January 22, 2000

Just as today's Mackinac Bridge straddles the two peninsulas of the state of Michigan, so did Charles Michel de Langlade straddle two cultures. Almost, if not completely, unknown to most of us, he was another of the personalities that fused the European and the Native American traditions and influenced the history of the Great Lakes.

Langlade was a Métis, a half-breed, child of French trader Sieur Augustin Mouet de Langlade; his mother Domitille Villeneuve, sister of Ottawa chief La Fourche, and daughter of chief Kewanoquat. Charles would become a trader like his father and an Indian agent, but it was his military accomplishments that most distinguished him. In 1739, when he was only ten, his uncle La Fourche had a dream, telling him that a planned expedition against the Chickasaw in Tennessee would only succeed if the boy accompanied them. Ottawa dreams are taken seriously, so with his father's permission, the boy went along with the war party. Even though the outcome of the trip was a negotiated treaty, Charles was given a native title meaning 'defender of his country.'

In 1752, when the French attempted to drive English traders out of the Ohio Valley, Charles lead 250 Ottawa and Chippewa warriors, attacking the trading post at Pickawillany, torching the village, killing a Miami Indian chief and a British trader (both of whom ended up on the menu that night).

Three years later Langlade would help defeat General Braddock near Fort Duquesne and later change allegiance and fight alongside the British during the American Revolution. But those are stories for some other time. Pressing on with our Great Lakes tour, what about his connection with the Straits of Mackinac?

Just prior to Braddock's defeat the French awarded Langlade a commission as ensign, and in 1757 he was placed as second in command at Michilimackinac. The next year, with the French defeat at Louisburg in Nova Scotia and at the Forks of the Ohio River, French influence over the Indian nations of the western Great Lakes began to weaken. French attitudes toward the Indians had always been paternalistic, but the natives considered themselves as allies, not children or servants. Allegiances began shifting. Promoted to second lieutenant in 1760 Langlade was now in command at Mackinac. Present at Montreal when it fell to the English on September 9th, he received a message from defeated French governor Pierre Vaudreuil. Mackinac could no longer be supported or defended. The letter concluded, "I count upon the pleasure of seeing you in France with all your officers." But for a man raised in the savage but unspoiled forests of upper Michigan, Paris held no charms. Langlade slipped away, and headed home.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.

Langlade's story can be found in greater detail in:
Eckert, Allan W. ­p;Wilderness Empire (New York, Little,Brown, 1969 / Bantam, 1971)

Michilimackinac is only one of many forts scattered across the U. S. and Canada. For a comprehensive guide to historical fortresses, outposts, and seacoast batteries, as well as some ships and shipyards, have a look at the webpage of the Council on America's Military Past (CAMP).

You can search by state or by nationality (American, Native, English, French, Spanish, etc.) then link to the web pages for the various installations, many of which will include maps, photographs and tourist information.

The years 1893-1896 have been updated.

© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte