In the summer of 1634, Jean Nicolet (1598-1642) set out from the French colony in Quebec to sort out tribal conflicts on the Great Lakes that were threatening the fur trade, Canada’s small part in the world economy. Nicolet was also instructed to make his way, if he could, to the Mer de l’Ouest. Natives directed him to Lake Michigan, and over this Western Ocean, he was sure, lay China. Determined to make a good impression, he packed what he thought would be suitable for meeting Chinese. How he got his hands on a Chinese damask robe woven with flowers and multicolored birds we do not know, but by 1634 silks had been flowing from China to Europe for a century. He crossed Lake Michigan and put on his robe, only to find Green Bay.

Timothy Brook, The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China

It’s a great opening. It came up recently in conversation with a friend who moved from California to Wisconsin. But is it true?

According to Wikipeadia, “In the last couple decades, some have questioned the traditional account of Nicolet’s arrival in Green Bay, saying that Nicolet was not looking for a route to China, did not wear a Chinese robe, and did not meet the Puans at Red Banks. Ronald Stiebe proposed that Nicolet did not even go to Lake Michigan but that the Puants were actually Algonquin people and Nicolet met them at Keweenaw Bay, Michigan. Nancy Oestreich Lurie, of the Milwaukee Public Museum—followed by Patrick J. Jung, of the Milwaukee School of Engineering—concluded that Nicolet actually met the Puans near Menominee, Michigan.”


Well, it’s still a great opening. The image shows a postcard of a 1910 mural by Franz Edward Rohrbeck in the Brown County Courthouse, depicting the landing of Jean Nicolet in Green Bay, Wisconsin.