"Jolliet and Marquette Travel the Mississippi"
Reprinted in Eyewitness to America
Published in 1997
Edited by David Colbert
"As we were descending the river we saw high rock with hideous monsters painted on them, and upon which the bravest Indians dare not look."
The Spanish dominated southwestern and southeastern North America until the late seventeenth century. While Franciscan friars colonized New Mexico, other members of their order began a large-scale missionary effort in Florida in 1595. By 1655 they had created a chain of thirty-eight missions from south of Saint Augustine, northward to South Carolina, and westward to Alabama. Within twenty years, however, Spanish influence declined as a result of English expansion into South Carolina and Georgia. Native Americans came to rely on English trade goods and formed alliances with the English against the Spanish.
During this time the Spanish were also threatened by the French, who initially launched exploratory missions from settlements in Canada (then known as New France). French explorers were attracted to the New World (European term for North and South America) by promises of a profitable fur trade in the Great Lakes region of Canada and the present-day United States (territory bordering a chain of five lakes: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario). Like the Spanish, the French were also seeking to spread Roman Catholicism (a Christian religion based in Rome, Italy, headed by a pope who has absolute authority) among the "pagan" (believing in more than one god) tribes—in this case the Hurons, a mighty nation of thirty thousand who inhabited the region around lakes Huron, Erie, and Ontario. The Hurons produced large surpluses of corn and had developed a vast trading network long before the arrival of the Europeans. Leading the conversion effort were the Jesuits (members of the Society of Jesus), who arrived in Canada in 1625. They were known throughout the world for their ability to adapt to foreign cultures in order to draw converts to Catholicism. Attired in distinctive black tunics, the priests were called the "Black Robes" by the Hurons. The Jesuits ministered to French settlers and the Hurons until the fall of Quebec, the main settlement in New France, four years later. The French then moved south into territory that is now the United States. (The province of New France was restored in 1632.)
When the French started to migrate southward, however, they encountered strong opposition from the Spanish and the English. Spreading Christianity therefore became less important than expanding French territory and protecting trade routes. The Jesuits also met resistance from several Huron and Iroquois groups who did not want to adopt European customs. In 1647 the Jesuits relaxed their requirements for baptism (initiation into Christianity through anointment with water) and became more tolerant of traditional Native American religious practices in response to this opposition. To gain more favor with the Huron and Iroquois groups the missionaries took advantage of the natives' belief in the supernatural. For instance, the priests claimed the Catholic crucifix had the power to heal simple diseases. They also made a great show of their ability to read and write and predict solar eclipses, which seemed magical to the Native Americans.
"These are our Fathers"
In 1632 the French reacquired New France in a treaty with the English. Samuel de Champlain (c. 1567–1635), the governor and founder of the New France, had visions of establishing a French empire in North America. He realized, however, that he would first have to form an alliance with the Hurons against the Iroquois, bitter enemies of the Hurons. To achieve this goal Champlain turned to the Jesuits, who could speak the Huron language and knew the native customs. Father Paul le Jeune, a Jesuit priest, wrote an account of a series of council meetings at which Champlain took the first step toward an alliance. Following is a description of one of the meetings.
Thereupon Sieur de Champlain began to speak, and told them [the Hurons] that he had always loved them, that he wished very much to have them as his brothers, and, having been sent in behalf of our great King [Louis XIII] to protect them, he would do it very willingly; that he had sent to meet them a bark and a shallop [small open boat propelled by oars], and that the Iroquois had treacherously [in violation of an allegiance] killed two or three of our men; that he did not lose heart on that account, that the French feared nothing, and that they cherished their friends very dearly. . . . He added that our Fathers [the Jesuits] were going to see them in their country, as a proof of the affection which we bore them, telling marvelous things in our favor.
"These are our Fathers," said he, "we love them more than our children or ourselves; they are held in very high esteem in France; it is neither hunger nor want that brings them to this country; they do not want to come to see you for your property or your furs. . . . If you love the French people, as you say you do, then love these Fathers; honor them, and they will teach you the way to Heaven. . . ."
