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Document Number: AJ-108
Author: La Vérendrye, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de, 1685-1749
Title: Journal in the Form of a Letter Covering the Period from the 20th of July 1738, When I Left Michilimackinac, to May, 1739, Sent to the Marquis de Beauharnois
Source: Burpee, Lawrence J. (editor). Journals and Letters of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de la La Vérendrye and His Sons, with Correspondence between the Governors of Canada and the French Court, Touching the Search for the Western Sea. (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1927). Pages 290-361.
Pages/Illustrations: 73 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

La Vérendrye was the surname of a family of French fur traders who traveled far into the West during the eighteenth century. The father, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de La Vérendrye, built the first forts northwest of Lake Superior about 1732, including a trading post near present-day Winnipeg, Manitoba. Searching for the Pacific in the 1730s, he mounted several expeditions toward the northwest and won the trade of the Cree and Assiniboin nations away from the English at Hudson Bay. His sons François (1715-1794), and Louis-Joseph (1717-1761) turned south instead, thinking the Missouri River might reach the sea. They are believed by many to have been the first Europeans to view the Rocky Mountains (see AJ-109).

Expedition of 1738-1739

Not finding clear evidence of a route to the Pacific through Saskatchewan, the La Vérendryes struck south from their fort near Winnipeg on October 18, 1738. They headed for the Missouri River where they hoped that the Mandan Indians, with whom all the western tribes traded each year, could inform them of a route to the Pacific. The Mandans, an agricultural people then living in the vicinity of modern Bismarck, North Dakota, were at the height of their power. The account by the elder La Vérendrye is the first description of their culture and lifestyle. After leaving two Frenchmen to stay with the Mandans and learn their language, the La Vérendryes returned to Fort La Reine near Winnipeg in February 1739. They arrived without any better information about the Pacific, but with much more knowledge of the nations southwest of them.

Document Note

The elder La Vérendrye sent this journal to Charles de la Boische Beauharnois, the governor of New France who had authorized him to search for a route to the Pacific. The original manuscript is in the Public Archives of Canada. It was first published in 1889, in French and English.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The best discussion of the 1738-1739 expedition, including a new English translation and a thorough examination of its route, is in G. Hubert Smith's Explorations of the La Vérendryes in the Northern Plains, 1738-43 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980).

The Virtual Museum of New France contains background data, images, and maps at

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