People of Tennessee

People of Tennessee
People of Tennessee
People of Tennessee and the American Southeast

Catholic Indian Missions of the Southeast
Maryland, Lower Mississippi Region, and Texas

Extracted from: Catholic Indian Missions of the United States
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X
© Robert Appleton Company 1911

     The spiritual welfare of the native tribes of America was a subject of deep concern to the Governments of Catholic Spain and France from the very discovery of the Western Continent. To this fact all the early patents bear witness. That granted to Ayllon in 1532 for exploration and settlement along the Florida coast, as quoted by Shea, is typical: “Whereas our principal intent in the discovery of new lands is that the inhabitants and natives thereof, who are without the light or knowledge of faith, may be brought to understand the truth of our holy Catholic Faith, that they may come to a knowledge thereof, and become Christians and be saved, and this is the chief motive that you are to bear and hold in this affair, and to this end it is proper that religious persons should accompany you, by these presents I empower you to carry to the said land the religious whom you may judge necessary, and the vestments and other things needful for the observance of Divine worship; and I command that whatever you shall thus expend in transporting the said religious, as well as in maintaining them and giving them what is needful, and in their support, and for the vestments and other articles required for the Divine worship, shall be paid entirely from the rents and profits which in any manner shall belong to us in the said land.” With few exceptions secular priests and missionaries accompanied every Spanish expedition of discovery. The first Mass celebrated within the present limits of the United States was probably that offered up by the priests of Ponce de León’s expedition at the south-western point of Florida in 1521. The next was celebrated by the noted Dominican Antonio de Montesinos, the earliest opponent of Indian slavery, at Ayllon’s temporary colony of San Miguel de Guandape in Virginia in 1526, eighty years before the founding of Jamestown.

South-Eastern States (Virginia to Alabama, Inclusive)

     The whole south-eastern portion of the United States, extending westwards to or beyond the Mississippi, was known in the early Spanish period under the general name of Florida. Although at least fifteen priests had lost their lives in this region with the expeditions of Narváez and De Soto in 1527-28 and l539-42, an attempt to evangelise the native tribes was made in 1549 by the Dominican Luis Cancer, the apostle of Guatemala, under a royal commission granted at his own request for the conversion of Florida. Forced by the obstinacy of the ship-captain to land at Tampa Bay among the fierce Calusa, instead of being given an opportunity to search out a friendly tribe Father Cancer and his two companions had hardly touched the shore when they were killed by the assembled savages in sight of the ship, being thus the first missionary martyrs of the eastern United States. St. Augustine, Florida, the first permanent settlement in the eastern United States, was founded by Menéndez in 1565. In the next year, at the request of the King of Spain, three Jesuits were sent out, one of whom, Father Pedro Martínez, having landed with a small party on Cumberland Island on the Georgia coast, was attacked and murdered by the savages. The other two Jesuits, Father Juan Rogel and Brother Francisco de Villareal, after spending a winter studying the language, proceeded to work among the Calusa tribe in southern Florida. Reinforced by ten more Jesuits in 1568, they went over to Havana to establish there a school for Indian boys from Florida. Father Juan Bautista Segura, as Jesuit vice-provincial, then took charge of the Florida mission, establishing stations among the Calusa, Tegesta, and Tocobaga tribes of the south and west coasts, while Father Antonio Sedeño and Brother Domingo Báez began the first Georgia mission on Guale (St. Simon’s?) Island among the Yamasee, in whose language Brother Báez prepared a grammar and a catechism. In 1569 Father Rogel with several other Jesuits began work in South Carolina among the Orista (Edisto) and others in the neighbourhood of the Spanish post of Santa Elena. After about a year, the results proving unsatisfactory, both the Orista and the Guale missions were abandoned, the missionaries returning to Havana with a number of boys for the Indian school.

