Introduction to Philipp Segesser's Letters (in English Translation

The Jesuit Order, Missionaries, and the New World

Many rumors and legends concerning the Jesuits exist and often cast a rather negative light on this  religious order. It was founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola with the intention to renovate the Catholic Church, to restrengthen the Catholic faith, and to return the individual believer back to the ideal represented by Christ. In the wake of all those concepts, Loyola also intended to combat the consequences of the Protestant Reformation launched by Martin Luther with his ninety-nine theses nailed to the door of the castle church of Wittenberg, northern Germany, in 1517. The Reformation had quickly swept through all of northern Europe, and also began to exert considerable influence on the Mediterranean countries. The Jesuits, however, became one of the major driving forces to reconstitute the sweeping influence of the Catholic Church, at least as far north of the Alps as southern Germany, especially Bavaria and Austria.
    Nevertheless, the “Black Legend” that negatively targeted the Jesuits was almost uterine in form and quickly emerged after the founding of the Order because of its close association with Spain, because of the Jesuits’ rejection of worldly honors, then because of their unwillingness to take on major administrative positions in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church—meaning that they held a confusing outsider role in comparison to all other monastic orders—because of their stern and sober appearance and performance in public, the military structure of their global organization (their founder Loyola had originally been a soldier), and because of their great emphasis on humanistic, to some extent almost secular learning, which positioned them oddly between the ecclesiastical and the worldly sphere.1 Insofar as the Jesuits were quite successful in combating the Protestant Church and in bringing scores of people back to the fold of the Catholic Church, Protestant propaganda in the form of fly-leaves, or broadsheets, aggressively addressed the Jesuits and their ‘devious,’ ‘sabotaging,’ untrustworthy, and ‘unholy’ operations, targeting them as most dangerous deceivers and seducers who never should be trusted. For instance, one such broadsheet with its brutal condemnation of the entire Jesuit Order was published in Germany in 1632 during the Thirty-Year War when the Swedish troops had conquered southern Germany and had forced all Jesuits to leave their province (1631-1632).2 A whole treatise had already appeared in 1620, severely challenging the Spanish crown and their allies, the Jesuits, as the most severe threat to the Protestant Church.3
    Ignatius’s original Basque name was Iñigo López y Loyola. He was born in 1491 and formed a religious association with other students at the Paris Collège Sainte-Barbe after having experienced a deep conversion subsequent to a serious injury in wartime when he exposed himself to the four volumes of De Vita Christi (Life of Christ) by the German Carthusian Ludolf of Saxony (ca. 1350-1370) but in a Catalan translation, and to the Legenda aurea (The Golden Legend; a collection of saints’ lives, ca. 1260) by Jacobus de Voragine. Loyola intended to lead a life closely following the model provided by Jesus, living as an hermit at first, but then he realized that he was really to work with and for those in need and suffering. He also went to Rome on a pilgrimage and to pursue a calling to priesthood. On his way home in 1524 he then finally decided to become a priest, which required from him intensive studies at various universities, finally at Paris. But repeatedly the Inquisition questioned him and his six followers whom he collected around him between 1529 and 1534, suspecting heresy in their thinking and work as lay preachers. Already in 1525 Loyola met another student in Paris, Francisco de Xavier y Jassu (1506-1552), son of a Navarra nobleman and of Basque origin, who was later to become the first Jesuit missionary and died in Sancian, an island not far away from modern-day Hong Kong. Loyola and Francisco de Xavier then founded the Society of Jesus in 1539, which was subsequently acknowledged officially by Pope Paul III on September 27, 1540. The situation was highly opportune because the Pope had already begun to send individual members of the group to various parts of Europe as preachers and confessors.4
    When Loyola died in 1556, the Order was already well established and quickly spread in all directions, soon assuming global dimensions because the Jesuits primarily pursued the goal of converting the non-believers in order to protect their souls, not to speak of the Protestants and members of the other monotheistic religions, and this, as their main motto says, “Omnia ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam” (OAMDG: Everything to the Greater Glory of God). The other major intention was to provide solid education as the basis for the Christian faith, which led to the foundation of famous schools and colleges. The Jesuits thus tried to counterbalance a major propaganda tool by the Protestants against the Catholic Church which was often determined, or rather undermined, by uneducated or ignorant clerics.
    This emphasis on education in turn strongly motivated the Jesuits to focus much on scientific research, for which they are famous still today.5 Finally, the third prong in the Jesuit agenda was, of course, to stem the flood of the Protestant Reformation, and the Order actually became extremely successful in this endeavor, particularly in those lands that we identify today with Austria, parts of Switzerland, and southern Germany.6
    In their missionary work abroad the Jesuits pursued their goals rather aggressively both with the native population, the target of their conversion and preaching efforts, and also against the secular powers, that is, especially the Spaniards who in many ways blocked their religious ideals and goals for monetary purposes. Many reasons came together  quickly to arouse deep suspicion, anger, and envy on the part of the Spanish and Portuguese rulers and princes, administrators, mine owners, merchants, farmers, and soldiers who probably rightly felt threatened in their colonizing attempts in South and Central America. One of the main concerns on their part was that the Jesuits constantly insisted on their divinely instituted right to protect the native population from brutal abuses by the white plantation and mine owners, among many others.7 Moreover, the Jesuit Order adamantly fought against political and military developments resulting from global agreements between Spain and Portugal regarding the division of the South American continent, originally established in the treaty of Tordesilla from June 7, 1494, and finally concretized  through a set of rules and regulations instituted on January 13, 1750. This implied, for instance the removal of all Indians (Guaraní) in seven Jesuit Reductions (or provinces) in Paraguay and their missionaries east of the river Uruguay. The Indians revolted against the attempts to resettle them, which resulted in a bitter military conflict in January of 1756 ending with a complete victory of the Spanish and Portuguese troops over the natives.8
    We do not know to what extent the Jesuits were involved in this conflict on the side of the Indian population, but European observers identified them as the key culprits. In Portugal, however, the Jesuits enjoyed the support of the King Joseph I, whereas the minister of foreign affairs, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo Pombal (1688-1782),9 who was minister of the kingdom from 1750 to 1777 and rose to the post of Marquis of Portugal in 1770, struggled hard against the Order as part of his enlightenment policies aiming for the secularization of the state. The Jesuits were closely aligned with the conservative Portuguese nobility, whom Pombal also tried to weaken as a political and economic force in order to pursue his absolutist agenda to strengthen Portugal under his personal control in economic and political terms and to establish a truly centralized government. When someone tried to assassinate the Portuguese King Joseph I on September 3, 1758, Pombal used this as a pretext to intensify his lobbying and outright political opposition against the Jesuits, and so he was finally given the permission on January 19, 1759 to expel them from their American missions.10
    In Spain, on the other hand, the dramatic increase in the size of the population during the first half of the eighteenth century led to massive governmental regulations of the agricultural sector to secure national food supplies. Many groups staged loud protests, and the political observers were quick to blame the Jesuits as the alleged secret instigators, although there is no clear-cut evidence for this claim.  A massive riot against the government, the Motín de Esquilache,11 at the end of March 1766,was directly blamed on the Jesuits. Consequently a major investigation was carried out, the report of which then appeared on December 31, 1766. Here, its author, Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes, sharpened his attacks against the Order and was successful in his political agenda.  He heavily drew on writings by Juan de Palafox y Mendoza (1600-1659), who had been Bishop of Puebla since 1639 and had then returned to Spain in 1649. The latter had had numerous conflicts with the Jesuits in Mexico, probably over property rights and political influence, which made him feel deep hatred against the entire Jesuit Society.
    On February 27, 1767, King Charles III ordered the expulsion and imprisonment of the Jesuits.12 Since the Jesuit Order was a global organization, every event at its center and at its outer limits had an impact on the entire structure. While the German-speaking Jesuits in the northern part of Mexico only heard some general news about those political, economic, and religious conflicts back in Europe, they also became victims of the catastrophic fallout, being forced to leave their missions in 1767 and to return to Spain, where most of them were imprisoned for many years without ever facing a judge or being condemned in a regular trial. But we should be very clear in our critical assessment that the myth of the rebellious Jesuits who intended to create their own independent kingdom, that is, in Paraguay, and thereby planned to undermine all royal authorities back in Europe, was deliberately launched by Pombal, especially by means of the publication of various volumes, such as the one entitled Nicholas I, King of Paraguay and Emperor of the Mamelukes, allegedly by a Jesuit, but in reality by one of his own agents.13
    Of course, the Jesuits also clashed regularly with various Indian tribes, sometimes even in military terms, particularly because they tried to force the native population to settle down, to turn into farmers, to abandon their old nomadic culture and religion, their often problematic hand-to-mouth existence, their tribal mentality and constant warfare against each other, and hence to change radically their entire lifestyle and belief system. A number of missionaries, especially in Sonora, were even killed in some uprisings, such as the German missionary Johann Ruhen, who died in Sonoita (today Mexico just south of the US border) in 1751. As Franz (Franciscus) Havier (1691-1725),14 for instance, reports in a letter dated January 30, 1723, now included in the eighth part of the famous Welt-Bott from 1726:

Die allerletzte Mission gegen Norden ist fuer diesesmal in dem unlaengst entdeckten Land Nayari / in welchem unser Pater Ignatius Arias mit einem Gespan der erste Christum verkuendiget hat: er lebt noch / und hat sich neulich auch bey mir beurlaubt / nachdem er zu Mexico die Angelegenheiten seiner Mission angebraucht / und einige Geschenk fuer seine grausamen Indianer gebettelt hatte. Seine Brust ist voller Wundmalen von denenjenigen Pfeilen / mit welchen er von diesen Barbaren bey seinem ersten Eintritt ist empfangen worden: ein wahrhafftig so unschuldig=als dapferer Mann / welchen ich als einen kuenfftigen Martyr umhalset / und ihm zu solchem siegreichen Zweig / ich weiß nicht aus was fuer einem Antrib / Glueck gewuenscht hab. Er beklagt den Abgang mehrern Apostolischer Arbeitern nicht weniger / als P. Augustinus de Campo, der schon etliche und dreißig Jahr mit R. P. Eusebio Chino, einem Thrienter aus unserer Provintz in der Landschafft Sonora, bey denen Pimas die Zahl dern Christglaubigen vermehrt / und von Neuem dahin reiset: er hat mich versichert / daß / wann ein gantze Provintz Jesuiter aus Europa solte in selbe Gegend kommen / alle insgesamt Arbeit genug finden wurden; welches ich nur dernwegen hab melden wollen / damit ich in einigen die bereits in ihren Hertzen glimmende Begierde zu denen Missionen mehr anblase / die uebrigen aber bewege Got mit des Priesers Zachariae Worten zu bitten . . . 15

[The very last mission to the north is currently located in the recently discovered land Nayari, in which our Father Ignatius Arias has preached, as the first one, the teachings of Christ. He is still alive and said good-bye from me recently after he had arranged the matters of his mission in Mexico and after he had begged for some gifts for his cruel Indians. His chest is covered with scars from those arrows with which he was welcomed by these barbarians at his first arrival. He is truly an innocent (pure?) and courageous man whom I have embraced as a future martyr and whom I wished him good luck for such a victorious branch (?), though I do not know out of what motivation. He lamented the loss of several Apostolic laborers (missionaries), and this no less than Father Augustinus de Campo who has increased, together with the Reverend Father Eusebio Chino (Kino), a man from Trento in our (German) province,  the number of those believing in Christ among the Pimas, and who is going to return  there once again. He assured me that, if a whole province of Jesuits from Europe would come into that region, everyone of them would find enough work there. I wanted to mention this only for that reason in order to intensify their desire to go into the mission, which is glowing already in their hearts. The others, however, God may motivate with the words by the Priest Zachary . . . .]

