Monday, October 21, 2019

Defeated Before They Knew They Were at War

After tensed relations heightened over trade and other issues with Britain, the War of 1812 commenced in June of that year. Not a month later, Fort Mackinac fell to the British. In fact, the citizens of Mackinac Island didn’t yet know war had been declared.

Built from limestone and seated on a limestone bluff, the fort guarded the Straits of Mackinac from its post on the island in the northern part of Lake Huron. The original Fort Michilimackinac had sat for many years across the water at the tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan. After the British took over from the French, they decided to build a more substantial fort in a more advantageous position in 1780. At the end of the Revolutionary War, the fort had been ceded to the Americans. 

A drawing of Fort Mackinac overlooking the town.
By Benson Lossing - The Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812, Public Domain,

The Secretary of War, William Eustis, had yet to get word to commanding officer, Lieutenant Porter Hanks, who’d taken charge of Fort Mackinac that spring, that a war had begun. Eustis had sent letters to inform each outpost of the June 18 declaration of war by regular post! It hadn’t yet arrived on July 17. 

In the meantime, Major General Isaac Brock, in Canada, had learned of the conflict. He gave orders to Captain Charles Roberts, at Fort St. Joseph, which belonged to British forces, to attack the fort on Mackinac Island. The area was key to the Great Lakes fur trade and friendly relations with the Native Americans of the region.

Major General Isaac Brock
By George Theodore Berthon (1806-1892) - From the Provincial Archives of Ontario, Public Domain,
As Roberts readied his troops, Brock rescinded the order. Then he sent the go-ahead. The orders were alternated again. Then Roberts was told to follow-through according to his discretion. Concerned the Native Americans may get tired of waiting and move on he went ahead. He took his men—a combination of British troops, warriors from five different Indian tribes, and Metis men to their destination using a schooner called the Caledonia, a flotilla of canoes, and a few bateaux crafts to Mackinac Island. 

Recent map of Mackinac Island.
By Eric Gaba (Sting - fr:Sting) - Own workSources of data:NASA SRTM1v2NGDC Great Lakes BathymetryUSGS 24k topographic mapsLandsat7 ETM+ imageryToponymy: map by James Faasen, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The fort was at a greater disadvantage from the back since higher bluffs stood behind it. The British force had an easy place from which to sneak up on the fortification and the perfect vantagepoint to set up their cannons. The fort only had seven guns, one which was a cannon, and the only one which could shoot far enough to reach the harbor. They were also at a disadvantage since their only source of fresh water was outside the fort’s walls and could be easily cut off. 

The British released a man they had captured, allowing him to go into the town to tell the people to evacuate and that they would be protected from attack. He informed the town doctor who fled to the fort to inform Lt. Hanks that the British had arrived and planned on attacking Fort Mackinac.

Where the British landed. (c. 1898)
By Unknown -, Public Domain,
Though he planned on fighting the enemy, a few of his soldiers and some of the townspeople convinced Hanks to avoid wasting their lives. He was also concerned that the people in the fort might be massacred. When Roberts called for his surrender around noon on July 17, Hanks conceded the victory to him. Fort Mackinac had been captured—without a fight. 

Britain’s defeat of Mackinac helped rally Native Americans to fight for the British and led the way for the defeat of Fort Detroit further south. While Lieutenant Porter Hanks waited at Fort Detroit to be court-martialed for cowardice, he was instantly killed by cannon shot during its siege. Though the United States tried to recapture Fort Mackinac in 1814, it was the Treaty of Ghent at the end of the war which returned the fort to American control.

Fort Mackinac today (2014).
By N8huckins - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Today it is a proud part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks system and many tourists climb the steps to see the fort each year. Fort Mackinac’s gleaming limestone walls and buildings add historic charm to the beautiful island where cars are banned, and time almost stands still.

Kathleen Rouser is the multi-published author of the 2017 Bookvana Award winner, Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan, and its sequel, Secrets and Wishes. She is a longtime member in good standing of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She 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 of thirty-some years, and continues on the elusive quest to brew the perfect cup of coffee to enjoy while she is writing. Connect with Kathleen on her website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser.


  1. Thanks for the post! That area sounds like a nice place to visit!

  2. It is a beautiful place to visit, Connie R.! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Very interesting! I've never gotten to visit the island. Maybe one day.

    1. It is a beautiful place, Vickie, and worth the visit!