ANN ARBOR, MI – Long before Detroit’s dominance in 20th century American manufacturing, it was a small French fort north of the River Rouge built in the 1700s.
After the The Seven Years’ War in 1761, the fort transferred to British imperial rule. This necessitated a new survey of the area and a subsequent new drawing of the map of “Fort De Troit.”
That map, which is now 260 years old, is now in the possession of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.
The library purchased the long-sought-after “Plan of the Fort at De Troit” for $42,500 this month, according to a university news release. This becomes the oldest part of the library’s collection of Detroit history, which has documented the city’s growth from its 18th-century fort days to the largest city in Michigan today.
The purchase exhausted much of the library’s acquisitions budget, according to Angela Oonk, director of library development. To help cover the large purchase, the library launched a crowdfunding campaign to offset the cost, about half of which will already be covered by multiple donors.
“Through crowdfunding, we hope anyone in the world passionate about the history of Detroit and the Great Lakes can have a hand in supporting this exciting acquisition,” Oonk said.
The link to donate is here. A video describing the significance of the map is featured below.
Permission to use video provided by William L. Clements Library at University of Michigan.
The map was drawn by a British surveyor named William Brasier in 1761 on commission for General Jeffrey Amherst, said Brian Dunnigan, a former curator for the library and an expert in Great Lakes history. The map depicts a tumultuous time in Detroit’s early history, as it transferred into British hands from France and soon after faced attack from native populations, he said.
“This map was drawn just months after Detroit was ceded from New France to Great Britain and depicts the fort that was later attacked by Pontiac and his warriors during the summer of 1763,” Dunnigan said.
Dunnigan discovered the existence of the map when putting together his book “Frontier Metropolis: Picturing Early Detroit.” By the time of publication, he had to label the map’s whereabouts as unknown.
It was just recently put on public sale, said Clements Library Director Paul Erickson, who decided the cost was worth it for the library’s collection.
“This map is unique, one-of-a-kind,” he said in a statement. “Manuscript materials of any kind from before the Revolutionary War are rare. Items like this map, that can help bring researchers back to a specific time and place, are exceptionally so, and they’re priced accordingly.”
The details in Brasier’s map includes street names, locations of gunpowder magazines, property lots within the fort and the commanding officer’s extensive garden, said Mary Pedley, adjunct assistant curator of maps.
“Most striking, however, is the inclusion of a small view of the fort from the west,” she said. “This image of the fort sited on a gentle rise of land overlooking the river vividly captures what the British saw when they approached the fort for the first time to accept the French surrender and to begin negotiations with residents of the Ottawa (Odawa), Potawatomi, Ojibwa and Huron (Wendot) villages located around the fort.”
In addition to the 1761 map, the library has manuscripts of Detroit’s history from before, during and after the Revolutionary War. This includes descriptions of the town by British Gen. Thomas Gage through the early 1800s, written plans for the town through 1900 and other works by Amherst and Brasier.
The most recent acquisition and preservation of the 1761 map demonstrates the mission of the Clements Library, Erickson said, which has always appreciated public support to help bolster collections.
“This support is more important than ever as we continue to build holdings that will make U-M a worldwide destination for research in early American history and culture,” he said.
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