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…)

Belle Meade Plantation – The Mackinac Connection

A lavish plantation house in Nashville, Tennessee and the Wood Quarters at Fort Mackinac may not seem to have much in common at first glance, but they both served as homes for the same man, William G. Harding.

Harding

Harding

William’s father John Harding began constructing the Belle Meade plantation in 1820. Unlike other plantations focused on growing cotton and other crops, the farm became a center of the thoroughbred horse racing industry, especially after William assumed management duties in 1839. Racing brought Harding wealth and fame, which he used to support the secession of Tennessee as the Civil War approached. When Federal troops recaptured Nashville in 1862, they arrested Harding as a Confederate sympathizer. (more…)

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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Numerous Pets Hold Place in Mackinac History

Numerous Pets Hold Place in Mackinac History

Animals below Fort Mackinac

Grand: Several men and their dogs gather on the government pasture below Fort Mackinac. These soldiers are likely from the 23rd Infantry or belong to the Michigan state troops, who gathered on Mackinac Island for summer encampments in the late 1880s.

Many visitors to the Straits of Mackinac today bring their four-legged friends with them. It’s not unusual to see any number of pets out with their owners in Marquette Park on Mackinac Island or strolling along the shoreline in Michilimackinac State Park. (more…)

A History of Veterans Day

At 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, soldiers across Europe stopped fighting. Earlier that morning, German representatives signed an armistice with the Allies. The armistice, which went into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, effectively ended the First World War.

A year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as a holiday honoring American soldiers who died in the war. In 1938 Congress declared Armistice Day a national holiday dedicated to world peace. After World War II, veterans proposed changing the holiday to honor not just those soldiers killed in the First World War, but all American veterans. In response to these proposals, President Dwight Eisenhower officially changed the holiday’s name to Veterans Day in 1954.

Today, Veterans Day continues annually on November 11, honoring the service of all American veterans. Similar holidays of honor take place on November 11 in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, and other countries involved in World War I.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Celebrates 120th Anniversary

Today marks the 120th anniversary of the first lighting of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City.

Workers pose outside the nearly completed Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.

Keeper George Marshall first lit the light on October 25, 1892 and workers completed the construction two days later.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse remained an active lighthouse until navigation beacons on the newly completed Mackinac Bridge replaced it.

The lighthouse is still open from May through October with guided tower tours, period exhibits and historic costumed interpreters. Click here for more information on visiting Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.

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.

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

“Our Flag Was Still There” The Origin of the Star-Spangled Banner

The bombardment of Fort McHenry took place on September 13th and 14th, 1814. Francis Scott Key, held captive aboard a Royal Navy warship, watched as the British attacked the fort and other defenses of Baltimore.

This flag at Fort Mackinac, though smaller than the one seen by Francis Scott Key the morning of September 14, bears the 15 stars and stripes.

By the dawn’s early light of September 14, he saw that the American flag remained flying above the fort. The large garrison flag that Key saw flying that morning 198 years ago measured 30 by 42 feet and bore 15 stars and 15 stripes (one for each state). Inspired by the sight of the flag, that morning Key wrote a poem about the battle called “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” Later set to music, the poem became “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which officially became the National Anthem of the United States in 1931.