Re-opening the Archaeological Site at Michilimackinac

The House E site with all of the squares open.

Map of British features of House D showing House E cellar (F.866) to west of common wall separating Houses D & E.

Late May saw the beginning of the 64th archaeological field season at Michilimackinac. We are continuing to excavate the rowhouse unit we have been working on since 2007. We have opened three new squares where we expect to find remains of the trench for the north wall of the house. This should be as wide as the excavation for this project expands.

 The house walls do not fall exactly in line with the grid. Because of this, when we excavated the rowhouse unit to the east (House D) in the 1990s, we excavated about a foot of the current house (House E) as well. In doing so, we uncovered the edge of the root cellar in the southeast corner of House E. We reached the bottom of the western two-thirds of this cellar at the end of last season. Now we have uncovered the eastern third, which we had protected and re-buried when we backfilled House D in 1997. Our first exciting find of the season came from the east section of the cellar, most of a redware bowl with a green-glazed border. We had found a matching rim sherd in the western edge of the cellar in 2018. 

The dark crescent-shaped area is the cellar. The rocky sand is the beach underlying the fort.

Bowl with rim fragment from 2018 held in place.

Dr. William Beaumont and Alexis St. Martin

Dr. William Beaumont served at Fort Mackinac from 1820 to 1825.

On June 6, 1822, a shot rang out inside the American Fur Company’s retail store located on Mackinac Island’s Market Street. When the smoke cleared, Alexis St. Martin, a young French Canadian voyageur, lay bleeding on the floor. Although the exact cause of the accident has been lost to history, the immediate results were abundantly clear: St. Martin was grievously wounded, with a large hole blasted into the left side of his abdomen and the interior of his stomach exposed. Although St. Martin was not expected to survive, store patrons sent word to fetch Dr. William Beaumont, the post surgeon at Fort Mackinac and the only physician on Mackinac Island. Arriving minutes after the accident, Beaumont made St. Martin comfortable but judged his wound to be mortal. The doctor had St. Martin carried to the post hospital in the fort. To Beaumont’s amazement, St. Martin survived, and under the doctor’s care began healing. Together, Beaumont and St. Martin embarked upon a journey of scientific discovery that continues to shape medical care today.

Dr. Beaumont’s book.

 As St. Martin recovered from the accident, the wound slowly healed. However, instead of closing, the hole into his stomach fused to his abdominal muscles, creating a permanent opening. Beaumont realized this presented a unique opportunity to observe the digestive process inside a living person, and at the urging of the surgeon general of the army began making informal notes about what he could see inside St. Martin’s stomach as it worked to digest food. These initial observations occurred at Fort Mackinac in 1824, but grew into a series of formal experiments carried out periodically at other posts until 1833. By the time the final experiments concluded, Beaumont had gained a much clearer understanding of the human digestive process, publishing his findings as Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion. Although other physicians and scientists had previously contributed to our understanding of how our stomachs work, St. Martin’s injury allowed Beaumont to make critical observations about the mechanical and chemical processes which occur during the digestive process.

The entrance to the new exhibit at the American Fur Co. Retail Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum.

 To mark the 200th anniversary of the accident that set Beaumont and St. Martin on their path of discovery, a new gallery exhibit is being installed in the American Fur Company Retail Store. Opening on June 4, this new exhibit tells the story of the accident and subsequent research that transformed Beaumont into the “father of gastric physiology.” Admission to the new exhibit is included with tickets to Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac Island Native American Museum at the Biddle House. We hope you’ll join us soon to see this exciting new addition and learn more about Mackinac Island’s own contribution to medical science.

5 Things For Kids to See at Historic Fort Mackinac

Visiting historic Fort Mackinac on Michigan’s Mackinac Island is less of a lesson in history than it is an experience of it. After all, guests don’t so much learn about history by walking around quietly and reading stuff on the walls as they do step into that history for a completely interactive experience.

 No wonder kids love the fort so much!

 Of course, adults enjoy Fort Mackinac, too, whether they’re history buffs or not. Some visitors just come to see the incredible views from the bluff, go shopping in the museum store and have lunch at the Fort Mackinac Tea Room (which has an amazing kids’ menu, by the way).

 But while people of all ages have fun at Fort Mackinac, there are a handful of exhibits that are especially entertaining for kids.

