Leonard Woolsey Bacon.

A history of American Christianity online

. (page 2 of 34)
Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 2 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

hemisphere, under the Spanish rule, illustrated in its public
and official aspects far more the principles of Mohammed
than those of Jesus. The triple alternative offered by the
Saracen or the Turk — conversion or tribute or the sword
— was renewed with aggravations by the Christian con-
querors of America. In a form deliberately drawn up and
prescribed by the civil and ecclesiastical counselors at
Madrid, the invader of a new province was to summon
the rulers and people to acknowledge the church and the
pope and the king of Spain ; and in case of refusal or delay
to comply with this summons, the invader was to notify
them of the consequences in these terms : " If you refuse,
by the help of God we shall enter with force into your
land, and shall make war against you in all ways and man-
ners that we can, and subject you to the yoke and obedi-
ence of the church and of their Highnesses ; we shall take
you and your wives and your children and make slaves
of them, and sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses
may command ; and we shall take away your goods, and
do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to
vassals who do not obey and refuse to receive their lord ;
and we protest that the deaths and losses that shall accrue
from this are your own fault." ^

1 Helps, "Spanish Conquest in America," vol. i., p. 235; also p. 355,
where the grotesquely horrible document is given in full.

In the practical prosecution of this scheme 0/ evangelization, it was found
necessary to the due training of the Indians in the holy faith that they should


While the church was thus implicated in crimes against
humanity which history shudders to record, it is a grateful
duty to remember that it was from the church also and in
the name of Christ that bold protests and strenuous efforts
were put forth in behalf of the oppressed and wronged.
Such names as Las Casas and Montesinos shine with a
beautiful luster in the darkness of that age ; and the Do-
minican order, identified on the other side of the sea with
the fiercest cruelties of the Spanish Inquisition, is honorable
in American church history for its fearless championship
of liberty and justice.

The first entrance of Spanish Christianity upon the soil
of the United States was wholly characteristic. In quest
of the Fountain of Youth, Ponce de Leon sailed for the
coast of Florida equipped with forces both for the carnal
and for the spiritual warfare. Besides his colonists and
his men-at-arms, he brought his secular priests as chap-
lains and his monks as missionaries ; and his instructions
from the crown required him to summon the natives, as in
the famous " Requerimiento," to submit themselves to the
Catholic faith and to the king of Spain, under threat of the
sword and slavery. The invaders found a different temper
in the natives from what was encountered in Mexico and
Peru, where the populations were miserably subjugated,
or in the islands, where they were first enslaved and pres-
ently completely exterminated. The insolent invasion was
met, as it deserved, by effective volleys of arrows, and its
chivalrous leader was driven back to Cuba, to die there of
his wounds.

It is needless to recount the successive failures of Spanish
civilization and Christianity to get foothold on the domain

be enslaved, whether or no. It was on this religious consideration, clearly
laid down in a report of the king's chaplains, that the atrocious system of en-
rnmfendas was founded.


now included in the United States. Not until more than
forty years after the attempt of Ponce de Leon did the
expedition of the ferocious Menendez effect a permanent
establishment on the coast of Florida. In September, 1 565,
the foundations of the oldest city in the United States, St.
Augustine, were laid with solemn religious rites by the
toil of the first negro slaves ; and the event was signalized
by one of the most horrible massacres in recorded history,
the cold-blooded and perfidious extermination, almost to
the last man, woman, and child, of a colony of French
Protestants that had been planted a few months before at
the mouth of the St. John's River.

