Map of the Village of the Ottawa “Savages,” at the Erie Strait, 1732


Detroit was founded in 1701 by a French trader, Antoine Laumet de Lamothe Cadillac, who built a fort on the Detroit River and named it Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit in honor of Louis Phélypeaux, Comte de Pontchartrain, the French navy minister. The British later shortened the name to Detroit (“strait”). Fort Pontchartrain was located near three Indian villages, one of which was the Ottawa village depicted here. The map shows the grid-like pattern in which communal houses known as wigwams were arranged. At the top of the map two houses are drawn in profile, and a note reads: “three and four fires in each hut and two and three families at each fire.” Scale on the map is given in toises, an old French unit of measurement; one toise equals about 1.95 meters. When the Europeans first arrived in North America, the Ottawa (from a native word meaning to “trade,” also seen as Odawa) lived along the Ottawa River in eastern Ontario and western Quebec. Samuel de Champlain recorded meeting them already in 1615. They later moved into parts of what are today Ohio and Michigan. The Ottawa played an important role in the fur trade with the French. They were generally allied with the Hurons and enemies of the Iroquois. In choosing the word “des sauvages” to denote the people of North America, Champlain did not mean “savages,” but “forest dwellers” (from the Latin silva).

Last updated: November 4, 2015