In early September 1701, thirty-one-year-old Marie Therese Cadillac left Montreal, Canada, in a canoe. She was traveling to join her husband, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, at his new wilderness settlement called Fort Pontchartrain du De Troit (later shortened to Detroit). Cadillac wanted his wife to come to the fort to prove that families could live there. Many people told Madame Cadillac that she should not go, but she declared, “Do not waste your pity on me, dear friends. I know the hardships of the journey, the isolation of the life to which I am going; yet I am eager to go, for a woman who totally loves her husband has no stronger attachment than his company; wherever he may be.”
Madame Cadillac arrived at the fort in October with her thirteen-year-old son and Marie-Anne Picote de Bellestre, who went along on the journey to join her husband at the fort. They were the first European women to come to Michigan. When Madame Cadillac stepped ashore her husband Antoine and their nine-year-old son Antoine (who had accompanied his father to Detroit months earlier) greeted her.
The Native Americans at Detroit, who had never seen white women, were astonished. According to Monsieur Cadillac, the Native Americans kissed the women’s hands and “wept for joy, saying that French women had never been seen coming willingly to their country.”
During the years that Madame Cadillac lived at the fort, she gave birth to four more children. She left Detroit in 1710. She eventually returned to France where she lived the remainder of her life.
Photo Credit: Landing of Cadillac’s wife in Detroit, Art by Gari Melchers, 1921. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-D429-48280 A.
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