Louis Hennepin

Louis Hennepin

[hen-uh-pin; Fr. en-pan]
Hennepin, Louis, 1640-1701?, French cleric and explorer in North America. A Franciscan Recollect friar, Hennepin came to Canada in 1675, meeting on the journey La Salle, who made him chaplain of his proposed Western expedition in 1678. After some time spent at Fort Frontenac the party sailed (1679) in the Griffon, the first ship on the Great Lakes, for Green Bay. La Salle crossed to the Mississippi by the Illinois route and from there sent Hennepin with the expedition, led by Michel Aco, which was the first to explore the upper Mississippi valley. They ascended the river to Minnesota, where they were captured by the Sioux. In the course of his captivity Hennepin first saw and named the Falls of St. Anthony, where Minneapolis was located afterward. He was rescued by Duluth. After returning to France, Hennepin claimed in his Description de la Louisiane (1682) the leadership and all the credit for the upper Mississippi expedition. Later, in his Nouveau Voyage (1696) and Nouvelle Découverte (1697), he falsely claimed to have descended the Mississippi to its mouth. His narratives, however, have undeniable charm and importance. He was the first to describe such parts of America as the upper Mississippi and Niagara Falls. R. G. Thwaite's translation, Hennepin's New Discovery (1903, repr. 1972) contains a biography and bibliography.

Father Louis Hennepin, O.F.M. baptized Antoine, (12 May, 1626c. 1705) was a Catholic priest and missionary of the Franciscan Recollect order (French: Récollets) and an explorer of the interior of North America.

Hennepin was born in Ath, province of Hainaut, Belgium, but became French in 1659, when Béthune, the town where he lived, was captured by the army of Louis XIV of France.

At the request of Louis XIV the Récollets sent four missionaries to New France in May 1675, including Hennepin, accompanied by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. In 1678 Hennepin was ordered by his provincial superior to accompany La Salle on a voyage to explore the western part of New France. Hennepin was 39 when he sailed in 1679 with La Salle from Canada through the Great Lakes aboard Le Griffon to explore the unknown West. Local historians credit the Franciscan Recollect friar with being the first European to step ashore at the site of present-day Hannibal, Missouri. Two great waterfalls were brought to the world's attention by Louis Hennepin: Niagara Falls, with the most voluminous flow of any in North America, and the Saint Anthony Falls in what is now Minneapolis, the only waterfall on the Mississippi River.

Hennepin never returned to North America and died in Rome.

Named after Hennepin

Most placed named after Hennepin are found in the United States:

The few places outside Hennepin are found in Canada, all in Niagara Falls, Ontario:

  • Father Hennepin Separate School
  • Ontario Historical Plaque at Murray Avenue and Niagara River Parkway
  • Hennepin Room at Sheraton Fallsview

Pop culture references to Hennepin

The final track on the 2006 album 13 by Brian Setzer is entitled "The Hennepin Avenue Bridge." Its lyrics tell a fictitious story of Fr. Hennepin and his leap from the Hennepin Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River.

Books by Hennepin

Hennepin is the author of

  • Description de la Louisiane (Paris, 1683),
  • Nouvelle découverte d'un très grand pays situé dans l'Amérique entre le Nouveau-Mexique et la mer glaciale (Utrecht, 1697), and
  • Nouveau voyage d'un pars plus grand que l'Europe (Utrecht, 1698).

The truth of much of Hennepin's accounts has been called into question — or flatly denied — notably by the American historian Francis Parkman. In the words of the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia:

Hennepin has been denounced by many historians and historical critics as an arrant falsifier. Certain writers have sought to repel this charge by claiming that the erroneous statements are in fact interpolations by other persons. The weight of the evidence is however adverse to such a theory.


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