Saturday, December 27, 2014

Antoine Cadillac--Detroit's First Godfather

Bust of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac
An expedition financed by the French monarch--King Louis XIV--and promoted by his Minister of Marine--Comte de Pontchartrain--appointed Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac as their agent to establish a fur trading post and fort in New France. In return, Cadillac was granted generous riverfront real estate. He envisioned a permanent French colony controlling the fur trade routes through the upper Great Lakes, with him at the helm.

Commander Antoine Cadillac led a fleet of 25 large canoes--with 50 soldiers, 50 empire builders, 2 Roman Catholic priests, and his 11-year-old son--on a 52 day trip westward from French-controlled Montreal to the western bank of a swift running river that connected Lac Erie with Lac St. Clair.

This site was chosen because it was the narrowest point of the strait--de troit--which is how Detroit earned its name. There was an eroded 40' clay bluff leading up from the river bank to a flat clearing. Once a fort was built on the plain, anything moving up or down the river could be seen and was in easy range of their cannons. This was a defensible position to discourage the British and control the fur trade.

The empire builders arrived on July 23, 1701 and began work on a log fort Cadillac named after his benefactor--French Minister of Marine--Comte de Pontchartrain. Two days later, a mass was said in honor of Ste. Anne--the patron saint of France and mother of the Virgin Mary. After the service, the foundations for the church were laid. Catholicism had come to the wilderness.

Fort Pontchartrain contained a warehouse which doubled as a store. There were also two guard houses, Ste. Anne's Church, and about 15 houses within the fort. Lots could be no larger than 25 square feet and some were smaller.

In a report about Detroit to his superior officers, Cadillac noted, "Especially attractive was the region that lies south of the pear-like lake to which they gave the name of St. Clair, and the country bordering upon that deep, clear river, a quarter of a league broad, known as Le Detroit.

"On both sides of this strait lie fine, open plains where the deer roam in graceful herds, where bear, by no means fierce and exceedingly good to eat, are to be found, as are also the savory poules d'Indies (wild duck) and other varieties of game. The islands are covered with trees; chestnuts, walnuts, apples, and plums abound; and in season, the wild vines are heavy with grapes.

"Le Detroit is the real center of the lake country--the gateway to the West. It is from there that we can best hold the English in check."

French trade with the local Native American tribes went well for the most part. Cadillac encouraged the Ottawa, Huron, Pottawatomie, Miami, and Wyandotte tribes to cluster together in villages near the fort for protection from their mutual enemies--the Iroquois and the British. In total, Cadillac estimated that there were about 2,000 Indians in and around Fort Pontchartrain allied with the French.

In 1702, the first European baby born in Detroit was the daughter of Alphonse de Tonty--Cadillac's second-in-command--and his wife. Not to be outdone--in 1704--the Cadillac's gave birth to Marie Therese, who became the first recorded baptism christened in Ste. Anne's Church registry.

Cadillac wanted the settlement to grow rapidly, but few if any unattached women were available to single men, so he proposed that christened Indian women be allowed to marry French settlers. The Jesuit priest strongly objected on moral and religious grounds, and the plan was soon rejected. This is likely the first official instance of discrimination in Detroit's long history.

In 1707, Cadillac began issuing farm grants--known as ribbon farms--to attract new settlers. These farms ranged from 200' to 1,000' wide and extended from the shoreline for 2 or 3 miles. Each farm had waterfront access. Many of Detroit's current street names derive from the original ribbon farm grant holders--for instance--Beaubien, Campau, Livernois, Riopell, Dequindre, and others. Cadillac plotted out 68 parcels. 

Cadillac acted like a feudal landlord requiring farmers to pay him an annual rent and a percentage of their grain to use the windmill he had built on the waterfront north of the fort. He was the mill's sole proprietor and could charge whatever he wanted. Renters were also required to work on Cadillac's farm for a specified number of days each year.

To engage in any kind of trade, settlers had to pay a licensing fee and annual taxes. Cadillac grew rich by padding the fees and taxes and skimming off the top. When he withheld the allotment of imported brandy behind padlocked warehouse doors, it was discovered--and reported--that he was trading it to the Indians for beaver pelts. He had defied a Royal decree not to provide liquor to the native population.

When complaints about Cadillac reached Montreal and Paris, King's Deputy Francois Clarembault went to survey Detroit area holdings in 1708 and found they did not match Cadillac's reports. After nineteen days in Detroit, Clarembault returned to Canada and sent his findings off to France. In 1709, Count Pontchartrain wrote to Cadillac complaining that he showed "too much greed and little moderation in his dealings with the settlers."

In 1710, Cadillac was called to Quebec to answer charges against him brought by his detractors. He was acquitted of extortion and abuse of power charges but was removed from his post--never to return to Detroit. The following year, Cadillac was promoted to the governorship of the Louisiana Territory.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Detroit's Saint Anne Roman Catholic Church--the Second Oldest Continuous Operating Parish in America

Stained-glass Windows in Saint Anne's Catholic Church in Detroit
As history records--on July 24, 1701--Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and his troop of 105 soldiers and settlers arrived in what became known as Detroit. It took the expedition's 25 canoes 55 days to paddle upstream from Montreal to a clearing on the western bank of the strait that gives Detroit its name. This site was chosen because Cadillac felt it was defensible with plenty of game to help sustain them.

