125 years of Silence… The Jesuits Abandon Manitoulin
The first written mention of Manitoulin and her native population is found in the Jesuit Relations of the 1600’s. In these records descriptions of the people, their clothing and customs are found. These records are of great historical value as they tell us a great deal about Manitoulin’s original people, as well as an insight into the extent of missionary involvement.
However, from about 1700 to 1825 little mention of Manitoulin or her population can be found. Stories abound as to the reason for this: a great fire which swept the entire island, set by the Natives in order to drive out evil spirits; extreme climate changes at some point, which caused the people to believe that the Great Spirit Manitou was angry at them for settling there, causing an exodus which lasted to the 1800’s; warring Iroquois driving the people away or wiping them out completely. All of these stories have been told at various times and all have been passed down as true. However, from research I have gathered, it seems more than likely that there was a more logical explanation.
In the late 1600s, there was a mass exodus of the natives, some to Quebec, some to Michigan and some to as far away as Mississippi and Wisconsin, caused by fear of the raiding Iroquois. However, after a time the population did return and the Jesuits were still a presence into the 1700s.
In 1701 Cadillac founded Detroit, which became a large and important settlement. Many of the natives living on Manitoulin moved there to be closer to the trading center, while others moved to Drummond Island and Mackinac Island. The Jesuits remained at Mackinac for a time, but Manitoulin Island and the surrounding areas had so little population, a scattering of small bands spread out over the district, that they were deemed insignificant by the travelling missionaries, and were abandoned.
At that time, the Jesuits were the only people in the area capable of keeping written records, so when they abandoned their work on Manitoulin, their absence caused the silence.