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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

About the Documents Given Here

Editor's Note:

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Follow this blog through the summer as we trace the route of Marquette and Joliet in their own words. Two or three times a week from May to September, we'll post excerpts from their writings as they made their way more than 4,000 miles down the Mississippi and back again in a pair of birchbark canoes. Marquette's details about the landscape, the rivers, animals, plants, and especially his descriptions of the Indian nations he visited have made this little book one of the most charming classics of American history.

If Fr. Marquette kept a daily diary of the trip, it has not survived. He appears to have made detailed notes along the way, a copy of which he probably sent to Montreal with Joliet when they returned from the voyage. They never arrived. Along with Joliet's own notes and papers, they were washed away when Joliet's canoe capsized within sight of Montreal. Father Claude Dablon, to whom they were addressed, immediately requested another copy, and so Marquette polished his notes into a coherent narrative and sent them off again in the fall of 1674. Dablon wanted Marquette's story for the annual Jesuit Relation he was compiling, but no relation for 1673 was ever published. After being copied out twice, perishing once in the rapids, and traveling hundreds of miles through the wilderness, Marquette's manuscript lay unread for nearly two centuries. It was finally discovered in the middle of the 19th century and printed in a rare limited edition; today it is in the College Sainte-Marie in Montreal, along with his manuscript map of the Mississippi and his hand-written diary of the 1674-75 mission to the Illinois Indians, during which he died at age 38.

The first modern edition of Marquette's Mississippi River journal appeared in The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1896-1901). We take our text here from Louise P. Kellogg’s reprint of Thwaite's text in Early Narratives of the Northwest, 1634-1699 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917): 223-257. You can see the original pages of her edition in our American Journeys online collection.

But Marquette's journal was not the only record of the expedition. Although Joliet's notes were all lost when his canoe capsized outside Montreal, he gave an interview to Fr. Dablon shortly afterwards. We will excerpt passages from a photostat of Dablon's notes on that interview with Joliet; you can see the original interview notes and an English translation of them at Turning Points in Wisconsin History. At the end of them is a letter Joliet wrote about the trip on Oct. 10, 1674, describing his narrow escape from death and the loss of the expedition's records.

In the late 1670s a manuscript copy of Marquette's journal of the voyage was leaked to publisher Melchesedec Thevenot, who issued it in Paris in 1681. Thevenot stripped out all the religious content from Marquette's journal and turned it into a strictly geographical description of his adventures. He also published with it the very first printed map to show the entire course of the Mississippi. You can see the original of this rare volume, as well as an English translation, at Turning Points in Wisconsin History. Thevenot's 1681 map is also available there. These four sources on the Marquette-Joliet expedition will occasionally be augmented with quotes from other contemporary fur traders and missionaries.

Notes on each entry will try to pin-point the explorers' location, help explain obscure terms, and provide other background information that will make the original documents more enjoyable. This running commentary will rely heavily on secondary sources such as Jacques Marquette, S.J., 1637-1675 by Joseph P. Donnelly (Chicago : Loyola University Press, 1968), Marquette's Explorations: the Narratives Reexamined by Raphael N. Hamilton (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1970), and the notes of previous editors.

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