The conclusion of the council was that Father [Jean de] Brébeuf told them, in their language, that we were going with them to live and to die in their country; that they would be our brothers, that hereafter we would be of their people. . . . All the savages, according to their custom evinced [expressed] their satisfaction by their profound aspiration: ho, ho, ho, ho! Then they surrounded Father Brébeuf, each one wanting to carry him in his boat. Some came to me and touched my hand, saying to each other: "See how much they look alike," speaking of the Father and me. . . .
Reprinted in: Stiles, T. J., ed. In Their Own Words: The Colonizers. New York: Berkeley Publishing, 1998, p. 125.
As the French concentrated on expanding their empire and spreading religion, some of the Jesuits became explorers themselves. One of the most prominent was Father Jacques Marquette (1637–1675), who had settled in New France in 1666. Proficient in six Native American languages, he founded a mission at Saint Ignace (in present-day Michigan) in 1671. The following year the governor of New France, Louis de Buade (1622-1698; also known as the Count of Frontenac), announced plans to send an expedition through Native American country to discover the "South Sea [Gulf of Mexico]" and to explore "the great river they call Mississippi, which is believed to discharge into the sea of California [Gulf of California]."
Frontenac chose Marquette to accompany the leader of the expedition, the French-Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet (1645–1700). Jolliet had studied for the Jesuit priesthood in France, but by 1671 he had returned to New France and entered the fur trade. Jolliet's party, which included five Native American guides, left Quebec on October 4, 1672. By early December they reached Saint Ignace, where they were joined by Marquette. The following May the seven men embarked in two canoes, going westward along the north shore of Lake Michigan to present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin, then up the Fox River. From there they portaged (carried boats overland) to the Wisconsin River and descended to the Mississippi on June 15, 1673.
During the voyage Jolliet and Marquette traveled down the Mississippi past the Missouri and Ohio Rivers. They stopped at the mouth of the Arkansas River, about 450 miles south of the mouth of the Ohio. This point is just north of the present boundary between Arkansas and Louisiana. Here they stayed among the Quapaw tribe until they heard reports of the Spanish approaching from the west. Fearing the Spanish and concluding that the Mississippi must run into the Gulf of Mexico, not the Gulf of California, the explorers turned back without having reached the mouth of the Mississippi. As a result, they had explored only the northern portion of the river.
Things to Remember While Reading "Jolliet and Marquette Travel the Mississippi":
- Over a century earlier, in 1541, Hernando de Soto (c. 1500–1542) and his party were the first Europeans to view the Mississippi River. The Spanish were primarily interested in finding the gold and silver rumored to be in the Ozark Mountains, however, so they did not spend any time tracing the course of the great river. By exploring the Mississippi, the French were hoping to find more direct water routes, which would facilitate their fur trade and expand their empire.
- Although Jolliet and Marquette were sent to explore the area, the French remained committed to converting Native Americans to Christianity. Therefore, Marquette's role was to preach to native groups along the route down the Mississippi. He also kept a detailed journal, which provided an invaluable first-person account of the expedition and a description of life along the river. "Jolliet and Marquette Travel the Mississippi" is an excerpt from the journal.
- Marquette wrote that he and Jolliet decided not to travel to the mouth of the Mississippi because they were afraid of falling "into the hands of the Spaniards, from whom we could expect no other treatment than death or slavery." This was a well-founded fear: The Spanish conducted raids along the Atlantic coast and into the interior, selling Native Americans and other captives into slavery in the Caribbean.
"Jolliet and Marquette Travel the Mississippi"
June 10–17, 1673
Father Jacques Marquette
This bay is about thirtyleagues long, and eight broad in its greatest breadth, for it grows narrower and forms a cone at the extremity. It has tides thatebb as regular as the sea. We left this bay to go to a river [the Fox River] that discharges itself therein. . . . It flows very gently. . . . We next came to a village of the Maskoutens [a Native American tribe] or nation of fire. . . .
The next day, being the 10th of June, the two guides [from the Miami tribe] embarked with us in sight of all the village, who were astonished at our attempting so dangerous an expedition. We were informed that at three leagues from the Maskoutens, we should find a river which runs into the Mississippi, and that we were to go to the west-south-west to find it, but there were so many marshes and lakes, that if it had not been for our guides we could not have found it.
The river upon which we rowed and had to carry our canoes from one to the other, looked more like a corn-field than a river, insomuch that we could hardly find itschannel. As our guides had been frequently at thisportage, they knew the way, and helped us to carry our canoes overland into the other river, distant about two miles and a half; from whence they returned home, leaving us in an unknown country, having nothing to rely upon byDivine Providence. We now left the waters which extend to Quebec, about five or six hundred leagues, to take those which would lead us hereafter into strange lands.
Before embarking we all offered up prayers to theHoly Virgin, which we continued to do every morning, placing ourselves and the events of the journey under her protection, and after having encouraged each other, we got into our canoes. The river upon which we embarked is called Mesconsin [Wisconsin]; the river is very wide, but the sand bars make it very difficult to navigate, which is increased by numerous islands covered with grape vines.
The country through which it flows is beautiful; thegroves are so dispersed in the prairies that it makes a noble prospect; and the fruit
Leagues: Various units of distance from about 2.4 to 4.6 miles
Ebb: The decline of the tide
Channel: The narrow sea between two close landmasses
Portage: The carrying of boats or goods overland from one body of water to another
Divine Providence: The goodwill of God
Holy Virgin: Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, founder of Christianity
Groves: A planting of fruit or nut trees
of the trees shows a fertile soil. These groves are full of walnut, oak, and other trees unknown to us in Europe. We saw neither game nor fish, butroebuck and buffaloes in great numbers. After having navigated thirty leagues we discovered some iron mines, and one of our company who had seen such mines before, said these were very rich in ore. They are covered with about three feet of soil, and situate near a chain of rocks, whose base is covered with fine timber. After having rowed ten leagues further, making forty leagues from the place where we had embarked, we came into the Mississippi on the 17th of June.
Behold us, then, upon this celebrated river, whosesingularities I have attentively studied. The Mississippi takes its rise in several lakes in the North. Its channel is very narrow at the mouth of the Mesconsin, and runs south until it is affected by very high hills. Its current is slow, because of its depth. In sounding we found nineteenfathoms of water. A little further on it widens nearly three-quarters of a league, and the width continues to be more equal. We slowly followed its course to the south and south-east to the42° N. lat. Here we perceived the country change its appearance. There were scarcely any
Roebuck: The male roe deer
Singularities: Unusual behavior
Fathoms: A unit of length equal to six feet used for measuring water
42° N. lat.
42° N. lat.: Forty-two degrees north latitude; a measurement indicating distance north of the equator
more woods or mountains. The islands are covered with fine trees, but we could not see any more roebucks, buffaloes,bustards, swans.
We met from time to time monstrous fish, which struck so violently against our canoes, that at first we took them to be large trees, which threatened to upset us. We saw also a hideous monster; his head was like that of a tiger, his nose was sharp, and somewhat resembled a wildcat; his beard was long; his ears stood upright; the color of his head was gray; and his neck black. He looked upon us for some time, but as we came near him our oars frightened him away.
When we threw our nets into the water we caught an abundance ofsturgeons, and another kind of fish like our trout, except that the eyes and nose are much smaller, and they have near the nose a bone like a woman'sbusk, three inches broad and a foot and a half long, the end of which is flat and broad, and when it leaps out of the water the weight of it throws it on its back.
Having descended the river as far as 41°28' we found that turkeys took the place of game, and the Pisikious that of other animals. We called the Pisikious wild buffaloes, because they very much resemble our domestic oxen; they are not so long, but twice as large. We shot one of them, and it was as much as thirteen men could do to drag him from the place where he fell.
