Passing on family history and tradition to the next generation can be complicated by loss of memories, changes in culture, and shifting priorities in difficult times. But fading family narratives, like old maps, can sustain us even with their limited information, holding clues to the larger story of our families and communities. Dan LeBlanc, a native of Ecorse, Michigan and a tool and die maker by trade, shares his own family narrative which arose out of the vague memories of a previous generation only to be confirmed through the tools of modern research.–ed

My Grandfather Eli “Peck” LeBlanc and my Grandmother “Mimi” only spoke French when they wanted to keep what they were saying a secret from us kids. Even though we were and are very French and Catholic the language of the old world was not passed down as was the case in so many of the folks that settled along the banks of the Detroit River – a river that several generations of my family spent rowing for the Ecorse Boat Club. It is a shame that the language of our ancestors is gone from the west bank of the Detroit!

Trading Posts and Canoe Routes (L. J. Burpee, An Historical Atlas of Canada, 1927)
Trading Posts and Canoe Routes (L. J. Burpee, An Historical Atlas of Canada, 1927)

My ancestors were from Montreal. Francois Jerome Bheame LeBlanc dit LaTour was a soldier stationed there until he was sent to fight in the Fox wars with de Villiers. Later he joined La Vérendrye on the quest for the “Western Sea.” He was known by the English and Scots as ‘Franceway’ and later ‘Old Franceway’ and by the native peoples as Shash, Sasswee and Sirdaw.

He operated out of Ft. Michilimackinac and later partnered with James Finlay on the upper Saskatchewan for over 30 years. Their post is now 60 feet under water since they built the Francois/Finlay dam. In the Samuel Hearne Journals it is mentioned that Francois killed an Indian near the Sturgeon Fort in 1787 for reasons unknown.

In the summer of 1788 Francois and his metis wife Marie Josette witnessed the baptism of their son Pierre age 5 and daughter 18 months on the south shore of Detroit. This is most likely due to the fact that the children were born far into the upper country and remained there until Francois fled when he was accused of killing the Indian man. He was reported to have gone to Detroit to retire. He died in 1794 and was buried at St. Anne’s.

Francois Leblanc was in his sixties when he married Marie Josette Jourdain, age 13, the daughter of Jean Baptiste Jourdain and Mary Josette Reaume and granddaughter of Jean Baptiste Reaume and Symphrose Ouaouagoukoue. Present at the wedding were the Bourassa family and none other than the “father of Wisconsin” Charles Langlade. From that marriage were two known children Pierre and Suzette. Pierre married Teresa Bourassa, the daughter of Charles Louis Bourassa and Teresa Meloche. The Meloche family of Detroit was very close to Chief Pontiac.

French Explorers in the West, 1659-1743 (L. J. Burpee, An Historical Atlas of Canada, 1927)
French Explorers in the West, 1659-1743 (L. J. Burpee, An Historical Atlas of Canada, 1927)

Some interesting facts and speculation: I have records showing that Francois Leblanc’s father of the same name was a soldier stationed at Montreal under Cadillac. He along with his brother in-law Toussaint Dardenne rented property in the original Cadillac Village. Also, the son of Francois’ trading partner James Finlay was the famous “Jaco” Finlay. The first explorers to cross over the “Stoney” mountains two years before Lewis and Clark were Charles LaGrasse and Pierre LeBlanc. This Pierre LeBlanc was possibly the country born son of either Francois Leblanc or one of his brothers from Montreal.

We had relatives on both sides of the river, Petite Cote now LaSalle, River Canard as well as the Raisin River near Monroe. Many of these family members were retired from the fur trade. As with many of the early French of the region it was commonplace to marry native people or people of mixed blood so I guess we are all Metis. Additionally there were a lot of marriages between close cousins.

My Grandparents only gave us vague family history, which included the fact that our people were part of the early fur trade and that we were “part Indian.” With the advent of the Internet and a lot of hard work by my mother and cousins we were able to pull all of this together over the years. But most of all they gave us a lot of great memories and a history to be proud of. And I sure miss my Mimi’s meat pies!


  1. My husband and kids are direct descendants of the James & Jaco Finlay you mention & I would love to find out more–specifically, do you know/have documentation you could share as to whether Jaco was a Catholic man? Also, do you know his mother’s name or his Cree wives’ names?


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