Portraits Put Face on Mackinac History

Portraits Put Face on Mackinac History

It’s fascinating that after fifty years of actively collecting materials related to Fort Mackinac history, we still discover new treasures. Our most recent “discovery” is two portraits of Colonel George Mercer Brooke who commanded the fort in 1832.

George Mercer Brook 1819

Portrait ca. 1819

George Mercer Brooke 1825

Portrait ca. 1825

While conducting research for a future publication tentatively entitled “Soldiers of Fort Mackinac: A Pictorial History”, Director for Mackinac State Historic Parks Phil Porter made contact with Colonel Mercer’s great, great grandson George Mercer Brooke, III, through Ancestry.com. Brooke, a retired United States Marine colonel, shared with me a photograph of a portrait of his ancestor painted c. 1819 in Boston. While the portrait is not signed, family tradition holds that it was painted by Gilbert Stuart, the famous early American portraitist. Mr. Brooke’s cousin, Theodore Brooke, provided an additional portrait of the fort commander painted c. 1825.

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Historic Views of Winter on Mackinac

As the new year begins and winter locks the Straits of Mackinac in its icy grip, today we look to a few historic views of winter on Mackinac Island. Click the images for an expanded version.

These soldiers from Fort Mackinac are bundled in Army-issued cold weather gear as they shovel a path down Fort Street sometime around 1890. Each man received a heavy wool overcoat as well as rubber boots, a fur hat, and mittens. Many of these men are wearing their winter hats, made from muskrat fur.

These soldiers from Fort Mackinac are bundled in Army-issued cold weather gear as they shovel a path down Fort Street sometime around 1890. Each man received a heavy wool overcoat as well as rubber boots, a fur hat, and mittens. Many of these men are wearing their winter hats, made from muskrat fur.

Main Street in downtown Mackinac Island is filled with snow in this view taken around 1900. Just like today, fewer people visited the island in winter, so the McNally Cottage boarding house (seen at far left) and Palmer House Hotel likely had few visitors when these boys played on the snow banks out front. Despite the snow, island residents may still have enjoyed parties at the town dance hall, visible just to the right of the Palmer House. Originally built as a roller skating rink, the dance hall became a motion picture theater by 1907. Today the building remains downtown, transformed into the Haunted Theater.

Main Street in downtown Mackinac Island is filled with snow in this view taken around 1900. Just like today, fewer people visited the island in winter, so the McNally Cottage boarding house (seen at far left) and Palmer House Hotel likely had few visitors when these boys played on the snow banks out front. Despite the snow, island residents may still have enjoyed parties at the town dance hall, visible just to the right of the Palmer House. Originally built as a roller skating rink, the dance hall became a motion picture theater by 1907. Today the building remains downtown, transformed into the Haunted Theater.

Thanksgiving at Fort Mackinac

In the 1880s, both the civilian and military residents of Fort Mackinac celebrated
Thanksgiving day with rest and recreation.

On November 28th, 1883, Captain Edwin Sellers wrote an order commanding that regular duties be suspended the following day. “Tomorrow the 29th having been appointed by the President as a day of National Thanksgiving and prayer all duties will be suspended at this post during this day except the necessary guard and police.”

On November 28th, 1883, Captain Edwin Sellers wrote an order commanding that regular duties be suspended the following day. “Tomorrow the 29th having been appointed by the President as a day of National Thanksgiving and prayer all duties will be suspended at this post during this day except the necessary guard and police.”

Ten year old Harold Dunbar Corbusier kept a diary of his experiences while
living with his family at Fort Mackinac in 1883 and 1884. On November 29th, 1883
Harold noted the Thanksgiving holiday in his diary, writing “Today is Thanksgiving day.
We boys went skating on the pond. Mama and papa went to church.”

Thanksgiving was also a holiday for the soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac. The image to the right is a page from a collection of Fort Mackinac’s orders. The highlighted passage mentions the Thanksgiving holiday.

