Cadillac proposed to the French authorities that the straits at
the Detroit River would make an ideal location for a settlement and
garrison. This settlement he felt would serve military, economic,
cultural and moral ends. There was opposition to the settlement because
it was realized that whoever controlled this cross roads would become
master of the fur trade and merchants from other places did not want to
lose their current advantages. Cadillac nevertheless won approval for
the project from the authorities. He went with 100 men to Detroit in
1701. This description of his establishment was sent in 1702 and
obviously he was still selling his dream.
It is my duty to give you an account of this country, I will
begin with a short description, so that you may be more definitely
informed about it.
Detroit is a river lying north-north-east towards Lake Huron
and south-south-west to the entrance of Lake Erie. According to my
reckoning it will be about 25 or 26 leagues in length and it is
navigable throughout so that a vessel of 100 guns could pass through it
Towards the middle there is a lake which has been called St.
Claire, which is about 30 leagues in circumference and 10 leagues in
length. This lake is scarcely noticed, on account of several large and
fine islands which form various passages or channels which are no wider
than the river. It is only for about four leagues that the channel is
Through this passage, the waters of Lake Nemebigoun, which
is 300 leagues, flow gently; those of Lake Superior, which is 550
leagues round; those of Lake Michigan or Illinois, 300 leagues; those of
Lake Huron, 600 leagues. They go into Lake Erie 300 leagues and
afterwards into Lake Onterio or Fronlenac, 300 leages; finally, they
pass through the River St. Lawrence, or Quebec River, and mingle in the
All these lakes are of sweet water.
At the entrance to Lake Huron the lands are brown and well
wooded; a vast and grand prairie is seen there which extends to the
interior of the lands on both sides of the river up to Lake St. Claire,
there are fewer prairies than elsewhere.
All the surroundings of this lake are extensive pasture
lands, and the grass on them is so high that a man can scarcely be seen
This river or strait of the seas is scattered over, from one
lake to the other, both on the mainland and on the islands there, in
its plains and on its banks, with large clusters of trees surrounded by
charming meadows; but these same trees are marvelously lofty, without
nodes and almost without branches until near the top, except the great
On the banks and round about the clusters of timber there is
an infinite number of fruit trees, chiefly plums and apples. They are
so well laid out that they might be taken for orchards planted by the
hand of a gardener.
On all sides the vine is seen; there are with some bitter
and rough grapes, - others whose berries are extremely large and plump.
There are also white and red grapes, the skins of which are very thin,
full of good juice. The latter are the best, and I have taken care to
select some of these plants and have them planted near the fort. I have
no doubt that, by cultivating it as they do in France, this vine will
produce good grapes and consequently good wine.
I have observed there nearly twenty different kinds of
plums. There are three or four kinds which are very good; the others are
very large and pleasant to look at, but they have rather tough skins
and mealy flesh. The apples are of medium size, too acid. There is also a
number of cherry-trees, their fruit is not very good. In places there
are mulberry trees which bear big black mulberries; this fruit is
excellent and refreshing. There is also a very large quantity of hazel
nuts and filberts. There are six kinds of walnuts; these trees is good
for furniture and gun-stocks. There are also stretches of chestnuts,
chiefly towards Lake Erie. All the fruit trees in general are loaded
with their fruit; there is reason to believe if these trees were
grafted, pruned and well cultivated, their fruit would be much better,
and that it might be made good fruit.
In places the woods are mixed, as white oak, red, walnut,
elm, white wood trees, mulberry trees, cottonwood, chestnuts, ash; and
in others they are not.
There is one tree which is unknown to me, and to all who
have seen it; its leaves are a vivid green, and remain so until the
month of January, it has been observed that it flowers in the spring,
and towards the end of November; the flowers are white. This tree is a
There is another tree which is well defended, the prickles
of which are half a foot long and pierce the wood like a nail; it bears a
fruit like kidney-beans. The leaf is like the capillary plant; neither
man nor animal could climb it. That would be good for making fences, its
grain is very hard; when it has arrived at maturity, the wood is so
hard that it is very difficult to drive an axe into it.
