Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Cadillac, Madame Marie

It is widely known that the city of Detroit has French roots, and many people are also aware that the name Detroit comes from the original settlement called Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit. What is not well know, however, is the history of how this settlement came to be and how one woman helped to form the great city of Detroit. The history of this city began with a man named Antoine Laument de la Mothe Cadillac, a French military leader. He had traveled widely and ultimately set his sights on the Great Lakes. In 1698, Cadillac returned to France to petition King Louis XIV to authorize him to establish a French outpost along “la Rivière du Détroit”, the waterway connecting Lakes Erie and Huron. He convinced him to do so by discussing the merits of a major settlement on the Detroit River. There were doubters of the success of Cadillac and his plan, but on May 5, 1701 King Louis sent word that a post was to be built along the Detroit River and that Cadillac was going to be commander. It cost 1,500 livres, the equivalent of $300, to establish the settlement.

Once the settlement opened, the influential work of Madame Cadillac began. Madame Cadillac was born Marie-Thérèse Guyon in Quebec in 1671 to Denis and Elizabeth Guyon. She married Cadillac on June 25, 1687 and the couple lived in what is now known as Nova Scotia. In 1701, Marie received word that her husband and his party had successfully and safely made the journey to le Détroit. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac wanted his wife and child to join him to prove that the settlement was a suitable place for family life as well. Despite the protestation of others that she should remain where she was, Madame Cadillac was determined to join her husband and so in September 1701, the thirty-one year old woman set off from Montreal in a canoe, along with her nine year old son and the wife of Cadillac’s Lieutenant, Madame de Tonty.

Madame Cadillac arrived at Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit in May of 1702. She and her female travel partner were the first European women to come to Michigan. Additionally, they were the first white women to ever cross the 750 miles of uncharted and hostile Iroquois Territory between Quebec and Detroit. Upon their arrival, they were warmly received by many of the Native Americans, who had never seen white women before. After she joined her husband, she began to help transform Fort Détroit into a proper settlement. At the settlement she took on many responsibilities since she was one of only two pioneer women there; she hired voyagers, signed contracts, and served as a doctor to the two hundred habitants and four thousand neighboring Native Americans. Her husband was recalled twice to Quebec, and during his absences she remained at the fort to defend the interests of the Cadillacs.

While at the fort, the Cadillacs had several more children. She remained there until 1710, when her husband was removed from command and sent to Louisiana. She then returned to France where she lived until her death in 1740. Since the establishment of Fort Détroit, Marie Thérèse Guyon-Cadillac has been considered a brave, intelligent, determined, and courageous woman who believed in the settlement of Detroit and played an important part in its early success.



 Postcard depicting the "Arrival of Madame Cadillac"

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