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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

Late June, 1673: A Feast with the Illinois Chief

Editor's Note:

Slavery was common among Indian peoples, who routinely took prisoners in war back to their own communities. These were often treated as replacements for family members lost in combat or, in the case of orphaned children, were raised to be normal members of the community. This boy appears to have accompanied Marquette and Joliet on the rest of the expedition, but he drowned outside of Montreal the following year. Writing of his own narrow escape from death that day, Joliet says " I am much grieved over the loss of a little ten-year-old slave boy who had been presented to me. He was of a good disposition, quick-witted, diligent and obedient; he could express himself in French and had begun to read and write."

Marquette kept his word, and returned in 1675 to preach to the Illinois at their large town southwest of Chicago. You can read his diary of that trip in our American Journeys online collection.

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Marquette's Journal: "When we reached the village of the great captain, we saw him at the entrance of his cabin, between two old men, all three erect and naked, and holding their calumet turned toward the sun. He harangued us in a few words, congratulating us upon our arrival. He afterward offered us his calumet, and made us smoke while we entered his cabin, where we received all their usual kind attentions.


"Seeing all assembled and silent, I spoke to them by four presents that I gave them. By the first, I told them that we were journeying peacefully to visit the nations dwelling on the river as far as the sea. By the second, I announced to them that God, who had created them, had pity on them, inasmuch as, after they had so long been ignorant of Him, He wished to make himself known to all the peoples; that I was sent by Him for that purpose; and that it was for them to acknowledge and obey Him. By the third, I said that the great captain of the French informed them that he it was who restored peace everywhere; and that he had subdued the Iroquois. Finally, by the fourth, we begged them to give us all the information that they had about the sea, and about the nations through whom we must pass to reach it.


"When I had finished my speech, the captain arose, and, resting his hand upon the head of a little slave whom he wished to give us, he spoke thus: "I thank thee, black gown, and thee, 0 Frenchman," addressing himself to Monsieur Jolyet, "for having taken so much trouble to come to visit us. Never has the earth been so beautiful, or the sun so bright, as today; never has our river been so calm, or so clear of rocks, which your canoes have removed in passing; never has our tobacco tasted so good, or our corn appeared so fine, as we now see them. Here is my son, whom I give thee to show thee my heart. I beg thee to have pity on me, and on all my nation. It is thou who knowest the great Spirit who has made us all. It is thou who speakest to Him, and who hearest His word. Beg Him to give me life and health, and to come and dwell with us, in order to make us know Him."


"Having said this, he placed the little slave near us, and gave us a second present, consisting of an altogether mysterious calumet, upon which they place more value than upon a slave. By this gift, he expressed to us the esteem that he had for Monsieur our governor, from the account which we had given of him; and, by a third, he begged us on behalf of all his nation not to go farther, on account of the great dangers to which we exposed ourselves.


"I replied that I feared not death, and that I regarded no happiness as greater than that of losing my life for the glory of Him who has made all. This is what these poor people cannot understand.


"The council was followed by a great feast, consisting of four dishes, which had to be partaken of in accordance with all their fashions. The first course was a great wooden platter full of sagamite, that is to say, meal of Indian corn boiled in water, and seasoned with fat. The master of ceremonies filled a spoon with sagamite three or four times, and put it to my mouth as if I were a little child. He did the same to Monsieur Jollyet. As a second course, he caused a second platter to be brought, on which were three fish. He took some pieces of them, removed the bones therefrom, and, after blowing upon them to cool them, he put them in our mouths as one would give food to a bird. For the third course, they brought a large dog, that had just been killed; but, when they learned that we did not eat this meat, they removed it from before us. Finally, the fourth course was a piece of wild ox [buffalo], the fattest morsels of which were placed in our mouths.


"After this feast, we had to go to visit the whole village, which consists of fully three hundred cabins. While we walked through the streets, an orator continually harangued to oblige all the people to come to see us without annoying us. Everywhere we were presented with belts, garters, and other articles made of the hair of bears and cattle, dyed red, yellow, and gray. These are all the rarities they possess. As they are of no great value, we did not burden ourselves with them.


"We slept in the captain's cabin, and on the following day we took leave of him, promising to pass again by his village, within four moons. He conducted us to our canoes, with nearly six hundred persons who witnessed our embarkation, giving us every possible manifestation of the joy that our visit had caused them. For my own part, I promised, on bidding them adieu, that I would come the following year, and reside with them to instruct them. "

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