There are also citron-trees which are the same in form and
color as the citrons of Portugal, but they are sweeter and smaller;
there is a very large number of them, they are good preserved. The root
of this tree is a very subtle and deadly poison; and it is also a
sovereign remedy against snake-bites. It is only necessary to pound it
and to apply it to the wound, and you are instantly cured. There are but
few snakes at Detroit; they are very common in the country of the
I have seen an herb, pointed out to me by the Iroquois,
which renders the venom of snakes innocuous; perhaps it may have some
It is certain that, on both sides of the river of Detroit,
the lands are very fertile and extend in the same manner and with the
same pleasing character about ten leagues into the interior, after which
few fruit trees are to be found and fewer prairies seen. But 15 leagues
from Detroit, at the entrance to Lake Erie, inclining to the
south-south-west, are boundless prairies which stretch away for about
100 leagues. It is there that these mighty oxen, which are covered with
wool, find food in abundance. Forty leagues from this lake, going
straight towards the south, there is no winter; the French and the
savages have reported that they have seen neither ice or snow there.
I sent this spring to the Chevalier de Calliere some hides
and wool of these animals, and he sent both to the directors of the
Company of the colony to make trial of them, and it has been found that
this discovery will prove a valuable one; that the hides may be very
usefully employed, and this wool used for stockings and cloth-making.
There is a number of stags and hinds, they are seen in hundreds,
roebuck, black bears, otters and other smaller fur-bearing animals; the
skins of these animals sell well. There are also numbers of beavers on
this mainland and in the neighborhood.
Game is very common there, as wild geese and all kinds of
wild ducks. There are swans everywhere; there are quails, woodcocks,
pheasants, rabbits - it is the only place on the continent of America
where any have been seen. There are so many turkeys that 20 or 30 could
be killed at one shot every met with. There are partridges, hazel-hens,
and a stupenduous number of turtle-doves.
As this place is well supplied with animals, the wolves, of
which there are numbers, find abundant food there; but if often costs
them their skins because they sell well also; and this aids in
destroying them, because the savages hunt them.
There are wood rats which are as large as rabbits; most of
them are grey, but there are some seen which are as white as snow. The
female has a pouch under her belly which opens and shuts as she
requires, so that, sometimes when her little ones are playing, if the
mother finds herself pressed, she quickly shuts them up in pouch and
carries them all away with her at once and gains her retreat.
I have seen a number of different birds of rare beauty. Some
have plumage of a beautifuly red fire color, the most vivid it were
possible to see; they have a few spots of black in the tail and at the
tips of their wings, but that is only noticed when they are seen flying.
I have seen others all yellow, with tails bigger than their bodies, and
they spread out their tails as peacocks do. I have seen others of a sky
blue color with red breasts; there are some which are curiously marked
like those great butterflies. I have observed that a pleasant warbling
proceeds from all these birds, especially from the red ones with large
There are many cranes, grey and white; they stand higher
than a man. The savages value these latter greatly, on account of their
plumage, with which they adorn themselves.
In the river of Detroit there are neither stones nor rocks,
but in Lake Huron there are fine quarries, and it is a country wooded
like Canada, that is to say, with endless forests. Houses could be
provided and buildings erected of bricks, for there is earth which is
very suitable for that, and fortunately, five leagues from the fort.
There is an island which is very large, and is entirely composed of
We have fish in great abundance, and it could not be
otherwise, for this river is inclosed and situated between two lakes, or
rather between as many seas. A thing which is most convenient for
navigation is that it does not wind at all; its two prevailing winds are
the north-east and the south-west.
This country, so temperate, so fertile, and so beautiful
that it may justly be called the earthly paradise of North America,
deserves all the care of the King to keep it up and to attract
inhabitants to it, so that a solid settlement may be formed there which
shall not be liable to the usual vicissitudes of the other posts in
which only a mere garrison is placed.
