Rale, Sebastian

views updated


Missionary, lexicographer; b. Pontarlier, France, Jan. 4, 1657; d. Norridgewock, Maine, Aug. 23, 1724. Rale (Rasle) entered the Jesuit novitiate at Dole, France, on Sept. 24, 1675, and taught and studied at Carpentras, Nîmes, and Lyons. In 1689, he was assigned to the Canadian mission and worked for a time in the Christian Abenaki village near Quebec, mastering the language, compiling a catechism, and beginning his Abenaki dictionary. After two years with the Illinois tribe, he was assigned in 1694 to the Abenakis at Norridgewock, Maine, on the Kennebec River. Rale spent the next 30 years with these tribes, but his labors on their behalf have been overshadowed by his involvement in the Anglo-French conflict for the control of Maine. His sympathies were with the French, and, after 1713, Massachusetts authorities were determined to remove him and to scatter or subject the Abenakis. After the failure of conferences and treaties with the tribes, for which Rale was blamed, a surprise attack on Norridgewock was made on Aug. 23, 1724. English soldiers, contrary to orders, killed Rale and returned his scalp to Boston.

The missionary's strongbox, the chapel bell, and other items are in the Maine Historical Society, Portland. His dictionary, seized in the raid of January 1722, was edited by John Pickering in 1833; the manuscript copy is in the Harvard University library. A monument, dedicated in 1833 by Bp. Benedict Fenwick of Boston, Mass., in the presence of descendants of the tribe, marks the site of Rale's heroic labors and death.

Bibliography: j. f. sprague, Sebastien Ralé: A Maine Tragedy of the Eighteenth Century (Boston 1906). m. d. mulvey, French Catholic Missionaries in the Present United States 16041791 (Washington 1936). h. c. schuyler, "The Apostle of the Abnakis: Father Sebastian Rale, S.J., 16571724," Catholic Historical Review 1 (191516) 164174, contains critical list of sources. Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, ed. r. g. thwaites, 73 v. (Cleveland 18961901; New York 1959) 66 (1900) 346 and 71 (1901) 157, for biog. data; 67 (1900), for correspondence; 73 (1901) 270, for other references. j. p. baxter, Pioneers of New France in New England (Albany 1894), prejudiced but contains documents not found elsewhere.

[w. l. lucey]