Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit - French Rule - 1701-1760
For information on the events that led to the establishment of Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit, as well as Cadillac's journey to the area, click here.
Building Fort Ponchartrain
Upon landing at the site of the new settlement, a ceremony was held to formally take possession of the land. In honor of his comrade, Louis (or his son, Jerome) Phélypeaux, Comte du Ponchartrain, Minister of Marine to Louis XIV, Cadillac named the settlement Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit.
Cadillac then marked village borders. The southern border was present day Jefferson Avenue. The northern border was between present day Larned Street and Jefferson Avenue. The eastern end was approximately where Griswold Street is today. And the western border was along present day Shelby Street. The area Cadillac marked off covered one square arpent (192.75 ft x 192.75 ft or 37,152.56 sq ft).
Building of the storehouse and stockade began immediately, however, the first building completed was Ste. Anne's Church. It is likely that the construction of Ste. Anne's started on July 26, the feast day of Ste. Anne. Two priests had accompanied Cadillac on his journey to the Detroit area, Father Constantin del Halle, a Recollet priest of the Franciscan order, and Father Francois Vaillant, a Jesuit priest. Father Vaillant, unhappy with Cadillac's apparent favoritism of the Franciscan order, his intentions to trade brandy to the Native Americans, and his encouraging of marriage between soldiers and Native American women, left the area almost immediately after the party landed. Thus Ste. Anne's followed the Franciscan order under the leadership of Father del Halle.
The palisade or stockade was constructed of logs (6-8 inches in diameter) vertically driven into the earth about 3 feet, and rising 12 feet into the sky. At least two gates were built in the palisades -- one at the south side along the Detroit River, the other on the east near Ste. Anne's. Stark and others mention a third gate on the west end of the palisade. Each corner of the palisade contained a bastion or blockhouse for look-out and defense purposes. Some source say the palisade was surrounded by a moat, also for defense purposes.
Inside the palisade, Ste. Anne Street ran east to west along the southern wall. The street was about 22 feet wide. St. Joachim ran parallel to, and north of, Ste. Anne Street. A couple of smaller streets (15 feet wide or less), St. François and St. Antoine, ran north-south in the enclosure. A very small street - more of an alley really - was called Recontre.
A large building (22 feet by 37.5 feet by 8 feet tall) was erected for use as a warehouse and trade store. Unlike most of the other buildings, this one was made of thick oak planks and had a hinged door with a lock and key. In very cold weather it was also used as a warm gathering place as the houses were too small to have fires inside. For this reason, the warehouse, church and streets also served as part-time kitchens. There was also a public bake house.
Other buildings ("owned" by Cadillac) include:
- A barn for storing crops (and later a horse or two) - 27 feet by 50 feet by 11 feet tall.
- An ice house - 15 feet by 15 feet; 6 feet tall above ground and 15 feet deep in the ground.
- Four buildings of unknown purpose: 1) 19 feet by 33.5 feet, made of vertical log construction and featuring a door with a lock; 2) 12.5 feet by 18 feet by 6.5 feet tall; 3) 21 feet by 33 feet, made of "split stakes and without a door" (Burton); and 4) 12 feet by 16 feet by 5 feet tall.
Residential lots were marked out at roughly 25 feet x 25 feet (625 sq ft) each with construction beginning immediately. Early houses were made of vertical logs driven into the ground and sealed with grass, clay and mud (eventually, the disadvantages of the vertical log construction were discovered and horizontal log construction prevailed). Houses were only tall enough to just permit standing inside. Roofs consisted of bark or straw and were sometimes covered with skins. Most doors were simply propped against the houses -- hinges were rare in the area at the time. Most floors consisted of hard-packed earth. A few structures had floors made of logs that were cut flat on one side. There was no glass in the village for a long time, so windows were square open holes covered in thinly scraped skins. Later windows had wooden shutters, and "Dutch Doors" were added, as were crude "clay and wattle" (sticks packed with wet clay) chimneys. Later, lofts were added with dormer windows. Still later, white-washed clapboard covered the outside and the doors were painted apple green.
Life in the New Settlement
Life at Fort Ponchartrain became more settled once Mdes. Cadillac and de Tonty (the wife of Cadillac's first office, Alphonse de Tonty) arrived in the spring of 1702. They were the first non-Native American women in the area.
