Who remembers that the first visitors to what is now Wisconsin’s largest city were Father Jacques Marquette and his French-Canadian travel companions Pierre Porteret, a Jesuit donné, and Jacques Largillier, known as Le Castor (The Beaver) ?
They stayed in downtown Milwaukee in 1674 from Friday to Tuesday November 23 to 27. With a view to honouring their visit, a bronze statue of Marquette and a polished granite flat stone showing a carved Native American canoeist paddling through the water were erected on the actual site of their encampment. Marquette University, the largest private university in the State of Wisconsin, has proudly been named after this famous French explorer and missionary who was the first European to map the northern portion of the Mississippi River.
Milwaukee’s first permanent settler was Jacques Vieau, a native of Côte-des-Neiges in Montreal. He arrived in 1795. He was a fur trader for the North-West Company. Indications are that his fur trading enterprise on the shores of Lake Michigan was highly profitable. Ten years earlier, Vieau had married Angélique Roy at Green Bay. At least twelve children were born from their union. Angélique was the granddaughter of Grand Chief Poéouatami, called Anaugesa.
The first home of Milwaukee
Here, in the green and lush landscape of present-day of Mitchell Park in the heart of the pleasant Menomonee River Valley, entrepreneur Jacques Vieau built his Wisconsin log cabin in 1795. This historic structure is reported to be the first home in Milwaukee. His trading post, sometime referred to as a general store, was located nearby where the river crossed a Native American trail linking Green Bay and Chicago.
It is said that members of the Potawatomi Nation, a name meaning “People of the place of the fire,” did most likely make great use of the busy Green Bay – Chicago trail during the time of Colonial French Louisiana. Known to the French as “gens de feu” and also as the “Poûx”, these indigenous people were scattered in several villages and traded widely among themselves through kicking from place to place.