Furnishing the Commanding Officer’s House

Although winter is still holding on at the Straits of Mackinac, work continues to prepare the Commanding Officer’s House for opening later this summer at Colonial Michilimackinac. Since our last update in early January, major construction has wrapped up inside the house. Masons are currently applying several coats of plaster to the interior walls, and our staff carpenters are busy restoring the windows removed from the house. They’ve also constructed several new doors, and will soon begin building new windows to compliment the ones they’ve already restored.

IMG_6705Another major behind-the-scenes task has been acquiring objects with which to furnish the house. The bedchamber, parlor, and kitchen will all be furnished to their mid-1770s appearance, when Arent and Rebecca DePeyster lived in the house. Curators spent a great deal of time researching appropriate furnishings for British officers’ quarters in the late 18th century, starting with any descriptions of objects owned by the DePeysters themselves. Unfortunately, there are only a few historic references to the DePeyster’s personal property. We do know that they had a thermometer in the house, and that they borrowed mouse traps and two pairs of andirons from their friend John Askin, the prominent Michilimackinac merchant who kept detailed lists of his property in 1776-78. DePeyster also collected several items from visiting Native Americans, including moccasins, pipes, tobacco pouches, and a white beaver fur, which he most likely displayed in the house. The original items are currently displayed in the Museum of Liverpool, and a Michigan craftsman is working to reproduce them for the Michilimackinac exhibit.

IMG_6718Beyond items directly linked to the DePeysters, research focused on items common with other British officers in Canada. The financial accounts of other officers of the 8th Regiment stationed at Detroit included descriptions of the objects purchased by DePeyster’s friends and colleagues. Auction records, diaries, and personal and official letters relating to officers stationed at Fort Niagara, Fort Ticonderoga, Fort George, Fort Erie, and in Boston, New York City, and elsewhere along the Atlantic coast were also consulted. These documents revealed that officers furnished their quarters with a variety of tea tables, desks, side chairs, armchairs, dining tables, sofas, bookcases, and sometime-elaborate beds. Several guides for young officers, published in the 1760s and 1770s, suggest the personal items each man was likely to own, ranging from pens and paper, shaving kits, and uniform pieces to tableware, luggage, and portable furniture.

Armed with this information, curators have been acquiring original and reproduction furnishings from sources in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Even the smallest objects, such as a shaving brush, a pair of sewing scissors, or a porcelain tea pot, will help bring the completed exhibit to life. We hope you’ll join us at Colonial Michilimackinac this summer and see how these pieces, and the research behind them, tell the story of Arent and Rebecca DePeyster and their lives at the Straits of Mackinac.

One Response to “Furnishing the Commanding Officer’s House”

  1. ElizabethD

    I am always so impressed at the continuing work and improvements to the Mackinac Parks. Can’t wait for this to open!


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