Spanish Franciscans, French Jesuits, & White Slave Holders

Note: Spring 2020 quarter has started.  We were asked to answer a question relating to this weeks reading in our United States and Religion class.  My one or two paragraph answer turned into an imperfect essay.  🙂   But, I got a really good grade on it, and the Professor commented that it was very well thought out.  She did not say if I was right or wrong.  But, here it is.  

Which group do you think was most successful in producing religious converts: Spanish Franciscans, French Jesuits, or white slave owners? Why?

In a way, I’d like to see religion taken out of the equation completely.  Can I say, let’s just look at the way the Natives and Slaves were treated.  Let me just say ahead that part of this information is actually from a book I read probably six months ago called Siege and Survival.  It is about the what the Menominee people went through from before white people showed up.  The white people being Jesuit priests.   So much of my knowledge base about the French Jesuits probably come from that and the research I did after reading it because it piqued my interest in the subject. 

I know that religion is the subject of this class, and I realize that religion could never be totally removed from the situation because religion and the corresponding beliefs of each sect have a lot to do with how the Natives and Slaves were treated. 

Lets just look at how each sect or group of people treated the Natives or slaves –

Slavery was justified by the idea of white supremacy.  It was motivated by financial greed of white people who considered themselves as superior to the Slaves &  Natives.  Assumptions were made that the African peoples had no spirituality at all.  In those days, a lot of Christianity was based on the hell and brimstone theory, which justified (I think) the idea that one could treat another in anyway they choose.  Because  they viewed the slaves as beneath them, they saw their treatment as appropriate.  The outcome was too justify use of violence to deliver whatever it was that the superiors wanted.  The “whatever” being labor, or fruits of labor, or being sure that a people took on the Christian mantle so that both the slave and the master could be saved by Jesus/God. The violence includes but it not limited to whipping, beating, emotional and mental control techniques, rape, etc.   We read just a little about that in the Joyner article.   How many people can you convert when 20% of those you are trying to convert already have their own idea of religion (the Muslims), and/or some other form of spiritualism?  Take that number and subtract any number of those who were beaten, whipped, or raped.  I have no clue how many were converted, but it seems logical to me that the numbers might be somewhat in error considering the slave had to answer that particular question (not that it was ever asked) in the what that the master saw fit.

I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I grew up, probably, no further than five miles from Mission San Jose.  I was across the bay from Mission Dolores.  I was down the freeway from Mission Solano.  Its not that I am any expert, but it was part of my education as a kid to learn about the Mission system.  

The Franciscans were in the Western part of North America for at least two reasons:  to convert the natives and to help establish Spanish control over the area as a colony.  Of course, the Spaniards expected to make some sort of monetary gain from the area.  Unfortunately, I believe that money has everything to do with how people are treated to this day. 

It is a matter of fact, that the Spanish Franciscans, are also a branch of the Catholic faith and so have in its background some or most of the same foundational spiritual guidance as the French Jesuits.  But, unlike the French Jesuits they had no problems with resorting to violence to get the labor they wanted out of the poor people they were forcing (excuse me, converting to) their religion on.  I was taught as a kid, that the Franciscans were very violent toward the Natives.  I learned the term paternalist in my recent past, and this is how the Franciscans viewed the Natives.  They felt they had the obligation to over see what the Natives did and correct them and to convert them.  So, the Indians were their primary source of labor so far as I remember.  The mission system, and the Franciscans themselves got rich from exploiting that labor.  The Natives were basically treated as slaves to be converted to Christianity.  It is debatable that the Franciscans  ever treated the Natives any better than those master’s treated their slaves who were laboring in the South. 

So, while there is no shortage of Catholics in America (and I am not anti-Catholic) the same logic applies to my thoughts about Franciscans as the logic I used above with the Master/Slave relationships. It was the assumed the Natives had no religion and had to be taught or converted.  How many were going to genuinely convert if they are being misused and abused?  Beating a person into submission as it concerns religion is nothing short of brainwashing.  Can a brainwashed person truly convert?  They can believe they have, the converter can believe they have, but deep down inside, are they not the person they always were?

I get the idea, and I might be wrong, that the French Jesuits were in North America purely to convert the Native population.  So, this takes out money as any sort of justification or motivation for the treatment of peoples.  One good thing about the Jesuit sect is that they believed in trying to learn and understand the language of the people they were trying to convert.  They believed that their religion could be worked with, within the Native people’s culture.   Jesuits clearly felt paternalistically toward the Natives, we see that when reading “Black Robe.”   But, the paternalism lead to a more patient and understanding of the Natives.  So, at least at first, and in theory, labor was not necessarily forced upon the Natives.  It was bargained for.   In exchange for labor the Natives were offered food, clothing, and protection.  So, at least outwardly, there was not the coercion that the others used against their underling slave or Native.  This is not to say that there wasn’t manipulation used, but there was not nearly as much violence involved. One could call the bartering that was done bribery, and I would not argue.  But the bottom line is that the Natives in the Jesuits territory may have had their lives less discombobulated by the presence of the them.

So, therefore, who in my mind, who was most successful in producing converts?  The definition of success is subjective in this case.  Are we to qualify that with pure numbers?  If that were the case, then probably the masters in the South would win.  Plainly, slave populations were not decimated by the diseases of the white men.  But, in terms of pure conversion not won by violence, where the Native or slave was truly converted?  I bet; the Jesuits were the most successful. 

About PeggyAnn

Professional PC Consultant, Researcher, & avid people watcher, Peggy Ann Rowe started into her genealogical quest at age 15 after watching the mini-series, "Roots" with her parents. This new obsession has fueled her love of history, & study of cultures & societies in every epoch. Today she is 57 years old with four kids who are all grown up (& all have flown the coop). In between her 'gigs' with clients she volunteered at many different non-profits. Former President, Secretary, and Director at Large on the board of the Douglas County Historical Society for 10+ years, and former Secretary at the Cloverdale Historical Society (Sonoma County) for nearly 10 years. This website is an attempt to share the knowledge she has gained about her family ties with others who may be interested in the same things. She does not guarantee 100% accuracy and does hope that you will send corrections. To learn more about her, click the "about" button in the page menu. Thanks! Another goal of this website is to disseminate a message (i.e. education) about domestic violence, child abuse, and all forms of sexual abuse to society at large. The message comes from real experience from the whole spectrum of the violence from sexual abuse by a perpetrator to sexual abuse perpetrated by a husband, to the abuse of children within the family. Peggy has seen it, lived it, and been hurt by it. There will on occasion be details that might be hard for some people to read, and a warning is usually posted at the beginning of the essay so that those who want to turn and not read may do so. The only way to teach and to let others learn what to avoid is to SHARE what happened with every detail necessary to make the point. Thank you.
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