Historic Mill Creek Artifacts - Mackinac State Historic Parks | Mackinac State Historic Parks

Historic Mill Creek Artifacts

After Colonial Michilimackinac, the most extensive archaeological work done at Mackinac State Historic Parks was at Historic Mill Creek. Click on any image for a larger version.

The Mill

Iron Saw-Set

“I have accordingly made a Contract for a sufficient number of boards, Which I must send to Campbell’s Saw Mill for.” – Captain William Doyle, commanding officer at Fort Mackinac, May 1793

Lumber from Campbell’s saw mill was used for the construction and repair of many buildings at Fort Mackinac and the village of Mackinac Island between 1790 and 1839. A saw-set is the tool used to align the teeth of a saw at the proper angle. 20CN8.234.5

Iron Saw Dog Fragment

“Michael Dousman had a saw-mil about two miles distant from our logs and we soon had them there.” – Martin Heydenburk, builder of Mission Church, Mackinac Island, 1830

Saw dogs are used to hold logs in place on the sawmill carriage while they are being sawn. 20CN8.3618.18


The People

 Royal Veteran Battalion Brass Hat Plate

This hat plate was among the first artifacts found by the three local historians who brought the Mill Creek site to the Mackinac Island State Park Commission’s attention. The design includes many British symbols, including “GR” (Latin initials for King George), the crown, lion, flags and motto of the Order of the Garter. The British infantry used this hat plate design from 1800 to 1813. This particular plate probably came from a soldier of the 10th Royal Veteran Battalion, the unit that captured Fort Mackinac at the beginning of the War of 1812. 1995.1.362

 American Military Buttons

A variety of military buttons have been found at Mill Creek. Soldiers picking up lumber at the mill may have lost them. Another possibility is that the millwright may have been a former soldier who continued wearing uniform parts while working. Wayne’s Legion, the first American soldiers at Fort Mackinac, arriving in 1796, wore the top button, known as the frog-legged eagle. The script “I” was issued to the infantry from 1812 to 1815. There were no United States infantry stationed at Fort Mackinac from 1805 until its capture in 1812, only artillery. The first American soldiers to return to the fort in 1815 wore this button. The Corps of Artillery used the eagle on the cannon button from 1814 to 1821. 20CN8.153.6/20CN8.117.4/20CN8.247.6

 Brass Wedding Ring

The two entwined hearts engraved on this ring suggest that it is a wedding band. It was found near a floor joist in the American Millwright’s House. How did it get there? Did someone search for it? Was the owner sorry it was lost? 20CN8.2747.5



 Decorated Mother-of-Pearl Buttons

These small mother-of-pearl buttons suggest that a woman lived at the American Millwright’s House. Most of the artifacts found at the house were items related to daily subsistence that could have been used by anyone, rather than personal items. 20CN8.1767.37/20CN8.1769.14/20CN8.392.2


 Hibernia/Wellington Coin

Ireland issued this copper coin to commemorate Wellington’s triumphant return from India in 1805. One side has a harp and crown, with the word HIBERNIA and the date 1805. The other side has a man’s profile and the words FIELD MARSHAL WELLINGTON. Even more intriguing is where the coin was found, under the floor near the north door of the American Millwright’s House. Irish American traditions include the custom of placing a copper under the floor, near the door of a new house for good luck. Was the American Millwright an Irish American? 20CN8.2748.3

Domestic Life

 Iron Fork with Bone Handle

Although four-tined forks were developed for fine dining in the mid-eighteenth century, two-tined forks continued to be used long afterward in informal settings. This fork has a hand carved bone handle. 20CN8.3378.53



 Nickel-Plated Spoon

Some items have not changed much in the past two hundred years. Cleaned up, this nickel-plated spoon would look right at home in a modern American kitchen. 20CN8.301.3



Colorful Ceramics

The Industrial Revolution led to an explosion of new technologies in the ceramics industry.  Many colors and patterns became widely available at affordable prices. Banded ceramics were particularly popular in the first half of the nineteenth century. 20CN8.1154A.3et al/20CN8.1350A.6/20CN8.1422A/20CN8.1303A/20CN8.1354A


 Transfer-Printed Cup

Transfer printing allowed intricate designs to be mass-produced. Blue was the most popular color, but black, brown, green, red and purple transfer-printed wares were all produced. 20CN8.3336.1



 Ceramic Maker’s Mark

Maker’s marks became increasingly common throughout the nineteenth century. Finding fragments of them helps identify what the pattern looked like and where and when it was made. This mark is from a “Park Scenery” plate manufactured by George Phillips of Longport, Staffordshire between 1834 and 1848. 20CN8.302A(0)112.4/20CN8.302A(0)127


 Small Bottle

Bottle function is extremely difficult to determine based on form. A small bottle such as this could have held condiments, pharmaceutical or toilet items. Once emptied of their original contents, bottles were reused until they broke. 20CN8.385.2 et al



 Marked Button

Buttons are sometimes stamped with a maker’s mark. This plain-faced copper alloy button is stamped “LONDON*IMPERIAL,” a mark we have not yet been able to trace. 20CN8.312.2



The Farm

 Iron Harness Buckle

This large iron buckle is from a harness. Draft animals -horses and oxen- were crucial to the Mill Creek farmstead, for hauling logs to the mill, plowing fields and other agricultural purposes. 20CN8.283.4



 Iron Hoe Head

whereon the said Robt. Campbell, for many years past, and until his death, did live and improve, together with the house, mills, and other improvements thereon erected and made, commonly known by the name of Campbell’s farm.” – Private Claim 334, 1808

The Campbell farm included hay meadows, an orchard and a vegetable garden. 20CN8.226.17


 Repaired Iron Scythe Blade

“Ever since his recollection, his father, Robert Campbell occupied until his death the tract of land described in the annexed notice; that after his father’s death this deponent occupied said tract until he, together with the other heirs of his said father, sold the same to Michael Dousman… the meadows on this tract have always been considered very valuable, and this deponent well knows that his father every year cut large quantities of hay upon them, and this deponent did the same while he was in possession of them.” – deposition of John Campbell, age 37, in 1823 land claim

This scythe, used to harvest hay, probably was repaired at the Mill Creek site. 20CN8.330.2

Other Activities

 Iron Horseshoe

And the ice only closed the 22nd.  Mr. Fraser had to stay at Mr. Campbell’s 15 days before he got over here.” – Charles Morison (Mackinac Island) to John Askin (Detroit) February 10, 1801

With the old post of Michilimackinac abandoned, Campbell’s farm and mill became the mainland jump-off point for Mackinac Island. When the lakes froze over for the winter, people rode horses or walked across the ice to the island. 20CN8.25.80

 Iron Buckle Mold and Brass Buckle

Milling and farming required frequent repairs to tools, such as the scythe blade pictured previously, so blacksmithing and other metal work was always part of life at Mill Creek. During the Campbell era metal work took place in the workshop. A forge took up one room of the American Millwright’s House.  This buckle mold dates to the Campbell era. Only one half is shown, although both halves were recovered. 20CN8.47.11/20CN8.25


 Bone Powder Measure

Although the Mill Creek settlement was closely connected to Mackinac Island, the Straits were not always passable due to weather. The entire Straits of Mackinac region was isolated from the rest of the world in the winter months until the coming of the railroad and icebreakers in the late nineteenth century. The families living at Mill Creek had to be fairly self-reliant. One of the Campbells probably carved this bone gunpowder measure. 20CN8.357.2


 Iron Padlock

This padlock is amazingly well preserved. The flap protecting the keyhole from the weather still moves. The generally sandy soil in the Straits region drains well, which leads to good preservation of most artifacts. Dry artifacts corrode more slowly than damp ones. The cold winter temperatures and frozen ground slow down many decay processes. 20CN8.376.2


 Iron Knife with Brass Handle

Knives were as important to daily life at Mill Creek as they had been at Michilimackinac. This knife, found at the Campbell house, has a nearly identical handle to one found at Michilimackinac. 20CN8.219.3



 Pierced Coin

This 1836 copper U.S. coin has had holes drilled in it, possibly for use as jewelry or other ornament. Based on its size and composition, it appears to be a one-cent piece, but the coin has been so badly scratched that the center designs are illegible. 20CN8.3325.33



 Brass Bell

This bell is a mystery artifact. Not in what it is, but in what it was used for. It is the wrong shape and size to be used on livestock. Was it a dinner bell? A doorbell? 20CN8.1049A.6