“The Rocheleaus” is told in three parts:
Part One covers the arrival of Francois and Joseph Rochereau dit Lesperance of Beauport, Quebec, in the mid-1700s, making them among the first settlers in French Detroit.
Part Two covers the Rocheleaus working for Father Potier and marrying into the Pilet family —just one of several odd coincidences in this family history.
Part Three is action-packed, including the Rocheleau’s marital link to a family that got a little too close to Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763, and Rocheleau ancestors who served (or avoiding serving?) on the British side of the War of 1812.
When Francois wed 16-year-old Marie-Josephe in 1755, he married into an already prominent family in the settlement. Marie’s father, Pierre, arrived in 1730, making the Meloches among the first families to arrive from France and Quebec. Marie-Josephe was raised on the Meloche ribbon farm east of the Fort, along Parent’s Creek, near the present-day UAW Headquarters on East Jefferson. Nearby was the farm of one of Pierre’s close friends, merchant Jacques Campau, who with son Joseph was among the wealthiest citizens of the French settlement.
The Meloche family was prominent because they ran the sawmill that provided lumber for the fort, St. Anne’s Church, the Huron Mission and the nearby farmhouses.
“I owe Meloche for all the buildings that he has erected and that he is to erect for me 3,100 livres,” Father Pierre-Phillip Potier wrote in 1743 in his account book for the Huron Mission. In a footnote to this entry in his book “The Windsor Border Region,” Ernest Lajeunesse explains further: “Pierre Meloche was the contractor for the timber and framework of the buildings. His sawmill was on the south side [of the river] above the village of the Ottawas, while his residence was on the north side above the fort, near Parent’s Creek.”
“I have contracted with Meloche for the framework of my church, house, roof, &c. for the sum of 1000 livres also for boards and planks at 60 livres a hundred, and for what he will saw for me at 30 livres a hundred,” Potier wrote in his accounts ledger in 1748, the year after the Huron mission was burned down.
In addition to frequently interacting with Potier and Richardie, Pierre Meloche was a close friend, neighbor and adviser to Obwandiyag, also known as Chief Pontiac, leader of the Ottawas. The tribe’s village was located practically next door to the Meloche farm. In the 1740 Huron Mission village census, when the mission was at Bois Blanc Island, Meloche is recorded with his given Ottawa name, Hannongianchiak.
“Father Potier enjoyed the very closest friendship with that Baptiste or Pierre Meloche who lived up above the Fort and was Pontiac’s intimate and adviser, and he was himself on friendly terms with him,” wrote the author of “The Pontiac Manuscript,” the most authoritative document about Pontiac, believed to be written by a Frenchman named Robert Navarre. He added that “it is certain that among all the habitants of the region Meloche was deepest in Pontiac’s council.”
The close relationship between the three was a possible reason why Potier removed pages for the years 1759–63 from his account book of the Huron mission, according to the notes in an 1891 translation of Potier’s account ledger for the Huron Mission, written by Richard R. Elloitt. “The intimate relations existing between Fathers Potier and de La Richardie and Pierre Meloche, and the close friendship of the latter for the great Ottawa sachem, Pontiac, the intimacy of the latter with the family of Meloche,” might have been exposed in the account book to the British Commandant in Detroit, for whom the French had a “lively fear,” he wrote.
Pierre was also a prolific father. When his wife, Jeanne Caron, died at age 47 in 1757, she left behind five sons and six daughters, ranging in age from 7 years to 27, with 16-year-old Jean Baptiste the oldest son living at home. A Meloche family history indicates Jean Baptiste’s two older brothers were voyageurs, fur traders who traveled with Indians to their winter hunting grounds.
The four-year period starting in 1760 would bring tumultuous change to the French settlement around the fort.
On September 8, 1760, one year after British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe defeated and mortally wounded French Marquis de Montcalm in the Battle of Quebec, France formally surrendered to the British, ceding all of New France to England. On Sept. 15, British Major Robert Rogers and his troops, including a notoriously violent group of irregulars known as Rogers’ Rangers, arrived and took command of Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit. They raised the British flag over the garrison and renamed it Fort Detroit.
Pierre Meloche did not live to see all this take place. He died two weeks earlier, on Aug. 23, 1760, at age 59, leaving 19-year-old Jean Baptiste as the overseer of the sawmill and head of the farm and household, looking after four younger siblings.
