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Document Number: AJ-051
Author: Marquette, Jacques, 1637-1675
Title: The Mississippi Voyage of Jolliet and Marquette
Source: Kellogg, Louise P. (editor). Early Narratives of the Northwest, 1634-1699. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917). Pages 223-257.
Pages/Illustrations: 37 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

Jacques Marquette, born in Laon, France in 1637, entered the Jesuit order in 1654 and was sent on a foreign mission to Canada in 1666. Replacing Father Allouez at Chequamegon Bay in 1669, Marquette went on to build the St. Ignace mission in the Upper Pennisula of Michigan, in 1671 before exploring the Mississippi with Louis Joliet in 1673.

After this expedition, Marquette set off in late 1674 to build a mission among the Illinois Indians, despite suffering from a lengthy illness. Though he managed to spend Easter among the Illinois at his new mission, Marquette became too ill to continue and died in 1675 on his return trip to the mission at St. Ignace.

Marquette Expedition to Mississippi River, 1673

Earlier exploration in the western Great Lakes and reports from by Native Americans revealed the possibility that a great river drained either west or south of the region. These stories continued to feed the hope that a northwest passage to the Pacific remained undiscovered. French officials commissioned Louis Joliet and Father Marquette to explore the region and to claim that vast stretch of land for the French Crown. Count de Frontenac, vice-regent to Louis XIV, saw this expedition as the first step in creating a French empire stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. As Joliet lost his accounts of the trip, Marquette’s descriptions became the only record of this historic expedition.

Marquette and Joliet left Michilimackinac on May 17, 1673, and headed their canoes south along Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin. They visited with the Menominee Indians and Marquette described the “folle avione” or wild rice growing throughout the region that sustained large populations of native people. They arrived at the mouth of the Fox River at Green Bay and ascended upstream to Lake Winnebago and continued upriver until they camped with the Mascouten (an Algonquian tribe) who lived at what became Berlin in Green Lake County, Wisconsin. The Mascouten described a river called the “Meskousing” that flowed near the backwaters of the Fox River and was accessible by a short portage. They used the portage to enter the Wisconsin River near the present-day city of Portage, Wisconsin. They arrived at the Mississippi River on June 17, 1673.

Once on the Mississippi, Marquette describes “a monster with the head of a tiger, the nose of a wildcat, and whisker”a large species of catfish. On the riverbank, Marquette described the presence of large cattle, the bison. They met with bands of the Illinois tribes living in the region, who shared calumet pipes of tobacco with the French explorers. Here, Marquette describes the woven rush homes of the Illinois tribe and large gardens filled with melons, squash, beans, and tobacco. They continued downriver past the Missouri and the Ohio Rivers until stopping at the Arkansas River in July 1763. They guessed that the Mississippi emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, and that traveling further south might mean capture by the Spaniards and so returned to the north by way of the Illinois River and Lake Michigan.

Document Note

The loss of Joliet’s journals secured the fame of Father Marquette as chronicler of their expeditions. Marquette’s two manuscripts were kept for 150 years in the Jesuit convent in Montreal, though an abridged version appeared in Melchisedec Thevenot’s Recueil de Voyages in 1681. John G. Shea published the first English translation of Marquette’s manuscript in 1852. The definitive edition appears in Ruben Gold Thwaites’ Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, Volume LIX, first published in 1899.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

Biographical information and maps of the expedition can be accessed at the Virtual Museum of New France, at

The Catholic Encyclopedia has a biography of Father Jacques Marquette at

The Architect of the U.S. Capitol Building web site includes a photograph of the statue of Marquette located in Statuary Hall at

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