Today, the Michigan State Quarter Coin remembers when Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac arrived on July 24, 1701 at what became Detroit.
From the History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan, A Chronological Cyclopedia of the Past and Present by Silas Farmer, published in 1890:
The French colonial documents show that on October 16, 1700, M. de Callieres wrote to Count Pontchartrain as follows:
“I shall send Sieur de la Mothe and Sieur de Tonty in the spring to construct a fort at Detroit. My design is that they shall go by the Outaoties (Ottawa) River in order to take possession of that post from the Lake Huron side, by that means avoiding the Niagara passage, so as not to give umbrage to the Iroquois.”
Returning to America, Cadillac arrived at Quebec on March 8, 1701. The same day he left for Montreal, where he arrived March 12, and for some weeks busied himself in arranging for the trip.
All was finally in readiness, and on June 5 he left Montreal, having with him M. de Tonty as captain, and Messrs. Dugue and Chacornacle as lieutenants, with fifty soldiers in blue coats with white facings, also fifty emigrants and two priests.
The Chevalier de Beauchene, in a volume published in Paris in 1733, says that he and a company of Algonquin Indians started with Cadillac as an escort, and that, on account of a quarrel, he returned.
He gives a detailed account of the affair, but there are various indications that the narrative is one of the fictitious works that were not infrequent at that day.
Cadillac’s party came by way of the Ottawa River and Lake Huron, arriving on July 24, 1701.
The convoy consisted of twenty-five canoes, which, besides the soldiers and emigrants, brought supplies of various kinds essential to the building and establishment of a new post.
Arriving at Detroit on a hot summer day, the canoes were drawn up on shore, and all of the newcomers were soon sheltered in the leafy groves that here and there extended almost to the river’s edge.
The site of the stockade was selected, and ere long the sound of axes resounded through the woods.
Holes were dug for the palisades, and the stockade was soon completed.
The locations of chapel, magazine, store, and dwellings were next determined, and before August had passed away, the settlement was fully established.
A few weeks later the soil was broken, and the first wheat sown on the Detroit River was carefully bestowed.
On December 6 Cadillac marked out a place for the Huron village, and in February and May of the following year he called the Indians together for a council.
These councils, then and after, were the occasions of much local interest, for the Indians were always arrayed in their savage finery; and as they expected gifts they also brought them; as the “talk” progressed, presents were given and received with almost every point made by either side.
When the settlement was a year old, lacking three days, Cadillac for the first time left it, going to Quebec to conclude an agreement with the trading company which had obtained control of the post.
He returned on November 6. These days were dark ones. There was so much opposition to the establishment that but little trading was done, and between the king and the company, the soldiers were so poorly paid that, in 1703, nine of them deserted.
They were glad to return, however, on a promise of pardon, which Cadillac was quite willing to grant, for soldiers as well as settlers were few in number.
He was constantly seeking to enlarge his force, and finally, in a letter of June 14, 1704, Pontchartrain announced that Vaudreuil had been ordered to give him as many soldiers as he asked Cadillac only being required to pay for their transportation.
Pontchartrain also said that all that was just and reasonable Cadillac should have to help him establish the colony, that he had fully explained the matter to Vaudreuil, and that Cadillac would have no further trouble.
The letter concludes with these words:
“I am leaving you absolute master of this post. Use your effort to succeed at Detroit, and you will not lack for concessions, nor even for a post more considerable than that which you have.”
Notwithstanding the explicit directions to Vaudreuil, the intrigues of traders and others caused him to delay giving the assistance he was required to afford, and in the meantime the trading company brought such charges against Cadillac that in the autumn of 1704 he was compelled to go to Quebec to answer them.
In June, 1706, after long delay, he was completely vindicated, and the king again gave him full control of Detroit, and in August of that year Cadillac returned.
After his return the colony began to flourish. He induced many families to settle along the strait, and his oldest son, in a memoir, dated 1730, and addressed to Count Maurepas, claimed that he transported one hundred and fifty inhabitants to Detroit, together with cattle, horses, and other animals, at his own expense, and that he expended for various improvements fully 150,000 livres.
The boldness of the early settlers was not exceeded in any other colony on American soil.
The settlers of Jamestown and Plymouth Rock were located near the coast, and in an emergency could more easily escape than the first settlers of Detroit, these last established their firesides nearly a thousand miles from the sea, and were literally surrounded by thousands of savages, many of them known to be hostile, and cannibals as well.
The colonists were mostly persons of limited means, many of them artisans, whose services were essential in such a colony. Some were gentlemen by birth, who, having failed to inherit a fortune at home, or having lost their inheritance, brought to this western world their empty titles and well-filled scabbards to make homes and fortunes of their own.
The Michigan State Quarter Coin shows with an image of a statue of Cadillac, circa 1915.