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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

Mapping the Expedition

Editor's Note:

A considerable part of the expedition's value lay in the geographic information it collected, which soon began to appear on maps. Both Marquette and Joliet made hand-drawn maps, and their information found its way to the public in 1681 when the first printed map of the Mississippi River, based on their data, was published. Follow the links at left to see the earliest French maps of the Mississippi Valley.


A modern map showing all the most important French settlements in North America is in our American Journeys online collection. You might also enjoy comparing the explorers' maps and accounts of the route with the free satellite photos available at Google Maps.

After Joliet and Marquette returned from their 1673 Mississippi voyage, Marquette spent the winter of 1673-74 at DePere and Joliet may have gone straight to Sault Ste. Marie. It was probably then that Marquette created this hand-drawn map of the 1673 Mississippi voyage. Along with the manuscript diary we've streamed out here this summer and fall, the hand-drawn map lay untouched in a Jesuit archives in Montreal for nearly 200 years. Both the map and the diary were only re-discovered and published for the first time in 1852.


Joliet stopped at Sault St. Marie to check on his fur trade affairs before heading for Montreal. Shooting the rapids outside the city his canoe overturned, he nearly drowned, and all his journals, notes, and collections from the expedition were lost. You can read his account of that catastrophe here. In the autumn of 1674, however, Joliet drew a map from memory that shows all of North America as he understood it, after having journeyed from the Atlantic, through the St. Lawrence River valley, across all the Great Lakes, and down the Mississippi River to Arkansas.


French officials suppressed Marquette and Joliet's findings for security reasons. Several manuscripts telling their story circulated in Paris, however, based on a report by Fr. Claude Dablon of an interview that he conducted with Joliet. A condensed version of Marquette's diary also circulated in Paris, and Melchisédec Thévenot, an editor who specialized in printing voyages to exotic places, secured one of these unauthorized manuscripts and adapted Marquette's text. To make it appeal to audiences who were not fond of the Jesuits, he stripped out virtually all Marquette's religious remarks and turned it into a purely geographical account like the other's he had published. You can read it here, in its original French or an English translation.


When Thevenot's book appeared in 1681, it not only printed the news of the Marquette and Joliet voyage for the first time but also published the first map to show the full course of the Mississippi. We show it here, scanned from the copy in the Society's rare book collection.

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