BEAUBOIS, NICOLAS-IGNACE DE, priest, Jesuit missionary; b. 15 Oct. 1689 at Orléans, France; d. 13 Jan. 1770 near Avignon, France.
Admitted to the Society of Jesus 29 Oct. 1706, Nicolas-Ignace de Beaubois made his noviciate in Paris. After two years he remained in Paris to add to the meagre philosophical studies he had begun before entering the order. Then he went to Rennes to teach in the fall school term of 1710; for three years he moved up a grade with the same group of boys, as was the custom. After another year of teaching, this time in Alençon, he began his pre-ordination theological studies at La Flèche. Ordained in 1717, he remained at La Flèche for the usual fourth year of theology. He was assigned to the Canadian mission in 1719, and seems to have spent a short while in Quebec before beginning his apostolate among the Illinois Indians in 1721. On 2 Feb. 1723, at Kaskaskia (Ill.), he pronounced the four solemn vows of the professed Jesuit.
After 1717 the Illinois country was no longer directly under the civil and military jurisdiction of Quebec, but rather lay within the territory of the newly named commandant of Louisiana, who would reside in New Orleans, seat not only of the government but also of the administration appointed by the proprietary Compagnie des Indes. The Jesuit order, recognizing the development of the Mississippi valley and its missions, designated the area as a distinct mission district – Missio Ludovisiana – within the diocese of Quebec.
Named superior of the new jurisdiction in 1724, Beaubois travelled to France to seek more men and greater support for his mission. He proved himself a tough negotiator in dealings with the Compagnie des Indes, which by charter was supposed to provide financially for parishes and missions in its monopoly colony. Typical of the brusquely vigorous debater that he was, Beaubois broke off negotiations with a resounding declaration that if the gentlemen of the Compagnie des Indes truly desired to have Jesuits in Louisiana they would not have made the propositions they had put forward.
Finally, the company administrators and Jesuit authorities (including Beaubois) agreed upon a contract on 20 Feb. 1726. The company pledged fixed sums per annum, and contributions for travel and supplies. The new contract authorized the Jesuits to open a house in New Orleans and to have a plantation near the city; however, they were to exercise no ministry in the city or surrounding area except with the consent of the Capuchins, whose field this was by contract with the company. Before leaving France, Beaubois arranged to have Ursuline nuns receive a pledge of financial aid from the Compagnie des Indes for the establishment of a girls’ school in New Orleans, the first in the Mississippi valley.
Beaubois returned to Louisiana on the ship bringing the newly appointed commandant of Louisiana, Étienne de Périer. When they arrived in New Orleans in March 1727, they had established mutual respect and friendship that would develop through their years amid the colony’s political factionalism. Louisiana’s officialdom was perennially divided into Bienvillists and anti-Bienvillists. The former, the supporters of the Le Moyne brothers, were drawn frequently from the ranks of the gens d’épée. The latter, the officials of the Compagnie des Indes, were often from the bureaux of the gens de plume. The leader of the anti-Bienvillists was commissary Jacques de La Chaise, with whom Beaubois, an admirer of Bienville [Le Moyne], clashed almost from their first meeting.
Périer keenly understood the tragic flaw in Beaubois’s character. The Jesuit superior was, he judged, a dynamic, far-sighted leader, but he was “too frank,” he lacked tact. Gilles-Bernard Raguet, the priest whom the Compagnie des Indes employed in its Paris office to supervise mission affairs, sketched this thumbnail portrait of Beaubois: “He has all the courage of his [Jesuit] Order; it’s a pity he has not its prudence.” Beaubois’s fellow Jesuits likewise respected his enterprising intelligence but regretted his overconfident precipitousness.
Beaubois’s zeal, looked at unsympathetically, seemed to be ambition. When he had passed through New Orleans in 1724, he had made disparaging remarks about the religious and educational situation in the town. His attitude implied that he could and would do better than the Capuchins. His prompt purchase of a house showed how cocksure he was that he would receive authorization to set up his Jesuit depot in New Orleans, whence he would send men and ship goods upriver to the Illinois country. Raphaël de Luxembourg, the Capuchin pastor of New Orleans, was apprehensive over possible friction between the two robes. Only the most discreet behaviour on Beaubois’s part could have allayed the Capuchin’s fears. Instead, when the newly arrived Ursulines elected Beaubois as their spiritual guide in 1727, he took it for granted that Father Raphaël must acquiesce.
Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix*] of Quebec named Beaubois a vicar general in 1727, but did the intended jurisdiction extend only over the Jesuits in the Louisiana missions? Death claimed Saint-Vallier in December before the question was settled. In any case, a tragic controversy had been launched, Capuchin fears of Jesuit domination were implanted, and the bumptious Beaubois was summarily recalled to France when Coadjutor Bishop Mornay, himself a Capuchin, succeeded Saint-Vallier as bishop of Quebec. The Compagnie des Indes was only too pleased to join the bishop in opposition to the strong-willed Jesuit negotiator tainted with Bienvillist ties. Beaubois, reacting with apparent nonchalance, took graceful leave of the colony, exchanging courteous farewells with La Chaise and the Capuchins.
