MAREST, JOSEPH-JACQUES, Jesuit missionary, brother of Pierre-Gabriel; b. in France, diocese of Chartres, 19 March 1653; d. in Montreal, October 1725.
Joseph-Jacques Marest entered the Jesuit noviciate 25 Sept. 1671, and taught at Vannes, La Flèche and the Collège Louis Le Grand in Paris. He came to Canada about 1686 and spent the next two years at Sillery learning Indian languages. In 1688 he was sent to Michilimackinac, and the following year was a member of Nicolas Perrot’s mission to the Sioux country. On 8 May 1689, Perrot took formal possession, for France, of the vast upper Mississippi region. On the document recording this significant event the first signature is that of Joseph-Jacques Marest, “Missionary among the Nadouesioux [Sioux].”
Michilimackinac, where Joseph Marest was to earn repute as cleric-diplomat, played a threefold role – Jesuit mission, garrison post, and rendezvous for fur-traders. The Ottawas, over whom Marest became superior, occupied their own village in the area, as did the Hurons, under the care of Father Étienne de Carheil. The military commandant of the post between 1694 and 1697 was Antoine Laumet, dit de Lamothe Cadillac. His “brandy diplomacy” brought him into sharp verbal conflict with Marest.
Cadillac favoured Detroit rather than Michilimackinac as a focal point for the lucrative fur trade, and with the support of the minister of Marine, Jérôme Phélypeaux, Comte de Pontchartrain, he was able to set up a post there in 1700. Transfer of the Michilimackinac Indians to Detroit was included in Cadillac’s plan which Father Marest was at first willing to support, “with the feeble aid of my prayers.” A change of attitude on Marest’s part resulted in a vendetta, marked by rivalry and intrigue, until Cadillac was appointed governor of Louisiana in 1710.
When Marest received instruction from his superior to go to Detroit in 1703 he asked his Indians for their “precise and decided” answer about removal. They wanted three days to consider, and much to his surprise announced they would never go – rather, they would die at Michilimackinac. Encouraged by these “strong reasons” Marest visited Quebec where he was to make a staunch ally of the new governor, Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil.
By the following year (1704), however, the wheel of fortune had turned in favour of Cadillac. The Hurons and many of the Ottawas had gone to Detroit. Although Father de Carheil abandoned his mission in the straits of Mackinac in 1706 Marest remained, as active in intrigue as in priestly duty. He continued to keep the governor abreast of affairs through emissaries including the chiefs Koutaoiliboe and Miscouaky and the Montreal merchant M. Boudor.
By 1719 Joseph-Jacques Marest, aged 66, was growing infirm, and a missionary was sent to assist him. A year or more later (1721) his name appeared in the work of the eminent Jesuit historian, Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix*, to whom Marest spoke of the Sioux and their country.
Marest was favoured to pass the biblical allotment of threescore and ten, for he died at the age of 72 in Montreal, October 1725.
Charlevoix, History (Shea), III, 35; V, 180. JR (Thwaites), LXVI; LXXI, 156, 228. Michigan Pioneer Coll., XXXIII, NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), IX, 418. Wis. State Hist. Soc. Coll., XVI. Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIe siècle, III, 480.