Membre, Zenobe (unknown–unknown)

By: Robert S. Weddle

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Recollect friar Zénobe Membré accompanied René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, on his descent of the Mississippi River in 1682 and his voyage to the Gulf of Mexico in 1684. A narrative of the Mississippi exploration has been attributed to him, although some scholars dispute his authorship, claiming the account was compiled after his death with little benefit from his writings. Membré was a cousin of Chrétien Le Clercq, who published the account in his Premier établissement de la foi dans la Nouvelle France in 1690.

Membré was born at Baupame in the French Netherlands. He entered the Recollect monastery in Artois, where he was the first novice in the new province of Saint-Antoine. With his cousin Le Clercq he was sent by that province to Canada, where he arrived in 1675. He probably remained at the monastery in Quebec for the next three years before leaving for Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ontario). From there, Père Zénobe accompanied La Salle to Niagara, Mackinac, and, later, Fort Crèvecoeur, in Illinois. Enduring the harshness of winter marches, he preached alongside the redoubtable Father Gabriel de La Ribourde among the Indians of the west until La Ribourde was murdered by Kickapoos while they were fleeing the encroaching Iroquois on September 9, 1680. Among Membré's credited writings is his "Narrative of the Adventures of La Salle's Party at Fort Crèvecoeur," which covers from February 1680 to June 1681. In the spring of 1682 Membré joined La Salle on his descent of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. The following year he went with the explorer to France to report the results of the expedition to royal officials and seek support for a voyage to the Mississippi through the Gulf.

Having fulfilled his mission at court, Membré became warden of the Recollects at Bapaume, in which capacity he served until he was appointed superior of the missionaries on the Gulf expedition. In La Salle's fleet, he embarked on the storeship Aimable and arrived safely on the Texas coast early in January 1685. While at La Salle's Fort St. Louis of Texas, Membré, out hunting with Henri Joutel, was charged by a wounded buffalo and gored so badly that he could scarcely move for three months. Similar accidents befell Père Maxime Le Clercq and Abbe Chefdeville.

La Salle's reasons for leaving Membré at Fort St. Louis when he himself undertook his last journey, to try to reach his Fort St. Louis of the Illinois, are not altogether clear. Membré had sought in vain to dissuade Joutel from informing La Salle that Père Maxime had been keeping a journal that was unfavorable to the leader. He himself had once incurred La Salle's wrath for his writings. Whether or not La Salle was exacting vengeance for such offenses, it was a sorrowful occasion for Membré. As he watched the procession gather, he remarked that he "had never before experienced such a regretful parting." On the other hand, Father Anastase Douay, who went with La Salle on his final journey, claims that he himself was to remain among the Hasinais. Aided by young Pierre Talon, who was supposed to learn the language, he was to establish a mission; Fathers Membré and Le Clercq were to join them there later. The disasters that fell upon La Salle's march and upon the struggling remnant at Fort St. Louis forestalled such a plan. Father Membré died with most of the other occupants of Fort St. Louis in the Karankawa massacre, probably around Christmastide, 1688.

Patricia Galloway, ed., La Salle and His Legacy: Frenchmen and Indians in the Lower Mississippi Valley (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982). Pierre Margry, ed., Découvertes et établissements des Français dans l'ouest et dans le sud de l'Amérique septentrionale, 1614–1754 (6 vols., Paris: Jouast, 1876–86). John Gilmary Shea, Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley (New York: Redfield, 1852). Robert S. Weddle, The French Thorn: Rival Explorers in the Spanish Sea, 1682–1762 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991).


  • Exploration
  • Explorers (French)
  • Peoples
  • French
  • Religion
  • Catholic

Time Periods:

  • Spanish Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert S. Weddle, “Membre, Zenobe,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 24, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995

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