Rolette, [Jean] Joseph 1781 - 1842

Rolette was a fur trader, pioneer land speculator, b. Quebec, Canada. He was educated at the Jesuit Seminary in Quebec in preparation for the priesthood, but deserted his studies for the fur trade, and by 1805 was in the West. Associating with Scottish traders from Montreal, who combined under various titles to trade in the area, Rolette entered the Upper Mississippi region at a time when the fur trade was highly profitable. He made his home in Prairie du Chien and soon became its wealthiest resident. During the War of 1812, Rolette, like other French-Canadians, aided the British; he participated in the capture of Fort Mackinac in 1812, and in 1814 helped raise Indian recruits commanded a British militia unit in the Siege of Prairie du Chien. Despite this, in 1821 Rolette was appointed as an associate justice of Crawford county, Wisconsin, and he briefly rose to chief justice of the county in 1830. In the interim, he had married Jane Fisher in 1818, a local girl twenty-three years his junior, who was related to a noted fur trader, Michel Brisbois. In 1836, Rolette and his wife, Jane Fisher, were legally separated. The couple had had two children during the 1820s, Joseph “Jolly Joe”, who was elected to the Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1851, and Virginia. As part of the separation contract, Rolette agreed to construct his wife a two-story stone house on the riverfront in Prairie du Chien. Known as the Brisbois house, this structure is now a national historic landmark and is owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society. A colorful and temperamental figure, Rolette was often at odds with other traders, with British officers, and, after 1816, with American commanders at Fort Crawford. In 1811 Rolette and his partners associated with John Jacob Astor to form the short-lived South West Co., and about 1820 he joined Astor's American Fur Co., managing the business at Prairie du Chien until Hercules Dousman arrived in 1826. Rolette had numerous side enterprises; his large canoes afforded convenient carrying service for goods and passengers; in 1830 he joined with James H. Lockwood (q.v.) to rebuild a sawmill in the Chippewa Valley; and he had heavy investments in Prairie du Chien real estate. Rolette was naturalized in 1823, was appointed associate judge of the Crawford County court in 1821, and in 1830 became its chief justice, but was soon removed from this post. Dissipation, mortgage foreclosures by the American Fur Co., and the Panic of 1837 contributed to his ruin, and he died a poor man. letter=M&action=search&term_type_id=1&term_type_text=People

Compiled by Lawrence Barkwell Coordinator of Metis Heritage and History Research Louis Riel Institute

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