Jacques Gravier

Jacques Gravier (17 May 1651 – 17 April 1708) was a French Jesuit missionary in the New World. He founded the Illinois mission in 1696, where he administered to the several tribes of the territory. He was notable for his compilation of the most extensive dictionary of Kaskaskia Illinois-French among those made by French missionaries. In 1705 he was appointed Superior of the mission.

Early life and education

Gravier was born in 1651 in Moulins, Allier, France. He became well educated with the Jesuits, entering the Society of Jesus in the fall of 1670. He made his novitiate at Paris.[1]

From 1672 to 1680, Gravier taught and tutored in the Jesuit schools of Hesdin, Eu, and Arras. He then studied philosophy at the Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris (1678–79). After teaching, he returned there for his studies in theology (1680–84). After his third year of theology, Gravier was ordained a priest. Upon completing his studies, he set out for Canada, where he would be a missionary. He studied and taught at the college in Quebec, and then spent a year at Sillery studying Algonquin (1685–86).[1]

Career in North America

Father Gravier carried out important tasks for the Jesuits in New France, including the founding of the Illinois mission. Such a mission was first proposed by Father Jacques Marquette.

When Gravier arrived in New France, he first studied at the seminary at Sillery, then studied the Algonquin language during 1685–1686.[1] In 1687 he was called westward to the Ottawa tribes.

In 1689 Gravier was assigned to the Illinois in the Mississippi Valley. First he worked among them at Starved Rock on the Illinois River, where he started compiling a grammar and dictionary. He worked to convert the Kaskaskias. In 1694, he helped broker the marriage of the Kaskaskia Aramepinchieue to the French trader Michel Aco,[2] which helped to cement the alliance among the Jesuits, traders, and Kaskaskias. In 1696 Gravier was named to found the Illinois mission among the Illinois, Miami, Kaskaskia and others of the Illiniwek confederacy situated in the Mississippi River and Illinois River valleys.[1] Bishop Saint-Vallier (La Croix), the Bishop of Quebec, named him vicar general of these missions.

Gravier's most enduring work was his compilation of a Kaskaskia-French dictionary, with nearly 600 pages and 20,000 entries. The manuscript is held by Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. It is the most extensive of dictionaries of the Illinois language compiled by French missionaries. The work was finally edited and published in 2002 by Carl Masthay, providing an invaluable source of the historic Kaskaskia Illinois language.[3][4]

In November 1700 Gravier traveled by canoe to minister to French settlers and Native Americans in Mobile, La Louisiane, the colony along the Gulf Coast. There he befriended explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, later the founder of New Orleans, who impressed him with his knowledge of Indian languages. Gravier left the colony and Mobile in February 1702 to return to the Illinois mission.

After continuing work among the Illiniwek, in 1705 Gravier was named Superior of the Illinois Mission. That fall during a time of tension, he was shot with an arrow and wounded by a Peoria warrior. Although Gravier sought treatment, the wound became infected and long caused him problems, through a return to Mobile, Alabama, then a trip to France. In February 1708, he returned from France to Mobile, where he died April 16.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Jacques Gravier", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, accessed 1 Mar 2010
  2. ^ White, Richard (2010). The Middle Ground. Cambridge University Press. pp. 67–74. ISBN 9781139495684.
  3. ^ "Review" of Carl Masthay, Kaskaskia Illinois-to-French Dictionary, Saint Louis: Carl Masthay, 2002, International Journal of Lexicography, 17(3):325-327, accessed 1 Mar 2010
  4. ^ Costa, David J.; Wolfart, H.C., ed. (2005). "The St-Jérôme Dictionary of Miami-Illinois" (PDF). Papers of the 36th Algonquian Conference. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba. pp. 107–133. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 27, 2011. Retrieved March 7, 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)

Further reading

  • Masthay, Carl, editor (2002). Kaskaskia Illinois-to-French Dictionary. St. Louis, Missouri: Carl Masthay. p. 757. ISBN 0-9719113-04.
  • McCafferty, Michael (Fall 2011). "Jacques Largillier: French Trader, Jesuit Brother, and Jesuit Scribe Par Excellence". Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. 104 (3): 188–198.

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