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Friday, September 28, 2012

Colonial Fort Michilimackinac by Carrie Fancett Pagels


Fort Michilimackinac
Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, Michigan, was where I conducted on site research this past summer. Situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, where Lake Huron meets it in the straits of Mackinac, this National Historic Landmark features reenactments from British 1770’s occupation and the American Revolution.  Surrounded by a stockade wall, this treasure has continued to expand with more exhibits each time I have visited. (I am originally from upper Michigan.) 

Location: Mackinaw City sits at the middle of the top of the “mitten” of lower Michigan. Northeast is Mackinac Island, round island and east is Bois Blanc Island. 

Bark teepee outside Fort Michilimackinac
Outside the fort, native peoples would have had their encampments, particularly during the summer seasons when trading was done. The men trapped and hunted and the women skinned the animals.  Note the otter skins hanging to the right of the teepee and left of the birch trees.  By the way, beautiful silver birch trees grow up north and birch wood was often used to make canoes.  
French Métis  re-enactor and Carrie Fancett Pagels 
On my visit to Fort Michilimackinac, I was able to speak with Susan, a former librarian and wonderful fellow history fanatic, who portrayed a French Métis woman of French-Chippewa heritage.  She had beaded most of her clothing herself and had also created her own Ojibway jewelry.  

Below is a picture of the amazing beadwork on her moccasins.

She showed me (I’m a fellow beader) how the porcupine quills were used in necklaces, forming kind of a hollow tube, through which string can be run. I had not realized porcupine quills were hollow.  To be used, the ends have to be cut. 



The fort was reconstructed to preserve the area’s history and depicts life in the early years of Mackinac City under European influence.  

The French courier du bois and voyageurs  met in this area for fur trading with the native Americans, several tribes being predominant in the area, e.g., Ojibway and Hurons. Traders would travel all the way from Montreal to the straits of Mackinac each summer.

Commander DePeyster's house.
Inside the fort are many buildings to be investigated, such as the British commander's house, portrayed at the left. The fort was under the occupation of the French for a long time and there is a building set up to serve as the priest’s quarters.  This was one of my favorite buildings because it held copies of baptismal records, and from those records I got kernels to start some new stories growing. 

All of this area was under the control of the French until after the French-Indian War. The British then took control of Fort Detroit and Fort Michilimackinac.   The British operated very differently than the French as far as interacting with the Indian tribes. Their callous disregard for following native customs resulted in problems, including Pontiac’s Rebellion, which I will be posting about this winter. British soldiers had reason to be wary of their new post!
In letters written home, the British soldiers complained greatly of the cold and deprivation.  But they played games, told stories, wrote letters, and participated in religious services like soldiers do today. However, unlike the French, who often blended into the communities, intermarrying with the Ojibway women, the English were more or less occupiers rather than integrators. 

One of the treats those early settlers had, that we still enjoy today, was of viewing the gorgeous sunsets.  The skies around the straits are bluer than anywhere I have been. So do yourself a favor--if you are in Michigan, head up to this National Treasure and enjoy all that Fort Michilimackinac has to offer! And expect some more posts from me in the coming year about Colonial Michilimackinac and nearby Mackinac Island, where American troops captured the British fort during the American Revolution.



19 comments:

  1. Love this article, Carrie! I'm such a history buff. You did a wonderful job with the photos. Well done, friend.

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    1. Thanks, Cynthia! We had so much fun and the staff at the fort were so nice. We are trying to include our own photos, when possible, to avoid any problems using pictures from the internet. And I have lots more pictures, and comments, to share!

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  2. Carrie, I love beading too! I used to spend hours creating, but I'm afraid I was never quite as artistic as the Indians.

    Terrific article. I've been reading about that area myself, only in the 17th century...somehow I'm always a century behind. LOL The French did a lot to open up that country for trading.

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    1. I have done some research in the 17th century, there, too, Lynn and I grew up nearby so I heard stories all my life. When I was a child, Sault Ste. Marie, in the upper peninsula, celebrated its 300th anniversary! Yeah,as a French city first, right about the time the USA was celebrating its centennial!

      Thanks, Lynn!

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  3. As I read this post I was SO wishing I could visit there too. Every photo had something in it I would love to get up close to. I greatly admire the bead work of the Great Lakes nations and that of the Iroquois (my cover designer asked for several examples of designs so maybe some aspect of them will end up on my book cover for Willa).

    The nearest (almost 18C) fort I have to tour is the little fort replica of the Lewis & Clark expedition, up the road in northern Oregon.

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    1. Lori, You would love the fort on Mackinac Island, too. The Michilimackinac fort seems to expand every time I am there. Two decades ago there wasn't much there, but I still used to go. I grew up seeing all kinds of beadwork because the Chippewa are prevalent in the eastern upper peninsula.

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  4. I meant to add about the beading, I've done bead work on a loom, and did some for a Plains style quiver I made.

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    1. Never have done loom work myself, Lori. It seemed too hard. Wow, a quiver--that is cool!

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  5. Great post on a charming place, Carrie. I can almost taste the famous Mackinac Island fudge.

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    1. Haha, Janet. They sell it there in Mackinaw City, too, not just on Mackinac Island. I bet this is where you depart to the island from, though, not the U.P. side in St. Ignace. I am afraid I tasted too much of the island fudge when I got home--we had some mailed to us!!! Thanks for coming by!

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  6. You have no idea the envy with which I look at your geography. I live in the middle of the country where history (most of it) began mid-nineteenth century. What wouldn't I give to be able to do several days of research in the colonies.

    Thanks for the informative article - especially confirming the attitudinal differences between the French and the British. I had suspected that, but didn't actually know.

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    1. JUDITH, There is so much cool history in the midsection of our country, though, too! And I think it may have been a less scary place to be than the forts and outposts during colonial times! I think the weirdest thing for me, moving from French settled upper Michigan to the south was the absence of French surnames and of course no hockey in Columbia, SC, lol!

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  7. Carrie, such an interesting post. I love the pictures which make me wish I could visit there. I appreciate more than I can say the efforts of people to preserve history. Places like this fort light my creativity on fire. Just imagine....

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    1. I appreciate the efforts of the government to support the progress they are doing at the fort. I was shocked to learn that the archaelogy dig going on there was being conducted by non-university personnel but I thought they said they were state employees. Almost everything done around here in VA seems to have university backed research money for it.

      Creativity--yikes, I don't need any more inspiration as I have enough story ideas to last until I am 100, but of course I did get some more while I was there, SUSAN!!!

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  8. Oh, Carrie, I SOOO missed out, apparently!! Keith and I went on a biking trip that took us to Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island, but the only "fort" we saw was the remains of the one at the top of Mackinac Island, which was not too impressive. Wish I had read this blog before we went!! :(

    Hugs,
    Julie

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    1. Oh heavens, Julie, you only saw the ancient fort remains in the middle of the island! There is a HUGE fort right when you arrive on the island, up on the hill by the harbor. And it has awesome stuff in there, too. And in Mackinaw City this fort is west of the docks.

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  9. I love visiting old forts. American Indians have always fascinated me, especially since I've been told that my gg-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee and photos of my great-grandfather look like was Indian. Great post!

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  10. I love visiting old forts. American Indians have always fascinated me, especially since I've been told that my gg-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee and photos of my great-grandfather look like was Indian. Great post!

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    1. We have an agent at Hartline, too, Jen, who is part Cherokee and I have a former critique partner who is. You are so fortunate your ancestor was not forced to walk the Trail of Tears. Or was she? Do you know?

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