Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Cadillac, Antoine de la Mothe

In 1701 Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac founded the site that would become the city of Detroit. He was born Antoine Laumet on March 5, 1658 in southern France. At the age of 25, he arrived in the New World and, as a coastal trader, soon became an expert on the continent’s Atlantic coast. He performed reconnaissance – and perhaps engaged in some privateering – that earned the respect of government ministers back in France. Laumet married Marie Therese Guyon, the niece of his trading partner François Guyon, in 1687, and at that time, adopted the name la Mothe Cadillac, falsely claiming to be of nobility.

After commanding the fort at Michilimackinac, he convinced King Louis XIV of the strategic advantages offered by a location to the south, closer to advancing British interests. On June 5, 1701, two months prior to “The Great Peace of Montreal,” Cadillac and an assortment of colonists, soldiers and missionaries totaling 100 set out from Lachine, on the St. Lawrence River near Montreal. The expedition followed the northern route along the Ottawa River, Lake Nipissing, French River, Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and, finally, the Detroit River. The expedition camped on Grosse Ile on July 23rd. 

The following day, the expedition returned upstream and selected a location for the new settlement on a bluff on the northern shore from which they could best control the river. Cadillac claimed the new territory for France. The expedition commenced building a fort that they named Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit, in honor of the French marine minister who approved their trip and the narrow strait, le détroit in French, where it was located. In addition, they built the first Ste. Anne’s Church. Cadillac made the first land grants starting in 1707. 

While Cadillac is lauded as being the founder of Detroit, his place in history is not without controversy. As commander at Fort Michilimackinac he was criticized for selling alcohol to the Native Americans and for unprincipled treatment of the fur traders to create his own wealth. In Detroit, his glowing communiqués of a prosperous settlement were contradicted by a 1708 report that stated the settlement had only 62 French citizens outside the fort’s garrison, and that Cadillac was disliked by all for an abuse of power.

Cadillac and his wife had 13 children, several of them born in Detroit. Fewer than half reached adulthood. He was made governor of Louisiana in 1710, though did not arrive there until 1713, serving until 1716. Upon his return to France in 1717, Cadillac retained a local governorship in Castelsarrasin, where he died on October 15, 1730.



Portrait sketch of Antoine De La Mothe Cadillac, c.1930 – 2013.042.930

Cadillac's Landing Postcard, 1951

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