Louis Jolliet

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Louis Jolliet (September 21, 1645–1700), also known as Louis Joliet, was a French Canadian explorer known for his discoveries in North America. Jolliet and Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, a Catholic priest and missionary, were the first Europeans to explore and map much of the Mississippi River in 1673.[1]


Early life

Jolliet was born in 1645 in a French settlement near Quebec City. When he was seven years old, his father died and his mother remarried a successful merchant. Jolliet's stepfather owned land on the Ile d'Orleans, an island in the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec that was home to native Americans. Jolliet spent much time on Ile d'Orleans, so it was likely that he began speaking Native American languages at a young age. During his childhood, Quebec was the center of the French fur trade. The Natives were part of day-to-day life in Quebec, and Jolliet grew up knowing a lot about them.

Jolliet attended a Jesuit school in Quebec and received minor orders in 1662, but abandoned his plans to become a priest in 1667.[2]

Discovery of the Mississippi

On May 18, 1673, Jolliet and Marquette departed from St. Ignace with two canoes and five other voyageurs of French-Indian ancestry (today's Métis). They followed Lake Michigan to the Bay of Green Bay, then up Fox River, nearly to its headwaters. From there, they portaged their canoes a distance of slightly less than two miles through marsh and oak plains to the Wisconsin River. At that point Europeans eventually built a trading post, Portage, named for its location. From there, they ventured on and entered the Mississippi River near present-day Prairie du Chien on June 17. He spoke English, Spanish, and French.

The Jolliet-Marquette expedition traveled down the Mississippi to within 435 miles (700 km) of the Gulf of Mexico, but they turned back north at the mouth of the Arkansas River. By this point, they had encountered natives carrying European goods, and they were concerned about an encounter with explorers or colonists from Spain.[3] They followed the Mississippi back to the mouth of the Illinois River, which they learned from local natives was a shorter route back to the Great Lakes. Following the Illinois and the Des Plaines rivers, via the Chicago Portage, they reached Lake Michigan near the location of modern-day Chicago. Marquette stopped at the mission of St. Francis Xavier in Green Bay, Wisc., in September, while Jolliet returned to Quebec to relate the news of their discoveries.

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