Michigan Transportation History

Fort St. Joseph at the source of the St. Clair River

MichiganNew FranceColonial EraFrenchMilitaryFortPlacePublic

Jones wrote this article on Citizendium, and it is reproduced here under the CC-by-SA 3.0 license on Citizendium. When referencing this article, please use the following citation:

R. D. Jones, "Fort St. Joseph (Port Huron)". The Citizendium, 30 August 2013.

The French fort at the source of the St. Clair River (near present-day Port Huron) was a military post established in 1686 to block English access to the upper Great Lakes. It was destroyed and not rebuilt in 1688.

In 1686, Governor-General Marquis de Denonville ordered Daniel Greysolon (Duluth) to establish a fort at the headwaters of the St. Clair River. Denonville worried about English traders coming up from Lake Erie and trading with the Ottawas and Ojibwe in French territory and a fort at the source of the St. Clair River would serve as a strategic block to English advances. Indeed, shortly after the Duluth had established the fort, the garrison intercepted two English trading parties sent out by the New York colonial governor Thomas Dongan. The first, under Thomas Roseboom was captured on Lake Huron by Oliver Morel de La Durantaye, and the second, commanded by Major McGregory, was captured on Lake Erie by Duluth's raiding party against the Seneca.1

In 1687, Denonville ordered Duluth to assemble a force and make an attack against the Seneca. Duluth called in Henri de Tonty, Nicholas Perrot, and La Durantaye who together brought with them some five hundred Algonquian from various nations around Lakes Huron and Superior and about two hundred coureurs de bois. Together with the thirty soldiers under Duluth's command at the fort they were to attack the Seneca as soon as possible. However, the men took to partying instead of war and only after many days was Duluth finally able to get the expedition off against the Seneca.2

The capturing of the two English trading expeditions in 1686 and 1687 halted British incursions into the upper Great Lakes territory for many years. But since the fort at the source of the St. Clair River was not on any French-Indian trade routes and the Indians rarely visited the fort, the fort's commanders could make little gain from the fur trade. The fort was therefore extremely unpopular with army commanders. Duluth had not returned to the fort after the 1687 Seneca raid and in 1688, Duluth's successor Louis Armand de Lom d'Arce, Baron de Lahontan likewise was depressed about the posting. In 1688, following the loss of the French fort at Niagara, Lahontan decided that the fort was indefensible, burned it to the ground, and moved himself and his small garrison to Fort de Buade at St. Ignace.


1. James V. Campbell, "Early French Settlements in Michigan," Michigan Historical and Pioneer Collections 2 (1880), 100; see also Edward Duffield Neill, Minnesota Explorers and Pioneers from A.D. 1659 to A.D. 1858 (Minneapolis: North Star Publishing Co., 1881), p. 15.

2. d'Eschambault (1951), 334-335.


Campbell, James V. "Early French Settlements in Michigan," Michigan Historical and Pioneer Collections 2 (1880): 95-104.

d’Eschambault, Antoine. "La vie aventureuse de Daniel Greysolon, sieur Dulhut," Revue d’Histoire de l’Amérique Française V, no. 3 (décembre 1951): 320-339.

Hayne, David M. "Lom d’Arce de Lahontan, Louis-Armard de, Baron de Lahontan." Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. II. Toronto: University of Toronto/Université Laval, 1969.

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