Location: Mackinac City, Michigan
Webpage: Michigan State Park
General Description: The French first established a presence at the Straits of Mackinac in 1671 when Father Marquette founded his mission at St. Ignace and they augmented the mission with Fort du Buade in 1683 on the upper peninsula. However, they abandoned this fort in 1701 when the French troops were moved to Fort Detroit. By 1713, the French decided to reestablish a fort to support the booming fur trade in the region. This time they built Fort Michilimackinac on the south side of the straits. Over the decades they made several modifications and expansions of the fort, but its primary purpose remained as a meeting place between native Indians, fur trappers, and French-Canadian Voyageurs that would travel from Montreal in large canoes loaded with trade goods in the spring. Over the summer the fort would flourish only to be nearly abandoned each winter when the lakes froze up. Following the end of the French and Indian Wars in 1761, the French turned over Fort Michilimackinac to the British who continued to operate the fort as a major trading post. However, nearly all of the residents were French and Metis (Ojibwe-French) and catholic and they along with the native Ojibwe Indians believed the English to be too harsh. On June 2, 1763, as part of the larger movement throughout the Great Lakes known as Pontiac Rebellion, a group of Ojibwe staged a ball game (similar to Lacrosse) outside the main gate of the fort. They were not very good players and continued to lose the ball over the walls of the fort. After one such occurrence they grabbed weapons from the women who had hid them under their blankets and stormed the fort through the wide open gate. Catching the soldiers by surprise and without aid from the local residents they quickly captured the fort killing many of the British soldiers. They held onto the fort for a year before the British negotiated control of the fort in exchange for better policies and gifts. The British continued to occupy the fort until the Revolutionary War. With the success of the Americans, especially George Rogers Clark in Indiana that posed a threat for both Fort Michilimackinac and Fort Detroit, they decided Fort Michilimackinac was too vulnerable. Beginning in 1781, they began dismantling the fort over the next two years, including most of the buildings, and moved them to a limestone fort on Mackinac Island where the bluffs provided a stronger defense. They burned the remaining buildings and abandoned the area which remained undisturbed until today. After years of being a city park in Mackinac City, the fort became a National Historic Landmark in 1960. Detailed archeological work began in 1959 and continues each summer to this day. As new structures are uncovered and researched, the buildings of Fort Michilimackinac are slowly being reconstructed in their original locations. Today nearly 3/4 of the buildings have been finished with more to come in the future. There are many interpretive exhibits throughout the present day fort which is open to the public.
1) There is a LOT to see and do within Fort Michilimackinac with its many buildings and exhibits. The tour begins with a very good video about the fort within the Visitor Center/Gift Shop. From the center visitors, walk along the banks of the Straits of Mackinac to the palisade walls of the fort. Along the way are a couple of short exhibits about the native Indians that came to the trading post every summer, the over 100 homes that were built outside the fort, and the Voyageur Landing with examples of their large canoes.
2) Within the reconstructed Northwest Rowhouses there is a staircase that leads underground to the Treasures From the Sand exhibit. This exhibit extends under much of the northern part of the fort exhibiting the different phases of the archeological process. It is a GREAT exhibit of how this work is done and what they learn in the process.
3) After visiting the reconstructed Military Latrines, the next set of reconstructed buildings are the Priest House and Church of St. Anne. They have done a marvelous job reconstructing these features with nice exhibits about the life of the church with interpreters on hand to answer any questions.
4) Next to the church are the Southwest Rowhouses which includes a merchant, soldier, and trader houses in a tri-plex structure. The much larger South Southwest Rowhouse is being used to today to house the France at Mackinac exhibit which gives much more history about the fur trade and a movie about the Attack at Mackinac.
5) To the east of these structures are two more rowhouses which are set up an officer and merchant houses along with the powder magazine and an exhibit on firearms.
6) Most of the northeastern section of the fort has yet to be uncovered with long range archeological plans for the future. They have reconstructed the Commanding Officers Quarters in this section which along with the garden behind the house was an interesting contrast to the rest of the living quarters within the fort.
7) The most interesting exhibit was watching the active archeological site in the center of the fort where they are still slowly uncovering more of the history of the fort.