Between 1701 and 1703 there was a significant population increase. This increase was due in part to peace with the Iroquois (Treaty of Montreal, August, 1701), which opened up more efficient routes to the area. That peace had a downside. Travels west were not only made easier for the French, but the British, as well.
Enter the Company of the Colony
On October 31, 1701, a contract was made with King Louis XIV and the "Company of the Colony of Canada", an all-Canadian fur company set-up with hopes of saving and then growing the economy. (Some sources say the company was likely established by governor Callieres in order to strip Cadillac of all trade rights). The contract gave the Company of the Colony total control of, and responsibility for, Forts Frontenac and Ponchartrain. Cadillac became an employee of the company. He was not made aware of this personally devastating action until Messrs. Arnault and Radisson (representatives from the Company of the Colony) arrived at Fort Ponchartrain to take over on July 18, 1702.
On July 21, 1702, Cadillac left the settlement for Quebec where he hoped to get changes made in the contract. On September 27, while still in Quebec, Cadillac wrote to Count Ponchartrain of his progress at Fort Ponchartrain and to plead his case for the restoration of his rights therein. His letter included the following notes on the progress made at Fort Ponchartrain in its first year:
- October 7, 1701 - A crop of winter wheat was sown. It was harvested on July 21, 1702, setting the post on its way to total self-sufficiency.
- May, 1702 - A crop of Indian corn was sown to be harvested in mid-to-late August.
- All soldiers had their own dwellings.
- A vineyard had been established.
- 6,000 Native Americans lived in the area over the winter.
- Several Native American villages had been established in the area - with more expected. An Ottawa village was built near the foot of Belle Isle. A Miami village was also built along the river east of the fort. A Potawatomi village was built near the mouth of Knagg's Creek. Burton says a Wolf village was also built nearby in the "King's Commons" - but he also says that Wolf was a division of the Sauk tribe (no other sources mention a Wolf or Sauk village near Fort Ponchartrain). Later...On June 28, 1703, thirty Wyandot (Ouendot or Huron) families arrived from St. Ignace and established a village roughly in the area that is now the foot of Third Street.
- Provisions from Canada were no longer needed as the fort was self-sustaining.
- All of this was done without money from the King.
Cadillac's attempt to regain control of the fort and its operations failed and he returned to Fort Ponchartrain on November 6, 1702. Upon his return he found relations with the Native Americans had turned sour. Arnault and Radisson held a very different policy regarding trade with Native Americans. While Cadillac had tried to foster trust with the them, allowing them access to the fort, Arnault and Radisson kept the warehouse and other buildings locked. They also made changes in the distribution of brandy. Some Native Americans were ready to leave the post altogether. Some sources say Cadillac's efforts to restore trust and happiness at the fort were hindered by the fact that the tribes were dismayed in learning that he was subordinate to the King in France. Others say that Cadillac didn't try too hard to improve conditions -- believing that if the post was undesirable enough, the Company would lose interest in it.
While the Company controlled most of the settlement, Cadillac remained in command of the soldiers and was a sort of "police chief", as well. He was no longer responsible for maintaining the garrison, however, and in Autumn of 1703, nine soldiers deserted (they came back and were pardoned). In the same year, an arsonist set fire to Fort Ponchartrain. Ste. Anne's Church, the Recollet residence, and Cadillac's home were all damaged. Cadillac was badly burned. Around this time, Cadillac was also made aware of a plan between Tonty and the Jesuits of Michilimackinac to establish a new post on Lake Michigan. Tonty admitted to the plot and was pardoned by Cadillac.
In 1704, a clerk from the Company of the Colony was sent to investigate Cadillac. Upon arrival, Cadillac had the man jailed. Cadillac left Tonty in charge of the settlement and went to Quebec, where he was arrested. Claiming conflict of interest, Cadillac was released from jail and allowed to return to Detroit.
When Cadillac returned, he found that Tonty had been embezzling Company goods, along with a Company commissioner, for illegal fur trade. Cadillac filed the offense with governor-general Marquis de Vaudreuil. Unfortunately for Cadillac, Tonty's accomplice was a relative of Vaudreuil. A counter-suit was filed against Cadillac. He was acquitted, but barred from returning to Fort Ponchartrain. Cadillac presented his case to Count Ponchartrain. Vaudreuil agreed to let Cadillac go back to Fort Ponchartrain.
