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.

Great Changes and Expansions

January 14, 2010

I’ve got some excellent feedback on my posts so I’d like to thank those who have made comments. It gives me encouragement to carry on realizing that people are profiting from my work.

There was another great change that took place besides the general peace brought on by the Great Peace Treaty. The French closed their trading post at Michilimackinac and governor Callieres ordered Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac to establish a new one at de troit. The Company of the Colony was formed in 1700 as an association to secure the monopoly of the western fur trade and Cadillac was one of its directors. By the way The Company became insolvent in 1705 and the monopoly was handed over to Cadillac. The French were worried about British trade incursions into the upper country and this new fort was also designed to block them. Cadillac had the idea that if he invited all the nations from the far country to establish themselves around his new post this would not only enhance trade but also firm up military alliances. However, his plan had some wrinkles in it.

For one thing it had its detractors. Although the Church’s superiors in Montreal were on board the Jesuit missionaries at Michilimakinac harbored secret resentments. They were jealous of their mission and saw it as a detriment to all their hard work in the upper country.

Callieres wrote to the Fathers at Michilimakinac asking them to go with the Ottawa and Wyandotte to de troit and both Fathers Etienne de Carheil and Joseph Marest wrote supporting letters back to their superiors but Cadillac accused them of working against the project by dividing their First Nation charges with lies about the new post and by uttering threats if they moved there.

Cadillac was right. At a council held at Fort Ponchartrain on October 3, 1701 the First Nations betrayed the Jesuits real intentions. Ontonagan spoke for all the Ottawa. He was a major chief and was also known as Jean Le Blanc. He informed Cadillac that the missionaries had shown them a letter from him supposedly sent by three Iroquois that he had met on Lake St. Clair. Cadillac was supposed to have said in this letter that the Ottawa should not go to de troit because the Iroquois there will betray them and they would all become dead men.

Cadillac denied he wrote any such letter. He told Ontonagan that although the Black Robes and the Grey Robes (the Jesuits and Recollects) were the rulers of religion and never lied about such matters as for other matters he could not speak for them.

Koussildouer, the oldest Ottawa chief relayed a message to Cadillac from Ouilemek, chief of the Potawatomi. He informed him that next spring Ouilemek would take the Potawatomi to live near the Miami on the St. Joseph River. He would then come to trade at the new post and if the prices were good he would come often, otherwise he would trade with the British at Albany.

Cadillac’s response to this was that Ouilemek was welcome at Fort Ponchartrain but if he wished to trade elsewhere he could do as he saw fit and it would not bother Cadillac.

The Wyandotte spoke at the council next. Alleyooue and Quarante-Sous agreed with what Ontonagan had said. He said that although Father de Carheil had told the Wyandotte the same things they did not believe him because Ontonio or the Governor had told them in Montreal to go and encamp near Fort Ponchartrain. Father de Carheil had invited them to go and encamp near the Miami but to return to Michilimakinac the following year. Alleyooue said that they had granted him what he asked but only to get rid of him. Their real desire was to move to de troit near the new fort.

Alleyooue also said that Father de Carheil told them at their last council with him that Cadillac was not establishing a new post at de troit but was only going there to trade after which he would return to Montreal.

The Wyandotte informed Father de Carheil that they would tell Cadillac all that was said in their councils with him and he forbade them to do so. Not only did they disobey the missionary but asked Cadillac for land near the new post where they could establish themselves.

Cadillac commended them and suggested that Father de Carheil was probably just mistaken in his belief that he was only going to de troit to trade. He pointed out the new fort already built and lands cleared that it would be a permanent post. He then promised them land to settle on as soon as they arrived. 

On the other hand the Ojibwa preferred to keep themselves at arm’s length from the French. Although they needed the trade for European goods they liked to keep their distance. This attitude dovetailed with Young Gull’s wish to move to St. Clair country. He had fallen in love with the place when he stayed at Fort St. Joseph in 1686. So he led a large group of Saulteux Ojibwa south from the St. Mary’s River district and established villages on the Black River and Swan Creek in present-day Michigan.

The Mississauga expanded in the eastern part of Southern Ontario taking up residence between the Grand and Gananoque Rivers. They established themselves on the Grand, at the mouth of the Credit River, at Lake Scugog and Rice Lake. However, they did set up a village just north of the new post at de troit.

The Amikouai Ojibwa expanded across Georgian Bay to its south shore with villages at present-day Cold Water, Owen Sound and at the mouth of the Saugeen River.

NEXT WEEK: More Intrigues at Detroit

Lifestyle and Worldview of the Ojibwa

December 2, 2009

Well, another week has just flown by. Thanksgiving has come and gone and now we’re looking at Christmas. Happy holidays everyone! I’m going to continue for this week and next describing the Ojibwa’s lifestyle and traditions then we’ll get back to the history of the Great Lakes region. 

The Ojibwa had larger territories than the Iroquoian speaking peoples. This was due to different lifestyles. Ojibwa villages were smaller and more temporary. Each territory had one or more main villages consisting of family lodges called wigwams. These villages had from a few hundred to 1,000 inhabitants. There were no palisades and the villages were often moved to different locations but in the same general area. 

Ojibwa Lodge by Paul Kane 1846


Village members would congregate at the villages in the summer months. Summer was a time of rest and relaxation. Time was spent tending small gardens, gathering fruits and berries as they ripened and trading with our allies. It was a time for festivals called gatherings or powwows. Many would come from other territories to participate in the drumming, dancing, singing and feasting. There was great competition in the games played with much wagering on the athletes. Each evening the village storyteller would mesmerize both children and adults alike with his repertoire of traditional stories told around a huge community fire. 