In other words, no one was mincing words as to the really tough conditions which the missionaries would face in the New World, especially in the northern region of Mexico. In fact, the new Jesuits arriving there were all fully aware that they could easily become victims of hostile conditions, confrontations with the natives, or die from a variety of sicknesses there. Hence, there was a clear sense of martyrdom which they might have to suffer, and almost longed for out of a religious dedication. Reaching the norther parts of Mexico, Sonora, was tantamount to arrive at the end of the known world and to leave all known western civilization behind. But precisely this very perspective prodded many of the German-speaking and other Jesuits even further to abandon everything in Europe, both friends and family, their traditional jobs, the comfort of their home and fatherland, even their native language, and to embark on a journey from which they would never return, here disregarding the forceful expulsion in 1767.16
    Of course, the Jesuits were not completely exceptional in their missionary zeal, and many other Christian missionaries from different orders and national origins pursued rather similar goals all over the Americas, though they might have differed in their methods and specific religious orientation within the framework of the Christian Church—especially the most successful Franciscans.17 Nevertheless, irrespective of all their idealism and infinite dedication, the Jesuits faced jealousy and envy from many sides because they were so successful in their missionary activities, because they often made a very successful effort to protect the converted native Indians from the Spanish or Portuguese mine and plantation owners, and also because they sometimes launched stinging criticism of the Spanish crown or the Spanish colonizers in their genocidal approach to the native population in the imperialist conquest of the lands.18
    Other Catholic intellectuals, such as the Bishop Bartolomé de Las Casas (1484-1566) and Francisco de Vitoria (1483-1546), from very early on had also attacked the devastating abuse of the native population at the hand of the colonialists, which later provided, in a twisted way, useful fodder in the ideological warfare against the Jesuits and the colonizers at large, accusing them, grosso modo, even of criminal treatment of the American Indians, when the opposite was really the case.19 Finally, in 1767 the Jesuits were banned in Spain, France, the Two Sicilies, Parma, and the Spanish Empire, followed by a decree issued by Pope Clement XIV in 1773 suppressing all Jesuits, except in Prussia and Russia where the Catholic Church could not exert its influence. This meant in practical terms that a large number of missionaries were forcefully removed, or expelled, from Mexico and all other parts of the American continent, transported back to Europe, mostly under inhumane conditions, thrown into convent prisons, and often never released again without ever having been taken to court or faced any concrete accusation.
    The edict of expulsion was issued by the King of Spain, Carlos III, in 1767 for many different reasons, both political and religious, both monetary and emotional (see also above). It was, to be sure, a tragedy of global dimension. Not only did many of the missionaries who were brought back to Europe against their will die on the way, or later in one of the prisons. Between 1767 and 1769, 2, 273 expelled missionaries arrived in Puerto de Santa Maria near Cadiz, Spain, but several hundreds of those forcefully removed from their missions in New Spain had already died as a result from the suffering and stress.20 As a consequence of this tragic development, countless missions were abandoned and decades of intensive and most productive work by the Jesuits was wasted and ruined mostly for nothing but irrational political and religious reasons.21 As Herbert E. Bolton aptly put it when he evaluated the actual contributions by the Jesuits,  obviously expressing a scathing criticism of the motives behind the brutal and unexpected expulsion:

The black Robes performed many services for the border Spaniards as well as for the neophytes. The mission was the agricultural unit for a large part of frontier Spanish America. There the missionary organized and directed most of the agricultural labor. The mission not only raised produce for its own subsistence, but from the surplus it supplied neighboring soldiers, miners, and cattlemen with agricultural products. The missionaries, by gentle means, subdued and managed the Indians, went as diplomats to hostile tribes, and helped to pacify the frontier in time of trouble. The mission itself, with its fortified plant and its usually loyal native defenders, often served as a bulwark against hostile neighbors. Regarding frontier matters, religious or secular, including international relations, the missionaries helped to mold the opinions of central officials, and were often called to Mexico, or even to Spain and Rome, to give advice. Instructions issued from Europe on such matters were both shaped and interpreted by the men on the frontier, for they were the ones who best knew conditions . . . .22
With the end both of the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars, Pope Pius VII finally restored the Jesuit Order in 1814, although they remained a problematic factor for many outsiders in church politics, particularly those opposed to the Catholic Church. In 1848, for instance, they were banished from Switzerland for political reasons (conflict with Rome), and allowed back to that country only in 1973.23

Segesser, a Swiss-German Jesuit Missionary

The following represents the first comprehensive English translation of the letters written by the Jesuit missionary Father Philipp Segesser since his youth as a novice in a Jesuit school (Novitiate) in southern Germany addressing his family back home in Switzerland until his old age shortly before his death in 1762 in Sonora, today northern Mexico. Although practically forgotten today in his home town of Lucerne, or rather, waiting to be rediscovered, and although modern-day research on the history of the Jesuits globally and in the Americas especially24 has mostly passed over this Swiss Jesuit, Segesser proves to be a highly important contributor to the early history of both states, Sonora and Arizona. He was one of many other Jesuit missionaries in that wide open semi-arid region, a strong percentage of whom had come from German speaking lands to that remote part of the world as a result of a powerful deep inner calling. Segesser was not only a missionary, but also, by almost simple default, a farmer, a scientist, a builder, and a writer, which means that his reflections, observations, and ideas can be very relevant for many different interests and research agendas. The Jesuits’ great success was directly connected with their pragmatic approach in establishing ‘missions,’ centers of religious teaching, but basically ordinary settlements with an extensive agricultural system.25 Here we present, in English, the extensive corpus of his correspondence with the various family members back home in Switzerland, in which he provides us with a plethora of valuable, insightful, but also quirky and curious information about the world of Jesuit missions in the eighteenth century above all, not to mention the years that he had to wait in Spain for a possibility to cross the Atlantic. Whereas most other Jesuit missionaries composed primarily official letters, scientific journals, encyclopedias, etc., Segesser wrote, above all, personal letters to his family back in Lucerne, Switzerland.
He composed most of these letters in German, but some also in Latin, depending on the addressee. Occasionally he also used some Spanish phrases, more often Latin sentences, but in his German he also allowed a number of terms to creep in that were typical of the region where he grew up, in the Canton of Lucerne. From this perspective alone these epistolary texts also offer fascinating material of eighteenth-century German ‘literature’ in the Southwest of the United States and in the northern part of Mexico. Segesser was a man who crossed many boundaries in physical, cultural, and linguistic terms, as his letters clearly indicate. These present to us an individual with a global perspective already at that time, deeply religious, yet highly realistic and pragmatic as well, and profoundly dedicated to his cause, missionizing ‘heathens’ in the distant world, all waiting, as he believed, to be saved for the Christian faith.

