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Document Number: AJ-043
Author: Vimont, Barthélemy, 1594-1667
Title: Journey of Jean Nicolet, 1634
Source: Kellogg, Louise P. (editor). Early Narratives of the Northwest, 1634-1699. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917). Pages 11-16.
Pages/Illustrations: 8 / 0
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-043/

Author Note

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.

Document Note

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 its website:
http://www.warmuseum.ca/orch/www04m_e.html

The National Library of Canada provides French and English versions of the Jesuit Relations. The English translation by Thwaites can be viewed online at:
http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/jesuit-relations/index-e.html

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