Lacrosse Game by George Catlin c 1800's


When the leaves began to turn color we would strike the main village and break up into small groups of two or three families. Each would head out to the winter hunting camps which were located throughout our territory. We would spend the winter there, hunting and trapping. The men would do the hunting and manage the trapping lines and the women and children would dry the meat and stretch the skins. The long winter nights were spent in our lodges repeating traditional stories around a small campfire. 

In mid February we would leave the hunting camps and gather in larger groups of five or six families at the sugar bushes. For two or three weeks while the sap rose in the maple trees we would produce our sugar products. The men would tend the lines and the women and children would run the sugar lodges. This was a long lodge 30 or 40 feet long by 12 or 15 feet wide. Three or four very hot fires were continually tended boiling down the sap to syrup. If the weather was conducive the boiling was done outside the lodge. It took 30 to 40 gallons of sap to get one gallon of syrup. In March when the sap stopped running utensils were stored in small tepees to be used again the following year. 

Ojibwa Sugar Camp c 1850


Carrying our meat and sugar products with us each group would move on to the fishing camps. These camps were made up of much larger groups and were often located at the mouths of rivers and streams or at rapids where the fishing was good. The spring runs produced the huge quantities of fish that were caught in our nets or weirs. Whitefish was a staple of the Ojibwa diet and there were huge runs on the St. Mary’s, St. Clair and Niagara Rivers. Ojibwa men would go out into the rapids in canoes, float downstream and while standing scoop large quantities of fish into the canoes with a long poles that had nets attached to the ends of them. Needless to say we had an uncanny sense of balance and were excellent canoeists. The men did the fishing and the women and children dried or powdered the fish. When the fish runs over we all moved back to the main village for another summer of leisure. Such was the lifestyle of the Ojibwa. It was a good life and we were a happy and contented people.  

Fishing in the St. Mary's River c 1900

New Policies,New Allies

November 25, 2009

Hi everyone!

First let me apologize for the map enlarging instructions I gave in my last post. It worked perfectly when I previewed my post but after I published it that function was lost. Sorry.

You will recall in my last post the remnants of the Huron, Tobacco Nation and Neutrals joined and fled north to Michilimackinac and became known as the Wyandotte. France changed their governor and the Church changed its bishop. These two new administrators of New France also changed the policy of “no guns to the Indians”. Still enemies with the Iroquois they needed to find new allies and trading partners. They looked northward to the Ojibwa.

The Ojibwa held the richest trapping grounds on the continent. We were also the largest military power on the continent. The French established a trading post at Michilimackinac. The Church established their main mission on the St. Mary’s River near present-day Sault Ste. Marie.

Now for a change of pace. This week and maybe the next two I want to describe the culture and some of the traditions held by France’s native allies. More of how we lived than what we did. The Ojibwa were Algonquian-speaking people and we had a far different lifestyle than the Iroquoian-speaking people we have been learning about.

“Iroquoian Longhouse”

The Iroquoian-speaking people were agrarian people. They produced excess farm products particularly squash, beans and corn. Their towns were considerable in size with one to two thousand or more people living there. They constructed double palisades around the town. Inside the palisades they constructed long houses about 100 feet long and 30 feet high. On the insides they sectioned off double bunks where a whole families would sleep in each of the sections. Communal fires were placed every 30 feet or so for cooking.

Iroquian LonghouseCutaway view of Iroquoian Longhouse

Outside the palisades they farmed large tracts of land. They understood the principle of crop rotation but practiced it differently than Europeans. Their towns were not as permanent as those build by the Europeans so they rotated the entire town approximately every ten years. They would move to a previously used site, build a whole new town and let the fields at the old site go fallow. They usually had two or three town sites they would rotate.

This agrarian lifestyle made the Huron good candidates as trading partners for the Algonquin speaking peoples. The Ojibwa and Ottawa were hunters and fishers and their lifestyle produced an excess of meat and fish products.

The economic system of the native peoples was totally unlike the economic system of Europe. For example, in Europe if there was a nation of fishers on the coast and a nation of farmers on a plain they would trade by bargaining. One may offer a bushel of wheat for three barrels of fish. The other would counter offer a barrel of fish for a bushel of wheat. They may come to an agreement of two barrels of fish for a bushel of wheat. Or they may not be able to come to an agreement. If they could not they would let the excess produce rot.

Not so with the aboriginals of North America. They had no monetary system and their worldview would not allow them to waste their extra produce. The Europeans’ Judeo-Christian teachings said that humanity was God’s crowning achievement and they were to dominate and subdue the world. The product of their work was theirs to do with as they wished. 

On the other hand native peoples saw humanity at the bottom of a hierarchy the weakest of God’s creatures. Naked and vulnerable our teachings said that the Great Mystery asked mother earth to sustain us. That included the animals, fish and birds giving up their lives for our sustenance. They agreed so everything that we had including life itself was a gift from the Creator. It would be an affront to mother earth who sustained us and to the Master of Life who ordained it so to let the Great Spirit’s gifts go to waste.

There was no haggling over excesses. We would give to each other freely. If one suffered a drought and crops failed the other trading partner would give up all their excess meat and fish knowing that what goes around comes around. The Ojibwa word for this type of trading was “daawed”. Here is a hint. This word is going to come up much later so this type of trade is important to remember.

NEXT WEEK: Lifestyle and Worldview of the Ojibwa.