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Jacques Marquette

Pere Marquette closup.JPG
1869 portrait of Marquette
Born (1637-06-01)June 1, 1637
Died May 18, 1675(1675-05-18) (aged 37)
Other names Pere Marquette
Signature of Jacques Marquette (1637–1675).png

Jacques Marquette, S.J. (June 1, 1637 – May 18, 1675), sometimes known as Père Marquette or James Marquette, was a French Jesuit missionary who founded Michigan's first European settlement, Sault Sainte Marie, and later founded Saint Ignace. In 1673, Marquette, with Louis Jolliet, an explorer born near Quebec City, was the first European to explore and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River Valley.

Early life

Jacques Marquette was born in Laon, France, on June 1, 1637. He came of an ancient family distinguished for its civic and military services. Marquette joined the Society of Jesus at age 17. He studied and taught in France for several years, then the Jesuits assigned him to New France in 1666 as a missionary to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. When he arrived in Quebec, he was assigned to Trois-Rivières on the Saint Lawrence River, where he assisted Gabriel Druillettes and, as preliminary to further work, devoted himself to the study of the local languages and became fluent in six different dialects.


In 1668, Marquette was moved by his superiors to missions farther up the Saint Lawrence River in the western Great Lakes region. That year he helped Druillettes found the mission at Sault Ste. Marie in present-day Michigan. Other missions were founded at Saint Ignace in 1671 (Mission Saint-Ignace) and at La Pointe on Lake Superior in present-day Wisconsin. At La Pointe, he encountered members of the Illinois tribes, who told him about the important trading route of the Mississippi River. They invited him to teach their people, whose settlements were mostly farther south. Because of wars between the Hurons at La Pointe and the neighboring Lakota people, Marquette left the mission and went to the Straits of Mackinac; he informed his superiors about the rumored river and requested permission to explore it.

Pere Marquette
Pere Marquette and the Indians [at the Mississippi River], oil painting (1869) by Wilhelm Lamprecht (1838–1906), at Marquette University

Leave was granted, and in 1673 Marquette joined the expedition of Louis Jolliet, a French-Canadian explorer. They departed from Saint Ignace on May 17, with two canoes and five voyageurs of French-Indian ancestry. They sailed to Green Bay and up the Fox River, nearly to its headwaters. From there, they were told to portage their canoes a distance of slightly less than two miles through marsh and oak plains to the Wisconsin River. Many years later, at that point, the town of Portage, Wisconsin was built, named for the ancient path between the two rivers. They ventured forth from the portage, and on June 17, they entered the Mississippi near present-day Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

Carte de la decouverte faite l'an 1673 dans l'Amerique Septentrionale
Map of the discovery made in the year 1673 in North America

The Joliet-Marquette expedition traveled to within 435 miles (700 km) of the Gulf of Mexico but turned back at the mouth of the Arkansas River. By this point, they had encountered several natives carrying European trinkets, and they feared an encounter with explorers or colonists from Spain. They followed the Mississippi back to the mouth of the Illinois River, which they learned from local natives provided a shorter route back to the Great Lakes. They reached Lake Michigan near the site of modern-day Chicago, by way of the Chicago Portage. In September, Marquette stopped at Saint Francis Xavier mission in present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin, while Jolliet returned to Quebec to relate the news of their discoveries.

Grave of Jacques Marquette in Saint Ignace, Michigan

Marquette and his party returned to the Illinois territory in late 1674, becoming the first Europeans to winter in what would become the city of Chicago. As welcomed guests of the Illinois Confederation, the explorers were feasted en route and fed ceremonial foods such as sagamite.


In the spring of 1675, Marquette traveled westward and celebrated a public Mass at the Grand Village of the Illinois near Starved Rock. A bout of dysentery he had contracted during the Mississippi expedition sapped his health. On the return trip to Saint Ignace, he died at 37 years of age near the modern town of Ludington, Michigan. After his death, natives from the Illinois Confederation returned his bones to the chapel at Mission Saint-Ignace.

Adjacent to gravesite of Marquette on State Street in downtown Saint Ignace, a building was constructed that now houses the Museum of Ojibwa Culture.


In the early 20th century Marquette was widely celebrated as a Roman Catholic founding father of the region.



Marquette is memorialized by various statues, monuments, and historical markers:

Marquette has been honored twice on postage stamps issued by the United States:

  • A one-cent stamp in 1898, part of Trans-Mississippi Issue, which shows him on the Mississippi River; This is the first time a Catholic priest is honored by the U.S. Postal Department.
  • A 6-cent stamp issued September 20, 1968, marking the 300th anniversary of his establishment of the Jesuit mission at Sault Ste. Marie.


See also

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