Prelude to a City:
Detroit Before 1701
"Those who shall be so happy as to inhabit that noble country cannot but remember with gratitude those who have discovered the way by venturing to sail upon an unknown lake for above 100 leagues." - Father Louis Hennepin, 1679 report on the Detroit area
In the 1600's, France began establishing forts at strategic locations in North America, in order to try to keep the British from moving west out of New England and to establish a monopoly on trade. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac felt that the area that had become known as le detroit, or the straits, was an obvious location for a major post. The river was narrow enough that a cannon could be fired from one side to the other, but substantial enough to provide a defense. The surrounding Great Lakes and waterways meant easy travel from most major points. The court in France agreed, and Cadillac was allowed to establish a settlement at the Detroit River in 1701.
Fort Ponchartrain, the settlement built by Cadillac, was not likely the first settlement in the area, though little is known about any previous inhabitants. Some early explorers reported evidence of Jesuits and coureurs de bois in the area; others reported evidence of Native American settlements. Previous to that, a people known as the Mound Builders lived in the area. For more information on the Great Lakes and Detroit areas up to 1701, follow the links below.
Samuel de Champlain
Father Jacques Marquette
Father Louis Hennepin
Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle
Father François Dollier de Casson
Father René Brehant de Galinée