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Antoine de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac

founder of what is now Detroit


Antoine de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac was born at Toulouse, France, in 1657, the son of a parliamentary councillor. He entered the army at the age of sixteen and was sent to Acadia (now Canada) in 1683 to serve in the Port Royal garrison. In 1689, he proposed the conquest of New York and Boston. In 1691, he was sent to Frontenac, the Governor of New France, who was considering an attack on the coast of New England. A crafty and resourceful officer, he served successively as captain of infantry, naval ensign, and as commandant of Michillimakinac. In this last office he distinguished himself by controlling the Indians who threatened to unite with the Iroquois, while at the same time taking advantage of his position to carry on illegal traffic. He subsequently proposed building a fortified post at the head of Lake Erie in order to prevent the Indians of the West from trading with the English to the East.

In June 1701, Cadillac founded Fort Pontchartrain, which he named in honor of his protector, on the north bank of the Detroit River. He erected a church and a fort on the site, attracted colonists, parceled land, and, in 1705, obtained a monopoly of the trade of this post. He then suggested the cutting of a canal between Lakes Erie and Huron, and asked that the settlement be made a marquisat in his favor. He also proposed to civilize the Indians of the area by having them intermarry with the French. Eventually, however, the merchants of Montreal began complaining that Cadillac was unlawfully depriving them of their trade, and Governor Vaudreuil objected to the power that he was giving himself. In addition, the Jesuits protested against abuses in his transactions with the Indians.

Recalled to France in 1710, Cadillac was subsequently made Governor of Louisiana. Arriving there in 1712, Cadillac devoted himself primarily to mining and to trading with the Spaniards. He could not resist the urge for power, however, and in 1716 he was deposed, tried, and sentenced to the Bastille. He was freed and restored to favor in 1718.

In 1722, Cadillac obtained a decree whereby he regained possession of Pont Chartrain. He was later made Governor of Castelsarrasin, Department of Tarn and Garonne. He died at Castelsarrasin on October 16, 1730.


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This page was last updated on September 28, 2018.