     In 1570 Father Segura, accompanied by Father Luis de Quiros and seven (?) novices and lay brothers, all Jesuits, together with four instructed Indian youths, undertook a mission among the Powhatan Indians in what is now Virginia. The guide and interpreter on whom they depended to bring them into touch with the natives was a young Indian of the region, who was the brother of a local chief and had been brought off by a Spanish expedition nine years before, educated under the Dominicans in Mexico and Spain, and baptized under the name and title of Don Luis de Velasco. Their destination was Axacan (Oshacon) - supposed by Shea to have been on the Rappahannock - but more probably situated farther south. They met with friendly reception, and a log chapel was erected (September, 1570), but, before the winter was over, Don Luis proved treacherous, and under his leadership the Indians attacked the mission (February, 1571) and massacred the entire party with the exception of one Indian boy, who was spared, and finally escaped to tell the tale. The massacre was avenged on the principals by Menéndez a year later. In consequence of the small result in Florida the Jesuits were shortly afterwards transferred to the more promising field of Mexico. Years afterwards, on the establishment of the Catholic colony of Maryland, some attention was given to the neighbouring Indians of Virginia (see below). In 1577 several Franciscans under charge of Father Alonso de Reynoso arrived at St. Augustine and began work among the Timucua Indians near the city, of whom a number were soon regular attendants at the parish church. Fifteen years later four Franciscan priests and two lay brothers were at work in the towns of the Timucua and Yamasee from St. Augustine northwards into Georgia. In 1593 twelve more were sent out in charge of Father Juan de Silva, including the noted Father Francisco Pareja, to whom we are indebted for our most complete account of the Timucua people and language and for several devotional works, the first books printed in any Indian language of the United States.

     In 1597 a chief of the Yamasee organized a conspiracy which seems to have included also a part of the Timucua tribe about St. Augustine. Five missions, stretching from St. Augustine to Ossabaw island in Georgia, were attacked and five of the six missionaries murdered, Father De Avila (or Dávila), although badly wounded, being rescued. The advance of the Indians was finally checked by some Spanish troops, after all the Yamasee missions had been destroyed. The missions among the more peaceful Timucua about the lower Saint John’s River, Florida, continued to flourish, being in 1602 four in number, besides temporary stations, with 1200 Christian Indians. Other Franciscans arriving, the Yamasee missions were re-established in 1605, the Potano tribe on the Suwanee river almost entirely Christianized two years later, and a beginning made among the lower Creek bands. In 1633 missionaries were sent to the powerful Apalachee of western Florida in response to repeated requests from that tribe. In 1655 there were 35 Franciscan missions in Florida and Georgia with a Christian Indian population of 26,000 souls. This was the zenith of their prosperity. Two years later the Apalachee, in consequence of the unjust exactions of the governor, became involved in a war with the Spaniards, which compelled the abandonment of the eight flourishing missions in that territory. The fathers embarked for Havana, but were all drowned on the passage. In 1674, through the efforts of Bishop Calderón, the Apalachee mission was restored, and several new foundations established. In 1684 the Diocesan Synod of Havana promulgated regulations for the government and protection of the mission Indians. In the same year the Governor of Florida, alarmed at the growing strength of the English colony of Carolina, undertook to remove the Indians of the northern missions to more southern settlements with the result that the Yamasee again revolted and, being supplied with guns by the English, attacked and destroyed the mission on Saint Catherine island, Georgia, and carried off a troop of Christian Indians prisoners to sell as slaves in Carolina. In 1696 an attempt to establish missions about Cape Cañaveral resulted in the killing of a religious and six companions. A like attempt in the next year among the fierce Calusa south of Tampa Bay also proved abortive.

     For years the English slave-traders of Carolina had made a business of arming certain tribes with guns and sending them out to make raids upon other tribes to procure slaves for Carolina and the Barbadoes. The Spanish Government, on the contrary, refused guns even to the Christian Indians. The War of the Spanish Succession gave an opportunity for an attack upon the Florida missions. In May, 1702, the heathen Lower Creeks, armed and instigated by Governor Moore of Carolina, attacked Santa Fé, occupied by the Timucua, and burnt the church. In October of the same year a combined English and Indian land expedition, co-operating with a naval force, attacked the mission towns north of St. Augustine, burned three of them with their churches, made prisoner the missionaries, and then, proceeding farther southward, burned the town of St. Augustine with the Franciscan church and convent and one of the finest libraries then in America. The fortress held out until relieved by a Spanish fleet. In January, 1704, Moore, at the head of about fifty Carolina men and a thousand or more well-armed Creek, Catawba, and other savages, ravaged the Apalachee country, destroyed ten of the eleven missions towns, slaughtered hundreds of the people, including a number of warriors who made a stand under the Spanish lieutenant Mexia, and carried off nearly 1400 Christian Indians to be sold as slaves in Carolina or distributed for torture or adoption among the savages. The missions, with their churches, gardens, and orange groves, were utterly demolished, the vestments and sacred vessels destroyed or carried off, and numbers of the neophytes burned at the stake. Four of the mission fathers were also killed (two being tortured and burned at the stake), and their bodies hacked to pieces by deliberate permission of Moore himself, who gave up Lieutenant Mexia and four Spanish soldiers to the same fate.

