And The Winner Is…

January 27, 2010

Fort du Detroit 1763

Last week we left Cadillac struggling with various opponents to his dream of monopolizing the fur trade at de troit. Fathers Carheil and Marest were doing their best to keep their First Nation charges at Michillimakinac. The Jesuits had also established a mission at the St. Joseph to destroy de troit, or so he thought. Now even more problems appear.

Governor de Callieres died and his replacement was Philippe de Rigault, Marquis de Vaudreuil. He was visited in Montreal by a delegation of Ottawa representing about 80 people left at Michilimakinac. They told him that they wished to die in their villages and refused to move to de troit.  

Vaudreuil  had also received word that the Miami and Wyandotte that had moved to de troit had met in council with the Seneca Iroquois about safe passage through their territory. They wished to explore trade with the British at Albany. Quarante Sols, the Wyandotte chief of de troit confirmed this and Vaudreuil forbade it.  The Company of the Colony was also complaining loudly about the cost of establishing the new post.

All this led de Vaudreuil to send a report to France. Count Ponchartrain, Minister in charge of the Colony, was informed that he and Indendant Beauharnois had decided to send Father Marest back to his mission because the Ottawa and Wyandotte there refused to move. He also stated that if trade between their First Nation allies and the British was ever established it would be because of de troit. It was burdensome to the Colony as well because of the exorbitant costs of enticing the First Nations to give up their villages and move to lands around Fort Ponchartrain. He advised that de troit be abandoned.

Cadillac fought back. He appealed in a letter directly to the King. The job of getting all the nations around to move to de troit was all but complete. He reported that there had been to date 2,000 First Nations people living around the new fort. They had 400 men under arms, ample protection from attack by the Iroquois. These 2,000 souls included a village of mixed Saulteux and Mississauga Ojibwa, all the Wyandotte except 30 who remained a Michillimakinac, a Miami village of about 30 families, and all the Ottawa except the 80 that remained at Michillimakinac. There were also some Nipissing that joined the Ottawa and a village of Delaware Loup. Trade was being done and at no cost to France’s treasury.

Cadillac also informed the King of the bickering that was going on in the far country of the Colony. The Sioux had attacked and killed some Miami and it had escalated to a war between the Sioux and eight of France’s First Nation allies. Cadillac took credit for brokering a peace but implored the King to augment the new fort with French regulars and settlers, not abandoned it. He said the reason the peace was so hard to keep was because of the lack of a French presence in the far country. Cadillac won out. The newly established Fort Ponchartrain would not only survive but would be expanded.

Cadillac was an imposing presence, well liked by the First Nations and could manage the affairs of the new post quite well. However, the one area he had problems with was trade. The Miami and the Wyandotte did secure safe passage to Albany. So did the Saulteux and Mississauga Ojibwa.  At the same time the Great Peace Treaty was being negociated in Montreal a number of Ojibwa chiefs travelled to Albany with some French fur traders to explore the idea of trade with the British.

Towasquaye a Wyandotte trader visited Albany a couple of years later and found he was treated well. He returned with a delegation sent by the chiefs of de troit to visit the governor Lord Cornbury. Tehonwahonkarachqua, a Miami and son-in-law of Michipichy the principle Wyandotte sachem and Rughkiwahaddi a Wyandotte spoke for their chiefs. They found not only were they well received but the goods were cheaper and of better quality than French goods. 

This would lead to competition driving the price of European goods down to the benefit of the First Nations, but that would be in the future. Monopolizing trade would not be the only problem the French would have to deal with. Much larger problems loomed on the horizon!

NEXT WEEK: Trouble in Paridise…1706.

The First Ojibwa/French Alliance

December 17, 2009

Good morning everyone! Well, at least it’s morning as I write this. I had some problems with my blog this past week. It was suspended for suspicion of violating the terms of service. It was a mistake and as you can see I’m back on-line. Sometimes I long for the ‘good old days’. Now, back to some Great Lakes history!

You will recall that the French had moved their endeavors north to Superior country. The Iroquois had moved into the rich beaver hunting grounds of Southern Ontario. The military advantage the Dutch had given them made their ego soar along with their arrogance. The British had taken over the Dutch colony and changed the name of the main post from Orange to Albany. They also continued to supply the Iroquois with firearms. The Iroquois continued to harass their neighbors and were continually making war on the French. Such was the situation when we pick up our story in the year 1686.

The Governor of New France, Monsieur Le Marquis de Nonville , ordered the explorer Du Lhut to build a military post at de Troit. This was the name the French called the waterways between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. It means the strait. The main purpose of a military fort at the lower end of Lake Huron was to keep the British out of the upper Great Lakes. He chose a spot where the St. Clair River was the narrowest and established Fort St. Joseph. That site is located in what is now Pinegrove Park in downtown Port Huron, Michigan.

In 1687 de Nonville decided to have a war of extermination of the Seneca. They had embarrassed the French by slaughtering many colonists in constant raids and had totally defeated the Miamis and the Illinois who had put themselves under the protection of the French. To this end he gathered an army of 1500 French regulars and 500 praying Indians from Quebec. These were mostly Iroquois the French had converted to Christianity. He also ordered Du Lhut to gather a force of Far Indians to join the expedition.

Du Lhut convinced some of the war chiefs to follow him in this venture and some 500 warriors from the Potawatomi, Ottawa, Wyandotte and Ojibwa began gathering at Fort St. Joseph. However, most of them were Saulteux Ojibwa from the St. Marys River district. My great, great, great-grandfather, Kioscance or Young Gull was a war chief of the Saulteux at the time and was in all likelihood leading this group of warriors. When they had all arrived they left to meet de Nonville’s forces at Irondequoit on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.

The French forces left Montreal and part of them moved along the north shore of Lake Ontario and part of them moved along the south shore. They did this in case the weather presented any strong winds that would prevent either one of the groups from reaching the rendezvous place the other group would make it there on time. However the weather was fine and all three forces met at Irondequoit Bay on the same day.

De Nonville first sent scouts up the Genesee River to survey any Seneca towns and their strengths. The Seneca knew they had arrived so they sent their women, children and old people further into Seneca country for protection. They gathered a force of 500 warriors and lay in wait hiding themselves in the underbrush waiting for the ambush. The French scouts passed them, found the first town they encountered burned and deserted. They found two more towns further upstream in the same condition so they returned to make a report to the governor. All the time they were unaware of the 500 Seneca warriors who watched them from their hiding places.

The French governor decided to move the French regulars upstream to the three Seneca towns. As they were passing the hidden Seneca they sprung their ambush. The French soldiers were taken completely by surprise and panicked. Some fled east and some west and they began firing back on each other. The Seneca had bested them but the Indian forces arrived and they were much more adept at forest warfare. The tide turned and the Seneca retreated back up the river. 

When de Nonville arrived at the towns he stopped. He was quite shaken by the disarray of his soldiers. After all they were regulars and the best the French had. He ordered the fields burned, which took several days while the native allies looked on with disbelief. They knew the enemy was in full retreat and they thought the best course of action was to pursue and finish the job. As the soldiers cut down the corn and beans and gathered the squash the Ojibwa and their Three Fires brothers fumed. De Nonville then ordered a retreat saying the Seneca had been taught a good lesson. The Ojibwa and their allies accused de Nonville of doing nothing but warring on the cornfields and left in a huff. It would be a long time before they would again join the French in any military campaigns.

NEXT WEEK: The Iroquois War