To Raise a Village…

The “Plan for Detroit” entry in The Great Water tells of the urgent request from Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac to his French leaders to assist in securing the land for the settlement of Detroit.  The urgency of Cadillac’s request stems from the repeated conflict that the French have faced from the English as well as the Iroquois “savages”.  Additionally, Cadillac notes tensions and distress that has arisen within the Colony itself due to the repeated attacks.  Although the conflict was earlier described as an endless stalemate, eventually the French outmatched their adversaries.  It was during this momentary cease in conflict that Cadillac stressed the importance of securing this land for France.

Cadillac next describes the effectiveness of the savages as well as the steps needed to be taken in order to maintain order in the new settlement of Detroit.  The Iroquois were described as capable trackers and could easily traverse great distances on meager food and supplies while the French required proper preparations and numerous expenses to achieve the same goal.  I considered this remark by Cadillac to be a slight towards the technological differences between France (the established world) and the Iroquois: the “savages” had such little wealth and equipment that they could strive on meager provisions.  In The Great Water, Cadillac declares that this expeditionary warfare would no longer be necessary once the tribes and the Colony were neighbors:

But on the contrary, when we are the neighbors of that tribe and are within easy reach of them, they will be kept in awe and will find themselves forced to maintain peace since they will be unable to do otherwise unless they wish to ruin themselves irretrievably.

(Thick, 20)

In order to impress their new neighbors and quell the English threat, Cadillac outlines several suggestions to secure the settlement of Detroit.  In the first year, Cadillac only requested 100 men to be the sufficient driving force needed to secure the settlement.  Over the next few years however, he hoped to have French and Canadian farmers, soldiers, traders, and missionaries settled in and engaging with the natives.  The new settlers were encouraged not to trade with the natives however, but instead only offer to heal, convert, or teach the natives the French language.  It seemed as though Cadillac wanted to ensure hospitality was directed toward the natives, but not so much so as to allow trading.  These interactions with the natives were aimed to civilize them and improve the relations with one another without expending too many French resources.  In a crude statement, Cadillac compares the tribes as wild animals that need to be tamed first before they can be considered civilized:

We take wild beasts at their birth, birds in their nets, to tame them and set them free.  But in order to succeed better in that, it would be necessary for the King to favor these same missionaries with his bounty and his alms, in proportion as they instruct the children of the Savages at their houses, on the evidence which the Commandant and other officers give of it.

(Thick, 21)

I found that the women of the neighboring tribes to be the crux of Cadillac’s plan to successfully settle Detroit.  Once a church and services have been established within Detroit, Cadillac assured that the Savages would be willingly accept both the religion as well as the French language.  The French and Canadian soldiers were encouraged to wed the Savage women in order to strengthen the bond between the French and the tribes.  Cadillac did not seem to consider the possibility that either party would not want to marry the other.  His skewed view of the tribe’s intelligence and understanding led him to believe that these people would be eager to learn this “superior” French language and culture.



1.) Thick, Matthew R. The Great Water: a Documentary History of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, 2018.


7 thoughts on “To Raise a Village…

  1. Great summary of the material and analysis of how the French tried to connect and take over the native people. The passages you took from the reading showed the true blindness of Cadillac as he assumed that the natives would see his fellow man and with out thought, want to follow in their foot steps. His ignorance shines through the most when he believes both sides should wed on another. With out taking into fact that neither desires it. I feel that if the French would have treated the savages as more of equals and traded instead of force their ways on each other, the results would have been different.

  2. Well written. Great description on how Cadillac tried to colonise Detroit and how he tried to betray the Native Americans to get them to follow his rules so he could gain power. He could of learned the Natives way of trade and combined his fur trade with the Natives resources to become one colony. It’s sad how the French thought that the Native American women worked harder than the men but yet they didn’t mind sharing their women to other guys to try to combine colonies to make one big colony. Cadillac sadley was a liar, betrayer and a man that because of his lose of power with the French, he could betray the Natives who were loyal people.

  3. I thought this was very well written. Clearly Cadillac shows his disrespect and belittling of the Iroquois and was completely selfish in his pursuit of power. Even going to the extent of convincing them that the French, as you said, were “superior” in all aspects of language and culture.

  4. This summary of the Plan for Detroit” was very well written. I found it to be very disturbing how Cadillac conducted his plans of taking control over Detroit. It was unfair to the Iroquois to force such things onto them, like religion and marriage of soldiers and Canadians. He was not honest with them and made them believe that their way of life was better. I also thought it was disgraceful that he ordered soldiers, officers, or other inhabitants to not trade with the “savages.”

  5. I find it interesting that Cadillac talks out of both sides of his mouth. He speaks of the capable “savages” versus the “new world”, that because of the necessity that the savages learned to survive on little means. I believe that without knowing Cadillac was complimenting the Iroquois, because they were capable of survival without the spoils that wealth brings. On the other side of the coin you outline how he speaks of the tribe accepting the language and the religion. Cadillac seemed to believe that the Iroquois were not educated enough to stay true to who they were, that they were easily led like cattle. I have noticed this as a common theme in all of the writings. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Hi Austin. I agree with you in that Cadillac was operating under the false premise that the French were superior to the “savages.” To expect that the female would marry the French man in preference over the Indian “savage” was a very overconfident belief in the superiority of the French. I don’t believe he would have had success in getting the missionaries to buy into his scheme in order to control the “savages.” This well devised plan was based on many faulty beliefs and a lack of understanding on Cadillac’s part of the Native American culture. I really enjoyed this blog of yours and good job.

  7. Cadillac expected the Iroquois to be a easy task, meager people who would follow him and his men blindly no matter what. When in fact they were strong and capable. (in some cases, better then the French) He did not try to accept or balance the two ways of life. I like your last paragraph speaking of the women of the tribe. His plan on gaining influence and power over the Iroquois was relying on a Native women accepting to marry and if they didn’t want to, then he could not build a strong relationship with the Iroquois.

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