French Detroit 1701-1760
In 1697, French trading posts in New France were suffering. A 10-year overstock in beaver pelts was having a disastrous effect on the economy. Jesuit missionaries were outraged at the practice of trading brandy to Native Americans. The court in France decided to close and abandon all but four western posts. Frontenac, de Buade, St. Joseph of Miami, and St. Louis of Illinois, were to remain open only as long as needed by the military. De Buade and St. Joseph were abandoned immediately by their garrisons; St. Louis was abandoned by 1702, leaving only Fort Frontenac.
At the time of the closures, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac was commandant of Fort de Buade. He was troubled by the idea of not having a major stronghold in the west to keep the British on the east coast. He was also interested in the profits in personally controlling trade. He wanted to "Europeanize" Native Americans and entice them to establish settlements around the post. He believed that the area now known as le detroit was the perfect place to carry out his plans. The river would help in defending the fort, as well as, making travel easy. In 1698, he travelled to France where he convinced Jérôme Phélypeaux, Comte de Ponchartrain (or his father, Louis), King Louis' Minister of Marine, of the merits of a major settlement on the Detroit River.
As with any plan, Cadillac's was not without its skeptics. Certain Canadian officials worried that the plan would upset the Iroquois and thus jeporadize efforts to make peace with them. There was concern that bringing several tribes together to live in the same area could be disastrous. Others didn't believe such a post could sustain itself if trade were stopped for any amount of time.
Cadillac again travelled to France to discredit his doubters and on May 5, 1700, King Louis sent word to Canada that a post in the Detroit River was to be established and that Cadillac was to be the commandant. As the plan required, King Louis provided 1,500 livres (about $300), to be used to build a fort at the new settlement. Farmers would provide food for the settlement and trade would provide some financial stability.
On June 4 (some say 2), 1701, Cadillac set sail for le Detroit from Montreal, with 25 canoes, 50 soldiers, and 50 Canadian voyageurs (farmers, traders and artisans). The men included: Captain Alphonse de Tonty; Lieutenants Chacornacle and Dugne; First Sergeant Jacob de Marsac, Sieur de L'Omnesprou; Father Constantine del Halle (or de L'Halle), a Recollet priest; Father François Vaillant de Gueslis (a Jesuit priest); interpreters (and brothers) Jean and François Fafard de Lorme; and Cadillac's 8 or 9-year old son, Antoine.
Two other men, Robert Chevalier de Beauchene (whose adventures were published by Le Sage in 1745) and his brother, were also with the party at first. Chevalier recounted that Cadillac checked the canoes at La Chine for extra brandy. When he found that there was more than what had been licensed, he demanded to know the responsible parties. Chevalier's brother said it was his. A fight nearly broke out, but Chevalier stepped in. The party returned to Montreal where Chevalier was imprisoned for three days. His brother spent the rest of his life with Native Americans. The remainder of the crew resumed their journey.
The logical course would have been for the party to travel up the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario then on to Lake Erie and thence to the straits. However, the Iroquois still dominated the area making it too dangerous (as well as being a threat to the progress of peace efforts). The party instead traveled up the Ottawa River to Lake Nipissing, then down the French and Pickerel Rivers to the Georgian Bay. From there it was south to Lake Huron, down the St. Clair River, and through Lake St. Clair to the Detroit River.
The group reached the Detroit River on July 23, 1701. At this time, they did not stop in the immediate Detroit area, but rather traveled slightly south to Grosse Ile. The party set up camp there and spent the night. The following day, July 24, 1701, Cadillac's party traveled north on the Detroit River looking for a place to build their settlement. Cadillac choose the narrowest part of the river, where the banks were high, and there he and his man began construction of Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit (named for King Louis' Minister of Marine - some say Louis de Ponchartrain, some say his son, Jerome, who succeded him as Minister of Marine in 1698). The point where the men landed is at the foot of present day Shelby Street, south of Jefferson Avenue -- approximately the location of the Veteran's Memorial Building.
More on Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit
- 1701-1760 Chronology
- 1701-1760 People
- 1701-1760 Statistics
- Antoine Cadillac, Founder of Detroit
- French Commandants at Fort Ponchartrain
- 1708 Plan From Conveyances of Cadillac (from the Burton Historical Collection)
- 1708 Plan From Conveyances of Cadillac (interactive reproduction if Burton's map with lot assignements)
- 1749 Detroit (from DeLery's Plan)
- Other Sites on French Detroit