About the end of June, we embarked in presence of all the village, who admired our birch canoes, as they had never before seen anything like them. We descended the river, looking for another called Pekitanoni [the Missouri] which runs from the north-west into the Mississippi, of which I will speak more hereafter.
As we were descending the river we saw high rocks with hideous monsters painted on them, and upon which the bravest Indians dare not look. They are as large as a calf, with head and horns like a goat; their eyes red; beard like a tiger's; and a face like a man's. Their tails are so long that they pass over their heads and between their fore legs, under their belly, and ending like a fish's tail. They are painted red, green, and black. They are so well drawn that I cannot believe they were drawn by the Indians. And for what purpose they were made seems to me a great mystery.
As we fell down the river, and while we werediscoursing upon these monsters, we heard a great rushing and bubbling of waters, and small islands of floating trees coming from the mouth of the Pekitanoni [Missouri], with such rapidity that we could not drink it. It so discolors the Mississippi as to make the navigation of it dangerous.
Bustards: Any of a family of large terrestrial Old World and Australian game birds
Sturgeon: Any of the family of large, elongated freshwater bony fishes
Busk: Tight-fitting undergarment wore by women that is hooked and laced and that extends from above or below the bust or from the waist to below the hips
This river comes from the north-west, and empties into the Mississippi, and on its banks are situated a number of Indian villages. We judged by the compass, that the Mississippi discharged itself into the Gulf of Mexico.
Having satisfied ourselves, we resolved to return home. We considered that the advantage of our travels would be altogether lost to our nation if we fell into the hands of the Spaniards, from whom we could expect no other treatment than death or slavery.
What happened next . . .
In mid-July 1674 Jolliet and Marquette began the return trip up the Mississippi to the Illinois River. They parted at the Saint Francis Xavier mission at Green Bay. Jolliet continued on to Montreal to report on their discoveries, but Marquette became ill and stayed at the mission. He died the following year. Over the next twenty-five years Jolliet had a successful career in the fur and fish trades and headed several other expeditions.
The Jolliet-Marquette voyage established French claims to the northern Mississippi valley region. The explorers also were the first Europeans to determine that the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico instead of the Gulf of California. In 1682 French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643–1687) became the first European to sail down the Mississippi River to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. Claiming the territory along the southern part of the river and around the gulf, he gave it the name Louisiana in honor of the French king, Louis XIV (1638–1715).
The Mississippi valley region was now opened to French settlement. The most prosperous area was the Illinois country (le pays des Illinois), which stretched from Cahokia (across the river from Saint Louis, Missouri) 50 miles downriver to Kaskaskia. Cahokia was founded in 1699 as a mission for the conversion of Native Americans, and Kaskaskia was a fort established in 1703. Both settlements attracted coureurs de bois (woods runners), French trappers and traders who lived among the Native Americans. In 1718 the region began to prosper as a result of the French Gulf Coast settlements that provided them with a market for wheat, beef, and pork.
Settlement of Louisiana progressed slowly as the French were unable to invest money or people in a new colony. Louisiana became a province in 1718, and over the next half century it served as a penal colony (settlement for convicted criminals), a temporary home for indentured servants (laborers contracted to work for a master for a specified length of time), and a slave import center.
Did you know . . .
- By the summer of 1674 Marquette had recovered from his illness and set out to fulfill a promise to build a mission in present-day Illinois. However, falling ill again, he could not resume his journey until the following spring. Although he was near death, he preached his last sermon on the Thursday before Easter, 1675, to a gathering of two thousand members of the Illinois nation. He then tried to reach his home at Saint Ignace, but he died along the way. Marquette was buried at the mouth of the river that was named for him, on the site of present-day Ludington, Michigan.