On June 14, 1704, Count Ponchartrain granted Cadillac permission to make land grants in and around the village (apparently this was out of the "Company" jurisdiction). At the time, Cadillac was again in Quebec or Paris trying once again to convince the court to restore full control of the settlement to him, so he couldn't yet exercise this right. (From September 25, 1705 - ?, Francois de la Forest was acting commandant). Cadillac began handing out land in 1707 and between March of that year and 1708, he granted 68 lots to private individuals (see Details of Cadillac's land grants for more information). The land grants, and a population increase, resulted in an increase in the village limits. The western border was moved out to present day Washington Boulevard; and the northern border nearly to present day Larned Street. This increased the village size to 720 feet (east-west) by 250 feet (north-south). A new street, St. Louis, was added to the south of Ste. Anne Street.
On June 14, 1705, Cadillac was finally victorious, and the Company made a new agreement restoring full control of Fort Ponchartrain to him. Some sources say that the ruling was due to Ponchartrain's feelings toward Cadillac, others say that Cadillac's plan for making the fort undesirable to the Company worked and that the Company was no longer interested in Detroit. Whatever the reason, Cadillac had his post back.
Fort Ponchartrain's First Major Conflict: The Ottawas Vs. the Miamies
In 1706, Cadillac again journeyed to Quebec and Montreal, leaving Fort Ponchartrain in the hands of Etienne Venyard, Sieur du Bourgmont. While Cadillac was away, trouble broke out between two neighboring Native American tribes (Miamies and Hurons, and Ottawas). In Pontiac an the Indian Uprising, Peckham writes that the conflict began when the Ottawas heard that the Hurons were planning to ambush them. Regardless of the reason, a group of Ottawas attacked the Miami village, killing several people. Many of the surviving Miamies entered the palisades where Bourgmont ordered soldiers to defend them. Thirty or more Ottawas, as well as, a Father del Halle and a soldier named Riviere, were killed. The Miamies then attacked the Ottawa settlement.
After returning to Fort Ponchartrain, Cadillac had the Ottawa leader, Chief Le Pesant, jailed and promised "his head" to the Miamies. Then Cadillac secretly helped the Chief "escape" from the fort (and the area) in order to free him without appearing to break his promise. The Miamies did not buy the ruse and in response, killed three settlers and one of Cadillac's cows. Cadillac retaliated by attacking the Miami village on the St. Joseph River - despite orders to use diplomacy rather than violence in dealing with Native Americans.
Minister Ponchartrain ordered an investigation into the matter. François Clairambault d'Aigremont reported in November of 1708, that the Ottawas had grown upset because they believed the French were plotting against them. While the report seems to have given little insight into the conflict, it nearly brought ruin to Fort Ponchartrain. In New France 1701-1744, Miquelon writes:
According to d'Aigremont's report, there was nothing much to Detroit itself: a few hundred arpents of poor land growing Indian corn, most of it belonging to Cadillac or the [Wyandots]; a few settlers, namely twenty-nine of the soldiers who had married and had among them forty-nine arpents; small houses of stakes set in the ground with thatched roofs; a rotting palisade with two bastions "so small and of such extraordinary shape as to be inrecognizable." Cadillac was revealed as a tyrant, exacting fees on every pretext, giving the soldiers short rations, controlling to his profit the brandy trade that had become the post's raison d'être. Battles among the Allies, new treaties negotiated by the [Wyandots] and the Miamis with the Iroquois, and a brisk trade in beaver to Albany were the results of founding Detroit. "The Iroquois," d'Aigremont observed. "will win all these nations to the English side by the cheapness of their goods and will engage them to bring them all their beaver, and by means of these trade goods that they obtain from the English, the Iroquois do a part of this trade on their own behalf." He also argued that the migration of the remaining Michilimackinac Indians to Detroit would leave the trade north of Lake Superior to the Hudson's Bay Company. Conclusion: "Detroit is a post very burdensome to the colony of Canada and will achieve its complete ruin if it continues to be sustained."
Ponchartrain apparently never showed the report to the king, rather he extolled the successes Cadillac had with the settlement. Furthermore, he rebuked d'Aigremont's assertions and defended Cadillac. Cleverly concealing any displeasure with Cadillac, Ponchartrain non-chalantly "promoted" him to Governor of the French Province of Louisiana. Reluctantly, he left for Mobile Bay in 1710.
