GRAVIER, JACQUES, priest, Jesuit, missionary to the Ottawas, founder of the Illinois mission; b. 17 May 1651 at Moulins; d. the night of 16–17 April 1708 at Mobile (Alabama).
Gravier entered the Society of Jesus in the fall of 1670 and made his novitiate at Paris. From 1672 until 1680 he taught and tutored in the Jesuit schools of Hesdin, Eu, and Arras. These assignments he interrupted for a year of philosophy at the Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris (1678–79); he returned to the same institution for his theological studies (1680–84). His intelligence and education would later appear in his letters where he wrote perspicaciously on theological and canonical questions. After his third year of theology he was ordained a priest, and after the fourth set out promptly for Canada. He sojourned briefly at the college in Quebec, and then spent a year at Sillery studying Algonquin (1685–86).
Called westward to the Ottawa mission, he went to Saint-Ignace and there wrote out in his own serious, space-sparing hand the solemn profession of four vows on 2 Feb. 1687. For 21 more years he would live the dedication of this day.
In 1689 he went to take up residence among the Illinois tribes – first at Starved Rock on the Illinois River. He prepared a grammar of their language, and by founding this mission carried out the promise made almost two decades before by Jacques Marquette*. In 1696 he was named “Superior of the Missions among the Ottawa, the Illinois, the Miami, and others”; in this capacity he had to return to Michilimackinac. Quebec’s Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix] named him his vicar general for these missions. With typical tenacity Gravier strove to retain the Tamaroa mission as part of the bishop of Quebec’s original 1690 commission to the Jesuits, but had to yield to the adamant Saint-Vallier, who entrusted the village to the Quebec seminary priests.
Gravier canoed downriver to the primitive Louisiana settlements in November 1700; during a year of ministry to French and Indians, he won the lasting friendship and esteem of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne* de Bienville. In turn, Gravier, as a good linguist, was impressed by Bienville’s knowledge of Indian languages. He left the Gulf Coast colony in February 1702 for the return to the Illinois country. During 1702–4 he was again among “his Illinois,” and in 1705 was named superior of that mission, now separately administered.
In the autumn of 1705 an aroused Peoria attacked Gravier, as he later reported, “in hatred of the faith,” letting fly five arrows without warning or provocation; the deep wound in his arm was crudely or perhaps maliciously treated with the result that infection set in and the pain grew worse. Despairing of healing in the wilds, he made the arduous trip to Mobile in midwinter (1705–6), and, still without relief, sailed for France in late 1706. (Both in Mobile and in Paris he took the side of Bienville against Henri Roulleaux de La Vente, a priest of the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères, and Nicolas de La Salle, the commissary.) Whatever alleviation he obtained, it was clear that he would suffer from the wound for the rest of his life; with this knowledge he sailed back to Mobile, arriving in February 1708, and made preparations to return to his post among the Peorias. The infection of the wound and the fatigue of his travels thwarted his plans. Death came to his fever-racked frame while he was in or quite near old Mobile.
AN, Col., B, 29, ff.260v, 261, 263v, 265; C13A, 1, ff.504–7, 570–81, 582; Marine, 3JJ, 389, f.19. ARSI, Gallia 110/II, ff.269–70v, 271–72v, 273v. ASJ, France (Chantilly), Fonds Brotier, 105. ASQ, Lettres, R, 82, 83; Lettres, M, 38, 39; Lettres, S, 102. BN, MS, Fr. 6453, ff.18ff. Library of Congress (Washington), Jesuit Relations mss. Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), IV, 5. [Jacques Gravier], Lettre du P. Jacques Gravier, le 23 février 1708, sur les affaires de la Louisiane (New York, 1865); Relation ou journal du voyage de r.p. Jacques Gravier de la Compagnie de Jésus, en 1700 depuis le pays des Illinois jusqu’à l’embouchure du Mississipi (New York, 1859). JR (Thwaites), LXV, 100–79; LXVI, 32–34, 120–43. Lettres édifiantes et curieuses escrites des missions étrangères (nouv. éd., 14v., Lyon, 1819), IV, 209. Delanglez, French Jesuits in Louisiana. O’Neill, Church and state in Louisiana. Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIe siècle, III, 538, 547, 688–90.