Term: Nicolet, Jean 1598 - 1642
French explorer, believed to be the first European to see Wisconsin, b. Cherbourg, France. He migrated to Canada in 1618 to serve as an interpreter under Samuel de Champlain. He spent several years living with the Indian tribes near Lake Huron, learning their languages and serving as an official interpreter for several tribes. In 1634 he was sent west on an exploratory trip, designed partly to quiet Indian unrest which was disrupting French trade, and partly in the hope of gaining information about a route to the Pacific. At that time the French believed that the Winnebago Indians, whose name they translated as "People of the Sea," were close to, or had come from, the Western Ocean. Probably in Aug., 1634, Nicolet, with several Indians in a single canoe, left Georgian Bay, skirted the northern shore of Lake Huron, and passed through the Straits of Mackinac. Entering Lake Michigan, he followed its northern and western shores to Green Bay. The exact location of Nicolet's landfall in Wisconsin is unknown; there are commemorative markers at Red Banks, northeast of Green Bay, and at Menasha. His approach to the Winnebago is described in Thwaites' Jesuit Relations, and was typically theatrical. He arranged a peace treaty between the Huron and Winnebago, but his hopes of gaining information about near access to the Western Sea necessarily faded. Whether Nicolet spent the winter of 1634-1635 in Wisconsin or returned to the area east of Lake Huron is a disputed point. He did learn the names of Indian tribes in Illinois and of those West of the Mississippi River, but for want of time could not have visited them. After returning to Canada, Nicolet married in 1637 and settled as an Indian agent and trader at Three Rivers, Quebec. He was drowned in an accident on the St. Lawrence River. Dict. Amer. Biog.; R. G. Thwaites, ed., Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (73 vols., Cleveland, 1896- 1901); L. P. Kellogg, French Regime in Wis. . . . (Madison, 1925); Wis. Mag. Hist., 27.
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[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]