The colony thus inaugurated seemed to give every
promise of permanent success as a center of religious in-
fluence. The spiritual work was naturally and wisely
divided into the pastoral care of the Spanish garrisons and
settlements, which was taken in charge by "secular"
priests, and the mission work among the Indians, committed
to friars of those " regular " orders whose solid organization
and independence of the episcopal hierarchy, and whose
keen emulation in enterprises of self-denial, toil, and peril,
have been so large an element of strength, and sometimes
of weakness, in the Roman system. In turn, the mission
field of the Floridas was occupied by the Dominicans, the
Jesuits, and the Franciscans. Before the end of seventy
years from the founding of St. Augustine the number of
Christian Indians was reckoned at twenty-five or thirty
thousand, distributed among forty-four missions, under the
direction of thirty-five Franciscan missionaries, while the
city of St. Augustine was fully equipped with religious
institutions and organizations. Grave complaints are on
record, which indicate that the great number of the Indian
converts was out of all proportion to their meager advance-
ment in Christian grace and knowledge ; but with these


indications of shortcoming in the missionaries there are
honorable proofs of dihgent devotion to duty in the creat-
ing of a literature of instruction in the barbarous languages
of the peninsula.

For one hundred and fifteen years Spain and the Spanish
missionaries had exclusive possession in Florida, and it vi^as
duringthis period that these imposing results were achieved.
In 1680 a settlement of Scotch Presbyterians at Port Royal
in South Carolina seemed like a menace to the Spanish
domination. It was wholly characteristic of the Spanish
colony to seize the sword at once and destroy its nearest
Christian neighbor. It took the sword, and perished by
the sword. The war of races and sects thus inaugurated
went on, with intervals of quiet, until the Treaty of Paris,
in 1763, transferred Florida to the British crown. No
longer sustained by the terror of the Spanish arms and by
subsidies from the Spanish treasury, the whole fabric of
Spanish civilization and Christianization, at the end of a
history of almost two centuries, tumbled at once to com-
plete ruin and extinction.

The story of the planting of Christian institutions in New
Mexico runs parallel with the early history of Florida.
Omitting from this brief summary the first discovery of
these regions by fugitives from one of the disastrous early
attempts to effect a settlement on the Florida coast, omit-
ting (what we would fain narrate) the stories of heroic
adventure and apostolic zeal and martyrdom which ante-
date the permanent occupation of the country, we note
the arrival, in 1598, of a strong, numerous, and splendidly
equipped colony, and the founding of a Christian city in
the heart of the American continent. As usual in such
Spanish enterprises, the missionary work was undertaken
by a body of Franciscan friars. After the first months of
hardship and discouragement, the work of the Christian


colony, and especially the work of evangelization among
the Indians, went forward at a marvelous rate. Reinforce-
ments both of priests and of soldiers were received from
Mexico ; by the end of ten years baptisms were reported
to the number of eight thousand; the entire population of
the province was reckoned as being within the pale of the
church ; not less than sixty Franciscan friars at once were
engaged in the double service of pastors and missionaries.
The triumph of the gospel and of Spanish arms seemed
complete and permanent.

Fourscore years after the founding of the colony and
mission the sudden explosion of a conspiracy, which for a
long time had been secretly preparing, revealed the true
value of the allegiance of the Indians to the Spanish gov-
ernment and of their conversion to Christ. Confounding
in a common hatred the missionaries and the tyrannous
conquerors, who had been associated in a common policy,
the Christian Indians turned upon their rulers and their
pastors alike with undiscriminating warfare. " In a few
weeks no Spaniard was in New Mexico north of El Paso.
Christianity and civilization were swept away at one blow."
The successful rebels bettered the instruction that they
had received from their rejected pastors. The measures
of compulsion that had been used to stamp out every
vestige of the old religion were put into use against the

The cause of Catholic Christianity in New Mexico never
recovered from this stunning blow. After twenty years
the Spanish power, taking advantage of the anarchy and
depopulation of the province, had reoccupied its former
posts by military force, the missionaries were brought
back under armed protection, the practice of the ancient
religion was suppressed by the strong hand, and efforts,
too often unsuccessful, were made to win back the apostate


tribes to something more than a sullen submission to the
government and the religion of their conquerors. The
later history of Spanish Christianity in New Mexico is a
history of decline and decay, enlivened by the usual con-
tentions between the "regular" clergy and the episcopal
government. The white population increased, the Indian
population dwindled. Religion as set forth by an exotic
clergy became an object of indifference when it was not
an object of hatred. In 1845 the Bishop of Durango,
visiting the province, found an Indian population of twenty
thousand in a total of eighty thousand. The clergy num-
bered only seventeen priests. Three years later the prov-
ince became part of the United States.

