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posts at Fort St. Joseph or Detroit? What was the early history of the French in Three Rivers ?
In the spring of 1675, Father Marquette,17 on his return from the Illinois, passed up the east coast of Lake Michigan on his way to Michillimackinac. It is possible, that he entered the St. Joseph River, but if so, he could not have explored it far, for he was then a dying man, and did die near Ludington, 18 before he reached his destination.
It is also quite possible that French traders may have visited this region before that date; but no record has been preserved to tell us of their coming. The first record of the French on the St. Joseph is given in the account of the trip of La Salle by way of the St. Joseph and Kankakee rivers to Illinois in 1679.19 He reached the St. Joseph in August, 1679, built a trading post with palisades on the site of the present city of St. Joseph and called it Fort Miami, because he found the Miami Indians near there. He sounded and buoyed the channel for some distance up the stream. A few of his men remained at Fort Miami that winter, while he went on with the most of them to the Illinois. It is probable that some explorations of the St. Joseph, were made during the winter by La Salle's men who were left at Fort Miami. In March, 1680, La Salle came back to Fort Miami, went from there to Lake Erie on foot, through southern Michigan with a few of his followers. He crossed the river on a raft on March twenty-fifth, then went through thick woods, which tore their clothing. On the twenty-eighth, they found the woods more open, meeting a good deal of game, so that they no longer needed to carry their provisions with them. On the evening of the twenty-eighth, they made a fire on the edge of the prairie. This description of the journey and country on the twenty-eighth of March tallies very well with the country a short distance north of Three Rivers. When they left Fort Miami, they crossed to the north side of the river. After two days and a half in thick woods, they came to more open woods, (the oak openings of our country north of the St. Joseph). Game became more plentiful, and the evening of the twenty-eighth, they camped on a small prairie, suggestive of Prairie Ronde and the territory in northern St. Joseph and southern Kalamazoo counties. He returned in the autumn of 1680 and spent the winter of 1680 and 1681 at Fort Miami.20 La Salle was a man of action and a merchant as well as an explorer. Hence it is inconceivable that knowing of the rich fur region north of the St. Joseph from his spring trip, that he should have remained at St. Joseph several months without returning to the region about Three Rivers or sending men there.
17 Reuben Gold Thwaites-Father Marquette. 18 See Mich. Pion, and Hist. Colls. Vol. XXVIII, p. 408. 1°Francis Parkman-La Salle. Francis Parkman-La Salle. Page 179.
The Jesuit Father Allouez who had the Miamis and Potawatamies at Green Bay in his mission there,21 and who had a way of following up his converts and also following La Salle came to his Miamis on the St. Joseph in 1679. He labored among the Indians there until his death which is said to have occurred at Fort St. Josephs in 1690.22
At the time of La Salle's overland trip across Michigan, the region about the St. Joe was debatable ground claimed by several warring tribes. Shortly before this the Potawatamies had been driven out of the country and they and the Miamis had clustered about Green Bay. The Miamis had returned to the lower St. Joseph in 1679, and La Salle found a large village of them at the portage at South Bend in 1681.23 The Potawatamies with a few Sacs returned to the St. Joseph about 1708 to 1711.24 Not far from that date the Miamis moved to the Maumee and Miami rivers leaving the Potawatamies along the St. Joe.
Fort Miami was destroyed in July, 1680, by some of La Salle's disaffected followers, but was restored the same year by his men under La Forest.2 Fort St. Joseph's was built not long afterward, about 1690, near Niles, Michigan.26 This fort, Charlevoix described in 1721,27 with a village of Miami Indians on the east side of the river and a village of Potawatamies on the west side of the river.28 Fort St. Joseph's was occupied, as a military post, until its capture in the Pontiac con. spiracy in 1763.29 The attendant coming and going, travel and relations with the Indians, and trade through its trading post continued until the destruction of the fort by the Spaniards of St. Louis during the Revolution. In the meantime, it successively passed into the hands of the British at the close of the French and Indian war in 1759, into the hands of the Potawatamies after the conspiracy of Pontiac in
21Francis Parkman's—La Salle. Page 34. “The Potawatamies and Winnebagoes were near the borders of the bay.” “The Miamis on the same river above Lake Winnebago." "The Miamis soon removed to the banks of the river St. Joseph, near Lake Michigan."
