Marquette and Jolliet
The Mississippi River

Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest, had met Louis Jolliet in Sault Ste. Marie in 1668. Jolliet himself had entered the Jesuit college in Quebec as a boy at the age of 10 but had abandoned the priesthood in 1667 in order to become a coureur de bois which, he felt, was much more a enticing and exciting career.

Marquette was impressed with Jolliet's knowledge of the natives of western New France. Jolliet could speak 5 languages and was very comfortable living in the wilds. The presence of the Michissipi (Mississippi) River was, by now, common knowledge, having been discovered in 1659 by Radisson and des Grosseilliers. Marquette spoke to Jolliet of his desire to go to the Michissipi and begin his ministrations to the natives of the region. Jolliet saw his chance to become the explorer he had long dreamed of becoming. Through Jolliet's efforts, the plan to explore the Mississippi would come to fruition.

By 1671, Jolliet was back in Quebec where he met with intendant Jean Talon and convinced Talon of the importance of discoving whether or not the Mississippi River flowed into the Gulf of California as they hoped and not into the Gulf of Mexico as they feared. Talon was excited by the project and convinced the Governor-General, Frontenac, to authorize the voyage. The journey was quickly authorized by the state, but, unfortunately for Jolliet, could offer no financial support. Jolliet was on his own.

Jolliet recruited 6 other coureurs des bois and entered in a partnership with them in October of 1672. The Jesuits authorized Father Marquette to join the exploration and soon the group was en route for the St. Ignatius (St. Ignace) mission on Michillimakinac, at the juncture of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, where they arrived on December 8.

In May of 1673, the journey west began. By June, via the Meskousing (Wisconsin) River, they had reached the Mississippi River. They turned their canoes south to follow the river, exploring and mapping as they went and noting all the tributaries they encountered. By July, they had reached what is now the border between Louisiana and Arkansas. They had determined from the natives, however, that the Michissipi River flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, but they still hoped that one of the tributaries would lead to the Pacific Ocean. Fearing a deadly encounter with the Spanish, who controlled Central and South America, they turned back and began the long upstream trip back to Quebec.

Along the way, they met a Kaskakia chief who told them of a short cut along the Illinois River and a short portage to Lake Michigan. Marquette became ill along the way and, when the travellers reached the Jesuit Mission at Green Bay, Father Marquette was left there to recover. Jolliet continued on to Quebec.

Sadly, their partnership and friendship would come to an abrupt end.


Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet

* The Mississippi River *
End of a Friendship
Jolliet - Hudson Bay & The British
Jolliet - The Final Years