Life After Cadillac
Francois de la Forest, who had commanded the post in 1705 in Cadillac's absence, was called to replace Cadillac. His age and health forced him to refuse the commission, he suggested that Charles Regnault, Sieur du Buisson (Dubuisson?)(Stark says Joseph Guyon, Sieur du Buisson) take the commission in his place.
Forest encouraged Buisson to assume possession of all Cadillac's property. Cadillac never received recompense. In City of Detroit, Burton lists this property as follows:
- 400 arpents of land, valued at 100 francs per arpent
- Loss of same for ten years at 6 francs per year
- One warehouse, valued at 3,000 francs
- One private residence, valued at 2,500 francs
- Two other houses, valued at 1,500 francs
- One barn, valued at 1,200 francs
- One stable, valued at 500 francs
- One dove cot (cote?), valued at 400 francs
- One ice house, valued at 300 francs
- Chapel and house of almoner, valued at 3,000 francs
- One mill, valued at 8,000 francs
- 29 horned cattle and 1 horse, valued at 9,000 francs
- Loss of mill profits for 10 years, valued at 10,000 francs
- 29 cattle that would have been bred within 10 years, valued at 9,000 francs
- Furniture, grain, flour, tools, valued at 7,000 francs
- Premium on same at 4% (2,800 francs)
- Due for King's service and care of sick - 4,331.73 francs
Many of the original settlers left Detroit at this time - especially those without families and those who were friends of Cadillac's. The population experienced such a dramatic decrease, that Buisson decided to shrink the size of the palisades by one-half, leaving half of the settlement unprotected. The villagers sent a letter to Cadillac voicing their unhappiness, but Cadillac was powerless to help them.
Fort Ponchartrain is Attacked
In May of 1712, Fort Ponchartrain was attacked by 1,000 Foxes, Sacs, and Mascoutens (Stark says Sacs with Mascoutin and Outagamie reinforcements). Only 33 soldiers were stationed at Fort Ponchartrain at the time -- and local Wyandots (Hurons) and Ottawas were on an annual western war raid -- making it the perfect opportunity for the enemy tribes. The attackers fired blazing arrows into the settlement. Ste. Anne's Church and another building (or buildings) were torn down to reduce the risk of fire.
The Wyandots and Ottawas left their elder men and boys behind when they went on the war path to the Mississippi Valley. The fastest of the young boys ran toward the Mississippi Valley to bid the warriors return. They did so and there ensued 19 days of fighting. When the Foxes and Mascoutens fled the area, the French, Wyandots and Ottawa followed them. Many of the Foxes were killed.
In Pontiac an the Indian Uprising, Peckham says the following of the incident. The Foxes, Sauks and Mascoutens were actually living in the Detroit area in 1711-1712, having moved there from Green Bay. In the winter of 1711-1712, fighting broke out between the three tribes and the other tribes in the area. Cadillac showed favor to the Wyandots and Ottawas by offering them the protection of the fort. In response, the Foxes then built a small, stockaded village which was "seiged by their enemies". After being holed up inside their fortress for 19 days without food, the Foxes tried to escape and were "slaughtered" by the others. In the end, no Foxes, Sauks or Mascoutens remained in the Detroit area.
The Last Fifty Years of French Rule
That summer (1712), Francois de la Forest returned to Fort Ponchartrain and took command, Buisson serving as his second. In that same year, Jacques Charles Sabrevois, Sieur de Bleury, was appointed commandant of Fort Ponchartrain. He did not arrive until 1714. From the time of Forest's death (October 16, 1714) to the time of Sabrevois's arrival, Buisson again held command.
Sabrevois used his own money to try to repair and reinforce the fort. He once tried to get villagers to help. Three: Baby, Dusable and Neve - agreed to at first, but the others soon talked them out of it. Sabrevois didn't get very far before he was recalled to New France.
In 1715, Fort Michilimackinac was built at present day Mackinaw City as a sort of headquarters for French trading. Thus delivering another blow to Cadillac's original vision for Detroit. In 1716, the French court revoked all land deeds granted by Cadillac.
Alphonse de Tonty, named commandant in July of 1717 when Sabrevois was recalled to Quebec. Tonty, using money gained by selling trading rights, finished the jobs Sabrevois has started, but was called to Quebec to answer to complaints filed by jealous tradesmen. He continued to upset French/Canadians and Natives, who thus continued to file numerous complaints against him at Quebec. Finally, in 1727, Tonty was relieved of command (to take effect in 1728) by Marquis de Beauharnois, the new Governor of New France.
