LE CARON, JOSEPH, priest, Recollet, first missionary among the Hurons; b. c. 1586 somewhere near Paris; d. in 1632 near Gisors.
Father Le Caron entered the priesthood and was chosen as chaplain and tutor to the Duc d’Orléans. When the latter died, Le Caron joined the Recollets and made his profession in the order in 1611. Four years later Champlain brought four Recollets to New France; Father Le Caron was among them, as well as Father Jamet, who became their first superior. Father Caron left Honfleur on 24 April 1615, landed at Tadoussac on 25 May, and a few days later was on his way with the traders in pelts towards the Saint-Louis rapids, in order to meet the Hurons there and to try to follow them into their own country. Sure of carrying out his plan, he went down to Quebec again to equip himself with the objects necessary for worship, and around 23 June he was once more at the Rivière des Prairies. The next day mass “was sung most devoutly by Fathers Denis and Joseph on the bank of the said river.” He then exposed to Champlain his plan of going to live among the Attignaouantans (Bear nation of the Hurons) “to learn their language . . . and to proclaim God’s name to these natives.” After a trip that has been described for us by Le Clercq, Father Le Caron took up residence at Carhagouha. On 12 August, in the presence of Champlain and of the Frenchmen who were with him, he celebrated the first mass in the Huron country. In January 1616 Champlain, having returned from his military expedition, joined Father Le Caron again and visited with him the nation of the Petuns, as well as seven other villages allied to them; the natives received them with the most cordial hospitality, and the French struck up a friendship with them. Leaving this region on 20 May, Father Le Caron reached Quebec on 11 July after stopping at the Saint-Louis rapids and at Trois-Rivières. The mission in the Huron country was established.
On 20 July 1616 Champlain, together with Fathers Jamet and Le Caron, started back for France. They were going to lodge a complaint with the heads of the Compagnie des Marchands de Rouen et de Saint-Malo about the behaviour of its agents, who were hindering the spread of the gospel. This task completed, Father Le Caron sailed again on 11 April 1617; he was returning to Quebec with the title of provincial commissioner. He stayed there for one year, replacing the Recollet Jean Dolbeau who went to France, and during that time he blessed the marriage of Louis Hébert’s eldest daughter, Anne, to Étienne Jonquet. On Father Dolbeau’s return the following year, Father Le Caron went to the Montagnais at Tadoussac; he stayed with them until 1619, acting in the double capacity of missionary and schoolmaster, as he stated himself: “I have taught the alphabet to some who are beginning to read and write fairly well. . . . In this way I have been busy running a free school in our house at Tadoussac.” In 1624 he would be able to write, referring to the seminary that the Recollets had opened at Quebec in 1620: “Our seminary would be of great assistance if we had the means to provide for everything, but given the poverty of the country, we can support only a small number of Indians.”
He returned to Quebec, where on 18 Aug. 1621 he signed a petition addressed to King Louis XIII, pleading the cause of New France, and then went back to the Montagnais at Tadoussac; the following May he returned to Quebec again to take part in the spiritual exercises of the retreat at the convent of Notre-Dame-des-Anges. In 1623, after a second stay among the Montagnais, he welcomed some new recruits at Quebec and planned to go to the Huron country with Father Nicolas Viel and Brother Gabriel Sagard. He and his companions took up their abode in the village of Carhagouha. His stay was marked by an incident which would have cost him his life had it not been for a powerful Huron chief who defended him. Back in Quebec in June 1624, Father Le Caron passed on to Brother Sagard, who was preparing to go to France, a relation written in his own hand, large extracts of which have been preserved for us by Le Clercq. This relation is a detailed study of the Indians of New France, of their customs and of the obstacles in the way of their conversion. The introduction reveals the existence of a second memoir, the manuscript of which is now lost.
Having gone back to France at the end of August 1625, Father Le Caron was appointed by the missionaries to make a supreme effort against the Compagnie de Montmorency, which was paralysing the development of the Church. To this end he drew up and had printed two documents intended to enlighten the king’s council; the first, 15 pages long, was entitled: Plainte de la Nouvelle France dicte Canada, à la France, sa Germaine; the second, with the title Avis au Roi sur la Nouvelle-France, comprised 23 pages. These two manuscripts, preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, constitute a violent indictment of the Compagnie des Marchands and its director. On this same trip Le Caron had brought his dictionary of the Huron language and two others, of the Algonkin and Montagnais languages, which were presented to the king by Le Baillif. None are extant today.
Having completed his assignment, Father Le Caron once more returned to Quebec, where he again concerned himself with spreading the gospel. The capitulation of 1629, by making New France an English possession, also put an end to his missionary activity in this country; on 9 September Father Le Caron and his fellow Recollets returned to France, where they landed on 29 October.
Father Le Caron was named superior of the convent of Sainte-Marguerite, near Gisors, and died there of the plague on 29 March 1632, aged 46; that very day was signed the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye restoring Canada to France.
Of the Recollets who came to New France, Father Le Caron was one of the most outstanding, both because of his culture and of his apostolic zeal. He had contributed effectively to the establishment of the Church in Canada and had founded the first mission in the Huron country.
ASQ, MSS, 200, Mortuologe des Recolets. BN, Imprimés, LK12, 733 [Joseph Le Caron], Au Roi sur la Nouvelle-France (1626). This is the only memoir which could have been written by Caron (see Trudel, Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, II). The “Plainte de la Nouvelle France dicte Canada, à la France, sa Germaine . . .” may have been written by Father Le Baillif at the end of 1621 or at the beginning of 1622 [see bibliography of Georges Le Baillif].
Champlain, Œuvres (Laverdière), 495, 497f., 501f., 504, 506f., 517, 1040f., 1050. Le Clercq, First establishment of the faith (Shea), I, 31, et passim; II, 45. Sixte Le Tac, Histoire chronologique de la Nouvelle-France ou Canada depuis sa découverte (mil cinq cents quatre) jusques en l’an mil six cents trente deux, éd Eugène Réveillaud (Paris, 1888). “Mémoire faict en 1637 pour l’affaire des Pères Recollectz . . . ,” Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), I, 3–18. Sagard, Le grand voyage (Tross), passim; Histoire du Canada (Tross), I–IV, passim. The Catholic encyclopedia, an international work of reference . . . of the Catholic church, ed. C. G. Herbermann et al. (17v., New York, 1907–22), VI, 301. Jouve, Les Franciscains et le Canada (1615–1629).