MARCOUX, JOSEPH (named Tharoniakanere, literally “one who contemplates heaven”), Roman Catholic priest, missionary, and author; b. 16 March 1791 at Quebec, son of Joseph Marcoux and Marie Vallière; d. 29 May 1855 on the Caughnawaga (Kahnawake) reserve, Lower Canada.
Joseph Marcoux was the son of a butcher who lived in Upper Town, Quebec, towards the end of the 18th century. He received his classical education at the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1799 to 1808. A year later he began theological studies in that institution and, as was then customary, taught the junior classes at the same time. In 1812, having been made a subdeacon, he was placed under Jean-Baptiste Roupe, the priest in charge of the Saint-Régis mission. Roupe prepared the young cleric for the priesthood and taught him the Mohawk language. During the War of 1812 Marcoux was at the mission station when the Americans attacked on 23 Oct. 1812. But unlike Roupe he managed to escape the invaders by hiding in a peat-house until they had withdrawn from the village.
Marcoux was ordained priest by Joseph-Octave Plessis*, the bishop of Quebec, on 12 June 1813 and five days later he received authorization to proceed to the Saint-Régis mission. There he succeeded Roupe, who had just been appointed priest in charge of the mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka). Shortly after his return to the Saint-Régis mission, Marcoux was confronted with two adversaries. He had to struggle against the self-proclaimed heir to Louis XVI, Eleazer Williams, a Congregational preacher who was engaged in undermining the faith of the Indians in his mission and their loyalty to the British crown. He also had to struggle against American officers stationed on the New York state border who endeavoured to bribe the Indians with food. Some of the Indians could not resist the temptation of adding Marcoux’s name to the list of petitioners without his knowledge, in order to obtain a larger share. In 1819 Marcoux presented a report about his conduct to the governor-in-chief, the Duke of Richmond [Lennox*], but the explanations he gave did not dispel the suspicions of the authorities concerning his loyalty and that of the Indians of his mission. To resolve the difficulty, at the end of the year Bishop Plessis appointed him priest in charge of Saint-François-Xavier mission at Caughnawaga.
During his ministry in this mission, Marcoux took effective steps to combat the scourge of alcoholism that was creating discord in the village of Caughnawaga; it had reached an alarming level following the arrival in the southern part of the Caughnawaga reserve of the quarrymen who had come to help build the Lachine Canal in 1823–24. In 1826 he managed to check the dissemination of a faulty translation of the gospels into Mohawk, a document “more likely to cast ridicule on religion than to spread it.” Around 1821 the Indians had made a claim to a strip of land adjoining the village on the La Prairie side, and in 1828 and 1830 he intervened to get their demands satisfied, but to no avail. In these same years he resisted to the utmost the attempts made by certain Indian Department officials to lure, chiefly by offering them schools, his flock away from the Catholic religion. Fortunately, Lord Gosford [Acheson*], the governor-in-chief from 1835 to 1838, sided with him.
In 1840, however, one of Gosford’s successors, Charles Edward Poulett Thomson*, asked Ignace Bourget*, the bishop of Montreal, to remove Marcoux from Caughnawaga, blaming him for the disorder that had been prevalent in the village and accusing him of having shown disloyalty towards the government during the rebellion of 1837–38. Bourget, convinced of Marcoux’s innocence, kept him at his post, although he reproached him for labelling as “halfwits” several officials who were his opponents, notably James Hughes, Duncan Campbell Napier*, and Solomon Yeomans Chesley*, members of a commission to inquire into the attitude and conduct that he and the Indians of his mission had adopted in 1837–38. A very intelligent but impulsive man, Marcoux bristled like a porcupine when anyone attacked his flock. Despite Hughes’s allegations, during the rebellion Marcoux had preserved the same stance taken by all the parish priests who remained obedient to their bishops. Thomas Leigh Goldie, the secretary to Sir John Colborne*, who was commander-in-chief of the armed forces in the Canadas in 1837–38, commented, “As for Mr Marcoux’s conduct, His Excellency is in no doubt that he can rely on it.”
From his first days at Caughnawaga, Marcoux had been concerned about the old mission church, which was “not respectable,” and dreamed of building a new one. As a good missionary he quickly learned the art of soliciting gifts. In 1826 he obtained from the king of France, Charles X, three large pictures for his church. On two occasions, in 1842 and 1844, he received 1,000 francs from King Louis-Philippe to build a new church. By dint of knocking on countless doors, he managed to collect the necessary funds. The church was built in 1845 according to the specifications of Félix Martin*, an architect who was the superior of the Jesuits of Lower Canada. Seven years later, in response to his own discreet suggestions, Marcoux received from Napoleon III, emperor of the French, and Eugénie, his wife, liturgical vestments in cloth of gold, worthy of the fine temple he had erected, and a chalice engraved Donné par l’Impératrice.
A true linguist, Marcoux wrote remarkable works in the Mohawk language, among others a catechism, a book of prayers, extracts from the gospels, a volume of Gregorian chant with Indian words, the translation of a biography of Kateri Tekakwitha*, whose cult he strove constantly to promote, a grammar, and Mohawk-French and French-Mohawk dictionaries.
Joseph Marcoux died a victim of his zeal, at the age of 64, during an epidemic of typhoid. He was buried in the vaults of the church built through his efforts, among the Indians he had loved so well. His priestly life, consecrated to the Mohawks, had lasted 42 years, 36 of them spent in the Saint-François-Xavier mission at Caughnawaga.
The correspondence of Joseph Marcoux was published posthumously as Lettres de M. Jos. Marcoux, missionnaire du Sault, aux chefs iroquois du Lac des Deux Montagnes, 1848–49 (Montréal, 1869). His works are listed in Bibliography of the Iroquoian langages, comp. J. C. Pilling (Washington, 1888). There is a portrait of Marcoux in the room next to the sacristy in the church at the Saint-François-Xavier mission at Kahnawake.
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