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Original title:  Le père Pierre Potier, s.j., portrait paru dans le Detroit News, 26 avril 1891

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POTIER (Pottier, Pottié, or Pothier), PIERRE-PHILIPPE, Jesuit, priest, and missionary; baptized 22 April 1708 at Blandain (province of Hainaut, Belgium), son of Jacques Potier and Marie Duchatelet; d. 16 July 1781 at Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption (Windsor, Ont.).

From 1721 to 1727 Pierre-Philippe Potier attended the Jesuit college in Tournai (Belgium) and from 1727 to 1729 the college in Douai, France. On 30 Sept. 1729 he entered the noviciate in Tournai. After studying the humanities for a year in Lille, France (1731–32), he taught for six years at the Jesuit college in Béthune. A student at the theological college in Douai from 1738 to 1742, he went to Armentières for his tertianship, and pronounced his final vows at Tournai on 2 Feb. 1743.

On 18 June 1743 Potier sailed from La Rochelle on the king’s ship Rubis and reached Quebec on 1 October. He spent eight months at the mission of Lorette learning the Huron language. On 26 June 1744 he left Quebec for his final destination, the Huron mission at the mouth of the Detroit River, which he reached on 25 September. The superior was Father Armand de La Richardie*, who had held the position since 1728. Two years later illness forced La Richardie to leave and Potier took charge. The mission, which was located on Bois Blanc Island (Ont.), consisted of 33 Huron lodges divided into two settlements – Petit Village and Grand Village. Potier drew up a list noting the names of the heads of the lodges and the number of occupants in each. He made a record of all individuals baptized since 1728 and his numerous notebooks also include some of the mission’s account-books as well as other information.

When the mission was destroyed in May 1747 by a war party from the Huron band of Nicolas [Orontony*], La Richardie came back for a short period and decided to re-establish it at La Pointe de Montréal (now part of Windsor). From 1755 until 1759 Potier was aided by Father Jean-Baptiste de Salleneuve. As was customary, one of the missionaries went with the Huron bands to their winter quarters, usually at Sandoské (Sandusky, Ohio) on the southwest shore of Lake Erie.

During the years following the conquest, Potier also took responsibility for the French settlers on the left bank of the Detroit River. In 1767 the parish of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption was founded, and from that year until his death in 1781 he carried on his ministry to the Hurons and French as priest of this parish, the oldest in Ontario. Despite his isolation and the circumstances in which he lived, Potier pursued intellectual interests energetically. He devoted much time to reading and recorded long passages of various works in personal notebooks, of which about half have been preserved. The 22 books in the archives of the Quebec seminary contain lecture notes; various papers in Latin or French on theology, philosophy, the sciences, the history of religion, and the church councils; devotional works, noviciate exercises, and a dictionary. The Jesuit archives in Saint-Jérôme holds various Potier manuscripts. Five pertain to the Huron language: “Radices linguae huronicae,” “Elementa grammaticae huronicae,” “Sermons en langue huronne,” “Extraits de l’Évangile,” and “De religione.” Included with them are fragments on individuals, on Huron lodges and names, and some geographical information. Three manuscripts deal with other matters: one is an elaborate précis of Le spectacle de la nature by Noël-Antoine Pluche; another deals with mission affairs (the register of baptisms, marriages, and burials, and account-books); and the third groups personal notes under the title of “Gazettes” and includes travel itineraries, letters sent and received, and chronologies. Two other manuscripts are preserved in the Montreal city library: “Façons de parler proverbiales, triviales, figurées, &c des Canadiens au XVIIIe siècle” and “Vocabulaire huron-français.”

The notes assembled by Potier in “Façons de parler proverbiales” constitute the only dictionary of the language spoken in New France on the eve of the conquest. From 1743 to 1758 he had recorded about a thousand words and expressions picked up in conversations; the majority relate to French speech, but there are also a fair number of Indian words and expressions. Because of its early date and its abundant information, this document has proven of inestimable value for the study of the history of language in Quebec.

Robert Toupin

[P.-P. Potier], “Façons de parler proverbiales, triviales, figurées, etc. des Canadiens au XVIIIe siècle,” Bull. du parler français au Canada (Québec), III (1904–5), 213–20, 252–55, 291–93; IV (1905–6), 29–30, 63–65, 103–4, 146–49, 224–26, 264–67; “Huron manuscripts from Rev. Pierre Potier’s collection,” PAO Report, 1918–19; “Selections from the diary and gazette of Father Pierre Potier, S.J. (1708–1781),” ed. E. R. Ott, Mid-America (Chicago), 18 (1936), 199–207, 260–65.

Archives de l’État (Tournai, Belgique), État civil, Blandain, 22 avril 1708. ASJCF, mss Potier. ASQ, mss, 82–103. Bibliothèque de la ville de Montréal, Salle Gagnon, père Potier. JR (Thwaites), LXIX, 240–76; LXX, 20–70. Marcel Juneau, Problèmes de lexicologie québécoise; prolégomènes à un trésor de la langue française au Québec (Québec, 1977). E. J. Lajeunesse, Outline history of Assumption parish (n.p., n.d.). George Paré, The Catholic Church in Detroit, 1701–1888 (Detroit, 1951). Marcel Juneau “Un pionnier de la lexicologie québécoise: le père Pierre-Philippe Potier, S.J.,” Langue et linguistique (Québec), 1(1975), 51–68.

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Cite This Article

Robert Toupin, “POTIER, PIERRE-PHILIPPE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/potier_pierre_philippe_4E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/potier_pierre_philippe_4E.html
Author of Article:   Robert Toupin
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   February 25, 2024