In early 1728, Jean Baptist de St. Ours, Sieur Des Chaillons was named as Tonty's replacement. During his command, Fort Ponchartrain saw new settlers, including Robert Navarre, who would play an important role in Detroit for the next 30 years. Some of the new settlers came from Acadia, Nova Scotia, which was ceded to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) following the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713). The new settlers were very welcome as the population of Fort Ponchartrain had dwindled to about 30 families. Also around this time, trade was finally made free as a result of the constant displeasure with commandant-controlled trade. An active military man at heart, Chaillons didn't keep the post long. In the spring of 1729, he gave up the job in hopes of a military promotion.
In 1730, Louis Henry Deschamps, Sieur de Boishebert became Fort Ponchartrain's sixth official commandant. He was only at the post for three years, but is said to have improved conditions there quite a bit.
In 1733, Ives Jacques Hugues Pean, Sieur de Livandiere became Fort Ponchartrain's seventh official commandant. At that time, the garrison had only 17 soldiers.
By 1734, things started looking up for the settlement. The court finally saw fit to appoint a royal notary at Fort Ponchartrain (previously, only the priest at Ste. Anne's kept village records). The court appointed Robert Navarre. He held various positions in the settlement (including justice, surveyor, and collector) through French and part of British rule.
In 1735, Pean reported a successful wheat crop, some of which was exported to Europe. Pean's reports were paramount in Quebec's decisions to later increase the garrison to 60 men and to strengthen the fort. Through his reports, Pean was finally able to convince the court of the importance of Fort Ponchartrain.
In 1736, Nicolas Joseph des Noyelles was appointed commandant of Fort Ponchartrain by Governor Beauharnois. On May 6, 1736, he left Montreal for Fort Ponchartrain. In the meantime, the King, who had rejected Noyelles commission (neither Noyelles nor governor Beauharnois knew this at the time), had awarded the position to Pierre Jacques Payan de Noyan, Sieur de Charvis (Chavois?). Charvis, who was recovering from surgery (or waiting to have surgery?), had not yet left for Fort Ponchartrain, and the villagers really liked Noyelles, so Beauharnois never told him of the King's rejection. He maintained the post for a full three years.
Pierre Jacques Payan de Noyan, Sieur de Charvis finally took command in 1739. Not much is known about his 3-year term at Fort Ponchartrain.
On July, 6, 1742, Pierre Joseph Celoron, Sieur de Blainville became Fort Ponchartrain's ninth official commandant. Not much is known about his term as commandant, which ended in June of 1744.
In 1743, Paul Joseph Le Moine was appointed to succeed Celoron in 1744.
Despite the fact that France declared war on Great Britain on March 15, 1744, life in the village was fairly quiet and pleasant until 1746, when Chief Mackinac led a group of Chippewa from the north in an attack on Fort Ponchartrain. Some Wyandots and Iroquois set aside their differences to join the attack. The attack was unsuccessful as Chief Pontiac of the Ottawas fiercely drove out the attackers. Though the villagers weren't too threatened by the battle itself, they did face a threat of starvation as they were frightened into staying in or near the fort.
In 1748, Le Moine's term as commandant ended. He remained at Fort Ponchartrain as second in command. It is not clear who was commandant from 1748 to 1750.
In 1750, Pierre Joseph Celoron, Sieur de Blainville, once again became commandant of Fort Ponchartrain. During this term, the governor of Canada offered incentives to people to settle at the post. Each family was given a farm, supplies from the military stores, tools, and agricultural supplies. At least 54 heads of households came to take advantage of the offer, which proved to be a disappointment. The tools were not gifts, but loans that were to be repaid once the family was settled. Many of the new settlers were young, single men, not families. A shortage of single females prompted Celoron to request that single women be sent from Canada.
Celoron left the post of commandant in 1754, at which time it is likely that Jacques Pierre Daneau, Sieur de Muy took over. He held the post until his death in 1758.
Jean Baptiste Henry Beranger assumed command after Daneau's death until later in the year when François Marie Picote de Belestre took command of Fort Ponchartrain. He was the last to command under French rule.
Around this time, the British attacked Quebec and Montreal, and took the siege west. Their efforts eventually paid off and the French surrendered New France. On November 29, 1760, in pursuance with the articles of capitulation, British Major Robert Rogers took command of Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit, ending French rule in Detroit forever.