Étienne Brulé, the first European to arrive on the state’s soil (in 1615), was more interested in exploiting the land than worshipping it. Brulé was sent by Samuel de Champlain, lieutenant governor of New France, who hoped to find copper and a shortcut to the Far East. Brulé sent back reports recounting the land’s untamed beauty and strange new flora and fauna.
Other opportunists soon followed. Some were after Michigan’s rich supply of furs, others after the souls of what they saw as a godless land. Among the most famous of these early explorers was Father Jacques Marquette, who established the state’s first permanent settlement at Sault Ste. Marie  in 1668, and a second outpost at the straits of Michilimackinac in 1671. The French coureurs de bois, a loose term for unlicensed traders, provided a sharp contrast to the priests and nobility. Rugged individualists, they lived among the Native Americans, respected their customs, and hunted the region’s rich stores of game.
Marquette’s 17th-century writings brought even more settlers, mostly fur traders such as John Jacob Astor. In the early 1800s, Astor’s American Fur Company, headquartered on Mackinac Island , made him the richest man in the United States. Few efforts were made to establish a permanent settlement until 1696, when Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac convinced France’s King Louis XIV that the area was under threat from the British, who were forming alliances with the Native Americans, and that it would be a strategic stronghold for the French crown.
The king sent Cadillac and a 100-men-strong passel of priests, soldiers, and settlers to found Fort Pontchartrain in 1701. Cadillac, in turn, persuaded several Native American tribes to form a sort of coalition and settle near the fort. Within a short time, thousands of Native Americans and several hundred French families lived nearby, many establishing narrow “ribbon farms” along the Detroit River. Known as la ville détroit (the village at the strait), it soon became an important trading post and a strategic base for the area’s continued settlement. Detroit  remains the oldest city in the state and, surprisingly, among the oldest in the Midwest.