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1679 Louis Hennepin Description

Louis Hennepin [1640-1705] was a Recollect priest who accompanied the French explorer Cavelier de La Salle on his voyage to explore the Mississippi River. Hennepin joined La Salle on the first sailing vessel on the Great Lakes which was built at Niagara and sailed from Niagara to St. Ignace in 1679. After he left the expedition Hennepin returned to Europe and published, in 1683, his account of the exploration, Description de la Louisiana which "had the most unqualified success, the work went through several editions, and was translated into Italian, Dutch, and German. The monk became a celebrity overnight for readers hungering for exotic stories." (DCB:2:279). His was the first published account of the area we now call Detroit.

The 10th, very early in the Morning, we pass'd between that Island and 7 or 8 lesser ones; and having sail'd near another, which is nothing but Sand, to the West of the Lake, we came to an Anchor at the Mouth of the Streight, which runs from the Lake Huron into that of Erie. The 11th, we went farther into the Streight, and pass'd between two small Islands, which make one of the finest Prospects in the World. This Streight is finer than that of Niagara, being thirty Leagues long, and every-where one League broad, except in the middle, which is wider, forming the Lake we have call'd St. Claire. The Navigation is easie on both sides, the Coast being low and even. It runs directly from North to South.

The Country between those two Lakes is very well situated, and the Soil very fertile. The Banks of the Streight are vast Meadows, and the Prospect is terminated with some Hills covered with Vineyards, Trees bearing good Fruit, Groves, and Forests, so well dispos'd, that one would think Nature alone could not have made, without the Help of Art, so charming a Prospect. That Country is stock'd with Stags, Wild-Goats, and Bears, which are good for Food, and not fierce as in other Countries; some think they are better than our Pork. Turkey-Cocks and Swans are there also very common; and our Men brought several other Beasts and Birds, whose Names are unknown to us, but they are extraordinary relishing.

The Forests are chiefly made up of Walnut-trees, Chesnut-trees, Plum-trees, and Pear-trees, loaded with their own Fruit and Vines. There is also abundance of Timber fit for Building; so that those who shall be so happy as to inhabit that Noble Country, cannot but remember with Gratitude those who have discover'd the way, by venturing to sail upon an unknown Lake for above one hundred Leagues. That charming Streight lies between 40 and 41 Degrees of Northern Latitude.

From: A NEW DISCOVERY OF A VAST COUNTRY IN AMERICA by Father Louis Hennepin. Reprinted from the second London issue of 1698 by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1903. Pp 108- 109.

See Also:

Dictionary of American Biography.

Hamilton, Raphael N. The Early Cartography of the Missouri Valley. American Historical Review 1934 (4): 645-662.

Jaenen, Cornelius J. Missionaries as Explorers: The Recollects of New France. Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society 1980 22 (Oct.): 32-45.

Johnston, Patricia C. Portrayals of Henepin, "Discoverer" of the Falls of St. Anthony, 1680. Minnesota History 1980 47 (2): 57-62.


uhlstein, Anka. La Salle: Explorers of the North American Frontier. NY: Arcade, 1994.

Parkman, Francis. La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West. Boston: Little, Brown, 1879.