I could not send any of our oxen or calves to France until
after barges have been built, on which I believe they are going to work
at once. One of them will be on Lake Frontenac and the other at Detroit
in order to facilitate the conveyance of hides and wool which could not
be effected by canoe transport. These barges will serve also for the
other large skins, for beaver skins, and other small furs which will be
conveyed at less expense this way. They will serve for everything in
general that is included in trade; and, as they will be capable of
sailing two thousand leagues in the surrounding districts, we shall not
fail, in time, to make some discovery which perhaps will be no less
lucrative than glorious to France.
It is necessary to have settlers, in order to develop the
trade. We were nearly 100 years in Canada without thinking of
prosecuting the porpoise-fishery, although we saw them every day before
our eyes; as soon as there was no demand for the beaver, we began to
think of something else. That is, My Lord, the account of the country of
Detroit and all I can tell you of it as I have only been one year
there, very busy in doing what follows, to which I beg you to give your
You will see annexed the plan of Fort Ponchartrain which I
have had built at Detroit- I have thus named it by the order of the
Chev. de Calliere - and the map of Detroit. The houses there are of good
timber, of white oak, which is even and hard and as heavy as iron. This
fort is in no danger provided there are enough people there to defend
Its position is delightful and very advantageous; it is the
narrowest part of the river, where no one can pass by day without being
You know that I set out from Montreal on the 2nd of June, 1701, with 100 men and three months' provisions; that I arrived at Detroit on the 24th of July, having gone by the ordinary route of the Utauais, by which I made only 30 portages, in order to try it.
After the fort was built, and the dwellings, I had the land cleared there and some French wheat sown on the 7th of October, not having had time to prepare it well. This wheat, although sown hastily, came up very fine and was cut on the 21st of July.
I also had some sown this spring, as is done in Canada; it
came up well enough, but not like that of the autumn. The land having
thus shown its quality, and taught me that the French tillage must be
followed, I left orders with M. de Tonty to take care to begin the
sowing about the 20th of Sept., and I left him 20 arpents of land prepared. I have no doubt he has increased it somewhat since my departure.
I also had twelve arpents or more sown this spring, in the
month of May, with Indian corn which came up eight feet high; it will
have been harvested about the 20th of the month of August, and I hope there will be a good deal of it. All the soldiers have their own gardens.
I believe we shall have 60 arpents of land sown this next
spring, hence I count on having a large quantity of corn; and I will
have a mill built on the spot, so as to be absolutely independent of
Canada for provisions. I have also a fine garden in which I put some
vines, and some ungrafted fruit trees. It is one arpent square, and we
shall enlarge it if necessary. In all this I have only complied with the
orders of the Governor-General.
All that is no easy task, especially as everything has to be
carried on the shoulders, for we have no oxen or horses yet to draw nor
to plough; and to accomplish it, it is necessary to be very active.
I have also had a boat of ten tons burden built which will be useful for many purposes in the river.
On the right of the fort, at a good distance, there is a
village of the Hurons to which I have granted lands in the name of His
Majesty, according to my order. The chief of this tribe, with four of
the most important men, in accepting them shouted "Long Live the King"
three times with me; and I have myself set up the landmarks, and marked
out the place where I wished them to build their fort and their village.
By this means I have set all the tribes on the track of asking me for
lands, and for permission to settle there. Having shown the others the
way, this tribe has cleared up to the present about 200 arpents of land,
and will make a great harvest.
There is also, on the left of the fort, a village of
Oppenago, that is, of Wolves, to whom I have likewise granted lands, on
condition, however, of giving them up to me if I want them afterwards,
on granting them others further off; the spot where they are might be
useful for a common land hereafter. These are the most tractable and
most peaceable of the savages. I am convinced that, if only a little
care is taken of them, they will very soon become Christians. They dress
like the French, as far as they can; they are very caressing; they even
make rough attempts at our language as far as they can. They have also
made fine fields of wheat.