To complete the story of the planting of Spanish Chris-
tianity within the present boundaries of the United States,
it is necessary to depart from the merely chronological
order of American church history ; for, although the im-
mense adventurousness of Spanish explorers by sea and
land had, early in the sixteenth century, made known to
Christendom the coasts and harbors of the Californias, the
beginnings of settlement and missions on that Pacific coast
date from so late as 1 769. At this period the method of
such work had become settled into a system. The organi-
zation was threefold, including (i) the garrison town, (2)
the Spanish settlement, and (3) the mission, at which the
Indian neophytes were gathered under the tutelage and
strict government of the convent of Franciscan friars. The
whole system was sustained by the authority and the lavish
subventions of the Spanish government, and herein lay its
strength and, as the event speedily proved, its fatal weak-
ness. The inert and feeble character of the Indians of that
region offered little excuse for the atrocious cruelties that
had elsewhere marked the Spanish occupation ; but the
paternal kindness of the stronger race was hardly less


hurtful. The natives were easily persuaded to become by
thousands the dependents and servants of the missions.
Conversion went on apace. At the end of sixty-five years
from the founding of the missions their twenty-one stations
numbered a Christian native population of more than thirty
thousand, and were possessed of magnificent wealth, agri-
cultural and commercial. In that very year (1834) the
long-intended purpose of the government to release the
Indians from their almost slavery under the missions, and
to distribute the vast property in severalty, was put in
force. In eight years the more than thirty thousand
Catholic Indians had dwindled to less than five thousand ;
the enormous estates of the missions were dissipated ; the
converts lapsed into savagery and paganism.

Meanwhile the Spanish population had gone on slowly
increasing. In the year 1840, seventy years from the
Spanish occupancy, it had risen to nearly six thousand ;
but it was a population the spiritual character of which
gave little occasion of boasting to the Spanish church.
Tardy and feeble efforts had been instituted to provide it
with an organized parish ministry, when the supreme and
exclusive control of that country ceased from the hands
that so long had held it. " The vineyard was taken away,
and given to other husbandmen." In the year 1848 Cali-
fornia was annexed to the United States.

This condensed story of Spanish Christianity within the
present boundaries of the United States is absurdly brief
compared with the vast extent of space, the three centuries
of time, and what seemed at one time the grandeur of
results involved in it. But in truth it has strangely little
connection with the extant Christianity of our country.
It is almost as completely severed from historical relation
with the church of the present day as the missions of the
Greenlanders in the centuries before Columbus, If we


distinguish justly between the Christian work and its un-
christian and almost satanic admixtures, we can join with-
out reserve both in the eulogy and in the lament with
which the Catholic historian sums up his review : " It was
a glorious work, and the recital of it impresses us by the
vastness and success of the toil. Yet, as we look around
to-day, we can find nothing of it that remains. Names of
saints in melodious Spanish stand out from maps in all that
section where the Spanish monk trod, toiled, and died.
A few thousand Christian Indians, descendants of those
they converted and civiHzed, still survive in New Mexico
and Arizona, and that is all." ^

1 "The Roman Catholic Church in the United States," by Professor
Thomas O'Gorman (vol. ix., American Church History Series), p. 112.



For a full century, from the discovery of the New World
until the first effective effort at occupation by any other
European people, the Spanish church and nation had held
exclusive occupancy of the North American continent.
The Spanish enterprises of conquest and colonization had
been carried forward with enormous and unscrupulous
energy, and alongside of them and involved with them had
been borne the Spanish chaplaincies and missions, sustained
from the same treasury, in some honorable instances bravely
protesting against the atrocities they were compelled to
witness, in other instances implicated in them and sharing
the bloody profits of them. But, unquestionable as was
the martial prowess of the Spanish soldier and adventurer,
and the fearless devotion of the Spanish missionary, there
appears nothing like systematic planning in all these im-
mense operations. The tide of conquest flowed in capricious
courses, according as it was invited by hopes of gold or of
a passage to China, or of some phantom of a Fountain of
Youth or a city of Quivira or a Gilded Man ; and it seemed
in general to the missionary that he could not do else than
follow in the course of conquest.

