restricted access 12. Michilimackinac, a Civilian Fort
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12 Michilimackinac,aCivilianFort Lynn L. M. Evans Fort Michilimackinac, built on the south shore of the Straits of Mackinac about 1715, was one of a series of forts built to control this strategic location during the colonial period. Although military, it was much more a fortified trading post. Archaeological excavations have taken place at Michilimackinac every summer since 1959, and approximately two-thirds of the fort has been excavated. The Straits of Mackinac are formed by the junction of Lakes Michigan and Huron. As early as 1670, Father Claude Dablon wrote: Missilimackinac is an Island of note in these regions . . . situated exactly in the strait connecting the Lake of the Hurons and that of the Illinois [Lake Michigan], and forms the key and the door, so to speak, for all the peoples of the South, as does the Sault for those of the North; for in these regions there are only those two passages by water for very many Nations. (Thwaites 1959:157) Mackinac Island was the site of the first European settlement in the straits area, but the cultural history of the region goes back over a thousand years. The Anishnabeg (the Odawa, the Ojibwa, and their ancestors) came every summer to fish for whitefish and lake trout. The seasonal concentration of Native people brought Jesuit missionaries to the area, including Father Dablon. He spent the winter of 1670–71 on Mackinac Island. After discovering that the island was too rocky to support horticulture, Father Jacques Marquette moved the mission north of the straits, establishing the Mission of St. Ignace in 1671. The mission served not only local Indians but also a number of Huron people who were following the Jesuits during their diaspora fleeing the Iroquois. Michilimackinac, a Civilian Fort · 217 Huron and Odawa villages located on a major water route were appealing not just to missionaries but to fur traders as well, and a French trading community soon developed. Baron Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce Lahontan ’s 1684 map shows a French village, the Jesuits’ house, the Huron village, the Odawa village, and Indian fields. Conflicts between traders and priests, and recognition of the commercial and strategic importance of the Straits of Mackinac, led to establishing Fort de Buade by 1690. The fort was abandoned in 1697, as part of a general reorganization of New France. Some of the region’s Indians, missionaries, and traders moved their activities to Detroit when that post was founded in 1701; others remained. About 1715, the French officially reestablished their presence in the Straits of Mackinac, this time on the south shore, where the Odawa and Jesuits now resided. The new post of Michilimackinac was established by Constant Le Marchand de Lignery as part of the French campaign against the Mesquakie (Fox) Indians and to prevent British incursions into the area. The caption on an anonymous map ca. 1717 states that the fort on the south side had a commandant, a few settlers, and some French women. Figure 12.1. The upper Great Lakes. (Mackinac State Historic Parks Collection.) To view this image, please refer to the print version of this book 218 · Lynn L. M. Evans Not much is known about the physical characteristics of this first fort. There are no extant plans or drawings; only a sketchy description survives. In a 1720 memorial to Count Toulouse, seeking reimbursement for his expenses during the Fox War, de Lignery listed: “Having, also, before departure , had a new Establishment created for the Outavois and the French, on the other Side of the River; a fort for the garrison, with two guardhouses , and a 40-foot house—all at his own expense” (Thwaites 1888–1911, 16:387). A few sections of “DeLignery’s Fort” survived under later versions of Michilimackinac and have been identified over the years. Archaeologists extrapolating from these remains estimate it to have been roughly 150 sq. ft., enclosing a mission and around 20 houses (Heldman 1991:13). In the 1730s, New France flourished with the fur trade, and Michilimackinac flourished along with it. The missionary function of the post decreased, as the Jesuits established a new mission at the Odawa village of L’Arbre Croche, some 20 miles down the Lake Michigan coast. As more traders came to Michilimackinac, it underwent its largest expansion and reconstruction. Its purpose was largely as an entrepôt for the fur trade of the pays d’en haut, the western Great Lakes. The soldiers garrisoned at the fort policed this trade and...


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- French and Indian War, 1754-1763.
  • Fortification -- United States -- History.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- United States.
  • Historic sites -- United States.
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