||Vimont, Barthélemy, 1594-1667
||Journey of Jean Nicolet, 1634
||Kellogg, Louise P. (editor). Early Narratives of the Northwest, 1634-1699. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917). Pages 11-16.
||8 / 0
Father Barthélemy Vimont (1594-1667) was a Jesuit priest,
personal friend, and admirer of Jean Nicolet. He wrote this
account that was published in Paris, France, in 1642.
Jean Nicolet (d. 1643) arrived in Canada in 1618 and
settled amongst the Algonquians in upper Ottawa. The English
capture of the St. Lawrence colony in 1629 caused Nicolet to
move further inland among the Hurons. When the Treaty of St.
Germain restored Samuel de Champlain to power in 1632, Nicolet
was sent to Wisconsin to explore and secure more land for New
France. Nicolet settled in Three Rivers. Traveling to Quebec on
an errand of mercy for an Indian captive in 1642, Nicolet’s boat
capsized and he drowned in the currents of the St. Lawrence
River. Nicolet’s descendants continued the family exploration
tradition, exploring, and settling areas of Saskatchewan.
Nicolet Expedition, 1634-1635
Jean Nicolet returned to Quebec in 1632 after living among
the Hurons. The Treaty of St. Germain reinstated Samuel de
Champlain as governor of New France, and he pursued his plan to
explore the continent and map it using Jesuit missionaries.
Nicolet was one of the trusted lieutenants chosen to lead an
expedition into the western Great Lakes. Nicolet had learned of
a tribe that the Huron called the Puans, or “People of the Sea,”
and he convinced Champlain that they might possibly be stewards
of the fabled Northwest Passage to China, hidden amongst shores
of the unexplored western Great Lakes.
In 1634, Nicolet traveled the Ottawa River to the portage
with the Nipissing River that empties into northern Lake Huron.
He canoed to the top of Lake Michigan at Michilimackinac, then
traveled with his Huron guides south along the western shore of
Lake Michigan to visit the fabled “Puans.” They called
themselves the Hochungara (Ho-Chunk, or Winnebago), or “People
of the Big Voice,” and spoke a Siouxian dialect, distinct from
the Algonkian languages of the Huron, Iroquois, Ojibwe, and
other tribes of the eastern Great Lakes.
During his fourteen-month journey, Nicolet encountered the
Ho-Chunk who lived near present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin, and populated the Fox River
that flows into it, the first recorded European encounter with
the Ho-Chunk. Dressed in Chinese silk robes and firing pistols
that he carried to impress the Indians, Nicolet astonished the
Ho-Chunk. They entertained Nicolet for several weeks, provided
his expedition with beaver feasts, and agreed to peaceful
relations with the French. It is believed that Nicolet traveled
to Doty Island at the outlet of Lake Winnebago for one of these
feasts, but it is unknown from Vimont’s brief description
whether Nicolet explored any further up the Fox River. Nicolet
spent the winter with the Ho-Chunk and returned in 1635 to Three
Rivers, Quebec, with the unfortunate news that the Puans had no
knowledge of a passage to Asia.
Nicolet's explorations are known only through a series of
reports filed by Jesuit missionaries (Jesuit Relations).
In the nineteenth century, editor John Shea originally placed the
expedition in 1639, but later research conducted by Benjamin
Sulte suggested an earlier date of 1634. As the Jesuits retained
control of exploration of the western Great Lakes, they annually
published their accounts from the Parisian publishing house of
Sebastién Cramoisy. In 1673 the press stopped producing these
manuscripts and they became very rare. The Canadian Government
reprinted the series in 1858, and Reuben Gold Thwaites edited a
translated version of the accounts in 1896 that was completed in
seventy volumes in 1903.
Other Internet and Reference Sources
Civilization Canada provides outlines of Canadian history at
The National Library of Canada provides French and English
versions of the Jesuit Relations. The English translation
by Thwaites can be viewed online at: