Lake Michigan and the territory of Wisconsin were explored by Jean Nicolet in 1634, four years after the founding of Boston (Massachusetts) and 48 years before the foundation of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania).
It was at the request of Samuel de Champlain (founder of Québec City) that Nicolet set out on a large birchbark canoe with an escort of seven Huron-Wendat guides to meet the “People of the Sea” in the ocean green colored bay who could lead him to the supposedly passage to China. The journey began in Huronia in Northern Ontario. Several weeks later, Nicolet landed at the bottom of what is now Green Bay on July 4, 1634. There, he was received by the people of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Believing to be near China, two pistols in his hands, he presented himself wearing a mandarin tunic of yellow and purple silk. Accompanied by his hosts Nicolet ascended the Fox River up to Lake Winnebago. In that particular location, where he turned around, he was only three days canoeing from the Mississippi River.
The father of Wisconsin
In 1655, a fur trading post was established at “La Baye Verte” (French for Green Bay), named for its emerald waters. It rapidly became the gateway to the American West. Six years later, Father Claude-Jean Allouez founded Saint-François-Xavier Mission at Des Pères Rapids (now De Pere, a suburb of Green Bay). In 1673, Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet stayed La Baye Verte en route to the mighty Mississippi. A fort was erected in 1717 to protect the fur trade. With the change of allegiance from French to British governance in 1763 La Baye Verte became Green Bay.
Jean Nicolet is considered the father of Wisconsin (formerly Ouisconsin). Born in Normandy, France, and less than 20 years of age, he arrived in the New World in 1618. At first, he lived among the Algonquin people at Allumette Island on the upper Ottawa River and then with the Nippising people in Northern Ontario for over a decade. He learned their languages, traditions and way of life. In Wisconsin, Native Americans called him “Maritourinuou”, meaning a “wonderful person”.
The Ho-Chunk Nation, also called Winnebago, traditionally practiced corn farming and hunting. In addition, they fished and harvested wild rice and maple sugar. Nicolet met them at La Baye Verte. Their spoken language was similar to the Algonquian language.