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Madeline La Framboise (1780–1846), born Marguerite-Magdelaine Marcot,[1] was one of the most successful fur traders in the Northwest Territory of the United States, in the area of present-day western Michigan. Of mixed Odawa and French descent, she was fluent in the Odawa, French, English and Ojibwe languages, and partnered with her husband. After he was murdered, she managed the fur trade successfully for more than a decade. She retired from the trade, building a fine home on Mackinac Island.

Madeline La Framboise
Madeline La Framboise-image-28.jpg
Artist's depiction from descriptions
BornFebruary 1780
Died(1846-04-04)April 4, 1846
OccupationFur trader
Spouse(s)Joseph La Framboise
ChildrenJosette and Joseph La Framboise

As one of the most prominent early businesswomen of Michigan, she was elected in 1984 to the state's Women's Hall of Fame. La Framboise became active in founding a school on Mackinac Island for Native American children, and supporting a Sunday School and other activities at Sainte Anne Church. She donated land for a new site for the church, and was buried beneath its altar.


Early lifeEdit

She was born Marguerite-Magdelaine Marcot in February 1781 at Fort St. Joseph, near present-day Niles, Michigan.[1] She was the youngest of seven children of Jean Baptiste Marcot (1720–1783), a French fur trader.[2] Her mother was Marie Nekesh (c.1740 - c.1790), an Odawa woman also known as Marianne or Marie Amighissen.[2] Her maternal grandfather was Chief Kewinoquot.[3] The children's father was killed in 1783. Therese and Magdelaine, the two youngest children, were baptized as Roman Catholic a few years later on August 1, 1786, on Mackinac Island. When their father was alive, he sent the children to Montreal to be educated, but their mother did not have the financial resources to do that. She moved to Mackinac with Madeline and her sisters after the British abandoned Fort St. Joseph, ceding the area to the United States.[1]

Her mother raised the younger daughters in a Lac Courtes Oreilles village at the mouth of the Grand River. (This has been a federally recognized tribe since 1854.) This area was later developed by European Americans as Grand Haven, Michigan.[4] Therese and Madeline both became fluent in four languages: Ottawa, French, English and Chippewa (Ojibwe).[1]

In later years, Magdelaine's older sisters Therese and Catherine Marcot also became active in the fur trade, taking over from their husbands, George Schindler and Jean Baptiste Cadotte, respectively. Although neither became as successful as Magdelaine, they made good lives for themselves and descendants. Also fluent in several languages, they were also aided by their ties among the Odawa and familiarity with Native American culture.[2]

Marriage and familyEdit

Marcotte married Joseph La Framboise (1765–1806) in 1794. On September 24, 1795, they had their first child, a daughter, Josette La Framboise (1795–1820).[4] Their son Joseph La Framboise was born in March 1805. (He lived to 1856).[4] Although the couple were married by Odawa custom (known as "the custom of the country"), they had their marriage solemnized on July 11, 1804, by a Catholic missionary at Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island).[1] (Magdelaine/Madeline's surname has also been recorded as Laframboise, and she became known as Mme. La Framboise.)

Fur tradingEdit

Madeline La Framboise and her husband Joseph developed a fur trade in the Grand River Valley of west Michigan, where they established many trading posts. Every fall they would take their trade goods for business with the Ottawa from Mackinac Island down to the Grand River area. They built another post at what has developed as Fallasburg, Michigan. This was the first permanent mercantile building in the west Michigan area. Every spring they returned to Mackinac Island with the furs they had acquired through the season's trading.[5]

On her ownEdit

After Joseph La Framboise was murdered in 1806, Madeline La Framboise took over their fur trade. She continued to manage several trading posts, and expanded her business throughout the western and northern portions of Michigan's lower peninsula. She also raised their two children, sending both Josette and Joseph to Montreal for education in French schools.[6]

Fur trading could be a lucrative business: an experienced fur trader earned about $1000 per year (which was a large sum at the time); La Framboise was highly successful, earning $5000 to $10,000 per year.[7]

