Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac was a man of ambition. He had a desire to be noticed and to achieve power, honor, wealth, or distinction. In order to accomplish these goals, he needed to have plans and connections in all the right places. He had used some of these connections to be appointed commander of Fort Michilimackinac. After a few questionable business practices, the post was closed. But Cadillac had a plan to persuade the King of France to allow him to start a new settlement, at what is now known as Detroit. It would be helpful in maintaining a presence in the area as a French settlement for fur trading and to serve as a nuisance for English trade.
To be successful, Cadillac had to communicate with the King his detailed plans for the new settlement and how to become establish ties with the surrounding Native America tribes. Cadillac’s plan is documented in Michigan Voices, p. 17, and as I read the account, I couldn’t help but sense some arrogance and manipulation. His entire plan centered on the idea that “when we are the neighbors of that tribe and are within easy reach of them, they will be kept in awe.” (Grimm, Michigan Voices, p.17) So his plan included having 100 men stationed there. A year later, he wanted 20-30 families to settle in that location. Some time after that, 200 young men of other trades would also be sent. I think Cadillac did this for a show of force and to show the intent of a permanent presence. But Cadillac was a smart man and knew that he needed to establish ties with the Native Americans. On the surface, the plan to have missionaries and a hospital at the settlement seemed good. But his attitude regarding the tribes was revealed. He spoke of trading with the savages, and to “teach the young savages the French language, (that) being the only means to civilize and humanize them.” (Grimm, Michigan Voices, p.17) This was condescending and the Native Americans did not need help from the French to be civilized. The Native Americans simply had a different way of life long before anyone came to their lands.
In many of my history lessons, when it came to gender norms, it was generally understood that Native American men hunted and fished, while the women took care of the family, cooked, and gathered. According to Cadillac’s plan, it sounds as if European men were considered the responsible ones for starting up and maintaining a settlement, trading, etc. Later the women or families would be allowed to settle there. Cadillac’s account gives a glimpse into how women were treated in general. When referring to the Native American women, he states that the “savage maidens” could be married when they had “been instructed in the religion, and know the French language, because they always prefer a Frenchman for a husband to any savage whatever.” (Grimm, Michigan Voices, p.17) Cadillac’s attitude again suggests that the French are better, and that the Native American women prefer a Frenchmen after learning their religion or language. The women were used as political pawns when Cadillac suggests that by marrying a Native American woman, alliances and friendships would be established and strengthened. His plan was to have more settlers at Detroit, more connections with the tribes, and perhaps an easier way to somehow get more of their land and resources.
Cadillac had a plan. He used his connections to influence powerful leaders to get what he wanted. His plans were very detailed to give the impression that it would be beneficial to follow through with those plans. On the surface, many details sounded good, but upon closer examination, there was always an ulterior motive. It involved taking advantage of others: his fellow countrymen, Native Americans, or women. If it meant Cadillac could get what he wanted, he would plan and scheme to achieve his goals.
Bruce A. Rubenstein and Lawrence E. Ziewacz. Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State. Wiley, 2014
Central Michigan University. n.d. “1702-Antoine Laumet De Lamothe Cadillac.” Accessed 1/16/18 https://www.cmich.edu/library/clarke/ResearchResources/Michigan_Material_
Encyclopedia.com. n.d. “Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.” Accessed January 15, 2018. http://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/us-history-biographies/antoine-de-la-mothe-cadillac
HistoryDetroit.com. n.d. “Antoine Cadillac.” Accessed January 15, 2018. http://historydetroit.com/people/antoine_cadillac.php
Joe Grimm. Michigan Voices: Our State’s History in the Words of the People Who Lived It. Detroit: Detroit Free Press and Wayne State University Press, 1987.
PHOTO: Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac Archives, The Metropolitan Detroit. https://themetdet.com/tag/antoine-de-lamothe-cadillac/