a society is now a forming to assist the Jesuits in the West.” But the letter deals primarily with commissions given him for purchases of, respectively, the works of La Luzerne and a marble altar for Ryder and Fr. Thomas Mulledy. With the aid of Rev. Thomas Levins, Georgetown’s first librarian, he is able to satisfy Ryder, but Mulledy must await De Smet’s future chances in Belgium, as altars in Paris cost far too much. From the James Ryder, S.J., Papers.
De Smet recounts, eight weeks into his first expedition to the West, some little success in evangelizing members of the Flathead and Nez Percé tribes, and he also recommends to Nicollet that the latter should try to obtain for a forthcoming expedition the services of the legendary mountain man Jim Bridger, “le meilleur guide et interprète de ces pays.” Gift of Mary Benjamin in honor of Francis X. Talbot, S.J.
A reasonably thorough account of De Smet’s first western expedition, one of an unknown, but probably large number of copies sent out to Jesuit houses in the hopes of raising funds and volunteers for future activities in the missionary field, and afterwards a staple of De Smet’s promotional literature. From the evidence of this copy De Smet clearly enjoyed the assistance of some of his brethren at St. Louis University in getting out his message, although a fair attempt seems to have been made by his amanuensis to mimic De Smet’s handwriting.
De Smet’s first published work. He recounts the history of the earliest Jesuit missions to the western Indians beginning in 1836; the final third of the brief text provides a poorly printed version of the letter of February 4, 1841, giving his account of his expedition in 1840. First edition, rebound in flexible buckram.
Clearly a draft of another fund-raising letter similar to that of February, 1841, in which De Smet outlines the progress of the Oregon mission during the years 1841 and 1842; this letter, however, seems intended for an audience of lay persons.
This volume, primarily concerned with De Smet’s adventures in 1841 and 1842 and copiously illustrated, nonetheless begins with yet another printing of the letter of February 4, 1841, this time paired with a supplemental letter addressed to the general of the Society of Jesus, Jan Philip Roothaan, dated three days later. First edition, in the original cloth. Inscribed on the front flyleaf “From the Library of Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott.” From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
Inscribed on the front flyleaf: “To the Revd Mr Thayer with my best respects and esteem P. J. De Smet S.J.” and dated (in another hand) “1847.” The publisher’s black roan binding almost certainly dates from the mid-1840s.
From the collection of the artist Gustavus Sohon, whose work is represented in this exhibit and who served at one time as one of De Smet’s guides. The date of the daguerreotype is surmised from the subject’s general physical appearance. Presented to the Georgetown University Archives in 1969 by Sohon’s grandson, Frederick Sohon, S.J.
De Smet’s early mission church at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the subject of this drawing and another ink drawing at St. Louis University also attributed to De Smet, still survives. The title is definitely in De Smet’s hand. From the collection of John Gilmary Shea.
First edition in French of De Smet’s account of his establishment of the Oregon missions of the Society. First edition, uncut in the original plain wrappers. Inscribed on the upper cover “Dr. John G. Shea with the sincere regards of W[ilberforce] Eames.” From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
Giving information to the Maryland provincial about the missionary activities of two Jesuits lately arrived from Maryland, and seeking information about serious difficulties arising between the American Catholic hierarchy and religious orders such as the Jesuits. From the archives of the Maryland Province, Society of Jesus.
As always, De Smet barters information about the missions–in this case the consecration of Fr. Miège as vicar of the Indian missions–in return for the opportunity to ask for added supplies of cash and personnel. From the archives of the Maryland Province, Society of Jesus.
De Smet’s “day job” for many years at St. Louis University involved handling the school’s financial affairs. This letter accompanies payment rendered for the Maryland Province’s education of a number of Jesuit fathers and scholastics from the Missouri Province. From the Charles Stonestreet, S.J., Papers.
The original drawing for one of the lithographic illustrations in Capt. John Mullan’s Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton (1863), one of the first substantive exploratory texts on the territory where De Smet’s missionary activity largely took place. From the estate of a descendant of Captain Mullan.
An olio of letters by De Smet and others, and including some linguistic contributions, mostly from De Smet’s travels in 1858 and 1859. First edition, in the original cloth. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
Another of Sohon’s originals for Mullan’s Military Road (1863). From the estate of a descendant of Captain Mullan.
A relatively trivial letter settling a $5 debt left by a woman from Ireland upon her leaving Washington, but written on the wonderfully illustrated St. Louis University letterhead. From the archives of the Maryland Province, Society of Jesus.
