Louis Hennepin on the Native Americans


  • Johanna Auberger




When the Europeans set out to travel to America, the mysterious new continent discovered by Christopher Columbus in the 15th century, their reasons for doing so differed greatly. Whereas some went for the sheer aim to explore, others tried to set up trade relations, while again others tried to spread their beliefs to the unknown people they wished to encounter. One of the individuals who tried to spread believes was the Missionary Father Louis Hennepin, who was sent on a mission in 1675 by the French King Louis XIV. His goal was not only to explore new land, but also to convert the so-called “savages” to the one true faith, which according to him was Christendom. During his travels that he conducted with Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, he did not only happen to become the first eye witness to write about the Niagara Falls, but also the first European to explore the St. Anthony Falls on the Mississippi river. The contact to the Native Americans he needed in order to achieve his mission was not difficult to acquire. He was even captured and taken hostage by the Sioux at one point during his journey. However, he soon realized that the conversion itself was a much more difficult task. Due to his frequent contact with the natives, they are very present in his writings. In most of his elaborations he writes in a neutral way, but he also describes the American tribes being “The Other,” which shows his negative sentiments about them. Therefore, this paper is analyzing Hennepin’s writings about the Native Americans, and explores the different factors that influenced his writings. In order to explain these factors, this paper uses references of literature on different possible influences, such as literature on the code of conduct in Europe during the 17th century, secondary literature on Missionary and travel writings in the 17th century, as well as Norbert Elias book The Civilizing Process.


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