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A Jesuit Missionary in Eighteenth-Century Sonora

The Family Correspondence of Philipp Segesser

Raymond H. Thompson

Publication Year: 2014

In the very last year of the seventeenth century a ten-year-old boy in the city of Lucerne, Switzerland, announced to his parents that he wanted to become a Jesuit missionary and save souls in faraway lands. Philipp Segesser got his wish when he was sent to northwestern Mexico in 1731. For the next thirty years he carried on an active correspondence with his family and religious affiliates. His letters home, translated and edited in this fascinating book, provide a frank and intimate view of missionary life on the remote northwestern frontier of New Spain. The editor’s introduction sets the letters in biographical and historical context.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. vii-vii


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p. viii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The existence of the family archive containing the letters of the Swiss Jesuit missionary Philipp Segesser was first reported in 1886 by a member of the Segesser family, who published a “modernized” German version of the longest letter (von Segesser 1886; Letter 58 in this study). However, Father Segesser’s important commentary on mission life in eighteenth-century...

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The Missionary Career of Philipp Anton Segesser

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pp. xiii-xxxvi

In the very last year of the seventeenth century, a ten-year-old boy in the city of Lucerne, Switzerland, announced to his parents that he wanted to become a Jesuit missionary saving souls in faraway lands. Inspired by the successes of Saint Francis Xavier (1506–1552) in India during the sixteenth century, Philipp Segesser was steadfast in pursuing this career goal. In...

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About the Translation

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pp. xxxvii-xl

Father Segesser’s family saved seventy-six of his letters and copied many of them to share with friends and relatives. All but three of the letters are original documents in Father Segesser’s handwriting. Letters 50, 58, and 61 exist only as copies. There are both copies and originals of Letters 19, 23, 34, 42, 46, 55, and 73, and the copies are faithful duplicates of the...

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Letters from Ingolstadt (1–9)

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pp. 1-18

Ingolstadt, an old Bavarian city on the Danube River north of Munich, is the home of a famous university founded in 1472. After the Protestant Reformation, Ingolstadt was an important base for the efforts of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in central Europe in which the Jesuits played a key role. From 1717 to 1721, Philipp Segesser was studying theology at the...

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Letters from Altötting, Straubing, and Neuburg an der Donau (10–14)

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pp. 19-28

Philipp Segesser was ordained as a priest in Eichstätt, northwest of Ingolstadt, on Trinity Sunday, 8 June 1721, and set forth on 16 September for Altötting (Oettinga Veteris), northeast of Munich near the Austrian border, a traditional first assignment for newly ordained Jesuits. An image of the Madonna in the Heilige Kapelle there has made Altötting a still popular pilgrimage...

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Letters from Hochdorf, Constance, and Ellwangen (15–20)

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pp. 29-42

Father Segesser, following what may have been his last visit to his family in Switzerland (Schmuck 2004: 94), returned to Germany to take up his new post at Ellwangen. He reported on his travels to his mother from Hochdorf in Letter 15 and several days later to his father from Constance in Letter 16. He promised a full report on his journey after reaching Ellwangen, but...

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Letters from Genoa (21–22)

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pp. 43-50

Genoa, in northwestern Italy, has been a major Mediterranean port and trading center since Roman times. It served as the port of departure for the Jesuits from central Europe heading for the Indies. Less than three weeks after arriving in Genoa, Father Segesser sailed for Spain, suffering from seasickness all the way, and arrived at Cádiz in early...

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Letters from Seville (23–36)

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pp. 51-92

Seville, the Hispalis of ancient Rome, is an important inland port on the Río Guadalquivir north-northeast of Cádiz. A major city of Moorish Spain, it is the cultural center of Andalusia today. Spain administered its New World empire through the Council of the Indies in Seville, where the Archivo General de Indias is today the repository of information on that...

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Letters from Puerto de Santa María (37–41)

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pp. 93-112

The Bahía de Cádiz is Spain’s main Atlantic seaport, with Puerto de Santa María on the northern shore across the bay from the city of Cádiz, the Gades of ancient Phoenician traders. Many of the vessels traveling from this port to the New World were azogues that carried the large quantity of mercury needed to separate gold and silver from their ores. The word “azogue” is...

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Letters from Havana (42–44)

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pp. 113-124

Havana, the capital of Cuba, was the main New World harbor for transatlantic traffic. Most ships from Europe stopped at Havana before traveling to other destinations such as Cartagena and Veracruz. Father Segesser arrived in Havana on 1 February 1731 and, after almost three more months of waiting there, sailed on 19 April to Veracruz, the gateway to New...

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Letters from Tepotzotlán and Durango (45–46)

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pp. 125-130

Tepotzotlán, northwest of Mexico City, is the site of the National Museum of the Colonial Period (Museo Nacional del Virreinato), housed in the magnificent church of San Francisco Xavier, built by the Jesuits in 1606 with funds from a devout and wealthy merchant. Durango, on the Camino Real from Mexico City to Santa Fe, New Mexico, was...

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Letters from San Ignacio, San Xavier, and Guevavi (47–52)

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pp. 131-168

The mission of San Ignacio de Cabórica, founded by Father Kino in 1687, is on the Río Magdalena south of Nogales, Sonora, and nine miles north of the city of Magdalena de Kino. San Xavier del Bac, the northernmost of the Jesuit missions in the Pimería Alta just south of Tucson, Arizona, on the Santa Cruz River (then called Río Santa María), was first visited by Father Kino in...

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Letters from Tecoripa (53–61)

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pp. 169-266

The mission of San Francisco Borja de Tecoripa was named after Saint Francis Borgia (1510–1572), a Spanish nobleman who joined the Society of Jesus in 1547 and has been called the second founder of the Society. As the third Father Superior General of the Jesuits from 1565 to 1572, he initiated Jesuit missionary activity in the New World in 1566. Tecoripa was founded...

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Letters from Ures (62–76)

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pp. 267-316

The mission of San Miguel de los Ures was founded in 1636 on the Río Sonora northwest of Tecoripa. Father Segesser, who was at San Xavier, San Ignacio, and Guevavi for about three years and at Tecoripa for eight, spent eighteen years, more than half of his missionary career, at Ures, where he died at the age of seventy-two on 28 September...


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pp. 317-322


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pp. 323-336

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780826354259
E-ISBN-10: 0826354254
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826354242

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2014