French explorer and soldier Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac originally built Fort Detroit in 1701, naming it Fort Pontchartrain. The French hoped to use the fort to build alliances with the Native Americans living in the Ohio valley in order to protect their interests in the region from British encroachment. The fort was built along the Detroit River at the gateway between Lake Erie and the western Great Lakes. It consisted of a small town surrounded by a stockade wall. Fort Detroit soon became a center of the fur trade between the French and local Indians.
The French surrendered the fort to the British in 1760 as a result of the French and Indian War. At this point the British named it Fort Detroit. The British reinforced the defenses around Detroit, making it even stronger. Native Americans attacked Fort Detroit during Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763, but they were not able to overcome its strong fortifications in spite of a five-month siege.
During the American Revolution, the British used Fort Detroit as a base to plan and launch Native American raids into the Ohio Country. Henry Hamilton, a man known for his policy of paying Native American allies for American scalps, was the fort's commander during the Revolution. In spite of the Treaty of Paris (1783), the British continued to occupy Fort Detroit even after the end of the war and encouraged growing tensions between the natives and American settlers.
The Americans eventually took over the fort in 1796. While Fort Detroit was under the control of General William Hull, the British briefly captured it once again during the War of 1812. Today, the modern city of Detroit, Michigan, is located where the fort once stood.
- Foster, James. The Capitulation, or, A History of the Expedition Conducted by William Hull, Brigadier-General of the Northwestern Army by an Ohio Volunteer. Chillicothe, OH: James Barnes, 1812.
- Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.