Detroit – A Brief History

Detroit: A Brief History

French fur traders had established the First French colony in North America at Port Royal in Nova Scotia in 1604. In 1608 Quebec was founded. French explorers found the Great Lakes and then pushed down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.  By the 1700 there were 15-25,000 French in North America compared to 250,000 British settlers in the Colonies. The French consisted of farmers, traders, hunters, trappers and missionaries.

Antoine Cadallic

Detroit was founded in 1701 by Antoine Laumet de Lamothe Cadillac. Cadillac was a charming and unscrupulous individual. He added de Lamoth Cadillac to his name to sound like an aristocrat and added a stolen coat of arms and an army commission.  His true name and origins remains a secret to this day.1

Coatarm0 Barren

Cadillac stole the shield of Baron Sylvester of Esparbes de Lussan, lord of Lamothe Bardigues.

Cadillac arrived in North America in the 1680’s and was placed in charge of the Great Lakes post of Michilimackinack in 1694. Cadillac lined his pockets selling illegal brandy to the Native Americans and taking bribes from beaver-pelt traders and smugglers.


Under a commission from Paris, Cadillac set out in 1701 to build a new fort and trading post between Lake Huron and Lake Erie.  His goal was to control river traffic, secure the fur trading around the Great Lakes, and establish a fortification against the British.

Mich Map

About a hundred Frenchmen and the same number of friendly Native Americans traveled down the waterways and chose a bluff overlooking the river between Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie for their new outpost.  Cadillac named it Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit.  It was thus named to flatter Louis XIV and his  minister of the Navy and the colonies, Louis Phelypeaux de Pontchartrain.  Detroit is French for “the strait.”

Fort Pontchartrain du DetroitFort Pontchartrain du Detroit 2

In 1710 Cadillac was removed, unceremoniously, from office for “ill conduct,” (i.e. excessive lining of his own pockets2 extortion, and tyranny).  He was sent to Louisiana, a most undesirable outpost.

Detroit surrendered to the British in 1760 during the Seven Years’ War (also known as the French and Indian War) and was unsuccessfully attacked by the Ottawa Chief Pontiac shortly thereafter.  British occupation ended in 1796 and Detroit came under American control.

A devastating fire swept Detroit in 1805 that destroyed nearly all of its 300 structures.3 The fire started in the barn of baker John Harvey.  Quickly spreading the fire destroyed all but two structures, Fort Lernoult and a warehouse at the river.6

1805 Fire

Detroit experienced dramatic growth after the invention of the steamboat and the opening of the Erie Canal.  Detroit became a city in 1815 and Michigan a state in 1837. Around this time Detroit became a major stop on the Underground Railroad helping fugitive slaves reach freedom in the North and Canada.




In 1845 Detroit was to hold President Andrew Jackson’s funeral.


C6674_fig04_01 Elijah McCoy

“In 1872 Elijah McCoy, an African American inventor, patented the automatic locomotive lubricator, which was so good that railroad men asked for ‘the real McCoy.'”4


With the coming of the Industrial age, Detroit began manufacturing such new products as stoves and kitchen ranges. Around the same time Vernors Ginger Ale, Stroh’s Beer and Sanders with its candy , cakes, and ice cream emerged.

In 1903 Ford established the Ford Motor Company and the introduction of the assembly line which revolutionized industry.  Ford originally built the Cadillac but sold the failing business to General Motors in 19095.  Cadillac cars still bare the stolen Cadillac Coat of Arms!

Combo Coat of Arms


Car Coat of Arms


In keeping with Detroit’s Motown theme, the outside of one of the buildings at the Russel Street Market was painted in a grand style!

Russel St. Market - Detroit







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