BESCHEFER, THIERRY, priest, Jesuit, missionary, superior of the Canadian mission; baptized 28 March 1630 at Châlons-sur-Marne (Châlons-en-Champagne, department of Marne); d. 4 Feb. 1711 at the Jesuit college in Reims.
Thierry Beschefer entered the noviciate at Nancy on 24 May 1647. If we are to believe what we read in the registers of the Society of Jesus, we gather that he had superior intellectual gifts that won him his colleagues’ esteem. By the time he was in his second noviciate year he was teaching at Pont-à-Mousson, where from 1650 to 1653 he devoted himself to the study of philosophy. He then taught in several Jesuit colleges. Having finished his studies and been ordained a priest in 1661, he taught rhetoric again at Pont-à-Mousson, and then classics at the college in Metz. He must have done his third year at Nancy, since he made his profession at the noviciate there on 15 Aug. 1664.
On 19 June 1665 Beschefer arrived at Quebec on Captain Le Gagneur’s ship, which likewise carried four companies of the Carignan-Salières regiment. His superiors immediately urged him to study the Huron (Wendat) language at Quebec. The energy with which Prouville* de Tracy undertook at that time to attack the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) made an impression on the Mohawk and the Oneida, and in the summer of 1666 they sent ambassadors to Quebec to ask for peace talks. The lieutenant-general then decided to send Father Beschefer and some of the envoys to the English, the new masters of New Amsterdam (New York). The Jesuit departed 20 July 1666, accompanied by an interpreter, Jacques de Cailhault de La Tesserie, and a donné, Charles Boquet*. By 28 July, however, he was back at Quebec with his whole escort: the embassy had been stopped at Trois-Rivières by the news that the Mohawk had killed three Frenchmen and captured M. de Lerole Canchy, M. de Tracy’s cousin.
Beschefer returned to studying the Huron language. According to the register for 1667 he was sent in the last months of that year to spend the winter away from Quebec, probably at Pierre Boucher’s new seigneury of Îles Percées, later called Boucherville. In 1668 Beschefer was appointed superior of the mission to the Algonquin at Cap-de-la-Madeleine; this mission post was in decline because of the disorders arising from the trade in spirits and does not seem to have been kept up after 1670, when Beschefer left it. Father Jean Pierron*, another native of Champagne, was at the time in charge of the Martyrs’ mission in Mohawk territory, one of the most difficult of the period because of the influence Albany’s inhabitants had on the Mohawk. In 1670 Pierron came to Quebec to seek help, and Beschefer was sent to aid him, along with Father François Boniface. During the years 1670–71, 84 were baptized at the mission, but 74 of these neophytes died after receiving the sacrament, most of them being children under seven years of age.
On 12 July 1671 Father Claude Dablon* took over the office of rector of Quebec’s Jesuit college and superior general of the mission. In 1672 he called Beschefer to Quebec and entrusted to him the duties of minister of the college, prefect of studies, and prefect, confessor, and catechist of the church. Beschefer fulfilled these roles and that of chaplain of Quebec’s prison during Father Dablon’s superiorship. On 6 Aug. 1680 he became superior in his turn. His administration coincided with the renewal of the Iroquois peril: the fear that had maintained peace in the Five Cantons (Five Nations) since Tracy’s campaigns had dissipated. The governor of New York, Thomas Dongan, was planning to dominate all trade to the north and west through the Iroquois, to whom he offered prices for their furs that the French could not compete with. The Iroquois undertook systematic attacks on France’s most distant allies, intending to fall upon the colony along the St Lawrence when they had isolated it. Meanwhile Buade* de Frontenac had left Canada and was succeeded by Le Febvre* de La Barre. On 10 Oct. 1682 the new governor convened an assembly of the country’s notables at the Jesuit college. Beschefer, as the superior, attended it with Fathers Dablon and Frémin*. The peril was lucidly analysed and energetic measures were decided upon. But the governor’s indecision and blunders served only to make the Iroquois more daring.
In a letter to the provincial in Paris dated 21 Oct. 1683 Father Beschefer, as superior, reported on the state of the missions. The most distant were assigned to three large districts, each with a superior responsible to Quebec. The Tadoussac mission covered all the basin of the Saguenay up to its source, both shores of the St Lawrence as far as its mouth, and part of the Maritimes. It was directed by Father François de Crespieul, who, with two other missionaries, followed Indigenous people throughout this territory on their hunting and trading expeditions. The mission to the Ottawa was run by Father Jean Enjalran, whose assistants ranged over lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior, and even spent time among certain groups of Sioux. The mission to the Iroquois was divided among the Five Cantons and was under the direction of Father Jean de Lamberville. Finally, closer and directly dependent upon Quebec: the mission to the Huron at Lorette; the mission at Sillery, where several Abenaki had just arrived seeking refuge; and the mission at Sault-Saint-Louis (Kahnawake), to which came Iroquois coverts to Christianity. The main difficulty encountered by the missionaries was trying to control the liquor trade, which was extensively carried out by English, Dutch, and French settlers.
On 18 Aug. 1686 Beschefer was replaced as superior by Father Claude Dablon and again became prefect of studies at the college, adviser to the mission, and confessor at the church. He was to carry out these duties until 1690. Two letters (all that remains of a close correspondence with M. Cabart de Villermont) are among the few documents by him that we have for this period. The first, dated 19 Sept. 1687, recounts in detail Governor Brisay de Denonville’s expedition against the Seneca (1687) and a military exploit by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville in the Hudson Bay region (1686). The second letter, written on 22 October, gives information concerning Canada’s riches in natural resources, several samples of which the Jesuit sent to France.
In 1690 the provincial of France recalled Beschefer to Paris to become procurator of the Canadian mission, with his residence at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. However Beschefer gave up this charge and sailed again for Canada in the summer of 1691, but he was obliged to take advantage of a meeting with another ship to return to France because of illness. He went back to his native province of Champagne and lived at the Jesuit college in Reims, where he served as minister and prefect of the church. In 1707, as his health was declining, he no longer had any role but that of confessor. From 1709 on he is referred to as an old man but nevertheless retained the office of adviser. He died two years later, having almost reached the age of 81.
ARSI, Francia 23 and 24; Gallia 10, ff.153–54. JR (Thwaites). Catalogi sociorum et officiorum provinciae Campaniae Societatis Iesu ab anno 1616 ad annum 1773, éd. L. Carrez (10v., Châlons, Paris, Lille, 1897–1914).
Bibliography for the revised version:
Arch. Départementales, Marne (Châlons-en-Champagne et Reims, France), “Recherche dans l’état civil,” Châlons-sur-Marne, Sainte-Marguerite, 28 mars 1630: archives.marne.fr (consulted 14 Dec. 2022).