Cadillac: A Man Against the Natives

Cadillac: A Man Against the Natives

Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac was a middle-aged, French military officer. This man was determined to build a colony along the Detroit river bank. He discusses his prejudices, as well as how to make the colony, in a letter written to his superiors over in France, on October 18, 1700(Grimm, Michigan Voices, p17).

In a detailed and bulleted list(Grimm, Michigan Voices, p17), Cadillac tells those in France exactly how to form a perfect colony. He used this list to persuade King Louis XIV to agree and befriend the natives, even though Cadillac believe they were savages/wild beasts. He only wanted to use friendship as a way to “humanize them.” Some of these ideas included: marriages of the soldiers and Canadians to the savage maidens in order to strengthen friendships.

Throughout this list, Cadillac continually throws blows to the Indians. Calling them savages and wild beasts. But he knew that getting a French man wed to a Native American maiden, that their friendships would grow. He clearly didn’t care about the friendships though, he just wanted to get his way. I think he wrote this so he could become friends with the natives, but also so he could build his colony.  But the main part was to build his colony. At the end of the day, a friendship with “the savages” was only needed so he could be successful in gaining a place along the Detroit River.

We can clearly tell that Cadillac did not care for the Indians in any sense, but even worse than seeing the men as savages, he saw the women as just pawns in this game of his. Stooping so low as to tell those back in France that the savage maidens “always prefer a Frenchman for a husband to any savage whatever.”(Grimm, Michigan Voices, p17) He wanted the Natives and French to bond. Only, though, so he could achieve his goal.

Luckily for the Indians, this plan did not take off. Cadillac was determined to use the King and other higher powers to achieve his goals. He also was willing to sacrifice just about anything and anyone to do so.



Joe Grimm Michigan Voices: Our State’s History in the Words of the People Who Lived It, pg. 17. Detroit Free Press and Wayne State University Free Press, 1987.

Rubenstein and Zlewacz Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State, pgs. 34-37. Wiley, 2014.

PHOTO: Grand Quebec

12 thoughts on “Cadillac: A Man Against the Natives

  1. I wonder how Cadillac knew how and what a perfect colony was. The English, French and the Native American all had different views and ideas on settlement. Cadillac was a very powerful man. Cadillac was never on the side of Native Americans. He was all for himself and himself only.

    1. Cadillac probably thought in his own mind that the perfect colony would be the one where he could do whatever he wanted and control everything. Distributing alcohol to Indians, planning for intermarriages, using the reference of ‘savages’, convincing France to start a new settlement at Detroit, and even controlling “the gristmill, all commerce and trade, and a monopoly of the sale of gunpowder and alcohol” (Blackwell, 36) were all justified in Cadillac’s mind. Cadillac said and did whatever he wanted in order to appear successful. Although Cadillac managed to lure many of the Native Americans from the Michilimackinac area, Detroit did not grow rapidly. “By 1708 there were only sixty-three permanent residents”. (Blackwell, 36) Cadillac eventually left Detroit, and later it was nearly destroyed by Indians. For someone who had a plan and used whatever means he could, it wasn’t exactly the perfect settlement after all.

      1. I wonder how the Native Americans didn’t see his scheme? They thought Cadillac actually wanted to blend the two cultures through marriage. I feel as this was frowned upon in the 1700’s. Cadillac was very controlling, and had very harsh views about the Natives.

    2. In my way of thinking and based on what I read, Cadillac didn’t know what a perfect colony was. He just had what a perfect colony was in his head because he thought he was so powerful. He also had in his mind that in the perfect colony he could just do what he wanted and when he wanted. Cadillac thought he could control everything. For example, the intermarriages. Cadillac referred many times to women as “savages”. When Cadillac would refer to women as “savages” it showed me that he didn’t have any respect for these women. This way of talking and the way he treated them reminds me of the 1800’s and how marriages were arranged and forced. The women didn’t get to pick what they want, they were just forced. Cadillac is not someone I would look up to or would trust.

      1. I think we would find that most people (of his day) in Cadillac’s place would have said/planned the same things he did. A lot of the offensive things he said were actually more universal thoughts. Keep in mind that it wasn’t just the American Indian women he called savages but the men too, which is what many Europeans called them. Also back then women were almost always placed under men, in every country. I agree that I wouldn’t look up to or trust Cadillac but think its fair to say that he wasn’t any worse than any others of his day.

  2. Hi Keely,

    I agree with the statement you made that “…but even worse than seeing the men as savages, he saw the women as just pawns in this game of his.” I felt the same way while reading your post. I understand that Cadillac was trying to build a colony but he probably had no clue that using men and women to accomplish this was so wrong. His actions would definitely be frowned upon in the present day…back then it was probably just the norm. Good job with your blog.


    Haley Gorski

    1. I agree with the seeing men as savages and women as pawns, and the fact that Cadillac had no idea what he was doing just that he needed to do certain things to accomplish what he wanted/needed to. In their day, there was most likely no thoughts or issues with using others for personal gain, while now it is for sure completely frowned upon. There are certain unwritten rules that everyone knows, and using others for personal gain is one of them.

  3. Makes you wonder how he even came up with these ideas of what a perfect colony would be. And why he would think marrying the savage maidens would strengthen bonds. How did the indians not see this coming? And why would they look at their maidens marrying the frenchman as a way to seal friendships? Seems like they would have been frowning on them “stealing” their maidens. All in all very good blog.

    1. The whole marriage thing to strengthen their bonds boggles me. I don’t understand why the Native Americans would share the one thing that was truly their own heritage, no matter how much “civilizing” the French did to or for them. I agree, it almost seems like the Native Americans should have realized that it went too far when they started taking their maidens and raising their children. Maybe they were enjoying too much liquor from fur trades to see what was happening!

  4. Cadillac had a plan – one can argue whether it was right or wrong . I think Cadillac can be compared to some modern day crude business men who still treat women as “pawns” to gain success & wealth in today’s world. Good job Keely!

    1. I also agree that there are so many characteristics that draw my attention to modern day society. Although I took the political and campaign approach, the way business men treat woman is or sure similar.

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