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De Langlade Fur Trade Pouch

Quilled buckskin pouch used by Charles
de Langlade to carry his fur trade papers
in northern Wisconsin, mid to late 1700s.

(Museum object #1955.186)

This pouch, presented to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1888 by Charles de Langlade Grignon, represents the union of French fur traders and indigenous peoples, specifically the Ottawa Indians, sometimes referred to as "Wisconsin Creoles." Grignon's great-grandfather, Charles de Langlade, the son of a French father and Ottawa mother, used this pouch to carry his fur-trade papers when he conducted business near La Baye (now known as Green Bay, Wisconsin) and elsewhere in the Great Lakes region during the mid to late 1700s. The pouch itself is made of buckskin embroidered with porcupine quills. At the time of donation Grignon told the Society that the pouch was "said to have been made by one of [de Langlade's] Pawnee slaves."

The demand for furs in European and expanding eastern American markets fueled the relationship between Indians and European traders. During the 18th century, Indians still vastly outnumbered Europeans in the "Up Country," or Great Lakes territories. European dependence on, and cooperation with, Native peoples was essential for the traders' success. Samuel Champlain, the first European to have contact with the Ottawa reportedly stated, "Our young men will marry your daughters, and we shall be one people."

This relationship of mutual self-interest endured for almost two centuries. The French obtained valuable furs from the Ottawa and other Great Lakes tribes, who in turn received desirable trade goods from the French. The French fur traders' relationship with the Great Lakes Indians was part of a significant period in the history of Wisconsin. The demand for furs, especially beaver, intensified inter-tribal conflict by creating competition for the right and access to trade with the French for European goods. Unfortunately, the competition for this fur trade was responsible for more than seventy years of inter-tribal warfare, known as the Beaver Wars (1630-1700). During this period each tribe vied for control of the trade, willing to kill one another to achieve it.

The de Langlade family is considered the first of European origin to settle permanently in what would become the State of Wisconsin. Charles Michel de Langlade, baptized on May 9, 1729, at the fur-trading post at Michillimakinac, was the second child of Augustin de Langlade, a Frenchman, and Domitille LaFourche, the sister of the Ottawa chief Nis-so-wa-quet (known to the French simply as La Fourche, or "the Fork"). Charles was the great grandson of Pierre Mouet de Moras, who served as one of the first French soldiers in America as an ensign in the Carignan Regiment. Mouet de Moras originated from Castel Sarrasin in Basse Guyenne, France. Charles's father, Augustin, dropped the Mouet de Moras from his name and went only by Langlade. Charles added the "de" to his name after he had earned honors in combat.

Sometime around 1750, Charles de Langlade married an Ottawa woman named Agathe. This union resulted in the birth of a son, but four years later de Langlade left Agathe and married Charlotte Ambroisine Bourassa, the daughter of a successful and well known fur trader, Rene Bourassa. It is quite possible that de Langlade left his Ottawa wife and married Bourassa at least in part to increase his prominence amongst established French traders in the region.

De Langlade is believed to have served in more than ninety-nine battles over the course of his life, fighting for both the French and British. In 1755, near the beginning of the French and Indian War, de Langlade led a group of warriors to Fort Duquesne (now downtown Pittsburg, Pennsylvania) and was credited with a major role in British General Edward Braddock's defeat there. De Langlade was also friends with the renowned Ottawa Chief Pontiac, who is most well known for his resistance to British occupation, known as "Pontiac's Rebellion" (1763).

After the French defeat in 1763, de Langlade changed alliances to become a British subject. During the American Revolution, he fought on the British side and, after the British surrender in 1781, he returned to a life of fur trading. Throughout his life, de Langlade played multiple roles as French fur trader, Indian agent, military officer, and as a member of the Ottawa nation. His wide-ranging exploits eventually earned him the title "Father of Wisconsin." At the time of his death in 1802, he was buried in La Baye Cemetery (now Green Bay, Wisconsin). However, it is believed his remains were removed and reburied in an unmarked grave in Allouez Cemetery in Brown County. De Langlade's namesake survives as one of Wisconsin's northeastern counties and various buildings and institutions.

Many histories of this region are based on the autobiography of Augustin Grignon, grandson of Charles de Langlade, entitled "Seventy-two Years' Recollections of Wisconsin." Grignon operated a trading post at Kaukauna for most of his life.

Sources: Anderson, Jo Bartels and Kate Alderson Rennert. Wisconsin's Early French Habitants (1998); Rentmeester, Les and Jeanne Rentmeester. The Wisconsin Creoles (1987); Zipperer, Sandra J. "Sieur Charles Michel de Langlade," Voyageur, Historical Review of Brown County and Northeast Wisconsin, Winter/Spring, 1999; Ottawa History available online at www.tolatsga.org/otta.html; Grignon, Augustin. "Seventy-two Years' Recollections of Wisconsin." Wisconsin Historical Collections (Madison, WI.: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1857), vol. 3: 195-295, online facsimile available at www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/.]

EBG


Posted on April 10, 2008

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