Arriving in Paris in July 1728 Beaubois launched with tongue and pen a lengthy justification of his conduct, and looked forward to reinstatement. He disclaimed any canonical intrusion upon Capuchins. He proved the falsehood of a weak calumny against his character. He harped upon the antipathy of the directors of the Compagnie des Indes toward Bienville, which had led them to hate him also, “rendered criminal” because of his friendship for Bienville.
A reversal of fortunes followed the return of Louisiana to direct royal administration in January 1731. The company agents would go; its commissary would be replaced by a royal financial commissary. The commandant would be replaced by a full-fledged governor, and by mid-1732 none other than Bienville would be called to the governorship. In October 1731 Minister of Marine Maurepas informed Mornay of the government’s intention to have Beaubois return to Louisiana as superior of the Jesuit missions “in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.” Cardinal Fleury and Maurepas ignored the vigorous protest of Mornay, who threatened to interdict Beaubois if he should enter the diocese of Quebec.
The reinstated Jesuit superior arrived in Louisiana in March 1732 on his best behaviour. No conflict arose between him and Father Raphaël. Amid inter-order peace the few missionaries of each robe were busy about their apostolic work when in late 1732 Mornay sent out to Louisiana the threatened interdict. Reluctantly Raphaël notified Beaubois of the bishop’s censure, whereby Beaubois and all Jesuits subject to his jurisdiction were forbidden to perform priestly functions as long as he remained in Louisiana. The angry complaints of Governor Bienville and commissary Edme-Gatien Salmon, annoyed at this disruption of peace, reached Versailles at a time (August 1733) when the court had little regard for the bishop who had never crossed the ocean to his diocese of Quebec. When Coadjutor Bishop Dosquet* came from Quebec for a visit in France, the court’s pressure on Mornay increased. In September 1733 Mornay resigned. Out in the colony Vicar-General Raphaël, on his deathbed in February 1734, lifted the interdict. Subsequently, in the summer of 1734, Bishop Dosquet, ill disposed because of a dispute over whether Jesuits or Seminary priests should have the pastorate at Fort de Chartres (near Prairie du Rocher, Ill.), reconfirmed the interdict against Beaubois. Rather than continue in the paralysing tension, Beaubois concurred with his second (and final) recall by his Jesuit superiors. Maurepas, while acknowledging Beaubois’s talent, judged that his removal would bring greater tranquillity to the church in Louisiana.
The Mississippi valley colony and missions owed much to the controversial Beaubois. He had promoted relations with the Indian nations. To secure the French position vis-à-vis the advancing English, he had written about the strategic importance of the Ohio River. To support the financially pressed missions, he had launched a model plantation which pioneered in sugar cane and experimented with indigo; he also tried to devise a new type of cotton gin. He obtained royal approval for the digging of a canal from the Rivière d’Orléans (Bayou St John) to the edge of New Orleans – later accomplished under the Spanish regime. He proposed the founding of a Jesuit college, but in vain, because the monarchy’s mercantilist policy extended even to education. He was one of the most dynamic and far-sighted administrators to appear in Louisiana. Even his abrasive brashness seemed to be mellowing when others in their wounded sensitivity felt it was too late to forgive. Upon his return to France in 1735 he lived at the Jesuit college in Bourges while he worked as agent and fund-raiser for the American missions. In 1743 he took up the ministry he would exercise for the remainder of his life – the directing of retreats according to the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius. The college at Amiens was his residence from 1743 to 1750, and then the college at Vannes where he served as superior of the retreat apostolate from 1751 until the suppression of the Society of Jesus in France in 1762.
Where the septuagenarian then went and what he did remain unknown. He reappears only in a Jesuit death notice: he died “near Avignon” 13 Jan. 1770.
AN, Col., B, 51, ff.89v–90; 55, f.238; 59, ff.482v–84; 61, ff.537v–38, 644v–46, 653v, 669, 674–74v; C2, 23, f.192; C13A, 8, ff.407, 413–14, 421–21v, 426; 9, ff. 126, 148–49; 10, ff. 33–34, 47–48v, 60–65, 101–24, 296–300, 310–10v, 312–12v, 315–15v, 317–57 passim; 11, ff.5–5v, 12, 33–35v, 76–78, 191–216, 228–29, 232–37v, 239–39v, 241–11v, 243, 251–57v, 260–61, 272–82v, 328, 362v; 12, ff.3, 5–6v, 135–36, 138–38v, 195–201, 209–10, 212–12v, 214-67, 271–73, 276–77v, 278–78v, 280–81v, 283–84v; C13B, no.45, pp. 1–4, 312–16v; C13C, 4, ff.45, 176–77; E, 22; F5A, 3, ff.170–235; Section Outre-Mer, Dépôt des fortifications des colonies, Louisiane, no.61; G1, 412, ff.5–6v; 465 (dossiers Bienville, Diron). ARSI, Catalogi, Francia 17–28 (1711–62); Francia 49, f.443; Gallia 19, ff.482–83; Monumenta Historica Missionum Societatis Iesu, 53/a, p.147. ASQ, Évêques, 170, 170b. Comptes rendus de l’Athénée louisianais (Nouvelle-Orléans), I (1887), 144–49. JR (Thwaites), LXVII, 268–74. Delanglez, French Jesuits in Louisiana. O’Neill, Church and state in Louisiana. Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIIe siècle, I, 281ff.