Above this village, half a league higher up, there is a
village made up of four tribes of the Outavois, to whom I have likewise
granted lands; they have made some very find fields of Indian corn
there. Thus, within the space of one league, there are four forts and
four hundred men bearing arms, with their families, besides the
Before I set out from the fort, eighteen Miamis came, on
behalf of their tribe, to ask me for lands and to beg the savages who
are there to approve of their coming to settle there and joining them.
Thus the settlements could not promise better; these having prepared the
way, the others will not be long before they come there, especially as,
before I left, we learnt that the corn at Missilimakinak had been
killed this year by the frost as it was the proceding, a thing which
very often happens at that place.
Last year, my wife and Mne. Tonty set out on the 10th
of Sept. with our families to come and join us there. Their resolution
in undertaking so long and laborious a journey seemed very
extraordinary. It is certain that nothing astonished the Iroquois so
greatly as when they saw them. You could not believe how many caresses
they offered them, and particularly the Iroquois who kissed their hands
and wept for joy, saying that French women had never been seen coming
willingly to their country. It was that which made the Iroquois also say
that they well knew that the general peace which the Chev. de Calliere
had must made was indeed sincere, and that they could no longer doubt it
since women of this rank came amongst them with so much confidence. If
these ladies gave favorable impressions regarding us to the Iroquois,
those our allies received from them were no less so. They received them
at Detroit under arms with many discharges of musketry. They looked upon
this move as the most important that could be made to prove to them
that we wished to settle there in earnest, and that we wished to make it
a post to dwell in, and a flourishing settlement.
That is what we have done, having been unwilling to omit
anything in this undertaking to make it a success in spite of the fury
of the opponents who thwart it in vain, and act only in connection with
their own private interests.
All that I have had the honor to state to you has been done
in one year, without it having cost the King a sou, and without costing
the Company a double; and in twelve months we have put ourselves in a
position to do without provisions from Canada for ever; and all this
undertaking was carried out with three months provisions, which I took
when I set out from Montreal, which were consumed in the course of the
journey. This proves whether Detroit is a desirable or an undesirable
country. Besides this, nearly six thousand mouths of different tribes
wintered there, as every one knows. All these proofs, convincing as they
are, cannot silence the enemies of my scheme; but they do begin to grow
feebler and to diminish in violence. It may be said that nothing more
remains to them, good or bad, but their tongues.
If the King had the kindness to look into this matter well,
and to follow it up, numberless advantages would be obtained from it, to
the profit of the state, the Colony and religion. It is very grievous
that this matter, so successfully promoted, should be suddenly destroyed
by the obstacles which as it seems to me are rising against it.
I shall ever maintain that, if this post is settled by
Frenchmen and savages, it will be the safeguard of our trade with our
allies, and the blow which will overpower the Iroquois, because in
consequence of it he will not be in a position to begin or to maintain
war, as I have proved in the memorandum which I had the honor to present
to you in France.
I maintain also, and take the liberty of deciding
definitely, that if the King keeps only a mere garrison there, it is a
useless post which it would have been better never to have started, and
it will without doubt produce troublesome consequences; for our allies,
being disappointed in their expectations, and in the promises which were
made to them that the French would settle there, may take some course
which might make us repent of our instability. The Iroquois, seeing
likewise that this post would be anything rather than what they have
been led to expect, will infallibly fall into feelings of mistrust which
might well upset the peace they have concluded.
Moreover it is not possible that our families could live in a
place inhabited by savages only. Their distress would be extreme, for
they would be without any relief; as happened to Mne. Tonty who saw her
infant die for want of milk, which she had not anticipated. I fear the
same may happen to my wife who was just about to be confined when I
left. That is not extraordinary because these ladies have wet nurses for
their children. Hence there can be no hesitation in sending them down
next year, unless a few families are permitted to go and settle there,
so that they can find some assistance in these grievous conjunctures.
