Monday, July 17, 2017

Explorer Nicolas Perrot and our La Prairie Voyageurs

Nicolas Perrot (1644-1717), far right on this delightful sculpture depicting "The Spirit of the Northwest," (located in Green Bay Wisconsin) was a French fur trader, North American colonial official, and explorer

Perrot immigrated to New France (Canada) as a youth, and his services there under the Jesuits and Sulpicians enabled him to learn Indian languages and native cultures. He entered the fur trade about 1663, working in the Great Lakes region, and in 1668 he was among the first French traders who dealt with the Algonkin tribes around Green Bay. Governor Frontenac sent Perrot in 1670 as interpreter on an expedition that claimed the Upper Mississippi area for France in June 1671. He returned to New France that autumn, married, and settled on an estate at Becancour. For the next 12 years, he evidently worked his lands but also engaged in some fur trading, as he was awarded a license for that purpose in 1674.

In 1683 Governor Lefebvre de La Barre authorized Perrot to undertake a Great Lakes trading expedition, and the next year, the governor directed him to obtain the support of western tribes in his campaign against the Iroquois. In 1685 Perrot was made commandant of the Green Bay region, and, with his commission, he journeyed to the junction of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, where he built Ft. St. Nicolas. In 1686 he constructed Ft. St. Antoine on Lake Pepin and initiated trade with the Sioux and other local tribes. The following year, Perrot was ordered to assist another campaign against the Iroquois. He ousted British fur-traders expeditions from the Great Lakes region, and, on May 8, 1689, he officially renewed France’s claim to the Upper Mississippi.

Perrot continued to work among the western tribes until 1696, when all trading licenses were revoked. He then returned to Lower Canada. Perrot subsequently worked as an interpreter and served in the militia, although he devoted his final years to writing his memoirs, published in 1864.

Source above: Encyclopædia Britannica -

Between 1667 and 1690, three of our La Prairie Voyageur Ancestors traveled with Perrot, and became some of the first European men to travel in the Upper Mississippi Valley, in what is now Wisconsin and Minnesota.

1667 Société Desroches, Beaudry, Nafrechoux & Perrot Notary Record

1667, August 12, Nicolas Perrot formed a trading company (Société) with Toussaint Baudry, Jean Baptiste Desroches (1621-1684) our 8th great-grandfather. and Isaac Nafrechoux.  Together they traveled west to Ottawa. Traveling still further west, Perrot and his partners became the first French traders to deal with the Algonquian tribes near Green Bay in 1668. Working to break the trade monopoly the Ottawas had over the western tribes, Perrot opened direct trade relations with the Potawatomi and established himself as an Indian diplomat by settling a dispute between the Potawatomi and the Menominee.

"The Pageant of the Sault, France claims the Great Lakes" 

St-Lusson explaining to the natives that they are now subjects of King Louis XIV of France

1670, September 3, Intendant of New France Jean Talon asked explorer-trader Nicolas Perrot to accompany, as an interpreter, Daumont de Saint-Lusson.  Saint-Lusson was Talon's commissioner delegate "to the land of the savages Outaouas, Nose-pierced , Illinois, and other nations discovered in North America on the side of Lake Superior.  He was also to search and discover mines of all kinds, especially of copper, to take possession in the name of the King of the whole inhabited and uninhabited country.

Perrot then formed a new commercial company, this time with Pierre Poupart (1653-1699) our 8th great-grandfather, Jean Dupuis, Denis Masse, Jean Guytard and Jacques Benoît, and set off with Saint-Lusson. They made a brief stop in Montreal, and in October they went on to Lake Huron via the Outaouais River, Lake Nipissing and the French River. They spent the winter at Manitoulin Island, and in the following spring Perrot dispatched Indian emissaries to the northern nations with the mission of inviting them to Sault Ste. Marie in order to hear the King's word that Saint-Lusson bore them and all the nations. Perrot had gone ahead to the nations of Bay des Puants, to invite them to this important meeting. 

On 4 June 1671 Saint-Lusson called together all the Indian nations that could be reached; there were 14 of them.  In the presence of this important gathering of nations and a few prominent Frenchmen a ceremony took place which had important diplomatic consequences. 

The interpreter Perrot, in the name of the king of France, began to read in the Indian language from the document that confirmed the appropriation by France of this immense territory, discovered and yet to be discovered, which stretched from the seas of the north and west to that of the south. 

Then they erected a cross, “to bring forth there the fruits of Christianity,” and immediately beside it a cedar post bearing the arms of France. As the crowd, made up of both French and Indians, uttered repeated cheers of “Long live the king,” a “sod of earth” was lifted in the air three times, in a symbolic gesture. Henceforth this part of a continent belonged to the king of France, and these 14 nations were dependent on His Majesty and subject to his laws and customs.  In return they could count on his protection. 

The French intoned the Vexilla Regis, to the great wonderment of the Indians. Then Father Allouez delivered a harangue to the Indians in which he extolled the power of Louis XIV, “the Captain of the greatest Captains.” 

Daumont de Saint-Lusson then spoke, and expressed himself “in martial and eloquent language.” In the evening a splendid bonfire was lighted, presents were exchanged, and a Te Deum was sung to thank God, in the Indians’ name, for having made of them “the subjects of so great and powerful a Monarch.”

Some Hurons and Ottawas, who arrived late for the ceremony, likewise swore allegiance to Louis XIV. Saint-Lusson’s official journey, which cost the king of France nothing and which added a segment – somewhat symbolically it is true – to his empire, in fact marks the beginning of the planned explorations that were to lead to James Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Rocky Mountains.

1690, Nicolas Perrot establishes a lead mine and trading post on the Mississippi River

1690 May 11, Nicolas Perrot engages Jean Cusson for a voyage to the 8ta8ois

From the notary record of Antoine Adhémar (Montreal) we know Jean Cusson (1630-1718) our 9th great-grandfather was a voyageur engaged by Perrot 1690, May 11, for a voyage to the 8ta8ois (Ottawa Indians).  Source: 17th Century Engagé Contracts to the Great Lakes and Beyond – 20 May 1682 to 15 May 1690 – Part 1, Diane Wolford Sheppard. 

In 1690, some Miami Indians, then living upon the Mississippi, brought Perrot a specimen of lead ore from a "ruisseau" (probably Catfish creek, Dubuque), and requested him to come and establish a trading-post among them, which he shortly proceeded to do. Hence the region became known as "Perrot's Mines." 

Thomas Jeffreys, in "The Natural and Civil History of the French Dominions in North and South America," London, 1760, p. 135, says, "Ten leagues below the Wisconsin are the lead mines, formerly discovered by the Sieur Perrot, 'and still bearing his name." The site of that trading-post is undetermined.

A commanding point at the mouth of Tete des Morts creek, ten miles below Catfish creek, has been suggested for it. "The fact that the village of the grand chief of the Miamis was but four leagues below, was a good reason for locating the trading-post at this place, where it would be convenient for him and his people to barter their furs." (L. C. Draper. Wisc. His. Coll. x. 332). Source: State Historical Society of Iowa, "Nicolas Perrot, the First Commercial Traveler on the Upper Mississippi" by Rev. Dr. William Salter. 

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