Here are five places to see on a visit to Fort Mackinac with the family:

  • Kids’ Quarters – Located in the Officers’ Stone Quarters, which dates to 1780 and is the oldest surviving building in all of Michigan, the Kids’ Quarters is one of the newest exhibits at Fort Mackinac. The exhibit space features hands-on displays and interactive games that give visitors of all ages a look at what soldier and civilian life was like at Fort Mackinac. For example, there’s a dress-up area where kids can try on uniforms from all eras of the fort’s history and a music area where guests can listen to the music that was played at Fort Mackinac.
  • Post Hospital – The way people live has changed a lot over the past 200 years, and perhaps medical practices have changed as much as anything. That’s why it’s an eye-opening experience to check out the “Military Medicine at Mackinac: 1780-1895” exhibit at Fort Mackinac’s Post Hospital. You can see what it was like for soldiers and civilians at the fort to go to the doctor, and there’s a lot of interactive gadgets for kids to play with including microscopes and stethoscopes.
  • Guardhouse – While Fort Mackinac was “a desirable station” for many soldiers who lived there in the 19th century, everybody didn’t always get along with each other even during times of peace. A visit to the Guardhouse offers a glimpse into military justice at Fort Mackinac. For example, you can hear actual court martial cases and feel like you’re right in the same room as the accused. It’s pretty interesting to find out some of the things that soldiers were put on trial for in the 1800s!
  • Drill Program – Back in 2022 after a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Drill Program invites visitors of all ages to participate in basic soldier drills on the Parade Ground at Fort Mackinac. Can you march in a straight line? Turn about-face 180 degrees? The Drill Program is an engaging way to experience history at Fort Mackinac. And it’s especially fun for kids, who often are better at the drills than their parents!
  • Reading Room – New for 2022, the Reading Room at Fort Mackinac offers guests an immersive experience in the educational aspects of life as a soldier in the 1880s. Visitors can page through newspapers of the time or use interactive touch screens to scan through the kinds of periodicals that Fort Mackinac soldiers read. Both kids and adults can step back into history and get a sense of why the Army thought it was so important to have Reading Rooms at its forts in the late 19th century.

 There are 14 original buildings preserved at Fort Mackinac, and each of the rest of them also have something of interest for kids. There’s a movie in the North Blockhouse that puts visitors amid the confusion, fear and drama of the British capture of Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812, for example, and period settings and galleries in the Office that showcase the training and duties of Fort Mackinac’s officers.

 Both kids and kids at heart also love watching and hearing the daily cannon blasts from Fort Mackinac. In fact, kids and other visitors ages 13 and up can even sign up to fire the Fort Mackinac cannon on the morning of their visit!

 Fort Mackinac opened for the 2022 season on May 3 and will welcome guests daily through Oct. 23. Buy tickets here for your entire family to visit to Fort Mackinac this year.

Natural Springs of Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is blessed with a number of natural springs which percolate through limestone bedrock. An 1882 tourist booklet, Mackinac Island, Wave-Washed Tourists’ Paradise of the Unsalted Seas, boasted of “living streams of pure water, cooled down to the temperature of forty-four degrees, gushing from its lime-rock precipices.” A few of these, such as Dwightwood Spring and Croghan Water, are well known by many of today’s visitors. Others, such as Wishing Spring, Wawatam Brook, and La Salle Spring, are less familiar or forgotten. When you do encounter a natural spring, please enjoy the view, but remember untreated water is considered unsafe for drinking.

Sinclair’s map of Mackinac Island, 1779

 A Fine Spring

As the British settled Mackinac Island from 1780-1781, water was viewed as a valuable resource. Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair noted “a fine spring of water” on a map he drew after visiting the island in 1779. He wrote his superiors, “Our Village will be washed on one side by a fine Spring which with some care may be brought to turn a mill at least one day in seven.”

More pressing priorities meant Sinclair never built his water-powered mill on Mackinac Island. The spring he referred to once fed a small trickle of water  named Wawatam Brook for 20th century guidebooks. The brook originated near the Grand Hotel and emptied into a small lake now called Hanks Pond, which serves a water feature on the Jewel Golf Course.

