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Original title:  Dulhut

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GREYSOLON DULHUT (sometimes written Du Lhut or Du Luth), DANIEL, esquire, ensign, gendarme of the king’s household, coureur de bois, explorer, founder of western posts, captain in the colonial regular troops; b. c. 1639 at Saint-Germain-Laval; d. in Montreal, 25 Feb. 1710.

The Greysolons came from the region of Saint-Germain-Laval, near Lyons. Genealogical evidence indicates that they were of the middle class but Dulhut enjoyed the title of esquire. At some point in its history, then, the family must have entered the ranks of the lesser nobility.

Little is known of Dulhut’s early years. From his correspondence, which contains a few classical allusions and passages of some literary value, it can be inferred that he was a man of education. His career in France was a military one. In 1657 he is mentioned as an ensign in the Régiment de Lyon and around 1665 he joined the Gendarmes, an élite regiment of the royal household to which only noblemen were admitted. As a member of this regiment he served in the army commanded by Condé in 1674. On 11 August at Seneffe, this force of 100,000 men defeated the Dutch under William of Orange. Dulhut participated in the bloody encounter as the squire of the Marquis de Lassay, one of Condé’s aides-de-camp.

In a letter written to the Marquis de Seignelay in 1682, Dulhut stated that he had made two voyages to New France before 1674. Although nothing is known of their nature and purpose it was during those early visits to the colony that he began to think of travelling to the land of the Sioux, the powerful tribe settled near the headwaters of the Mississippi. This is the project to which he devoted himself in earnest after his return to Canada in 1675. He acquired a house in Montreal, mingled with the Indians, and was even given three slaves by a group of Sioux as a sign of their friendship. Two of his relatives already settled in the colony may have been of some assistance to him at this stage of his career. His uncle Jacques Patron, a Montreal merchant, may have been interested in the commercial aspect of the proposed venture and possibly provided funds to finance it. His brother-in-law, Lussigny, an officer in Buade* de Frontenac’s guards, perhaps introduced him to the governor. Frontenac already knew that the Lake Superior area was a virtually untapped source of prime beaver pelts. In 1676, he had sent Hugues Randin* to Sault Ste Marie to arbitrate a settlement between the Sioux and their neighbours in order to open the area to French commerce. Since then Colbert had, on two occasions, forbidden trading outside the limits of the colony. Perhaps because of these prohibitions Frontenac did not authorize Dulhut to carry out his project.

Dulhut decided therefore to leave Montreal secretly on 1 Sept. 1678 with seven French followers and his three Indian slaves. His purpose was to negotiate a permanent peace between the Sioux, Chippewas, and other tribes dwelling west and north of Lake Superior and link up this pacified area firmly with New France. He also hoped to prevent the Crees and Monsonis from taking their pelts to the English on Hudson Bay. In 1678, these Indians had been plundered by the Ottawas who acted as middlemen between them and New France [see Kinongé]; as a result of this unhappy experience they had decided to take their trade to the bay unless they could have dealings with the French. To prevent these two northern nations from defecting to the English, Dulhut thought that direct trade should be carried out with them, even if it meant bypassing the Ottawa middlemen.

The expedition wintered at Sault Ste Marie and, on 2 July 1679, raised the arms of France in the great village of the Nadouesioux. Similar ceremonies took place in surrounding settlements to serve notice on the English that these lands were now claimed by Louis XIV. All the tribes who were visited were also invited to send representatives to a general assembly to discuss the terms of a peace treaty. This meeting took place on Lake Superior in September and Dulhut had the satisfaction of seeing the many tribes represented agree to a general reconciliation. To cement these frail new bonds of friendship, he arranged for several intertribal marriages and encouraged the Indians to carry out their winter hunt together.

Dulhut had also sent three of his men westward with a Sioux war party. How far they went is not known but they returned in the summer of 1680 with salt and the assurances of their Indian guides that it came from a great lake, 20 days’ journey to the west, whose waters were not fit for drinking. Dulhut concluded that the western sea was within reach and he set out from Lake Superior toward the Mississippi. When he reached the river he learned that three of Cavelier* de La Salle’s men, including the Recollet Louis Hennepin, had been captured by the Sioux and carried off as slaves. Dulhut pursued the Indians and finally caught up with them somewhere on the upper Mississippi. Although they apologized and readily freed their captives, Dulhut prudently decided to turn back. By committing this act of hostility against the French, with whom they had just concluded a treaty, the Sioux had shown how untrustworthy they were and he was obviously unwilling to proceed with his discovery under such uncertain auspices. After berating the Indians for their conduct he took La Salle’s men aboard his canoes and returned to Michilimackinac.