This project started many years ago when I first developed an interest in the history of the Jesuits in the present Southwest of the United States, today comprising the State of Arizona and the Mexican State of Sonora. In the course of time I discovered that many of the Fathers, or missionaries, were of German descent (modern-day Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Croatia, Northern Italy, etc.) and had left behind extensive reports, treatises, journals, encyclopedias, and letters.26 This huge corpus of texts allowed me to pursue intensively and extraordinarily interdisciplinary approaches, linking German Studies with Anthropology, Religious Studies, and Linguistics, not to mention Geography, History, and Political Sciences. Subsequently I developed course material for a seminar that I offered as part of our undergraduate curriculum at the University of Arizona in the Department of German Studies. Most of the materials are now available electronically on my webpage at the following URL:
    In 2007 the Office of Ethnographic Research at the Arizona State Museum located on the campus and being part of The University of Arizona, under the directorship of Dr. Diana Hadley, approached me regarding a grant application to secure funds to translate the letters by Segesser. These are available in the collection as photo negatives and as photocopies, many of which are very difficult to read. Several years ago Mr. Heiko Schmuck, a German Ph.D. student, managed, however, to transcribe the letters, basing his subsequent doctoral dissertation on these and many other documents.27 It had always been a great concern since the early 1970s by the former director of the Arizona State Museum, Dr. Raymond H. Thompson, to get these letters also translated into English, but the difficulties were almost insurmountable, and this for decades, although Segesser was as important, if not even more relevant for the entire development of the Jesuit missions, as many of his fellow Jesuit brothers. When I taught my course on the German Jesuits once again in Spring of 2008, I also tried to incorporate some of the letters by Segesser into my reading list, but the texts at that time proved to be too difficult even for my best students. I myself faced serious problems because of the highly idiosyncratic expressions, syntax, and idiomatic formulations, and dialect forms (Swiss). Nevertheless, we tried our hands on them from time to time, until at the end of the seminar a group of volunteers and I decided to accept the challenge and to translate the entire corpus outside of our class time with the aim to create a book publication.
    In the Fall of 2008 our team, consisting of by then six undergraduate and one graduate students―the latter had just had completed the same course as an undergraduate and then had joined our graduate program―regularly met and worked at familiarizing ourselves with Segesser’s language. By the end of the year we embarked on our project more consistently, and by the end of the Spring semester 2009 we had achieved our goal, at least preliminarily. Most of the translations had by then already been revised, though much still needed to be done. In the meantime I had received a fellowship from the Swiss National Fond for the Support of Scientific Reserach (Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung/Swiss National Science Foundation) to do basic archival work in the State Archive in Lucerne (Staatsarchiv) where the original letters by Segesser and many other documents from him and many family members are housed. This fortunate development of events made it possible for me to work in Lucerne during the month of July, 2009.
    Only now, with the originals in front of me, could I finally enter the next, critical, stage, and revise and retranslate the entire corpus once again, drawing from our previous work. Needless to say, especially the long exposure to these letters while working with my team of students for almost a whole year was the basis upon which I could now tackle my task most efficiently while working in the archive in Lucerne with Segesser’s texts written by his own hand and having the relevant research tools immediately available, such as a comprehensive Swiss dictionary for earlier stages in the Swiss dialects. There is always a huge difference between the original and a photo or a photocopy, unless the former is digitized, allowing a much closer and more in-depth analysis than possible with the naked eye.
    Up to that point, my team and myself had relied exclusively on Dr. Schmuck’s transcriptions, which proved to be, though not always perfect, very reliable in most cases, as I could determine later while studying the originals in Lucerne. However, a careful comparison with these original letters still revealed the need to double-check everything and to examine closely what the authentic writing might have been. The choice between an ‘m’ and an ‘n’ in words such as ‘nit’ (‘not,’ or perhaps ‘mit’=’with’) makes a world of difference whether a sentence is put into the negative or not. Fortunately, Dr. Schmuck had a very good eye and was obviously well schooled in reading this old hand. Nevertheless, as anyone can tell who has ever worked with manuscripts from any period or culture, the potential for misreading is always enormous. In our case, however, the number of mistakes or errors was relatively minimal, as countless spot-checks confirmed. Still, my close reading at time required a different interpretation, or I had to realize that sometime a line or two had been skipped and were not contained in the transcription. A few times even short paragraphs were missing, which I could now supply when I went through the originals. Otherwise, Dr. Schmuck’s work deserves our admiration and respect because without his invaluable contribution we could not even have dared to begin our own project. With his permission (August 20, 2009), I have uploaded his entire text—here disregarding three letters that became known only at the end of our project, and also some corrections to the original based on my reading of the original letters—to my webpage at:

Following I offer the English translation of Philipp Segesser’s letters, housed in the State Archive of Lucerne, that had been photographed sometime in the early 1970s. The translation was initially based on Dr. Schmuck’s mostly trustworthy transcription, but then also, and most significantly, on a thorough comparison with the original documents. There appear to be some additional letters that could have been included, and the files of the original letters were not always in the best order. But this might have been the result of various copies, intermingled with the originals, apparently marked by a small cross on the top, although even that was not a reliable criteria. In other words, we might be able to expect some new discoveries in the future, especially because none of Segesser’s official letters to his superiors in Mexico, Rome, or Germany are included here (these are all in Latin).28 Altogether, the available documents, now rendered into English, represent a large, though probably not complete percentage, of all the letters written by Segesser to his family and provide an excellent insight into this extraordinary missionary’s life, his mentality, ideals, and personal experiences.29
    His letters shed light on many different aspects of everyday life in the mission and of the culture of the Indian tribes; hence they should be of relevance for a variety of general and cultural historians. He addresses the history of Lucerne, specifically of his own extensive family; the history of the Jesuit Order, the history of Jesuit missionary activities; the history of European travel in the eighteenth century; the history of the traffic and mailing between Spain and the New World; the history of the Jesuit missions in the New World; the relationship between the Jesuit missionaries and the indigenous Indian population in Sonora, or Pimería Alta; and, finally, the history of mentality that determined the highly motivated group of Jesuit missionaries to abandon home and fatherland to go into completely foreign lands to reach out to the native populations, to teach them basic agriculture, and then, of course, the Christian religion.
    Moreover, Segesser often reflects upon the relationship between Spaniards and German speakers in Spain and in Mexico, which tended to be rather tense and was determined by mutual mistrust, if not even contempt. He illustrates in a very lively manner how a white man could establish and maintain large missions, i.e., basically farms with churches (conventos), in the semi-arid climate of the Sonoran desert, intensively interacting with the native peoples, some of whom accepted him peacefully, others, such as the Apaches and Seris, not at all, who were actually bent on destroying all missions within their reach and killing all white people, including the Jesuits. Segesser comments on this most dramatically in some of his last letters. Overall, his correspondence dramatically introduces us to ordinary aspects of the day-to-day living conditions on a mission and of the missionary’s experiences in his dealings with the native population.
    Many of his letters talk about the fauna and flora of the Pimería Alta, not to forget the climate, the geology, hence mining, trade, and agriculture. Segesser continuously discusses the various options available to him to send and receive letters from home, to ship trunks and chests to his family and to receive goods from them as requested by him (seeds, tools, religious images, weapons, etc.). He also indicates the growing tensions between the Jesuits and the Catholic Church in the 1750s, and offers intriguing explanations why his own mission and many others dramatically declined and then actually failed at the end of his life in 1762, just five years before the global ban of the Jesuit Order in 1767 came down on them all.
Although fragmentary and often rather idiosyncratic in the writing style, this corpus of letters proves to be highly interesting and revealing for anyone studying the history of the Jesuit Order in the New World and the impact which the German speaking missionaries particularly had on the people and the environment in the Sonoran desert. As the numerous contemporary copies of individual letters indicate, and so even a particular collection of letters that he had composed between 1729 and 1738 and that some family member had copied separately, Segesser’s contributions as a Jesuit missionary were regarded with great respect, at least among his family and friends.30

Ultimately, Segesser emerges as a significant eye-witness testimony for the history of Lucerne, Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, and Sonora during the eighteenth century, so these letters are extraordinary documents of intercultural, religious, economic, and personal relations that spanned the globe. His letters also provide us with excellent insight into the mind-set of a young, deeply spiritual and yet also very practical Swiss man who was born into an extensive, highly influential, and wealthy patrician family in Lucerne, and became very religious himself, finally even joining the Jesuit Order with the ultimate purpose to serve God as a missionary in the New World.
    His polite, often rather submissive, rhetoric is sometimes hard to swallow for a modern reader, especially because of his excessive use of intensive expressions of his humbleness, love for, and devotion to his family. His letters written as a novice in the Jesuit Order are of course deeply tinged by Jesuit idealism and religious values; hence at times difficult to read for people who live in the vastly secularized world of the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, we can clearly observe how he was developing as a writer when we first study his letters composed in his early years while he was still in the Jesuit Novitiate31 and College, and subsequently turn to those that he wrote from America and specifically those shortly before his death in Sonora.

Whatever we might think about the Jesuits and their missionary activities in general terms (see above), we can only pay our respect to the enormous motivation that inspired this young man, like many of his contemporary missionary confreres, and to his relentless devotion to teaching and preaching to the Indians, and to convert them to Christianity, when possible. In many respects, Philipp Segesser was a worthy follower of and an impressive successor to the famous first missionary in the Pimería Alta, Padre Eusebio Franciso Kino (1645-1711). He displayed considerable sensitivities toward the foreign cultures, and worked rather carefully and intelligently with the various Indians without excessively forcing his belief on them because he fully understood the profound challenges for one white Jesuit missionary living alone on his station, perhaps three to four days away from the next mission, surrounded also by hostile Apaches and Seris, not to mention the rough climate and living conditions in the Sonoran Desert.
    Segesser was only one of many missionaries in a global organization, the Jesuits, originally founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1540. Although forbidden and destroyed in 1776 for a host of different political, economic, and religious reasons (see above), the Jesuit Order had a huge impact on early modern history worldwide, and they were as important in religious and missionary terms as in the field of sciences (mathematics, astronomy, geography, and cartography). It is not surprising then that they have increasingly attracted the interest of the international scholarly community.32 But the Jesuit history is also the early history of Sonora and Arizona, for instance, which makes Segesser’s letters even more interesting and relevant for us, and in this regard also for the public, which has motivated us even further to translate his correspondence into English despite the enormous challenges in coping with his language, handwriting, and with the access to the original texts.

Finally, we should also not forget that Segesser was the recipient of three major Indian hide paintings, which he sent to his uncle in Lucerne sometime in 1760. The Frankfurt scholar Dr. Wolfgang Lindig reports in a letter from July 30, 1973, to a member of the Segesser family that he had seen those on Castle Heidegg, although they had already been readied for shipping, obviously to Santa Fe, NM, where they are still on display today in the Government’s Palace.33 The Museum of New Mexico legally acquired these hide paintings on October 31, 1988, which represent some of the most important eighteenth-century visual works produced by native artists on the North American continent and might have been produced by Tomás Jirón de Tejeda and his son Nicolás, who arrived in New Mexico from Mexico City in 1693. Nicolás died already in 1722, and his father died in 1736, so both could well have been witnesses of the battle depicted on one of the hides. This battle was “fought in 1720 between Spaniards and their Pueblo Indian allies against Pawnee and Oto Indians and their French allies at the confluence of the Loup and Platte rivers in today’s Nebraska.”34 The artists also could have heard of the events and then created the hide paintings upon oral instructions. The Spaniards, under the leadership of Pedro de Villasur, suffered a terrible defeat, with Villasur and most of his men being killed at the surprise attack by the Pawnees and Otos early in the morning when the camp was still asleep.35 The  second painting depicts a battle between perhaps Apaches defending their palisaded village against mounted warriors, perhaps Mexican Indian militias.36

A few words on the translation itself would be appropriate here as well: Whenever it seemed helpful or necessary to add a word for clarification, or if a word needed some elaboration, I added those in square brackets. Sometimes specific names of local products or recipes could not be translated, which is indicated by question marks, also in square brackets. Round brackets are copied from Segesser’s own text. Phrases in Spanish and Latin (once even in French) are kept in the original, typed in italics, then followed by the translation in square brackets. The translation stays as close as possible to the original, but numerous times in the English a different syntax had to be used to make sense out of the author’s writing.
    I have not streamlined the spelling of names and replicate them as they appear in Segesser’s texts. This means that we find a variety of spellings for his own name, and some of those pertaining to his relatives. We notice, in particular, the influence of Spanish in this case. In the State Archive of Lucerne a modern German transcription of some of Segesser’s letters is available, which also strives to explain and simplify the text as much as possible, hence quickly moves from the first level to the next, at times dangerously prejudging and hence denying us the possibility to gain immediate access to the original because it is already transformed. Undoubtedly, this is a very useful contribution by itself, but it also represents a somewhat complex and even problematic merging of both dimensions, whereas we really would have to keep separate the straightforward transcription and the translation, and this very strictly and clearly, particularly for the purpose of our translation into English.37
    We have to keep in mind that these are personal letters, quickly written, not revised, and often marred by ellipsis, incomplete sentence structures, illogical thought patterns, and other stylistic and compositional problems, for which he apologizes at times himself because of his constant lack of time and the need to send off a letter quickly, especially when he lived in the New World. Segesser was not necessarily a great author in literary terms, or highly prolific and polished as some of his younger contemporaries in the missionary organization, such as Joseph Och (1725-1773)38 and Ignaz Pfefferkorn (1725-after 1795),39 not to speak of the famous Eusebio Kino.40 Instead he can be identified as a pragmatic writer who utilized any free moment or occasion, especially when he already lived and worked in his mission, which makes his letters, however, deeply authentic, and often rather moving.
    Once again, but more specific to the point, both the syntax and the orthography prove to be rather unsystematic and unorthodox, at times making the translation, whether into modern German or English, almost to a guessing game. Lucerne represents one of those Swiss Cantons where the Swiss dialects takes on very distinctive features, and today a modern German speaker can have great difficulties understanding the spoken language in Lucerne. Of course, in writing this has always been a somewhat different matter, and yet, some of the challenges that Segesser’s letters pose are directly linked to his linguistic origins.41
    I have always indicated with question marks in square brackets where I faced difficulties and could not solve those satisfactorily. The reader may keep in mind that there are numerous terms used by Segesser that are neither listed in the relevant Swiss dictionaries or other reference works, nor are also recognizable by citizens of Lucerne today, as I had to realize to my great disappointment. But in most such cases we are dealing with highly specialized vocabulary, sometimes idiomatic phrases, or terms only used within the Segesser family or among the Jesuits. Fortunately, Dr. Lindig offered a number of helpful suggestions in his own transcription, at least in German, which still does not make the translation much easier.
    Segesser was very conscious about the need to save paper and hence mailing costs, so he wrote his letters without any breaks, paragraphs, indentations, etc. For the purpose to make the reading of the English translation somewhat easier, I have added those where it seemed to fit best. The reader can always orientate him/herself according to the references to the negative numbers (in bold) which signal the end of a page. Further, each letter is identified according to the file name in the State Archive of Lucerne, and then by the number assigned to it by a pencil mark. Some files, however, did not have such marks, which required an ad-hoc counting system.

The Jesuits in Lucerne

Let us also take a quick look at the history of the Jesuits in Lucerne and their formative influence on Joseph Segesser, which ultimately motivated him to travel to the New World and to live and die there as a missionary. After the foundation of the Jesuit Order by the Basque Ignatius of Loyola in 1540, which was approved by Pope Paul III, it took several decades until Jesuits also found their way to Lucerne, whose primary purpose it was everywhere in the Catholic parts of Switzerland to reform the educational system and to improve the ministry in every respect. This was very much in line with the universal ideals pursued by the Jesuits: to educate, to missionize, and to strengthen the Christian faith. In the central region of Switzerland the Protestant Reformation did not have the same effect as in other areas and Cantons, which triggered an intensive debate about the inner reform of the Catholic Church.
    The public consensus was that the school system had to be improved, above all, because there were just not enough schools available, which forced the young people to look for alternatives which they mostly found in Protestant areas where they were hence exposed, by default, to Protestant ideas and values. For a long time the debate centered on the question where the planned college was to be set up, whether in Rapperswil or Locarno. Then, however, members of the Lucerne city council followed up on the decision by the Constance Synod of Bishops in 1567 that a Swiss school had to be created under the leadership of the Jesuits. In 1570 the Milan Bishop Carlo Borromeo visited Switzerland, and so Lucerne as well, which he explicitly favored as the site for a central college for Catholic school children and students from the entire region.
    The Jesuits had gained international attention and great respect with regard to their approach to education once they had founded their first school in Messina, Italy, in 1548, which focused on Latin, Greek, and Humanism at large. Most significantly, their schools did not charge any tuition, and the Jesuits were the first to have specific faculty for individual subject matters, which greatly intensified the educational quality.
    Perhaps a little surprising, at first the Jesuit leadership was rather critical of the idea to open a school in Switzerland because of a lack of qualified teachers and uncertainties about the seriousness of the proposal.42 But upon the resolute initiative of the Lucerne mayor Ludwig Pfyffer and the intervention at the Holy See via the Captain of the Swiss Guards there, Jost Segesser (!), two Jesuit fathers and a Jesuit lay brother arrived in the town on August 7, 1574. In 1577 the city government signed a contract with the Jesuits regarding the establishment of a school and the housing of twenty Jesuits. In 1577 the school opened its doors, and successively new levels of teaching were instituted as soon as the necessary rooms had become available. In 1643 it had become even possible to study philosophy with the Jesuits on the university level for a sequence of three years. In 1654 Saint Francis Xavier was announced as the city’s and the Canton’s patron.43
    Between 1650 and 1700 the Gymnasium and the Lyzeum in Lucerne had ca. 350 and 400 students from all over Catholic Switzerland. Between 1666 and 1669 the first phase in the erection of the Jesuit church was completed.44 For a long time the Jesuits enjoyed great support in the lay community, as documented, for instance, by large financial donations. During the Thirty-Year War, the citizens of Lucerne were more than eager to welcome Jesuit refugees from Germany in their houses. But already by the early eighteenth century the Jesuits faced numerous political and economic difficulties, particularly because the city council proved to be receptive to new philosophical and religious ideas (Jansenism, Enlightenment). The Jesuits often mishandled their finances and got into conflicts with the secular authorities. But shortly after the global ban of the Jesuit Order in 1767, the Jesuits in Lucerne experienced the same destiny in 1773, although the remaining teachers were allowed to continue with their work as diocesan priests and teachers until their death.45
Philipp Segesser was one of at least eight other Swiss Jesuit missionaries abroad who had been born in Lucerne, and one of twelve who had attended the local Jesuit Gymnasium. These were, for instance, Father Balthasar and Father Stiger from Kobelwald in the Canton Sankt Gallen, both of whom Segesser mentions often in his correspondence. Walter Ignaz Sonnenberg, also from Lucerne, travelled to the Philippines via Mexico, and later ended up in China.46 In other words, Lucerne and Switzerland at large were very active recruiting grounds for the Jesuit missionary activities. Switzerland was part of the so-called Upper (or Southern) German Province of the Jesuit Order, which included most Swiss Cantons, the dukedom of Basel, the bishopric principalities of Chur, Brixen, and Trento, the Hapsburgian Upper Austria (including North and South Tyrol, Vorarlberg, and Vorlande), Swabia and Bavaria (excluding Passau), and the bishopric principality of Eichstätt in southern Bavaria.47 If we take a close look at some of the early letters that Segesser sent to his family back home, we easily recognize the deeply religious tone of voice and the high level of emotional bonding, despite, or just because of, all rhetorical phrases of submission, humbleness, and devotion to the Highly Honorable and Highly Noble Juncker Father, Brother, Uncle, or, above all, the Highly Honorable or most beloved Honorable Mother, etc.