 La Salle Spring

This 1829 survey map shows La Salle Spring

A second natural spring once trickled into Hanks Pond, originating below Fort Mackinac’s West Blockhouse. Eventually christened La Salle Spring, it became a reliable source of water for Island residents and soldiers alike. In his 1895 book, Mackinac, Formerly Michilimackinac, Dr. John R. Bailey noted that log piping was used for feeding water to town, supplying “stores, warehouses, and dwellings of the fur company.”

In 1881, a steam-powered pump was installed which elevated water from the spring through ½ inch lead pipes to a reservoir located in the second story of the North Blockhouse. From this high point, it then flowed through pipes into various fort buildings. In Annals of Fort Mackinac, author Dwight H. Kelton enlightened his readers, “This innovation on the old-time water-wagon was made… in accordance with a plan devised by, and executed under the direction of Lieut. D.H. Kelton, Post Quartermaster. Water was first pumped October 11, 1881.”

 Croghan Water

Croghan Water, 2021

The north-central portion of Mackinac Island once featured the Island’s largest farm. By 1804, Michael Dousman harvested hay, raised cattle, and even built a horse-powered mill and distillery there. In 1814, the Battle of Mackinac Island was fought on Dousman’s hay fields. Today, links of the Wawashkamo Golf Club cover much of the site.

Dousman’s distillery was situated near a flowing spring of cool water. On early maps, it was simply labeled “Cold Spring.”  In 1913, the spring was renamed Croghan Water, in honor Colonel George Croghan, commander of American forces during the 1814 battle.

 Wishing Spring

Wishing Spring, ca. 1910

This spring was the first which became a popular tourist destination. Once located near Devil’s Kitchen, it was also known as Lover’s Rest or Fairy Spring. During her 1872 visit to the site, novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson offered a token knot of ribbon and wished for health during the year.

Rev. Frank O’Brien summarized the site in the 1916 guide, Names and Places of Interest on Mackinac Island, Michigan. He wrote, This Wishing Spring is within a fragrant, fairy grotto. The water, clear as crystal, flows from above, dripping, cool and refreshing. If you drink and wish, and keep the secret for three days, tradition says you will get whatever you wish.”

 Dwightwood Spring

Dwightwood Spring, ca. 1909

This well-known spring is located along Lake Shore Boulevard (M-185), near the southeast corner of Mackinac Island. In 1909, Edwin O. Wood donated funds for a canopy, fountain, and benches in memory of his son, Dwight Hulbert Wood, who perished after his bicycle was struck by a horse-drawn fire engine in Flint, Michigan.

That July, a dedication ceremony was held to christen Dwightwood Spring. During the ceremony, park superintendent Benjamin Franklin Emery noted the site was dedicated “to preserve the work of nature, to make the spring accessible, to prove a shelter in time of storm, to be a resting place for the weary, long to be remembered after leaving the beautiful Island shores.”

 An Invitation

The springs above represent just a few of Mackinac Island’s “living streams of pure water” which bubble up from its limestone bedrock. During your next visit, you’re invited to seek out these peaceful places, enjoy their quiet beauty, and discover special plants and animals that thrive there. Perhaps, like Ms. Woolson, you’ll feel inspired. “Now I am a sensible, middle-aged woman,” she wrote, “but something in the moonlight bewitched me, and I consented, much to the delight of my niece.”

Boats Boats Boats!

 When thinking about the Great Lakes fur trade, most people will imagine French Canadian voyageurs paddling huge birchbark canoes filled with tons of furs or trade goods. Canoes were absolutely an integral part of the fur trade, and provided a vital link between Michilimackinac and other communities around the Great Lakes. However, they were by no means the only watercraft on the lakes, and a great deal of people and goods were moved by a type of large rowboat called a bateau.

 In the 18th century, there were few standardized plans for batteaux. Although the British Admiralty used a standard 30-foot design for vessels destined for military service in Canada, individual batteaux might range from less than 20 feet long to over 30, and there were regional variations in design. All shared a few common features: a flat bottom without a keel, heavier stems at the bow and stern, and butted plank construction. Relatively easy to build so long as appropriate woodworking tools were on hand, a bateau could be knocked together without the need for skill ship carpenters or shipyards. A bateau could be paddled, poled, or propelled under sail, but generally the vessels were powered by large wooden oars.

