Legacy of Fr. Hennepin Looms Large on the Mississippi

By Goetz, Kathryn R | MinnPost.com, August 27, 2013 | Go to article overview

Legacy of Fr. Hennepin Looms Large on the Mississippi


Goetz, Kathryn R, MinnPost.com


Father Louis Hennepin, a Recollect friar, is best known as an early explorer of Minnesota. He gained fame in the seventeenth century with the publication of his dramatic stories of the exploration of the Mississippi River. Father Hennepin spent only a few months in Minnesota, but his influence is undeniable. While his widely read travel accounts were more fiction than fact, they allowed Hennepin to leave a lasting mark on the state.

Louis Hennepin was likely born in 1640, although some sources suggest it was as early as 1626. The son of a wealthy banker, he was baptized in the small town of Ath in what is now Belgium on April 7, 1640. Hennepin joined the Recollect Friars at a monastery in Bethune, France, and was ordained a priest in 1666. A few years later, Hennepin asked his superiors for permission to join the Recollect missionaries in North America. In 1675, he sailed to Quebec.

The Recollects were a French branch of the Franciscan order. They were active throughout France's territory in North America. Hennepin spent his first three years as a missionary in the area of the eastern St. Lawrence River, ministering to voyageurs, colonists, and American Indian communities. In 1678, Hennepin was chosen to accompany Rene-Robert Cavelier Sieur de la Salle on his exploration of the Mississippi. In 1680, while on La Salle's expedition, Hennepin and two other members of the party, Michel Accault and Antoine Auguelle (Picard du Gay), were sent to explore the section of the Mississippi north of the Illinois River.

The three men set out early in March 1680, progressing north while avoiding ice that remained on the river. They had just reached Lake Pepin on April 11 or 12 when they encountered a Dakota war party. The Dakota took the three men captive and transported them to a village near Lake Mille Lacs. Hennepin, Accault, and Auguelle lived in the Dakota village until late June or early July of 1680.

At midsummer, Hennepin and Auguelle received permission from the Dakota to canoe down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Wisconsin River. There they planned to collect supplies that the La Salle expedition had left for them. During this trip Hennepin and Auguelle first encountered the waterfall on the Mississippi that Hennepin named in honor of his patron saint, St. …

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