Sault Ste Marie's
First Fort

Indian Fur Trade Spurred Building of French Fort

Sault Ste. - Strategic Location Near Carrying Place

Competition for the white mans share of the Upper Pennisula Indian Fur trade caused an establishment of a French fort at Sault Ste Marie in 1751. The fort was built by one of two frenchmen to whom had been granted 214,000 acres of land in that region including the spot where Sault Ste Marie is now according to Dr. F. Clever Bald assistant director of the Michigan historical collections at the Univ. of Michigan.

The two men were Louis le Gardeur De Repentigny and Capt. Louis De Bonne. The fort was built and maintained under the direction of de Repentigny as DeBonne never visited his holdings. During De Repentigny's frequent absences in lower Canada his tenant Jean Baptiste Cadotte was in charge. The French government had granted the land to the two men with the request that they build and maintain the fort. Thus the government obtained, at no charge, another foothold in the vast new world of untold riches which later was to become Canada and the US.

Strategically located at the carrying place around the rapids between Lakes Superior and Huron the 110 ft. square fort dominated the principal trade route between the upper and lower country. Its convenience soon drew valuable furs from the British trading posts further away. Construction of the stockade which contained four buildings marked the second time the French had occupied that particular area. Eighty years earlier on June 14 a french officer standing at the Sault before some 2000 amazed indians formerly had claimed the entire western country for France.

A french mission also was begun there in 1668 but it had been abandoned in 1689 because the Chippewa Indians had practically deserted the area. The fort was occupied in 1762 by a group of british troops from Mackinaw following the capitulation of the french governor of Canada to the British in 1760. There is a Canadian legend that Cadotte defended the fort against the british detachment until fatally wounded, he wrapped the French flag around him and heroically expired.

But Cadotte was a practical business man not a romantic Gascon - he offered no resistance. However the British occupation was bried as on the night of Dec. 10, 1762 a fire broke out under mysterious circumstances and destroyed all except Cadottes home. The British were forced to leave Mackinac. And so Cadotte was left to himself to carry on his fur trading in the forts one remaing house which already conveniently belonged to him. But the flames on that December night 186 years ago wrote the final chapter in the history of Sault Ste Marie's first fort.

Holland Evening Sentinel 19 November 1948