Thursday, November 3, 2011
Though we lived in Menominee, our twin city of Marinette, Wisconsin, right across the river, was an important part of our lives. The town, as well as Marinette County, are named after a French and Menominee Indian woman who was known as “Queen Marinette” by the Indians and white settlers in the community. There are competing notions about the origins of her name. One often cited hypothesis is that she was named after Marie Antoinette, wife of French King Louis XVI whose tyranny led to the French Revolution and who died the year that Marinette was born. When pronouncing “Marie Antoinette”, it’s believed that the French and the Indians would shorten the name by pronouncing it “Marinette”. A second theory is that her mother’s nickname was “Manon” and that her daughter was called “Little Manon” or “Manonette”. Using the French “trilled R”, this became transformed into “Marinette”. In either case, Marinette was held in such high esteem that members of the community came to call her “Queen Marinette”. Given that women rarely occupied positions of prominence in the commercial world of the nineteenth century, Marinette was one of the most remarkable figures in the early history of the Twin Cities and the Great Lakes region.
Queen Marinette Plaque, Marinette, WI
Marguerite Chevalier was born in 1784 at Post Lake in what is now Langlade County, just west of Marinette County in northeastern Wisconsin. Her father was a French Canadian trapper named Bartland Chevalier, and her mother was a Menominee Indian woman named Louise who was the daughter of Chief Ke-Che Wauba-Shish (The Big Marten). Marguerite was educated by Jesuits at Michilimackinac. Bartland Chevalier moved to Green Bay in 1800 and went into partnership in the fur trading business with John Baptiste Jacobs, an English Canadian trapper, fur trader, and schoolteacher. Marguerite, Chevalier’s daughter, married John Jacobs when she was 15 or 16, and they had three children (John Jr., Elizabeth, Polly). He was an older man who had come from Montreal, and, according to available records, they may have had a common-in-law marriage. When fur trading slumped during the War of 1812, Jacobs started a school. In 1823 he moved to the present site of the town of Marinette and went into partnership with William Farnsworth at a trading post which had originally been established at the mouth of the Menominee River by the American Fur Co. Farnsworth successfully gained independence from John Jacob Astor’s American Fur cartel largely because of Queen Marinette’s Menominee Indian kinship ties and her skills as a trader. After a few years Marinette became almost solely responsible for the business, as Farnsworth began spending more time on other pursuits, including founding the town of Sheboygan and erecting the first dam and water-powered sawmill on the Menominee River. According to the autobiography of local lumberman Isaac Stephenson (1915, p. 145), “Later her affection for him (Jacobs) seems to have cooled, for he relinquished whatever claim he had upon her to George Farnsworth for a pipe of high wine, and shortly afterward returned to Canada.” Marinette then became the common-in-law wife of William Farnsworth, and they had two sons and a daughter (George P., Joseph, Jane).
By 1831 Farnsworth also deserted Marinette, leaving her in order to settle in Sheboygan. He was to die years later in a steamer accident on Lake Michigan. Marinette remained and developed her Menominee River trading post into a major Great Lakes trading center. She and her son John Jacobs built the area’s first permanent dwelling, a wood frame house, near her trading post in what is now present day Marinette at 2125 Marinette Avenue. She frequently advised local Menominee Indians on dealing with the white settlers, the lumber companies, and the U.S. government. She was highly regarded for her charity work with poor and sick people in the community. She came known to the Indians and the white settlers as “Queen Marinette” and was the most important fur trader in the entire Northwest Territory. She was easily the wealthiest woman in the area, owning $1500 worth of land which was to become downtown Marinette and $400 worth of personal property. Queen Marinette is credited with helping the area prosper from a small fur trading settlement to the booming Twin Cities area.
Marinette's Trading Post
During Queen Marinette’s older years a large meteor fell along a stretch of the Menominee River in Marinette County. Members of the Menominee tribe saw it fall and regarded the stone as sacred, regularly laying offerings on it. One spring there was a major flood on the Menominee, and the stone was washed away. The Menominees interpreted it as a sign that they were in disfavor with their tribal gods. Several years before Queen Marinette’s death, the stone was washed out of the river in front of her residence. The fact that it reappeared at Queen Marinette’s home was taken as a sign that the tribe had been restored to favor by the Gods. As of 1923, the sacred stone was in the possession of Queen Marinette’s great granddaughter in Marinette.
Queen Marinette died in Green Bay in 1865. She was originally buried in Allouez cemetery near Green Bay, but was relocated in 1987 and placed in a prominent sarcophagus in Forest Home Cemetery in Marinette. Her son, John B. Jacobs, mapped out the plan for the town of Marinette. Marinette County was incorporated in 1879 and the city of Marinette was incorporated in 1887, both taking their names from Queen Marinette. And that’s the end of the story.
[Sources: www.rootsweb.ancestry.com; www.marinette.wi.us/history; www.wisconsinhistory.org; www.digicoll.library.wisc.edu; www.EHExtra.com (1/30/10); www.peshtigotimes.net (Tales from the Old-Timer)
-Donna D (11-5): she looked a lot like my paternal grandmother! donna