Henri de Tonti

Henri de Tonti (1649/50 – August 1704) was an Italian soldier, explorer, and fur trader in the service of France.[1]

Henri de Tonti
Henri de Tonti

Early life

Henri de Tonti, an Italian from the Kingdom of Naples, was most likely born near Gaeta, Italy, in either 1649 or 1650. He was the son of Lorenzo de Tonti, a financier and former governor of Gaeta. Alphonse de Tonti, one of the founders of what is now Detroit, was his younger brother.

His father, Lorenzo, was involved in a revolt against the Spanish viceroy in Naples, Italy, and was forced to seek political asylum in France around the time of Henri's birth.

In 1668, Henri joined the French Army and later served in the French Navy. During the Third Anglo-Dutch War, Henri was part of the French troops that King Louis XIV sent to Sicily in 1675 under the Command of The Duke of Vivonne to support the rebellion of the important town of Messina (circa 100.000 inhabitants in 1674) against the crown of Spain. Tonti took part in the military operations in the village of Gesso, up the hills near Messina and he lost his hand in a grenade explosion. From that time on, wore a prosthetic hook covered by a glove, thus earning the nickname "Iron Hand". Among the officers fighting beside the French expedition corps, there were the brothers Antonio and Thomas Crisafy, who years later Tonti will have the chance to meet again in Nouvelle France. [1]

Exploring with La Salle

La salle expedition
La Salle's expeditions on the Mississippi

In the summer of 1678, Tonti journeyed with René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, who recognized him as an able associate. La Salle left Tonti to hold Fort Crèvecoeur in Illinois, while La Salle returned to Ontario. While on his return trip up the Illinois River, LaSalle concluded that Starved Rock might provide an ideal location for another fortification and sent word downriver to Tonti regarding this idea. Following La Salle’s instructions, Tonti took five men and departed up the river to evaluate the suitability of the Starved Rock site. Shortly after Tonti’s departure, on April 16, 1680, the seven members of the expedition who remained at Fort Crevecoeur ransacked and abandoned the fort and began their own march back to Canada.[2]

In the spring of 1682, Tonti journeyed with La Salle on his descent of the Mississippi River. Tonti's letters and journals are valuable source materials on these explorations.

When La Salle returned to France in 1683, he left Tonti behind to hold Fort Saint Louis on the Illinois River.[3] He was to relinquish this control for a period to Louis-Henri de Baugy, under the orders of Frontenac. Three years later, he learned from remnants of La Salle's ill-fated Texas settlement that La Salle was attempting to ascend the Mississippi River. De Tonti proceeded south on his own in an attempt to meet La Salle on his ascent. He failed to find La Salle and made it to the Gulf of Mexico before turning back. He left several men near the mouth of the Arkansas River to establish a trading post there on land granted to him by La Salle for his service. This location would become the historical Arkansas Post, the first permanent European settlement in the lower Mississippi region.[4]

Wars with English settlers

During 1687, Tonti was engaged in wars with the English and their Iroquois allies. In 1688, he returned to Fort Saint Louis and found members of La Salle's party who concealed the fact of La Salle's death. Tonti sent out parties to find survivors and then started out himself in October 1689.

Tonti travelled up the Red River and reached the Caddo villages in northeastern Texas in the spring of 1690. The Caddo offered him no assistance, and he was forced to withdraw.

Life in lower French Louisiana

Tonti experienced several financial difficulties in the 1690s, and in early 1700, he commenced a journey down the Mississippi to make contact with Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville,[1] who had established the Louisiana (New France) colony. Tonti reached French Louisiana and joined the colony.

In 1702, at Old Mobile, he was chosen by Iberville as an ambassador to the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes and conducted several negotiations.[1] De Tonti, for whom the historic district north of present-day downtown Mobile is named, returned to the Old Mobile Site, with three Chickasaw chiefs and 2 Choctaw chiefs. The chiefs were rivals, but after Iberville had finished addressing them and presenting them gifts of guns and ammunition, they agreed to aid the settlers. The 22-year-old Bienville (a younger brother of Iberville) translated for Iberville.[5]

Tonti also led punitive expeditions from 1696 until 1704, with his cousin De Liette.

In August 1704 Tonti contracted yellow fever and died at Old Mobile, north of present-day Mobile, Alabama.


