About Pere Marquette

Father Jacques Marquette (1638 - 1675) is one of the better-known Jesuit missionaries to work with native people in Michigan. He came to convert Native Americans to Christianity and explore the wilderness described by other French explorers and missionaries.

The interest of French explorers focused on trade, religious conversion, and exploration rather than settlement and domination. The religious enthusiasm of the French missionaries, typified by Marquette, was yet another force that drove some Frenchmen into the interior of the Great Lakes region. Through their close contact, the French were able to impose their religious views on some native peoples which made the exchange of European ideas and technological innovations among native peoples inevitable.

The first Europeans to see Michigan were the French. A picturesque account of French explorations in North America can be found in the Resource Document written by the historian John Clark Ridpath in 1876. In this account you will learn that the explorer Jacques Cartier declared the "country" he explored a possession of France.

Like the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English, the French were looking for a passage to India and the orient. Not only did they not find a passage, they did not find great riches in diamonds and gold. After the disappointment of Cartier's discoveries, and after a succession of economically debilitating wars, took 60 years to launch a new expedition to the New World.

The force behind French exploration was Samuel de Champlain, a mapmaker and navigator. Champlain reasoned that the fur trade seemed a surer way to riches than looking for diamonds and gold. Some wealthy merchants financed several voyages by Champlain to the New World. In 1608 the foundations of Quebec were laid by Champlain and his men.

Champlain had heard from Indians of a great lake to the west that would take forty days to reach. He sent Jean Nicolet out in 1634 to explore it and to find a water route through North America to the Far East. Though Nicolet was not successful in finding a "Northwest Passage", rich resources were discovered in Michigan and other areas. The exploration of the French changed beliefs about the New World into knowledge, and altered the focus of future leaders of expeditions to the region.

Father Marquette

The Society of Jesus, Jesuits, played an important role in establishing France's position in the New World. The Society trained young priests to be a highly disciplined group of well educated and organized men. Their motto was "For the Greater Glory of God," and they prepared their bodies and minds for their life-long mission of hardship and privation. The Jesuits, unlike the vast majority of traders, were literate and were responsible for chronicling and mapping much of what was explored during these days. Father Jacques Marquette quickly became a respected and admired missionary among the Indians and other French. He was described as of "gentle, joyous disposition, ever looking upon the bright side of life, burning with zeal which has through all time inspired martyrs of religious faith." He understood very quickly that although the missionaries had good intentions, the chasm between cultures made complete conversion of native almost impossible. The Native American lifestyle, from birth to death, was permeated with a spiritual, environmental, and emotional culture that could not be replaced by Christianity unless the native was permanently removed from his tribe. Marquette established a mission for the Chippewa in the place that Brule´named Sault St. Marie. This site is generally credited for being the oldest European settlement in Michigan. The Jesuits maintained the mission until 1700 when it was abandoned for several years, after which the French re-established it as an outpost.

In 1670, Pere Marquette was sent from Sault Ste. Marie to the Holy Spirit Mission at Chequamegon Bay (Wisconsin) because the Sault mission was suddenly a busy trading center and a more experienced priest was needed. Unfortunately, while Marquette was at the mission, some Indians killed five visiting Sioux. Fearing retaliations, the Ottawa fled to Manitoulin Island and the Huron went to the Straits of Mackinac.
Marquette followed his converts and Indian charges and was instructed to start a new mission at the Straits. He named his new mission St. Ignance, after the founder of his religious order.

Pere Marquette was included in an expedition in 1673 that aimed to explore the "great river to the west" that the Indians called the Messipi. This seemed to the French to possibly be the Northwest Passage. The small group of Frenchmen began their journey at St. Ignace and followed the lake Michigan shoreline into Green Bay, down the Fox River and carried their boats to the Wisconsin River where they intercepted the mouth of the Mississippi. The canoed southward until they reached the mouth of the Arkansas River. Here they determined that they would eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico. They also realized that the Natives they encountered were under the influence of the Spanish and establishing a trading relationship and religious conversion would not be easy. The explorers decided to turn back. They paddled northward up the Illinois, the Des Plaines and Chicago Rivers, up the western shore of Lake Michigan until the reached Green Bay. Marquette and two voyageurs spent the winter in Green Bay where he interacted with the Native Americans there. Marquette had developed an illness the year before and he was given permission to return to St. Ignace. The voyageurs paddled eastward across Lake Michigan. It is believed that he passed away near Ludington, at the mouth of a river now called Pere Marquette.

During Pere Marquette's short life, he only lived in Michigan for less than 10 years. During his time in the New World, he carefully documented the native languages he encountered. He was a voracious writer and trumpeted the value of the new world to fellow Europeans. He also created maps and other documents that, when complied with the memories and diaries of others, gave an excellent account of the Mississippi River, the Native Americans, and their languages, and natural resources. His missionary efforts left a significant impact upon the French living in the area, as well as some of the Native Americans he ministered to.

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