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Jolliet-Marquette Explorations


JOLLIET-MARQUETTE EXPLORATIONS. Louis Jolliet was a native of New France who, after being educated at the Jesuit schools of Quebec, embarked on a career of exploration in the far western country during the seventeenth century. On one of his voyages to Lake Superior in 1669, he met the Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette, then at the mission of Sault Ste. Marie. Three years later, the authorities of New France commissioned Jolliet to undertake the discovery of the great central river of the continent, which American Indians called the Mississippi. Jolliet requested that Marquette be appointed chaplain of the expedition. Late in the autumn of 1672 he set out for the Northwest to join Marquette at the mission of St. Ignace on the north shore of Mackinac Straits; there the two explorers prepared the voyage.

On 17 May 1673 Jolliet and Marquette left St. Ignace in two canoes with five voyageurs. They went by way of Lake Michigan, Green Bay, and the Fox River, a route that was well known as far as the upper villages on the Fox. At the Mascouten, village guides were obtained to lead them to the portage. A month after departure their canoes shot out from the Wisconsin into a great river, which they instantly recognized as the one they sought. Marquette wished to name the river the Conception for the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Jolliet called it first the Buade, after Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, governor of New France. Ultimately, he christened it the Colbert, for the prime minister of France. However, the Indian name persisted.

The two explorers in their canoes drifted downriver as far as the Arkansas; they met few Indians, and these for the most part were friendly. They saw paintings on the

cliffs high above the stream, which are now known as the Alton Petroglyphs. From the Arkansas they turned back upstream, fearing to encounter Spaniards on the lower river. Acting on Indian advice, they did not return to the Fox-Wisconsin waterway but ascended the Illinois and the Des Plaines, portaging at Chicago to Lake Michigan. They were thus the first Europeans to stand on the site of Chicago.

Via Lake Michigan and Green Bay, they journeyed to the mission at De Pere, where Marquette remained to regain his health when Jolliet embarked for Canada in 1674 to report their discoveries. Just before Jolliet reached Montreal, his canoe overturned in the rapids. He lost all his journals, notes, and maps and saved his life only with difficulty. Thus, Marquette's journal has become the official account of the voyage, and Jolliet's voice has been somewhat muted. Jolliet was an expert mapmaker, later the official hydrographer of New France. His maps of the expedition, however, were drawn from memory, and Marquette's maps superseded them.

The Jolliet-Marquette discovery was widely heralded in France and formed the basis for the exploration and exploitation of the Mississippi Valley by Robert Cavelier de La Salle and other French explorers later in the seventeenth century.


Kellogg, Louise Phelps. The French Régime in Wisconsin and the Northwest. Wisconsin History Series, vol. 1. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1925.

Louise PhelpsKellogg/a. r.

See alsoExplorations and Expeditions: French ; French Frontier Forts ; Jesuit "Relations" ; Mississippi River .

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