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- Tonty prepared the way for the French development of Louisiana and the successful American advance later.
- In 1668 Tonty (whose father was the insurance expert Lorenzo de Tonti) joined the French army as a cadet.
- He fought in several campaigns and in 1677 his right hand was blown off by a grenade (Tonty himself cut off what remained of the hand while waiting for the doctor).
- Prince de Conti and the Abbe Renaudot recommended Tonty to La Salle, a French fur trader from Canada, who was in Paris seeking the support of King Louis XIV and the King's minister Jean Baptiste Colbert for his explorations.
- Tonty agreed to join La Salle and in July, 1678, La Salle and Tonty set sail for the New World.
- On arrival in North America in September, 1678, Tonty accompanied La Salle to Fort Frontenac, the settlement La Salle had built on Lake Ontario.
- La Salle's plan was to build ships to transport goods on the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, and find a route to the open sea and China.
- At Niagara, Tonty supervised the building of the "Griffon", intended to be the first commercial vessel on the Great Lakes.
- In 1680, Tonty helped build Fort Crevecoeur on the Illinois River and was left in charge of it while La Salle -- though it was winter -- set out to look for the "Griffon", which, on its maiden voyage, had disappeared (and, in fact, had sunk).
- Most of Tonty's men soon deserted, the Iroquois attacked, and finding it impossible to defend the fort, Tonty and a handful of survivors fled.
- They made their way along the western shores of Lake Michigan, gathering nuts, wild garlic and roots from under the frozen snow, and eventually found friendly Indians, who sheltered them for the winter.