"La Framboise, the half-Ottawa wife of a murdered French trapper, owned a string of trading posts in the Grand River Valley. Reputed to be no ordinary woman — probably for succeeding in an exclusively male trade in the "pays d'en haut" or savage country."[8]

In the early 1800s Mackinac had a permanent population of about 250; although it was part of the United States and a territory, most of the residents were still of French and Métis ancestry, and French was the predominant language. In the summer trading season, the population could reach 4,000, attracting agents and Native Americans from the interior.[4] La Framboise was not alone as a woman fur trader. In 1805 her sister Therese moved with her daughter Marianne to Mackinac full-time after her marriage to trader George Schindler, who was well-respected. They lived nearby and Therese worked with her husband in the trade.[4]

In addition, both women had become friendly with Elizabeth (Bertrand) Mitchell (c.1760-1827) and her husband. She was the mixed-race wife of the Scots physician David Mitchell (c.1750-1832), who had served with the British at Michilimackinac since 1774 and married her there. When the 8th Foot regiment departed in 1780 during the American Revolutionary War, Mitchell chose to resign and stay on Mackinac Island with his wife and children.[9] He had begun fur trading and by 1790 built quite a business with his wife's help and her Ottawa family connections. They were also among the elite traders; they sent their sons to Montreal for their education and their daughters to Europe. Their lives were quite interrupted by the War of 1812, during which Mitchell rejoined the British Army. Afterward, under pressure by Americans, the family moved to Drummond Island, where Mitchell stayed with three of their sons. Elizabeth was with him temporarily, but returned about 1816 with their son William to manage their holdings on Mackinac. They had retail stores at both places and traveled to see each other.[9]

La Framboise's several languages and her strong network among the Native Americans helped her continue successful trading against the competition of John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company monopoly. About 1818 she became an affiliate of his, and sold out in 1822 to his American Fur Company. Rix Robinson, a Michigan pioneer, completed the transaction and took over her business.[8] La Framboise, then 41 years old and a very wealthy woman, retired to a stately home on Mackinac Island, which construction was managed by her son-in-law Captain Benjamin Pierce, commandant of Fort Mackinac.[6]

Life on Mackinac IslandEdit

House of Madeline La Framboise, Mackinac Island

After her retirement from fur trading, La Framboise taught herself to read and write in both French and English. She supported the first Catholic school for Native American children on the island, starting it in her home. Continuing her devotion to Ste. Anne's Church, she taught catechism to children there. She was influential in keeping the congregation together in the several years when it did not have a regular priest. Both her activism with the church and work for the education of children secured her place in Mackinac society.

The parish register lists Mme. Laframboise as godmother for many baptisms and witness at many marriages. When the church leaders decided to move the church from its original location, La Framboise donated the property next to her home as the site for the building. Ste. Anne's Church still stands there today.[7][10] In exchange for her gift of land, La Framboise asked to be buried beneath the altar of Ste. Anne's at her death.

Her daughter Josette La Framboise, known as Josephine, was married on April 2, 1816 to Benjamin Kendrick Pierce (1790–1850), commandant of Fort Mackinac. When they lived in Washington, DC, she was consulted on Indian affairs.[6] Benjamin was the brother of Franklin Pierce, who was elected as U.S. President in 1852. Pierce and Josette had two children, Josette Harriet Pierce (also known as Harriet Josephine Pierce), born in 1818, and Benjamin Langdon Pierce, born in 1820. Josette La Framboise Pierce died on November 24, 1820.[11] Their son Benjamin Langdon Pierce died in infancy.[4] Magdelaine La Framboise took over the upbringing of her granddaughter after her daughter's death.[12]

Magdelaine's son Joseph La Framboise became a fur trader and merchant, living along the Minnesota River Valley and also in Montreal, where his mother traveled to visit him.[1] He married Magdeleine "Sleepy Eyes" Sisseton around 1827, a member of the Sioux tribe. They had one son, Francis La Framboise. After his wife Magdeleine died, Joseph married again in 1845 in Nicollet County, Minnesota, to Jane Dickson, daughter of fur trader William Dickson. She was believed to be 1/4 or half-Sioux through her mother. They had children. Joseph La Framboise died there in November 9, 1856, Little Rock Creek, Ridgely Township.[13]

