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Document Number: AJ-045
Author: Radisson, Pierre Esprit, ca. 1636-1710
Title: Radisson's Account of His Third Journey, 1658-1660
Source: Kellogg, Louise P. (editor). Early Narratives of the Northwest, 1634-1699. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917). Pages 29-65.
Pages/Illustrations: 40 / 1
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-045/

Author Note

The career of Pierre Esprit Radisson (1636-1710) is wrapped in confusion and ambiguity due to incomplete, contradictory, and erroneous sources. He arrived in Canada in 1651, was taken captive by the Iroquois while exploring the Three Rivers area, rescued by Dutch merchants in Albany, and returned to France. He came back to Three Rivers in 1654 and accompanied a mission to the Iroquois in 1657, barely escaping capture once again. Iroquois attacks on tribes allied with the French disrupted the fur trade during the 1650s, and western Indian nations had been unable to trade their furs to the French for several seasons. When the first western furs made it through, Radisson claimed to have secured the governor’s permission to travel back to the Great Lakes with the returning flotilla of canoes, accompanied by his sister’s husband, Medart Chouart, Sieur des Groseilliers (1618?-c. 1690). This is the journey Radisson describes here -- known as his third voyage, the two Iroquois expeditions being the first two -- but other documents suggest he did not participate in the expedition at all as Radisson appears to have been in Quebec in 1655. In 1659-1660, the two journeyed to Lake Superior (Radisson's fourth voyage), nearly starving to death in the Wisconsin forest during a harsh winter. When they returned to Montreal Radisson and Groseilliers were punished for unauthorized trading, and so offered their knowledge of the interior and their services to the English. They made several voyages to Hudson Bay under the English flag and helped to establish the Hudson’s Bay Company. Groseilliers appears to have died at Hudson Bay about 1696. Radisson settled in England where he married and lived on a pension until his death in 1710.

The Radisson and Groseilliers Expedition to Lake Superior, 1654-1656(?)

The exact dates and route of this journey are not known, for the reasons given above. Groseilliers, another Frenchman, and their Indian guides seem to have traveled in 1654-56 up the Ottawa River to the Nipissing portage and entered the western Great Lakes at Lake Huron. Expressing a desire to explore western trade routes, they visited Lake Superior and the headwaters of the Mississippi River before traveling overland to Hudson Bay to collect furs. In this report, Groseilliers' partners (perhaps Radisson, though unlikely) described the variety of wildlife and fish that populated the Lake Superior region, including beaver, moose, deer, bear, eagles, and varieties of fish. He described the continued war between the Dakota and the Ojibwe for control of the wild rice lakes of Wisconsin and Minnesota. After leading a mixed force of tribes against a band of Iroquois, the Frenchmen arrived at Montreal where he learned of the Iroquois attack on the fort there.

Document Note

Radisson’s journals recount his first four voyages to the Iroquois Indians and the Great Lakes. Written for King Charles II of England, Radisson his accounts were in English, which was not his native language. This makes it difficult to determine his route, the extent of his discoveries, and how accurate they are. The journals fell into the hands of Samuel Pepys, the Secretary of the Admiralty to Charles II, where they were soon lost. Seeing them used for waste paper by a London shopkeeper, Richard Rawlinson rescued the journals from the shopkeeper’s pile of manuscripts in 1750 and placed them in the collection of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Unnoticed until the end of the nineteenth century when records of the voyage surfaced at the British Museum, Radisson’s journals were first published in 1885 for the Prince Society in Boston by Gideon D. Scull.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The Virtual Museum of New France by Civilization Canada, provides a description and a map of the Radissson and des Grosielliers journey at:
http://www.civilization.ca/vmnf/explor/explcd_e.html

The National Library of Canada offers a description of these journeys at:
http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/explorers/h24-1460-e.html

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