Labat, Jean Baptiste

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Dominican missionary, author; b. Paris, 1663 or 1664; d. Paris, Jan. 6, 1738. Professed in Paris April 11, 1685, he later lectured in Nancy. From 1694 to 1705 he was active in the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Lesser (French) Antilles, first as priest then as procurator, superior, and finally as apostolic prefect. As a missionary he was generous, commercially astute, inventive, and a defender of French interests against foreign rivals. Through his outstanding military efforts, he liberated Martinique from the British expedition, led by Sir Christopher Codrington in 1703. His superiors recalled him to France, where instead of granting him recognition for his work, the government through intrigues and misrepresentation confined him to a cloister in Toul without a trial, and he was not allowed to resume his island voyages. Released after intervention by the Dominican superior general, he traveled extensively in Spain and Italy, and was allowed to return to Paris after the death of Louis XIV (1715). There he wrote his famous memoirs. In 1727 he was made procurator for the Dominican superior general. He was a perceptive observer with many interests. His accounts of foreign countries were sincere, candid, and objective, but often diffuse. In addition to the Nouveau voyage aux Isles de l'Amerique (6 v., Paris 1722), which has been often translated and edited, and Voyages en Espagne et en Italie (8 v., Paris 1730), Labat wrote of West Africa (5 v., Paris 1728), Guinea (4 v., Amsterdam 1728), and Syria-North Africa (7 v., Paris 1735).

Bibliography: m. a. lamarche, Le Père Labat au l'humour d'un savant, 16641738 (Montreal 1938). j. rennard, Le Père Labat aux Antilles (Paris 1927).

[b. m. biermann]