Eccentric hand-drawn map of 1761 Detroit acquired by University of Michigan library

William L. Clements Library acquires original plan of Fort at De Troit

Joseph Gaspard Chaussegros de Léry, “La rivière du Détroit depuis le Lac Sainte Claire jusqu'au Lac Erié.” (1764). The 1764 printed version of French engineer Chaussegros de Léry's plan of 1749, one of the earlier French plans to which William Brasier likely had access for his 1761 manuscript plan. Available in the Clements Library Image Bank, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. (University of Michigan Clements Library)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It’s been 54 years since the inception of the vision for Detroit was sold at Sotheby’s.

Now, the original treasure will shine bright for all to see as it will be part of the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library collection. The whereabouts of whom it belonged and or sold to during its infancy stages are unknown.

Still, former Clements curator Brian Dunnigan, who studied the photo, wrote about this hand-drawn map for his book titled “Frontier Metropolis: Picturing Early Detroit.”

A photograph showing part of the “Plan of the Fort at De Troit,” a rare hand-drawn map of early Detroit, produced in 1761 for British military use, recently acquired by the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan. The plan is 21 ½ by 28 ½ inches, created with ink and watercolor on thin paper. (University of Michigan Clements Library)

“This map was executed by noted surveyor and map draftsman William Brasier for General Jeffery Amherst in 1761,” said Dunnigan. “Comparing maps helps to understand the growth and changes taking place in Detroit. This map was drawn just months after Detroit was ceded from New France to Great Britain and depicts the fort that was later attacked by Pontiac and his warriors during the summer of 1763.”

“General Amherst / J. Chapman, sc.” (1800). A portrait print of British General Jeffery Amherst, engraving by John Chapman. Amherst's Indian policies damaged the relations between Native Americans at Detroit and the British, culminating in Pontiac's rebellion in 1763. Available in the Clements Library Image Bank, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. Also at the Clements Library are the Jeffery Amherst papers (1758-1764), Finding Aid. (University of Michigan Clements Library)

He continued, “This map was drawn just months after Detroit was ceded from New France to Great Britain and depicts the fort that Pontiac and his warriors later attacked during the summer of 1763.”

While controlled by the British, before the end of the French and the Indian war, the Great Lakes region was not customary to the Commonwealth of Nations.

John Montrésor, “Plan of Detroit with its environs.” (ca. 1763-1764). Another manuscript map produced for General Amherst and purchased for the Clements Library collections in 1936. It shows the fort within a larger environment, highlighting the Potawatomi village to the west and the Huron village across the river. Available in the Clements Library Image Bank, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. (University of Michigan Clements Library)

The French commander handed over his most recent plan of the fort when officers of the British heritage acquired Detroit.

Detail of the bottom center of William Brasier’s “Plan of the Fort at De Troit” (1761). An inset illustration labeled “View from the West,” shows rooftops jutting above wooden palisade walls, sited on a gentle rise of land overlooking the river. It vividly captures what the British saw when they approached the fort for the first time to accept the French surrender. (University of Michigan Clements Library)

“Brasier’s plan highlights significant features, such as named streets, the location of gunpowder magazines, property lots within the fort, and the commanding officer’s extensive garden,” said Mary Pedley, the adjunct assistant curator of maps. “Most striking, however, is the inclusion of a small view of the fort from the west. This image of the fort sited on a gentle rise of land overlooking the river vividly captures what the British saw when they approached the fort for the first time to accept the French surrender and to begin negotiations with residents of the Ottawa (Odawa), Potawatomi, Ojibwa and Huron (Wendot) villages located around the fort.”

Joseph Gaspard Chaussegros de Léry, “La rivière du Détroit depuis le Lac Sainte Claire jusqu'au Lac Erié.” (1764). The 1764 printed version of French engineer Chaussegros de Léry's plan of 1749, one of the earlier French plans to which William Brasier likely had access for his 1761 manuscript plan. Available in the Clements Library Image Bank, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. (University of Michigan Clements Library)

Pedley indicated that the surrounding points of interest served as a gathering place for those of native heritage and colonial powers, which is noteworthy due to both sides’ engagement in the fur trade.

Digital facsimile of cartographer William Brasier’s “Plan of the Fort at De Troit,” (1761) recently acquired by the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan. Its key of References identifies the following locations: “A. The King’s Powder Magazine. B. Block-houses. C. The Cavalier. D. The Church. E. Commandants Garden. F. Powder Magazine belonging to the Inhabitants.” (University of Michigan Clements Library)

Detroit’s early markings are inside the Braiser map, a gap filler of the city’s plans inside the Clements Library, further complementing Detroit’s rich history.

The Clements have one of the most historic collections of all the land. Their maps give you a step-by-step approach to the city’s growth as it continues to flourish to this very day.

For more information on the Clements Library at the University of Michigan, visit the website here: clements.umich.edu


About the Author:

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.