As the British took control, they found Detroit to be a thriving settlement, where Indians and French live side by side, cultivating lush orchards and engaging in the fur trade from the north and south. Around this time, writes Keith R. Widder in Beyond Pontiac’s Shadow, “Detroit’s 825 French-Canadian residents lived in a town of ninety houses inside a 12–14-foot-high stockade and on farms on both sides of the Detroit River along the strait that joined Lakes Erie and Lake St. Clair. Most of the Canadians worked in either the fur trade or farmed.”
“Huron and Odawa men and women lived in villages on the south side of the river and Potawatomi lived on the north side, interacting daily with the French,” he wrote. “Native people outnumbered the Canadians.” Estimates put 250 men in the Huron village, 300 men in the Odawa village and 150 men in the Potawatomi village, with another 320 men in the Ojibwe or Mississauga settlements just north of Detroit. When women and children are taken into account several thousand Indians called Detroit home.
Dietrich Brehm, who accompanied the new commander of Fort Detroit, Captain Donald Campbell of the Sixtieth Regiment of Foot, wrote in 1760 that “below the Fort are 15 Houses and above it 68 and at the opposite Shore 58 more besides Three Indian villages; and in the whole 221 wooden houses, some of them are very small and ill finished.”
The Rochereaus, Meloches and other French settlers were forced to endure, presumably unhappily, under British rule. The resident native population liked it even less. Their relationships, religious life, trading practices and loyalties remained with the French, with whom they lived side by side for decades, trading, mingling, learning each other’s languages and even inter-marrying.
The Indians were treated far differently under British rule than they were by the French. While relations with the French were far from perfect, they had come to view King Louis XIV and the governor of New France as “Onontio,” or the Great Father, who mediated inter-tribal disputes, protected them from the Iroquois confederation, provided goods from Europe and governed trading relationships. It didn’t take long under British rule for the tribes around the fort to feel contempt toward Britain’s colonial policies and disinterest in engaging closely with them. The British kept a distance, telling the Indians they were now subjects of the Crown. At Detroit and across the Great Lakes, they turned French forts from trading posts into military garrisons, prohibited British fur traders from entering the deep country with Indians to hunt and trade, banned the trading of gunpowder or alcohol, and halted what they viewed as the wasteful and expensive practice of gift-giving, an important custom the French learned was necessary to build goodwill with the Indians.
In the summer of 1762, a secret council of Ottawa, Ojibwa, Huron, Potawatomi and other tribes met at Detroit, probably at Pontiac’s request. Word spread quickly that an insurrection was being planned. Captain Campbell reported that the new British treatment of the natives was not being well received and that the Indians have incited “all the Nations from Nova Scotia to the Illinois to take the hatchet against the English.”
The chief was, in fact, plotting insurrection — and had secured the participation of practically every tribe from Lake Superior to the lower Mississippi River. On April 27, 1763, Pontiac held an intertribal war counsel along the Ecorse River, attended by about 500 tribal representatives. It’s considered likely the heads of major French settlers’ families attended as well.
The action began on May 7, 1763, when Pontiac arrived at the fort with 300 warriors. His plan was to appear to come in peace to discuss the tensions, but British Major General Henry Gladwin had been tipped off to the likelihood of an attack. As it was clear Gladwin’s 130 soldiers were on high alert, Pontiac delayed his siege. The action began in earnest two days later, when Pontiac returned with Indians in 65 canoes. They surrounded the fort, frequently exchanging fire with the British soldiers up on the palisades. It was less of an attack than a stand-off that went on for weeks.
The British were able to hold them off throughout the summer. But word of the siege spread quickly among tribes elsewhere who had committed to join the uprising. Farther north, upon hearing the rebellion was underway, local Ojibwe on June 2 attacked Fort Michilimackinac, killing most of the British inhabitants. At the same time, Pontiac’s allies in Pennsylvania began a siege of Fort Pitt, and other sympathetic tribes, such as the Delaware, the Shawnees, and the Seneca, moved against various British forts and outposts in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.
The Meloche farm at Parent’s Creek played a central role in two major dates in the 1763 uprising: On May 10, when Pontiac and his Indian allies captured two senior British officers and held them hostage in the Meloche household through the summer, and on July 29, when soldiers seeking to invade Pontiac’s Ottawa village were ambushed by Pontiac’s forces from within and around the Meloche household, in what became known as the Battle of Bloody Run.