- Jolliet spent the winter of 1673–74 at Sault Sainte Marie (in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), working on his journal and making maps. Unfortunately, he later lost all of his papers when his canoe overturned on the Lachine Rapids near Montreal. After this mishap Jolliet reached Quebec in the fall of 1674. He wrote another report on the trip entirely from memory. His narrative corresponds with Marquette's description, which is considered the official account of the journey.
- In 1683 La Salle was involved in a plan to seize valuable mines in New Mexico and New Spain (Mexico). He purposely falsified his discoveries, making a map that incorrectly showed the Mississippi River emptying into the Gulf of Mexico from Texas rather than from Louisiana. Two years later La Salle constructed a fort at the mouth of the Lavaca River in present-day Texas, establishing the only French colony in the Southwest. In 1687 he was killed in cold blood by several of his own men because of the misery he had caused them. His body was left to be eaten by wild animals.
For more information
Colbert, David, ed. Eyewitness to America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997, pp. 30–32.
Coulter, Tony. La Salle and the Explorers of the Mississippi. New York: Chelsea House, 1991.
Eccles, W. J. France in America. Revised edition. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1990.
Father Jacques Marquette National Memorial and Museum.http://www.uptravel.com/uptravel/attractions/3.htm Available September 30, 1999.
Giovanni Verrazano.http://www.greencastle.k12.in.us/stark/verrazano.htm Available September 30, 1999.
Jacques Cartier.http://www.win.tue.nl/cs/fm/engels/discovery/cartier.html Available September 30, 1999.
Kent, Zachary. Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet. Chicago: Children's Press, 1994.
La Salle Ship Sighted.http://www.he.net/~archaeol/9601/newsbriefs/lasalle.html Available September 30, 1999.
René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle.http:www.knight.org/advent/cathen/09009b.htm Available September 30, 1999.
Missionary and explorer; b. Laon, France, June 10, 1637; d. near Ludington, Mich., May 18–19, 1675. He entered the Jesuit novitiate at Nancy in 1654, studied philosophy and mathematics at the University of Pont-à-Mousson (1656–59, 1664–65), and taught at the Jesuit colleges of Reims (1659–61), Charleville (1661–63), and Langres (1663–64). Shortly after ordination at Toul, France, March 7, 1666, Marquette departed for the missions of New France, reaching Quebec on Sept. 20, 1666. The following month he set out for Trois Rivières to study Algonquian under Gabriel Druillettes, SJ. Three years later he assumed charge of the Holy Ghost mission at La Pointe, on the western end of Lake Superior, ministering to native peoples of numerous tribes—the Illinois, Pottawatamis, Foxes, Sioux, and others. When the Sioux routed his charges from La Pointe, Marquette founded a new mission for them at Michilimackinac (Mackinac), renamed by him Saint-Ignace. In 1673 he set out with Louis Jolliet on the expedition to explore the Mississippi River, during which they followed the shore of Lake Michigan to present-day De Pere, Wis., then ascended the Fox River, crossed overland to the Wisconsin, and at its mouth descended the Mississippi, which Marquette named River of the Conception (Rivière de la Conception), to the Arkansas River. The expedition furnished proof that the great river did not flow westward into the Gulf of California, but southward into the Gulf of Mexico. In accordance with the promise made to the Illinois native peoples on his first expedition, Marquette set out in November 1674 to found the mission of the Immaculate Conception, Ill., offering Mass there on Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday 1675. When serious illness befell him, he decided to return to Saint-Ignace, but died en route. A statue of Marquette by Trentanove is in the Hall of Fame of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.
See Also: steck, francis borgia.
Bibliography: Jesuit Relations, ed. r. g. thwaites, 73 v. (Cleveland 1896–1901). a. hamy, Au Mississippi: La Première exploration (Paris 1903). c. de rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la Nouvelle-France au XVIIe siècle, 3 v. (Paris 1895–96) v.3. j. delanglez, Life and Voyages of Lords Jolliet (Chicago 1948). "The Statue of Father Marquette in the National Capitol: Its Acceptance by the Senate," Woodstock Letters 25 (1896) 467–494. e. j. burrus "Father Jacques Marquette, S.J.: His Priesthood in the Light of the Jesuit Roman Archives," Catholic Historical Review 41 (1955) 257–271.
