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With Tortured Eyes

On this day, 18 October 1646, Fr. Isaac Jogues was killed on his third visit to the lands of the Iroquois. In commemoration of this eventful day we provide some historical background of his life and journeys.  Many of our readers will be familiar with him through the study of local history and being taught that he was the one who gave, what we know today as Lake George, the name of Lac du St. Sacrement to that body of water in 1646.

“A gentle and scholarly Jesuit, more fitted for the cloisters of a continental monastery than for the solitudes of a wilderness, walked painfully along the portage.  His bleeding hands had been mutilated by the teeth of his captors.  The Iroquois warriors had likewise tortured two young donnes of his Mission, Rene Goupil and Gullaume Couture, and these, with nineteen captive Hurons, they taunted and prodded along to the head of the portage.  There, perhaps in too much physical anguish to appreciate its wild beauty, “First of white men, Jogues and his companions gazed on the romantic lake that bears the name, not of its gentle discoverer, but of the dull Hanoverian King.” Southward along this great highway between New France and New Holland the little party made its way, to suffer the indescribable horrors of the Mohawk torture-scaffold.  For Jogues this meant escape after a year with the aid of Dutch friends at Fort Orange (Albany).  Four years later, having been granted the right to perform the duties of his office with mutilated hands, he returned along the portage in 1646 and reached the lake that he had discovered on the eve of Corpus Christi.  Because of this he gave to the lake the name Lac du St. Sacrement.  Thus it remained for more than a century until in 1755 Colonel William Johnston sought to honor George II by calling it Lake George…..” 

(From Historical Ticonderoga and published by the Town of Ticonderoga. 1933)

Isaac Jogues icon photo

An icon picture of Fr. Jogues ~ No actual portrait is know

The Jogues family was prominent and affluent with income from business enterprises in the city of Orleans, France and sizeable estates in the country.  The father Laurent, like all heads of family, held public office.  His first wife, a member of minor royalty, died leaving two daughters.  His second wife Francoise, whose family was also successful in business, bore him six sons and one daughter.  Isaac, the third son, was his mother’s favorite.

He received his early education from his mother and private tutors; and at ten entered a Jesuit school attended by sons of only the best familities.  He was seventeen when he announced his desire to become a priests.  When he announced that he wanted to become a Jesuit, she was deeply saddened and tried to dissuade him.  As a Jesuit, whose order worked as teachers and missionaries all over the world, she would have little or nothing to say about his future.

His first two years were spent in seclusion and prayer at the Navitate at Rouen.  His Navitate Master was Father Loius Lalemont who was deeply interested in the American missions.   It could be supposed then, that Father Jogues’ intense interest and desire to serve in the Indian missions was influenced by his master.  Following this two year period of reflection, Jogues entered into the study of Philosophy at LaFleche where he spent the next three years. He then taught at the Jesuit College in Rouen for four years when he was order to report to Clairmont College at Paris to begin his studies for the priesthood.  In January 1636 it was announced that Jogues would be among four seminarians to be ordained; this a whole year earlier than he had expected.

He arrived in Canada 2 June 1636 and spent a short time at Quebec before being ordered to leave from Trois Rivers for the mission on Lake Huron, a distance of 900 miles.   Their food was Indian corn mush and water; and, had many arduous portages through dense forests.  Shortly after arrival, Father Jogues fell ill  with what appeared to be an influenza that soon spread among the French and Indians alike.  November cold had arrived and they had very little to eat.  Despite the efforts of the missionaries and the Indian’s own Medicine Men, a great many Hurons died from the disease.  The missionaries were blamed and a massacre was threatened.  Several small missions were closed and the Jesuits moved to Ste. Marie which became the center of all their work for many years.