About Fortifications at Mackinac Island
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Before there were any people living in the Straits of Mackinac area, it was filled with trees and animals and fish. The water, wind, and glaciers had formed the land into islands and peninsulas.
Many groups of people came to live at the Straits. First the Native Americans came here. They got their food from hunting, fishing, and gathering and made their houses from tree bark. They traveled on the lakes and rivers in birch bark canoes.
Next came the French. Three hundred and fifty years ago, a man named Jean Nicolet passed through the Straits. He was looking for a way to get to China by boat. He didn't find China but he saw many animals with fur. He told other people and they came to get the furs. This was the beginning of the fur trade.
Native Americans caught and cleaned furs in the winter. The French traders gave them items like blankets, knives, beads and kettles for the furs.
The traders brought the furs to the Straits of Mackinac. Here they were loaded into very large canoes and sent to the cities in the east. From there the furs were shipped to Europe where they were made into hats and clothes. The French built Michilimackinac in 1715 to have a place to exchange the furs and get supplies. The name Michilimackinac referred to the entire straits region.
Through acts of war and in response to war, the post changed hands six times between 1760 and 1815. Although none of the French and Indian War battles were fought in northern Michigan, the effects were felt in the region. Most significant of these effects was the repeated change of command at Fort Michilimackinac which resulted in upheavals in the lives of the Indians and the local residents,
Shifting allegiance began when France gave up all of its land claims in North America in the Treaty of Paris in 1763, and the British took control of the fort. The Native Americans and the French had been working together for a long time, and had developed a good relationship. Suddenly their trading partners changed and British soldiers and British fur traders came to take charge of Michilimackinac after they won the French and Indian War with France.
The Native Americans weren't very happy about trading with the British instead of the French. The British were not as generous in their trading relationships as the French had been. Since the Indian's entire economy now depended on the bargains they struck with their trading partners, the un-empathetic and tight fisted English managed to reduce the impoverished living conditions of the Indians still more. The Native Americans decided to rise up against the British and the American settlers who were encroaching on their land. This uprising is referred to as Pontiac' Rebellion.
Led by Chief Minavavana and Matchekewis, the Ojibwa, Sak, and Fox together captured Michilimackinac in 1763. They turned the fort back over to the French. About one year later the British returned to Michilimackinac and they worked harder to get along with the Native Americans.
There were many people living at Michilimackinac. The British military had officers and soldiers, and some of them had families. The wives of the soldiers had jobs, like washing clothes, preparing meals, cleaning, smoking fish, etc. There were also some French people and American Indians. Generally, these three groups got along fairly well. Michilimackinac didn't have a school, but some children were taught by the priest.
The fur trade was an enormously profitable business for the British, as it had been for the French when they controlled the area. Many fur traders lived and worked out of the post at Michilimackinac. Some traders had families, also. There were so many people living at Michilimackinac, they couldn't all live in the fort. They built houses outside the walls of the fort.
The Revolutionary War changed everything at Michilimackinac and it was difficult to trade during the war. Indians became involved in the conflict, rather than fur trapping, and transporting furs was a hazardous business at times. Since the fur trade was such an economically profitable business for Britain, the British wanted to protect the Great Lakes and their shipping routes.
The British realized that the old fort at Michilimackinac would be extremely hard to defend. Although it was well located for trade and as a mission, other sites offered a better strategic advantage. The British were afraid of being attacked by American or Indian forces so they decided to move the fort to the high cliffs of nearby Mackinac Island in 1779-80. They thought this would be a safer place for the fort, it offered a wider vista for seeing the enemy's approach and cannons from American ships couldn't shoot high enough to hit the fort.
Materials, possessions and food caches were hauled across the Straits, along with dismantled homes, which were rebuilt on the island. Some buildings at Michilimackinac were moved to the new fort and village. Some new buildings on the island were made out of stone. Most of the new houses and buildings were made from wood.
All those buildings needed many thousands of wooden boards. Boards were usually cut by hand in a saw pit, by two people. Robert Campbell came up with the idea to build a saw mill at a fast moving creek near Michilimackinac, (Mackinaw City). Instead of people, the water in the creek made the power to cut the wood. Campbell's saw mill cut boards much faster and more accurately than a pit saw. They called the place where he built the sawmill Mill Creek. The milled lumber was then floated across the Straits for use in the building project. During the winter, materials were transported across the frozen Straits on horse drawn sleds. The people marked the sides of the sled path by sticking pine trees into the snow.
By the summer of 1780, troops were living in blockhouses while remaining fort structures and village buildings were completed. When they moved from the mainland, all of the buildings left at Michilimackinac were burned down so no one else could use them. This posed yet another hardship for the Indians who previously had easy access to their trading partners in times of need. When the military moved to the island, so did all of the other people living at Michilimackinac. The new fort only had enough housing for the officers, soldiers, and their families. The traders and their families had to make a new village with new homes on the island to live in.
