1750: Detroit’s First French Census

September 1, 2018 all-day

Detroit was founded by Europeans in 1701 when the colonial French established a fort here as a center for trading. The European population numbered 100 French soldiers, farmers and merchants. The first women arrived in September. The fort attracted Native Americans of the region, and bands of various tribes settled nearby, including the Huron. They soon far outnumbered the French.

Detroit developed as the most important French city between Montreal and New Orleans, two major areas of colonial settlement.

Its European population was 800 people in 1765, shortly after France ceded its territory east of the Mississippi River to Great Britain after being defeated in the Seven Years’ War. By that time, most or all of the Native Americans had moved from the area.

By 1773, the population of Detroit was 1,400.

By 1778, its population was 2,144 and it was the third largest city in the British Province of Quebec. At this time, the British considered it part of Quebec rather than the Thirteen Colonies.

Source: Demographic history of Detroit wikipedia entry.

According to a census conducted in 1750, more than a quarter of the 96 French families in Detroit owned Indian slaves, who constituted about 7% of the enumerated population.

Sources: A “Census of the Inhabitants of Detroit on September 1, 1750” is reported in Lajeunesse, ed., The Windsor Border Region: Canada’s Southernmost Frontier; a collection of documents, 54-56.  A partial translation is provided in Donna Valley Russell, ed., Michigan Censuses 1710-1830 under the French, British, and Americans (Detroit, 1928), p. 15-17 (available at the Library of Michigan and the Michigan Archives).  Also mentioned in Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France 

Detroit took another census under the orders of the British commandant, Henry Hamilton, on April 26, 1778.  According to that tally, Detroit’s population stood at 2,144 people, excluding military personnel and prisoners.

Source : Michigan Historical Calendar, courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.

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