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Antoine Hennepin was born in Ath in the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Hainaut, Belgium. In 1659, Béthune, the town where he lived, 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) although Ath was and still is a romance speaking area found in what is today called Wallonia, the term of Fleming here can only denote a lack of understanding or a generalisation of this demonym from Joulet which was common at that time.
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.
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.
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. Local historians credit the Franciscan Récollet friar as the first European to step ashore at the site of present-day Hannibal, Missouri.
Illustration from the 1688 Dutch edition of Description de la Louisiane
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 Voyage 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. McMlurg & 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, himself also cited for cultural bias, including against both French and Native Americans.
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.
A Great Lakes wood-hulled steamer built in 1888 which sank in 1927
The city of Champlin, Minnesota, the site historians report where he first crossed the Mississippi in 1680, holds an annual Father Hennepin Festival on the 2nd weekend of June that includes a reenactment of Father Louis Hennepin crossing the Mississippi River.
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.
^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).)
^Profile, Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online)]; accessed 20 November 2015.