Welcome to the discussion thread for the story, The Spirited Afterlife of Detroit’s Little Red Demon. You can share your comments and thoughts about the story in the conversation below.
Tiya Miles in this comment demonstrates how little she knows about French Catholics and the Legends of Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin:
Hamlin writes that the tales in her volume had been in her family for generations, and that she’d bolstered them with her own research. It’s also possible that the lore was somewhat syncretic, borrowing strands from the various cultures that co-existed—somewhat uneasily—in Detroit at the time. In the 18th- and 19th-century Midwest, French and indigenous cultures intermingled. In some trading towns, bicultural marriages and households were common, says Tiya Miles, a historian at Harvard University whose research includes Native-American and African-American history in 18th-century Detroit.
“While French Catholics would have been suspicious of beliefs that seemed anti-Christian, they may have picked up bits and pieces about indigenous culture heroes that stuck with them and influenced how they recalled and interpreted folktales from their homeland,” Miles says. “And it is even possible that the French imagining or retooling of Nain Rouge in and around the walled settlement of Detroit, where the French viewed some Native people as allies but others as enemies, was partly a projection of French settlers’ racialized anxieties about a lurking indigenous threat.”
The LEGEND of the Nain Rouge dates to Old France and there is no factual evidence that he ever visited Cadillac or Fort Pontchartrain; nor are the other LEGENDS associated with real people in Old Detroit factual. In fact, if you want to avoid any further disasters for the city, you should be welcoming the red dwarf, not chasing him away.
When the red dwarf appears near Fort Pontchartrain in what Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin identifies as March 10 of 1707 [Chapter V, Page 37]:
“It is the Nain Rouge,” whispered Cadillac’s wife.
Before she had time to say more, Cadillac’s ill nature had vented itself in striking the object with a cane he held in his hand, saying : “Get out of my way, you red imp !”
A fiendish, mocking laugh pierced the still night air as the monster vanished.
"You have offended him,’’ said Madame. “Your impetuosity will bring you and yours to ruin. [Page 38] You were told to coax him—-to beware of annoying: this demon—and in your ungovernable temper you do just otherwise. Misfortune will soon be our portion.”
Cadillac shortly afterward visited Montreal, was arrested through the intrigues of his enemies, and was compelled to sell his seigniory in Detroit to pay for his trial.
There’s more cited as the consequence of Cadillac’s disrespect for the Nain Rouge, but even the last details listed cannot be supported historically. I’ll deal with only two here. It was in 1704 that Cadillac was called to Montreal to be arrested for his alleged “malversations,” illegal trade practices, and to undergo trial for them. Expediency ultimately dropped the charges against him after Pontchartrain in France appointed him to be “Complete Master” at the fort, an appointment sent in 1704 that did not arrive until 1705 because the ship carrying it, La Paix, was high jacked by the English during the war that began between England and France in 1702, one that did not end until 1713. Cadillac did not assume his new command at the fort until August of 1706. Placing the arrival of Le Nain Rouge in 1707 does not come before the investigation of 1704-05.
In addition, the “selling” of Cadillac’s so-called seigneurie (he did not have seigneurial rights) did not occur until 1722, well-after Cadillac had returned to France from his ill-fated experience in Louisiane and he began his incessant begging letters to have his physical property returned to him.
From Chapter IV, page 27, the original “curse” by the old woman in Québec City before the convoy left to found a fort, predicting the baneful effect of Le Nain Rouge, bold text added by me:
“Shall my children inherit my possessions?” asked Cadillac, unconsciously giving utterance to the secret desire of his heart.
“Your future and theirs lie in your own hands, beware of undue ambition; it will mar all your plans. Appease the Nain Rouge* (Red Dwarf). Beware of offending him. Should you be thus unfortunate not a vestige of your inheritance will be given to your heirs. Your name will be scarcely known in the city you founded.”
The Nain Rouge is a total myth, made up for the Detroit area by Carolyn Watson Hamlin in her “Legends of Le Detroit,” although it has a deep history in France. I’m fairly sure that, if a new edition of “Legends” had not been republished in the 1970s locally, no one would now believe the Nain Rouge has anything to do specifically with Detroit. All of her Legends do not apply to any one known person; they are pure fantasy. To see what I mean read my article.
Legends and Reality: some Truths not Told in Hamlin’s Tale “Francois and Barbe”
Michigan’s Habitant Heritage (MHH), Vol. 37, #2, April 2016, or see the FILES at the French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan Facebook.
Suzanne Boivin Sommerville