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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Lace and Buttons: More than Just Decoration

Dressed in their madder red regimental coats, black hats, and white underclothes, the soldiers of the 8th Regiment who served at Michilimackinac in the 1770s may have looked quite similar to other British troops fighting in the American Revolution. Their uniforms, however, were unique, marked by distinctive buttons, trim, and lace tape. (more…)

Canadian Costume Reflected Lifestyle

French-Canadians adapted to the harsh climate of their new home with a variety of clothing, including coats called capots. Made from trade blankets, these simple coats were warm and practical, and proved popular with Canadians and Native Americans alike.

French-Canadians adapted to the harsh climate of their new home with a variety of clothing, including coats called capots. Made from trade blankets, these simple coats were warm and practical, and proved popular with Canadians and Native Americans alike.

Far from home and living in a harsh environment, the French residents of Michilimackinac and the rest of Canada were quick to adopt new styles of clothing. While French fashions remained popular for most people, many soldiers, voyageurs, and others who regularly interacted with Native Americans adopted their neighbors’ style of dress. Like Native men, voyageurs and soldiers on campaign frequently wore soft moccasins, breechcloths, and leggings. In 1749, Swedish traveler Peter Kalm noted that “the French [Canadians] dress as the Indians; they do not wear breeches.”

In warmer months, French voyageurs wore moccasins and breechcloths. The easily-removable leggings allowed them to jump in and out of the water as they hauled cargo around portages. Elaborately-woven sashes served as weight belts, protecting the men’s backs from injury as they carried loads over 100 pounds.

In warmer months, French voyageurs wore moccasins and breechcloths. The easily-removable leggings allowed them to jump in and out of the water as they hauled cargo around portages. Elaborately-woven sashes served as weight belts, protecting the men’s backs from injury as they carried loads over 100 pounds.

Other pieces of clothing were unique to French-Canadians. British trader Alexander Henry left a good account of the Canadian disguise he wore during his first secret journey to Michilimackinac in 1761: “I laid aside my English clothes, and covered myself only with a cloth, passed about the middle; a shirt, hanging loose; a molleton, or blanket coat; and a large, red, milled worsted cap.” The red cap (or tocque), blanket coat, breechcloth, and leggings were something of a uniform for French-Canadian men of the fur trade, and would have been seen regularly at Michilimackinac.

Behind the Scenes of New SSW Rowhouse Exhibit

While the construction on the South Southwest Rowhouse continues, our staff is hard at work developing the new exhibits that will be placed within the new building.

One half of the reconstructed rowhouse will feature an audio/visual presentation of the attack at Michilimackinac. Principal photography took place in the summer, but some additional shots were needed. What we’re shooting here is a re-creation of a meeting that took place in Charles Langlade’s house on June 3, the day after the attack. The surviving British prisoners (Etherington, Solomon, Henry, etc.) were all present, as was Fr. Du Jaunay. The meeting served two important purposes. First, Du Jaunay convinced Etherington that further resistance to the Ojibwa was futile and second, Langlade outlined his plans to protect the prisoners from their Ojibwa captors. Langlade personally secured the release of Etherington. He also sent word to the Odawa of L’Arbre Croche, who arrived shortly after and took the prisoners to the safety of their village. Henry became separated from the other survivors at this time, as he was taken into the home of his friend, Wawatam, for protection.

 

The photos were taken at Future Media in Okemos, Michigan.

French Fireplaces of Michilimackinac

Shown on the left are the ruins of the original fireplace for the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. To the right, a reconstructed version and part of a new exhibit.

Shown on the left are the ruins of the original fireplace for the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. To the right, a reconstructed version and part of a new exhibit.

The ongoing reconstruction of the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac is an impressive undertaking. It’s the largest in the site’s history, the first in more than two decades, and when completed, will house two new exhibits.

One of the featured components of the new exhibit “France at Mackinac” are the ruins of the original fireplace from the structure constructed more than 250 years ago. This particular fireplace is one of the few remaining structures left standing after British soldiers demolished the fort in 1780-81. As part of one of the longest ongoing archaeological digs in North America, the remnants of the rowhouse and the fireplace were carefully excavated over a number of years from 1963 to 2007. Stone fireplaces such as this were found in nearly every house at Michilimackinac, but this is the only one that remains because it was covered and preserved in a hill of sand soon after the demolition.

Located in the west side of the building, the structure of this fireplace ruin  served as a model for Tom Smith and his crew from Ground Level Masonry to create a similar fireplace on the east end of the building, showing how the stone hearth would have looked when originally built around 1750.

South Southwest Rowhouse Construction Continues

After starting in October of last year, the construction on the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City is making great progress.

Two new exhibits and all new restrooms are planned for the structure, the largest in the history of reconstruction at Colonial Michilimackinac and the first in 23 years.

With the completed construction of the roof, dormers have been added facing what will be the gardens.

