MoboReader> Literature > A Little Girl in Old Detroit

   Chapter 2 RAISING THE NEW FLAG.

A Little Girl in Old Detroit By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 23519

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Old Detroit had seemed roomy enough when Monsieur Cadillac planted the lilies of France and flung out the royal standard. And the hardy men slept cheerfully on their beds of fir twigs with blankets drawn over them, and the sky for a canopy, until the stockade was built and the rude fort made a place of shelter. But before the women came it had been rendered habitable and more secure; streets were laid out, the chapel of St. Anne's built, and many houses put up inside the palisades. And there was gay, cheerful life, too, for French spirits and vivacity could not droop long in such exhilarating air.

Canoes and row boats went up and down the river with merry crews. And in May there was a pole put in what was to be the military garden, and from it floated the white flag of France. On the green there was a great concourse and much merriment and dancing, and not a little love making. For if a soldier asked a pretty Indian maid in marriage, the Commandant winked at it, and she soon acquired French and danced with the gayest of them.

Then there was a gala time when the furs came in and the sales were made, and the boats loaded and sent on to Montreal to be shipped across the sea; or the Dutch merchants came from the Mohawk valley or New Amsterdam to trade. The rollicking coureurs des bois, who came to be almost a race by themselves, added their jollity and often carried it too far, ending in fighting and arrests.

But it was not all gayety. Up to this time there had been two terrible attacks on the fort, and many minor ones. Attempts had been made to burn it; sometimes the garrison almost starved in bad seasons. France, in all her seventy years of possession, never struck the secret of colonizing. The thrifty emigrant in want of a home where he could breathe a freer air than on his native soil was at once refused. The Jesuit rule was strict as to religion; the King of France would allow no laws but his own, and looked upon his colonies as sources of revenue if any could be squeezed out of them, sources of glory if not.

The downfall of Canada had been a sad blow. The French colonist felt it more keenly than the people thousands of miles away, occupied with many other things. And the bitterest of all protests was made by the Jesuits and the Church. They had been fervent and heroic laborers, and many a life had been bravely sacrificed for the furtherance of the work among the Indians.

True, there had not been a cordial sympathy between the Jesuits and the Recollets, but the latter had proved the greater favorites in Detroit. There was now the Recollet house near the church, where they were training young girls and teaching the catechism and the rules of the Church, as often orally as by book, as few could read. Here were some Indian girls from tribes that had been almost decimated in the savage wars, some of whom were bound out afterward as servants. There were slaves, mostly of the old Pawnee tribe, some very old, indeed; others had married, but their children were under the ban of their parents.

With the coming of the English there was a wider liberty, a new atmosphere, and though the French protested bitterly and could not but believe the mother country would make some strenuous effort to recover the territory as they temporized with the Indians and held out vague hopes, yet, as the years passed on, they found themselves insensibly yielding to the sway, and compelled now and then to fight for their homes against a treacherous enemy. Mayor Gladwyn had been a hero to them in his bravery and perseverance.

There came in a wealthier class of citizens to settle, and officials were not wanting in showy attire. Black silk breeches and hose, enormous shoe buckles, stiff stocks, velvet and satin coats and beaver hats were often seen. Ladies rejoiced in new importations, and in winter went decked in costly furs. Even the French damsels relaxed their plain attire and made pictures with their bright kerchiefs tied coquettishly over curling hair, and they often smiled back at the garrison soldiers or the troops on parade. The military gardens were improved and became places of resort on pleasant afternoons, and the two hundred houses inside the pickets increased a little, encroaching more and more on the narrow streets. The officers' houses were a little grander; some of the traders indulged in more show and their wives put on greater airs and finer gowns and gave parties. The Campeau house was venerable even then, built as it was on the site of Cadillac's headquarters and abounding in many strange legends, and there were rude pictures of the Canoe with Madame Cadillac, who had made the rough voyage with her ladies and come to a savage wilderness out of love for her husband; and the old, long, low Cass house that had sheltered so many in the Pontiac war, and the Governor's house on St. Anne's street, quite grand with its two stories and peaked roof, with the English colors always flying.

Many of the houses were plastered over the rough hewn cedar lath, others were just of the smaller size trees split in two and the interstices filled in. Many were lined with birch bark, with borders of beautiful ash and silver birch. Chimneys were used now, great wide spaces at one end filled in with seats. In winter furs were hung about and often dropped over the windows at night, which were always closed with tight board shutters as soon as dusk set in, which gave the streets a gloomy aspect and in nowise assisted a prowling enemy. A great solid oaken door, divided in the middle with locks and bars that bristled with resistance, was at the front.