 While canoes (and sailing vessels) were absolutely workhorses of the Great Lakes in the 18th century, in many instances there were more batteaux on the lakes and rivers than other types of watercraft. In 1778, for example, 374 batteaux set out from Montreal for Michilimackinac and other western posts, while only 152 canoes left the city for the summer trading season. Individual merchants might own or hire several batteaux. Michilimackinac merchant John Askin, for instance, dispatched 10 batteaux in 1777, while  trading partners Thomas Smith, William Taylor, and Edward Ripley sent 16 more to Detroit and Michilimackinac. A 1778 inventory of Askin’s estate included both a “Common batea[u]” and a “Small fish [bateau],” both presumably for personal use rather than heavy trade.

 The British military also heavily employed batteaux to move personnel and supplies around the lakes and connect far-flung posts like Michilimackinac and Detroit. As somewhat disposable craft exposed to relatively heavy work, these batteaux required regular repair and maintenance. In 1771 Capt. George Turnbull received £85 for mending boats, making oars, and burning pitch at Michilimackinac. By 1778, Sergeant Amos Langdon of the 8th Regiment was issued nails from the engineer’s stores to repair the King’s batteaus and the wharf. Although somewhat more cumbersome than a canoe, a bateau could efficiently cover great distance at speed. In late September 1778, an express canoe traveled from Michilimackinac to Montreal in 10 to 14 days, while a batteau rowed by eight “active men” could go to the city and return to Michilimackinac by November 10, making a 6 week round trip. However, supplies to maintain the boats could be difficult to procure, making repairs difficult. In 1779, Major Arent DePeyster, Michilimackinac’s commanding officer, unsuccessfully requested pitch and oakum to repair batteaux. A year later, DePeyster sent pitch and oakum up from Detroit to repair the batteaus at Michilimackinac, telling Lt. Gov. Patrick Sinclair that these materials were previously hard to get. Boat repairs could be a thankless task. In 1774, Lt. Col. John Caldwell, commanding the 8th Regiment at Fort Niagara, complained that “The old ones [batteaus] have been so often repaired since I came here that it is throwing money away to attempt repairing them again.” Apparently the old adage about a boat being a hole in the water is somewhat older than expected.

 Today, a 22-foot bateau is part of the small interpretive fleet at Colonial Michilimackinac (we also have a 28-foot north canoe and a 35-foot Montreal canoe). We use all of these vessels to interpret the vital relationship between Michilimackinac and the surrounding waters of the Great Lakes, and our interpretive staff maintains these boats and utilizes them for special events. This summer, we will have three Maritime Michilimackinac weekends focusing on the roles and chores of sailors, voyageurs, and others working to maintain Michilimackinac’s marine links to the outside world. Weather permitting, our staff will use our bateau and canoes to get out on the water, so we hope you’ll join us for these special events!

 

Archaeology at Fort Mackinac – Three Blacksmith Shops

The third blacksmith shop is the building on the front left of the photo.

One of the “missing” buildings at Fort Mackinac is the blacksmith shop. Military records, maps, and even a photograph indicate that a series of three blacksmith shops was present just inside the north sally port for most of the fort’s military service.

 An archaeological project to search for their remains was undertaken as part of the centennial celebration of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission in 1995 and the bicentennial of the arrival of American troops in 1996. The excavations were carried out as University of South Florida [USF] field schools under the direction of Dr. Roger T. Grange, Jr. Ford Motor Company sponsored the project. Information for this post was drawn from Dr. Grange’s unpublished reports and Sheila Stewart’s USF master’s thesis on the third blacksmith shop.

 Although the services of a blacksmith would have been required during the construction of Fort Mackinac, the location of his shop is not known. Based on the dates and nationalities of the military buttons excavated during this project, it appears that the first shop near the sally port was built by the Americans in the late 1790s. The remains of the first shop, especially the forge base, were preserved well enough to determine the basic layout of the shop. In addition to making and repairing tools and hardware for the construction and maintenance of fort buildings, and keeping arms in good repair, the blacksmith would have provided services to the Indian Department. The services of a blacksmith were commonly included in treaties with Native American nations.

USF field school students excavate around the stone foundation of the second blacksmith shop.

 By 1828 the blacksmith shop was in poor condition, so it was dismantled and rebuilt in approximately the same location. Of the three shops, the second had the most substantial foundation, stone walls which are preserved below the fort’s sod today.

 The second blacksmith shop was destroyed by a major fire, which started in the nearby bakehouse, in 1858. The clearing of the fire rubble removed most of the artifacts and features from this era.

