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Nicolas de Finiels' "Account of Upper Louisiana" Manuscript

John Francis McDermott (1902-1981) joined the faculty of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville effective September 25, 1963, when he became the first Research Professor at the ambitious new institution. During a long and distinguished academic career (1924-1963) at his alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, McDermott had established an international reputation as a scholar of American cultural history.


A student of the Mississippi River Valley region during the colonial and early national eras of American history, McDermott achieved lasting fame as a relentless historical researcher, a passionate collector of copies of historical documents, and an exceptionally-productive author and editor of scholarly publications. In recognition of his remarkable achievements, SIUE awarded McDermott an honorary doctorate on June 6, 1980. Following his death in 1981, his wife, Mary "Stephanie" McDermott, donated her husband's extensive personal papers, copies of primary source documents, research notes, drafts, typescripts, published articles and books to Lovejoy Library at SIUE. The John F. McDermott Collection is preserved in the Louisa H. Bowen University Archives & Special Collections department of Lovejoy Library.


In 1970, McDermott used his vast historical knowledge and his international network of friends and contacts to obtain another remarkable manuscript for SIUE's Lovejoy Library. In 1797, a French engineer then resident in the United States named Nicolas de Finiels accepted a commission to work for the colonial government of Spanish Louisiana. Under that commission, to gather and to record accurate information about Upper Louisiana, Finiels travelled from Pennsylvania down the Ohio River and then up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. Using St. Louis as his base of operations, Finiels proceeded to make observations about what was known as the Illinois Country. During a period of several months, Finiels created the first draft of a very detailed map entitled "Carte d'une partie du cours du Mississippi, depuis la riviere des Illinois, jusqu'au dessous de La Nouvelle Madrid."


Early in the summer of 1798, Finiels journeyed downriver from St. Louis to New Orleans, where he continued in the employ of the Spanish government, even after France reacquired Louisiana from Spain in 1800. In 1803, just prior to the purchase of Louisiana from France by the United States, Finiels prepared a narrative account based upon his residence in the Illinois Country entitled "Notice sur la Louisiane Superieure." Finiels submitted a copy of his map and a copy of his account to Pierre-Clement de Laussat, prefect of French Louisiana.


Upon returning to France, Pierre-Clement de Laussat turned the map over to the authorities but kept the account in his family's archives, where it remained until rediscovered by McDermott in 1966. Following extensive discussions and negotiations with the contemporary Comte du Pre de Saint-Maur, McDermott succeeded in obtaining the account for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. A formal ceremony marking the transfer of the document by the count to the university took place on February 11, 1970. The original work is preserved in the Louisa H. Bowen University Archives & Special Collections, Lovejoy Library.


Although McDermott intended to do so, his involvement with numerous other time-consuming projects prevented him from completing a scholarly translation of Finiels's account during the last decade of his life. At the encouragement of and under an arrangement with John Abbott, Gary Denue, and Louisa Bowen of Lovejoy Library, an outstanding scholarly translation of Finiels's report appeared in 1989: Nicolas de Finiels, An Account of Upper Louisiana, edited by Carl J. Ekberg and Wiliam E. Foley; translated by Carl J. Ekberg (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1989). To encourage and to facilitate further research into Finiels's account, both the original and the published translation are presented here. (Interested researchers may locate paper format copies of the translation on the out-of-print book market.)


This digital exhibit was conceived and authored by Stephen Kerber. The manuscript and the translation were scanned by Ginger Stricklin. The digital presentation and metadata was provided by Marlee Graser and Jamie Lanman.


Questions about this collection? Contact Lovejoy Library at 1-618-650-4636.

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