Father Jacques Marquette, 1673 | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Father Jacques Marquette, 1673

Father Jacques Marquette, 1673 | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeOil painting of Marquette and Joliet in a canoe.

Marquette and Joliet exploring the Upper Mississippi.

Oil painting by Frank H. Zeitler, 1921. Museum object ID 1982.448.1.

Grade Level: Secondary

Duration: One class period

The 1673 journal of Father Jacques Marquette describes the seven-member expedition led by explorer Louis Jolliet and Father Marquette that identified a water route connecting Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. This lesson plan uses Marquette's journal to help students learn about the Great Lakes region as well as introduce students to the challenges of historical scholarship.


Students will:

  • Read and analyze a primary source document
  • Understand early exploration to the Great Lakes region
  • Learn to handle the challenges associated with historical scholarship


Catholic priests from the Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits, had arrived in New France in 1625. By 1632 the Jesuits controlled all missionary work in French Canada. In addition to their piety and devotion, Jesuits were also well educated scholars, as is evident in the quality of their writings. Church superiors in Quebec required that Jesuits working among Indigenous people prepare written reports. These reports were then arranged into a chronological narrative and forwarded to France.

Historian Reuben Gold Thwaites prepared an English translation of Jesuit Relations between 1896 and 1901. One of the most valuable documents in the massive 72 volume series is the 1673 journal of Father Jacques Marquette. The journal describes the seven-member expedition led by explorer Louis Jolliet and Father Marquette that identified a water route connecting Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.

This selection begins with a brief introduction written by Father Claude Dablon, a church superior who had visited east-central Wisconsin in 1670. Father Marquette's journal begins as the expedition departed from the mission at St. Ignace on May 17, 1673. The party traveled in two canoes along the western shore of Lake Michigan. Canoeing south on Green Bay, the Frenchmen encountered Menominee tribal members, who discouraged the group from continuing, warning of barbaric peoples and great monsters on the Great River. The French ascended the lower Fox River, ventured into Lake Winnebago and Lake Butte des Mortes, and on June 7 reached a Mascouten village that is near the present-day community of Berlin.

Miami tribal members agreed to supply the French with two guides, who delivered the party to the one and one-half mile portage from the Fox to the Wisconsin. Marquette provided an excellent description of the lower Wisconsin River, including viewing a "very rich" mineral mine operated by Native Americans. On June 17 -- only one month after leaving Mackinac -- the expedition entered the Mississippi River "with a Joy that I cannot express." Marquette described the surrounding landscape and fauna, with special attention to the "wild cattle," the American buffalo or bison.

Resource Materials


Some students will have difficulty or lack the patience to read this document. Teachers may want to consider reading aloud from Father Marquette's journal. Nonetheless, reading, and interpreting this 300 year-old journal will introduce students to some of the challenges of historical scholarship.

When assigning the document, direct students to prepare a list of geographic locations and vocabulary words as they read the journal. Encourage students to try and determine the meanings and geographic locations prior to the follow-up classroom discussion on the document.

Provide students with an outline map of the Great Lakes region and Wisconsin. Direct students to chart Marquette and Jolliet's expedition from the mission at St. Ignace to the Mississippi River, summarizing information contained in the journal on their maps.

Discussion Questions

  1. What was the major objective of the French expedition?
  2. Consider Father Marquette's comments on the Indian peoples the Frenchmen encountered.
    1. Did Marquette express any cultural prejudices toward the Native Americans?
    2. Did Marquette credit the Native Americans in helping the French expedition?
    3. As a historical source, how might Marquette's journal assist historians in understanding Wisconsin Indigenous culture in the late 1600s?
  3. Consider Marquette's description of the portage from the Fox River to the Wisconsin River. Why do you think he expressed some anxiety at this point of the expedition?
    1. How do the author's of your history textbook interpret this period of American history? Does this document challenge or support the textbook's interpretation? Explain.
    2. What questions did this document answer for you? What questions did it raise?
    3. What generalizations can you make about the time period from this source?
    4. Considering the expedition's objectives, what do you consider the greatest achievement of the journey?


The following translations and explanations of geographic locations will provide some assistance in reading and interpreting the entries in Marquette's journal.

Guide to Marquette's Journal
Sea of China (page 87)Pacific Ocean
Theguaio (87)A pueblo in Spanish New Mexico
Quiuira (87)Present-day Kansas (explored by Coronado)
Outaouacs (89)Ottawa Indians
Sieur Jolyet (89)Louis Jolliet
"That of the Ilinois" (93)Lake Michigan
Foll Avoine (93)Menominee Indians
wild oat (93-95)wild rice
la Baye Salle (97)the salt bay (Green Bay)
Baye des Puans (89-97)the stinking bay (Green Bay)
Maskouten (101)Indian Village near present-day Berlin, in Green Lake County
Father Alloues (101)Father Claude Allouez
Meskousing (107)Wisconsin River
monster fish (109)river catfish
pisikious or wild cattle (111)bison or American buffalo


A version of this lesson plan was developed by the Office of School Services as part of the Wisconsin Stories online activity guide for the secondary-level classroom. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs.