Father Jacques Marquette S.J. (June 1, 1637 – May 18, 1675), sometimes known as Père Marquette or James Marquette, was a French Jesuit missionary who founded Michigan's first European settlement, Sault Ste. Marie, and later founded St. Ignace, Michigan. In 1673 Father Marquette and Louis Jolliet were the first Europeans to explore and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River Valley.
1869 portrait of Marquette
|Born||June 1, 1637|
|Died||May 18, 1675 (aged 37)|
near Ludington, Michigan
|Other names||Pere Marquette|
Jacques Marquette was born in Laon, France, on June 1, 1637, and joined the Society of Jesus at age 17. After he worked and taught in France for several years, the Jesuits assigned him to New France in 1666 as a missionary to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. He showed great proficiency in learning the local languages, especially Huron. In 1668 Father Marquette was moved by his superiors to missions farther up the St. Lawrence River in the western Great Lakes region. He helped found missions at Sault Ste. Marie in present-day Michigan in 1668, St. Ignace in 1671 (St. Ignace Mission), and at La Pointe, on Lake Superior near the present-day city of Ashland, Wisconsin. At La Pointe he encountered members of the Illinois tribes, who told him about the important trading route of the Mississippi River. They invited him to teach their people, whose settlements were mostly farther south. Because of wars between the Hurons at La Pointe and the neighboring Lakota people, Father Marquette left the mission and went to the Straits of Mackinac; he informed his superiors about the rumored river and requested permission to explore it.
Leave was granted, and in 1673 Marquette joined the expedition of Louis Jolliet, a French-Canadian explorer. They departed from St. Ignace on May 17, with two canoes and five voyageurs of French-Indian ancestry (Métis). They followed Lake Michigan to Green Bay and up the Fox River, nearly to its headwaters. From there, they were told to portage their canoes a distance of slightly less than two miles through marsh and oak plains to the Wisconsin River. Many years later, at that point the town of Portage, Wisconsin was built, named for the ancient path between the two rivers. From the portage, they ventured forth, and on June 17 they entered the Mississippi near present-day Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
The Joliet-Marquette expedition traveled to within 435 miles (700 km) of the Gulf of Mexico but turned back at the mouth of the Arkansas River. By this point they had encountered several natives carrying European trinkets, and they feared an encounter with explorers or colonists from Spain. They followed the Mississippi back to the mouth of the Illinois River, which they learned from local natives provided a shorter route back to the Great Lakes. They reached Lake Michigan near the site of modern-day Chicago, by way of the Chicago Portage. In September Marquette stopped at the mission of St. Francis Xavier, located in present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin, while Jolliet returned to Quebec to relate the news of their discoveries.
Marquette and his party returned to the Illinois Territory in late 1674, becoming the first Europeans to winter in what would become the city of Chicago. As welcomed guests of the Illinois Confederation, the explorers were feasted en route and fed ceremonial foods such as sagamite.
In the spring of 1675, Marquette traveled westward and celebrated a public mass at the Grand Village of the Illinois near Starved Rock. A bout of dysentery which he had contracted during the Mississippi expedition sapped his health. On the return trip to St. Ignace, he died at age 37 near the modern town of Ludington, Michigan.
A Michigan Historical Marker at this location reads:
The Ojibway Museum on State Street in downtown St. Ignace is in a building that was constructed adjacent to Marquette's gravesite during urban development.
Father Marquette is memorialized in the names of many towns, geographical locations, parks, a major university, and other institutions:
In addition, statues in Marquette's honor have been erected in several places, including the Prairie du Chien Post Office; Parliament Building, Quebec, Canada; at Marquette University; Detroit, Michigan; and Fort Mackinac, Michigan. Other types of memorials were erected, including those at his birthplace in Laon, France; and St. Mary's Church, Utica, Illinois.
The Legler Branch of the Chicago Public Library displays "Wilderness, Winter River Scene," a restored mural by Midwestern artist R. Fayerweather Babcock. The mural depicts Father Jacques Marquette and Native Americans trading by a river. Commissioned for Legler Branch in 1934, the mural was funded by the Works Projects Administration.
Marquette was honored on the one-cent Trans-Mississippi Exposition issue, which shows him on the Mississippi River and by a 6-cent stamp issued September 20, 1968. It was the 300th anniversary of his establishing the oldest permanent settlement in Michigan at Sault Sainte Marie.
Ca. 1681 map of Marquette and Jolliet's 1673 expedition