[e. j. burrus]
Jacques Marquette (1637-1675) was a French Jesuit, missionary, and explorer who followed the Illinois and Mississippi rivers on a journey of discovery.
Jacques Marquette was the son of a seigneur of Laon. In 1654 he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Nancy, went on to teaching, and began theological studies in 1665. He pleaded to be allowed to become a missionary, feeling that he was not suited to theology. He was accordingly sent to New France, arriving in Quebec in September 1666.
For about 2 years Marquette studied the Montagnais language at Trois-Rivières. Then, in May 1668, he left by canoe from Montreal to join a mission at Sault Sainte Marie. In 1669 he founded a mission at the far western end of Lake Superior. Here he met for the first time the Illinois Indians, whom he came to enjoy and to admire. When they were forced to shift eastward owing to pressure from the Sioux, Marquette went too and in 1671 founded the mission of St-Ignace (named after Ignatius of Loyola) on the north shore of the Straits of Michilimackinac (Mackinac).
In December 1672 Louis Jolliet arrived at St-Ignace, carrying with him a commission from Quebec to explore the western rivers. The French had already acquired some knowledge of the Illinois country from the Indians and were anxious to explore it further. The winter of 1672/1673 was spent discussing and arranging the expedition for the spring, and in mid-May 1673 Marquette and Jolliet left together on their epic exploration of the Illinois and Mississippi.
They got a long way south, beyond the present city of Memphis, and probably to about the northern border of Louisiana at 33°N, in other words, nearly 800 miles south of St-Ignace. There they had to stop. Jolliet, although he spoke six Indian languages, could no longer make himself understood, and increasing Indian hostility made it seem undesirable to proceed further, although they believed—erroneously—that they were only 150 miles from the sea. They turned north about mid-July, and using the Illinois River and the Chicago portage they were back at Lake Michigan in September.
Jolliet went on to Sault Sainte Marie, where he wintered (1673-1674), going on to Quebec in the spring. But Marquette was unwell; he stayed at a mission at Baie des Puants (Green Bay) for a whole year, returning south to the Illinois country in October 1674. Bad weather and Marquette's recurring dysentery forced them to winter not far from present-day Chicago. They were helped by visits from Marquette's old friends, the Illinois, and in Easter week of 1675 he was sufficiently well to visit a magnificent gathering of Indian braves and chiefs on the Illinois River. Marquette headed northward to St-Ignace but died in May, near present-day Ludington, Mich.
The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites (73 vols., 1896-1901), contains in volume 59 what is reputed to be Marquette's account of his expedition. A good deal of controversy has arisen in recent years over the authenticity of this account. The opposition to Marquette's reputed role is led mainly by Francis Borgia Steck in his Marquette Legends (1960). The older and probably still standard account is Louise Phelps Kellogg, The French Régime in Wisconsin and the Northwest (1925). Joseph P. Donnelly, Jacques Marquette, S. I. (1968), defends the traditional view of Marquette. The work by Jesuit scholar Raphael N. Hamilton, Marquette's Explorations: The Narrative Reexamined (1970), is a critical analysis. Marquette figures in a reissue of an old work whose original edition is a collector's item because of its maps and sketches, Justin Winsor, Cartier to Frontenac: Geographical Discovery in the Interior of North America in its Historical Relations, 1534-1700 (1894; repr. 1970). □
French Jesuit missionary who accompanied French-Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet on the first voyage down the Mississippi River. In 1673, The two men traveled far enough to determine that the river emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, rather than west into the Pacific as had been proposed. Marquette's primary calling was as a missionary, however. He established two missions at Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace in what is now the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in 1668 and 1671, respectively. A year after the Mississippi voyage, Marquette set out for Illinois to set up another mission, but died en route where the river now known as Pere Marquette flows into Lake Michigan.