[Some mid-westerners say “Sans-cur-aint.” The French say “Zon-cray-ont.”] The older we get, the more difficult it is to learn new things. Until the Fall 2009 publication of GLEANINGS, most readers were content in their understanding that Gabriel Godfroy was the first European to settle what is now Ypsilanti. All that has changed as we adjust to the fact that the French held forth here from the time of LaSalle’s crossing in the 1600s. Local Scout troops are sure his party camped in Riverside Park before he left the Huron River at Belleville to go overland toward Lake Erie, but there’s no evidence to support that. Delta County Topologist Jim Woodruff, 90, has documented LaSalle’s crossing in his “Topologist’s Blog” for all to examine. Woodruff may even be related to Benjamin Woodruff, another of our “founders,” but others can trace our settlement’s origin back even further. When Karl Williams was a student in EMU’s Historic Preservation Program, he noted in the Fall 2009 GEANINGS, “As indicated in Hugh Heward’s 1790 journal, Gabriel Godfroy was both aware and involved with the trading post established by Jean Baptiste Sanscrainte at Ypsilanti as early as 1790…” Since that revelation, local Francophiles have been brushing up on their high school foreign language skills to further document the Sanscrainte claim. Was Sanscrainte his actual name, or was the word a description of his character? There are still French descendants around with the same last name, but the literal interpretation of that appellation gives rise to still more fascinating contemplation. We are surrounded by last names that once denoted skills, crafts, or professions, but few carry over into today’s reality. Carpenter, Miller, Mauer, Cooper, Wheeler, and many others have ventured far beyond the crafts of their ancestors. Still, it is a tasty exercise to examine how Ypsilanti’s first European entrepreneur may have fit the description: Sans crainte, in the French language is “be without fear,” an apt greeting for anyone venturing into the unexplored wilderness of 1790. Was Jean Baptiste Sanscrainte truly fearless? From the French: Sans crainte = do not fear. Literally, be without fear. Jean Baptiste Sanscrainte must have been fearless to venture into the swamps of this peninsula in the 18th century and he could well have shared this optimism with others to goad them to find their way to his establishment. Sanscrainte’s literal encouragement has spread to the rear window of today’s pick-up trucks with their over-sized wheels and jacked-up axles: Sanscrainte’s decals cover the sides of speeding NASCAR racecars at the Michigan International Speedway in the Irish Hills: The SoBe soft drink company has picked up the “don’t be afraid” theme for an energy drink described in a recent review thusly: “Imagine a glass of orange soda, with some grape drink. Now, add in some salt water, urine, and Canadian bacon, and you’ve pretty much got what No Fear tastes like.” Don’t be afraid; drink up! Sanscrainte’s motto is plastered on the back of leather motorcycle jackets and can be found in chromed, drop-shadowed graphics encircling a human skull perhaps to encourage riders to abandon their helmets and conform to the recently liberalized state law permitting motorcyclists to expose their skulls to the raw pavement of the Interstate. Steve Thomason, who sells himself much in the manner we might ascribe to J.B. Sanscrainte, as “husband, father, son, brother, friend, pastor, teacher, artist, writer, sinner, saint, and child of God,” leads his church youth group with a spin-off of the original: Consider, then, the possibility of quotes pulled from an imaginary interview with Jean Baptiste Sanscrainte, proprietor of a peltry and trading post at the juncture of Native trails crossing the Huron River at that time: A post mortem interview with Jean Bapstiste Sanscrainte, the first-known European settler in what would later become Ypsilanti • Did you enjoy a good season collecting beaver pelts for the king and his court? It seems everyone at Versailles is wearing beaver hats. Business must be good. Selon moi, on peut affirmer sans crainte que nos propres attentes ont également été dépassées. [In my view, we can be reassured that our own expectations have also been exceeded.] • Do you make a good living bartering for pelts with the natives? Aujourd’ hui, nous pouvons affirmer sans crainte que nous avons trouvé notre place en Europe. [However, it also important to focus on a distribution of income that is just and equitable.] • How well does a French trader get along with the indigenous people? Nous parions sur la paix, qui consiste à s'exprimer librement, tranquillement et sans crainte. [We choose peace, which is simply to be able to express oneself freely, calmly and without fear.] • Can travelers count on good quality food and drink offered at your trading post? On nous dit surtout: " Croquez, buvez, avalez sans crainte, il y a une étiquette qui nous protège ". [We are told above all to 'eat and drink without fear, you are protected by the label'.] • How well do the French, English and Indians get along these days? N'oublions cependant jamais que vivre en paix sans crainte d'être persécuté constitue le droit fondamental. [Let us never forget that the fundamental right is to live in peace without fear of persecution.] • What about sending our children into the Great Northwest? Will they be safe? Il faut que les parents puissent sans crainte laisser leurs enfants et adolescents voyager sur ces ferries. [Parents must feel safe in allowing their children to travel on these ferries.] • What plans might you have for observing the New Year (1800)? Je veux garantir à mes électeurs qu'ils pourront profiter librement du passage à l'an 2000 sans crainte du lendemain. [I wish to ensure that my constituents are free to enjoy the millennium without fearing the morning after.] • How secure was the transer of your property to Gabriel Godfroy? Personnellement, j'ai toujours été d'avis que vous agissiez, dans le cadre de ces controverses, sans crainte ni parti pris. [For my part I have always believed that you act in those controversies without fear or favour.] • Have you any second thoughts about your place in history and the stories that might be told about you in future issues of GLEANINGS? Nous pouvons donc, sans crainte, permettre la poursuite de la recherche, source de progrès, en mettant des balises pour éviter tout abus. [We need have no fears concerning research, which is a source of progress, as long as there are clear markers to prevent abuse.] Merci, Monsieur Sanscrainte. Noticing how cleverly M. Sanscrainte has worked his name/motto into every reply, we can reasonably assume that he was immensely successful in his peltry business and made a handsome profit when he sold it to late-comer Gabriel Godfroy and his subsequent heirs by the same name.
Photo credits: 1. Headline photo
2. Pick-up truck logo 3. NASCAR logo 4. SoBe soft drink can 5. Motorcycle chromed “No Fear” 6. Steve Thomason’s “Know Fear”