Friday, February 27, 2015

Storing an Empire: Commercial and Military Storage at Colonial New France Forts

            What is the primary purpose for establishing a fort? Most people would think that a fort’s major function is to serve as a launch point for military operations or a defensive structure to protect colonists from Native attacks. While the military and strategic value of eighteenth-century French forts cannot be denied, another important role that they served was as a trading post. The trading that took place in and around French forts in the western Great Lakes was critical for maintaining their alliances with Native peoples. Fort St. Joseph was no exception, and the trading that went on there was so important that during the 1690’s beaver glut it was one of only three forts that was kept open. As military commanders and governmental officials explained to the king, if Fort St. Joseph was closed the Miamis and Potawatomis might begin to trade with the British and leave the French alliance network.
            Key then to preserving the French’s foothold in the western Great Lakes was the storage facilities at forts. Keeping a well maintained storehouse for highly desirable trade goods kept Native peoples happy as they became ever increasingly savvy traders. My research so far has shown that these commercial storehouses were important buildings. The storehouse at Fort Pontchartrain (near present day Detroit) was constructed out of high quality oak in the piéce-sur-piéce (piece on piece) style. These buildings were also quite large, 37.5 feet long by 22 feet wide with walls being 8 feet tall; this at a time when most residential cabins were no larger than a medium sized bedroom. The sources I have consulted thus far have made it seem this was normal for these types of buildings. I have also begun to get an idea about the volume of goods that came through Fort St. Joseph. Consulting some of the documentary evidence has shown that Fort St. Joseph was a key commercial post, and that many goods passed through its storehouse.
Example of piéce-sur-piéce (

            In the upcoming weeks, my partner and I will continue to explore the storehouses at other forts in an effort to hypothesize about what the storehouse at Fort St. Joseph may have looked like. We will also examine what the powder magazine may have looked like at Fort St. Joseph by comparing it to other forts. I look forward to continuing this research. I am enjoying learning about Fort St. Joseph. I study Native-French interactions during the seventeenth and eighteenth-century, but this is my first time learning about Fort St. Joseph.

Kyle Moerchen


Joseph Gagné said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Gagné said...

Pièce-sur-pièce, not piéce-sur-piéce