Meantime, in Quebec, Intendant Jacques, Duchesneau* was complaining loudly about Dulhut whom he described as the chief of the renegade coureurs de bois and as Frontenac’s partner in the fur trade. In a dispatch to the minister the intendant claimed that shipments of fur were being sent not only to Jacques Patron and to the governor but also to the English and that the entire western fur trade might eventually be diverted to the latter. Learning of the intendant’s accusations Dulhut hurried back to the colony to defend himself in March 1681. He arrived three months before the proclamation of Colbert’s amnesty for all the coureurs de bois, and Duchesneau demanded that he be jailed as a renegade. Frontenac, however, who had now become a protector of the explorer, refused to allow this and sent him to France instead to convince the minister of his innocence.

In France Dulhut presented Seignelay with an account of his voyage to the Mississippi and defended himself against the accusation of having violated the edict of 1676, which forbad going into the woods to trade. Dulhut maintained that his purpose had been to arbitrate a peace treaty between several Indian tribes. He also asked for permission to continue his explorations and for the grant of a seigneury in the lands he might discover. Had this request been granted he would perhaps have established a commercial empire for himself similar to La Salle’s south of the Great Lakes. The court, however, had just instituted the system of the 25 fur-trading licences (congés) in yet another effort to restrict the number of persons deserting the colony and was hardly in the mood to encourage voyages of discovery, which, more often than not, were simply trading expeditions in disguise. Furthermore La Salle, who had powerful supporters at the court, was hostile to Dulhut, whom he probably regarded as a potential competitor. These obstacles were too great to overcome. Dulhut succeeded in clearing himself of the accusations made against him, but his requests were turned down.

When he returned to Canada in the autumn of 1682 Frontenac had been recalled and Le Febvre* de La Barre was assuming office in his place. Dulhut soon won favour with the new governor and became one of his principal lieutenants. Early in 1683, holding a three-year commission from La Barre, he returned to the regions of the western Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi with a convoy of 15 canoes. His mission had a double purpose: to reduce to discipline the tribes of the northwest, an urgent necessity in view of the imminence of war with the Iroquois; and to prevent the northern nations from taking their pelts to the English on Hudson Bay. During the next three years Dulhut exerted himself continuously to achieve these ends. He commandeered the services of licensed traders to help fortify Michilimackinac, reprimanded the Potawatomis for their lukewarm attitude toward the French, and renewed his peace-making efforts among the Foxes, Sioux, and Chippewas. The last of these nations was especially difficult to manage as was demonstrated in 1684 when four of its warriors murdered two French traders. When one of the culprits appeared at the Jesuit mission of Sault Ste Marie the staff of 12 on duty there did not dare to arrest him, fearing the reprisals of his tribe. Dulhut, as soon as he learned of the incident, hurried to the mission, rounded up the suspects, including the chief Achinaga and his two sons, and put them on trial. Achinaga was acquitted and his younger son pardoned, but the two others who had been found guilty were executed before 400 Indians. By coldly meting out this punishment, Dulhut taught the natives that the French were a people to be respected and feared.

In 1684 and 1685, French positions in the west were strengthened by the building of two trading posts. They were located on Lake Nipigon and at Kaministiquia, at the western extremity of Lake Superior, and were placed under the command of Dulhut’s younger brother Claude Greysolon de La Tourette. The intendant Jacques de Meulles promptly denounced these activities. He informed the court that the real purpose of the posts, which were too far from Hudson Bay to prevent the Indians from going there to trade, was to promote Dulhut’s private interests and that La Barre’s commission was an exclusive charter to the Lake Superior trade. The accusation contains some truth, for Dulhut and La Tourette engaged in commerce on an extensive scale. This is shown by a letter written by Dulhut to his creditor Charles Aubert de La Chesnaye, in 1684, in which he asked for an advance of money and stated that he had more than 800 beaver robes at Michilimackinac with which to make the repayment the following year. But the intendant was wrong in suggesting that these activities were not harming the English for Hudson’s Bay Company officials claimed in 1686 that Dulhut had cost them £20,000 in lost trade.

