Jean Nicolet
French explorer

1598 - 1642

Jean Nicolet, also spelled Nicollet, was a French explorer, fur trader, and interpreter. He was the first European to enter Lake Michigan and travel in what is now Wisconsin, adding to French knowledge of North America.

Nicolet was born Jean Nicolet de Belleborne in Cherbourg, France. He traveled to North America in 1618 with Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer. For two years, Nicolet lived among Algonquins of Allumette Island on the Ottawa River, in present-day Quebec. In 1620, Champlain sent Nicolet to Lake Nipissing, in what is now Ontario. Nicolet traded there until 1629.

In 1634, Nicolet traveled north on Lake Huron and then west to Lake Michigan. He established friendly relations with Winnebago Indians who lived along Lake Michigan's Green Bay. But he failed to achieve the other goal of his voyage -- to find a route to Asia. He also traveled up the Fox River and to the Illinois River (both in present-day Illinois). Nicolet returned to Quebec in 1635 and settled in Trois-Rivieres in 1637, where he lived quietly until his death.

Contributor: D. Peter MacLeod, Ph.D., Assistant Prof., Department of History, Univ. of Ottawa.


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