Skip to main content
Select Source:

Hennepin, Louis (1640-1701?)

Louis Hennepin (1640-1701?)

French explorer and naturalist

Source

Background. Louis Hennepins fame rested on a journey into the wilderness of the upper Mississippi River valley and his subsequent narrative of his adventures, the Description de la Louisiane (1683). The story of his life in Europe remains obscure. He was born in Belgium, and when he was about twenty, he joined the Roman Catholic religious order of Franciscans. He served as a priest and military chaplain until 1675 when he immigrated to New France to become a missionary to the Native American tribes of the Saint Lawrence River, Great Lakes, and Mississippi River.

Explorer for God. There were many Jesuit and Franciscan priests in New France who devoted their lives to missionary work. They lived sparingly and dressed simply. The natives called them bare feet. In 1678 Hennepin set out from Quebec in a little bark canoe with [a] portable altar, a blanket, and a rush matting which served as a mattress. Under the leadership of René-Robert Caöelier de La Salle, Hennepin journeyed from Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls to Lake Erie, then on to Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and the Saint Joseph River, which flows into the southeastern corner of Lake Michigan. From the Saint Joseph, La Salle, Hennepin, and their men descended the Illinois River. At Fort Crève-coeur on the Illinois River La Salle ordered two boatmen and Hennepin to go down the river to reconnoiter the route to the Mississippi. But once they reached the Mississippi, Sioux warriors captured them and forced Hennepin and his companions to journey up the Mississippi to their villages in Minnesota. The ascent was long and difficult. The natives expected the French to paddle upstream for hours at a time with little rest and food. They remained prisoners of the Sioux, living in tepees and joining their hunts, for four months. Finally the Sioux released the priest upon the intervention of the Sieur Du Luth, a French colonist whom the natives respected. In 1682 Hennepin returned to France.

Geography of Louisiana. The French conceived of Louisiana as the entire region of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Hennepin initially saw Louisiana as a place for the extension of French power and as fertile ground to make Christian converts. But after his journeys and harrowing experiences he began to see the territory from the perspective of a scientist. Notwithstanding Hennepins lack of formal scientific training, he penned a geographic description of Upper Louisiana. He described in detail the extent and character of the Great Lakes. Niagara Falls deeply impressed him: the rapid current of the river approaching the falls, the terrifying sight of the falls accompanied by the thundering of the water, the high banks from which it was frightening to look down. He detailed as well the flora and fauna of the lakes and rivers, especially in respect to food sources. Fascinated by the buffalo, Hennepin discussed the animals physical characteristics and behavior. He reported on Indian hunting techniques and uses of the buffalo for food, clothing, and shelter. He informed his readers about river sources, lengths, direction of descent, and currents as well as the fertility of the soil.

Ethnographer. During the course of the narrative of his adventures and in a lengthy appendix to the book, Hennepin described in detail the society and customs of native tribes such as the Iroquois, Miami, and Sioux. Although Hennepin suffered abusive treatment from the Sioux, his comments were generally mild and objective. His biggest criticism of the natives was their lack of table manners and cleanliness. But he was clearly fascinated by their ability to survive in the wilderness. Even so, Hennepin realized these people often flirted with starvation. He was impressed by their dignity and bearing and wondered whether or not they were one of the lost tribes of Israel. He praised the skills and endurance of female natives, noting they were stronger than European males. Hennepin described women who give birth at night without making the slightest disturbance and in the morning [act] ... as if nothing had happened. He recorded their stories told around the campfire, marriage rituals, child-rearing practices, and celebrations. He wrote with approval of the calumet, or peace pipe, which was a sort of safe-conduct for the traveler going from tribe to tribe. Notwithstanding Hennepins sensitive portrait of Native American life, he concluded that Indians needed to give up their beliefs and culture and accept European civilization and Christianity.

Source

Louis Hennepin, Description of Louisiana (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1938).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hennepin, Louis (1640-1701?)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hennepin, Louis (1640-1701?)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hennepin-louis-1640-1701

"Hennepin, Louis (1640-1701?)." American Eras. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hennepin-louis-1640-1701

Hennepin, Louis

Louis Hennepin (hĕn´əpĬn), 1640–1701?, French cleric and explorer in North America. A Franciscan Recollect friar, Hennepin came to Canada in 1675, meeting on the journey La Salle, who made him chaplain of his proposed Western expedition in 1678. After some time spent at Fort Frontenac the party sailed (1679) in the Griffon, the first ship on the Great Lakes, for Green Bay. La Salle crossed to the Mississippi by the Illinois route and from there sent Hennepin with the expedition, led by Michel Aco, which was the first to explore the upper Mississippi valley. They ascended the river to Minnesota, where they were captured by the Sioux. In the course of his captivity Hennepin first saw and named the Falls of St. Anthony, where Minneapolis was located afterward. He was rescued by Duluth. After returning to France, Hennepin claimed in his Description de la Louisiane (1682) the leadership and all the credit for the upper Mississippi expedition. Later, in his Nouveau Voyage (1696) and Nouvelle Découverte (1697), he falsely claimed to have descended the Mississippi to its mouth. His narratives, however, have undeniable charm and importance. He was the first to describe such parts of America as the upper Mississippi and Niagara Falls. R. G. Thwaite's translation, Hennepin's New Discovery (1903, repr. 1972) contains a biography and bibliography.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hennepin, Louis." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hennepin, Louis." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hennepin-louis

"Hennepin, Louis." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hennepin-louis

Hennepin, Louis

Hennepin, Louis (1640–1701) French explorer and missionary. He sailed to Canada in 1675, and became chaplain to René La Salle. He accompanied him on the 1679. His exaggerated account, Description de la Louisiane (1683), was very popular.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hennepin, Louis." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hennepin, Louis." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hennepin-louis

"Hennepin, Louis." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hennepin-louis