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The Man Who Carried Thunder in Both Hands

And how we came to use the word “Nicotine

In 1559 Jean Nocolet, a young French scholar and diplomat, was sent to Portugal to negotiate the marriage of six year old Princess Marguerite de Valois to the five year old King Sebastioan of Portugal. Although his mission failed, Nocolet took back to France tobacco plants that had recently arrived from Florida.

Nicotiana – By the 19th century, the word nicotine was assigned exclusively to the poisonous active ingredient of the tobacco plant.

Jean Nicolet, who was born in France in 1598, immigrated to Canada in 1618 to live among the Native Americans. This was part of Samuel de Champlain’s training for young French explorers and traders. Nicolet lived amongst the Algonquins for years, familiarizing himself with their ways, learning their language, engaging in trade and participating in their councils.

In 1634, Nicolet was sent on a peace mission/exploratory voyage and landed at Red Banks, near modern-day Green Bay, Wisconsin. He had learned that the people who lived along these shores were called Ho-Chunk, which the French translated as “People of the Sea”. Nicolet became the French ambassador to the Ho-Chunk people, wearing brightly colored robes and carrying two pistols to convey his authority. While on a scouting trip with Ho-Chunk guides, Nicolet traveled the Fox River and portaged to the Wisconsin. When the river began to widen, he was so sure that he was near the ocean, that he stopped and returned to Quebec to report a passage to the “South Sea.” He had just missed finding the Mississippi River.



“It’s said that Jean Nicolet arrived on Wisconsin’s shores dressed in brightly colored Chinese robes, firing pistols in the air to impress the Indians. The Ho-Chunk were amazed at the show and called him “the man who carries thunder in both hands.

They treated him like a movie star, helping with his expeditions and showering him with beaver feasts.

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