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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Protesting Trade Policy, 18th c.-style


The mass demonstrations greeting President Bush today in Argentina are nothing compared to the violence with which Wisconsin residents sometimes greeted French and English officials 250 or 300 years ago. When the French dictated fur-trade terms to the Wisconsin tribes at the end of the 17th century, the Fox Indians settled in the valley still named for them and attempted to demand tribute from everyone who passed. In 1712 many of them moved to Detroit to be closer to the center of both French and English trade, and perhaps play the two European powers off against each other.

The French would have none of it and, as described in this report, relations between the two quickly deteriorated into violence. The Fox and their allies the Mascouten were soon in open warfare with the small French garrison outside Detroit, and only a strategic alliance with other tribes allowed the besieged French to emerge victorious.

Fifty years later the English had defeated the French and taken possession of trading posts and forts throughout Canada, including those in Wisconsin. Lt. James Gorrell was sent out to Green Bay in 1761 with a small garrison of British soldiers to occupy Fort La Baye. His journal of that assignment, given here in our Turning Points collection, is the earliest English account of Wisconsin.

The Native American nations of the interior did not approve of English trade policies any more than they had the French ones. Two years later, in 1763, Pontiac successfully organized the western tribes against the British, captured Fort Mackinaw in a brilliant sneak attack, and laid siege to Detroit. Surrounded by Indian opponents, Gorrell was forced to evacuate all the way back to Montreal, and Wisconsin saw no more English-speaking residents for another half-century.
:: Posted in Curiosities on November 4, 2005

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