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Harvest of Souls

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The Jesuit Missions and

Colonialism in North America 1632-1650
by Carole Blackburn
 
Review by John P. Rodriguez

        I found Harvest of Souls to be a clear and understandable book on the interaction between Jesuit missionaries and Natives in the early 17th Century.  It is not difficult to read and can be understood by anyone.  The book contains good information and details, but it still maintains its conciseness.  I thought that the order and organization of the book are very good.  Blackburn also includes lots of interesting information that is illuminating as well as fun to read about.    

         Blackburn begins by giving a brief background on the Jesuit Order, how they came to become established in New France, and a brief account of their presence and activities up to 1650.  She then gives a chapter showing Jesuit attitudes towards North America, and the Natives that inhabit it.  Then is a section on Jesuit attempts to create law and order within the Native communities.  However, their motives were not always pure and punishment was given as much to display the power of the French as to teach the Natives about Christian morality.  The final chapter covers the dramatic conversion and subsequent destruction of the Huron.  The irony is that it was the hardships inflicted on the Huron that did the most to help drive them into the hands of the Jesuits.  Under the combined assault of disease and the Iroquois the Huron could not help but turn to the Jesuits in desperation.      

         The book is also limited in the timeframe that it covers.  The missions during this time period dealt almost exclusively with the Montagnais and the Huron.  The decision to limit her study to eighteen years is a wise one.  This allows the author to focus her work, and also let the reader focus on understanding only one segment of the missionary activity.  However, Blackburn chooses her timeframe carefully, and the years covered are some of the most dramatic during the Jesuits mission in New France.  This covers the Jesuits conversion of the Huron, and the eventual destruction of the Huron at the hands of the Iroquois Confederacy.  She can also have lots of details about this period while not overwhelming the reader.  

         There are several parts of Harvest of Souls that I found very interesting.  The discussion of law and order within Native society was an intriguing one.  I think that it is interesting that although Natives would torture their captives in wartime it was not about exercising political power, as in France, since Native leaders did not have the authority to render corporal punishment.  I also thought Blackburn made good interpretations of how the Jesuits viewed the Natives and the connections the Jesuits made to the Bible.  For instance, the Jesuits viewed the wilderness as a moral wasteland as it is shown in the Bible, so they viewed the Natives as wild savages that are associated more with animals than human beings.   

         In conclusion, I enjoyed Harvest of Souls.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in New France, Native Americans, or the Jesuits.  I thought the book was easy to understand and developed its ideas in a logical manner.  It was a quick and a pleasant read.  It also contained lots of good information about both the Jesuits and the Huron.

 

John Rodriguez

HIST 202 (A) Jesuits in New France

Mount Saint Mary's University

6 December 2004  

Jesuits in War

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