Hostages on the farm
On May 10, Pontiac claimed he was ready for peace negotiations and persuaded Capt. Campbell, Lieut. George McDougall, and a few other British soldiers to meet with him at the home of Antoine Cullerier. When they arrived, Pontiac decided to hold the men hostage, sending a messenger to Gladwin at Fort Detroit demanding complete surrender — the same terms the British demanded from the French. But Gladwin wouldn’t negotiate.
Francis Parkman’s still-definitive 1851 account of the rebellion, The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War After the Conquest of Canada, describes the scene four days later. “Many of the Indians were eager to kill the captives on the spot, but Pontiac would not carry his treachery so far. He protected them from injury and insult, and conducted them to the house of M. Meloche, near Parent’s Creek, where good quarters were assigned them, and as much liberty allowed as was consistent with safe custody.”
“M.,” or Monsieur Meloche, is Jean Baptiste, now 22, brother of Marie-Josephe Meloche Rochereau, head of the Meloche farm for three years, and, as of seven months earlier, the husband of 18-year-old Marie-Louise Robert. According to the Navarre journal, Meloche and other Frenchmen attempted to dissuade Pontiac from carrying out his attack. “The Frenchmen protested in vain that the war would ruin them and prevent them from going about their business affairs, and they made use of the most telling Indian terms to express to him their trouble,” wrote the journal’s author.
Pontiac remained unmoved, and the home of Jean Baptiste and Marie-Louise was suddenly overrun and converted into a command post, a storehouse to provision the warriors, and as a holding cell for two frightened British officer hostages.
On July 2, McDougall and a few other British prisoners attempted to escape, making it into the forest, but Capt. Campbell stayed put, “slowed down by some extra pounds and his very bad eye-sight,” according to historian Emerson Kent. Two days later, Campbell was taken from the home and tomahawked by Saginaw Ojibwe Chief Wasson, to avenge the killing of his nephew by British soldiers. “The British are outraged. In effect, Pontiac’s men had killed a British envoy sent to negotiate peace,” according to Kent.
Parkman describes the scene in much more gruesome detail: “On hearing of his [nephew’s] death, the enraged uncle had immediately blackened his face in sign of revenge, called together a party of his followers, and repairing to the house of Meloche, where Captain Campbell was kept prisoner, had seized upon him, and bound him fast to a neighboring fence, where they shot him to death with arrows. Others say that they tomahawked him on the spot; but all agree that his body was mutilated in a barbarous manner. His heart is said to have been eaten by his murderers, to make them courageous; a practice not uncommon among Indians, after killing an enemy of acknowledged bravery. The corpse was thrown into the river, and afterwards brought to shore and buried by the Canadians. According to one authority, Pontiac was privy to this act; but a second, equally credible, represents him as ignorant of it, and declares that Wasson fled to Saginaw to escape his fury; while a third affirms that the Ojibwas carried off Campbell by force from before the eyes of the great chief.”
Fifty-nine years later, in 1824, Jean Baptiste’s widow, 79-year-old Marie-Louise Meloche, would also describe the scene, in a first-person historical interview conducted by Charles C. Trowbridge, then a senior aide to Michigan Territorial Gov. Lewis Cass (she would pass away later that year). Given her age and the six-decade lapse in time, she gets some details wrong (she says Campbell was held until August, when he was killed on July 4, for example). Nonetheless, her account to Trowbridge is vivid:
“Major Campbell and Mr. McDougall were conveyed to the house of Mr. Meloche, a large house, sixty feet long, situated on the farm now owned by Mr. Moran, near Bloody Run. After remaining here some time, Mr. McDougall made his escape and got into the fort. Major Campbell remained until the month of August, when he was taken by the Indians and conveyed half a mile or more up the river, where he was killed,” Trowbridge reported Mrs. Meloche as telling him. “During all the time Campbell and McDougall were at the house of Meloche, they were in the custody of the Indians, and the family were obliged to convey food to them in the most secret manner.”
“When the Indians were about to seize and bind Major Campbell, at the house of Meloche, he dropped his pocketbook, in such a manner that Mrs. Meloche could take it up. This she did, and soon after returned the papers to Mr. McDougall.”
The Battle of Bloody Run
By the end of July, Parkman writes, the British reached a separate peace agreement with two of the tribes, the Wyandot (Huron) and Potawatomi, whose villages were on the south and north sides of the river, respectively. Meanwhile, the Ottawa and Ojibwe almost daily assailed the fort with petty attacks. The British holed up in the fort didn’t know it at the time, but reinforcements were on the way. Captain James Dalzell had left Niagara with 22 barges bearing 280 men, with several small cannon, and a fresh supply of provisions and ammunition. He arrived on the 28th, under the cover of night.
