Marquette, Jacques (1637–1675)

Father Jacques Marquette, also known as Père Marquette, was a French explorer and Jesuit missionary. He spread Christianity among Great Lakes Native American tribes from 1666 to 1675 and accompanied Louis Jolliet as chaplain on the first European expedition to extensively explore the Mississippi River.

Jacques Marquette was born on June 1, 1637, to a prominent family at Laon in the north of France. He entered a Jesuit school at Nancy in 1654. Marquette studied and taught at various Jesuit schools in France, where he earned mediocre marks but gained expertise in many languages. He dreamed of overseas missionary work in the pattern of his role model, the great Jesuit proselytizer Francis Xavier.

Marquette realized his dream in 1666 when he received orders to become a missionary in New France, France’s North American colony. Three weeks after arriving in Quebec, Marquette traveled to the Jesuit mission at Three Rivers, where he began a course of study that resulted in his mastery of six native dialects. In 1668, he began working for the Ottawa mission at Sault Sainte Marie, and he succeeded Father Claude Allouez at La Pointe in Chequamegon Bay in 1669. Unpleasant relations with the Sioux forced Marquette and his converts to flee to the St. Ignace mission at Mackinac in 1671. While imbued with a strong work ethic and a devout sense of mission, Marquette met with limited missionary success among the native peoples. Generally, only the very young, elderly, or ill accepted Christian baptism. Other efforts to convince Native Americans to become less nomadic, plant fields, and save surplus food for famine times also yielded discouraging results.

Despite the small number of converts, Marquette enjoyed as much or more success than other missionaries. The efforts of Jesuit missionaries such as Marquette also made for amicable relations between most Native American tribes and the French. The Jesuit practices of accepting native culture, learning native languages, and living among the native population created a sense of trust between the two cultures. This allowed for a flourishing fur trade and less direct hostility as compared to other European colonization efforts.

In 1673, Marquette further satisfied his yearning to spread Christianity to people who had never encountered it when he agreed to be chaplain on Louis Jolliet’s expedition to explore the Mississippi River and discover its mouth. On May 17, 1673, the two men, accompanied by five oarsmen, set off across Lake Michigan from St. Ignace. They traveled to Green Bay and through Wisconsin, arriving at the Mississippi River on June 17, 1673, thus becoming the first Europeans to explore the river at any significant length.

They followed the waterway south until they were a few miles downstream of the mouth of the Arkansas River. Their journey ended there after an encounter with a village of Quapaws. At first hostile toward the Europeans, the Native Americans befriended the party after a native translator was found who communicated with Marquette in the Illinois dialect. Convinced that they were close to the mouth of the Mississippi River, and that the river definitely flowed south into the Gulf of Mexico and not west to the Gulf of California, the explorers turned back to avoid entanglements with the Spanish. Marquette’s duties on the adventure included translating, spreading the word of God, being a symbol of goodwill (it was believed that the black robes, as they were known, had a peaceful reputation among native peoples), and keeping a detailed journal. Since a canoe accident destroyed Jolliet’s journal and forced him to recount his trek from memory, Marquette’s journal became the only original account of the expedition; it was published in 1681.

The French Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette accompanied Louis Jolliet as a chaplain on his exploration of the Mississippi River, the first by white men, in 1673. (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania) The arduous return journey began on July 17, 1673. Instead of retracing their steps, the group was convinced by a band of Illinois encountered on the return trip to travel the shorter route up the Illinois River to present-day Chicago. Winter’s approach eventually halted the group at Green Bay, where Marquette took ill. Realizing that he would not survive the trip back to Montreal, he received permission to return to work with the Illinois, which he did until his health failed again. Marquette died at the mouth of the Père Marquette River at present-day Ludington, Michigan, on May 18, 1675, as he endeavored to return to St. Ignace. Christianized Native Americans exhumed his remains two years later and interred them at Mackinac. Thomas F. Jorsch See also: Exploration; French; French Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology); Jesuits; Mississippi River. Document: Marquette’s Travels on the Mississippi (1673). Bibliography Severin, Timothy. Explorers of the Mississippi. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968. Thwaites, Reuben G. Father Marquette. New York: D. Appleton, 1902. Marriage and Divorce Marriage was a common state for most people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, whether European, African American, or Native American. The primary differences between these marriages lay in how the marriage ceremonies were conducted and the specific roles of the two spouses once married.

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