Nicolas Perrot: French Fur Trade in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Nicolas Perrot: French Fur Trade in Wisconsin

Nicolas Perrot: French Fur Trade in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

Explorer and fur trader, Nicolas Perrot, came to Wisconsin in the 17th century and claimed much of the region for France. Living among various Indian tribes near present-day Green Bay, Perrot built a string of posts along the Mississippi River and effectively helped to curb the power of the Iroquois against the French.

Born in the Burgundy region of France in 1644, Perrot traveled to Canada in 1660 in the service of the Jesuits. During his years with the Jesuits, Perrot learned several Indian languages, including Algonquian. He became a fur trader around 1663, visiting the Fox and Potawatomi tribes, but returned to Canada to serve as a domestic for a widow and then as a servant of the Sulpicians in Montreal.

In 1667 Perrot formed a trading company with Toussaint Baudry, Jean Desroches and Isaac Nafrechoux, and together they traveled west to Ottawa. Traveling still further west, Perrot and his partners became the first French traders to deal with the Algonquian tribes near Green Bay in 1668. Working to break the trade monopoly the Ottawas had over the western tribes, Perrot opened direct trade relations with the Potawatomi and established himself as an Indian diplomat by settling a dispute between the Potawatomi and the Menominee. Perrot returned to Montreal with furs in 1670.

Perrot returned to Wisconsin as an interpreter on an expedition to secure Indian delegates for the annexation ceremony of the Upper Mississippi for France in June 1671. He returned to Canada that fall and married, settling on an estate at Becanour. Perrot continued to engage in some fur trading during this period, despite spending most of his time working on his land.

Perrot frequently organized Indian allies against the Iroquois for the French, and in 1685 he was appointed commandant of Green Bay. He built Fort St. Nicolas at the mouth of the Wisconsin River and spent the cold winter of 1685-86 at a trading post on the bluffs near present-day Trempealeau trading with the Sioux. When the ice finally cleared, Perrot traveled north to Lake Pepin and opened a profitable trade with the Sioux out of Fort St. Antoine. It was here, on May 8, 1689, that Perrot took formal possession of the upper Mississippi for France, ousting British fur traders from the region.

Perrot continued to lead the French fur trading operation in the area until a royal ordinance revoked all trading licenses in 1696. Financially ruined, Perrot returned to Canada and devoted his later years to writing his memoirs, only one of which survives.

Perrot died on August 13, 1717.