1708 D'Aigremont

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.

M. d'Ai

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 disappointment.

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.

T

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

ded.

.

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.

See Also:

Dictionary of Canadian Biography 2: 146-147.