The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter I
Rival Centers of Influence

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton



The two greatest centers of French influence in Michigan were Michilimackinac and Detroit. Indeed, a strong rivalry existed between them for control of the fur trade. Michilimackinac, being the older, and situated at a point where the Indians had been wont for ages to congregate for hunting and fishing and celebrating their religious rites, had the initial advantage. From the time Marquette founded the mission at St. Ignace, in 1671, this point became a mart of trade. One of the first commandants was the famous coureur de bois, Daniel Greysolon Du Lhut, whose meritorious services as a soldier and explorer the name of the city of Duluth, in Minnesota, commemorates. It was he who built old Fort St. Joseph on or near the site of Fort Gratiot, where is now the city of Port Huron. Another famous commandant in the earliest annals of Michilimackinac was Nicholas Perot, who succeeded Du Lhut. But better know to modern readers than either of these, is the great Cadillac, the founder of the "City of the Straits."

M. de la Motte Cadillac became commandant at Mackinac in 1694. In his time he declares the place to have been "one of the largest villages in all Canada" with a strong fort, and a garrison of two hundred soldiers. In some way, Cadillac had become convinced of the need of an equally strong fort on the Detroit river. He went to France, and succeeded in winning over to his view count Ponchartrain, minister for the colonies. Almost immediately after his return to Canada, armed with the royal commission, he fitted out an expedition to Detroit, where he arrived on July 24, 1701. A fort was built and appropriately named in honor of the French minister, "Fort Ponchartrain." In a little volume entitled "Cadillac's Village," Mr. C. M. Burton, of Detroit, historiographer of that city, has written a comprehensive, accurate and very interesting account of this event..

Cadillac was not mistaken in choosing this site for a trading post. It was the site of an Indian village, Tenchsagrondie, a place much frequented by the neighboring tribes. Nor were Cadillac and his followers the first white men there. We have seen La Salle there in the spring of 1680. Still earlier, Father Hennepin, historian of the famous voyage of the "Griffin," and one of its passengers, wrote, as he passed this site: "those who will one day have the happiness to possess this fertile and pleasant strait will be very much obliged to those who have shown them the way." Missionaries and coureurs de bois had been there before. Fathers Dolliers and Galinee, two Sulpitian priests, had passed through the strait in the spring of 1670. They record that they found on the future site of Detroit what they supposed was an Indian god, roughly carved in stone, which they piously broke in pieces with their axes and threw into the river. It is even probable that there was a French fort of very primitive sort at Detroit some years previous in 1701, a post of the coureurs de bois not recognized by the government. From statements in the New York colonial documents, it seems to have existed there as early as 1679. The place was probably never garrisoned by a regular military force until Cadillac came.

The importance of the post from a military point of view--while this was of some moment-0-was subordinate to its commercial consequence. The principal cause of establishing the post was to control the fur trade of the upper Great Lakes. This trade was placed at the outset under the control of a company of merchants and traders formed in 1701, known as the "Company of the Colony of Canada." A contract was drawn up which excluded all private individuals from trading in the country. In return the company was to pay six thousand livre every year to the French king.

The heart of Cadillac was in his new ventures at Detroit, and he became alienated from his old post at Michilimackinac. Trade rivalries led to come bitterness. The establishment of a mission at Detroit was apart of Cadillac's general plan. He aimed to gather all the Indians of the Great Lakes region around his new post and mission at Detroit. But Father Marest, one of the greatest of the successors of Marquette at St. Ignace, was determined that Michilimackinac should not lose its prestige and influence with the red men. Cadillac, notwithstanding, succeeded in persuading a great number of the Michigan Indians to come to Detroit. For many years the fur trade largely centered here. So desperate did the situation become at Mackinac that the mission was temporarily abandoned.

From that time until the close of the French regime in 1763, the history of Michigan was comparatively uneventful. The post at Mackinac was restored, but it was built on the south side of the straits, near the site of the present Mackinaw City. the restored mission was established some miles along the shore to the west, at L'Arbre Croche among the Ottawas. Many of the Indians who had gone with Cadillac returned to the straits of Mackinac after his departure from Detroit in 1711. Yet Detroit continued to be the important center of the fur trade for the lower peninsula of Michigan. The first settlements in the present states south of the Great lakes were made from Detroit. It was destined to be for many years the chief center of the fur trade for al the country now occupied by the states of Indiana and Illinois, and portions of Ohio and Wisconsin.


History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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