Summary of an Inspection of the Posts of Detroit and MAchilimackinac
Francois Clairambault D'Aigremont [ca 1659-1728] in 1707
was given the mission of inspecting trading posts by the French
minister. He was "to examine what trade is done there, and to ascertain
exactly the state in which these posts are, and whether those who are in
command there are not engaging in illicit trading." His report as to be
a deciding factor about whether to maintain a post or abandon it.
Not long after this report, in 1710, Cadillac was appointed Governor of Louisiana and left Detroit.
M. d'Aigremont left Niagara, June 29, 1708. He sailed along
the north coast of Lake Erie, a distance of ninety leagues, and arrived
at Detroit on the 15th of July. He remained at Fort
Pontchartrain of Detroit nineteen days, and became convinced during his
stay that M. la Motte Cadillac, who commands there, is generally
disliked by the French and savages, with the exception of three or four
of the former, whom he employs in his secret trade, and whom he
influences more than the others. This hatred is in consequence of the
tryranny which he exercises over the entire settlement. Among the many
instances which came under his notice, are the following:
La Motte requires of a blacksmith, named Parent, for
permission to work at his trade, the sum of six hundred francs and two
hog heads of ale; and the obligation to shoe all the horses of M. la
Motte, whatever number he may have, though at present he keeps but one.
Of a gunsmith named Pinet, he requires three hundred francs a year, and
the repairing of twelve guns per month, which makes one hundred and
forty-four a year. Estimating this work at one pistole per gun, M. la
Motte draws from the work of these men, seventeen hundred and forty
francs. Evidently this state of things cannot last long, for they will
be obliged to leave Detroit.
M. la Motte has caused a windmill to be erected, in which he
takes the eighth minot as toll, while others take only the fourteenth.
He gives for his reason, the great cost of the mill.
gremont caused the valuable lands at Fort
Pontchartrain to be measured, and found three hundred and fifty-three
roods of it in all. La Motte has one hundred and fifty-seven; the French
inhabitants, all together, have forty-six; and the Hurons one hundred
and fifty. The one hundred and fifty roods of La Motte have been broken
up by the soldiers and savages, nineteen roods of which belonged to the
company - so the cultivation of it has cost La Motte nothing.
There are but twenty-nine of the inhabitants of Detroit who
have taken ground-plots within the fort, where they have built small
log-houses, thatched with grass. The whole number of the French settlers
is sixty-three, thirty-four being traders. It is certain that if M. la
Motte had not introduced the trade in brandy, but very few of the
traders would remain, and no more would go there. Brandy and ammunition
are the only profitable articles of commerce to the French, the English
furnishing all others.
The savages make great complaints against M. la Motte; they
say plainly that if he remains there they will not settle at Detroit.
They demand the lieutenant M.d'Argenteuil, as commandant. This man has
much influence among them, but has little management. The savages
promise great faithfulness to the king.
In order to prevent the disturbances which would arise from
the excessive use of brandy, M. la Motte causes it all to be put into
the storehouse, and to be sold to each in his turn at the rate of twenty
francs per quart. Those who will have it, French as well as Indians,
are obliged to go to the storehouse to drink, and each can obtain, at
one time, only the twenty-fourth part of a quart. It is certain that the
savages cannot become intoxicated on that quantity. The price is high,
and as they can only get the brandy each in his turn, it sometimes
happens that the savages are obliged to return home without a taste of
this beverage, and they seem ready to kill themselves in their
M. la Motte has bought of four individuals one hundred and
four quarts, at four francs a quart, and sold it at twenty francs - thus
making a profit of four-fifths. The inhabitants of Detroit pay M. la
Motte two francs ten sous a year for each lot of land measuring one
rood, fronting on the river, by twenty in depth; and for the ground in
the fort, they pay two sous for each foot of front, and double that
amount when this plot borders on two streets. All the inhabitants also
pay to M. la Motte a tax of ten francs a year, which he claims for
himself. This tax is levied for the privilege of free trade with the
Indians. M. d'Aigremont also recounted many acts of petty tyranny on the
part of M. la Motte, especially exercised toward the poor soldiers that
were under his immediate control.
This inspector asserted that there can be no doubt that
maintaining the establishment at Detroit must be highly prejudicial to
Canada; for, said he, "Our allies the Hurons even now carry their
peltries through the country to the English; and they have also
introduced to the English the Miamis, of whom they formerly made such
good use in the war which we had against them."
