The French Agenda

Late in the year 1700, the French were starting to establish the city of Detroit, Michigan.  A man by the name of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac had a proposal of measures to establish Detroit, but not without causing issues between the French and the Native Americans. With there being a large population of Iroquois living in that area, there were obvious tensions between the two groups. This proposal would come to show Cadillac’s prejudices towards the Iroquois as well as the gender norms of the time for both the French and the Native Americans.

In the book The Great Water by Matthew Thick, a letter written by Cadillac details his ideas on how to establish the city of Detroit. However, between the lines of his proposal, you can see the obvious prejudice he has towards Native Americans. In one excerpt, Cadillac says “We must establish at this post missionaries of different communities such as Jesuits and other Fathers … with orders in particular to teach the young savages the French language, [that] being the only means to civilize and humanize them …” (p 21.)

Cadillac’s plan to assimilate the Iroquois into French culture involved sending religious leaders into the homes of Native Americans and teaching the young children (whom he harshly refers to as “savages”) their religion and language, so as to “take wild beasts at their birth, birds in their nests, to tame them and set them free.” (p 21.) This shows that Cadillac viewed the Native Americans as wild beasts and savages that needed to be tamed. While he sees the Iroquois as potential allies, he still relates them to wild animals, showing his true feelings about these people.

In his letter, Cadillac also points out the different roles of men and women during this time period. Men were expected to be soldiers and to work towards establishing the city. However, women were expected to stay home and raise the children. Women are only used or talked about when there are benefits to be had by men, which continues on into my next argument; that Cadillac viewed and planned to use woman as political pawns in his plan to establish the city.

Another one of Cadillac’s ideas to help soften relations between the French and Iroquois was to allow French soldiers and Canadians to marry “savage” maidens once they had been instructed in the ways of the French. He saw this as an opportunity to assimilate Native Americans into French culture and also to try and stop reproduction within the Iroquois tribe. By marrying Native American women, the French and Canadians hoped to spread not only their influence, but also their genes into the tribe to get them to become more like the Europeans.

In conclusion, Cadillac’s plan to establish the city of Detroit was unfair to the Native Americans as he was prejudiced against them, and planned to rip their own culture from them and sew French culture in its place in hopes of uniting the two groups. In reality, this only worsened tensions and widened the gap between the two groups, resulting in centuries of unfairness and injustice towards Native American people that we still see evidence of today.


Works Cited

  • Thick, Matthew. The Great Water. Michigan State University Press, 2018.


7 thoughts on “The French Agenda

  1. It seems like Cadillac is basically the physical embodiment of France’s agenda. France didn’t want to make a new government or culture, they wanted to have France and to make more Frenchmen. Cadillac didn’t want to view the Native Americans as people, because then he would have to accept that they had their own culture. He didn’t care for the natives, he only care for Frenchmen who he thought were the best.

    1. I believe that if the French came here for change they would’ve made things different. Instead they were stuck in their ways and not open minded to the Natives. With that I think they had no concern about wiping out the Natives if it meant getting their way.

  2. Throughout “The Great Water” it is safe to say that the French agenda was to influence and control the Native Americans through multiple means, including bribery through trade deals and the introduction of alcohol, the spreading of Christianity through missionaries and French leaders, and pitting the Native tribes against themselves which allowed the French to eliminate threatening tribes such as the Iriquois, and establish Detroit while also forging alliances with other Native tribes to strengthen their influence, and have defense. Ultimately, the French only further enraged many Natives through extortion, betrayal, and unfair laws; and the Natives either claimed neutrality, or sided with the victorious English in the closing stages of the French agenda in North America.

  3. Madysn,

    I enjoyed reading your interpretation of Cadillac’s letter. Your point of view being that women were the essential piece to his plan was different than many others and a very different way of looking at the situation. I do agree that marrying off the Native American women to French men was a way to increase the white population and decrease the Native American population. Though this may have been an awful and hurtful plan we do still see it’s effects today, as only 1% of the population remains with 100% Native American blood.

    Great post,
    Monica B

    1. Thank you for the feedback! I agree that it was awful and hurtful plan and perhaps the worst thing about it is that it worked. It’s sad to say, but the evidence shows today as you said there are only so few of 100% Native Americans left. It really shows how the Europeans intentionally watered down their culture and forced them to assimilate into their own. The most haunting thing of all is that this was how all of America was founded. It’s the same story, just in different cities with different names.

  4. It’s so interesting to compare the views of women and their capability has changed so much since this time period. The fact that Cadillac viewed the women as not only a means to an end but an opportunity to further his agenda just speaks to the lengths he would go to to establish Detroit, himself, and the French in this area. I also wonder what sort of lengths he would go to if all of his plans to soften relations and grow a “friendship” with the Iroquois had failed, and they had rebelled against his ideas and influence.

  5. I really enjoyed your interpretation on Cadillac’s letter. I never thought about how quintessential it was to spread French genes to spread the French agenda. This really shows how eurocentric Europeans were at this time period. France came to make their country greater, larger, and just as powerful as their British counterparts. Natives were in Cadillac’s way and instead of viewing them as obstacles he viewed them as potential Frenchman. This agenda aimed at an attempt to assimilate French culture with the Natives, going as far as creating and reproducing a new mixed race. I completely agree with your end conclusion, Cadillac was over having to try to be “civil” (in his own mind) and ultimately made things worse with racial and cultural tensions.

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