By 1781, Fort Mackinac was finished. Soon after, the United States won the Revolutionary War and British give up the Fort to the Americans. The fur trade started up again, and the Americans were supposed to be in charge of the Fort. The British, however, never left the Fort. Since they won possession of Canada in the French and Indian War, they were very unwilling to give up this lucrative trading center. The new American government was so beset with other problems that they ignored the British as best they could. Finally, after Jay's Treaty, the British formally handed over the Fort. They built their own fort nearby on Canadian soil.
Fighting between the Americans and the British wasn't over though. The British military returned to Mackinac Island one last time when they it recaptured control of the fort in a surprise attack during the War of 1812. Although the British held the fort for almost three years, it was returned to the United States after both countries agreed to end all hostilities and return recaptured lands. U.S. soldiers took command of Fort Mackinac in July 1815.
After the fighting was over, the fur trade was very busy. Now Mackinac Island was the place where the furs and trade goods were exchanged. Magdaline La Framboise was one of the traders on the island. She also taught some children who lived there. More people moved to the island and more buildings were built.
The sawmill at Mill Creek was very busy, and a grist mill was also built. This mill ground up corn into cornmeal and wheat into flour. The cornmeal and flour were also called grist.
The fur traders had been collecting animal furs in the Straits of Mackinac for almost 200 years. So many animals had been hunted nearly to extinction. Without the vast and easy supply of furs, the traders and the Indians moved away to find other ways to make livings. Houses were deserted, businesses closed, and even the mills were unused. It was harder for people to make money. Fishing replaced the fur trade as the main business on Mackinac Island. Fishermen working near the Straits of Mackinac brought their fish to the island. The fish were smoked, packed into barrels, and sent to Chicago and Detroit.
When the Civil War started, Fort Mackinac's soldiers went to fight for the Union Army. There were no battles at Fort Mackinac, but it was still part of the war. Three important Confederate officials were guarded at the fort.
After the Civil War ended, people started coming to Mackinac Island again. This time, they were coming to visit, not to live. Tourists from the cities liked Mackinac Island because it was clean and beautiful.
The United States government saw that people liked the natural beauty of the island. They decided to make the fort and part of the island into a park in 1875. This was America's second National Park. The commandant of the fort was in charge of the park. More soldiers were sent to Fort Mackinac to help take care of it.
Twenty years later, in 1895, the government needed the soldiers at Fort Mackinac in other places. They gave the National Park to the state of Michigan, and it became Mackinac Island State Park. The state continued to protect the natural beauty of the island.
The people that ran the Mackinac Island State Park realized that the history of the island needed to be protected like the nature. They started to save old buildings.
Today, the history is preserved at Fort Mackinac, Colonial Michilimackinac, Historic Mill Creek, and Mackinac Island State Park. Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island State Park has original old buildings. At Colonial Michilimackinac and Mill Creek there were no buildings left to save, but they have been rebuilt like they were in the past. Exhibits show things found here and tell about the people who lived here. People dressed in historic clothes show what life was like in the past. They play music and saw wood and cook. They tell visitors about the history and the nature of the Straits of Mackinac.
TIMELINE - The Straights of Mackinac
11,000 Years ago: The last Glaciers left the Straits of Mackinac area.
10,000 Years ago: Native Americans arrived
1634: Nicolet visitsed the Straits- Fur trade begins
1670: Marquette and Dablon built mission for Huron people on Mackinac Island
1671: Establishment of mission at St. Ignace
1690: Cadillac buildt Fort DuBaude at St. Ignace
1715: French built Fort Michilimackinac
1754-1761: French and Indian War (Seven Years War)
1761: British took control of Michilimackinac after French & Indian War
1763: Ojibwa, Sac, and Fox captured Fort Michilimackinac
1764: British returned to Michilimackinac
1776: Revolutionary War began
1779-1781: Michilimackinac abandoned and moved to Mackinac Island
1780s: Robert Campbell built Mill Creek
1783: Revolutionary War ended
1796: Fort Mackinac was turned over to the United States
1805 - 1808: Grist mill built
1812: British captured Fort Mackinac during War of 1812
1814: American soldiers were defeated trying to recapture fort
1815: Treaty of Ghent- British returned fort to the United States
1819: Mills and land at Mill Creek sold to Michael Dousman
1822: Dr. Beaumont began experimenting on Alexis St. Martin
1823: First Protestant Mission established on Mackinac Island
1836: Treaty of Washington- Native American land sold to United States
1839: Mills at Mill Creek closed
1830s: Fishing replaces fur trade as main Straits area business
1861: Civil War started - Fort Mackinac soldiers leave to fight
1862: Three confederate officials guarded at Fort Mackinac
1865: Civil war ended
Late 1860s: Tourists began to visit Mackinac Island
1875: Mackinac National Park created (including Fort Mackinac)
1887: Grand Hotel Built
1895: The Army left Fort Mackinac. Mackinac Island State Park was created.
1957: Mackinac Bridge Built
1958: State Park started to save old buildings on Mackinac Island
1960: Colonial Michilimackinac reconstruction began
1984: Historic Mill Creek opened
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