Two days later, the first mass was said in Detroit--on the feast day of Saint Anne's--and the foundations for a small chapel were laid. Catholicism had come to the wilderness. It was the first building constructed in Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit and named after the patron saint of France.

Saint Anne was the grandmother of Jesus Christ and the mother of the Virgin Mary in biblical heredity. Though long considered the patron saint of Detroit, Ste. Anne was installed officially as the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Detroit in a September 2009 decree issued by Pope Benedict XVI.

Saint Anne Conceiving the Virgin Mary by Flemish Painter Jean Bellegambe
Over the years, there have been as many as eight different church buildings--though archaeologists and historians can't agree on an exact number. The original Ste. Anne's was made of logs and planks and was burned down by Native Americans in 1703--including the chapel, the rectory, part of the fort, and the parish's baptismal records. The church was rebuilt in 1704.

Ste. Anne's has succumbed to flames on two other occasions during its 314 years of existence. A larger church was built in 1708 outside the palisade of Fort Pontchartrain. The settlers burned it down themselves in 1714 during a Native American uprising. They feared that it would offer cover to the Indians, so they sacrificed it. 

And in 1805, most of Detroit was destroyed by an accidental fire--all but one of 300 buildings were burned to the ground--including Ste. Anne's. A new church building was begun in 1818 and completed in 1828.

Locally revered, Father Gabriel Richard arrived at Ste. Anne's in 1796. He was not only a theologian but also a politician. He was a co-founder of Catholepistemaid du Michigania--which evolved into the University of Michigan--and as territorial representative to the United States Congress from the Michigan Territory, he helped establish a road-building project that connected Detroit with Chicago--now known as Michigan Avenue.

In 1832, after caring tirelessly for Detroit's cholera victims, Father Richard succumbed to the disease on September 13th. Legend notes that he was the last person to die from the outbreak. His body is interred under the altar of Ste. Anne's side chapel

The current Gothic Revival Cathedral--designed by architects Leon Conquard and Alert E. French in 1886--has flying buttresses, four gargoyles, and the oldest stained glass in the city of Detroit. They all reflect European French influence. Ste. Anne's Cathedral was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

More interesting background information on Saint Anne: 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dead Reckoning by Caitlin Rother

Caitlin Rother's 2011 true crime book--Dead Reckoning--tells the twisted murder-for-profit tale of diabolical killers Skylar and Jennifer Deleon. This young married couple schemed to defraud a retired couple--Tom and Jackie Hawks--of their financial assets and their 55' yacht before tying them to an anchor and shoving them into the Pacific Ocean. The use of a nautical term for the title of this book is most appropriate.

Caitlin Rother brings her considerable talent--as a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist--to guide her readers through the complexity of this multi layered case with clarity and precision reflecting her nineteen years as an investigative reporter. Rother's skillful narrative carries the reader along to help contextualize what would otherwise be an overly complicated story.

Skylar Deleon's personal revelation--behind bars--of his motivation for killing the Hawkses is an unexpected jaw dropper. This is a story of sociopathic greed and ruthless people who were blinded by the same thing--the color of money.

For two days, I did little else but turn pages of this satisfying true crime read.

Aphrodite Jones interviews Skylar Deleon in prison:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Serial Killer Groupie Sondra London Interview--Parts Two and Three

Sondra London
While researching serial killers and why they do what they do, I am amazed at how easily they can rationalize their actions and take pride in them. This perverse narcissism is disturbing and repulsive to most people. 

But there are those people who are in love with lunacy and attracted to these psychopaths. Serial killer groupie Sondra London is a case in point. After establishing a relationship with serial killer Gerald Schaefer, London dropped him for another serial killer Danny Rolling and played one man against the other. Trying to figure out human nature is complicated and often heart-breaking.

If part one of Sondra London's interview--in my last post--wasn't enough to make you lose sleep--parts two and three will send you ranting into the darkness.

Part two:

Part three:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Serial Killer Groupie - Sondra London - Pt. One

Warning! This interview may be disturbing to some people. It is part of my research for The Rainy Day Murders, my book about John Norman Collins and the Washtenaw County Coed Killings of the late sixties in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Ex-Deputy Sheriff Gerald Schaefer
More inscrutable than trying to understand the logic of a psychotic serial killer is trying to understand why some women are attracted to them and have relationships with them behind bars. It is the ultimate expression of either falling for the bad boy or flirting with disaster that some women seem wedded to in our culture.

Sondra London
Rather than going crazy trying to understand these people, I will satisfy myself with trying to become familiar with them and their behavior. This video link goes into the relationship between Sondra London, a writer and lover of serial killer Gerard John Schaefer. Watch part one of an interesting interview about their relationship. Then, check out Schaefer's Wikipedia entry. It is amazing how serial killers share so many of the same characteristics. Look at that smile on Schaefer's face. It says "Recognition at Last!"

Gerald John Schaefer had a fatal reaction to some sharpened steel in his Florida prison cell one December night in 1995 - an early Christmas present from his cellmate.