The next morning, the flotilla made its way cautiously to the fort, passing the Wyandot and Potawatomi villages. Those tribes, however, opted to violate their truce and opened fire on the vessels, killing 15 British on board. The boats ultimately made it to shore and into the fort.
Once in the safety of the garrison, Dalzell implored Gladwin to allow him to march the following night and attack Pontiac’s camp, which had relocated from the mouth of Parent’s Creek to a safer location beyond some marshes further north. Gladwin opposed the idea, but ultimately relented. Orders were issued to attack on July 31.
At about 2 a.m., about 250 redcoats quietly marched, two-deep, bayonets held high, along a road that today would be E. Jefferson Ave. while two bateaux (a kind of oar-powered flatboat) armed with cannon glided near them for support. Barking dogs awakened the French residents as the troops marched past, but their cover had already been blown. Pontiac had been alerted in advance of the attempted attack by residents, who heard from an indiscreet British soldier. Indian scouts were tracking their every move.
Parent’s Creek, as Parkman describes it, “ever since that night called Bloody Run, descended through a wild and rough hollow, and entered the Detroit River amid a growth of rank grass and sedge.” The same creek can be found today among the landscaped acres of Elmwood Cemetery. The road crossed the creek by a narrow wooden bridge, the other side of which were embankments created by Pontiac for defensive purposes, as well as the picket-fenced gardens and orchards around the French ribbon-farm homes.
Behind wood piles, Indian warriors crouched, guns leveled toward the bridge. “As the English drew near the dangerous pass, they could discern the oft-mentioned house of Meloche upon a rising ground to the left, while in front the bridge was dimly visible, and the ridges beyond it seemed like a wall of undistinguished blackness.”
The 25-person advance guard was halfway across the bridge when Indian yells and gunfire pierced the night stillness.
Navarre’s journal picks it up from here: “The Indians could see them at some distance, for the moon was in their favor lighting up the road the English were taking. Sixty Indians went and occupied Meloche’ s garden, getting behind the picket fence which faced the bridge. When the savages saw that the head of the detachment had passed a little beyond the middle of tlie bridge, the sixty poured in a volley which surprised the English…”
“It was just at daybreak, and yet still dark, when Mrs. Meloche heard the firing,” Trowbridge recounted Mrs. Meloche telling him. “She ran towards a horse mill at the rear of the house, but the great shots from the gun-boats, which were along the shore in aid of the troops, so frightened her that she returned to the house, crept into the window, and met the British interpreters, Baby and St. Martin, with an officer. They were accusing Mr. Meloche of having fired upon them, but he convinced them beyond a doubt that the shot heard from his house was from an old Indian who sat by his fire, smoking his pipe, when the British marched up.”
Outside, half the British advance party was shot down, Parkman says, but Dalzell raised his voice above the din and initially urged the men forward in the attack. Yet, “at every pause they made, the retiring enemy would gather to renew the attack, firing back hotly upon the front and flanks. To advance farther would be useless, and the only alternative was to withdraw and wait for daylight.”
Dalzell ordered a retreat, “which required a charge at a house to their rear, in which a party of warriors was holed up,” according to another description of the battle, in the book “Indian War Sites: A Guidebook to Battlefieds, Monuments and Memorials.” “Dalzell led the charge and was quickly killed. Capt. James Grant replaced him and was successful in dislodging the natives. He was able to free other portions of the army which had been trapped, and the survivors reached the fort.”
In Parkman’s telling: “A great force of Indians had fired upon him from the house of Meloche and the neighboring orchards. Grant pushed up the hill, and drove them from the orchards at the point of the bayonet — drove them, also, from the house, and, entering it, found two Canadians within. These men told him that the Indians were bent on cutting off the English from the fort, and that they had gone in great numbers to occupy the houses which commanded the road below.”
After six hours of horrific battle, in which the Meloches and other French residents were often in the middle between warring Indians and British troops, the gunfire ended and the dead and wounded were loaded onto the bateaux and brought back to the fort. The English lost four officers and 19 enlisted men and had 39 wounded. Of the estimated 400 Indians involved, approximately seven were killed and 12 were wounded, according to the “Indian War Sites” guidebook.
