Marquette, Father

The travel partners established outposts while on their journey and many still stand today. His work is honored with a statue in the US Capital and a National Memorial in St. Ignace Michigan.

Biographical Highlights

Father Jacques Marquette (1637 – 1675) was a Jesuit priest sent to convert Indians to Christianity in Canada and the Midwest section of the United States. His knowledge of native peoples of the Great Lakes and his ability to speak six indigenous languages made him a valuable travel partner and chaplain to Louis Jolliet as they explored the Mississippi River in 1673-1675 (Library and Archives Canada).

Historic Roots

Jacques Marquette was born in Laon, France in 1637. He became a Jesuit priest in 1656 and spent the next ten years studying and teaching in France (ThinkQuest). He was sent as a missionary to New France (Quebec), Canada in 1666. He moved west and founded several missions in his quest to convert native Indians to Christianity, including the mission at Sault St. Marie, which is thought to be the first permanent settlement in what is now Michigan. (History Detroit)

In 1673, he set out with Louis Jolliet to explore a large river they had heard rumor of, with the hope that they would discover a westerly river route to the Pacific Ocean. Instead, they became the first French explorers to travel and map the Mississippi River. They traveled as far as modern day Arkansas, only to be turned back by hostile Spaniards and Indian tribes. A diary kept by Marquette became the only remaining record of the expedition after Jolliet’s map and journal got lost when his canoe overturned in violent rapids.

On returning from their expedition, Father Marquette wintered in northern Illinois and began a settlement in what is now Chicago. In 1675, as he journeyed back to northern Michigan, he died of dysentery and was buried at the mouth of what is now know as the Marquette River, near Ludington Michigan. He was 38 years old.


Father Marquette is credited as being one of the first explorers of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. He and Louis Jolliet were the first to explore the Mississippi River as a southerly route to the Gulf of Mexico. He established outposts and missions on his route that are still present today. He built the first dwelling on the site that is now present day Chicago. A learned man who spoke numerous Indian languages and chronicled his journey on the Mississippi in a diary, he also was the first to give an explanation of the Great Lake tides, a theory still not improved by scientists today. (Museum of History)

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Father Marquette founded the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin mission in Kaskaskia, Illinois on his return trip from the Mississippi exploration. He also renamed the main Indian village Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the Mississippi River Conception River, in honor of the patron saint that watched over their voyage. As one of the earliest explorers of the Midwest region of the United States, he is honored with a statue in the US Capital and a National Memorial in St. Ignace Michigan.

Key Related Ideas

Catholic missions: Outposts established by Catholic clergy to promote the faith and convert local people to Christianity. Often established on trade routes, they were gathering places for travelers and local inhabitants alike.

Jesuit Priests: A religious order founded by Saint Ignatius Loyola in 1540 to bring stability to the Church during the Reformation. They came to the New World within the first hundred years of its discovery. They came in black robes with a zeal that earned them the title “Soldiers of God,” devoting their lives to bringing the “good” news of Christianity to native populations throughout the world. (Tumacácori, 2005)

Kaskaskian Indians: A tribe of Indians in northern Illinois that converted to Christianity after Father Marquette’s visit in 1673. Father Marquette renamed the Indian settlement of Grand Village Immaculate Conception of Mary after nearly 2000 Indians converted to Christianity.

Important People Related to the Topic 

  • Father Gabriel Druilletes (1610-1681): A Jesuit missionary was assigned to minister to the Indians in what is now the state of Michigan. Father Druilletes helped teach Father Marquette about the Algonquin language and the customs of Native Americans.

  • Louis Jolliett (1645-1700): A French explorer and fur trader who previously had been a Jesuit priest. He studied cartography and was sent by the Governor of Canada to explore the Mississippi River. He met Father Marquette at the mission in St. Ignace, where they began their voyage together. After the voyage with Father Marquette, Jolliet went on to explore other regions of the United States and Canada.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Father Marquette National Memorial is located in St. Ignace Michigan at the Straits State Park. Current attractions include the National Memorial, an outdoor interpretive trail, picnicking and a panoramic view of the Mackinac Bridge (

  • Society of Jesus is one of the largest Catholic religious orders. It was founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola. Their priests were instrumental in missionary work throughout the world. Today they are known for their educational and teaching institutions (

Related Web Sites

Father Marquette National Memorial website at contains information about the National Memorial in St. Ignace, Michigan.

An excerpt of Father Marquette’s diary recording his journey with Louis Jolliet is found at

National Statuary Hall Collection, at, is an area of the National Capitol Building that is currently an exhibition space for statues of symbols and people who were important to American history. Father Marquette is in this group.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Boyton, Neil. Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “A River for Mary Immaculate.”

History Detroit 1701-2001. Jacques Marquette. Accessed December 2, 2005.

Library and Archives Canada. Pathfinders & Passageways: the exploration of Canada. Accessed December 2, 2005. About Father Marquette National Memorial, St. Ignace. Accessed December 2, 2005.,1607,+7-160-17447_18595_18603-53553--,00.html.

Museum of History. Jacques Marquette. Accessed December 2, 2005.

ThinkQuest. Father Marquette. Accessed 3 May 2006.

Tumacácori National Historical Park: In Depth. Jesuit Priests. Accessed December 2, 2005.