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1679 Louis Hennepin Description

Louis Hennepin [1640-1705] was a Recollect priest who accompanied the French explorer Cavelier de La Salle on his voyage to explore the Mississippi River. Hennepin joined La Salle on the first sailing vessel on the Great Lakes which was built at Niagara and sailed from Niagara to St. Ignace in 1679. After he left the expedition Hennepin returned to Europe and published, in 1683, his account of the exploration, Description de la Louisiana which "had the most unqualified success, the work went through several editions, and was translated into Italian, Dutch, and German. The monk became a celebrity overnight for readers hungering for exotic stories." (DCB:2:279). His was the first published account of the area we now call Detroit.

The 10th, very early in the Morning, we pass'd between that Island and 7 or 8 lesser ones; and having sail'd near another, which is nothing but Sand, to the West of the Lake, we came to an Anchor at the Mouth of the Streight, which runs from the Lake Huron into that of Erie. The 11th, we went farther into the Streight, and pass'd between two small Islands, which make one of the finest Prospects in the World. This Streight is finer than that of Niagara, being thirty Leagues long, and every-where one League broad, except in the middle, which is wider, forming the Lake we have call'd St. Claire. The Navigation is easie on both sides, the Coast being low and even. It runs directly from North to South.

The Country between those two Lakes is very well situated, and the Soil very fertile. The Banks of the Streight are vast Meadows, and the Prospect is terminated with some Hills covered with Vineyards, Trees bearing good Fruit, Groves, and Forests, so well dispos'd, that one would think Nature alone could not have made, without the Help of Art, so charming a Prospect. That Country is stock'd with Stags, Wild-Goats, and Bears, which are good for Food, and not fierce as in other Countries; some think they are better than our Pork. Turkey-Cocks and Swans are there also very common; and our Men brought several other Beasts and Birds, whose Names are unknown to us, but they are extraordinary relishing.

The Forests are chiefly made up of Walnut-trees, Chesnut-trees, Plum-trees, and Pear-trees, loaded with their own Fruit and Vines. There is also abundance of Timber fit for Building; so that those who shall be so happy as to inhabit that Noble Country, cannot but remember with Gratitude those who have discover'd the way, by venturing to sail upon an unknown Lake for above one hundred Leagues. That charming Streight lies between 40 and 41 Degrees of Northern Latitude.

From: A NEW DISCOVERY OF A VAST COUNTRY IN AMERICA by Father Louis Hennepin. Reprinted from the second London issue of 1698 by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1903. Pp 108- 109.

See Also:

Dictionary of American Biography.

Hamilton, Raphael N. The Early Cartography of the Missouri Valley. American Historical Review 1934 (4): 645-662.

Jaenen, Cornelius J. Missionaries as Explorers: The Recollects of New France. Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society 1980 22 (Oct.): 32-45.

Johnston, Patricia C. Portrayals of Henepin, "Discoverer" of the Falls of St. Anthony, 1680. Minnesota History 1980 47 (2): 57-62.

Muhlstein, Anka. La Salle: Explorers of the North American Frontier. NY: Arcade, 1994.

Parkman, Francis. La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West. Boston: Little, Brown, 1879.

1679 1702 Antoine Laumet De Lemothe Cadillac

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.

My Lord,

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 safely.

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 wider.

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 ocean.

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 in it.

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 oak.

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 big one.

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 Iroquois.

I have seen an herb, pointed out to me by the Iroquois, which renders the venom of snakes innocuous; perhaps it may have some other use.

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 beaks.

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 limestone.

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 attention.

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 it.

Its position is delightful and very advantageous; it is the narrowest part of the river, where no one can pass by day without being seen.

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 garrison.

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 price.

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.

See Also:

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