Trowbridge also interviewed Gabriel Casse dit St. Aubin in 1824, when St. Aubin was said to be 76 years old (note: Tanguay says Gabriel was born in 1750, which would have made him 74 at the time of the interview and 13, not 15, at the time of the siege). St. Aubin offers incredible detail to both the Meloche story and recounts an anecdote about Jacque Pilet’s mediating role toward the end of the seige.
Parkman paraphrase’s St. Aubin’s testimony in this way: “St. Aubin was 15 years old at the time of the siege. It was his mother who crossed over to Pontiac’s village shortly before the attempt on the garrison, and discovered the Indians in the act of sawing off the muzzles of their guns, as related in the narrative. He remembers Pontiac at his headquarters, at the house of Meloche; where his commissaries served out provision to the Indians. He himself was among those who conveyed cattle across the river to the English, at a time when they were threatened with starvation. One of his most vivid recollections is that of seeing the head of Captain Dalzell stuck on the picket of a garden fence, on the day after the battle of Bloody Bridge.”
Jacques Pilet, mediator
St. Aubin also recounted to Trowbridge in 1824 his recollection of how a “Monsieur Pilette” acted as a go-between in the late summer of 1763, relaying information to and from Gladwin and his friend Pontiac that led to an end to the siege. We can deduce this was 60-year-old Jacques Pilet (Catherine’s father, and my Pilette cousins’ sixth great grandfather), because he was roughly the same age as his friend Pierre Meloche, was also friends with Pontiac, and the other male Pilets in the settlement, all his relatives, were either already deceased or too young to have played this kind of role. This is Trowbridge’s direct report of St. Aubin’s account:
“The season being far advanced, Major Gladwin observed to Monsieur Pilette, a Frenchman who was very intimate with him as well as Pontiac, that he could not think of standing the siege through the winter as he had but sixty-one men, and the garrison was in great want of provisions and ammunition. On the same day Mr. Pilette met Pontiac, who told him the Indians were impatient, in want of provisions and desirous of returning to their hunting grounds, and that the next day was fixed for their departure; that they intended to remain in their hunting grounds during the winter and to return in the spring to renew the siege.
“Mr. Pilette, having satisfied himself of the truth of this statement, went, on the following morning, to the fort, where he found the baggage prepared and deposited near the water gate of the fort. He waited upon Major Gladwin, who told him that on the succeeding night he intended to embark and leave the fort to the besiegers.
“He related the conversation which he had had with Pontiac, and suggested to the Major that the crops had been tolerable, and that he could purchase provisions of the inhabitants for the subsistence of the troops until spring. Major Gladwin was much pleased at the intelligence. He ordered the baggage to be unpacked and soon had the pleasure to learn that the Indians were departing.
“No communication was had between the commandant and Pontiac, and he and his followers departed without making a peace. Early in the next spring a reinforcement of eighty or a hundred men arrived in batteaux.
“About the usual time of leaving their hunting grounds, Pontiac and a number of Indians came in. He had sent a peace belt to all the different Indian villages during the winter, and one also to Major Gladwin. Of course when he arrived in the spring he found the way open to a peace, and immediately after his arrival a council was held and peace was agreed upon.”
Had it not been for Jacques Pilette’s intervention, according to St. Aubin, the British likely would have abandoned Fort Detroit to Pontiac.
While the uprising ultimately failed, Pontiac’s Rebellion was the first example of an inter-tribal alliance of Indian resistance against advancing European colonial powers. The uprising forced the British colonists to recognize for the first time, at least on paper, that Indians had property rights.
Pontiac’s rebellion also led the British, who were impoverished after the war with France and the expenses required to maintain their vast new territory, to issue the Proclamation of 1763, decreeing the English would not settle west of the Mississippi River, essentially ceding the rest of the continent to native tribes. This greatly upset the British colonists along the Atlantic seaboard, who already had ambitions for pushing their dominion westward. When the British began to levy taxes on stamps and tea on the colonies to help pay for the war to their north, the colonists rebelled.
“The legacies of ‘Pontiac’s Rebellion’ were many,” writes Bryan Rindfleisch of Marquette University, on the website for George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. “When the British Empire took measures to defend Native sovereignty, like enforcing the Proclamation Line of 1763, the colonists vented their frustrations upon the empire, all of which contributed to the revolutionary storm brewing in the American colonies between 1763 and 1775.”
