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Marquette and Joliet Explore the Mississippi in 1673

By Michael Edmonds
Standards: 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.7, 8.10; 12.1, 12.2, 12.6, 12.8
Grade Level: Secondary
Topic: Explorers, Traders, and Settlers

Lesson Plan Text:

Introduction:  Between 1492 and 1580 the Spanish invaded Central America in search of silver and gold. Between 1534 and 1673 the French invaded North America in search of furs and souls. Their occupation began at seaboard villages, grew with the founding of Quebec in 1608, and rapidly spread to the Great Lakes. By 1622, when the Mayflower Pilgrims had barely moved a mile inland from Plymouth harbor, French explorer Etienne Brule was skirting the Wisconsin shore of Lake Superior.

French exploration culminated in the famous voyage of Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet down the Mississippi in 1673. After that, led by the explorer LaSalle, the French built a great arc of military camps and trading posts that stretched from Newfoundland west through the Great Lakes and south to New Orleans. Down that curve trickled fur traders and missionaries, and back up it flowed thousands of beaver, marten, otter, and other skins. For the next century and a half, French culture and commerce dominated "Ouisconsin."


Background Reading: "Arrival of the First Europeans"

Document to Analyze: "The Mississippi Voyage of Jolliet and Marquette."  Father Marquette's diary of his 1673 voyage

Who, What, Where, When, Why: Father Jacques Marquette wrote this document as the clean copy of a journal he kept on the voyage; it was intended for his superiors in the Jesuit Order, and he expected it to be published. It began as a journal but because this copy was drafted afterwards, it at times reads like a letter or report. Most portions were composed around the campfire after the day's events during the summer of 1673, while other parts are summaries written up to a year later. It was created to describe new things seen for the first time, as a documentary record of the trip.

Related Documents:
Dablon, Claude. "Relation of the discovery of many countries situated to the south of New France, made in 1673

Thevenot, Malchisedec. "Carte de la découverte faite l'an 1673 dans l'Amérique septentrionale."

Student Activities:

1. Locate and name the St. Lawrence River, the five Great Lakes, and the Mississippi River on a modern map such as that at Find Quebec, Machilimackinac, Wisconsin, and Chicago on that map.

2. How did Marquette cross Wisconsin? Use the map at Where is your school in relation to his route? Find the same places on the 1681 map (

3. Near the beginning of the trip, along the shore of Green Bay, Marquette and Joliet are warned by Menominee elders not to attempt the voyage (see page 231). What reasons do the Menominee give? Marquette says he's going to try it anyway. What reasons does he give? Who do you think has a better argument? Why?

4. In contrast to Marquette, why did French officials want to undertake this journey (see the first page of Joliet's interview here; click "page & text" to see a typed English translation)?  How is that different from Marquette's reason?

5. Marquette says it would all be worth it if what happened (see page 257)? What other things must Marquette believe, if he believes that? 

6. Why did Marquette and Joliet turn back before reaching the Gulf of Mexico (see page 256)? List their reasons in statements beginning, "Because..." Did they make the right choice, or should they have continued on? Why do you think that?

7. It took Marquette and Joliet 30 days to go 1,273 miles from Prairie du Chien to Arkansas (June 17 to July 17) but it took them almost twice as long (54 days) to go only 920 miles back to Chicago (July 17 to Sept. 13). How far did they travel each day, on average, on the way down? How many each day on the way back? Why did they go more slowly on the return trip?

8. In China people speak Chinese; in Somalia, Somali; in Germany, German. Explain why we aren't conducting this class in Menominee, Ho-Chunk, or Ojibwe.

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