Important military services were added to these economic ones. In 1684, when La Barre undertook his abortive campaign against the Iroquois, Dulhut, Morel de La Durantaye, and Nicolas Perrot raised 500 warriors among the western nations and marched them to Niagara to lend support to the main contingent. La Barre’s successor, Brisay de Denonville, also recognized Dulhut’s ability and his influence over the Indians and frequently called upon his services. In 1685 and 1686, English and Dutch merchants from Albany had appeared at Michilimackinac and carried out a sizable trade with the Indians almost in the shadow of the French post. To prevent further intrusions into New France’s trading empire, Denonville decided to build posts at the Toronto portage and at Detroit, two important entry points into the west. Dulhut was given the task of erecting the one at Detroit, which was called Fort Saint-Joseph and garrisoned with 50 men. In 1687, when the governor organized his great campaign against the Senecas, Dulhut and other French commanders in the west mustered 400 warriors and operated a perfectly timed junction with the main army on Lake Ontario.

Instead of returning to Lake Superior after this last campaign Dulhut came back to Canada. No reason has been given, but it may have been the onset of gout, a disease from which he suffered constantly during his last 20 years and which finally incapacitated him in 1702. At first, however, he was still able to take part in the Iroquois war. In 1689 he defeated a party of 22 of these Indians on the Lac des Deux-Montagnes and, as a reward, was made half-pay captain. Nothing more is heard of him until 1696 when he accompanied the army Frontenac was leading against the Onondagas and Oneidas as far as Fort Frontenac, where he remained in command. The following year he was promoted to the rank of captain.

After the Fort Frontenac command, Dulhut retired into private life. Unmarried and apparently only attended by a servant, La Roche, who ministered to him during his long illness, he lived his last 15 years uneventfully in Montreal. In June 1701 he rented the house he owned jointly with La Tourette to Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil for 400 livres annually and may then have moved to the home of the tanner Charles Delaunay, where he was living in 1709. In March of that year he drew up his last will and testament to which he added a codicil the following February. He left 800 livres to the Recollets, 100 livres to the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, and 300 to his servant. The biggest part of the estate, however, was a sum of some 11,766 livres owed to him by Delaunay. Dulhut asked only for the repayment of 4,000 livres and deeded the balance to the tanner’s wife and children.

He died in Montreal on 25 Feb. 1710, and was buried in the Recollet chapel. He left the reputation of having been an honnête homme and a brave and loyal officer.

Dulhut has often been compared to La Salle and in so far as both men opened new territories to French commerce and influence they do have something in common. Unlike that of La Salle, however, Dulhut’s career as an explorer was short-lived, and since he wrote little, the geographical knowledge he obtained of the upper Mississippi and its affluents was not widely diffused. The two men also differed in character. La Salle was imaginative and impulsive but without organizational ability; Dulhut, although somewhat lacking in élan, was steady-going and reliable, two attributes that no doubt explain why the three governors under whom he served made him one of their chief agents in the west. By virtue of his numerous activities in that region he appears as one of the principal architects of the alliance between New France and the Lake Superior tribes. But by showing how one could trade directly with those remote nations he irritated the Ottawa middlemen and must be regarded as one of those responsible for their coolness towards the French during some stages of the Iroquois war.

Yves F. Zoltvany

AJM, Greffe d’Antoine Adhémar; Greffe de Michel Lepailleur. AN, Col., B, 11, 16, 19, 20; C11A, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 20; C11E, 16; D2C, 47; F3, 2, 6, 7. “Correspondance de Frontenac,” APQ Rapport, 1926–27, 1927–28, 1928–29. Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), II, V, VI. HBRS, XXI (Rich). Jug. et délib., V. C. W. Colby, Canadian types of the old régime, 1608–1698 (New York, 1908). Eccles, Canada under Louis XIV. Lionel Groulx, Notre grande aventure; l’empire français en Amérique du Nord (1535–1760) (Montréal, [1958]). Kellogg, French régime. Lorin, Le comte de Frontenac. Antoine d’Eschambault, “La vie aventureuse de Daniel Greysolon, sieur Dulhut,” RHAF, V (1951–52), 320–39. Gérard Malchelosse, “Un gentilhomme coureur de bois: Daniel Greysolon, sieur Du Lhut,” Cahiers des Dix, XVI (1951), 195–232.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Yves F. Zoltvany, “GREYSOLON DULHUT, DANIEL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/greysolon_dulhut_daniel_2E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/greysolon_dulhut_daniel_2E.html
Author of Article: Yves F. Zoltvany
Title of Article: GREYSOLON DULHUT, DANIEL
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1969
Year of revision: 1969
Access Date: October 22, 2014