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.