Skip navigation


Detroit in 1837 had changed radically from the community founded by Cadillac in 1701. Its people had been transformed from a French and Indian community to a city of economically driven, Protestant New Englanders. Its economy had been transformed from that of a military garrison and fur-trading outpost into a supply center for an agriculturally oriented state. Yet for all these changes the city still remained on the edge of the forest. As late as 1830 residents could clearly hear the call of wolves. As thousands of settlers poured through Detroit's streets in the 1830s deer could be taken a half-day's walk away from town, and on the occasional evening a disoriented bear made the walk into town and could be seen wandering about. In 1837 Detroit was not yet far removed from the forest Cadillac had seen.

In one other way the Detroit of 1837, for all its differences from the community founded by Cadillac, still shared a vital similarity-the river itself. Detroit came into existence because the French saw military and economic advantage to be gained from the river. Detroit prospered in the 1830s because of the importance of water-borne transportation. Soon enough the forest would be pushed back. But in 1837, as in 1701, it was the river around which the community revolved.