Louis Hennepin

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Louis Hennepin
Antoine Hennepin

(1626-05-12)12 May 1626
Died5 December 1704(1704-12-05) (aged 78)
Occupation(s)Priest, Missionary
OrganizationFranciscan Récollets

Father Louis Hennepin, O.F.M. baptized Antoine, (French pronunciation: ​[lwi ɛnpɛ̃]; 12 May 1626 – 5 December 1704) was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and missionary of the Franciscan Recollet order (French: Récollets) and an explorer of the interior of North America.


Antoine Hennepin was born in Ath in the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Hainaut, Belgium). In 1659, while he was living in the town of Béthune, it was captured by the army of Louis XIV of France. Henri Joulet, who accompanied Hennepin and wrote his own journal of their travels, called Hennepin a Fleming (a native of Flanders),[1] although Ath was and still is a Romance-speaking area found in present-day Wallonia.[citation needed]

Painting by Douglas Volk, of Father Louis Hennepin seeing Saint Anthony Falls.

Hennepin joined the Franciscans, and preached in Halles (Belgium) and in Artois. He was then put in charge of a hospital in Maestricht. He was also briefly an army chaplain.[2]

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 1676 Hennepin went to the Indian mission at Fort Frontenac, and from there to the Mohawks.[2]

In 1678, Hennepin was ordered by his provincial superior to accompany La Salle on an expedition to explore the western part of New France. Hennepin departed in 1679 with La Salle from Quebec City to construct the 45-ton barque Le Griffon, sail through the Great Lakes, and explore the unknown West.[2]

Hennepin was with La Salle at the construction of Fort Crevecoeur (near present-day Peoria, Illinois) in January 1680. In February, La Salle sent Hennepin and two others as an advance party to search for the Mississippi River. The party followed the Illinois River to its junction with the Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, Hennepin was captured by a Sioux war party and carried off for a time into what is now the state of Minnesota.[3]

In September 1680, thanks to Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Du Lhut, Hennepin and the others were given canoes and allowed to leave, eventually returning to Quebec. Hennepin returned to France and was never allowed by his order to return to North America.[4] Local historians credit the Franciscan Récollet friar as the first European to step ashore at the site of present-day Hannibal, Missouri.[5]

Two great waterfalls were brought to Europe's attention by 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 natural waterfall on the Mississippi River. In 1683, he published a book about Niagara Falls called A New Discovery. The Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton created a mural, "Father Hennepin at Niagara Falls" for the New York Power Authority at Lewiston, New York.

Books by Hennepin[edit]

Illustration from the 1688 Dutch edition of Description de la Louisiane

Hennepin authored:

  • 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 pays plus grand que l'Europe (Utrecht, 1698).
  • A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America (2 volumes); reprinted from the second London issue of 1698 with facsimiles of original title-pages, maps, and illustrations, and the addition of Introduction, Notes, and Index By Reuben Gold Thwaites. A.C. McClurg & Co., Chicago, 1903.

The truth of much of Hennepin's accounts has been called into question—or flatly denied—notably by American historian Francis Parkman[6] (Parkman has also been accused of bias, etc.).[7]

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.

— Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913


Places named after Hennepin are found in the United States and Canada:






  • Hennepin Dr, St Louis
1698 – Antoine Hennepin's colorized map of North America.

New York:

Niagara Falls, Ontario:

In popular culture[edit]

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.


  1. ^ Profile, archive.org; accessed 20 November 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Corrigan, Michael. "Register of the Clergy Laboring in the Archdiocese of New York", Historical Records and Studies, Vol. 1, United States Catholic Historical Society, 1899 p. 34Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ Shea, John Gilmary. DESCRIPTION of LOUISIANA, By FATHER LOUIS HENNEPIN, RECOLLECT MISSIONARY: Translated from the Edition of 1683, and compared with the Novella Decouverte, The La Salle Documents and other Contemporaneous Papers, New York: John G Shea (1880), pp 368–70. (The spelling Recollect is the translator's. See original title page (image at Hathi Trust).)
  4. ^ Profile, Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online); accessed 20 November 2015.
  5. ^ National Geographic, July 1956, Vol CX, No. 1, pp 135–36.
  6. ^ Parkman, Francis (1908). La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West. France and England in North America (11th ed.). Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. Part 3, ch. 17, pp. 242-. ISBN 9780722265697. Retrieved 23 December 2020 – via Gutenberg.org.
  7. ^ Jennings, Francis (1985). "Francis Parkman: a Brahmin among Untouchables". The William and Mary Quarterly. 42 (3): 305–328. doi:10.2307/1918930. JSTOR 1918930.
  8. ^ Valerie Olson van Heest, writer and director (2007). She Died a Hard Death: The Sinking of the Hennepin (DVD). Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates. Archived from the original on 12 February 2008. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  9. ^ Jitka, Hanáková. "Hennepin". Shipwreck Explorers. Archived from the original on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
  10. ^ "The Basilica of Saint Mary".

External links[edit]