  1. ^ a b c d "A tour of Mobile's first 100 years", staff reporter, The Press-Register, Mobile, AL, 2002-02-24, webpage: MobReg-2.
  2. ^ "Henri de Tonti, Founder of Peoria"
  3. ^ Fort Saint Louis (Illinois) is distinct from the Fort Saint Louis founded in French colonization of Texas.
  4. ^ Kathleen DuVal (February 6, 2013). "Arkansas Post". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved June 2013. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  5. ^ Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. "Henri de Tonti Historical Marker". Retrieved August 9, 2009.

See also

External links

Alphonse de Tonty

Pierre Alphonse de Tonty, or Alphonse de Tonty, Baron de Paludy (ca. 1659 – 10 November 1727) was an officer who served under the French explorer Cadillac and helped establish the first European settlement at Detroit, Michigan, Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit on the Detroit River in 1701. Several months later, both Cadillac and Tonty brought their wives to the fort, making them the first European women to travel so deep into the new territory.

He was born in Paris, ca. 1659, to Lorenzo de Tonti who was a financier and former governor of Gaeta who was in France in exile. Lorenzo de Tonti was the inventor of the form of life insurance known as the tontine. Henri de Tonti, involved in LaSalle's exploration of the Mississippi River and the establishment of the first settlement in Arkansas, was his older brother.

Tonty was commanding the fort in Detroit by 1717, but by 1727 numerous complaints, including those by the Huron led to his dismissal.

Tonty was involved in numerous scandals and disreputable activities before he was eventually dismissed from his post as commandant of Fort Pontchartrain. He died before he could obtain another appointment or return to France.

Tonty was married twice. His first marriage in 1689 was to Marie Anne Picoté de Belestre with whom he had 13 children. She was the daughter of Pierre Picoté de Belestre.

Arkansas Post

The Arkansas Post was the first European settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley and present-day Arkansas when Henri de Tonti established it in 1686 as a French trading post on the banks of the lower Arkansas River. The French and Spanish traded with the Quapaw for years, and the post was of strategic value to the French, Spanish, and Americans. It was designated as the first capital of the Arkansas Territory in 1819, but lost that status to Little Rock in 1821. During the years of fur trading, Arkansas Post was protected by a series of forts. The forts and associated settlements were located at three known sites and possibly a fourth, as the waterfront area was prone to erosion and flooding.The land encompassing the second (and fourth) Arkansas Post site (Red Bluff) was designated as a state park in 1929. In 1960 about 757.51-acre (306.55 ha) of land at the site was protected as a National Memorial and National Historic Landmark; it commemorates the history of several cultures and time periods: the Quapaw, the French settlers who inhabited the small entrepôt as the first Arkansans, Spanish rule, an American Revolutionary War skirmish in 1783, the first territorial capital of Arkansas, and an American Civil War battle in 1863.Three archeological excavations have been conducted at the site, beginning in the 1950s. Experts say the most extensive cultural resources at the site are archeological, both for the 18th and 19th-century settlements, and the earlier Quapaw villages. Due to changes in the river and navigation measures, the water level has risen closer to the height of the bluffs, which used to be well above the river. The site is now considered low lying. Erosion and construction on the river have resulted in the remains of three of the historic forts being under water in the river channel.

Arkansas Post, Arkansas

Arkansas Post is an unincorporated community located along the north side of the Arkansas River in Arkansas County, Arkansas, United States, near the Arkansas Post National Memorial. Arkansas Highway 169 ends here.

Charles Rochon

Charles Rochon (1673–1733) was a French colonist and was one of the four founders of modern-day Mobile, Alabama.

De Tonti Square Historic District

The De Tonti Square Historic District is a historic district in the city of Mobile, Alabama, United States. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 7, 1972. It is a nine-block area, roughly bounded by Adams, St. Anthony, Claiborne, and Conception Streets. The district covers 28 acres (0.11 km2) and contains 66 contributing buildings. It was named in honor of Henri de Tonti and consists mainly of townhouses built between 1840 and 1860. It includes numerous examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, and Italianate architectural styles.

Architecture within the De Tonti Square Historic District

Fort Chécagou

Fort Chécagou, or Fort Chicago, was a purported seventeenth-century fort that may have been located in what is now northeastern Illinois. The name has become associated with a myth that the French continuously maintained a military garrison at a fort near the mouth of the Chicago River, and the future site of the city of Chicago on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. Some sources mention that the fort was built in 1685, and that Henri de Tonti sent his aide, Pierre-Charles de Liette, as commander of the fort through 1702. Although this fort was marked on a number of eighteenth century maps of the area, there is no evidence that it ever existed at the described location, but may have instead actually been located at the mouth of the St. Joseph River, on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Fort Conti

Fort Conti was built in early 1679 at the mouth of the Niagara River on Lake Ontario as a post for the French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Because of the fort's location, the French hoped to control the fur trade in the lower Great Lakes. The fort was named after Louis Armand I, Prince of Conti, the patron of La Salle's lieutenant, Henri de Tonti.

The storehouse and stockade were used as a shifting point for ships coming from Fort Frontenac (modern day Kingston, Ontario); the supplies would then be further shipped by canoes or bateaux up the river to current day Lewiston, New York, portaged up the Niagara Escarpment and carried past Niagara Falls to a place where the swift currents would not endanger the supplies, craft or crew. At this place, believed to be somewhere around current-day La Salle, New York (part of the city of Niagara Falls, New York, local historians place the site on Cayuga Island in Jayne Park.)

La Salle built a larger boat (most likely a reassembled boat taken apart at Fort Conti), and christened it Le Griffon and used her for the exploration of the river and Lake Erie in his search for a passage to the East Indies. In the summer of 1679 the fort was garrisoned by a handful of men while La Salle explored the upper lakes; The men returned to Fort Frontenac saying it was burned by "Indian raiders"; probably a cover to escape a brutal windswept winter on the shores of Ontario. The story is unlikely because natives in the area did not begin to become hostile until a few years later. Nonetheless the fort burned in late 1679, and was never rebuilt. Later the site would serve the French as Fort Denonville, which failed after less than a year, and later as the more permanent Fort Niagara which still stands today.

The site is now operated by a not-for-profit corporation within Fort Niagara State Park in the town of Porter, just north of Youngstown, New York.

Fort Crevecoeur

Fort Crevecoeur (French: Fort Crèvecœur) was the first public building erected by white men within the boundaries of the modern state of Illinois and the first fort built in the West by the French. It was founded on the east bank of the Illinois River, in the Illinois Country near the present site of Creve Coeur, a suburb of Peoria, Illinois, in January 1680. It was destroyed on 16 April of that same year by members of La Salle's expedition, who were fearful of being attacked by the Iroquois as the Beaver Wars extended into the area.Reestablishing a more lasting presence, Fort St Louis du Pimiteoui was established nearby in 1691, a center of trade during the colonial period. Henri de Tonti was a primary founder of both the Crevecouer and Pimiteoui posts.

Fort St. Joseph (Port Huron)

Fort St. Joseph was a fort established in 1686 by Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut for New France. Erected on the St. Clair River, the fort was intended to prevent English trade with native tribes. In 1687, about two hundred coureurs de bois, five hundred Algonquian, Henri de Tonti, Nicholas Perrot, Oliver Morel de La Durantaye, and thirty French soldiers gathered there under Marquis de Denonville's orders to prepare for an attack on the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy during the Iroquois Wars.

With a lack of supplies and no orders from the governor, the fort's commander, Louis-Armand de Lom d'Arce de Lahontan, Baron de Lahontan, burned Fort St. Joseph on August 27, 1688, and moved to Michilimackinac. According to historian Reuben Gold Thwaites, the action caused "no disadvantage" to New France.

Grand Village of the Illinois

The Grand Village of the Illinois, also called Old Kaskaskia Village, is a site significant for being the best documented historic Native American village in the Illinois River valley. It was a large agricultural and trading village of Native Americans of the Illinois confederacy, located on the north bank of the Illinois River near the present town of Utica, Illinois.

French explorers Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette came across it in 1673. The Kaskaskia, a tribe of the Illiniwek people (and later, other Illiniwek tribes) lived in the village. It grew rapidly after a mission and fur trading post were established there in 1675, to a population of about 6,000 people in about 460 houses. Around 1691 the Kaskaskia and other Illiniwek moved further south, abandoning the site due to pressure from an Iroquois invasion from the northeast.The historic site is owned by the U.S. state of Illinois. The state has conducted archaeological excavations there. The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964.A prominent local landmark, Starved Rock, stands on the south bank of the river directly opposite the Grand Village site. Explorer La Salle founded a fort there to be near this village. Starved Rock is also a National Historic Landmark and is included in Starved Rock State Park.

History of Arkansas

The history of Arkansas began millennia ago when humans first crossed into North America. Many tribes used Arkansas as their hunting lands but the main tribe was the Quapaw, who settled in Arkansas River delta upon moving south from Illinois. Early French explorers gave the territory its name, a corruption of Akansea, which is a phonetic spelling of the Illinois word for the Quapaw. This phonetic heritage explains why "Arkansas" is pronounced so differently than "Kansas" even though they share the same spelling. What began as a rough wilderness inhabited by trappers and hunters became incorporated into the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and became Arkansas Territory in 1819. Upon gaining statehood in 1836, Arkansas had begun to prosper under a plantation economy that was heavily reliant on slave labor. After the Civil War Arkansas was a poor rural state based on cotton. Prosperity returned in the 1940s. The state became famous for its political leadership, including President Bill Clinton (Governor, 1979–81 and 1983–92), and as the base for the Walmart Corporation.

