Wayback Wednesday: Jolliet-Marquette Upper Mississippi Exploration 1673
Three hundred, fifty years ago, today…
On May 17, 1673, Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette departed from St. Ignace, Michigan, with two canoes and five other voyageurs of French-Indian ancestry. The group sailed to Green Bay. They paddled upstream (southward) on the Fox River to the site now known as Portage, Wisconsin. There, they portaged a distance of slightly less than two miles through marsh and oak forest to the Wisconsin River. Europeans eventually built a trading post at that shortest convenient portage between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. On June 17, the canoeists ventured onto the Mississippi River near present-day Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
The Jolliet-Marquette expedition paddled along the west bank of the Mississippi until mid-July. When they passed the mouth of the Arkansas River, they became satisfied that they had established that the Mississippi flowed into the Gulf of Mexico.
The voyageurs then followed the Mississippi back to the mouth of the Illinois River, which friendly natives told them was a shorter route back to the Great Lakes. Following the Illinois river upstream, they turned up its tributary, the Des Plaines River near modern-day Joliet, Illinois. They continued up the Des Plaines River and portaged their canoes, and gear, at the Chicago Portage. They followed the Chicago River downstream until they reached Lake Michigan near the location of modern-day Chicago. Father Marquette stayed at the mission of St. Francis Xavier at the southern end of Green Bay, which they reached in August. Jolliet returned to Quebec to relate the news of their discoveries. On his way through the Lachine Rapids, Jolliet’s canoe overturned and his records were lost. His brief narrative, written from memory, is in essential agreement with Marquette’s, the chief account of the journey.
While Hernando de Soto was the first European to make official note of the Mississippi River by discovering its southern entrance in 1541, Jolliet and Marquette were the first to locate its upper reaches and, travel most of its length, about 130 years later. De Soto had named the river Rio del Espiritu Santo but, tribes along its length called it “Mississippi”, meaning “Great River” in the Algonquian languages.
♦ Louis Jolliet (Britannica)
♦ Louis Jolliet (Dictionary of Canadian Biography)
♦ Jacques Marquette (Britannica)
♦ Jacques Marquette (Biography)
♦ The Explorers (Canadian Museum of History)
♦ Archdiocese of Chicago (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia/James Marquette)
Louis Jolliet & Jacques Marquette: PBS World Explorers
Marquette and Jolliet: The Beginning of the Voyage to the Mississippi