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AMONG the discoverers of the interior of North America, none has been more distinguished, either for the boldness of his designs or for resolution and enterprise, than the Sieur de la Salle. Although the period of a century and a half has elapsed since his discoveries, yet no connected account of them has been written, except the brief sketches which have appeared in the general histories of the country. The untimely and disastrous termination of his career, before he had completely attained the great objects to which he had devoted twenty years of his life, connected with the political events immediately following, may account for the neglect of his countrymen to render the tribute of justice to his name and services, which they would seem to have deserved. However this may be, these causes are no longer worthy of consideration ; the events of his life form a part of our history; and his memory and deeds claim a conspicuous place among those of the early pioneers of civilization in North America.
The writers, from whom the particulars of the following narration have been drawn, are Marquette, Hennepin, Le Clercq, Tonty, Joutel, and Charlevoix.* These authorities are entitled to various degrees of credit, and it has been a task of some difficulty to reconcile their conflicting statements, and to arrange the events in their appropriate order. Marquette preceded La Salle in the discovery of the Mississippi, and his narrative has been consulted only for a few preliminary facts.f Hennepin, Tonty, and Joutel were companions of La Salle, and profess to describe what they saw; Le Clercq. and Charlevoix rely on the descriptions of others.
Hennepin's publications are so fully considered in the body of the following memoir, that it is unnecessary to speak of them in this place.
* Marquette’s Découverte de quelques Pays et Nations de l'Amérique Septentrionale. Paris, 1681.
Hennepin's Description de la Louisiane. Paris, 1684.
Tonty's Dernières Découvertes dans l'Amérique Septentrionale de M. de la Salle. Paris, 1697.
Hennepin's Nouvelle Découverte. Utrecht, 1697.
† An account of his discoveries is contained in the Life of Marquette, heretofore published in this collection. See Vol. X. p. 265.
The story of his descending from the Illinois to the mouth of the Mississippi is unquestionably a fabrication.
The two volumes by Le Clercq are mainly devoted to a history of the labors of the missionaries in Canada, particularly those of the Recollects; but in the second volume he introduces an account of the discoveries of La Salle. His materials were the manuscript letters of Father Zenobe, who accompanied La Salle to the mouth of the Mississippi, and of Father Anastase, who was with him during his last voyage, and stood by his side at the time of his death. Le Clercq often transcribes the language of these manuscript letters, and thus invests his narrative with the highest authority. Viewed in this light, and as containing many incidents not mentioned by any other writer, this book may be regarded as one of the best that treats upon the subject.
The work ascribed to Tonty cannot be trusted as a record of historical facts. It was published in Paris, without his approbation or knowledge, while he was in America. There can be no reasonable doubt, that Tonty furnished notes, which became the basis of the work bearing his name; and, if we may judge of his character from the representations of his contemporaries, it would be unjust to lay to his charge the