History of Peoria, Illinois

The history of Peoria, Illinois, began when lands that eventually would become Peoria were first settled in 1680, when French explorers René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, and Henri de Tonti constructed Fort Crevecoeur. This fort later burned to the ground, and in 1813 Fort Clark was built. When the County of Peoria was organized in 1825, Fort Clark was officially named Peoria.

Lorenzo de Tonti

Lorenzo de Tonti (c. 1602 - c. 1684) was a governor of Gaeta, Italy and a Neapolitan banker. He is sometimes credited with the invention of the tontine, a form of life insurance, although it has also been suggested that he simply modified existing procedures.Around 1650, he and his wife, Isabelle di Lietto, gave birth to their first son, the future explorer Henri de Tonti. Shortly afterwards, Tonti was involved in a revolt against a Spanish viceroy in Naples and had to seek political asylum in France. In Paris, the family gave birth to their second son, Alphonse de Tonty, who later helped establish Detroit, Michigan.

For reasons unknown, Louis XIV had him imprisoned in the Bastille from 1668 to 1675. Around 1684, he died in obscurity of unknown causes.

Peoria, Illinois

Peoria ( pee-OR-ee-ə) is the county seat of Peoria County, Illinois, and the largest city on the Illinois River. Established in 1691 by the French explorer Henri de Tonti, Peoria is the oldest European settlement in Illinois, and is named after the Peoria tribe. As of the 2010 census, the city was the seventh-most populated in Illinois (and the third largest outside the Chicago metropolitan area), with a population of 115,007. The Peoria Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 373,590 in 2011. Until 2018, Peoria was the global and national headquarters for Caterpillar Inc., one of the 30 companies composing the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and listed on the Fortune 100; in the latter year, the company relocated its headquarters to Deerfield, Illinois.

Peter Bisaillon

Peter Bisaillon (also Bezellon or Bizaillon), (baptized Pierre) (c. 1662 – 18 July 1742) was born in France and came to New France with four of his brothers; all of whom occupied themselves with the trade with various native tribes.

Pierre (Peter) was involved with Henri de Tonti and his exploration activities. Tonti was an associate of the famous explorer, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Bisaillon was with Tonti when they set out to search for La Salle on the Mississippi in 1686.

PierCarlo Di Lietto

Pierre-Charles de Liette (born PierCarlo Di Lietto) was an Italian who moved to French North America and enrolled there as French soldier. He served as aide to Henri de Tonti, as commandant at Fort Saint-Louis and Chécagou, and as a captain in the colonial regular troops from 1687 to 1729. He was also Commander of the Illinois Country.

St. Joseph Catholic Church (Tontitown, Arkansas)

St. Joseph Catholic Church is a parish of the Catholic Church located in Tontitown, Arkansas, in the Diocese of Little Rock. The parish and the town were established by a group of Italian Americans led by Father Pietro Bandini, who settled in the area as miners and tenant farmers in the late 19th century. According to local tradition, a picture of Saint Joseph hanging in the schoolhouse was untouched by an arson fire, and the parish was therefore dedicated to him.The historic parish church is located at 110 E. Henri de Tonti Boulevard. It is a large Late Gothic structure, built in 1939–44 from rusticated concrete blocks that were fashioned on site. Its architecture is characterized by buttresses, lancet-arched windows, and a square tower with open belfry projecting at one corner. The main entrance, on the south gable end, has a projecting arched surround finished in stucco. The church has been a major cultural civic center for the local Italian community, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

Tonti, Illinois

Tonti is an unincorporated community in Tonti Township, Marion County, Illinois, United States. The community of Tonti is now little more than a bend in the road and a sign, near where the Illinois Central Railroad tracks cross Interstate 57.

Tontitown, Arkansas

Tontitown is a city in Washington County, Arkansas, United States. The community is located in the Ozark Mountains and was founded by Italian settlers in 1898. Known for its grapes and wines, Tontitown has hosted the Tontitown Grape Festival continuously since 1898. It is part of the Northwest Arkansas metropolitan area, serving as a bedroom community for larger neighbors Fayetteville and Springdale. The town experienced a 160% growth in population between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

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