In the month of April, 1707, the Miamis having killed three
Frenchmen, M. la Motte sent orders to the Outawas to come to his aid,
having heard that the Iroquois, Hurons, and Miamis were determined on
the destruction of the French. Three hundred good men of the Outawas
immediately set out, under the command of the two officers sent by M. la
Motte; but they were surprised to learn, before they reached Detroit,
that M. la Motte had already made peace with the Miamis.
The conditions of the peace were, first, to deliver up the
murderers within forty days; second, to return within fifteen days, a
little Outawa whom they had taken captive; third, to pay for the cattle
which they had killed; fourth, to restore the goods they had stolen from
the French. The fifteen days having elapsed and the little Outawa not
having been sent back, M. la Motte resolved to make war upon the Miamis,
although the forty days he had given them for the delivery of the
murderers had not yet expired. He called together the French and
savages, and after having lifted the tomahawk in council, he departed
with four hundred men to attack the fort of the Miamis. But he conducted
the march without that order and precaution which were necessary,
despising all the advice given him by the chiefs and his own officers.
When he arrived near the fort of the Miamis, which he expected to take
without opposition, - there being but sixty warriors of the Miamis, and
his force amounting to four hundred men, - he found the Miamis ready to
defend themselves. They fired on the advancing army, wounding many
persons, and obliging La Motte to retreat to some distance from the
intrenchment. At this juncture the Miamis raised a white flag, that M.
la Motte had given them the previous year, which rendered it necessary
for him to hold a council with them.
he principal chief of the Miamis who came to the council
reproached La Motte for having broken his word, the forty days which he
had given them not having expired. La Motte replied that he had a right
to attack them, as they had failed to bring back the little Outawa who
was among them, within fifteen days, as they had promised. He demanded
that this little Outawa should now be restored, and that they should
also give him three captives to replace the dead. They not only compiled
with these requisitions, but they also promised him that they would
deliver up the murderers within six weeks, if possible; but if not, they
would come after their harvest and settle at Detroit. As a pledge of
their truthfulness, they gave three of their chiefs into the custody of
the French as hostages. They also presented to M. la Motte fifty packs
of different kinds of furs, for himself and for the troops and allies.
In this affray there were seven Frenchmen wounded and four savages
killed and two woun
If Michilimackinac is abandoned and the Outawas go to
Detroit, as M. la Motte intends, it is certain that the low price of the
English goods will cause the trade in beaver to pass into their colony,
without our being able to prevent it. We should also lose the beaver
from north of Lake Superior, which is the best there is; it will pass to
the English at Hudson's Bay.
M. d'Aigremont disputes the account given of the soil about
Detroit, by M. la Motte and others. He describes it as consisting of a
sandy surface, nine or ten inches deep, beneath which is a clay so stiff
that water cannot penetrate it. The timber, he says, is small, stunted
oaks, and hardy walnuts; he acknowledges that the land produces good
Indian-corn, but says that is because the soil is new. He does not
believe that the fruits of Europe can be brought to perfection there,
because the roots of the trees stand in water. Considerable cider is
made there, but it is bitter as gall. It is true that the country is
warm, being only forty-three degrees north latitude; but the difficulty
arises from the fact that the ground is new and full of water. There are
some small chestnuts which are pretty good to the taste, but they are
the only kind of fruit that is good. The grasshoppers eat all the
garden-plants, so that it is necessary to plant and sow the same thing
even to the fourth time.
Even if the land were ever so productive, there would be no
market, and the trade of this post would never be useful to France - the
result of which would be that the establishment would always prove a
burden to the colony, and of no use to the kingdom. It may be said that,
if we abandon it, the English will take possession; but that is not to
be feared - it being more advantageous to them that we should incur the
expenses and let them reap the benefit, as they now do. The Indians are
very willing to make use of the goods of the English, but they would not
suffer the English to take possession of their lands, even for the
purposes of trade.
The former interpreter at Detroit, brother of the secretary
of M. Vaudreuil, has been discharged. His successor is much better - he
is an upright man.
After having remained nineteen days at Detroit, M.
d'Aigremont started for Michilimackinac. August 3d, and arrived there on
the 19th of the same month.
From: SUMMARY OF AN INSPECTION OF THE POSTS OF DETROIT AND MICHILIMACKINAC, BY D'AIGREMONT translated from Cass transcripts from Paris Archives. In Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Madison: The Society, 1902. Pp 251- 257.
Dictionary of Canadian Biography 2: 146-147.