Fort Detroit

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Fort Detroit (1701-1826) - Established 23 Jul 1701 as Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac as a French fort and trading post, later renamed as Fort Detroit. Also known as Fort Lernoult and Fort Shelby (1). The fort was rebuilt, enlarged, relocated and renamed several times. The generic name Fort Detroit or just Detroit was popularly ascribed to all the incarnations especially by people outside the immediate area. The final site was given to the City of Detroit in 1826 and destroyed in 1827.

Plan of Fort Detroit 1763
Location of Fort Lernoult/Shelby Overlaid on Current Streets

Early History

Built by the French officer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac in 1701 to prevent the British from moving west and to monopolize the fur trade in the region. Originally constructed as a 200' square palisade with 12' walls and towers at each corner.

In April 1712, a force of about 1,000 Fox, Sac and Mascouten Indians besieged the French garrison at Fort Detroit. The attacking Indians were then caught between the French in the fort and their Indian allies outside the fort. The attacking Indians fled to present day Windmill Point, where they surrendered and were massacred in what is known as the Fox Indian Massacre. This incident signaled the beginning of the first Fox Indian War (1712-1716). In 1716, Fox Chief Pemaussa was captured, ending the war.

French & Indian War (1754-1763)

Fort Ponchartrain remained in French hands through most of the French & Indian War until it was occupied by the British on 29 Nov 1760. The fort was then renamed Fort Detroit by the new British garrison. Fort Detroit became the last major French fort to fall as the British gained control of North America. The 1763 Treaty of Paris ended the war, confirmed British control and defined the boundaries.

Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

In 1778, British Captain Richard B. Lernoult constructed a new fort a few hundred yards to the north of the original. It was named Fort Lernoult on 3 October 1779 and was later renamed Fort Detroit in 1805. It is thought that only Fort Lernoult survived the 1805 fire which destroyed Detroit, and that no parts of the original Fort Detroit remained after this time.

During the American Revolutionary War the fort was used by the British to arm and support Indian raiding parties who attacked American settlements well down into what is now Kentucky. Prisoners captured by these raiding parties were often march long distances under terrible condition to reach Fort Detroit. This practice continued until well after the end of the revolution and it was not until 1783 that all prisoners were released from Fort Detroit.

Soloman Litton and his family were captured by British Captain Henry Byrd and his Indian allies at John Martin's Station near Paris, Kentucky, on 26 Jun 1870 and marched 300 miles to Fort Detroit. Soloman was separated from his family, sold as a slave to an Indian named Big Fish and kept at Shawnee Town near Fort Detroit. The Litton family were all released from Fort Detroit on 18 Jul 1783 by order of British General Haldermand. The family then walked back to southern Virginia by way of New York City.

The 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War but did not completely settle the boundary issues between Britain and the United States. The 1793 Jay Treaty settled the remaining issues and the fort and the surrounding settlement were surrendered to the Americans on 11 Jul 1796, 13 years after the Treaty of Paris ended the war.

War of 1812 (1812-1814)

The fort was surrendered to the British during the War of 1812 on 15 Aug 1812 and it remained in British hands until recaptured by American forces on 29 Sep 1813. Fort Lernoult was then renamed Fort Shelby (1) after Governor Isaac Shelby of Kentucky who had assisted in the recapture. This fort was given to the City of Detroit in 1826 and dismantled in 1827.

In 1840 another perceived threat from the British in Canada caused the United States to establish a line of forts at strategic points along the Great Lakes. The old Fort Detroit was not suitable for this role and Fort Wayne (2) was constructed as one of Northern Frontier Forts.

Current Status

Destroyed, sites are a part of downtown Detroit.

Old Fort Detroit: south of Jefferson St. between Griswold St. and Shelby St.
Fort Lernoult/Fort Shelby: intersection of Fort St. and Shelby St.

Maps & Images

Lat: 42.330124 Long: -83.048766

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 600'



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