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History of Detroit
 
 
 

17th – 18th Century

The first recorded mention of what became Detroit was in 1670, when the French Sulpician missionaries François Dollier de Casson and René Bréhant de Galinée stopped at the site on their way to the mission at Sault Ste. Marie. Galínee's journal notes that near the site of present-day Detroit, they found a stone idol venerated by the Indians and destroyed the idol with an axe and dropped the pieces into the river.

European settlement of the area began when French officer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac founded a fort and settlement at a site, where the modern city currently stands, along the Detroit River in 1701. Originally the settlement was called Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit after the Comte de Pontchartrain, minister of marine under Louis XIV of France, and for the river that connects Lakes St. Clair and Erie. Francois Marie Picoté sieur de Belestre (Montreal 1719-1793) was the last French military commander at Fort Detroit (1758-1760), surrendering the fort on November 29, 1760 to British Major Robert Rogers. The British gained control of the area in 1760 and were thwarted by an Indian attack three years later during Pontiac's Rebellion.

During the French and Indian War (1760), British troops gained control and shortened the name to Detroit. Several tribes led by Chief Pontiac, an Ottawa leader, launched Pontiac's Rebellion (1763), including a siege of Fort Detroit. Partially in response to this, the British Royal Proclamation of 1763, included restrictions in unceded Indian territories.

Detroit was the goal of various American campaigns during the American Revolution, but logistical difficulties in the North American frontier and American Indian allies of Great Britain would keep any armed rebel force from reaching the Detroit area. In the Treaty of Paris (1783), Great Britain ceded territory that included Detroit to the newly recognised United States, though in reality it remained under British control. Great Britain continued to trade with and defend her native allies in the area, and supplied local nations with weapons to harass American settlers and soldiers.

In 1794, a Native American alliance, that had received some support and encouragement from the British, was decisively defeated by General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Wayne negotiated the Treaty of Greenville and Detroit passed to the United States under the Jay Treaty (1796). Great Britain agreed to evacuate forts held in the United States' Northwest Territory. In 1805, fire destroyed most of the settlement. A river warehouse and brick chimneys of the wooden homes were the sole structures to survive. Detroit's motto and seal (as on the flag) reflect this fire.

Detroit was incorporated as a town by the legislature of the Northwest Territory at Chillicothe, Ohio, on January 18, 1802, effective February 1, 1802. Government was administered by a five-person board of trustees and there was no office of mayor. Following this, Ohio became a state and the eastern half of Michigan was attached to the Indiana Territory. Because of the difficulty in traveling from Detroit to the capital of the territory in Vincennes over 400 miles (640 km) away, Michigan Territory was established effective June 30, 1805, as a separate territory with Detroit as the capital.

19th Century

Before the new territorial government officially began, a fire destroyed nearly all of Detroit on June 11, 1805. The newly appointed governor, William Hull, and the territorial judges (Augustus B. Woodward, Frederick Bates, James Witherell and John Griffin), constituting the territorial government, essentially established martial law over affairs of the city. They convinced the US Congress to pass an act on April 21, 1806, which authorised them to lay out a town that included all of the old town of Detroit plus an additional 10,000 acres (40 km²) to be used as compensation for persons who lost their house in the fire.

On September 13, 1806, the territorial government passed an act incorporating the new city of Detroit. The governor appointed Solomon Sibley as mayor. Shortly afterward, Sibley resigned and Elijah Brush was appointed in his stead. The mayor was appointed by the governor and, under the act of incorporation, was able to disapprove legislation passed by the popularly elected council without any recourse for overriding the mayor. Because of this, many felt that the real aim of the governor in incorporating the city was to remove the popularly elected town officers and exert a more direct influence over governance of the city. This form of government was extremely unpopular, and was repealed on February 4, 1809. However, to prevent resurrection of the popularly elected town government, on September 16, 1810, an act passed repealing all laws pertaining to Michigan that had been passed by the Legislature of the Northwest Territory. This effectively eradicated any trace of legitimacy for the former popularly elected town government.


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