Tonti or Tonty, Henri de [key], c.1650–1704, French explorer in North America, b. Italy. Serving in the French army, he lost a hand in battle; his skillful use of the appliance with which the hand was replaced was later to lead Native Americans to believe him possessed of special powers. In 1678, Tonti accompanied the explorer La Salle to Canada as his lieutenant and was dispatched to Niagara where, among hostile Native Americans, he constructed the Griffon, the first sailboat to ply the Great Lakes W of Ontario. Tonti preceded La Salle westward to Detroit and penetrated into the country of the Illinois, whom he won over to the French interest. In 1680, left by La Salle at Starved Rock to construct a fort, he was faced by desertion of his men and the hostility of the Native Americans and was forced to winter in Wisconsin. Meeting La Salle at Mackinac the following year, he traveled with him down the Mississippi to its mouth; they proclaimed the entire Mississippi watershed the domain of France. Tonti returned alone to the Illinois River, where he was rejoined by La Salle, and together they completed (1682–83) Fort St. Louis at Starved Rock. When La Salle returned to France, Tonti was left in charge of the fort. La Salle did not return, for he failed in his attempt to find the mouth of the Mississippi by sea. Having no word, Tonti in 1686 descended the river in a hopeless search for La Salle. The following year he took part with a band of Illinois in the raid by the marquis de Denonville against the Iroquois. Tonti remained at Fort St. Louis, developing the new empire, until 1700, when he joined Iberville's colony at the mouth of the Mississippi. Pierre Margry included Tonti's account in Mémoires et documents pour servir à l'histoire des origines francaises des pays d'outre-mer (6 vol., 1879–1888; tr. Relation of Henri de Tonty, 1898).
See J. C. Parish, The Man with the Iron Hand (1913); C. B. Reed, Masters of the Wilderness (1914); E. R. Murphy, Henry de Tonty, Fur Trader of the Mississippi (1941).
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