April Meeting, 1948

    A STATED Meeting of the Society was held, at the invitation of Mr. Augustus Peadody Loring, Jr., at No. 2 Gloucester Street, Boston, on Thursday, 22 April 1948, at a quarter before nine o’clock. Due to the illness of the President, the Vice-President, the Hon. Robert Walcott, took the chair. In the absence of the Recording Secretary, Mr. Walter Muir Whitehill was designated as Recording Secretary pro tempore.

    The records of the last Stated Meeting were read and approved.

    The Vice-President reported the death on 2 February 1948 of Thomas William Lamont, a Corresponding Member.

    The chair appointed the following committees in anticipation of the Annual Meeting:

    To nominate candidates for the several offices,—Messrs. Robert Ephraim Peabody, Fred Norris Robinson and Charles Eliot Goodspeed.

    To examine the Treasurer’s accounts,—Messrs. Willard Goodrich Cogswell and Arthur Stanwood Pier.

    To arrange for the Annual Dinner,—Messrs. Augustus Peabody Loring, Jr., Samuel Eliot Morison and Walter Muir Whitehill.

    Mr. Richard Walden Hale, Jr., read the following paper:

    Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac, Lord of Douaquet

    THE self-styled Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac1 is an appealing and mysterious figure in early American annals, for his career from Maine to Louisiana catches one’s imagination. Detroit reveres him as its founder, and has named after him the Bok-Cadillac hotel and an automobile. Bar Harbor sometimes calls him its first settler, and has named a mountain after him. New Orleans laughs at legends of his governorship. But to historians Cadillac is a problem for the records he left behind him, voluminous, witty, informative and entertaining as they are, seem warped. They are filled with petty discrepancies on points where it is hard to make a check. Indeed some of the discrepancies are not petty. Cadillac’s origin for many years was a mystery, his marriage lines in Quebec contradicting his baptismal register in France.2 Those who have tried to study his career, therefore, have been met with a problem of what records to believe, those Cadillac wrote, or most of the rest.

    One solution of this dilemma was followed by the late Miss Agnes Laut. She chose to believe Cadillac implicitly, and to conjecture as to what facts had been omitted that would have reconciled his accounts with those of others. Another solution is followed by Father Jean Delanglez, who asserts that most uncorroborated statements by Cadillac are ipso facto false.3 However, rather than follow either of these methods of interpretation I should like to suggest another way in which to reconcile Cadillac’s statements with the actual facts. Is it not possible that he embroidered upon the truth with a clear cut purpose in mind? He seem to have well understood a truth about the French Ministry of Marine and acted on it. That truth was that what gained a man advancement was not what he did but what the clerks in the ministry thought he had done. Therefore, the moment he secured the right to correspond with the ministry, he “improved” the facts of the case to build up a legend about himself by virtue of which he became, successively, Governor of Michilimackinac, founder and Governor of Detroit, and Governor of Louisiana. This belief comes from searching out an unexplored segment of Cadillac’s life, the years 1687–1689, when he tried to found a seigneurie at Douaquet, at the head of Frenchman Bay, Maine, and then seized the opportunity of being the pilot of an unsuccessful naval attack on New York to make his fortune. The clever way he twisted the record of his doings to his advantage, the steady purpose behind his actions, the way that purpose was carried through throughout the rest of his time in America, all suggest a means of correcting for misstatements by Cadillac. All his actions seem means directed towards the double end of seeming to be a noble and of acquiring an estate.

    The starting point, therefore, for considering his career at Douaquet is not identifying that name with the Sorrento peninsula and Waukeag Neck, that being the Douaquet or Adowake of the Abenaki Indians.4 What is important about his attempt at settlement is not where he made it, but what part that attempt played in an over-all program of self-advancement. For, when the probable facts about Cadillac’s early life are laid alongside the unsubstantiated statements he made about his doings, a pattern emerges.

    These seem to be dependable facts about those years. Cadillac was the son of Jean Laumet, a local judge at St. Nicholas de Gave and a lawyer practising before the Parlement or regional supreme court at Toulouse. After spending some time on the Acadian coast, in 1687 he married Marie Therèse Guyon, the daughter of the armorer at Quebec, and niece of the privateersman, François Guyon. He then brought her back to Acadia, made plans for setting up on a large scale in that part of Acadia which is now eastern Maine, got embroiled in Acadian politics on the side of Royal Scrivener Matthieu Gouttins and against Governor de Menneval, and raised some capital by dividing his wife’s inheritance with her family. Then, in the spring of 1688 he tried to settle at the head of Frenchman Bay—just where seems uncertain though probably at either Waukeag or Sorrento—and was there found by Sir Edmund Andros, when Sir Edmund was trying to expel the French from eastern Maine and in the process was making a census of settlers between the Penobscot and the St. Croix. In consequence of Sir Edmund’s visit, Cadillac moved back to Port Royal and in 1689 threw his real and valuable energies into helping build a fort, winning the praise that “he was the only man who acted with good will in the king’s service in that country.” Then the man who so praised him, Captaine de la Caffinière, of the frigate Embuscade, took him on board as a pilot for a raid on New York, known to the French planners of it by the prophetic name of “the Manhattan Project.” This raid failed utterly, with the result that Cadillac wound up at La Rochelle dead broke, and therefore justified in writing to the Ministry of Marine for pay. Here was a precious opportunity for self-advertizement, which Cadillac took so effectively as to become the Ministry’s expert during “King Williams’s War” for operation plans on the New England coast, and so to set his foot on the ladder he was to climb to later success.5

    When Cadillac reported these same events, much fiction was added. At his marriage he called himself Antoine de Launay, son of Jean de Lamothe, judge of the Parlement of Toulouse and Lord of Cadillac, Launay and Lemontel. In 1694 he asserted he had so bravely defended Douaquet he deserved the title of Baron de Lamothe. In 1719, as a makeweight in genuine claims of loss at Detroit, he asserted large though undescribed losses at Douaquet as well. When in 1689, he wrote to the Ministry of Marine about his unusual abilities, he made provable false statements. He said he could speak not only French but English, Dutch, and “sauvage,” though to the end of his life he had to use interpreters when dealing with Indians. He said he was the only nobleman in Acadia and had been chosen to command an attack on New England when in fact, at the moment he wrote, a genuine nobleman in Acadia, the Baron de St. Castin, was leading such an attack.6 Why should a sensible man lie like this?

    The reason seems clear, once one remembers that only noblemen could hold high military office, and that a poor nobleman had no chance to rise. The lies Cadillac told were well designed to help on his career. When he asserted he was Antoine de Launay, the son of the Lord of Cadillac, Launay, and Lemontel, he made a bluff he was sure would not be called for a long time, indeed that was not called until he got back to France, in the 1720’s.7 As the son of a lawyer who had practised in the Toulouse Parlement he could easily pass himself off as the son of a justice. No one in Canada could cross question him searchingly enough to expose him. But, if he were the son of a justice, he belonged to the legal nobility, the noblesse de la robe, and as such would be eligible for the highest of commissions. Was not the commander against Frederick the Great the Marshal Belle-Isle, son of such a noble? Only one question could be asked of him, why was a man of such birth and prospects in Canada. But that question he had answered before it was asked. By calling himself De Launay, at the time of his marriage, that is by taking the name of his father’s imaginary second estate he proclaimed himself a second son. What would be more natural than for a second son to have had to leave the army for honorable reasons, perhaps debt, perhaps a duel, about which he had rather not talk, and to seek his fortune in Canada? At that moment, in Maine, there was such an ex-army officer son of a noble, Jean d’Abbadie son of the Baron de St. Castin8 and former Ensign in the regiment of Carignan-Salières, who has left his name on the town of Castine. If Cadillac murmured that he had been a cadet of Dampierre or of Clairambault,9 and obviously changed the subject, who would be so impolite as to press him further? Or if the selfstyled Antoine de Launay announced he had received a letter from France telling of the death of an elder brother and thereafter styled himself Cadillac, who would raise questions? Such a letter did come to Jean d’Abbadie, who thereafter correctly styled himself de St. Castin. Nor would it be surprising if the Sieur de Cadillac like the Baron de St. Castin, chose to stay in Canada rather than return to be a petty noble. One neat lie, closely stuck to, would give Cadillac a favored position for getting one of the few commissions the Governor of Canada could hand out. With the need of trained officers so great, nobody would write across the Atlantic to check up on an able man whose story and behaviour were plausible, and who appeared fully capable of doing jobs that needed being done.

    But a mere title of nobility was not enough. One had to have something to live on, especially when one was married and had a family. In the Canada of those days, the way to wealth was the development of a seigneurie. But it was slow and boring work, developing an agricultural estate. The way to get ahead quickly was to combine war and the fur trade. By such a combination, in 1700, Charles Le Moyne got himself made Baron de Longeuil, thus founding a peerage that to this day is accepted in the British Empire, the present Baron de Longeuil, indeed, being related to the royal family through a connection by marriage with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.10 Why should not Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac advance by that route?

    That would leave one question, where to get a seigneurie where fur and war could be found. Acadia offered opportunities. Its politics offered a chance to play both ends against the middle. Its seigneuries were little controlled, until 1699,11 when a series of investigating commissions tried to enforce regulations. There were no Jesuits, as at Michilimackinac, to report independently against one; there was no fur trade monopoly. Furthermore Cadillac may have known Acadia well. He said he did, and wrote an able memoir on its waters, of which copies numbered 76 and 78 are still on file in Paris.12 It has been conjectured that Cadillac served with his uncle-in-law, François Guyon, the idea apparently originating with Clarence M. Burton and being copied without acknowledgement so often as to gain credence.13 As for war, New England was close by.

    Acadia, in 1688, in the eyes of the French, extended as far west as Thomaston, Maine. It was a region believed to be wealthy, on good evidence, from its fur trade, for which, for more than half a century, French, Scotch, English and Dutch had struggled. During the 1630’s and 1640’s the Latours and De Launay had fought a feudal war in the course of which the Latours had fortified their claims by accepting Scotch baronetcies of Nova Scotia. After Cromwell’s armies had been disbanded, Colonel Sir William Temple had taken the Acadian fur monopoly in lieu of a pension and done well by it. In 1672, Jean Talon, the real founder of French Canada, had considered Acadia so important as to plant seigneuries on its border even before he planted them near Montreal. In 1676 the semipiratical Dutch West India Company had taken over Acadia as booty from the Penobscot to Canso and had made a good thing out of it till forced to disgorge when peace was signed. After the Dutch had gone—here was where Cadillac’s chance came—a series of adventurers had settled in the present eastern Maine, from Thomaston to Quoddy, taking title from grants of seigneuries made in Quebec. By 1705 there were seven such seigneuries, all at points of transshipment of furs from canoe to sailing vessel: Grandchamp at the present Thomaston; Hauteville at Naskeag; Douaquet in Frenchman Bay; Thibeaudeau near Cherryfield; Magesse at Machias; St. Aubin at Passamaquoddy; and Descoudet inside Quoddy Bay. Two of these, Hauteville and Thibeaudeau, were paper grants, apparently never occupied. The Siegneur of Hauteville appears again in Quebec jail; sly old Pierre Thibeaudeau preferred to live profitably at the head of Minas Basin on another man’s land. But the other grants made money. The Lefebvres of Grandchamp, though evicted by Captain Church in 1703, as late as 1725 were hoping to go back to their seigneurie and did fealty for it. Martel and Dubreuil of Magesse came to blows often with the St. Aubins of Passamaquoddy over the profitable seal rookery on Machias Seal Island. Michel Chartier of Descoudet was rich enough to give his wife silk stockings for Yankee plunderers to carry off. In later years other proofs of such wealth appeared, when Yankee farmers and railway builders dug up coin hoards.14 Here was a chance to build up wealth, on the very frontier.

    What more natural to assume that Cadillac saw the opportunities of this “forest feudalism” when he came to Acadia, and that if he had lived at Douaquet he would have lived as did the other seigneurs? The phrase “forest feudalism” has been used here because these seigneuries were so different from the usual agricultural seigneuries of Canada proper. Censuses of Acadia show in these seigneuries no sawmills and gristmills such as were supposed to be built, no small but steadily growing population of “habitants” settled on the land, no priest and church. Instead they list small arsenals for defense, a few occasional white, unmarried servants to act as garrison, and a small but steadily growing population of resident Indians, come presumably and in some records avowedly, to trade. The most one finds of farming is a tiny vegetable garden. Nor are the sites of the seigneuries chosen for agricultural reasons. They are at the mouths of rivers, where Indian canoes can transship furs to seagoing vessels. Note the parallel to Detroit, in the days when Cadillac was its first governor. Vegetable gardens, an attempt at seignorial grants of land through the governor and not direct from the King, fur trade all in Cadillac’s hands, a growing Indian center, the parallel to Acadia is close. Even more so is the parallel to Douaquet, even to the point that at both places Cadillac tried to raise his near nobility of a seigneur to true nobility, at Douaquet to a barony, at Detroit to a marquisate. The parallel is so close to make one wonder what was in the letter Matthieu Gouttins wrote about the plans of the Sieur de Cadillac, 2 September 1689.15 Perhaps this in words foreshadowed the settlement of Detroit on the principles of feudal free enterprise, as Cadillac’s actions certainly did. Certainly, when Cadillac’s career is looked at in this light, a good measure of consistency appears where it had been absent. Given the aims of a noble title and wealth in the fur trade, Cadillac’s careful warping of his official record becomes explicable.