It is wholly characteristic of the French people that its



entering at last upon enterprises of colonization and mis-
sions should be with large forecasting of the future and
with the methods of a grand strategy.

We can easily believe that the famous " Bull of Parti-
tion" of Pope Alexander VI. was not one of the hindrances
that so long delayed the beginnings of a New France in the
West. Incessant dynastic wars with near neighbors, the
final throes of the long struggle between the crown and
the great vassals, and finally the religious wars that cul-
minated in the awful slaughter of St. Bartholomew's, and
ended at the close of the century with the politic conver-
sion and the coronation of Henry IV. — these were among
the causes that had held back the great nation from distant
undertakings. But thoughts of great things to be achieved
in the New World had never for long at a time been absent
from the minds of Frenchmen. The annual visits of the
Breton fishing-fleets to the banks of Newfoundland kept
in mind such rights of discovery as were alleged by France,
and kept attention fixed in the direction of the great gulf
and river of St. Lawrence. Long before the middle of
the sixteenth century Jacques Cartier had explored the
St. Lawrence beyond the commanding position which he
named Montreal, and a royal commission had issued, under
which he was to undertake an enterprise of " discovery,
settlement, and the conversion of the Indians." But it
was not till the year 1608 that the first permanent French
settlement was effected. With the coup d'ceil of a general
or the foresight of a prophet, Champlain, the illustrious
first founder of French empire in America, in 1608 fixed
the starting-point of it at the natural fortress of Quebec.
How early the great project had begun to take shape in
the leading minds of the nation it may not be easy to
determine. It was only after the adventurous explorations
of the French pioneers, traders, and friars — men of hke


boundless enthusiasm and courage — had been crowned by
the achievement of La Salle, who first of men traversed the
two great waterways of the continent from the Gulf of St.
Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, that the amazing possi-
bilities of it were fully revealed. But, whosesoever scheme
it was, a more magnificent project of empire, secular and
spiritual, has never entered into the heart of man. It seems
to have been native to the American soil, springing up in
the hearts of the French pioneer explorers themselves;^
but by its grandeur, and at the same time its unity, it was
of a sort to delight the souls of Sully and Richelieu and
of their masters. Under thin and dubious claims by right
of discovery, through the immense energy and daring of
her explorers, the heroic zeal of her missionaries, and not
so much by the prowess of her soldiers as by her craft in
diplomacy with savage tribes, France was to assert and
make good her title to the basin of the St. Lawrence and
the lakes, and the basin of the Mississippi and the Gulf
of Mexico. From the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the
mouth of the Mississippi, through the core of the continent,
was to be drawn a cordon of posts, military, commercial,
and religious, with other outlying stations at strategic
points both eastward and westward. The only external
interference with this scheme that could be apprehended
at its inception was from the Spanish colonies, already
decaying and shrinking within their boundaries to the west
and to the southeast, and from a puny little English settle-
ment started only a year before, with a doubtful hold on
life, on the bank of the James River. A dozen years later a
pitiably feeble company of Pilgrims shall make their land-
ing at Plymouth to try the not hopeful experiment of liv-
ing in the wilderness, and a settlement of Swedes in Dela-
ware and of Hollanders on the Hudson shall be added to

1 So Parkman.


the incongruous, unconcerted, mutually jealous plantations
that begin to take root along the Atlantic seaboard. Not
only grandeur and sagacity of conception, but success in
achievement, is illustrated by the comparative area occu-
pied by the three great European powers on the continent
of North America at the end of a century and a half from
the founding of Quebec in 1608. Dividing the continent
into twenty-five equal parts, the French claimed and seemed
to hold firmly in possession twenty parts, the Spanish four
parts, and the English one part.^

The comparison between the Spanish and the French
methods of colonization and missions in America is at
almost every point honorable to the French. Instead of
a greedy scramble after other men's property in gold and
silver, the business basis of the French enterprises was to
consist in a widely organized and laboriously prosecuted
traffic in furs. Instead of a series of desultory and savage
campaigns of conquest, the ferocity of which was aggra-
vated by the show of zeal for the kingdom of righteousness
and peace, was a large-minded and far-sighted scheme of
empire, under which remote and hostile tribes were to be
combined by ties of mutual interest and common advan-
tage. And the missions, instead of following servilely in
the track of bloody conquest to assume the tutelage of
subjugated and enslaved races, were to share with the
soldier and the trader the perilous adventures of explora-
tion, and not so much to be supported and defended as to
be themselves the support and protection of the settle-
ments, through the influence of Christian love and self-sac-
rifice over the savage heart. Such elements of moral dig-
nity, as well as of imperial grandeur, marked the plans for
the French occupation of North America.

To a wonderful extent those charged with this enterprise
1 Bancroft's " United States," vol. iv., p. 267.


were worthy of the task. Among the military and civil
leaders of it, from Champlain to Montcalm, were men that
would have honored the best days of French chivalry.
The energy and daring of the French explorers, whether
traders or missionaries, have not been equaled in the pio-
neer work of other races. And the annals of Christian
martyrdom may be searched in vain for more heroic ex-
amples of devotion to the work of the gospel than those
which adorn the history of the French missions in North
America. What magnificent results might not be expected
from such an enterprise, in the hands of such men, sustained
by the resources of the most powerful nation and national
church in Christendom !

From the founding of Quebec, in 1608, the expansion
of the French enterprise was swift and vast. By the end
of fifty years Quebec had been equipped with hospital,
nunnery, seminary for the education of priests, all affluently
endowed from the wealth of zealous courtiers, and served
in a noble spirit of self-devotion by the choicest men and
women that the French church could furnish; besides
these institutions, the admirable plan of a training colony,
at which converted Indians should be trained to civilized
life, was realized at Sillery, in the neighborhood. The
sacred city of Montreal had been established as a base for
missions to the remoter west. Long in advance of the
settlement at Plymouth, French Christianity was actively
and beneficently busy among the savages of eastern Maine,
among the so-called " neutral nations " by the Niagara,
among the fiercely hostile Iroquois of northern New York,
by Lake Huron and Lake Nipissing, and, with wonderful
tokens of success, by the Falls of St. Mary. " Thus did
the rehgious zeal of the French bear the cross to the banks
of the St. Mary and the confines of Lake Superior, and
look wistfully toward the homes of the Sioux in the valley


of the Mississippi, fiv^e years before the New England EUot
had addressed the tribe of Indians that dwelt within six
miles of Boston harbor." ^

Thirty years more passed, bringing the story down to
the memorable year 1688. The French posts, military,
commercial, and religious, had been pushed westward to
the head of Lake Superior. The Mississippi had been
discovered and explored, and the colonies planted from
Canada along its banks and the banks of its tributaries
had been met by the expeditions proceeding direct from
France through the Gulf of Mexico. The claims of France
in America included not only the vast domain of Canada,
but a half of Maine, a half of Vermont, more than a half
of New York, the entire valley of the Mississippi, and
Texas as far as the Rio Bravo del Norte.- And these
claims were asserted by actual and almost undisputed oc-

The seventy years that followed were years of " storm
and stress " for the French colonies and missions. The
widening areas occupied by the French and by the English
settlers brought the rival establishments into nearer neigh-
borhood, into sharper competition, and into bloody colli-
sion. Successive European wars — King William's War,
Queen Anne's War (of the Spanish succession), King
George's War (of the Austrian succession) — involved the
dependencies of France and those of England in the con-
flicts of their sovereigns. These were the years of terror

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 2 of 34)