Sunday, January 21, 2018

An Unburied Historical Treasure: Colonial Fort Michilimackinac

As you walk through the opening in the palisades into historic Fort Michilimackinac you are transported back to Colonial America. You wouldn’t guess that the structures had been rebuilt within the last century.

During the summer, the return of the voyageurs is reenacted often. In fact, this wooden fort, strategically placed on the Straits of Mackinac, at the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula was built more for the fur trade than defense. Michilimackinac was established in 1715 by the French.

Over the years scholars have disputed the meaning of the name Michilimackinac. Most have believed the name to mean “The Great Turtle” as this was considered the shape of Mackinac Island. In 1887, Andrew J. Blackbird, an Odawa historian wrote that the area was named as a memorial to an extinct tribe known as the “Mi-shi-ne-macki naw-go.” 

View of Straits of Mackinac and entrance into the reconstruction of Fort Michilimackinac from
inside by Aldryd, 2006 [CC] from Wikimedia Commons.
Voyageurs and traders came from Montreal to meet at Michilimackinac with trappers who’d traveled farther west to obtain pelts. Many Native Americans lived in a close by community, also trading at the outpost. There were many peaceful years and friendly relations between the French and Native Americans, such as the Odawa tribe.

The thriving church of Ste. Anne also had a place in the fort. Today there are reenactments of an 18th century wedding each day the fort is open to visitors.

After the British victory in the French and Indian War, the British took charge of the fort. Because of their poor treatment of the Native Americans, this did not sit well with the local tribes. Along with the fact that they had recently fought on the same side as the French, which didn’t help the relationship with the British either.

Backyards in Ft. Michilimackinac by grggrssmr, 2009 [cc]
from Wikimedia Commons
The French and Metis (Ojibwa and French) civilians along with British fur traders stayed there after the transfer of power. The British continued to maintain its operation as a fur trading outpost.

A young, perhaps rather na├»ve commanding officer, Captain George Etherington, was sent with his regiment in 1761 and took command of Michilimackinac in 1762. 

Invited by the Ojibwa to watch a game of baggatiway (a game similar to lacrosse), under the guise of celebrating King George III’s birthday, Captain Etherington was shocked when the Ojibwa pulled a surprise attack.

Cannon shot at the fort by Snaplucky, 2017, [cc]
Wikimedia Commons

After their wooden ball wound up in the fort. Ojibwa women wrapped in blankets waited on the sidelines, hiding knives to pass to their men. The warriors entered the fort, killing most of its English inhabitants. At least twenty-seven British men were killed between the attack and those executed later. Perhaps a dozen others were held as prisoners. Etherington and his lieutenant survived the attack but were held captive.

This coup had been planned by Native Americans working with Chief Pontiac, whose rebellion was designed to oust the British from the areas they controlled. The Native Americans held Michilimackinac for a year and then the British regained control after bearing gifts and making promises of better treatment.

Fort Michilimackinac didn’t have a higher vantage point from where to observe oncoming enemies and the wooden palisades were difficult and expensive to keep in repair. In 1781, the British built a brand-new fort on Mackinac Island with limestone walls in an area which could be well-defended. (If you’ve ever walked up the many steps to Fort Mackinac on an 85-degree day you know what I’m talking about!)

Inside the fort by Eli Duke, 2004, [cc]
Wikimedia Commons

After overseeing the construction of Fort Mackinac, Patrick Sinclair, the lieutenant governor of Michilimackinac, ordered the burning of Fort Michilimackinac. It’s days as a fur trading post were over.

Archaeological excavations of the site began in 1959 and led to rebuilding many important buildings in Fort Michilimackinac. Today, excavations continue and the fort is overseen and cared for as part of Mackinac Island State Parks. If you’d like a firsthand experience of colonial life on the straits at the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula you will enjoy the reenactments, sites, and daily activities offered during the tourist season.

Kathleen Rouser is the award-winning author of Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan. She is a longtime member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen longs to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband, and the sassy tail-less cat who found a home in their empty nest. Connect with Kathleen on her website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser

More than fists fly after a fight between Philip and Zeke. When their widowed parents, Maggie Galloway and Thomas Harper meet they can’t seem to agree on much.
But when he is deathly ill, Maggie nurses him back to health, and takes his children in hand. Growing affection between them is quickly denied by both. An old beau appears offering Maggie a new opportunity. But then tragedy strikes the town and Thomas and Maggie find themselves working together to save the children of Stone Creek from a huckster’s potion. As Maggie considers leaving town, Thomas wants to offer her an alternative. Is he too late to declare his love to the angel of mercy who has captured his heart?


  1. I love these posts about the various forts. Thanks for doing all the research.

    1. You're welcome. I'm so glad you enjoy them! I've been to Mchilimackinac many times so
      that helps.

  2. Reading about Fort Michilimackinac and the various activities was a nice experience, since I've not visited there. It would be wonderful to be at some of the reenactments during the Colonial times at Fort Michilimackinac. Thank you for sharing your discovery and sharing the information. So much history that needs to be shared and HHH is a great place. Blessings.

    1. It's really wonderful how they have so many people there who take the time to learn the history
      and represent it properly. Some people stay the same week each summer, volunteering in the same
      or different roles. And there are some paid staff too. They do a great job. It's worth the visit.

  3. Another interesting post! Thank you for sharing.

  4. We live in Michigan and have visited many times. It is some great history surrounding the Fort and the Island (the new fort located there). Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I'm a lifelong Michigander and have visited many times as
      well. Mackinaw City was a great area for us to vacation as a family. We enjoyed not only the history but
      also the beach! :)