     This was practically the end of the Florida missions, although for more than twenty years thereafter efforts were made, with some temporary success, to gather together again the remnants of the Apalachee, Timucua, and other Christian tribes, and in 1726 there were still counted more than 1000 Christian Indians. With the establishment of the English Georgia colony and the ensuing war of 1740 the attempt was abandoned and the mission territory reverted to its original wild condition. In 1753 only 136 Indians remained in four mission stations close to St. Augustine. In 1743 the Jesuit Fathers José María Monaco and José Xavier de Alana began a mission near Cape Florida among the utterly savage As and Jobé with such success that a community of Christian Indians was built up, which continued until the Seminole War (1817-18).


     The English Catholic colony of Maryland, founded in 1634, was served in its first years by the Jesuits, who made the Indians their special care. Under the superior, Father Andrew White, and his companions, several missions were established among the Piscataway (Conoy) and Patuxent of lower Maryland, west of Chesapeake Bay, and considerable attention was also given to the Potomac tribe in Virginia. The principal mission was begun in 1639 at Kittamaquindi, or Piscataway, near the mouth of the creek of that name. Other stations were Mattapony on the Patuxent, Anacostan (Anacostia) adjoining the present Washington, and Potopaco (Port Tobacco), where nearly all the natives were baptized. In 1642, during an extended visit among the Potomac, on the Virginia side, Father White baptized the chief and principal men, with a number of others. The work was much hampered by the inroads of the hostile Susquehanna from the head of the bay, and was brought to a sudden and premature close in 1645 by the Puritans and other malcontents, who, taking advantage of the Civil War in England, repaid the generosity which had given them asylum in Maryland by seizing the Government, plundering the churches and missions and the houses of the principal Catholics, and sending Fathers White and Copley to England to be tried for their lives, while Father Martwell, the new superior, and two other missionaries escaped to Virginia. Later efforts to revive the mission had only temporary success owing to the hostility of the Protestant Government and the rapid wasting of the native tribes. Before 1700 the remnant of the Piscataway removed bodily from Maryland and sought refuge in the north with the Delawares and Iroquois, among whom they have long since become entirely extinct. To Father White’s anonymous “Relatio itineris ad Marylandiam” (translation published in 1833 and again in1874) we are indebted for the best account of the western Maryland tribes. He also composed an Indian catechism, still extant, and a manuscript grammar of the Piscataway language, now unfortunately lost, the first attempt at an Indian grammar by an Englishman and antedating Eliot’s Bible by at least a dozen years.

Lower Mississippi Region: The Louisiana Mission

     The “Louisiana Mission” of the French colonial period included the present States of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, with the Tamarois foundation near Cahokia in Illinois, but excluding the Caddo establishments on the disputed Spanish frontier of Texas. For several reasons, rivalries and changes among the religious orders, intrigues of English traders, and general neglect or open hostility of the Louisiana colonial administration, these southern missions never attained any large measure of prosperity or permanent success. In 1673 the Jesuit Marquette had descended the Mississippi as far as the villages of the Arkansas, later known as Quapaw, at the mouth of the river of the same name, making the earliest map of the region and indicating the position of the various tribes, but without undertaking a foundation.