Brief Biography of Philipp Segesser JS

Philipp Segesser has been discussed by a number of historians, both in the late nineteenth and also in the late twentieth and twenty-first century (Philipp Anton von Segesser, Hausberger, Schmuck, etc.). Heiko Schmuck even published a book-length biography, to which we must refer here above all with great respect. But for our purpose, a brief biographical outline, specifically for an English-speaking audience, basically a summary of Schmuck’s findings, seems more than appropriate.
    Segesser’s father, Heinrich Ludwig Segesser II, was born on July 13, 1662, into a very old Lucerne family, and he seems to have toyed with the idea of joining the Jesuits, although he received his education in the local Jesuit school and then in Landsberg, which could have been the preparatory step to enter the Order. This did not happen for a number of reasons, and instead he pursued the career of an administrator in his home city and at various places in the Canton of Lucerne. His son Philipp followed his father’s initial footsteps and then followed through with turning into a Jesuit, as we will see later. His father, Segesser II, married the noblewoman Anna Maria Catharina Rusconi (b. April 2, 1670) on January 28, 1686. They had seventeen children, nine girls and eight boys, of whom seven altogether died before they had even reached the age of one year, which was not untypical for that time.48 Jost Ludwig Segesser (b. July 10, 1701) drowned in the river Reuß that flows through Lucerne in 1707. The oldest child, Anna Elisabeth, was born on February 7, 1687, and joined the Benedictine convent Hermetschwil in Aargau in 1705. She died in 1755. Jost Ranutius III was born on April 4, 1688, and entered the clerical ranks as well, serving as chaplain at a number of churches in the Canton of Lucerne, joining the Canons at St. Michael in Beromünster in 1732. He died in 1740. Maria Francisca Hortensia was born on August 8, 1696, joined the Cistercian convent of Rathausen near Lucerne, taking the vow in 1713. The father Heinrich Ludwig Segesser died sometime in February 1728, whereas the mother Maria Catharina died on September 11, 1749.
    Most important, though, Ulrich Franz Joseph Segesser, with whom Philipp corresponded the most throughout his life and whom he appears to have trusted deeply, was born on November 21, 1698, and pursued a secular career in Lucerne. He assumed the role of the paterfamilias, as the head of the Segesser dynasty, so to speak, enjoying not only great respect within his own family, but also in the larger urban community. The best expression of that was his election as city mayor (“Schultheiß) in 1759, which also included the governance of the entire Canton Lucerne. Most of Philipp’s letters are addressed to Ulrich Franz Joseph. The latter died in 1767, having created thirteen children, five of whom joined the Church.

