The French Bulldozer

It is October 18, 1700. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac sat down, and penned a letter to his employer. In The Great Water, written by Matthew R. Thick, we are able to catch a glimpse into this time and place, and into the plans that Cadillac had for creating and colonizing Detroit. He also shared his plans to deal with the “savages” in the area, the Native American Iroquois tribe. These people were simply an obstacle to conquer and overcome, which Cadillac made quite clear in his letter.

Cadillac’s view of the “savages”, as he refers to them, is an interesting one. He views them not even as people, but as wild animals, to be captured and tamed. He doesn’t show an outward distaste for them, just a matter of fact attitude about how they needed to be dealt with. Simply because they don’t live the same lifestyle or speak the same language as Cadillac he implies that the Iroquois are uncivilized and in-human, writing, “…with orders in particular to teach the young savages the French language, [that] being the only means to civilize and humanize them, and to instill into their hearts and minds the law of religion and of the monarch. We take wild beasts at their birth, birds in their nests, to tame them and set them free” (Thick 21).

However, there is definitely a political agenda hidden within all of this. Cadillac writes that they need to teach the French language and religion to the Iroquois, as well as building a hospital for sick or infirm “savages” where they can be taken care of. He speaks of building a friendship with these people, not for the benefit of the Iroquois or to stop another war breaking out between the groups, but simply to further his own plan and agenda. His goal is to eradicate the fact that this tribe and culture exist, and to swallow them up into the ways of the French. His ultimate goal is to bulldoze over any who stand in his way, as he presses on to conquer more of this new world and to begin the task of colonizing Detroit.

Gender too plays an important role in Cadillac’s grand plan. As is typical during this time period, women are not much more than property to be obtained and Cadillac intends to use the “savage maidens” as pawns in his game as well. After teaching them in the ways of the French language and religion, Cadillac believes that it is imperative that the soldiers and Canadians in the colony are able to marry these women. He states, “…which they will learn all the more eagerly (provided we labor carefully to that end) because they always prefer a Frenchman for a husband to any savage…” (Thick 21). He of course believes that since the Iroquois are considered even less than human, any maiden wouldn’t think twice about choosing a “real man” Frenchman over a “savage” for a marriage and would be lucky to even have the option. Not only does he mention that this again would be a way to strengthen the friendship between the French and the Iroquois, it would be another way to ensure the eventual elimination of the tribe, since they would no longer be marrying and reproducing within their own race.

Works Cited

  • Matthew R. Thick: The Great Water, “Plan for Detroit”. Pg 19-22.

7 thoughts on “The French Bulldozer

  1. I’m a sucker for historical blogs/articles that start with “It is (year).”

    Reading Cadillac’s bigotry in his own words makes one wonder why we still have so many things named after him in the state. There’s been a big movement to “de-canonize” historical racists like Christopher Columbus in recent years, but still a lot has to be done to remind people that our historical “heroes” often have terrible deeds/ideals that we tend to overlook.

    In schools, it’s often taught that the French and Native Americans had a happy-go-lucky friendship without any conflict, but that’s far from the truth. Europeans were still Europeans, and had some pretty despicable views of people of different races.

  2. How the Indians are viewed at this time in history as not even human beings, but savages, is inexcusable. The fact they do not speak the same language or hold the same beliefs makes them thought of as aliens means that no diversity was welcome and the French had a clear mission to change all of that.

    Cadillac has a very firm standpoint on his nine points included in his letter to his employer. He is not asking for opinions or others input on his plan, he is simply laying it all out and telling it as it will be according to him. Perhaps because of his known attitude, this could be a piece of supporting evidence to his forced order to leave his property and wealth at Fort Pontchartrain.

  3. It becomes clear once you read this blog and the selection from the books that Cadillac, like so many other European’s at this time viewed life through their key holes. They saw these “savages” and just assumed that since their customs and culture were different, the “savages” were less than human.
    At the same time though Cadillac shows that he was probably the best person to forward the French’s goals in the new world. He pushed his goals with the strength to finish with no care for what was in his way.

  4. It is embarrassing to read this and know how the natives were treated. They weren’t even look at as humans. If the French wanted a changed government and came over for new ways they would have been open minded to the Natives and not just trying to make them change or to get rid of them. I think the women were treated poorly and I like how you said they were pawns because that’s exactly what they were.

  5. I really liked your argument that the French were only interested in building infirmaries and friendships with the Native Americans to further their own agenda. It’s such an awful double standard to provide benefits like medicines and modern tools, but only doing so to serve their own interests. The French lended the Native Americans what seemed to be a helping hand, but then shoved them down with ten more.

  6. I believe if the Natives were able to understand what was happening in terms of the French’s plan for them, and how they truly thought of them; the Natives may have been able to band together over a common foe, and thwart the divisiveness that eventually allowed the French to have great influence over the Natives, and win in many battles. I believe the Natives might not have been able to defend themselves better is due to bitter rivalries between the tribes that the French exploited.

  7. It is really sad to think about how Cadillac and other Europeans viewed the Native Americans as “savages”. The French made false friendships in order to better themselves and the French agenda. The Native Americans were used like pawns and were too trustworthy of the foreign Europeans. This is a well written post!
    Josh Waldie

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