Wisconsin State History

The French in America - The Fur Trade - Jesuit Missionaries - Jean Nicollet -Green Bay - Its Early History - Labors of Father Allouez, Dablon, Andre, Marquette, and Others -La Salle, & c.

The territory now embraced within the limits of the State of Wisconsin was, according to the best authority, first visited by Europeans in 1639, nineteen years after the Puritans arrived in "The Mayflower" on the shores of Massachusetts. Charles I. was then king of England, and was engaged in his war against Scotland; and at the same time Louis XIII was king of France, having nearly closed his reign. Europe was in great commotion. The French Government had already manifested a disposition to extend her territory in America by conquests, and, as early as 1604, had colonized Acadia. In 1608 Quebec was founded; and in 1663 Canada, or New France, was made a royal colony.
The reports circulated in France concerning the advantages of the fur-trade with the Indians were such as to induce many of the nobility and gentry of that nation to invest their fortunes in the New World. With this patronage, and the constantly increasing number of colonists, New France grew rapidly in commerce, extending its nominal dominion far towards the Great Lakes.
Hand in hand with the traders came the Jesuit fathers, ever anxious to carry the news of the gospel to the native tribes of the Northwest. As early as 1660 they established a mission on the south side of the western extremity of Lake Superior, at a place called, in the Indian tongue, Che-go-ime-gon; and in 1669 Father Allouez, whose name is deservedly identified with the early history of the lake country, organized a mission at Green Bay.
A Frenchman named Jean Nicollet is supposed or believed to have been the first white person who visited the territory now called Wisconsin. In 1639 this enterprising explorer visited Green Bay, and concluded a peace with the Indians then residing there, in the interests of the government of New France. In the same year he ascended the Fox River to the portage. Crossing this, he embarked on the Wisconsin River, and explored that stream within a few days' sail of the Mississippi. In 1642 this faithful French explorer lost his life while on a benevolent mission to rescue a poor Abenaqui from the Algonquins. He served a valuable part on the early stage of action in this region, not only in reporting the favorable condition of the country to his countrymen, but in furnishing information in regard to the names and situations of the native tribes, which formed the basis of subsequent explorations.
From this time, 1639 to 1673, we have but little to record .that transpired in Wisconsin. Now and then a zealous missionary endangered or lost his life by penetrating the country; and, perchance, an occasional fur-trader was seen among the natives at Green Bay. But aside from this, and the constantly recurring conflicts between the Indian nations, there is nothing authentic that can be presented in these pages; and even accounts of these come to us on the winds of uncertain tradition. However, there is now and then a ray of light from this early chaotic period. In 1654 Father Mercier visited the Indians at Green Bay, and remarks concerning them, to his superior at Quebec, that, "at the islands of the lake of the people of the sea known as 'Stinkards,' there are many tribes, whose language closely resembles the Algonquins, and that they are only nine days' journey from the Great Lake; and that, if the government would send thirty Frenchmen into that country, not only would they gain many souls to God, but would receive a profit above the expenses incurred."
A little later, in 1655, Jean de Quens, a missionary, writes concerning the same place (Green Bay), saying that the nations located there were very large and powerful. One of them, according to this authority, numbered sixty villages, another forty, and another thirty. These Indians were then living in a state of complete barbarity, making war on the nations, or tribes, west of them; conducting their councils with all the curious ceremonies and formalities peculiar to their ancient traditions. In the same year, fifty canoes of these Indians visited Quebec for the purpose of establishing a trade with the French. They were successful in this mission, as might have been expected, and returned with thirty French traders and two priests.
In 1669 an effort was put forth to found a mission at Green Bay; and, on the 8th of November, Father Claudius Allouez left Sault Ste. Marie to execute this purpose, accompanied by two Frenchmen and two canoes of Pottawattomie Indians. After a journey fraught with much of hardship and danger, the venerable Jesuit reached the end of his journey, and spent the winter preaching to the Pottawattomies, Menomonees, Sacs, Foxes, and Winnebagoes, whom he found mingled there. He established a mission on the Fox River, at the Rapids des Peres. He said his first mass Dec. 3rd, the festival of St. Francis Xavier, and called the mission by his name. Allouez found quite a respectable number of Indians at the rapids. They comprised four nations, numbering, in all, six hundred souls. These Indians were living in a state of progress, practicing agricultural industry, raising large fields of corn, beans, tobacco, &c. The surrounding forests were alive with excellent game, and we may infer that these Indians were, in many respects, peculiarly blessed.