During the 1830s and 1840s, La Framboise continued to host many prominent visitors to Mackinac Island, including French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, who explored the United States and wrote about it, and Sarah Margaret Fuller, an "American woman of letters" from Massachusetts.[1] Fuller memorialized her trip in a non-fiction book entitled Summer on the Lakes, where Fuller referred to her interaction with Laframboise, saying "The house where we lived belonged to the widow of a French trader, an Indian by birth, and wearing the dress of her country. She spoke French fluently, and was very ladylike in her manners. She is a great character among them. They were all the time coming to pay her homage, or to get her aid and advice; for she is, I am told, a shrewd woman of business." " Juliette Augusta Kinzie described La Framboise as "a woman of a vast deal of energy and enterprise – of a tall and commanding figure, and most dignified deportment."[1]

Death and legacyEdit

La Framboise died on April 4, 1846. Father Henri Van Renterghen of Ste. Anne's honored the request of Mme. La Framboise and had her interred beneath the altar of the church. In the 1960s, Ste. Anne's was renovated and a basement activity center was added. The remains of La Framboise, as well as those of her daughter Josephin Pierce and her infant daughter Josette, who had been buried with her, were relocated and interred in Ste. Anne's churchyard. A historic marker there also recognized La Framboise and her contributions.[11]

In the early 21st century, Ste. Anne's Church constructed a crypt in the church for interment and prayer. It honored La Framboise by reinterring her and her family's remains in the crypt on July 26, 2013. Some of her descendants attended the ceremony.[14]

The mansion of La Framboise still stands next door to the church. It has been acquired, renovated and adapted for use as the Harbour View Inn.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h David A. Armour, "MARCOT, MARGUERITE-MAGDELAINE," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 11, 2014,
  2. ^ a b c John E. McDowell, “Therese Schindler of Mackinac: Upward Mobility in the Great Lakes Fur Trade”, Wis. Magazine of Hist. (Madison), 61, No. 2 Winter (1977–78): 125–43,  – via JSTOR (subscription required), accessed 12 September 2014
  3. ^ Maggie McLean, "Madeline La Framboise", History of American Women, 13 January 2013, accessed 12 September 2014
  4. ^ a b c d e f J. E. McDowell, "Madame La Framboise," Mich. Hist. (Lansing), 56 (1972): 271–86
  5. ^ "Madeline La Framboise", Michigan Women's Hall of Fame, accessed December 22, 2006
  6. ^ a b c Waldman, Carl. "La Framboise, Magdelaine", Biographical Dictionary of American Indian History to 1900, Revised Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2000. American Indian History Online. Facts On File, Inc. ItemID=WE43&iPin=ind6049&SingleRecord=True (accessed September 22, 2014)
  7. ^ a b collection 264 Making a Difference Exhibit[permanent dead link], Grand Rapids Public Library, accessed December 20, 2006
  8. ^ a b A Snug Little Place/ Memories of Ada Michigan 1821 - 1930, Ada Historical Society/Jane Siegel, 1993, p. 23
  9. ^ a b Author of Article: David A. Armour Title of Article: MITCHELL, DAVID Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6 Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval Year of publication: 1987 Year of revision: 1987 Access Date: September 22, 2014
  10. ^ Ste. Anne's Church, official website Archived October 14, 2006, at the Wayback Machine accessed December 22, 2006
  11. ^ a b Gravestone for Magdalene Laframboise and Josephin Pierce, and adjacent historic marker. St Anne's churchyard, Mackinac Island, Michigan. Photographed Oct 2001 by Don Gentner
  12. ^ url= | accessdate=December 28, 2017
  13. ^ Gentner family tree subsection 3554,, accessed December 22, 2006
  14. ^ Samantha Redacker, "Memorial Honors Fur Trader LaFramboise", Mackinac Island News, 2 August 2013
  15. ^ The Harbour View Inn website

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit