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.
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.
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.