Fort Detroit

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Fort Détroit
Detroit, Michigan
Siege of Fort Detroit.jpg
1763 siege of Fort Detroit
Type Fort
Site information
Controlled by  New France
 Great Britain
 United States
Site history
Built 1701
In use 1701–1796

Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit or Fort Detroit was a fort established by the French officer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac in 1701. The site of the former fort is now within the city of Detroit in the U.S. state of Michigan, an area bounded by Larned Street, Griswold Street, and the Civic Center (now occupied by office towers).

Background and construction[edit]

Cadillac ordered Fort Detroit built on the Detroit River to try to keep the British from moving into the west and to monopolize the fur trade in central North America. Before he built Fort Detroit, Cadillac was commandant of Fort de Buade, another French outpost in North America. Fort de Buade was abandoned in 1697 due to conflicts with religious leaders over the trading of alcohol to the Native Americans. Cadillac persuaded his superiors to let him build a new settlement. He reached the Detroit River on July 23, 1701.

When he landed on the site, he held a celebration to formally take control of the area. In honor of Louis Phélypeaux, Comte de Pontchartrain (or his son, Jérôme), Minister of Marine to Louis XIV, Cadillac named the new settlement as Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit. The storehouse and the stockade were started immediately, but the first building completed was Ste. Anne's Church. The stockade came next and was made of logs with defensive bastions or towers in each corner.

After the fort was established, some Ottawa and Huron moved into the area for the convenience of trading with the French.

Military conflicts[edit]

Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit in 1710

The first major conflict of Fort Detroit occurred in March 1706 while Cadillac was away. The Ottawa heard a rumor about a Huron tribe ambush. The Ottawa attacked and killed several members of the Miami tribe. The Miami sought safety in the fort, where they were defended by the soldiers. The French killed about 30 Ottawa warriors when they attacked the fort. After the battle, the Miami attacked an Ottawa village. In the conflict a French priest and sergeant were both caught outside the walls and killed.

The fort was commanded by Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont. Bourgmont was criticized for his handling of the incident. When Cadillac returned, Bourgmont and some soldiers from the fort deserted. The French captured one of the deserters, who testified that the deserting party had shot and killed one of its own and cannibalized him.[1]

Bourgmont remained on the lam, living with the Native Americans and taking a Native American wife and having a child. In 1718, he was decorated with the Cross of St. Louis and given an order of nobility for being the first European to map the Missouri and Platte rivers and for enlisting the Native Americans to side with the French against the Spanish.[1]

Cadillac was removed under accusations of corruption. In 1710, François de la Forêt was appointed as Cadillac's successor, but sent Jacques-Charles Renaud Dubuisson to administer his role.[2] In 1712, Jacques-Charles Renaud Dubuisson officially replaced Cadillac as commander. The Fox heard of this change in leadership and planned an attack on the fort (after some of Cadillac's supporters had left). They besieged the fort in late April, with a force of about 1,000 Fox, Sac and Mascoutens. The Ottawa and the Huron were out on a raid and so could not help the French. Jean Baptiste Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes, commander of the French outpost at Kekionga (now Fort Wayne, Indiana) and seven fur traders reached the fort, sneaking through Fox lines.[3] Dubuisson sent messengers, and the Ottawa and Huron Indians returned to the fort's aid. When the warriors came, the Fox were caught between the French and their allies; they were themselves besieged until the end of May. They fled to what is now Windmill Point, where the French and Huron warriors pursued them. After four days' siege there, the Fox surrendered so their families would be spared. The French agreed, but after the Fox were disarmed, the French attacked and killed all of them. This event is known in the Grosse Pointe area as the Fox Indian Massacre. This siege of Fort Detroit was the opening incident in the Fox Wars.

Fort Detroit in 1763

After a few years the British and the French conflict over North America came to a head in the French and Indian War. Detroit was far removed from the main areas of conflict and did not see combat. On November 29, 1760, Fort Detroit was turned over to the British Army's Rogers' Rangers, two months after the capitulation of the French at Montreal.

British rule differed in several major ways from French rule. The British required greater taxes and confiscated weapons from "unfriendly" settlers, as they classified many French Canadians. They refused to sell ammunition to them or to the Native Americans. The French traders had armed many of their trading partners with guns for years, beginning with the Iroquois in New York. The British changes limited the ability of the Native Americans to trap and hunt, as well as rendering them less of a threat. The British did not emphasize maintaining good relationships with the Native Americans; the French Canadians had formed many families through intermarriage and knew about the custom of giving gifts.