But inside they were comfortable and full of cheer. Wooden benches and chairs, some of the former with an arm and a cushion of spruce twigs covered with a bear or wolf skin, though in the finer houses there were rush bottoms and curiously stained splints with much ornamental Indian work. A dresser in the living room displayed not only Queen's ware, but such silver and pewter as the early colonists possessed, and there were pictures curiously framed, ornaments of wampum and shells and fine bead work. The family usually gathered here, and the large table standing in the middle of the floor had a hospitable look heightened by the savory smells which at that day seemed to offend no one.

The farms all lay without and stretched down the river and westward. The population outside had increased much faster, for there was room to grow. There were little settlements of French, others of half-breeds, and not a few Indian wigwams. The squaws loved to shelter themselves under the wing of the Fort and the whites. Business of all kinds had increased since the coming of the English.

But now there had occurred another overturn. Detroit had been an important post during the Revolution, and though General Washington, Jefferson, and Clark had planned expeditions for its attack, it was, at the last, a bloodless capture, being included in the boundaries named in the Quebec Act. But the British counted on recapture, and the Indians were elated with false hopes until the splendid victories of General Wayne in northern Illinois against both Indians and English. By his eloquence and the announcement of the kindly intentions of the United States, the Chippewa nation made gifts of large tracts of land and relinquished all claims to Detroit and Mackinaw.

The States had now two rather disaffected peoples. Many of the English prepared to return to Canada with the military companies. The French had grown accustomed to the rule and still believed in kings and state and various titles. But the majority of the poor scarcely cared, and would have grumbled at any rule.

For weeks Detroit was in a ferment with the moving out. There were sorrowful farewells. Many a damsel missed the lover to whom she had pinned her faith, many an irregular marriage was abruptly terminated. The good Recollet fathers had tried to impress the sacredness of family ties upon their flock, but since the coming of the English, the liberty allowed every one, and the Protestant form of worship, there had grown a certain laxness even in the town.

"It is going to be a great day!" declared Jeanne, as she sprang out of her little pallet. There were two beds in the room, a great, high-post carved bedstead of the Bellestre grandeur, and the cot Jacques Pallent, the carpenter, had made, which was four sawed posts, with a frame nailed to the top of them. It was placed in the corner, and so, out of sight, Pani felt that her charge was always safe. In the morning Jeanne generally turned a somersault that took her over to the edge of the big bed, from whence she slid down.

The English had abolished slavery in name, but most of the Pani servants remained. They seldom had any other than their tribal name. Since the departure of the Bellestres Jeanne's guardian had taken on a new dignity. She was a tall, grave woman, and much respected by all. No one would have thought of interfering with her authority over the child.

"Hear the cannon at the Fort and the bells. And everybody will be out! Pani, give me some breakfast and let me go."

"Nay, nay, child. You cannot go alone in such a crowd as this will be. And I must set the house straight."

"But Marie De Ber and Pierre are to go. We planned it last night. Pierre is a big, strong boy, and he can pick his way through a crowd with his elbows. His mother says he always punches holes through his sleeves."

Jeanne laughed gayly. Pierre was a big, raw-boned fellow, a good guard anywhere.

"Nay, child, I shall go, too. It will not be long. And here is a choice bit of bread browned over the coals that you like so much, and the corn mush of last night fried to a turn."

"Let me run and see Marie a moment-"

"With that head looking as if thou hadst tumbled among the burrs, or some hen had scratched it up for a nest! And eyes full of dew webs that are spun in the grass by the spirits of night."

"Look, they are wide open!" She buried her face in a pail of water and splashed it around as a huge bird might, as she raised her beautiful laughing orbs, blue now as the midnight sky. And then she carelessly combed the tangled curls that fell about her like the spray of a waterfall.

"Thou must have a coif like other French girls, Jeanne. Berthê Campeau puts up her hair."

"Berthê goes to the Recollets and prays and counts beads, and will run no more or shout, and sings only dreary things that take the life and gayety out of you. She will go to Montreal, where her aunt is in a convent, and her mother cries about it. If I had a mother I would not want to make her cry. Pani, what do you suppose happened to my mother? Sometimes I think I can remember her a little."

The face so gay and willful a moment before was suddenly touched with a sweet and tender gravity.

"She is dead this long time, petite. Children may leave their mothers, but mothers never give up their children unless they are taken from them."

"Pani, what if the Indian woman had stolen me?"

"But she said you had no mother. Come, little one, and eat your breakfast."

Jeanne was such a creature of moods and changes that she forgot her errand to Marie. She clasped her hands together and murmured her French blessing in a soft, reverent tone.

Maize was a staple production in the new world, when the fields were not destroyed by marauding parties. There were windmills that ground it coarsely and both cakes and porridge were made of it. The Indian women cracked and pounded it in a stone mortar and boiled it with fish or venison. The French brought in many new ways of cooking.

"Oh, hear the bells and the music from the Fort! Come, hurry, Pani, if

you are going with us. Pani, are people slow when they get old?"

