The Jacques Marquette Map Hoax

Presented at the Conference on Illinois History

Springfield, Illinois on October 16, 2006

The currently accepted history of the Jolliet-Marquette expedition of 1673 (presented below) has endured in its present form for a century-and-a-half. With a minimum of searching, one can find support for this history among the most distinguished historians—Pierre Margry, Francis Parkman, John Gilmary Shea, Reuben Gold Thwaites, Jean Delanglez, to name a few. For the most part, their writings seem to give unimpeachable support for the basic outlines of the history.

However, the foundation documents of the expedition have been subject to critical re-evaluation several times in the 20th century. Nonetheless, the re-evaluation has been ignored or harshly attacked. In the last analysis, say the advocates of the long-accepted Jolliet-Marquette account, there is the Marquette Autograph Map. It is said to have been the missionary’s creation, showing examples of his own handwriting—the irrefutable proof of the expedition.

Availability of primary and secondary documents on the Internet makes possible a new assessment of this map. Namely, one can view graphic prima fascia evidence that the map is not authentic. Comparative examination of scores of historical maps shows the shape of the Illinois River on the Marquette Autograph Map is too accurate for its time, 1673-74. An approximately accurate shape of the river can be found on no map before the year 1813. [1] In addition, Marquette is not known to have received any specialized training in map making, and no other map of Marquette can be documented to exist. Obviously, the handwriting on the map is not that of Marquette. By analogy, if the discoverer of a printed book claimed the book was printed in the year 1220, extreme doubt would be cast on the authenticity of the discovery because the technology of printing did not develop until the mid-15th century. The accuracy of the Illinois River shape on the Marquette Autograph Map shows a knowledge of longitude representation, yet the scientific knowledge of accurately mapping longitude did not come about until the mid-18th century.

What is the long accepted story of the 1673 expedition of discovery? Jolliet joined Marquette, and together, with five others, they paddled up the Fox River from Green Bay Wisconsin. They portaged to the Wisconsin River, and following it, they “discovered” the Mississippi in June 1673. They had a few friendly encounters with Indians, and voyaged as far south as the Arkansas River. At that point, they decided it would be too risky to go farther. There were hostile Indians farther south, and at the Mississippi’s discharge, there were Spaniards. They would be merciless in their treatment of the voyagers. The overall purpose of the 1673 expedition was to determine whether the Mississippi went south or west. This knowledge was of great strategic value to French colonial ambition in the international arena. The explorer and the priest had traveled sufficiently far south to be certain that the river emptied into the Gulf of Mexico. Rather than take the risks of journeying farther, they resolved to return north with the news of what they had learned.

On their return, by an alternate route, they went by way of the Illinois River and portaged to Lake Michigan at the site of Chicago. Marquette acted as missionary to some of the Illinois Indians, and he promised, even though his health was poor, to return the next year and continue his priestly activity. The voyagers returned to Canada.

Over the winter of 1673-74, Marquette put his narrative in order and drafted his map. In the spring, Jolliet made his way back to Montreal to bring all the documents of the expedition to the authorities. When in view of his destination, his canoe overturned in the rapids. He lost everything, and almost lost his life. Marquette, for his part, even though in very poor health, was determined to keep his promise to the Illinois Indians. He started south from Green Bay in late 1674, stayed over the winter at the site of Chicago, and in the spring, resumed his journey south. He was to fulfill his promise to return, and he founded a mission on the Illinois River. His health further deteriorated, and he decided to return to Canada. In May of 1675, he died on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan while voyaging north.

In 1681, seven years after the Mississippi expedition, a first person Marquette narrative and a map were published. They were long accepted as what they purported to be. Then, in the mid-1800s, a number of documents surfaced in Canada. To everyone’s surprise, among them was a narrative very much like the one published in 1681, but with certain additions. It was believed that the narrative published in 1681 was based on this newly surfaced narrative. This “real” Marquette account was accepted by all historians. Also among the documents was a map, the map under consideration here. The claims for the map published in 1681 as the Marquette map were abandoned, and the “real” Marquette map, the Marquette Autograph, was accepted by all historians. Also among the recovered documents was a journal of Marquette’s second voyage, believed by historians to be in Marquette’s own hand.

On August 1, 1674, soon after Jolliet’s return to Quebec, he gave an oral report of the expedition. It was to Marquette’s superior, Claude Dablon. Skipping far ahead, in 1928 a book was published by Francis Borgia Steck (1884-1962), [2] showing that the “Marquette” narrative, published in 1681, was essentially—in similarity of events and flow of ideas—the account written by Dablon of the report to him made by Jolliet. Among authoritative Catholic historians of the 20th century, Jesuit historian Jean Delanglez (1896-1949) has written with the most detail on the Jolliet-Marquette expedition. He said, “Father Steck’s conclusion is certain.” [3] The first person narrative published in 1681 purporting to be that of Marquette was in fact written by Dablon, based primarily on his interview with Jolliet.

On the basis of this misleading, if not deceitful impersonation, anything written by Dablon in reference to Marquette must be at least somewhat untrustworthy. Except for Dablon, who wrote “Marquette’s” narrative, no Jesuit or explorer, before the narrative’s publication in 1681, associated Marquette with an expedition. Surprisingly, Jolliet, during his whole life, is not known to have left any document mentioning Marquette’s name. Furthermore, there is no official document referencing Marquette in association with Jolliet, or with an expedition. This seemingly negative light cast on Marquette is not intended to defame him. It is an attempt to arrive at a truer history. It would be easy to argue that after he died, Marquette’s good name was used for illegitimate ends, namely, to enhance the prestige of the Jesuits in the newly explored lands.

In review, there were five significant documents. (1.) The forged Marquette narrative published in 1681; (2.) the Marquette narrative surfacing in the mid-19 century with associated claims that it was a copy of Marquette’s “real” narrative; (3.) a journal of Marquette’s second voyage, surfacing in the mid-19th century; (4.) a map published in 1681 purporting to be Marquette’s; and (5.) another of the mid-19th century documents, the Marquette Autograph Map, which replaced the one published in 1681, as the “real” map, in the missionary’s own hand.

If the comparative cartographic evidence is accepted, as presented above, disproving the authenticity of the Marquette Autograph Map, then what can be said of the script handwriting on the map, argued to have been written by Marquette himself? Most significantly, there are only three examples of handwriting allegedly by Marquette on any documents. They are the writing of the journal of Marquette’s second voyage, an entry dated 1668 in the Boucherville Parish Register, claiming to document Marquette’s officiating at a post-baptismal ceremony, and the script on the Marquette Autograph Map.

As Steck detailed in 1960, prior to the surfacing of the journal of the second voyage in the mid-1800s, no historian, chronicler, archivist, or government document ever alluded to a journal of a second voyage. [4] It seems obvious that if such a journal existed, most particularly in Marquette’s own hand, the many Jesuit historians writing before 1844, when the document surfaced, would have described the journal and written it into the historical record.

The handwriting in the Boucherville record, 1668, is inauthentic not only because it appears in an improbable place—at the very top of the register title page—but because the register begins with the year 1669, a year after the Marquette entry. The imagery of these pages leaves little doubt. [5]

Regarding the handwriting on the Marquette Autograph Map, the cartographic record seems conclusive. The shape of the Illinois River was not drawn with approximate accuracy before 1813, Marquette was never known to have received specialized training in map making, and there is no other map by Marquette documented to exist.

What can be summarized from this information? Firstly, the documents and what historians have said about them, present a bewildering array of evidence that requires years of study to decipher. Secondly, the presentation above is intended to sidestep these complexities by showing that the primary source materials are forgeries. Thirdly, since these foundation historical documents for the first map and first exploration of the North American continental interior can no longer stand, what map is the “real” first map and what is the authentic history of the first explorations? Historians have to reconsider and rewrite the history of this period. The actual state of Jesuit knowledge of the North American interior seems to be indicated by the map published in 1681 and a map published several years later by Jesuit Pierre Raffeix. [6]

Fifty years ago, Francis Borgia Steck, with a surprising prescience, said that it would be fifty years before the world was ready for his conclusions about Jesuit missionary, Father Jacques Marquette. [7] The heart of these conclusions “make Marquette’s participation in the 1673 expedition at least seriously doubtful if not improbable.” [8]


[1] Carl J. Weber. Father Jacques Marquette’s Autograph Map: A Question of Authenticity? Retrieved May 1, 2006 from

[2] Francis Borgia Steck. The Jolliet-Marquette Expedition, 1673. (Quincy, Illinois: Franciscan Fathers, 1928).

[3] Jean Delanglez. Life and Voyages of Louis Jolliet (1645-1700). (Chicago: Institute of Jesuit History, 1948), 92.

[4] Francis Borgia Steck, Marquette Legends. (New York: Pageant Press, Inc., 1960), 215-43.

[5] Carl J. Weber. Boucherville Parish Registry. Retrieved May 1, 2006 from

[6] Carl J. Weber. Raffeix Map. Retrieved May 1, 2006 from

[7] Cassette audio recording in private collection of Leroy J. Politsch, Quincy, Illinois. Mr. Politsch reproduced several hours of conversations that had taken place in the 1950s, in which Steck had been a participant. Original interview, on reel to reel tape, housed in the Francis B. Steck Collection of Brenner Library, Quincy University, Quincy, IL.

[8] Steck, 1960, 114.