22 Judge Orville W. Coolidge; History of Berrien County.—"According to tradition Father Allouez died at this mission (St. Josephs) in 1690.”
23Bartlett and Lyon-La Salle and the valley of the St. Joseph. "It does, indeed seem not unlikely that Allouez, who was with the Miami Indians in 1672, should have followed them from their Wisconsin home when they emigrated to this valley." "He was certainly here at a later date, devoting the closing years of his life to the work of the mission on the St. Joseph where he died in 1690.”
24 Parkman's—La Salle. Page 267. Mich. Pion. and Hist. Colls. Vol. XXX. Memorandum of Marquis de Vaudreuil. Date 10th March 1711. “Potawatamies and other savages settled on the St. Joseph River.”
25Parkman's—La Salle. Page 185.
26 Mich. Pion. and Hist. Colls., Vol. XXVIII, page 179. L. H. Beeson-Fort St. Joseph.
27 Judge Orville W. Coolidge-Berrien County History. “Both (Miamis and Potawatamies) are for the greater part Christians, but have been a long time without pastors." Quotation from letter of Charlevoix, date 1721.
28In 1712, Father Marest, says: "The mission at St. Joseph among the Potawatamies is in a flourishing condition second only to Michillimackinac.”
2oParkman. The Pontiac conspiracy. Vol. I, page 273. Mich. Pion. and Hist. Colls. Vol. XXX, page 556, Cadillac Papers.
1763, back to the British two years later. Post St. Joseph remained, under these various administrations, the distributing point of Indian merchandise for the St. Joseph River and was under the management of the post at Michillimackinac and so remained until the evacuation of this country by the British, although Cadillac, shortly after founding Detroit in 1701, invited the Potawatamies to settle around Detroit. Friendly relations and trade continued between the Potawatamies of the St. Joseph River and the post at Detroit until, in the time of Commandant Sinclair of Mackinac, it became a subject of complaint to Governor Haldimand at Quebec, that the trade with Detroit was an encroachment upon the grants of privilege to Mackinac. Major De Peyster, Sinclair's predecessor at Mackinac, had been transferred to Detroit, and in reply to the complaint of Sinclair, wrote an explanatory and apologetic letter to Haldimand, stating that the Potawatamies of the St. Joseph came to Detroit, because it was nearer, and because they had known him before at Michillimackinac.30 In 1762, the post at St. Joseph was paying an annual rental to Michillimackinac for the privilege of trading, of 3,000 livres or about $600.31
Much of the trade of St. Joseph River and Fort St. Joseph from 1745 to 1780 passed through the management of Louis Chevalier, merchant at St. Joseph's and Indian agent of the commandants at Michillimackinac. No one knew better the Potawatamies of the St. Joseph River nor has left a clearer picture of the Indians of that time than did this French gentleman, who served under two kings, and two flags, the French and the English, and who lived there almost up to the time of Spain's32 capture of the fort and American possession of this soil. In 1780, he was ordered, by Lieutenant Governor Sinclair to leave the post at St. Joseph and proceed with the inhabitants of St. Joseph to Michillimackinac.33
About that time, (1780) or possibly a little before, a new trader and merchant came to the mouth of the St. Joseph, now the city of St. Joseph and controlled much of the trade of the St. Joseph River. This was William Burnett3t of New Jersey, an American. Burnett, also, was obliged to pay tribute to Mackinac, until the victories of the Revolution gave him courage to disregard their authority. About the time Burnett settled at the mouth of the river, Joseph Bertrand35 and one Le Clare, Frenchmen, came to Bertrand near Niles. It is thought,
30 Mich. Pion. and Hist. Coll., Vol. IX.
3.See Mich. Pion, and Hist. Colls., Vol. XXVIII, p. 184 and Vol. V, p. 550 this series.
23 Mich. Pion. and Hist, Colls., Vol. X.
34Judge Orville W. Coolidge-Berrien County History, also Mich. Pion. and Hist. Colls., Vol. XXX, p. 85. William Burnett by Edward S. Kelley.
**Joseph Bertrand founded the village of Bertrand, now extinct. See Vol. XXVIII, p. 128 this series.