Posts Tagged ‘New France’

My Kind of Town

Posted in General, On This Day on August 12th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

On this day in 1833,  200 zany optimists started a settlement on land mocked by the Indians,  shunned by the French and jinxed by the U.S. government.  If you looked on the map, you’d see the geographic hub of the Midwest, where the Great Lakes and the great rivers converge.  But if you had actually looked at the land, you would have seen a swamp.   The  Potawatomi tribe certainly did not entice realtors by naming the miasma “Wild Onions”: Checagou. 

Even if the Indians were too fastidious for Checagou, you wouldn’t think that the French would be.  New Orleans was built on a sandbar.   Vicennes, Indiana was founded for its strategic control of the Wabash River.  But a Fleur-de-Lys where the Rive Des Plaines meets Lac de Michigan?  The French had their chance. In 1673, their explorers landed on those shores, and ignored them. 

Between us, I blame Pere Jacques Marquette.  The man was Jesuit, and the local Indians probably just did not meet his standards.  A Franciscan would have been eager for converts:  “Jesus and I love you, but the armed contingent with me probably doesn’t.  So a little baptism might be prudent.”  And a Dominican would have insisted on a settlement, if only for the fun of using the Indians as slave labor.  But a Jesuit would have presented the Potawatomi a 15-page questionnaire, with the essays to be answered in Latin, and concluding  “I’ll let you know if we are interested.”  (Of course, most tribes could not pass; but if the Priest infected them with small pox, they received a complimentary conversion.) 

So someplace else was named for St. Louis.  As of 1763, the Potawatomi swamp became part of the British Empire, and it remained just as desolate.   The British could not colonize Illinois when they were preoccupied trying to civilize Massachusetts.  So the strategic miasma would not be named for a British cabinet member or one of his racehorses.  Finally in 1803, someone finally realized the value of this real estate. So, on behalf of Thomas Jefferson, let me introduce you to Fort Dearborn, Illinois.  The renown of Henry Dearborn, the Secretary of War, has not lasted; neither did the fort.   The Potawatomi did not appreciate it, and the result is known as the Fort Dearborn massacre.  In the War of 1812, it was one of the few battles that actually occurred that year.

Yet, the settlers kept coming, undeterred by the swamp but with a healthy superstition about the name Dearborn. Having taken the land from the Potawatomi, they took the local name, too.  Within four years of the town’s founding, the community had grown to 4,000.  Checagou now qualified as a city, however tenuously built over a swamp.  In its corporate charter, the city assumed a more dignified spelling:  Chicago.  

How many major cities are named for a vegetable?

How France Lost Canada

Posted in General on October 18th, 2006 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

I know how eager you are to learn more details about the Huguenots and French colonial policies. How can I refuse you….

Protestants were prohibited in the French colonies. In fact, it seems that no one was allowed in New France. France and England began colonizing North America at the same time, in the early 1600s. One hundred fifty years later, at the start of the French & Indian War, New France encompassed most of Canada, from the Atlantic to west of Lake Superior, as well as the Ohio Valley and the Mississippi Valley down to the Gulf of Mexico. The total population was approximately 100,000. By contrast the British colonies, wedged between the Atlantic and Appalachian Mountains, had a population of 2.5 million.

Britain had allowed anyone to migrate: paupers, minor criminals, superfluous sons and religious loonies. By contrast, France had a suffocatingly restrictive immigration policy. No one could just book a ticket to Quebec or New Orleans. The royal adminstrators had to approve of each and every applicant. If Quebec did not need an extra baker that year–or decade– that baker was staying in France. There was a shortage of women in the French colonies, and few female applicants. To alleviate this situation, the French government did ship arrested prostitutes to New France.

The sparse population of New France was a strategic disadvantage against the teeming populace of the British colonies. However, it did make many of the native American tribes more inclined to ally with France. Consider the tribes’ choice: put yourself in their place. On one side, there are 2.5 million British colonists who want to steal your land and kill you. On the other side, there are 100,000 French who only complain about your eating buffalo with white wine.