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Daniel Greysolon forged peace with native peoples, expanded French reach in Minnesota

greysolon art
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Daniel Greysolon Sieur Dulhut at the Head of the Lakes
— 1679 (Created circa 1922).

Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut (also known as du Luth), was born in Lyons, France around 1639. Greysolon was a nobleman, and quickly rose to prominence in the French royal court. He traveled to New France (Quebec, Canada) in 1674 at the age of thirty-eight to command the French marines in Montreal.

Greysolon and the marines were sent to Montreal because of King Louis XIV’s efforts to expand French influence and control in North America. Louis reorganized the governorship of New France and tightened his grip on the region. This reorganization was inspired in part by unauthorized French trading voyages farther west and south into North America. In 1656, Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart, Sieur Des Groseilliers, traded with Indians in these regions without permission from the French king. They were criticized for their actions when they returned to Montreal. Dissatisfied with this reaction, Radisson and Groseilliers eventually traveled to England where they helped to establish the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Daniel Greysolon left Montreal in 1678 for Lake Superior. He was the first European to explore that region since Radisson and Groseillers’ expedition over twenty years before. Greysolon’s purpose was to negotiate a truce between the competing American Indian groups in the area.

Du Lhut arrived at Fond du Lac at the far western tip of Lake Superior in spring, 1679. The peace meetings he held with the Dakota and Anishinabe (Ojibwe) were successful. After they ended, he followed a group of Dakota to their primary settlement, Izatys (Isanti) at Mille Lacs Lake.

In July, 1679, Greysolon claimed all Dakota lands in the name of Louis XIV, and raised the French standard at Izatys. This was a symbolic expression of French power and control. From there, Greysolon traveled south, lured by tales of a great salt water sea (most likely the Great Salt Lake in Utah) to the far west. He hoped to find a northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean.

During his time with the Dakota, Greysolon learned of a French party detained by another Dakota band. The leader of the French group was Father Louis Hennepin, a Belgian priest. Greysolon was able to get Hennepin and his men released, and then employed Hennepin as a guide. Father Hennepin had already explored much of the region and his services proved useful.

From the Mississippi and St. Croix River valleys, Greysolon returned to Fond du Lac to arrange another peace; this time between the Dakota and Assiniboine. Although he was successful at forging peaceful relations among the regions’ Indians, Greysolon also incurred allegations of unlicensed trading and profiteering with them from fellow French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Du Lhut returned to France to defend his actions and was later acquitted.

During their Lake Superior expedition, Du Lhut and his party established the first permanent European posts along the lake, including Fort La Tourette at Lake Nipigon in Ontario, and Fort Kaministiquia, near the modern site of Fort William at Thunder Bay, Ontario. Fort Kaministiquia was Du Lhut’s base of operations in the Lake Superior region until 1688.

In 1688, Du Lhut returned to Montreal to fight the Iroquois, who were in conflict with the French at that time. He died in 1710 and was buried in Montreal. Although he never discovered a route to the Pacific, Daniel Greysolon is credited with opening the Lake Superior region to the French fur trade. His legacy is preserved by the city that bears his name, Duluth.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.

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