In September, 1669, Allouez was joined by Father Marquette, whose name will ever justly live in the names of streams, counties, towns, and cities in the Northwest, as a tribute to his heroic services as.an explorer, and missionary among the Indians. This pious father, in company with Claude Dablon, had, in 1667, visited the Chippewas at the Sault, and established the mission of St. Mary's, the oldest settlement begun by Europeans within the bounds of the State of Michigan. And now, two years later, filled with a spirit of enterprise and duty, wrought up to impatience by the highly-colored representations of the savages, he determined to reach the Father of Waters. But he was frustrated in his designs until 1673, owing partly to the want of patronage from the French colonial government, which was withheld only because of its own feeble condition, and partly to the many unfavorable circumstances arising from the ever-recurring difficulties with the Indians. But in this year the venerable father, accompanied by Joliet and five other Frenchmen, embarked in two frail bark canoes, arriving at Green Bay in June. This party, with two Indian guides, passed up the Fox River to the portage, and crossed over to the Wisconsin, and slowly sailed down its current, amid its vine-covered isles, encountering, of course, its countless sandbars. No sound, save the songs of the wild birds, broke the wearisome stillness; no human form, civilized or savage, appeared: but at length, after a voyage of seven days, and on the 17th of June, they floated out into the majestic current of the great river. After an absence of four months, Marquette returned to Green Bay, by way of Lake Michigan, having travelled about 2,549 miles.
From this date until the war between the Sacs and Foxes, which extended over the first quarter of the eighteenth century, we have but little of importance in the history of Wisconsin. Yet there are a few incidents in the chain of events worthy of mention here, if for nothing else than to complete the record. These things are, for the most part, of no very great importance. The missionary work among the native tribes went steadily on. In this year the Indians of Green Bay were under the excellent ministration of Father's Allouez and Andre They had many souls for their hire; and the enthusiasm and zeal which characterized their labors come up to us from those early days like the deeds of divinely-inspired prophets. Allouez, leaving Andre to conduct the routine of worship at the regular mission at the Bay, pushed out to the neighboring tribes in the surrounding forests. In its immediate results, their work was successful.
Two years later, when Marquette passed through the country on his memorable voyage of discovery, of which we have already spoken, they had baptized over two thousand souls; nor did their work cease here. No obstacle, no discouragement, turned them aside. The missions went steadily on; and in this year, notwithstanding that Father Andre's house at Green Bay had been destroyed by fire, he continued his Christian work with undiminished zeal. His little church of five hundred native converts was quite prosperous in good words and works. Living, for the most part, in his canoe, and travelling in sunshine and storm, from point to point in his wild parish, he continued to care for the spiritual needs of his six tribes, the number included in his charge. Allouez continued his work, reaching out farther and farther, planting missions in new quarters, and rearing the cross among the wigwams of new tribes, disregarding danger, and disobeying the voice of obstacle. This year is memorable on account of the death of Father Marquette, who went to his reward from the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, near the river that now bears his name. He lived a true hero, a humble but aggressive Christian worker, and died in the midst of his good deeds, in a rude camp in the wild forest.
In the same year, or that following, the venerable Father 1676 Charles Albanel became Superior of the western missions, and took up his post at Green Bay, where a second church was raised near the ruins of that occupied by Father Andre. It stood near the Rapids des Peres. This church comes up in the memory of this, as it will to that of all succeeding generations, as a monument to the enterprise and benevolence of Nicholas Perrot, well known as an early Western explorer, and one of the Western traders of that day, as well as of the praiseworthy zeal of Father Albanel. We should observe, in this connection, that Father Allouez was assigned to the post made vacant by the death of Marquette. This was among the Illinois Indians. The good and pious Father Allouez left Green Bay for this centre of savage tribes in October, 1676.
We can only glance at the great work of La Salle in this short chapter. This celebrated explorer, accompanied by Henry De Tonty, Father Louis Hennepin, and others, made a voyage up the lakes in 1679, in "The Griffin," the first vessel built above the Falls of Niagara, and arrived at Green Bay on the 2nd of September. While at this point, La Salle collected a load of furs, and sent the vessel back; but it was unfortunately lost in a storm on the lakes. La Salle, with his company of seventeen men and priests, continued their route by canoes to the St. Joseph River, of Lake Michigan, when they entered the country of the Miamis, and continued their explorations southward, an account of which is foreign to the subject of this volume.

"An Illustrated History of the State of Wisconsin..." By Charles Richard Tuttle; Publ. 1875;
Transcribed and donated by Andrea Stawski Pack.


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