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Colonial Michilimackinac History

In 1715 French soldiers constructed Fort Michilimackinac.  This fortified community became the great fur trade center of the Northwest until its relocation to nearby Mackinac Island in 1781.  It was here where fur traders and Indians rendezvoused, French and British officers organized war parties and explorers began their journeys into the vast western unknown.

Michilimackinac Timeline

1,000 BC to 1650 AD– Semi-nomadic peoples at Straits of Mackinac.

By 1650 AD- Anishanabeg people at Straits of Mackinac.

1634– Jean Nicolet passes through the Straits of Mackinac looking for the Northwest Passage.

1670– Father Claude Dablon, S.J. visits Straits of Mackinac and winters on Mackinac Island.

1671– Father Jacques Marquette, S.J. brings Hurons to Straits of Mackinac, and establishes Mission of St. Ignace on north side of straits near existing Odawa village.

1670s– Fur trade community flourishes around St. Ignace Mission.

1679– René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, arrives at St. Ignace Mission aboard the Griffin, the first large sailing vessel on the upper Great Lakes. Griffin disappears somewhere between Wisconsin and St. Ignace.

1688-1690– Fort de Buade established near mission in response to King William’s War.

1697– Fort de Buade abandoned

1702-03– Most local Huron and Odawa move south to Detroit.

1705– Jesuits abandon and burn mission of St. Ignace, but Father Joseph Marest, S.J. returns every summer to minister to remaining Odawa.

1708– Major fire damages Odawa village.

1708-10– Odawa relocate village to south shore of straits; Father Marest re-establishes St. Ignace Mission near the villages.

1712– Constant Le Marchand de Lignery establishes a French military camp near St. Ignace Mission in preparation for campaigns against the Fox tribe of Wisconsin.

1715– French soldiers construct Fort Michilimackinac near Odawa community and Jesuit mission on the south side of the straits.

1716– Residents of Fort Michilimackinac participate in victorious attack on Fox tribe in Wisconsin.

1728– Commandant of Michilimackinac leads combined French, Odawa, and Ojibwa force into Wisconsin to defeat the Fox. The Fox avoid battle.

1733– Another force of French and American Indian allies assembles at Michilimackinac and launches an expedition into Green Bay against the Fox. Commandant of Michilimackinac killed in battle. Expansion of fort begins with new layout for buildings.

1739– Michilimackinac serves as base for French expedition against the Chickasaw south of the Ohio River. Despite some success, Chickasaw never decisively defeated.

1742– Odawa relocate 25 miles south to L’Arbre Croche. Jesuits transfer St. Ignace Mission to new location, but maintain a parish church at Fort Michilimackinac.

1743– New parish church building constructed at Fort Michilimackinac and named in honor of Ste. Anne.

1744– Tensions between French and English erupt into King George’s War.

1747-48– Fort repaired and expanded.

1747– American Indian unrest and attacks on French at Michilimackinac and Detroit.

1751– Expansion of fort toward lake authorized.

1752– Charles Langlade leads party of Odawa and French in a successful raid on the aggressive English traders at Pickawillany in Ohio country.

1753– Large Indian council held at Fort Michilimackinac. Each nation agrees to ally with the French.

1755– Warriors from Michilimackinac help defeat General Edward Braddock near Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania.

1760– French defeated at Montreal, following the fall of Quebec in 1759. New France passes into British hands. Troops from Fort Michilimackinac present at both battles. French evacuate fort in October.

1761– British take control of Fort Michilimackinac in September following French and Indian War.

1763– Fort Michilimackinac attacked and captured by local Ojibwa as part of Pontiac’s Uprising.

1764– Fort Michilimackinac returned to the British by American Indians. British arrive aboard the schooner Gladwin, the first sailing vessel to call at the straits since the ill-fated Griffin in 1679.

1765– Jesuit mission of St. Ignace at L’Arbre Croche closes. Development of Michilimackinac suburbs begins.

1766– Commandant Robert Rogers dispatches exploration party in search of northwest water passage to Pacific Ocean.

1772-75– Major repairs and improvement to fort walls, platforms, stairs and gates.

1774– Captain Arent DePeyster holds council between Ojibwa and Sioux at Michilimackinac, securing peace between these historic enemies.

1776– Ojibwa and Odawa war parties from Michilimackinac dispatched to assist British operations against American rebels at Montreal.

1777– Menominee, Ojibwa, and Odawa war parties from Michilimackinac dispatched to join General John Burgoyne’s British army in New York. Parties return to Michilimackinac before Burgoyne’s army surrenders.

1779– Clearing of land begins on Mackinac Island in October. First house moved in November.

1780– Large war party dispatched from Michilimackinac against Spanish posts in Missouri, but force is easily defeated by Spanish and American rebels.

1780-81– Fort Michilimackinac moved to Mackinac Island. What is not moved is burned. The site of the community is covered by blowing sand.

1857– Modern-day Mackinaw City is platted. Site of fort at “Old Mackinac Point” reserved within a community park.

1880– Railroad arrives at Mackinaw City and small community develops.

1904– Village of Mackinaw City transfers park to State of Michigan.

1909– Park designated Michilimackinac State Park and placed under the care of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission.

1920s– Park develops into a popular summer campground.

1933– Fort palisade reconstructed and small museum opens inside the fort walls.

1958– Mackinac Island State Park Commission begins historical museum program.

1959– Professional archaeology begins at fort site.

1960– Reconstruction of fort based on archaeological evidence begins; 1930s palisade demolished.

1971– Campground closed; Visitor’s Center constructed beneath Mackinac Bridge

Fort Michilimackinac Historical Facts and FAQ

Established:  1715

Dates of occupation:  ca. 1714 to 1781

Who originally built and occupied the Fort Michilimackinac?  The French

When did the British take control?  1761, following the fall of New France a year earlier.

What tribes occupied the region?  At the time of French settlement of the straits, the Odawa (also spelled Ottawa) occupied the region. Father Marquette brought a band of Huron Indians with him in 1671 and an Odawa village was also established near the mission. The Huron moved to Detroit after 1701. This Odawa village moved south to the location of Michilimackinac between 1708 and 1710.

Why was Michilimackinac important?  Michilimackinac served as a transshipment center and refueling post for the upper great lakes fur trade.

What was the date of the capture of Fort Michilimackinac during Pontiac’s Uprising?  June 2, 1763.

What happened to the fort?  In 1780-81 the fort was moved to Mackinac Island.  Several of the fort’s buildings were dismantled and reassembled on Mackinac Island.  What was not moved was burned.

Why was the fort moved?  The British feared an attack by American rebels.  The fort was extremely vulnerable to a naval assault.  The island location was far more secure.

When was Michilimackinac State Park created? 1909.

How big is Michilimackinac State Park?  It covers 37 acres with 2,100 feet of Great Lakes shoreline.

When did the Michilimackinac Archaeological excavation begin?  1959

When did the Michilimackinac Archaeological excavation end?  It has not yet ended, and continues every summer.

How many artifacts have been recovered?  Over one million.

How much of the fort has been excavated?  Approximately  65%

Federal Recognition: Fort Michilimackinac is a National Historic Landmark.