New France and Detroit
French interest in the Great Lakes region dates from the first half
of the 17th century; shortly after the founding of Québec the
first adventurers are drawn to the richness of the forests and waterways
of the area. There is a possibility that Etienne Brûlé reached
Lake Erie before 1626. In 1670 the missionnaries Dollier and Gallinée
claim possession of the Great Lakes territory in the name of the king
of France. In 1679, Robert Cavelier de LaSalle sails up the Detroit River
aboard the Griffon. On August 12th he enters a small lake at the eastern
end of the Detroit River and names it Lake Saint Clair, in honour of
Saint Claire of Assissi, whose feast it is that day.
In 1701, to protect French interests and oppose British plans in the
Great Lakes region, the Governor of New France decides to follow the
recommendations of Antoine Laumet, Sieur de Lamothe Cadillac and establish
a permanent colony at Détroit (a word meaning strait). Cadillac
leaves Montréal in June of 1701, accompanied by fifty soldiers
and fifty colonists. The twenty-five canoe flotilla arrives at the Détroit
du Lac Erié on July 25. Work begins immediately on the construction
of the Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, so named in honour of Louis
Phélipeaux Comte de Pontchartrain, Chancellor of France.
Relations with First Nations
Due to pressure from the Iroquois, the First Nations that had inhabited
the land around Détroit had fled prior to Cadillac's arrival.
However, as alliances with First Nations are vital to the French presence
in the area, Cadillac invites several native groups to settle around
the newly built Fort. These alliances ensure a good supply of furs, the
main item of trade. As well, they provide a strong defence against British
and allied Iroquois incursions into the territory. The Potawatamis from
Lake Michigan and the Hurons of Michilimackinac settle to the west of
the fort. Across the river, opposite to the fort, the Ottawas of Michigan
establish a village. A little further off, the Chippewas from Sault Ste. Marie
settle the lands on thesouth shore of Lake Saint Clair and along the
St. Clair river.