Cadillac: A Man with a Plan

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
Local/Detroit_Pre_statehood_Descriptions/Entries_by_Date/Pages/1702-Antoine-Laumet De-Lemothe-Cadillac.aspx n.d. “Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.”  Accessed January 15, 2018. n.d. “Antoine Cadillac.”  Accessed January 15, 2018.

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.

14 thoughts on “Cadillac: A Man with a Plan

  1. Could you please clarify a few points for me. I thought Cadillac only commanded the Fort Du Buade and Fort Pontchartrain before going to Louisiana. From what I understand Fort Michilimackinae was closed due to having too many Forts that were trading liquors to the Native Americans and the Jesuit missionaries were outraged from this. I do agree about the females being pawns. Cadillac thought “The presence of women would help allay any fears of the pro-French Indians that the post would not be permanent” (Blackwell 36). This is why he wanted families to be at the Fort, and even brought his own wife and child to live at Fort Pontchartrain.

    1. Cadillac was indeed a commander at Fort du Buade, which is present-day St. Ignace. That fort was also known as Fort Michilimackinac. In the sources I researched, both names were used when referring to the same place. Some sources indicate that Fort du Buade was referred to as the first Fort Michilimackinac. This is not to be confused with the Fort Michilimackinac that the French later established south of the straits, at what today is known as Mackinaw City. The second Fort Michilimackinac was built around 1714-1715, while Cadillac was at Detroit. Many people may think of Fort Michilimackinac as not being at St. Ignace because of the reconstruction of the fort in Mackinaw City today.

  2. I find it very amusing how Cadillac( and basically anyone who wasn’t an American Indian) had such a bias way of looking at the Native Americans, from what I can tell a lot of the tribes were made up of very kind people. They just couldn’t get over the fact that the Native Americans weren’t like themselves. I’m sure the Indians came across as savages sometimes, but I probably would too if strangers came and tried to take over my land.

    1. It certainly is interesting. I suppose it all goes back to our basic instincts as humans. We stay away and shun that which is unfamiliar to us, and yet we support and agree with anything we consider to be “normal”. It is definitely sad to think that some Native tribes welcomed the Europeans in as friends and with open arms, and in return were met with nothing but the Europeans trying to take their land, livelihood and their lives in some cases.

      1. This is such a good point, Zach. Human instincts have not changed at all over time. Even in the present time humans natural instinct is to stay away from people they don’t know, judge a book by its cover and are not willing to give chances to new people. It is sad to think that Native Americans opened their arms to Europeans and were given nothing in return. Cadillac took advantage of the Native American’s kindness to get the results he wanted.

        1. It is very sad to see that humans have not evolved past judging others for their appearance and how they act. The Native Americans were nothing but kind to the English and French, they only wanted to help them out since they were the new kids in town so to speak. Although, the English and French both did not treat the Natives well, they took what they needed and kept to themselves. While in doing so, they still ended up needing help later on, and the Natives still assisted them.

      2. Zach, I really liked what you said here and I agree. Even today as humans nothing has changed. It is a natural human instinct to stay away from what we don’t know or what seems to be “unfamiliar” to us but yet we agree or support anything that seems “normal” to us. I guess I have never really understand why this is such a natural instant to us as humans. No one is willing to give a chance to something that might be new because they are use to judging a book by its cover like Haley references in the post below. The Native Americans were very welcoming to the Europeans but yet nothing was given in return but we still see this now with humans. Cadillac defiantly took advantage and used the Native American’s to get what he wanted. This is why I would not trust Cadillac, like I said in a previous post, Cadillac might have been a man with a plan but he was not who everyone thought he was.

  3. I find it very interesting on how Cadillac thought the French were better than the Native Americans. I find that interesting, because he wanted strong ties with the Native Americans. I do agree that he was a powerful man. It also comes to my mind is “did he use his power to his advantage? “ I feel that his thoughts/ opinion on marriages of Native American women were a little idiotic.

  4. It is definitely very interesting to read about the so called “superiority” of the French. Cadillac did indeed have so much power and it looks like he used that to his full advantage. He exerted his power on the Native Americans and tried to get them to conform to the French ways. He did what he had to, to see his plan through. That is what made him so powerful.

  5. I wonder how the Frenchmen reacted to his plans exactly. How many of them were really willing to even marry a “savage”? If they shared the views of Cadillac and assumed that the women were nothing more than animals, what makes him think they would even want to marry? I would assume that do to Catholicism and higher religious standards at the time, that the men would not be led astray from their wives as easily for fear of damnation. Perhaps by learning French religion and language that would make them equal to French women? But I highly doubt that was the case.

  6. Why would cadillac want to become friends with people he saw as savages? Obvioulsly to move along his own personal plan. But, how did they not see this? Were native americans only going along with this to keep peace? My guess is yes. Very nicely written blog.

    1. I also wonder what goes through the head of the natives that Cadillac tried influencing this way. I guess it would be no different than the political debates we drool over on TV. the natives were probably just happy someone was hearing them out, even if it was momentarily.

  7. Why did Cadillac think the Native American women would prefer French men for husbands? If the women were taught the French language and religion, did that change how they were treated by the males in their Native tribe? Did they have to work less as a wife of a French man? I guess it was part of Cadillac’s plan to control one more part of the Native American’s lives…

  8. Very well done! It is crazy to think about all of the modern day similarities that were portrayed by Cadillac. For example, when you said he used his connections to implement his own plans. Sounds to me like our political leaders today. Also the ties in beliefs about woman just go to show that no matter how much time passes some things never change!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s