 Almost immediately after the fire, a third blacksmith shop was built in the same area. It sat on cornerstones, two of which survived, and its dimensions were partially determined archaeologically by the dripline in the gravel indicating the roofline. By analyzing artifact distribution and soil chemistry, Stewart was able to determine the shop layout, including the forge area, anvil mold, work area, and coal and metal storage areas. The artifacts from the third shop also reflect how the role of the blacksmith changed with the Industrial Revolution. By the 1870s the U.S. Army was using mass-produced weapons with interchangeable parts, so gun repair was no longer a major component of a military smith’s work. Hand-forged tools and hardware were replaced by cast iron and steel. Across the continent, not just in military garrisons, farrier work (shoeing horses) became the main task of blacksmiths. In 1875, this change led to a new blacksmith shop being built near the fort stables, which were located in what is now Marquette Park. The shop in the fort was used for storage for a few years but was dismantled by 1879.

Although this “spread eagle with shield” button design was used from 1854-1902, its back mark of HORSTMANN BROS & CO/PHILA dates it to 1859-1863, within the date range of the third shop.]

 Today there are no visible remains of the blacksmith shops within the walls of Fort Mackinac, but the stone foundations lie below the grass just outside the barracks restrooms. Stop and imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of the blacksmith the next time you visit. Fort Mackinac opens for the season on May 3, 2022.

Maple Sugaring at Mackinac

As winter snow and frigid temperatures finally give way to spring, maple sugaring season begins in northern Michigan. For many centuries, Native American families living at the Straits of Mackinac moved each spring from small winter hunting camps to groves of maple trees. There, they gathered and processed the first plant-based food of the year, harvesting maple sap and boiling it into sweet, calorie-rich maple sugar.

  Early origins of maple sugaring are preserved in oral traditions of Anishinaabeg and other tribes of northeastern North America. When European missionaries and traders became established at Mackinac in the 18th century, local accounts of sugaring also began to appear in letters, journals, and other documents. Several such records offer a glimpse into historical methods and customs of sugar making in northern Michigan.

Sweet Science

  No matter which specific methods are used, the basic science of converting maple sap into syrup or sugar remains the same. As temperatures rise above freezing during the day, liquid sap within trees thaws and starts to flow through sapwood. Sapwood is a living layer of wood within a tree which serves as a pipeline for moving water up to leaves so they can grow. The hard center of a tree, called heartwood, contains dead cells which provide rigidity but lack the ability to transport water.

Maple leaves  While sap is mostly water, it’s not 100%. In trees, sugar maples contain the most sugar, from 2-4%. In a sense, trees plan ahead, as these complex carbohydrates were created last year, when green leaves converted sun’s energy into food through photosynthesis. Stored through winter, this energy flows to tips of branches in spring, stimulating buds to open. In late spring, when temperatures remain above freezing at night, pressure within a tree equalizes and sap stops flowing. If buds start to open, it also turns cloudy and tastes bitter.

  When sap is freely flowing, a hole is made in a tree and a spout or spile inserted, directing drips into a waiting container. Traditionally, these containers were called mokuks, made of birch bark with sealed seams. When enough sap is gathered, it’s boiled over an open fire. Averaging about 2% sugar, sap must be boiled until it concentrates to 66% sugar in order to make syrup, with further boiling required for granular sugar. Generally, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, which can make about 8 pounds of sugar.

Maple Sugar Making in 1763

  Alexander Henry, a British trader at Fort Michilimackinac, was one of the first to describe the Anishinaabeg method of sugar making in Michigan’s north woods. He recorded the following as he recalled a visit to an Ojibwe encampment near Sault Ste. Marie in March 1763:

“The next day was employed in gathering the bark of white birch-trees, with which to make vessels to catch the wine or sap. The trees were now cut or tapped, and spouts or ducts introduced into the wound. The bark vessels were placed under the ducts; and, as they filled, the liquor was taken out in buckets, and conveyed into the reservoirs or vats of moose-skin, each vat containing a hundred gallons. From these, we supplied the boilers, of which we had twelve, of from twelve to twenty gallons each, with fires constantly under them, day and night. While the women collected the sap, boiled it, and completed the sugar, the men were not less busy in cutting wood, making fires, and in hunting and fishing, in part of our supply of food.

