16th & 17th Centuries


By: Caven Clark


uropeans became aware of Great Lakes region copper in the early sixteenth century when copper ornaments were found among the Indians along the St. Lawrence. In the winter of 1535-1536 Cartier was entertained and intrigued by tales of the "Kingdom of Saguenay" vaguely located to the north and west and from whence had come the copper objects in possession of his hosts, the St. Lawrence Iroquois. In subsequent years there was a flow of information concerning the source of copper. In 1603 Champlain's Huron informants described a copper mine somewhere to the north where they had obtained some bracelets. Seven years later on a trip upriver from Quebec, Champlain encountered some Montagnais and a single Algonkin who presented him with a piece of native copper said to have been obtained from the bank of a river (Biggar 1925).

With the establishment of a permanent French presence in Huronia and the burgeoning fur trade, more substantive information concerning the source of copper was forthcoming. Penetration into the Superior basin by the traders Brule and Grenole around 1623 brought back copper specimens and more tales of mining from Indians living to the west of Huronia. No mines were actually visited, however, and much of the information was still couched in vague and often mythic language. In his re view of references to copper in the Jesuit Relations, Whittlesey (1863) concludes that all such references prior to 1847 are, at best, secondhand. Dablon (Thwaites 1896-1901) makes mention of the tradition of a floating island of gold 40 or 50 leagues north of the Sault and opposite Michipicoten Island. His native informants, he tells us, lacked consensus on the matter (quoted in Winchell 1881:613):


  1. Biggar, H.P. (editor). 1925. The Works of Samuel De Champlain, volume 2. The Publications of the Champlain Society, Toronto.
  2. Clark, Caven P. Archeological Survey and Testing at Isle Royale National Park, 1987-1990 Seasons. Lincoln, Neb: U.S. National Park Service, Midwest Archeological Center, 1995. Print.
  3. Thwaites, Rueben Gold. 1896-1901. The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuits and Missionaries in New France, 161 0- 1 791. 73 Vol. Burrows Brothers Company, Cleveland.
  4. Whittlesey, Charles. 1863. Ancient Mining on the Shores of Lake Superior. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge Vol. 13, No. 155. Washington, D.C.
  5. Winchell, N.H. 1881 Ancient Copper-Mines of Isle Royale. Popular Science Monthly 19(5):601-620.