Halloween for Harold

Harold Dunbar Corbusier was the second son of William Henry Corbusier, post surgeon at Fort Mackinac, and Fanny Dunbar Corbusier.  He lived on Mackinac Island with his family from 1883 to 1884.  On his 10th birthday, January 14, 1883 he began his diary.

His entry for this day 129 years ago, with its original grammar and spelling, shows an excitement for the holiday festivities similar to that of a 10-year-old of the present day.

Harold (seated center) kept a diary of the daily occurrences around the Straits of Mackinac.

A Boy at Fort Mackinac, October 31, 1883: “It has been a very stormy rainy day.  It is All Hallowes eve we going to dive for apples but there wre none in town so we had to dive for potatoes we played games and mamma made candy I have a headache today.”

His brief  entries give us clues of what life was like on Mackinac Island in a period of great change.  This former fur trading outpost was beginning to receive many summer visitors, and the Mackinac National Park (established 1875) was a great attraction.  Harold recorded what he saw, and gives a detailed picture of what life was like for an army family.

For more information about Harold and purchase a book containing all of his transcribed diary entries, visit the Mackinac State Historic Parks website.

Wawashkamo Red Oak Witnessed Island Battle

A enormous red oak at the Wawashkamo golf course on Mackinac Island fell after strong winds in July and has proven to have a history that far pre-dates that of the golf course.

A cross-section of the 200 year old oak tree. A Michigan driver’s license is inserted to give scale to the image.

In one of the first actions of the War of 1812, British troops surprised and captured Fort Mackinac on July 17, 1812. Two years later, 750 American troops attempted to recapture Mackinac Island. To counter the American attack, British, Canadian, and Native American troops took up positions on the fields of Michael Dousman’s farm. Here, on the afternoon of August 4, 1814, the two forces met and fought the Battle of Mackinac Island. An American defeat, the battle left Mackinac in British hands until the end of the war.  

In the center of the battlefield/golf course is a steep hill and stand of trees. In that grove sits the remaining stump of the red oak that Mackinac Associates Vice President Peter Pellerito, among others, believed could have been a “witness” to that American defeat. Pellerito arranged for a large cross-section of the tree to be examined by Dean Reid, a forester. Meticulously counting each ring and allowing for the height at which the section was cut, Reid determined the age of the tree to be 207 years old. Though very small at the time, there’s no doubt that this red oak was present during the battle.

Mackinac Art Museum 2013 Exhibition “People of Mackinac”

Mackinac State Historic Parks is pleased to announce the theme for the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum’s 2013 art exhibition, “People of Mackinac.”

Highlighting the array of individuals that make Mackinac Island a unique destination, the theme is not strictly portraits, but broadened to include any work of art combining “Mackinac” and “people.” The independently juried exhibition will feature over two-dozen pieces of selected art in a variety of mediums from May through October 2013. 

A total of six awards and $5,000 in cash prizes, including a Best of Show Award, will be selected by the juror. The Best of Show winner will receive a $2,500 cash prize, the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum Gold Medal and their name will be added to the list of annual Gold Medal winners displayed at the museum. In addition, there will be second and third place cash prizes of $1,000 and $750 respectively and three (3) honorable mention awards with cash prizes of $250 each. All prizes are donated by the Mackinac Arts Council and Mackinac Associates. Winners will be announced at the June 26, 2013 awards ceremony.

Both amateur and professional artists are encouraged to enter. Guidelines, entry forms, and more information for the exhibition can be downloaded at here.

Changing Leaves, Put Mackinac in a New Light

Almost as if the leaves recognize the steady decline of visitors to the Straits of Mackinac after Labor Day, they change their color from rich, healthy greens tobrilliant reds, yellows, and oranges. It’s a last hurrah for this iteration of the natural beauty of Mackinac before the straits succumb to the inevitable winter.

Though the warmer weather has made some wary if the foliage would ever turn, those of us who see the day-to-day can assure you of the natural transition.

This photo from last fall shows the gradual transition from summer to autumn colors.

Color tours will still bring leaf peepers in droves to the Straits of Mackinac, especially Mackinac Island, where Mackinac Island State Park’s 70 miles of trails and roadways make it easy to appreciate this seasonal spectacle.

Fort Mackinac as a Civil War Prison

Fort Mackinac as a Civil War Prison

This year marks the Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the American Civil War. While the fighting didn’t reach northern Michigan, Mackinac Island and Fort Mackinac played a role as a prison for Confederate sympathizers.

Though recognized today as a vacation destination for travelers to northern

Barrow

Michigan, 150 years ago in the summer of 1862, Fort Mackinac became a prison. Although the fort itself played only a small role in the Civil War, for a few months the post on Mackinac Island housed three Confederate Army prisoners guarded by nearly 100 men.

After Capt. Henry Pratt’s company of the 2nd Artillery left in early 1861, Fort Mackinac was virtually abandoned. Only Ordnance Sergeant William Marshall remained behind as the fort’s sole caretaker. A year later, things began to change at the post. In early 1862, victorious Federal forces recaptured much of Tennessee from the Confederacy. Andrew Johnson (later Lincoln’s Vice President, and ultimately the 17th President) was installed as the military governor of the state, a position he used to quickly arrest several prominent Confederate sympathizers.  On Johnson’s orders, Josephus (or Joseph) Conn Guild, George Washington Barrow, and William Giles Harding were placed under arrest and shipped north. Aware of Johnson’s actions, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton made preparations to exile the three men to Fort Mackinac, where their influence and wealth could not help the Confederate cause. Unfortunately, no Federal troops were immediately available to garrison Mackinac as guards; as a result, the three prisoners were sent temporarily to Detroit, where they were well-received by an inquisitive and sympathetic public.

Guild

Throughout April 1862, Federal officers in Detroit, Washington, and elsewhere scrambled to find a suitable garrison for Fort Mackinac. Eventually, Capt. Grover S. Wormer received orders to raise an independent company in Detroit specifically to guard the Tennesseans on Mackinac. Mustered into service in early May, Wormer’s unit, named the Stanton Guard after the Secretary of War, counted just fewer than 100 men in its ranks. Boarding the steamer Illinois around May 10, the new Stanton Guard and their three prisoners arrived on Mackinac Island shortly after.

Unfortunately for the new garrison of Fort Mackinac, a quick inspection of the nearly abandoned post revealed that it was not ready to accommodate the prisoners. As a result, the three men were lodged at the Mission House Hotel while the Stanton Guard repaired the quarters at the fort. The improvements complete, on May 25 the Tennesseans moved into the fort’s Wood Quarters to begin their incarceration at the post. Despite the repairs carried out by the Stanton Guard, the War Department quickly discarded any thought of housing more prisoners at Fort Mackinac, as the fort would require considerably more work to make it secure.

Harding

Despite their status as prisoners, the three men apparently enjoyed a pleasantly boring summer on Mackinac. They were allowed to explore the island with a small guard detachments, and wrote of Mackinac’s interesting geological formations and rich history. They frequently wrote letters home to Tennessee, and Guild and Barrow both complimented Capt. Wormer for his kindness and dignity. Indeed, the prisoners received such liberal treatment that in early August, Col. William Hoffman, the Commissary-General of Prisoners, reprimanded Wormer for failing to impose harsher restrictions upon the men.

As the summer drew to a close, the War Department reassessed the value of Fort Mackinac as a prison. Col. Hoffman recommended that the Stanton Guard be disbanded, as its men could be better used in the field. On September 10, the troops and prisoners departed Fort Mackinac, bound again for Detroit. The Stanton Guard formally mustered out and disbanded on September 25. Guild and Harding swore allegiance to the U.S. and were released on September 30, 1862, leaving only Barrow in custody. He was transferred to the more established military prison on Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie, near Sandusky, Ohio. He remained in prison until March 1863 when he was released as part of a prisoner exchange.

With the departure of the Stanton Guard, Fort Mackinac was again virtually abandoned, save for Ordnance Sergeant Marshall. He served alone for the next five years, until the Army garrisoned the post in 1867.