At first, little changed with the south shore French community following British control of the fort, until 1783 after the American Revolution, when retired soldiers and British Loyalists settled in the Sandwich Town area. Crowded out by the white settlers, the Indian villages gradually gave way as native people moved further north or west. In 1800, Huron, Ottawa, Chippewa and Potowatomi chiefs sold their land around Assumption Church to the Crown for a list of goods, including around 100 blankets, 20 kettles, knives, Irish linen, gunpowder and 23 gallons of rum, goods equaling about 300 pounds in Quebec currency.
In 1807, the Ottawa, Huron, Chippewa and Potawatomi nations signed a treaty with William Hull, Michigan’s territorial governor, to cede most of Southeastern Michigan, from Toledo to Port Huron, to the United States. The native Americans received roughly $10,000 worth in money, goods and domestic animals (equivalent to about $202,477 today).
Rocheleaus in the War of 1812
Subsequent generations of Rocheleaus faced none of the drama of the period of 1760–1763, with one major exception: Three of our Rocheleau relatives fought alongside the British and loyal Indians against the Americans in the War of 1812.
Francois’ son Pierre (1770–1842), my fourth great grandfather, and wife Therese St. Cy, lived with their 11-year-old son Michael Rocheleau and their half-dozen other children when the War of 1812 literally came to their neighborhood. He, along with his numerous brothers’ and sisters’ families, lived near the River Canard, a tributary on the south shore, west of the fort.
The Treaty of Paris in 1783 ended the American Revolution, ceding Detroit to the new United States and drawing the border with British Canada down the middle of the Detroit River. At least on paper: It would take another 13 years, and the Jay Treaty in 1796, before the British agreed to surrender Fort Detroit and the surrounding settlement.
Only July 12, 1812, in one of the first conflicts of the renewed war between Britain and the United States, American forces under Gen. William Hull invaded British Canada by crossing the Detroit River to Sandwich, Essex and marching west toward the British Fort Malden in Amherstberg. British forces, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel St. George, included local Indian tribes, led by Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, and hundreds of local militia — basically French farmers from Essex. When Hull crossed the river, many of the French farmer soldiers basically scattered to make way rather than fight.
Militia records indicate three Rocheleaus served in the Essex militias. Reporting to Captain Laurent Bondy’s 5th Company in the 1st Regiment, the entries read: “Pierre Rocheleau, Sergeant, 2nd July to 11th July, Deserted 11th July;” and “Joseph Rochelau, Private, 2nd July to 24th July, On Command at River Canard.”
And serving under Captain Jean Baptiste Barthe’s 3rd Company of the 1st Regiment: “Michel Rochelau [Michel Rochereau dit Lespérance], Private, 2nd July to 24th July, On Command at River Canard.”
Based on the ages of our ancestors in 1812, it’s likely Sergeant Pierre was Francois’ son, 42 at the time (he also had a son named Pierre, but he was only three years old in 1812). Privates Michel and Joseph would most likely be Pierre’s brothers (1762–1842 and 1763–1825, respectively, so 30 and 29 years of age each).
The militia rolls list more than 600 soldiers, including about 290 listed as deserters. Dianne Shepard, who runs the French-Canadian Heritage Society, wrote this about the deserters: “The desertions during July are likely due to a combination of two factors: Hull’s presence in Essex County, and the need to harvest crops. Following the departure of the American army from Essex County, many members of the militia returned to duty. Some may have returned to duty because the harvest was finished or because they were influenced by British General Isaac Brock’s 14 August general order calling for the return of all the troops.” She also wrote: “I suspect that nothing was done to those who deserted during the first period because many of them returned to duty.”
Brock rallied his troops, including native and French civilians, and on July 16, engaged in battle with the Americans in what was one of the first direct confrontations in the war, near the bridge over the Canard River.
Here Hull’s forces threw the British back from the last natural obstacle before Amherstburg and Fort Malden. But, in a decision that would ruin his career and brand him as a coward, Hull did not fully exploit this victory. Concerned his supplies were running low and fearing he lacked the serviceable heavy artillery to batter Fort Amherstburg, he drew back letting the initiative slip from his grasp.
During the fighting, British soldiers, James Hancock and John Dean were captured. Hancock would die of his wounds later in the day, becoming the first British casualty of the war. Dean was taken prisoner to Detroit, where his left arm was amputated due to wounds. One month later he would be liberated when the British captured Fort Detroit. The following year, in October, American troops under Col. Lewis Cass would reclaim the fort and the city, following their victory under Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie.
Cass’ performance in the war would earn him the governorship of the Michigan Territory in 1813, a role he held for 18 years, during which time he negotiated treaties with Native Americans to open land for American settlement and led a survey expedition into the northwest part of the territory. In 1831, three years before Michigan won statehood, President Andrew Jackson appointed Cass as Secretary of War, where he oversaw the removal of thousands of Indians in the southeast United States, a policy known later as the Trail of Tears.
Cass, who later served as a Michigan senator and had two unsuccessful runs for president, died in 1866. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, just north of the property once owned by the Meloche family and near the west bank of Parent’s Creek, still known today as Bloody Run.
Appendix: Primary source references to Rochereaus dit Lesperance
— The names “Lesperance” and “Widow Pilete” (Jacques died a year earlier) appear in a 1766 note from British Lt. Col. John Campbell, 17th Regiment, to British Commander-in-Chief of North America General Gage, listing Detroit River area inhabitants who “promise they will be able in a year or two to furnish a due proportion of Fresh Pork and pease (Baring [sic] unforseen accidents) tho’ at present they cannot engage for any quantity worth taking notice of.” Francois (or Joseph?) commits to 1,000 pounds of flour and 100 pounds of pork; Pilete just the flour. (Lajeunesse, p. 80)
— A 1768 Census of Detroit lists “Lesperance” as having three acres of land, four boys, one girl, two oxen, three cows and four hogs. A second Lesperance has two acres, two girls, two oxen, two cows and seven hogs (Lajeunesse, p. 63)
— A 1778 list of inhabitants at the south shore (“Petite Cote”) includes “Fr. Lesperance.” (Lajeunesse, p. 119)
— In a 1780 letter, Francois Lesperance joins a petition to allow a grain mill to be built near his home on the south shore. (Lajeunesse, p. 86)
— In 1782 , Pierre Meloche, Jr. rents a church pew, and is listed as a warden of the church at St. Anne’s. (Lajeunesse, p. 128)
— The 1782 Census shows Francois Lesperance with no wife, two “young and hired men,” no children at home, no slaves, three horses, two oxen, two cows, two steers and heifers, four hogs, 300 bushes of wheat, 18 arpents of sown wheat, Indian corn and oats on 60 arpents of land. (Lajeunesse, p. 64)
— Land records from 1789 show Joseph Rochereau and Antoine Meloche, Jean Baptiste’s brother, were granted “by the Indians” lots along the Petite Cote, on the south shore of the Detroit River, each measuring 2 arpents wide and 40 arpents long. Other records from 1792 show the families of Joseph Rochereau and Pierre Meloche lived two doors down from each other. (Lajeunesse, p. 76).
— By 1790, according to a Meloche family history, “all of the Meloche families of Detroit had emigrated to the Canadian side (the South Shore) of the Detroit River, except one, the family of Jean-Baptiste.” He transferred ownership of the farm to his son-in-law, Maurice Moran, in 1802.
— Michael Rocheleau (1800–1872) would have a difficult time early in his adulthood. His wife, Margaret Bigras dit Fauvel (1801–1827), would have two children, both whom would die in their infancy, before she died at age 26. Michael remarried Appoline (Pauline) Meloche (1808–1882), the granddaughter of Jean Baptiste’s brother Antoine (1744–1808). On his death registry in 1872, Michael Rocheleau is listed as “Tavern Keeper.”
— The graves around Assumption Church have been relocated several times since the early 1800s, so no known graves exist of Francois, Joseph, their wives or children. The only known grave of a Rocheleau ancestor in Windsor, at present, is that of Jacques Rocheleau (1839–1917), son of Michael Rocheleau and Appoline Meloche and my great great grandfather. He is interred next to his wife, Emilie Pagot (1843–1908), at St. Alphonsus Cemetery in Windsor.
— An update on Jacques: A member of the The French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan posted on their Facebook page links to PDFs of a commercial directory of Windsor residences and businesses from 1888–1911. In the 1888 directory I found a listing for “Jacques Rocheleau, Merchant, Tailor and Clothier,” and his wife Emily, at 123 Oullette. Google Maps shows that address is now at the corner of nice park just a block from the river, with a great view of downtown Detroit, and just a couple blocks from the Windsor Tunnel. The business directory lists his “Gent’s furnishings” establishment as being at 45 Sandwich W.
[Published Dec. 20, 2107; last updated Dec. 9, 2020]