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Historic Diaries: Marquette & Joliet, 1673

On a May day more than 300 years ago, two unlikely explorers set out on a four-month voyage that carried them thousands of miles through the heart of America. The two were Father Jacques Marquette, a studious Jesuit two weeks shy of his 36th birthday, and Louis Joliet, a 27-year-old philosophy student turned fur trader. Their voyage was the seed that would sprout the first white settlements in the interior of North America, introduce Christianity into 600,000 square miles of wilderness, give French names to cities from New Orleans to LaCrosse, transform Indian cultures and lifestyles from Minnesota to Missouri, and nearly exterminate the fur-bearing mammals of the Upper Midwest. Follow the entries below to experience America�s heartland in the words of the first Europeans who laid eyes on it.

  • What Became of Marquette & Joliet
    Marquette returned to Wisconsin in the fall of 1673 with his health badly damaged. He wintered at the mission of Saint-François-Xavier, near the present-day De Pere, and stayed there through the subsequent summer. As we saw, he had promised the...

  • Mapping the Expedition
    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...

  • September 30: Home to Green Bay
    After portaging into Green Bay, Marquette and Joliet entered the Fox River and headed upstream to the Mission of St. Francis Xavier, alongside the first rapids at DePere. When they finally arrived there, the little compound was almost certainly empty....

  • Late September, 1673: Sturgeon Bay Portage
    When Marquette and Joliet reached the Door Penninsula toward the end of September, 1673, they could save 150 miles of paddling by portaging about a mile and a half at modern Sturgeon Bay. A year later Marquette wrote this description...

  • Late September 1673: Milwaukee to Door County
    As their journey's end approached and the autumn winds blew in their faces, Marquette made no notes that have survived. It's possible that Joliet was recording this final leg of their voyage, but his papers were destroyed the following year....

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