The manuscript provided for the editor and printer(s) of New Indian Sketches (1863), where it appeared as pages 118-126. From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
A brief letter per se serving as preface to a group of short canticles used at church services, the canticles in the language of the Osage Indians, with translations, even though Ponziglione asserts that “The Osage Muse is yet too wild to make her sing any thing but the old om, ha, hum so familiar both to western and northern tribes of this great Continent.” From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
Vetromile asks the permission of the provincial of the Maryland Province to publish his first work in the Abnaki language, a prayerbook based on previously published and manuscript sources. From the archives of the Maryland Province, Society of Jesus.
Vetromile outlines a scheme by which “the Indians will furnish” the expenses of the publication, which is to be reviewed prior to publication by Father John Bapst, S.J. From the archives of the Maryland Province, Society of Jesus.
Bapst approves publication of Vetromile’s book, although he professes little ability to understand the Indian language and complete inability to know whether doctrinal errors may have crept into the work through simple error. Faint praise, perhaps, but enough to satisfy both the author and the demands of censorship. From the archives of the Maryland Province, Society of Jesus.
Vetromile, Eugene. Indian Good Book, Made by Eugene Vetromile, S.J., Indian Patriarch. For the Benefit of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, St. John’s, Micmac, and Other Tribes of the Abnaki Indians. This Year One Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty-six. Old-town Indian Village, and Bangor. New York: Edward Dunigan & Brother, 1856.
First edition, in the original “extra” presentation binding of red roan gilt. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
Signing himself “One not ignorant of Indian literature,” Shea defends Vetromile’s Indian Good Book against what he characterizes as ignorant criticisms levied by Finotti, who was at that time literary editor of the Boston Pilot. Ironically, Finotti and Shea became fast friends, and Shea served as Finotti’s literary executor. From the Joseph M. Finotti Papers.
Vetromile apologizes for not getting a copy of his book to Stonestreet, the provincial, although his excuse–the demand for the book from missionaries in the field–seems beyond criticism. The provincial must make do with a copy of the second edition, soon to be published. From the archives of the Maryland Province, Society of Jesus.
Vetromile’s quite successful essay in introducing Gregorian chant to the Abnakis’ worship services. Page proofs of the first edition, with proof copies of the illustrations. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
A chaotic, and probably fragmentary, manuscript for the Ahiamihewintuhangan. The printing was handled with the good offices of John Gilmary Shea, whose signed note at the front names some of the personnel who were involved and indicates “1250 copies.” From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
Vetromile’s rendition of the services of Vespers and Compline into the Abnaki language. Page proofs, part of the collection of J. M. Finotti (who identifies Vetromile on the title incorrectly as a Dominican), and later from the library of John Gilmary Shea.
An illustrated temperance pledge in Abnaki, with English translations of the principal phrases. On November 4, 1856, Vetromile notified the Maryland provincial, Charles Stonestreet, that he had caused the pledge to be printed. From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
Vetromile’s working draft, including much material ultimately rejected, for a paper he read before the Maine Historical Society in Portland on June 29, 1859. From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
Vetromile, Eugene. Of Vetromile’s Noble Bible. Such as happened Great-Truths. Made by Eugene Vetromile, Indian Patriarch, Corresponding Member of the Maine Historical Society, &c. For the Benefit of the Penobscot, Micmac, and Other Tribes of the Abnaki Indians. Old Town, Indian Village, and Bangor. 1858. New York-Village: Rennie, Shea & Lindsay, 1860.
Vetromile’s somewhat idiosyncratic version of the Bible in Abnaki. First edition, in the original cloth, with the binder’s ticket of George W. Alexander at rear. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
Vetromile’s final copy for his Noble Bible, indicating placements for the illustrations which are clearly taken over from another (alas, unidentified) edition of Scripture. From the John Gilmary Shea Papers.
Despite the title, the historical effort is brief and the book continues as an effort at ameliorating the living conditions of the Indians. The concluding chapter begins “It is humiliating to state that it was publicly declared and every where said in Maine, that no white man had been, or would be convicted of killing an Indian.” First edition, in the original cloth. From the library of John Gilmary Shea.
Recounting a horrific experience the 56-year-old Vetromile survived in a blizzard while traveling to the funeral of Governor Francis at the beginning of March. Vetromile’s Italian–which he shared with Finotti as a native language–wasn’t up to words for drifts, snow-shoes, and moccasin, among others. From the Joseph M. Finotti Papers.