Philipp Anton Segesser von Brunegg, our Jesuit missionary father, was born on September 1, 1689, in Lucerne. Sometime between 1697 and 1700 he entered the Jesuit College, the most important school in the city. Between 1698 and 1704 he lived separated from his parents and the younger siblings because the father held the position of city clerk in Willisau in the western part of the Canton Lucerne, and for that reason had to have his residence there as well. In October 1705 or 1706 Philipp completed his school years at the College and moved to the Lyzeum, where he studied the Studia superiora, focusing on philosophy, theology, logic, physics, mathematics, metaphysics, and ethics. On October 15, 1708, Philipp completed these subject matters and probably moved to the Jesuit school in Landsberg am Lech in Bavaria to begin with his novitiate in preparation of joining the Jesuit Order, finishing that in 1710, making his four vows (profession) as the precondition for being allowed to enter the missionary organization.49
    Subsequently he was required to work as a teacher in the Jesuit Upper German province for several years. In 1713 Philipp officially renounced all his inheritance and pledged to live in poverty according to the Jesuit ideals as outlined originally by Ignatius of Loyola. Since 1717 he seems to have continued with his theological studies at the Jesuit College in Ingolstadt, which was the oldest Jesuit institution in Bavaria, founded in 1556. This was also the College where Eusebio Kino had taught before he had decided to enter the mission abroad. In 1717 Philipp was officially accepted into the Jesuit Order, and in the same year he wrote a letter to the Jesuit General Michelangelo Tamburini requesting to be selected for missionary work.
    In 1721 Philipp completed his studies and prepared himself for the ordination as priest, which happened, as we can assume, in Eichstätt. On June 8 of that year he read his first mass. On September 16, 1721, he went to Altötting, a famous pilgrimage site with a Jesuit College, to teach (the catechism to small children, for instance), and the following year he transferred to Straubing, again for teaching purposes. In 1726 we find him in Neuburg an der Donau, where he pronounced his professio quatuor votorum, committing himself for the rest of his life to the Jesuit Order.50 The following year he left Neuburg and visited his family in Switzerland again. In 1727 he began with his work as people’s missionary in the district of Ellwangen an der Jagst near Dillingen, constantly traveling around from village to village to see sick and dying people, to offer Masses, and to give religious classes to children.
    In April 1729, at the age of forty, he finally received the news that he was accepted for the mission abroad in New Spain. He arrived in Munich the next month, where he met the Swiss Jesuit Caspar Stiger51 and other missionaries who were to accompany him on his journey to the New World. On June 7, Segesser arrived in Genoa, and on August 3 in Cadiz. Unfortunately, there he and the other missionaries had to wait for some of their delayed Jesuit brethren, so the departure of the Spanish fleet could not be postponed any longer and left for America, to the missionaries great disappointment. Instead, they went to Sevilla two days later, but they had to wait a good year before they could leave again at the end of May 1730, but only to be stuck once more in Cadiz, or rather El Puerto de Santa María. Finally, after the intervention of the Spanish king, the preparations for the crossing of the Atlantic turned serious, and the missionaries were all subjected to the required inspection on October 25, 1730. On November 16, 1730, the fleet set sail, taking all the missionaries with them. Segesser was never to return to Europe.
    The ships arrived at Bahía de Ocoa on Santo Domingo on December 30, 1730, and continued on January 4, 1731with the destination La Havana on Cuba, reaching Cabo San Antonio on January 17, and subsequently La Havana. From there they continued on April 4, 1731, arriving in Veracruz on April 19. The next month Segesser and his confreres (fellow fathers, or missionaries) established the pilgrimage site Guadalupe northeast of Mexico City. On June 17, 1731, they continued with their journey direction north, arriving in Durango on July 19, and arrived, finally, in Sonora early October, and in San Xavier del Bac, south of Tucson, on May 7 or 8, 1732.
    The further details are reflected in Segesser’s numerous letters, and have also been studied by the various biographers (see above). For almost thirty years Father Philipp Segesser SJ lived and worked as a missionary in the Pimería Alta. In 1734, while in Guevavi, he became sick and left for Cucurpé for his recovery. In 1737 we find him in San Francisco de Borja de Tecoripa, where he rose to the rank of Rector of the Jesuit school in 1739. In 1748 was transferred to Ures, where he gradually rose up through the various ranks from Superior to Visitator (1751), and Missionary Superior (1755).52 In the years 1739/1740, 1748/1749, 1754/1755, and 1762 he held the position of Rector of his respective missionary district, and from 1750 to 1754 he was appointed as Visitator of Sonora. In 1758 he even served as the testamentary executor of the late Governor Juan de Mendoza who had been killed by the Seris. Segesser died on September 28, 1762, in Ures, just five years before the global ban on the Jesuit Order came down on them all in 1767.53 So, Segesser was spared the worst development soon to affect the missionaries, although his own situation looked rather grim because of the constant attacks by the Seris and the Apaches, drastically decimating his mission, even depriving him of basic foodstuff.

Philipp Segesser’s Report about Sonora

The conservative, at his time rather famous, Lucerne historian, politician, and author of numerous treatises and books, such as his Rechtsgeschichte der Stadt und Republik Luzern (1850-1858), Philipp A. von Segesser (1817-1888),54 already published, in 1886, a most valuable, but today virtually forgotten account about Sonora by his Jesuit ancestor.55 At first he introduces the world of Sonora in geographic and historical terms, then he discusses the significant role of the Jesuits, who were basically the only ones who dared to enter this forlorn, tough and rugged terrain, and then introduces the correspondence by Philipp Segesser from 1719 to 1761. He must have obviously studied those letters in some detail, since he draws his information directly from Philipp’s own statements. But his focus rests on Segesser’s extensive report about Sonora completed on July 31, 1737, which he reproduces, as he claims, faithfully, though modernized in the language to make it more understandable for the modern reader.
    In 1945, Theodore E. Treutlein translated Segesser’s account once again, but he based it on “camera negatives secured by the translator in Bonn am Rhine in 1933. There, in the Jesuit college library, through the kindness of the Jesuit historian, Father Alfons Väth, he was permitted to photograph a number of items, of which the Segesser relation was one.”56 A copy, perhaps, however, the original, is housed today also in the State Archive of Lucerne (PA 437/590).57 This report proves to be of great relevance for the history and anthropology of the Southwest, but it also underscores the considerable work produced by Segesser whom we thus cannot only identify as a remarkable composer of letters, but also as a critical author of a more or less scientific work. But even here, Segesser openly admits his difficulties to write in a polished and accurate German: “I close this report with the plea that whoever takes the time to read these hurriedly written lines will forgive my errors and the confusion of this simple presentation. I have in truth almost forgotten my mother tongue, since no one here reminds me of it. I hope one will be satisfied with my simple report about this country and its inhabitants, a report which upon request of my right reverend uncle, the choirmaster and custodian, Segesser von Brunegg at Münster, I could not refrain from writing.”58 This report has also been translated into Spanish, confirming its great informational value for the history, anthropology, and geography of the Sonoran desert.59
    But we should also not forget the considerable significance of Segesser’s contribution to the history of eighteenth-century German literature, in this case intimately connected with the world of Sonora and the Pimería Alta. In this regard he was not the only one, and others in fact have overshadowed his work quite a bit, but the reason for this phenomenon has simply been the inaccessibility of his letters and the report, even though the latter is available in English translation.60
There is no doubt that both Segesser and many of the other German-speaking Jesuit missionaries offer astounding insights into cross- and trans-cultural experiences in a borderland.61
    Finally, Segesser also created a map of his province in 1761, which he handed over to the new governor of Sonora and Sinaloa, José de Tienda y Cuervo, who had it shipped to Mexico City.  Not content with the quality, however, he expressed his desire for an improved map, which then was produced by Father Johann Neuntuig together with Father Bernhard Middendorff.62