     In 1682 the Recollect Franciscan Father Zenobius Membré, with the party of the commander La Salle, descended the Mississippi to its mouth and returned, planting a cross among the Arkansas, and preaching to them and to the Taensa, Natches, end others farther down. In 1683 a French fort was built at the Arkansas, and the commander Tonty set apart a mission site and made formal request for a Jesuit missionary, but apparently without result. In 1698, under authority of the Bishop of Quebec, the priests of the seminary of Quebec, an offshoot of the Paris Congregation of Foreign Missions, undertook the lower Mississippi field despite the protests of the Jesuits, who considered it partly at least within their own sphere. Early in 1699, three seminary priests having arrived, as many missions were established, viz., among the Tamaroa (Tamarois), a tribe of the Illinois confederacy, at Cahokia, Illinois, by Father Jean-François de St-Cosme; among the Taensa, above the present Natchez, Mississippi, by François-J. de Montigny; and among the Tonica, at the present Fort Adams, Mississippi, by Father Antoine Davion. Father de Montigny shortly afterwards transferred his mission to the kindred and more important Natchez tribe, about the present city of that name, ministering thus to both tribes. Father Davion laboured also with the Yazoo and minor tribes on that river. Other priests of the same society arrived later. In the meantime Iberville, the father of the Louisiana colony, had brought out from France (1700) the Jesuit father, Paul du Ru, who, first at Biloxi, Mississippi, and later at Mobile, Alabama, ministered to the small tribes gathered about the French post, including a band of fugitive Apalachee from the revived Florida mission. In the same year another Jesuit, Father Joseph de Limoges, from Canada, planted a mission among the Huma and Bayagula, Choctaw bands about the mouth of the Red River, Louisiana.

     In 1702 Father Nicholas Foucault, of the Seminarists, who had established a mission among the Arkansas two years before, was murdered, with three companions, by the savage Koroa of Upper Mississippi while on his way to Mobile. Their remains were found and interred by Father Davion. In 1706 Father St-Cosme, then stationed at the Natchez mission, was murdered by the Shetimasha, near the mouth of the Mississippi, while asleep in a night camp.

     The Tonica station was abandoned in 1708, being threatened by the Chickasaw in the English interest. The whole southern work languished, the Indians themselves being either indifferent or openly hostile to Christianity, and when Father Charlevoix made his western tour in 1721 he found but one priest on the lower Mississippi, Father Juif, among the Yazoo. Partly in consequence of Father Charlevoix’s report, the Louisiana Company, which had taken over control of the colony, gave permission to the Jesuits to under take the Indian work, while the French posts and settlements were assigned to other priests. In 1726, therefore, Father Paul du Poisson restored the Arkansas mission, which had been vacant since 1702; Father Alexis de Guyenne undertook the Alibamon, a tribe of the Creek nation, above Mobile, and Father Mathurin le Petit began work among the Choctaw in southern Mississippi. The Ursuline convent foundation at New Orleans in 1727 is due to Jesuit effort. In the a next year the Jesuit father, Michel Baudouin, undertook a mission among the warlike Chickasaw.

     In 1729 the southern missions were almost ruined by the outbreak of war with the Natchez, provoked by the arbitrary exactions of the French commandant in their country. The war began on 28 November with a massacre of the French garrison, the first victim being Father du Poisson, who was struck down, and his head hacked off, while on his way to attend a dying man. Father Souel was killed on 11 December by the Yazoo, who then turned upon the French garrison in their country. On New Year’s Day, 1730, the Jesuit Father Doutreleau, on his way down the river with some boatmen, was fired upon at close range by some of the same tribe while saying Mass on shore, but escaped although badly wounded. The war involved the whole lower Mississippi, and ended in the extinction of the Natchez as a people. A part of the refugees having fled to the Chickasaw, a war ensued with that tribe in 1736, during which a French expedition was cut to pieces, and the Jesuit chaplain, Father Antoninus Senat, was burnt at the stake.

     In 1730 Father Gaston, a newly-arrived Seminarist, had been killed at the Tamarois (Cahokia) mission. In 1754 the last Seminarist was sent out as a parish priest. The Arkansas mission had been killed by official neglect. The missionary among the Alibamon Greeks was driven out by the French commander at Fort Toulouse (Montgomery, Alabama) for his opposition to the liquor traffic. Father Baudouin continued with good effect among the Choctaw for eighteen years until appointed vicar-general in 1757, when his place was filled by Father Nicholas le Febvre until 1764 (?). The Alibamon mission was restored and continued under Father Jean Le Prédour from 1754 until the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1764, which brought the “Louisiana Mission” to a close. The Natchez and Yazoo are long since extinct, but a considerable portion of the Choctaw, Quapaw, and mixed-blood Huma still keep the Faith.

Texas, &c.

     Texas as a Spanish colony was connected with Mexico, and was ruled in missionary affairs from Querétaro and Zacatecas, instead of from Havana, as was Florida. Its immense area, four times as great as that of all New England, contained hundreds of petty tribes or bands - so many, in fact, that they have never been counted - speaking scores of languages or dialects, but mostly grouped into a few loose confederacies, based upon linguistic affiliation, of which the principal within the mission sphere may be designated as the Caddo, Hasinai, Karankawa, Tonkawa, Wichita, and Pakawá. Of these, the Caddo group extended into western Louisiana, while the tribes of the Wichita connexion ranged north into Kansas. The total Indian population within the present State limits was probably originally close to 40,000. The beginning of mission work in Texas was made by the Franciscan Father Andrés de Olmos, who in 1544 crossed the Rio Grande and, after gathering a large body of converts, led them back into Tamaulipas, where they were organised into a mission town, Olives. In 1685 the French commander La Salle erected a fort on Matagorda Bay, and two years later, after a succession of misfortunes, started to make his way overland to Illinois, leaving behind about twenty men, including the Recollect missionaries, Fathers Zenobius Membré and Maximus Le Clercq, and the Sulpician Father Chefdeville. A Spanish expedition which arrived later to dispossess the French found only blackened ruins and unburied bones. All but two men had been killed by the Indians, among whom the chalices and Breviaries of the murdered priests were afterwards recovered.

     In 1690 a company of Spanish Franciscans from the Querétaro College, headed by Father Damian Mazanet, established a mission among the friendly Hasinai (Asinais, Cenis), in north-east Texas, and projected others, but the work was abandoned three years later. In 1699 the Franciscans of the Zacatecas College began a series of missions along the south bank of the Rio Grande, to which they gathered in a number of Indians of the Pakawá group in southern Texas. These were kept up until 1718, when the chief mission was transferred to San Antonio in Texas.

     In 1715 the two colleges combined to restore the Texas missions, urged by the zeal of the venerable founder of the Zacatecas college, Father Antonio Margil. The Hasinai mission (San Francisco) was restored and another, La Purísima, established among the cognate Hainai (Aynais) in the neighbourhood of the present Nacogdoches. Another (N. S. de Guadalupe) was founded by Margil himself among the Nacogdoches band of the Caddo in 1716, and others in 1717 among the Ais (N. S. de Dolores) and Adai or Adayes (San Miguel de Linares), the last being within the limits of Louisiana. In 1719, war having been declared between France and Spain, a French expedition under St-Denis plundered the mission at the Adai. In consequence the missions were abandoned until peace was declared two years later.

     In 1718 the mission of San Francisco Solano was transferred to San Antonio de Valero. Other missions were established in the vicinity, making a total of four in 1731, including San Antonio de Padua, the celebrated Alamo. The principal tribes represented were Caddo and Hasinai from the East; Xarame from the Rio Grande; Pakawá (Pacoa) and a few To?kawa of the immediate neighbourhood. In the meantime a lay brother had perished in a prairie fire, and another, Brother Jose Pita, in 1721, with a small party, bad been massacred by the Lipan while on his way to his station. In 1722 the mission of Guadalupe was established at Bahia, on Lavaca (Matagorda) Bay among the Karankawa. Nine years later it was moved to the Guadalupe River. In 1752 the Candelaria mission was attacked by the Coco, a Karankawa band, and Father José Ganzabal killed. In 1757 the mission of San Sabá was established by Father Alonso Terreros for the conversion of the wild and nomadic Lipan Apache, but they refused to settle in it; the following year the tribes destroyed the mission, killing Father Terreros and two other priests. Another attempted Lipan mission in 1761, was broken up in 1769 by the Comanche. At this period the Texas missions had reached their highest point, with an Indian population of about 15,000. In 1760 Father Bartolomé García published his religious manual for the use of the San Antonio missions, which remains almost our only linguistic monument of the Pakawá tribes of central Texas. In 1791 another mission was established among the Karankawa.

     Although constantly hampered by the Spanish authorities, the missions continued to exist until 1812, when they were suppressed by the revolutionary Government, and the Indians scattered.

Click Here

This page last updated on  Thursday, August 13, 2015

© TNGenNet, Inc., 2002

USGenNet, the first and only nonprofit
historical-genealogical web hosting service on the Internet!
Support Free-access Online History and Genealogy.   Join Us!