The ruins of an original hearth will be featured in a new exhibit about the French presence at Colonial Michilimackinac and the architectural style of the period.

The walls and preliminary plumbing for the restrooms are in position.

Fort Fright at Colonial Michilimackinac

The autumn air is crisp and cool as you pass down the trail of lantern lights, the skeleton soldiers are waiting to welcome you to Colonial Michilimackinac. It’s time for Fort Fright.

A Werewolf watches as unsuspecting visitors enter Fort Fright.

This haven for lutins, werewolves and other bad-tempered creatures, the fort provides a fun, fall atmosphere for the entire family with it’s fair-share of scary experiences and historical background.

Visitors can explore the wooden palisade of the fort at twilight and as the sun sets, the lore and legends of Native Americans, French Canadians and the British come to life.

Visitors to Fort Fright are escorted down the path to the gate, manned by skeleton soldiers and patrolled by goblins and ghouls.

But listen to the warnings of the voyageurs who man the fires, safe from the scarier elements. They tell the tales as the werewolf howls in the distance and caution you on entering the haunted rowhouse. A number of other activities are of the non-terrifying variety and suitable for children of all ages. Music, treats and goody bags sponsored by Ryba’s Fudge are available.

On guard, these eerie soldiers aren’t to be trifled with.

Typically held the weekend of the first full week of October, the fort and fur trading village in Mackinaw City is taken over with the spooky specters from the of the past.

Be sure to dress appropriately for weather. For more information, call 231-436-4100 or www.mackinacparks.com/fort-fright/.

 

 

Master Map Gets an Update

The archaeological excavation of Fort Michilimackinac has been ongoing for more than five decades and detailed notes and records of each season, each site, and each square are important to our understanding and ongoing research. That accumulated data is presented in one, large document, the master map, which shows all of the major features excavated within the palisade wall from1959 until 2007, when the most recent project was completed.

Much like the time spent in the field excavating artifacts, maintaining those documents can be a time consuming, but fascinating endeavor.

Georgia Wulff updates the Colonial Michilimackinac master map with information from recently completed archaeological excavations at the site.

“The master map shows how all of the features, most of which are structural features such as parts of buildings, relate to each other, tying all of our projects together,” said Dr. Lynn Evans, curator of archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks. “This is important because we are interested in understanding the community, not individual structures isolated in space.”

Georgia Wulff, an artist from Minocqua, Wisc., met Dr. Evans on a study tour and offered to help update the map. But, this wasn’t Wulff’s first trip to northern Michigan, far from it.

“My family took a number of trips to the Upper Peninsula when I was younger,” said Wulff, noting that her grandfather served as lighthouse keeper in Manistique and her great-grand father served as lighthouse keeper in Traverse City. “I even remember coming across on a ferry before the bridge was built.”

“The master map is also important for planning because it shows where we have and where we have not excavated.  We don’t want to install fences or underground utilities in undisturbed deposit,” said Dr. Evans.

She added that, ideally the map would be updated at the end of each major project, when the important features are better understood. Things such as rodent runs and modern disturbances aren’t generally  included on the master map for the sake of clarity.

King’s 8th Still Present at Michilimackinac

In 1774, between 65 and 70 enlisted men and three to four officers of the 8th, or King’s, Regiment of Foot arrived at Fort Michilimackinac. This detachment comprised two companies of the 8th Regiment: the elite grenadier company as well as the “General’s” company.

Under the command of Captain Arent S. DePeyster, these men protected the combined military garrison and civilian fur trading community at Michilimackinac. Most of the men spent their time on fatigue duty, maintaining the fort’s walls and other government buildings, chopping firewood, hauling supplies, and performing other tedious but necessary chores. All soldiers regularly took part in drills and stood guard. Lieutenant-Governor Patrick Sinclair took command of the garrison and community of Michilimackinac in October 1779.

Interpreters dressed as members of the King’s 8th at Colonial Michilimackinac discuss the duties of the day.

Under Sinclair’s direction, the men of the 8th dismantled the post of Michilimackinac for the move to Mackinac Island. There, with assistance from soldiers from the 84th Regiment of Foot, they began to construct Fort Mackinac. Unhappy with their treatment at Sinclair’s hands as well as their own officers, the men of the 8th publically complained to DePeyster, their beloved former commander. To prevent more trouble, the grenadier company was transferred from Michilimackinac in September 1780, while the “General’s” company was relieved in August 1781. The 8th remained in North America until 1785, having served there since 1768.

Excavated from Colonial Michilimackinac this past summer, the 8 is still visible after more than 200 years on this button.

Bits and pieces of the 8th still remain from the 1700s, including the unique buttons on the regiment’s dress uniform.

This coming weekend, September 22 and 23 2012, the King’s 8th will be back at Fort Michilimackinac demonstrating drill and the other duties of the soldiers. For more information on the encampment, click here or go to Kings8th.com