December 11, 1999

I'm not familiar with the practice outside the United States, but any homeowner here is familiar with the title search. The pedigree of property must be searched out and authenticated, back to the first, primeval purchaser. Insurance must be taken out in case there are rival claims to the particular parcel. Those who look back to a simpler time, when governments did not dictate the terms of every public transaction, will be extremely jealous of Francois Daumont, the Sieur de St. Lusson.

He hadn't worried about a title search on that June 14th in 1671. He just stood on the banks of the Sault Ste. Marie and, in the name of Louis XIV, took possession of most of Canada. Never mind that fellow monarch Charles II had already taken possession of New England, from sea to sea, and that his claim swept through every one of the Great Lakes. There was really just one factor, other than how it would all look on the royal resume, that made all of this empty space worth fighting over for the next 89 years. This factor was a medium-sized, furry rodent who, unbeknownst to him- or herself, went by the name Castor Canadensis. Back in Europe you were nobody if you didn't go around with the pelt of one of these rodents on your head. Actually, it was hats covered with felt made from the beaver's skin. Soldiers, admirals, clergymen and other persons of substance all wore them. And paid equally substantial sums of money to acquire them. The supply of the European variety of beaver was depleted, making the American variety all the more valuable. Finally, North America was good for something other than fish. And control of the supply routes was crucial.

As chartmakers began getting a better idea of the region, and the beaver numbers in eastern Canada began dwindling, the fur traders pushed further and further into the western lakes. Skimming across the top of Lake Huron, they were faced with two choices, two water routes further into the interior. As we've seen, entry into Superior would remain problematical for several centuries. Lake Michigan was easier. Just sail through the Mackinac strait and you had access to lands that would become Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, as well as to streams near the southwest corner that would carry you to the Mississippi River and on to Spanish lands off the Gulf of Mexico.

Obviously, control the strait and you control the interior. The same year Daumont was at the Sault, naturalizing the beaver, fellow countryman Jacques Marquette was fifty miles to the south, erecting a mission to the Indians called St. Ignace. He wanted to control the souls of the natives rather than the ships of the fur trade, but it was all part of the developing French strategy. Commerce and religion would work together, to form a solid foundation for empire. It was all very nice - in theory.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor

Four Great Lakes Sites

Museum of the Great Lakes

Marine Historical Society of Detroit

Great Lakes Cruising

Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse Historical Society


The New York City / State chronology for NYNY1873-1876 has been updated

© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte