Fort Mackinac Artifacts

Visitors to Fort Mackinac today can tour fourteen buildings constructed by soldiers between 1780 and 1895, but other structures were built and destroyed while the fort was an active military post. Archaeologists have excavated at several of these over the past half century, including the well, Provision Storehouse, and a series of blacksmith shops. Excavations has taken place around and under existing structures as well, including the East Blockhouse, the Officers’ Wood Quarters, and the fortification walls. Military trash was deposited outside the fort and this has been recovered during modern construction projects and systematic survey of the Custer Road dump. Artifacts from all of these projects are pictured here, in chronological order of their original use.

A half penny depicting George IIIGeorge III Half-Penny

This 1776 George III halfpenny actually predates Fort Mackinac. It was found during the restoration of the fort wall. One of the soldiers who helped build the fort between 1779 and 1781 probably dropped it. FMW.680.8

 

 

A button of the Royal Regiment of ArtilleryRoyal Regiment of Artillery Button

A few men from the Royal Regiment of Artillery were stationed at Fort Mackinac during the entire early British period (1779-1796). This gilt officer’s button from that regiment belonged to Lieutenant Christopher Meyers, the only commissioned officer from that regiment to serve at Fort Mackinac. MS3.C1P14.28

 

 

An iron architectural bracketIron Architectural Bracket

The provision storehouse was one of the buildings moved from Fort Michilimackinac to Fort Mackinac, where it was located behind and under the 1828 post hospital. Its location was excavated at both forts, making it one of the few buildings anywhere to be excavated twice! This iron architectural bracket dates to the initial British 1780-1796 occupation of Fort Mackinac. MS3.C1H88.21

 

 

An early American hat cockadeEarly American Hat Cockade

An artilleryman at Fort Mackinac between 1802 and 1808 wore this leather cockade with brass eagle. Workmen restoring the East Blockhouse in 1967 found it on top of a ceiling beam. Many artifacts have been found while restoring buildings on Mackinac Island. These have helped to date and interpret the structures.

 

 

Clay pipe fragmentsClay Pipes

White clay pipes are commonly found at British and American sites dating from the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century. We find them at both mainland and island sites in the straits area. These two bowls are from a cache found under the Quartermaster’s Storehouse at Fort Mackinac. The initials “T.D.” are a common design; here they are surrounded by thirteen stars, probably representing the original thirteen colonies. The thistle design bowl has a rose on the other side.

 

 

An old pair of iron scissorsIron Scissors

Scissors are frequently associated with cutting cloth prior to sewing, and so were a common item in the fur trade along with textiles. This particular pair was found in an early American (1796-1812) layer of the Provision Storehouse. They may have been for trade or for use by military tailors. MS3.C1L56.3

 

 

A collection of buttons found in the East Blockhouse at Fort MackinacEast Blockhouse Buttons

The foundation of the east blockhouse was repaired during the recent restoration of the Fort Mackinac wall and other masonry work at the fort. Numerous buttons were found around the edge of the blockhouse. They may have been swept out through trapdoors in the overhanging second floor. The Americans constructed the blockhouse after their arrival in 1796 and used it as a barracks as well as a defensive structure. The buttons shown here are some of the more unusual found. All date to the early nineteenth century. The buttons numbered 6 and 16 with UNITED STATES around them are infantry buttons issued from 1798 to 1802. Although only the 1st regiment served at Fort Mackinac, buttons from nine regiments have been found here. The army anticipated higher enlistments than they got, so they had surplus buttons which were distributed regardless of regiment. Note that the UNITED STATES on the 16th button reads from right to left, instead of the usual left to right. The script “LA,” for Light Artillery, button is another surplus button from a unit that never served at Mackinac. The script “RA” button is from the 2nd Regiment of Artillery. Men from this unit were stationed at Fort Mackinac from 1796 to 1812. This particular button was manufactured from 1810 to 1813. The eagle with “R” shield on his chest is from the Regiment of Riflemen. This button was manufactured from 1812 to 1814. Soldiers from this unit were among the first American troops to return to Fort Mackinac after the War of 1812. The button with the anchor is from a naval uniform. American and British navy buttons from the early nineteenth century are difficult to tell apart. A few sailors from the Royal Navy were at Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812. FMW.317/FMW.385.5/FMW.353/FMW.294/FMW.353/FMW.296

A Royal Artillery brass hat plate fragmentBrass British Hat Plate

This hat plate fragment is from a “Belgic” shako, first issued to British troops in 1811. This equipment did not arrive at Mackinac until the autumn of 1813. This style of hat was worn by men from the 1st Regiment of Foot, Michigan Fencibles, Royal Newfoundland Fencible Infantry and Corps of Royal Engineers, all stationed at Fort Mackinac during the waning months of the War of 1812. MS3.C1H15.5

 

 

A brass hat plate from an American uniformBrass United States Infantry Hat Plate

This is the lower half of a plate that would have gone on the front of an American infantryman’s hat from 1814 to 1821. The design, though difficult to make out, is of a flag, drum and shield. The missing portion shows an eagle above clouds. MS3.C1B15.1

 

 

Various fragments of a shoeShoe Parts: leather sole and cleat, iron boot heel plate

Following the War of 1812, the rooms of the provision storehouse building were used for a variety of other purposes. In 1816 one of these was housing tailors and shoemakers of the 3rd infantry. These shoe parts are remnants of the shoemakers’ and tailors’ activities. They were found with other leather shoe heels, shoe soles, fragments of leather, iron boot heel cleats, bits of cloth, felt and buttons. MS3.C1D8.43/MS3.C1D8.44

 

 

A scrap of bone used to make buttonsBone Button Blank

This piece of bone is scrap from the making of bone button backs. A circular drill was used to cut bone discs from flat pieces of animal bone. These bone discs were used as backs in multi-part buttons or alone as plain buttons. This piece of bone scrap is further evidence of the post-1812 tailors’ activities. MS3.C1H44.31

 

 

A hand-painted pitcher of pearlwareHand-Painted Pearlware Pitcher

Pearlware was a common type of ceramic in the early nineteenth century. Even after transfer printing was developed, hand-painted designs continued, and were somewhat cheaper. This reassembled pitcher is one of the most complete vessels found at Fort Mackinac because most large trash was disposed of outside the fort walls. MS3.C1D6.2/MS3.C1E5.1/MS3.C1E7.1

 

 

A microscope lens dating to 1815Microscope Lens

Part of the provision storehouse was used as the post hospital from about 1815 until it was razed and rebuilt in 1827. This objective lens from a microscope was used by one of the physicians who served during that time. The most famous was Dr. William Beaumont. Beaumont began his groundbreaking observations of human digestion here in 1822, when Alexis St. Martin, a voyageur, was accidentally shot in the stomach at close range. Although Beaumont saved St. Martin’s life, the wound never entirely closed and Beaumont was able to use the opening to perform digestive experiments. Unfortunately, this lens was found in an undatable mixed context. MS3.C1A3.1

 

A pocketknife carved from boneBone Knife

This little knife is carved entirely from bone, including the blades. Someone must have spent many hours crafting this as a showpiece or gift. It has no practical function. FMW.135

 

 

 

An ink bottleInk Bottle

Ink bottles are common in trash pits outside Fort Mackinac. Cone shaped bottles like this are the most common and usually date to the nineteenth century. The bottom of this bottle is embossed “CARTER’S.” The Carter’s Ink Company was founded in Boston in 1858 and continues to make stamp pads and ink-related office products to this day. Separately bottled ink became rare after the invention of the ballpoint pen in the 1930s. 1997.1.64

 

 

A small metal object used with a coffee millCoffee Mill Plate

“J. & E. PARKER’S UNION MILL Pat. Nov. 20, 1855 & Feb. 7, 1860”

The Parker family, Charles, John and Edmund were prolific makers of coffee mills and other domestic hardware from the 1830s to the 1890s. The firm was based in Meriden, Connecticut. This brass identification plate was found in the Fort Mackinac blacksmith shop. Was it for the blacksmith’s use at the shop or was he repairing this iron mill for someone? MS3.E1Q19.1

 

An intact champagne bottle that was excavated in 1981Champagne Bottle

A stone-lined well in excess of eighty feet deep was one of the original features of Fort Mackinac. It failed prior to 1812 and was filled in over the next 170 years. The demolition of the adjacent original powder magazine in 1878 led to additional trash deposits. Because they needed to fill a large hole, soldiers discarded large pieces of refuse that normally would have gone in a dump outside the fort walls. This intact champagne bottle was excavated from the well in 1981. Part of its paper label is still visible. MS3.A7A8.1

 

 

A general service button that may date back as far as 1854General Service Button

In 1854 the American army finally settled on a standard button design for all enlisted men. This design, an eagle with a lined shield, was used with minor variations until 1902. This particular button is marked HORSTMAN BROS & CO/PHILA. The acidic soil of the blacksmith shop corroded the brass in this button. MS3.E1Y7.1

 

 

A brass helmet spike from uniforms that were adopted in 1881Brass Helmet Spike and Base

The United State Army ordered a major re-design of its uniforms in 1872. Because the Prussian and British armies were the most successful in the world at that time, the Americans copied some elements from them. This trend became even more pronounced in 1881 when the army adopted a spiked helmet for all foot troops. The spike base has an oak leaf design. MS4.L5.1/MS4.L8.3

 

 

An intact bottle for Duffy's Malt WhiskeyDuffy’s Malt Whiskey Bottle

Q: What kind of liquor was taken in the cell by said prisoner?

A: Duffy’s Malt Whiskey

In November 1888, Private Frank Darlington, company K, 23rd infantry, was court martialed for assisting in the procurement of liquor for prisoners confined in the Fort Mackinac Post Guard House with him. Private Darlington was confined in the guard house at the time for being absent without leave six times in the preceding 14 months! He was found guilty on the liquor charge and dishonorably discharged. This bottle was excavated from the Custer Road dump behind Fort Mackinac. U.1922

A mostly intact plate that was issued by the US Quartermaster's DepartmentU.S.Q.M.D. Plate

This plain white plate is mainly of interest due to the initials stamped on the back. U.S.Q.M.D. stands for United States Quartermaster Department. The Trenton China Company, of Trenton, New Jersey, supplied plates like this to the army from 1870 until 1897. This plate was found at a dump behind Fort Mackinac along with matching bowls and serving pieces. 1997.1.70

 

 

U.S. Quartermaster's Department issued tumblersU.S.Q.M.D. Tumblers

These Quartermaster Department tumblers were excavated from the same dump as the plate. They were originally clear.  Manganese was added to glass as a de-coloring agent from the mid-1880s until about World War I. It takes on an amethyst color when exposed to the sun. The tumblers have fourteen facets around the bottom. Octagonal beer mugs with the same mark were found as well. Non-military trash from the soldiers and their wives and children was disposed of in the same location. 1997.1.63

 

 

A bone-brush handle with the letters E.D. carved into it

Engraved Bone Brush Handle

This bone brush handle, found outside the fort, may have belonged to a soldier. It is engraved with the name or initials “ED.” MS3.1.2018.B.21.30

 

 

 

A drug store bottle from the National Park-era of Mackinac IslandNational Park Drug Store Bottle

This pharmaceutical bottle was manufactured for the NATIONAL PARK DRUG STORE, DR J R BAILEY & SON, MACKINAC ISLAND MICH. The Bailey family ran a pharmacy and general store for about seventy years on Mackinac Island. Dr. John R. Bailey served at Fort Mackinac. His son was Matthew Gray Bailey. Mackinac Island was the nation’s second national park from 1875 to 1895. MS4.1.0.1

 

 

A U.S. penny dating to 18951895 Penny

On September 16, 1895 the U.S. army marched out of Fort Mackinac for the last time. The fort, military reservation and Mackinac Island National Park were turned over to the State of Michigan and the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. One hundred years later, during the commission’s centennial summer, this 1895 copper penny was excavated at the site of the former blacksmith shop within Fort Mackinac. MS3.E1M4.1