A monthly book club discussing works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that have the Great Lakes as a setting or as subject matter. This month’s selection is The Misunderstood Mission of Jean Nicolet: Uncovering the Story of the 1634 Journey by Patrick J. Jung.
So, all those stories of Jean Nicolet’s landing in Wisconsin—of the French explorer stepping off a canoe at Green Bay wearing silken robes in expectation of meeting the Emperor of China—are wrong? So writes Patrick J. Jung in his painstaking recreation of Nicolet’s 1634 journey into the Great Lakes. Turns out Nicolet was on a more realistic diplomatic mission, an attempt to establish peaceful rapport between France and the region’s Native Americans at a time when the French and British vied for dominance over North America. Specifically, Nicolet met with the Menomonees and the ancestors of the Ho-Chunk.
A history professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, Jung draws his account carefully from the scant records of Nicolet’s trek and refuses to make the fanciful leaps of previous historians. The errors cleared up by The Misunderstood Mission of Jean Nicolet show how history-writing can resemble the Internet in slow motion—that falsehoods, once they take hold, tend to perpetuate themselves and spread.