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Joseph-François Lafitau

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Jesuit missionary and writer, born at Bordeaux, France, 1 January, 1681; died there, 1746. He entered the Society in 1696, and the general, Tamburini, yielding to his entreaties, sent him to Canada in 1711. Appointed to the mission of Sault Saint-Louis (Caughnawaga), he made a thorough study of Iroquois character and usages, as a preparation to his great work "Mœures des Sauvages américains comparées aux mœurs des premiers temps", published in 1724. It was then that he discovered ginseng, a root highly prized as a panacea in China and Tartary, one ounce selling for as high as three ounces of silver. This discovery created an excitement comparable to that caused later by the finding of gold in California and Australia; but the exportation of the root, after promising immense profits to Canadian trade, rapidly decreased, owing to over-production and inferiority of quality due to hasty and artificial desiccation. Lafitau's treatise on ginseng (1718) drew public attention to this apparent source of prosperity. In 1717, Lafitau returned to France in the interests of the mission, chiefly to obtain authorization from Court to transfer the Iroquois settlement to its present site, which was preferable to the former on account of its greater fertility. He likewise pleaded for the repression of the liquor traffic. In spite of his wish to return to Canada, where his knowledge of Italian languages and customs rendered him so valuable that Father Julien Garnier wished him to have him recalled, he was retained in France, and there his later years were spent in writing several works, among which, besides those already mentioned, figures his "Histoire des découvertes et des conquêtes des Portugais dans le Nouveau-Monde" (1733). After Charlevoix, Lafitau was the most remarkable historian and naturalist ever sent to Canada by the Society of Jesus.

About this page

APA citation. Lindsay, L. (1910). Joseph-François Lafitau. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Lindsay, Lionel. "Joseph-François Lafitau." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Christine J. Murray.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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