Colonial Period: Marquette and Joliet
Marquette and Joliet is the third lesson in the Colonial Period unit with Bacon’s Rebellion, The Great Awakening, and The French and Indian War to follow. It was preceded by the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The pre-Colonial Period saw European explorers, through the use of triangular trade and particularly the Atlantic Slave trade, colonize indigenous people while establishing indentured servitude and slavery as sources of labor. In mainland North America, settlers would establish thirteen colonies, areas that are now the states known as:
- New York
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
There were other scattered colonies like St. Augustine in what is now known as Florida. In the early days of the colonial period, the settlers did not know how to live in the wilderness, and they faced many hardships.
In Massachusetts, for example, the Plymouth settlers, spent most of their first winter (1620–21) on board the Mayflower. The following winter, the Pilgrims lived on land but in wigwams and sailcloth tents. Many were sick and all were hungry, with nearly one-quarter of them dying, before a ship from England brought fresh supplies.
In time, the colonists learned how to live in the wilderness — through trial and error and the help of some of the more friendly Native American tribes. By the 1700s, small cities and towns were well established. The colonists slowly developed their own customs and lifestyles. Eventually they began to feel that this new land was now their true home.
Life In Colonial America
Life in colonial America centered around the family. Most people worked, played, learned, and worshiped at home. A large family was necessary in colonial days to get all the work done.
The father was considered the head of the household. He made all of the decisions concerning their families and earned money through farming and jobs outside the home. Women worked in the home, raising the children, preparing the meals, sewing clothes, preserving food for the winter, scrubbing laundry, fetching water, and stoking fires.
Most children in early colonial times never saw the inside of a schoolhouse. Instead, colonial children usually learned about the adult world by doing things the way their parents did. But, just because they didn’t go to school, their lives were not easy.
Children were expected to help with a share of the family’s work. Boys helped their fathers and girls did chores at home. By a time a girl was four she could knit stockings!
By the time they had reached age 14, most children were already considered adults. Boys would soon take up their father’s trade or leave home to become an apprentice. Girls learned to manage a house and were expected to marry young, probably by the time they were 16 and surely before they were 20.
Marquette and Joliet
While Hernando de Soto was the first European to make official note of the Mississippi River by discovering its southern entrance in 1541, Marquette and Joliet were the first to locate its upper reaches, and travel most of its length, about 130 years later. De Soto had named the river Rio del Espiritu Santo, but tribes along its length called it variations “Mississippi”, meaning “Great River” in the Algonquian languages.
Louis Jolliet (September 21, 1645 – after May 1700) 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 non-Natives to explore and map the Mississippi River in 1673.
Jacques Marquette (June 1, 1637 – May 18, 1675), was a French-Canadian Jesuit missionary who founded Michigan’s first European settlement, Sault Ste. Marie, and later founded St. Ignace, Michigan. 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.
Travels of Marquette and Joliet
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 St. Ignace in 1671 (St. Ignace Mission) 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.
Leave was granted, and in 1673 Marquette joined the expedition of Louis Jolliet, a French-Canadian explorer. They departed from St. 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. From the portage, they ventured forth, and on June 17 they entered the Mississippi near present-day Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
The Marquette and Joliet expedition traveled down the Mississippi to within 435 miles (700 km) of the Gulf of Mexico. They turned back north at the mouth of the Arkansas River. By this point, they had encountered natives carrying European goods and worried about a possible hostile encounter with explorers or colonists from Spain. The voyageurs then followed the Mississippi back to the mouth of the Illinois River, which friendly natives told them was a shorter route back to the Great Lakes.
Following the Illinois river upstream, they then turned up its tributary the Des Plaines River near modern-day Joliet, Illinois. They then continued up the Des Plaines River and portaged their canoes and gear at the Chicago Portage. They then followed the Chicago River downstream until they reached Lake Michigan near the location of modern-day Chicago. Father Marquette stayed at the mission of St. Francis Xavier at the southern end of Green Bay, which they reached in August. Joliet returned to Quebec to relate the news of their discoveries.
Next: Bacon’s Rebellion
Previous: Massachusetts Bay Colony
- A brief history of Green Bay. (2012, July 24). Wisconsin Historical Society. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS2400
- Catholic encyclopedia: Gabriel Druillettes. (n.d.). NEW ADVENT. https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05164a.htm
- Historic sault Ste. Marie Michigan. (n.d.). Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society. https://www.shipwreckmuseum.com/historic-u-s-weather-bureau-building/sault-ste-marie/
- History – City of Portage, WI. (n.d.). City of Portage, WI. https://www.portagewi.gov/history/
- History: Early prairie du Chien. (n.d.). Fort Crawford Museum. https://www.fortcrawfordmuseum.com/history-early-prairie-du-chien.html
- Jacques Marquette. (2003, July 13). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved November 5, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Marquette#Explorations
- Joliet, IL. (n.d.). Encyclopedia of Chicago. https://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/676.html
- La Pointe, Wisconsin. (2017, June 12). Wisconsin Historical Society. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS9549
- Louis Jolliet. (2002, October 22). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved November 5, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Jolliet
- The Rio del Espiritu santo. (2001, November 1). Free News, Magazines, Newspapers, Journals, Reference Articles and Classic Books – Free Online Library. https://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+Rio+del+Espiritu+Santo.-a080319415