1882 History of Mason County Michigan Intro pg1





The history of exploration and civilization in the Northwest begins with the advent of the Jesuit missionaries. In 1641 a mission was established among the Chippewa’s, at the Sault, by Fathers Charles Raymbault and Isaac Jacques. This enterprise was soon after abandoned, and Indian wars following, no further attempt was made to establish missions among them until 1668, when Father James Marquette arrived at the Sault, and the following year, in connection with Father Doblon, built a church and planted the first permanent settlement made on the soil of Michigan. The early history of the Northwest can never be written without giving the French Jesuits an honored place on its pages.


They were men of the highest order of refinement, learning and piety. Says Shea: “The missionaries who, step by step, threaded the network of lakes and rivers, not only reported the data which they obtained, and preserved them, but they gleaned from members of distant tribes statements as to the geography, fauna and mineralogy of the lands beyond. The holy errand upon which these self-sacrificing men came to the American wilds was to convert the Indians to Christianity and to bring them the blessings and comforts of civilization.


Not a cape was turned nor a river entered but a Jesuit led the way.” Their detailed records furnished the world with a historical legacy of incalculable value. Says Parkman: “Nowhere is the power of courage, faith and an unflinching purpose more strikingly displayed than in the record of these missions. ” * Their virtues shine amidst the rubbish of error like diamonds and gold in the gravel of the torrent.” One of the noblest of these noble men was Father James Marquette, whose name and fame are inseparably connected with Mason County.




This illustrious Jesuit missionary was born in France, about the year 1637. His parents were people of high rank, and although his early life was surrounded with all the luxuries and gaieties that wealth and high social rank could command, he abandoned them all and subordinated himself to the strict and hard discipline of the life of the Jesuits. He was highly gifted by nature, and his proficiency as a linguist was so great that in a few years after coming among the Indians he learned to speak six different Indian languages fluently. He was never physically robust, but his fervor of devotion to the cause of Christianity and his intense zeal inspired him with almost superhuman energy, and toil and privation in the Master’s cause he esteemed a joy.


He was one of those saintly characters that belong to a past age, and his transcendent loveliness of character, and the sublimity of his faith, his sincerity and courageous daring, must ever command the admiration of all who learn the story of his life and death. The Jesuits selected none but the bravest and purest for the American missions, and when he was chosen for one he embraced the opportunity to take up the hard lot of a life among the savage tribes of tile American wilds with the greatest delight. He chose Canada as the field of his labors, and was early transferred to the remotest of the missionary outposts on Lake Superior.


This was about 1668. In 1669 he was joined at the Sault by Father Doblon, and a church was built. This was the first permanent settlement on the soil of Michigan. He had heard, in his-intercourse with the “Illinois,” of a great river flowing through grassy plains, on which grazed countless herds of buffalo, and he felt a strong desire to explore it and preach the gospel to the savage tribes that dwelt upon its banks. In 1673 he started upon his voyage of discovery, accompanied by Louis Joliet, a native of Quebec, and an agent of the French government.


The outfit consisted of two bark canoes, seven men, including Marquette and Joliet, and a quantity of Indian corn and dried meat. The duration of the voyage none could foresee; its hardships and sufferings found no place in their calculations. On the 17th of May, 1673, they set out from the Mission of St. Ignatius, at Michilimackinac.


They passed along the coast of Lake Michigan and finally reached Green Bay. From there they ascended the Fox River, passed through Lake Winnebago, threaded the sluggish stream beyond it to the Portage; then crossing the water-shed, the canoes were re-embarked, and they floated down the Wisconsin River to its mouth. This was on the 17th day of June that the broad current of the Mississippi greeted their delighted vision. From this point they floated down the Mississippi as far as the mouth of the Arkansas, and being satisfied with the result of their voyage in this direction, they decided to return.


Reaching the mouth of the Illinois River, they ascended that stream, and were conducted by Indian guides to the Chicago River, descending which they entered Lake Michigan, and, in the latter part of September, again reached Green Bay, having been absent four months. Marquette, being afflicted with consumption, remained at this point until October of the following year, when, with two white companions and a company of Indians, he again coasted along the western shore, and ascended the Chicago River, a short distance from the mouth of which they encamped for the Winter, Marquette being too feeble to proceed farther.


In March, 1675, they proceeded on their journey down the Illinois, but returned in about a month, and started along the east coast of Lake Michigan. On the 19th of May he felt that the seal of death was upon him and that his last hour was rapidly, approaching. The warm breath of Spring fanned his cheek as he lay prostrate in his canoe, but it could not revive him.


He told his companions that he was soon to leave them, and as they were passing the mouth of the river that now bears his name, he asked the men to land. Tenderly they bore him to the bank of the stream, and constructed a shed of bark for his shelter. With the greatest cheerfulness and composure he gave directions as to the mode of his burial, and instructed his companions in the duties of life, and expressed his fervent gratitude to them for their devoted kindness.

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