From France to U-M’s founding

Before fleeing to the United States, Father Gabriel Richard, one of the original founders of the University of Michigan, was a novice Catholic priest at the Society of Saint Sulpice in France. (Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library)

In the late 1700s, during the French Revolution, Father Gabriel Richard refused to declare his allegiance to the secular French Republic. With his freedom and possibly his life in danger, he boarded a ship called Reine des Coeurs that was smuggling priests out of France and to the United States. In the United States, Richard taught math at a Baltimore seminary and worked among Native Americans and frontiersmen along the Mississippi River. Finally, in 1798, he was transferred to Detroit, where he became the pastor of Ste. Anne’s Church. After the War of 1812, Richard helped negotiate the Treaty of Fort Meigs, through which three Native American tribes — the Ojibwe, Odawa and Bodewadimi — ceded land for what became U-M. Richard helped craft a program of public education for the territory with the “new university at its apex.” During these early Detroit days, the academic enterprise consisted of a little preparatory school, with Richard serving as vice president, professor and trustee at an annual salary of $18.75.

— Adapted from “Who was Gabriel Richard” by James Tobin, Michigan Today.



Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.