As with most Native American tribes, the Potawatomi have several sub-nations, known as “bands.”
In the 1700s, three groups of Potawatomi were based primarily on the location:
- The “Detroit Potawatomi” of southeast Michigan
- The “Prairie Potawatomi” of northern Illinois
- The “Saint Joseph Potawatomi” of southwest Michigan
The Iroquois were losing control of their conquered territory by the time Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac was preparing to establish Fort Pontchartrain at Detroit. They were among forty tribes negotiating the “Great Peace of Montreal” when Cadillac landed on July 24, 1701. Even though Detroit was founded for military and economic reasons, it also had a more overarching Utopian goal, which was, as Cadillac wrote, to “bring the tribes together.” Optimistically, he compelled every tribe he could to join the settlement, but the results were not always favorable. There was a notable amount of fighting between several tribes; primarily the Fox, Kickapoo, Mascouten, Wyandot (Huron), Ottawa, and “Loup” (probably Oppenago).
The Potawatomi stayed away from the Fort the first decade of its existence to allow the fighting to subside, eventually arriving at Detroit between 1712-1714. They temporarily settled between the Wyandot (Huron) and French forts. The Potawatomi gradually moved downstream as safety and stability increased, establishing their permanent settlement on the site of the old Fox village (the current Ambassador Bridge site) at some point before 1732.
Life at the fort consisted in raising various crops and trading with the French throughout the summer months; during the winters, the majority (if not all) of the villages would empty out and the individual tribes would camp and hunt in the forests of Ohio and Michigan.
While the French population of Detroit expanded to 270 within the first ten years, the Native American population more than quadrupled that. By 1736, there were 580 Native American warriors at Detroit, which implies a total population (including women and children) of approximately 2,000.
The Potawatomi originally lived in single-family wigwams; in contrast, the Wyandot, an Iroquoian people, constructed longhouses. By the 1730s, the Potawatomi appeared to have seen the value in the multi-family longhouse for their villages in Detroit, as evidenced by this map drawn by Commandant Henri-Louis Deschamps de Boishébert in 1732.
It is interesting to note that Chaussegros de Léry’s 1749 map of the Detroit River also shows some Potawatomi dwellings at the mouth of the Ecorse River.
“Indian Villages, Reservations, and Removal.” Detroit Urbanism: Uncovering the History of Our Roads, Borders, and Built Environment, Paul Sewick, 7 Mar. 2016, detroiturbanism.blogspot.com/2016/03/indian-villages-reservations-and-removal.html.
Potawatomi. (2018, October 25). New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14:38, April 23, 2019, from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Potawatomi&oldid=1015500
United States, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs Branch of Acknowledgement and Research, et al. “Summary Under the Criteria and Evidence for Proposed Finding Huron Potawatomi, Inc.” HPI-V001-D004, https://www.bia.gov/sites/bia.gov/files/assets/as-ia/ofa/petition/009_hurpot_MI/009_pf.pdf.
De Boishébert, Henri Louis Deschamps. “Village of the Wilds Poutouatamis in the Strait Erie // 1732; Profile and Elevation // From a Hut: [Drawing].” National Library of France, Department Prints and Photography, EST VD-20 (B, 1), Public Domain, 1732. Potowatomies (Indians) – Dwellings (18th Century) Indians – Dwellings (18th Century), http://nouvelle-france.org/eng/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=40553&. Note: Text message next to the hut: “Each hut has three and four lights and two and three families each fire”