Some of the most complex work so far involved transforming four exterior doors into windows (see here without shutters) and cutting two new doorways (covered here with plywood) into the house.

A New Exhibit at Michilimackinac: The Commanding Officer’s House

Ever wonder what happens during the winter time at Mackinac State Historic Parks? Although our museums are closed for the winter, there’s still a lot of work going on to prepare for 2016. One of our major projects this winter is the renovation and reinterpretation of the Commanding Officer’s House at Michilimackinac, which will look completely different when visitors arrive next summer. (more…)

Which Flag Flew Over Michilimackinac?

Which Flag Flew Over Michilimackinac?

In the late 18th century, Michilimackinac served as an important economic, diplomatic, and military center for the British government. Although one of the most remote outposts of the British empire, Michilimackinac held the key to British influence in the Great Lakes, and it seems only logical to assume that the British projected this regional power by flying a flag over their fort on the Straits of Mackinac.

The Red Ensign served as the flag of the British Royal Navy until 1864. Today, it is the flag of the British merchant fleet.

The Red Ensign served as the flag of the British Royal Navy until 1864. Today, it is the flag of the British merchant fleet.

In a September 1774 letter to Lt. Col. Samuel Cleaveland of the Royal Artillery, newly-arrived Capt. Arent DePeyster made a rare reference to a flag when he requested a “large Ensign” be sent to Michilimackinac. For many years, historians assumed that DePeyster was referring to the Red Ensign, which served as the flag of the Royal Navy in the 18th century. However, reviewing the entire letter reveals a bit more ambiguity in DePeyster’s request:

Sir- I was informed by my predecessor that the Colours of this Garrison belonged to a Master of a Vessel of whom he had borrowed them to hoist upon particular occasions. They are at length demanded by the owner, by which means the Garrison remains without Colours which are absolutely necessary to return the compliments of tribes of Indians when they come on matters of any consequence to the Government. They serve to display a certain necessary dignity, therefore I am informed by the standing orders of this post that the Commanding Officer of the Artillery [Cleaveland] is to be applied to for Colours when wanted. I take the liberty of troubling you upon this occasion and shall be glad to have a good large Ensign sent as early in the spring as possible.

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brass cufflinks 4

2015 Archaeology Field Season in Review

The field season at Michilimackinac is over and as we dive into the winter lab work routine, there is time to reflect on what we learned this summer.

Of course the most notable find of the summer was the intact rosary Rosary (1) .  We will devote some time this winter to trying to answer some of the questions it raised.  Why does it have “extra” beads – is it a Brigittine rosary or are they for some other devotion?  Was it made in France?  How costly would it have been?  Other questions will have to wait for further excavation next season.  The rosary was found in the tenth-of-a-foot level above an as-yet-unidentified clay feature.  The clay is surrounded by cobbles and a plank.  It extends into an adjacent quad, which was partially excavated this summer. (more…)

Robert Rogers at Michilimackinac

Robert Rogers at Michilimackinac

Robert RogersAlthough many of the historic residents of Michilimackinac were well-known around the Great Lakes and played key roles in the region’s development, few have remained as famous as Robert Rogers. Today known mostly for his exploits with ranger units during the Seven Years’ War in the late 1750s, Rogers also briefly served as the commanding officer of Michilimackinac, a position which brought him disgrace and financial ruin rather than the glory of his earlier military exploits. (more…)

Greening Michilimackinac

Greening Michilimackinac

If you have visited Colonial Michilimackinac in recent years, you have probably noticed some changes to the site. We have a whole new building, bigger than any that had previously been reconstructed, new tours, programs and updated exhibits. We excavate every day in the summer, learn as much as we can from the artifacts that we find, and apply that information to ultimately reconstructing the buildings and the life that was there 250-300 years ago. But that word “life” can be tricky. What makes a neighborhood, village or city alive? Our staff believes that in addition to presenting a collection of buildings and artifacts, we can also share the smells, tastes and sounds of historic Michilimackinac. We have taken the challenge of making Michilimackinac come alive very literally. Commanding Officer's Gardens

Plants and Trellis Right now there are 13 recreated gardens inside the fort’s palisade. Some are small or some, like the commanding officers’ garden, are actually quite large, containing 16 beds centered around a brass sundial and totaling around 785 square feet. All the gardens big and small in the 1770s were a source of food, medicine and household supplies. Due to the small space and diverse nature of food and household needs, many types of plants were tucked in together. One example of this is found in a small backyard garden that belonged to a French fur trader. In it there are planted chives, radishes and violets. (more…)

Weapons of Michilimackinac

Weapons of Michilimackinac

Soldier Firing Wall GunAlthough it primarily served as a logistical center for the Great Lakes fur trade, the post of Michilimackinac remained a military establishment from the moment it was constructed by French soldiers in 1715 to the day the last British troops abandoned the fort in 1781. Especially during the period of British control (1761-81), Michilimackinac served as an increasingly important and well-defended military outpost.

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A New Season – Archaeology at Michilimackinac

A New Season – Archaeology at Michilimackinac

With the summer season rapidly approaching, another archaeology field season is upon us. Even though we are continuing where we stopped last August, there was some preparation necessary before we began excavating again. At the end of each season we line the site with plastic and straw bales to protect it from the weather over the winter. In the spring we have to remove all of this. This process began May 26. Then we re-established the grid strings we measure from, put out our water-screening stations and organized the other field equipment and supplies. Most of the crew arrived June 1, and after a few days of orientation and training, the field season was fully underway June 4. (more…)

The Four Maps of Michilimackinac

The Four Maps of Michilimackinac

In addition to over 50 years’ worth of archaeological evidence, historians have four maps of the original community of Michilimackinac to help them understand how people lived at the fort in the 18th century. These maps, created between 1749 and 1769, provide a fascinating glimpse into the changing community of Michilimackinac.

7. Lotbiniere plan 1749 mapThe earliest known map of Michilimackinac was drawn in October 1749 by Michel Chartier de Lotbinière, a French military engineer. Dispatched to Michilimackinac to report on the state of the post, Lotbinière recorded the fort’s defenses (which he considered “very badly built”) as well as the layout of the community within the walls. His map also listed the residents of most of the fort’s 40 homes, as well as the few buildings occupied by the French military and the Catholic priest. In an accompanying written report, Lotbinière also provided a number of details about the construction and design of the built environment at Michilimackinac. (more…)

Jew's Harp

Digging up the Past, All in a Day’s Work

Visitors to Michilimackinac get to interact with archaeologists uncovering little bits of history every day during the peak season. What they are observing is only part of the process. For every day we spend excavating, we spend two or three days in the lab trying to figure out what it all means. Following each season, a preliminary report is written, summarizing the season’s findings.

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