Jean Nicolet

Jean Nicolet (born 1598 - died November 1, 1642) was a French voyageur noted for exploring the Northwest Territory.

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Jean Nicolet statue

Jean Nicolet (Nicollet) de Belleborne was born near Cherbourg, France. In 1618 he came to Quebec as a clerk and to train as an interpreter for the Compagnie des Marchands, a trading monopoly owned by members of the French aristocracy. As an employee, Jean Nicolet was a devotee of the Roman Catholic Church and a faithful supporter of the Ancien Régime. On his arrival in Quebec, in order that he learn their language, he was sent to live with the Algonquins on Allumette Island, a friendly first nation settlement on the important fur trade route on the Ottawa River. Nicolet returned to Quebec in 1620 then was directed to go to the Lake Nipissing area where he spent more than eight years among the Nipissing nation, running a store and trading with the various indigenous peoples in the area. From a relationship with a native woman he had a daughter whom he later brought back with him to the colony. On July 19, 1629, when Quebec fell to the Kirke brothers who took control for England, Jean Nicolet fled back into the safety of the Huron country and worked against English interests until the French were restored to power.

Jean Nicolet was then sent by Governor Samuel de Champlain to find a route to the China Sea. Using seven Huron guides, Nicolet canoed Lake Huron and into Lake Superior. This voyage led him to become the first known European to encounter Lake Michigan and the area that today is the state of Wisconsin. In 1634, the Ho-Chunk Native Americans were the first people Nicolet met upon his arrival at what is now Green Bay, Wisconsin. As seen here, a statue has been erected in his honor overlooking the Bay of Green Bay.

On returning to Quebec in the fall of 1635, Jean Nicolet settled permanently in Trois-Rivières where he had been given property and a job as a clerk with the Company of One Hundred Associates who then had been given the trading monoply for New France. Jean Nicolet married Marguerite Couillard, with whom he had two children and became a leading citizen in his community. In the fall of 1642, while travelling up the St. Lawrence River near Sillery, Quebec, a sudden storm came up and his boat overturned. Unable to swim, Jean Nicolet drowned. His body was never found.

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