"Much slower, little one."

"Then I don't want to be old. I want to run and jump and climb and swim. Marie knits, she has so many brothers and sisters. But I like leggings better in the winter. And they sew at the Recollet house."

"And thou must learn to sew, little one."

"Wait until I am big and old and have to sit in the chimney corner. There are no little ones-sometimes I am glad, sometimes sorry, but if they are not here one does not have to work for them."

She gave a bright laugh and was off like a flash. The Pani woman sighed. She wondered sometimes whether it would not have been better to give her up to the good father who took such an interest in her. But she was all the poor woman had to love. True she could be a servant in the house, but to have her wild, free darling bound down to rigid rules and made unhappy was more than she could stand. And had not Mr. Bellestre provided this home for them?

The woman had hardly put away the dishes, which were almost as much of an idol to her as the child, when Jeanne came flying back.

"Yes, hurry, hurry, Pani! They are all ready. And Madame De Ber said Marie should not go out on such a day unless you went too. She called me feather headed! As if I were an Indian chief with a great crown of feathers!"

The child laughed gayly. It was as natural to her as singing to a bird.

Pani gathered up a few last things and looked to see that the fire was put out.

Already the streets were being crowded and presented a picturesque aspect. Inside the stockade the chemin du ronde extended nearly around the town and this had been widened by the necessity of military operations. Soldiers were pouring out of the Citadel and the Fort but the colonial costume looked queer to eyes accustomed to the white trimmings of the French and the red of the British. The latter had made a grander show many a time, both in numbers and attire. There were the old French habitans, gay under every new dispensation, in tanned leathern small clothes, made mostly of deer skin, and blue blouses, blue cap, with a red feather, some disporting themselves in unwonted finery kept for holiday occasions; pretty laughing demoiselles with bright kerchiefs or a scarf of open, knitted lace-like stuff with beads that sparkled with every coquettish turn of the head; there were Indians with belted tomahawks and much ornamented garments, gorgets and collars of rudely beaten copper or silver if they could afford to barter furs for them, half-breed dandies who were gorgeous in scarlet and jewelry of all sorts, squaws wrapped in blankets, looking on wonderingly, and the new possessors of Detroit who were at home everywhere.

The procession formed at the parade in front of the Fort. Some of the aristocracy of the place were out also, staid middle-aged men with powdered queues and velvet coats, elegant ladies in crimson silk petticoats and skirts drawn back, the train fastened up with a ribbon or chain which they carried on their arms as they minced along on their high heeled slippers, carrying enormous fans that were parasols as well, and wearing an immense bonnet, the fashion in France a dozen years before.

"What is it all about?" asked one and another.

"They are to put up a new flag."

"For how long?" in derision. "The British will be back again in no time."

"Are there any more conquerors to come? We turn our coats at every one's bidding it seems."

The detachment was from General Wayne's command and great was the disappointment that the hero himself was not on hand to celebrate the occasion; but he had given orders that possession of the place should be signalized without him. Indeed, he did not reach Detroit until a month later.

On July 11, 1796, the American flag was raised above Detroit, and many who had never seen it gazed stupidly at it, as its red and white stripes waved on the summer air, and its blue field and white stars shone proudly from the flag staff, blown about triumphantly on the radiant air shimmering with golden sunshine.

Shouts went up like volleys. All the Michigan settlements were now a part of the United Colonies, that had so bravely won their freedom and were extending their borders over the cherished possessions of France and England.

The post was formally delivered up to the governor of the territory. Another flag was raised on the Citadel, which was for the accommodation of the general and his suite at present and whoever was commandant. It was quite spacious, with an esplanade in front, now filled by soldiers. There were the almost deafening salutes and the blare of the band.

"Why it looks like heaven at night!" cried Jeanne rapturously. "I shall be an American,-I like the stars better than the lilies of France, and the red cross is hateful. For stars are of heaven, you know, you cannot make them grow on earth."

A kindly, smiling, elderly man turned and caught sight of the eager, rosy face.

"And which, I wonder, is the brave General Wayne?"

"He is not here to-day unfortunately and cannot taste the sweets of his many victories. But he is well worth seeing, and quite as sorry not to be here as you are to miss him. But he is coming presently."

"Then it is not the man who is making a speech?-and see what a beautiful horse he has!"

"That is the governor, Major General St. Clair."

"And General Wayne, is he an American?"

The man gave an encouraging smile to the child's eager inquiry.

"An American? yes. But look you, child. The only proper Americans would be the Indians."

She frowned and looked puzzled.

"A little way back we came from England and France and Holland and Spain and Italy. We are so diverse that it is a wonder we can be harmonized. Only there seems something in this grand air, these mighty forests, these immense lakes and rivers, that nurtures liberty and independence and breadth of thought and action. Who would have dreamed that clashing interests could have been united in that one aim, liberty, and that it could spread itself from the little nucleus, north, south, east, and west! The young generation will see a great country. And I suppose we will always be Americans."

He turned to the young man beside him, who seemed amused at the enthusiasm that rang in his voice and shone in his eyes of light, clear blue as he had smiled down on the child who scarcely understood, but took in the general trend and was moved by the warmth and glow.

"Monsieur, there are many countries beside England and France," she said thoughtfully.

"O yes, a world full of them. Countries on the other side of the globe of which we know very little."

"The other side?" Her eyes opened wide in surprise, and a little crease deepened in the sunny brow as she flung the curls aside. She wore no hat of any kind in summer.

"Yes, it is a round world with seas and oceans and land on both sides. And it keeps going round."

"But, Monsieur," as he made a motion with his hand to describe it, "why does not the water spill out and the ground slide off? What makes it-oh, how can it stick?" with a laugh of incredulity.

"Because a wisdom greater than all of earth rules it. Are there no schools in Detroit?"

"The English have some and there is the Recollet house and the sisters. But they make you sit still, and presently you go to Montreal or Quebec and are a nun, and wear a long, black gown, and have your head tied up. Why, I should smother and I could not hear! That is so you cannot hear wicked talk and the drunken songs, but I love the birds and the wind blowing and the trees rustling and the river rushing and beating up in a foam. And I am not afraid of the Indians nor the shil loups," but she lowered her tone a trifle.

"Do not put too much trust in the Indians, Mam'selle. And there is the loup garou-"

"But I have seen real wolves, Monsieur, and when they bring in the furs there are so many beautiful ones. Madame De Ber says there is no such thing as a loup garou, that a person cannot be a man and a wolf at the same time. When the wolves and the panthers and the bears howl at night one's blood runs chilly. But we are safe in the stockade."

"There is much for thee to learn, little one," he said, after a pause. "There must be schools in the new country so that all shall not grow up in ignorance. Where is thy father?"

Jeanne Angelot stared straight before her seeing nothing. Her father? The De Bers had a father, many children had, she remembered. And her mother was dead.

The address ended and there was a thundering roll of drums, while cheers went up here and there. Cautious French habitans and traders thought it wiser to wait and see how long this standard of stripes and stars would wave over them. They were used to battles and conquering and defeated armies, and this peace they could hardly understand. The English were rather sullen over it. Was this stripling of newfound liberty to possess the very earth?

The crowd surged about. Pani caught the arm of her young charge and drew her aside. She was alarmed at the steady scrutiny the young man had given her, though it was chiefly as to some strange specimen.

"Thou art overbold, Jeanne, smiling up in a young man's face and puckering thy brows like some maid coquetting for a lover."

"A young man!" Jeanne laughed heartily. "Why he had a snowy beard like a white bear in winter. Where were your eyes, Pani? And he told me such curious things. Is the world round, Pani? And there are lands and lands and strange people-"

"It is a brave show," exclaimed Louis Marsac joining them. "I wonder how long it will last. There are to be some new treaties I hear about the fur trade. That man from the town called New York, a German or some such thing, gets more power every month. A messenger came this morning and I am to return to my father at once. Jeanne, I wish thou and Pani wert going to the upper lakes with me. If thou wert older-"

She turned away suddenly. Marie De Ber had a group of older girls about her and she plunged into them, as if she might be spirited away.

Monsieur St. Armand had looked after his little friend but missed her in the crowd, and a shade of disappointment deepened his blue eyes.

"Mon père," began the young man beside him, "evidently thou wert born for a missionary to the young. I dare say you discovered untold possibilities in that saucy child who knows well how to flirt her curls and arch her eyebrows. She amused me. Was that half-breed her brother, I wonder!"

"She was not a half-breed, Laurent. There are curious things in this world, and something about her suggested-or puzzled. She has no Indian eyes, but the rarest dark blue I ever saw. And did Indian blood ever break out in curly hair?"

"I only noticed her swarthy skin. And there is such a mixed-up crew in this town! Come, the grand show is about over and now we are all reborn Americans up to the shores of Lake Superior. But we will presently be due at the Montdesert House. Are we to have no more titles and French nobility be on a level with the plainest, just Sieur and Madame?" with a little curl of the lips. The elder smiled good naturedly, nay, even indulgently.

"The demoiselles are more to thee than that splendid flag waving over a free country. Thou canst return-"

"But the dinner?"

"Ah, yes, then we will go together," he assented.

"If we can pick our way through this crowd. What beggarly narrow streets. Faugh! One can hardly get his breath. Our wilds are to be preferred."

By much turning in and out they reached the upper end of St. Louis street, which at that period was quite an elevation and overlooked the river.

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