Detroit Swag-o-mania

A silhouetted bronze sculpture of Poseidon frames the illuminated main entrance to the Detroit Institute of Arts during Detroit's annual Delectricity festival of lights. Stretching along Woodward Avenue through the heart of Detroit's Cultural Center the celebration is a growing and popular two-night event.

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  1. #1

    Default Echoes of Change in Detroit from 1823

    I came across the following colorful description of 1823 Detroit while researching its writer Orlando Willcox, a native Detroiter who along with Alpheus Williams was the most illustrious Detroit General in the Civil War.

    I found it amusing how it echoed complaints of the so-called 'hipsters' coming into Detroit today that have arisen on this forum a few times. Instead of hipsters it was the 'Bostonians' a catch-all for the stern easterner arrivistes who contrasted with the fun-loving French inhabitants.

    I thought the following extended quote captured both the flavor of Detroit and the anxieties of change. To me history does not repeat, but human nature does.

    Turn towards the river. See a long pirogue, or more ample Mackinaw boat - perhaps a little fleet of them in a single line, manned by voyajeeurs, or courreurs de bois, and loaded with packs of peltries. The oarsmen have fitted out at Mackinaw, to appear in style at Detroit ... Each garcon has a sash around his waist, and pulls a red oar. They keep perfect time - and it is joyous quick time - with the notes of a French song which was chanted in France a century ago.

    No music could be more lively or inspiring. It comes over the water - is accompanied by the splash of oars. It is roared out with the utmost spirit, too, by that most glorious of all instruments, the human voice... It greets the steeples of St. Ann! The children run out of the houses, down to the river shore, to hear it; the maiden turns pale, and blushes, and hurries to the door; the old man hobbles out and waves his hat...

    Ah! that was a happy time for everybody. Our little community was not yet divided on the question of Bibles in schools, or wine on the side-boards. Slavery was little talked of, and as for disunion - the mere word was considered, by the veriest Kenuck, as a profanation of human language.

    But as settlers from New England began to thicken among us - Bostonians they were indiscriminately denominated - it gradually came to light that our lively little community were scarce a grain better than the wicked, nay than the very heathen; witness the fiddling and dancing on Sunday evenings (and pleasant Sunday evenings they were deemed by us, in our dreadful ignorance), wherever there was any little neighborhood of French people - on the great wide porch, or beneath the trees on the grass; or, if in the house, with the doors and windows thrown wide open.

    And there were the prettiest and most mischievous-eyed French girls, dancing away for dear life with the good-looking, frank-mannered voyajeurs, or courreurs de bois, in their red, yellow, or green sashes, long black hair, and blue calico shirts. Such abominations attracted the "growing attention" of the strict sober-sides from the land of Jonathan Edwards, as he passed these dens of Apollyon, on his way to the place where prayer was wont to be made.

    Then was there not racing to church the year round, and racing home again? And were there not regular trotting matches on the afternoons of the great days of the church, which brought the people in from the country, up and down the river?

    Especially, was there ever anything like it in the winter season, when the wicked river would even wink at these atrocities by freezing over, so that nothing was seen on Sunday afternoons but carioles turned up in the front, in a curl like a skate, gliding, or rather flying, over the ice, two and two?

    The little Canadian ponies held their tails up in the air like banners, and their noses protruding into the clouds, or snorting between their legs - they trotting like made, while the garcons whooped like Indians, shouting, whey! avance! arriez! ever and anon stealing a flashing kiss from the bright demoiselles at their sides.

    Then on Easter morning, was not the church-yard of St. Ann's fairly riotous with boys cracking painted eggs? Nay, in the same precincts, were not idolatries frequently committed?

    Was not the Host carried in procession by chanting Jesuits and nuns, to a high mound called Mount Calvary, where there was a huge cross , and beneath which lay the tomb of our Savior? Doubt not that these abominations smelt in the nostrils of the sons of the Puritans.
    Full Text here
    Final note perhaps slight self-thread-jack. I wonder where 'Mount Calvary' was.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lowell View Post
    Final note perhaps slight self-thread-jack. I wonder where 'Mount Calvary' was.
    My guess is that this is in reference to a procession during Lenten/Easter services at St. Anne's in which all the folks in the procession would be praying loudly as they walked. This is something the "Puritans", Protestants coming to Detroit, wouldn't be doing. These kinds of processions, although greatly decreased in frequency since Vatican 2, are a Catholic thing, not so much a Protestant thing.

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    This is wonderful. I have seen it before but never read it. My mother is listed at the end of the chronicle of the French Ribbon Farm Families in the book about them from the Burton Collection. Some of her ancestors were the marines who came with Cadillac and stayed. She was absolutely French and a product of Old Detroit. Her aunts were Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth MI (quite French) and her uncles were businessmen and brewers. Even as a pretty young wife in Detroit, she carried her little black prayerbook to Mass and read her prayers carefully. Her grandfather had one of the first automobiles on the East side and her father kept a car from a young age. My mother drove her fathers car from the age of 12. They all lived in St. Clair Heights, in the Mack and Lillibridge area of Detroit now.

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    Thanks Lowell for this excerpt. There certainly is a spirit of fun and adventure in the building of Detroit by french settlers and their descendants. It is funny how the fashions described by the author are the same as worn by people here in Quebec in the early to mid nineteenth century. The sash and the tuque were a traditional outfit for the men a long time after the american revolution and the english conquest.

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    There is a marvelous statue of General Alphonso Williams on horseback on
    Belle Isle. Is there any memorial or statue commemorating Orlando Wilcox in Detroit?

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    I loved reading this very evocative piece. It paints a very clear picture of the good side of life in Detroit in the early days

    As to Mt. Calvary, there were mounds where Fort Wayne is now, can't think of any other such hills. There were originally three quite large mounds. Would this be a parade distance from Ste. Anne's?

    I wish to point out that the Indians likely would not have been yelling en franšais, interesting that this annoying simile is so long-lived. Wiishtaa! Majaan! Azhetaan!
    Last edited by gazhekwe; May-17-12 at 08:01 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gazhekwe View Post
    As to Mt. Calvary, there were mounds where Fort Wayne is now, can't think of any other such hills. There were originally three quite large mounds. Would this be a parade distance from Ste. Anne's?
    In 1823, St. Anne's was located on Bates Street. Assuming it's the same Bates, the distance between there & Fort Wayne is about 6 miles. I doubt there would be such a parade as to walk that distance would take probably a day or more.
    I thought the mounds in Fort Wayne were Indian burial mounds.

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    They were. They got varying degrees of respect from settlers, including being leveled and consolidated into one mini-mound. It would not be unusual to have one spiritual use of a place supercede another one, but I agree that it is unlikely they would use them at such an inconvenient distance.

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