M. de Calliere having regard to that, has been good enough
to permit six families to go and settle there next spring, and the
Intendants who are also here thought it necessary. I spoke afterwards to
the Directors of the Company about it, and they have made no objection
to it, and have agreed with me that these inhabitants of Detroit should
be given goods at one third cheaper than they are sold to the savages,
so that they might profit by this advantage through the trade they will
do in them at the fort, in consideration of which they will be obliged
to hand over to the agents of the Company the beaver and other skins,
the proceeds of their trade, for which they will be paid at the current
I take the liberty of sending you certain suggestions for
contributing to the progress of this post, while respecting the
interests of the Company to which the King has granted the trade.
As the subject of this post has been so often under
consideration, and as the King has recognized the importance of this
settlement, the success of which has been so fortunate and so rapid up
to the present time, it would be superfluous to reply to the objections
of an infinitude of noisy fellows who have no less an itching to speak
of all the affairs of this country than the newsmongers of the Palais
Royal about the movements of all Europe.
You are convinced, My Lord, that I have never had in view
anything save the propagation of the Faith, the glory of the King, the
care of his interests, and the benefit of the colony.
How can these barbarians be made Christians, unless they are
made men first? How can they be made men unless they are humanized and
made docile? And how can they be tamed and humanized except by their
companionship with a civilized people? How bring them into subjection
and make them subjects of the King, if they have neither docility nor
religion nor social intercourse?
All that can be done easily by the means set forth in my
memorandum; and in perfecting the settlement of Detroit, I have done for
my part all that is necessary. It remains, on yours, to carry out what
you have promised me.
There are at Detroit a good fort, good dwellings, the means
of living and subsisting. There are three villages of savages; the rest
will very soon come there. They are watching to see whether what was
promised them is being carried out. It is for you to push this matter
about the inhabitants (that deserves our attention, on account of the
war) and to consider whether you will permit the inhabitants of Canada
to settle there; to form a seminary to begin to instruct the savage
children in piety, and in the French language; to allow the recollects
to settle there to discharge their functions there. It is the Lord's
vine; we must let it be cultivated by all sorts of good laborers. For
nearly a hundred years, it has been labored at without success; have
trial made, My Lord, whether the methods which I have had the honor to
purpose to you are not more sound.
Your Highness may rest assured that, in a little while you
will see its progress and you will have all the glory of it. If this
affair does not advance with giant strides, see to it yourself. I have
done my duty; a good fort, dwellings, corn and have formed three
villages of savages. All has been begun well; finish it, if it please
you, my Lord. Give your orders; I answer for it that as far as I am
concerned, I shall know how to have them carried out. Up to the present,
I have succeeded in what I have undertaken. If I am not skillful, what
matter? - I am fortunate. And when I succeed, they say it by a miracle.
Again, what matters it, if I belong to a time when miracles are
performed?. . .
Permit me, if it please you, to be with deep respect, My Lord,
Your very humble and very obedient servant,
La Mothe Cadillac.
At Quebec, this 25th of Sept., 1702.
From: ACCOUNT OF DETROIT by Cadillac. In Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, volume 33, 1904. Pp 131-151.
Berg, Harriet Jean. The Search for Madame Cadillac. Chronicle: The Quarterly Magazine of the Historical Society of Michigan. 1984 20 (1): 14-17
Chaput, Donald. The French Post at Detroit: An Unrealized Promise. Detroit in Perspective: A Journal of Regional History 1979 3 (3): 166-181.
Dictionary of American Biography
Dictionary of Canadian Biography
Mitchell, Sylvia C. La Mothe Cadillac: A Stormy Figure of New France. Detroit Historical Society Bulletin. 1955 11 (10): 6-10
Zoltvany, Yves F. New France and the West, 1701-1713. Canadian Historical Review 1965 46 (4): 301-32