Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Cavelier de La Salle, 1670-1687


René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle was born at Rouen, in Normandy, on the twenty-first of November, 1643. He belonged to a wealthy middle-class family. At the age of fifteen, he was enrolled in the Jesuit noviciate of Rouen, and he took his vows in 1660. Five years later he asked to be sent abroad as a missionary. However, he lost his vocation and invoked "moral weaknesses" as his reason for asking to be released from his vows. On the twenty-seventh of March, 1667, he found himself a free man. This was the background to the start of a career which would eventually lead him to discover the mouth of the great Mississippi, "Father of Waters".



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Builder of Forts


La Salle was back again in the colony on the fifteenth of September, 1678, with some thirty greenhorns from France, among them Father Louis Hennepin of the order of Récollets. Hennepin became the first person to describe and draw a picture of the Niagara Falls. While some of the men were erecting the walls of Fort Conti (or Fort Niagara) at that spot, others were at work building a brigantine, the Griffon. On the seventh of August, 1679, the little vessel set sail from Niagara on a course for Michillimakinac (Mackinac) where it dropped anchor twenty days later.



After making sail towards Baie des Puants (Green Bay) the Griffon was despatched back to Niagara and La Salle continued exploring Lake Michigan by canoe. On reaching the mouth of the Miami River (St. Joseph) he built Fort Miami. In January, 1680, his party reached the site of the present-day city of Peoria, Illinois. There he begun to erect Fort Crèvecoeur (Fort Heartbreak.) While the construction was underway, disaster struck Fort Niagara, which was destroyed by fire. As for the Griffon, it was never heard of again.






The expedition which set out from Fort Cràvecoeur in January, 1682, comprised twenty-three Frenchmen and eighteen Amerindians. They made their way southwards by the Chicagou (Chicago), Renard (Fox) and Illinois rivers. By February they reached the Mississippi near the site of present-day Memphis, and there La Salle ordered the building of a small fort, Fort Prud'homme.

On the sixth of April they finally caught sight of the mouth of the
Mississippi. Three days later, near to where Venice, Louisana, now stands, La Salle, dressed up in a gold-laced red cloak, had a cross planted and a plate buried under it bearing the following inscription: "In the name of Louis XIV, King of France and of Navarre, this ninth of April, 1682." The official report of the ceremony records the words proclaimed by the explorer who had just extended New France as far as the confines of the Spanish Empire:



"I, René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle, by virtue of His Majesty's commission, which I hold in my hands, and which may be seen by all whom it may concern, have taken and do now take, in the name of His Majesty and of his successors to the crown, possession of the country of Louisiana, the seas, harbours, ports, bays, adjacent straits, and all the nations, peoples, provinces, cities, towns, villages, mines, minerals, fisheries, streams and rivers, within the extent of the said Louisana."



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