Marquette, a highly esteemed and honored character

Father Jacques Marquette and the Natives (artist Wilhelm Lamprecht)

The Municipality of Marquette, on Lake Superior, took its name in 1850 to honor the famed Father Jacques Marquette.

Marquette, a Jesuit missionary and explorer, was born in Laon, France, in 1637. He came to settle in New France in 1666. In Trois-Rivières, Québec, he studied Innu and other aboriginal languages under the direction of Father Gabriel Druillettes, a specialist in wintering with Native American Nations. Seven years later, he spoke fluently half a dozen languages. In the summer of 1671 he founded the St. Ignace Mission in the Michilimackinac Straits, where he received Louis Jolliet, who had been appointed by New France Governor Frontenac to reconnoitre the Mississippi Valley.

Discovery of the Mississippi River

The life-size white marble statue of Father Marquette, Washington

Once travel arrangements were finalized, they departed together in mid-May 1673 with a group of Illinois indigenous people whom they found amiable. A month later at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, they reached the mighty Mississippi on a warm and sunny day. It is said that on the river edge that now borders Iowa State, they were welcomed into a Native village by an old man who said: “The sun is never as bright, O French, as when you come to see us.” These words have been proudly engraved on the Marquette monument that was erected in Laon in 1937. They paddled down the Mississippi to the Arkansas River and in mid-July they turned back and navigated upstream via the Illinois and Chicago rivers to Lake Michigan, which they reached in September 1673. Their exploration was a pleasant one. Toward the end of his return trip Marquette died at age 37 near the modern town of Ludington, Michigan, on Saturday May 18, 1675. Native Americans kindly transported his body back to St. Ignace, a town at the southern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on the northern side of the Michilimackinac Straights. There, he received a proper burial.

A life-size white marble statue of Father Marquette was placed in 1896 in the United States Capitol alongside George Washington, the first American president, and Samuel Adams, one of the founding fathers of the United States. This gorgeous statue is part of the National Statuary Hall Collection that pays tribute to the most honorable characters in U.S. history. It is noteworthy that Marquette is the only Frenchman in this admirable collection. He would have been proud of the recognition he received after his death from his memorial on Capitol Hill and the naming of Marquette after him.