Cadillac. I’ve Heard That Name Before! Man, Mountain, Motown.
When the name « Cadillac » is mentioned, several thoughts come to mind. At Acadia National Park, we know Cadillac Mountain as the highest peak on the North Atlantic seaboard at 1,530 feet (466 meters). Many others know Cadillac as a brand of car. But why was it named Cadillac and why is that name associated with Maine, Detroit, Louisiana, or the Bastille prison in Paris, France? The French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac is the answer to all these questions.
Antoine Laumet was born in 1658 in Gascony, France to a middle-class family. He was known as a soldier, adventurer, trader, and explorer. He left France at the age of 25 and arrived in North America to become an expert on the North Atlantic coast. He embellished his origins to sound more impressive and claimed the nobleman title « Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, » although his family did not have any noble connections. According to historic records, he was of questionable moral character from a young age. It was rumored that he was encouraged to leave France.
Connection to Acadia
With his self-made title and his knowledge of the North Atlantic coast, he gained favor with the government in France. They were impressed with the reconnaissance of the French territories in the new world he provided. In 1688 he was granted a tract of land, which included areas on Mount Desert Island. This area was later know as Bar Harbor and Cadillac Mountain by the governor of Canada, with the approval of King Louis XIV of France.
Cadillac built a house the west shore of Otter Creek where he and his wife were listed in the 1688 census there. He was called back to France in 1689 to serve as a military advisor to the royal court and never returned to Mount Desert Island. His granddaughter, Madame de Gregoire, was eventually granted the eastern half of Mount Desert Island in the 1750s.
Beyond Mount Desert Island
In 1698 Cadillac returned to France to propose the creation of a colony on the Detroit River and the King granted his request. Fort Pontchartrain, the precursor to Detroit, was established by Cadillac. Today Detroit is popularly known as « Motown. »
The settlement at Fort Pontchartrain was meant to foster strong ties to the Native American tribes to the west and foster goodwill for the French. However, there was evidence that Cadillac bribed enemies, distributed alcohol, and traded with the English. These activities were not what the French had in mind when allowing the colony. As a punishment Cadillac was reprimanded by being appointed the governor of Louisiana. His time in Louisiana was considered just as disreputable as at Fort Pontchartrain. He was recalled to France in 1717 and sent to the Bastille prison for having been unsupportive of the French government and their plans in North America. He was released a year later and his good fortune returned. He was given the governorship of Castlesarrasin in France near his native village where he later died in 1730.
Antoine would have been extremely pleased to know that Green Mountain was renamed to Cadillac Mountain in 1918 to honor his influence on Mount Desert Island. However the most recognizable piece of America named after him is the Cadillac car, bearing the crest he designed for himself. Vive la Cadillac!