Jacques Marquette S.J., or James Marquette S.J., is a Chicago history icon and a significant historic figure for the Great Lakes region and North America. Father (Père) Marquette gave the people of the Great Lakes a lasting legacy. In every place he lived, visited or founded, he was admired, loved and respected by its Canadian, French and Native American residents.
On June 1, 1637, Jacques Marquette was born in the picturesque, historic city of Laon, France. At the age of 17, he entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). After studying and teaching in France for 12 years, the Society sent him to Quebec, New France, as a missionary. He was chosen because he was proficient in Native American languages, especially Huron. New France was expanding throughout the Great Lakes region, and missionaries were needed.
In 1668, his superiors sent him further west along the St. Lawrence River to the Great Lakes to establish more missions. On this expedition, he founded the first European settlement of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; the town of St. Ignace, Michigan; and La Pointe Mission near Ashland, Wisconsin. While he served these missions, the Illinois Tribe of Native Americans told him about the Mississippi River trade route, and asked him to come to Illinois and teach their people. Unfortunately, a war between the Hurons and the Lakotas caused him to return Sault Ste. Marie.
Fr. Marquette informed his superiors about the Mississippi River, requested permission to explore it and was granted leave for an exploration. He was joined by Louis Jolliet, a fur trader and explorer, and five French-Indian voyageurs. They wintered in St. Ignace and left on their journey May 17, 1673, in two canoes.
Read about their route in the next segment.
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