After the French left the conflict, Pontiac war-leader of the Ottawa rallied several tribes in Pontiac's Rebellion and attempted to capture Detroit from the British on May 7, 1763. They failed to capture the fort, as the British were forewarned of the attack, but did lay siege to it (see the Siege of Fort Detroit).

The British force in the fort, commanded by Henry Gladwin, consisted of 130 soldiers with two 6-pound cannons, one 3-pound cannon, and three mortars. The 6-gun schooner Huron was anchored nearby in the Detroit River. Two months into the siege, on July 29, 1763, the British brought a large relief force into the area. Skirmishing in the area, including the Battle of Bloody Run, continued until mid-November when the Indians dispersed.

During the American Revolutionary War, Detroit was far to the west of the main areas of action. The fort's main contribution was to arm American Indian raiding parties, who attacked American settlements to the southeast. American revolutionaries, particularly George Rogers Clark, hoped to mount an expedition to Detroit in order to neutralize these operations, but could not raise enough men to make the attempt. Clark did manage to capture Henry Hamilton, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Quebec and senior officer at Fort Detroit.

In late 1778, while Hamilton was still a prisoner of war, Captain Richard B. Lernoult began construction on a new fortification situated a few hundred yards to the north of the original fortification. It was named Fort Lernoult on October 3, 1779. This new fort then largely superseded the original fort and was often referred to as "Fort Detroit."

Under the terms of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, the signatory Indian tribes ceded several blocks of land to the United States, which were beyond the Greenville Treaty Line and within the Indian's territory. Article 3, Item 12 contains, "The post of Detroit, and all the land to the north, the west and the south of it, of which the Indian title has been extinguished by gifts or grants to the French or English governments: and so much more land to be annexed to the district of Detroit, as shall be comprehended between the river Rosine, on the south, lake St. Clair on the north, and a line, the general course whereof shall be six miles distant from the west end of lake Erie and Detroit river."[4] On July 11, 1796, under terms negotiated in the Jay Treaty, the British surrendered Fort Detroit, Fort Lernoult and the surrounding settlement to the Americans, 13 years after the Treaty of Paris which ended the war and ceded the area to the United States.

Some accounts say that only Fort Lernoult survived the 1805 fire, which destroyed most of Detroit, so presumably no parts of the original Fort Detroit remained after this time. Fort Lernoult was officially renamed Fort Detroit in 1805, then renamed Fort Shelby in 1813. Soon after its use by the military ended, the fort was demolished by the City of Detroit in 1827.

Location of Fort Detroit[5]

During the course of the War of 1812, both the Americans and British launched invasions of the other's territory, all of which were unsuccessful or achieved only temporary success. At the end of the war, the British held parts of Maine and some outposts in the sparsely populated West, while the Americans held Canadian territory near Detroit, but these occupied territories were restored to the respective nations at the end of the war.



  1. ^ a b Hechenberger, Dan. "Etienne de Véniard sieur de Bourgmont: A Timeline Compiled by Dan Hechenberger". The Lewis and Clark Journey of Discovery. National Park Service. Archived from the original on September 11, 2009. 
  2. ^ Burton, Clarence Monroe; Stocking, William & Miller, Gordon K. (1922). The city of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922. 1. S.J. Clarke. p. 102. 
  3. ^ "Vincennes, Sieur de (Jean Baptiste Bissot)". The Encyclopedia Americana. 28. Danbury, CT: Grolier. 1990. p. 130. 
  4. ^ "Treaty of Greenville". August 3, 1795 – via Wikisource. 
  5. ^ Lossing, Benson (1868). The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812. Harper & Brothers, Publishers. p. 266. 

Works cited[edit]

  • Dunnigan, Brian Leigh (2001). "Fortress Detroit, 1701–1826". In Skaggs, David Curtis & Nelson, Larry L. The Sixty Years' War for the Great Lakes, 1754–1814. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press. pp. 167–185. 
  • "Fort Detroit: British Rule, 1760–1796". 

Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 42°19′44″N 83°02′45″W / 42.32889°N 83.04583°W / 42.32889; -83.04583