Jacques Marquette – Missionary Explorer

Father Jacques Marquette

Father Jacques Marquette

Jacques Marquette, sometimes known as Père Marquette or James Marquette, was a French Jesuit missionary and explorer who founded Michigan’s first European settlement, Sault Ste. Marie, and later founded St. Ignace, Michigan. In 1673 Father Marquette and Louis Jolliet were the first Europeans to explore and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River.

Jacques was born in Laon, France, on June 1, 1637. After years of preparatory study and teaching, he arrived in Quebec, Canada, in 1666, studied Indian language and culture, and was sent in 1668 to Sault Ste. Marie, a mission among the Ottawa Indians, and to La Pointe de St. Esprit.

While he was at St. Ignace on Mackinac Island in December 1672, an old friend, the trader Louis Jolliet, arrived with orders for Marquette to accompany him on a journey to explore the Mississippi River. Embarking in May 1673, they reached the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers‘ confluence. Indians told them the Mississippi River (which Marquette named Riviere de la Conception) emptied into the Gulf of Mexico and warned them of Spanish settlers farther downstream. They returned to avoid being captured with their geography and Indian culture information. By May 1674, Marquette was very ill; however, while recovering his health, he prepared notes for publication in Jesuit Relations since the official record had been lost.

In October 1674, Marquette fulfilled his wish to establish a mission at Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he and Jolliet had spent time. Marquette’s poor health forced their return to Sault Ste. Marie. Marquette died en route and was buried on May 18, 1675. His remains were returned to St. Ignace by Indian converts and placed in a chapel, which was destroyed by fire in 1706. In 1877 the grave was discovered, and a marker was erected in 1882.


© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated March 2023.

Also See:

Discovery and Exploration of America

Explorers of the America List

Michigan – The Great Lakes State

The Mississippi River and the Expansion of America