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