The earlier part of the spring it that best adapted to making maple-sugar. The sap runs only in the day; and it will not run, unless there has been a frost the night before. When, in the morning, there is a clear sun, and the night has left ice of the thickness of a dollar, the greatest quantity is produced.

  Henry noted that work ended on April 25, resulting in 1,600 pounds of maple sugar, 36 gallons of  gallons of syrup, and “…we certainly consumed three hundred weight. Though, as I have said, we hunted and fished, yet sugar was our principal food, during the whole month of April.” If his calculations are correct, this single camp collected about 16,640 gallons of maple sap. With an average of about 15 gallons of sap per tap, this would have required well over 1,000 taps to produce.

The Maple Sugar Trade

  By the turn of the 19th century, maple sugar had become a regular item of trade at Mackinac, frequently appearing on manifests of trading vessels. In 1803, records from the U.S. Customs House on Mackinac Island included many dozens of kegs and mokuks of maple sugar transported by schooner and canoe. Traders such as George Schindler, Michael Dousman, Joseph Bailly, Jean Baptiste La Borde, Pierre Pyant, and many others appear time and again on such records. On July 19, 1810, for example, 489 “makaks” of sugar left Mackinac Island on the schooner Mary, bound for Detroit. There, advertisements for the newly arrived resource were published in newspapers, including the following example at the “Commission Store,” printed in issues of the Detroit Gazette throughout the winter of 1817-1818.

Bois Blanc Sugar Camp

  A lengthy account of a maple sugar camp at the Straits of Mackinac was recorded by Elizabeth Therese (Fisher) Baird. Born in 1810, to parents of Scottish, French and Odawa ancestry, Elizabeth spent much of her youth on Mackinac Island. Fond childhood recollections of her family’s maple sugar camp were first published in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, on December 29, 1886. In part, she wrote,

Indian Sugar Camp by Seth Eastman, 1853.

“A visit to the sugar camp was a great treat to the young folks as well as to the old… All who were able, possessed a sugar camp. My grand-mother had a sugar camp on Bois Blanc Island, about five miles east of Mackinac.

About the first of March nearly half of the inhabitants of our town, as well as many from the garrison, would move to Bois Blanc to prepare for the work. Would that I could describe the lovely spot! Our camp was delightfully situated in the midst of a forest of maple, or a maple grove. One  thousand or more trees claimed our care, and three men and two women were employed to do the work

  After describing methods and materials for making maple syrup, Elizabeth recalled the process of sugar making. In part, she described,

The modus operandi thus: a very bright, brass kettle, was placed over a slow fire…containing about three gallons of syrup, if it was to be made into cakes; if… granulated sugar, two gallons of syrup were used. For the sugar cakes, a board of bass-wood about five or six inches wide, with moulds set in, in form of bears, diamonds, crosses, rabbits, turtles, spheres, etc. When the sugar was cooked to a certain degree it was poured into these moulds. For the granulated sugar, the stirring is continued for a longer time; this being done with a long paddle which looks like a mush stick. This sugar had to be put into the mokok while warm as it was not pack well if cold…”

  Today, many Michiganders still enjoy the smell and taste of pure maple products each spring. Though methods have changed, we can all give thanks for trees which produce such sweet sap (with extra to spare), and for many generations of Native Americans whose skills in making maple products were passed down for thousands of years, ensuring we can still share these sweet gifts of the North Woods during this special time of year.

An image from the 1980s showing archaeological work at the Wood Quarters

Archaeology at Fort Mackinac – Officers’ Wood Quarters

An image from the 1980s showing archaeological work at the Wood Quarters

Archaeological excavation under the Officers’ Wood Quarters in 1986. 

One of the more unusual archaeological projects to take place at Fort Mackinac was an excavation that took place under a standing structure. When the Officers’ Wood Quarters was restored in 1986, the floorboards of the west room were removed and an archaeological excavation took place. Some excavation also took place outside the building during the restoration of the south porch that same summer. The excavation was carried out by a University of South Florida field school directed by Dr. Roger T. Grange, Jr. The resulting data was analyzed by Laura Dee Clifford for her master’s thesis, Excavations at the Officers’ Wooden Quarters at Fort Mackinac, Michigan. This blog post is based on her work.

Plan of Fort Mackinac drawn by Major Charles Gratiot in 1817. Credit: National Archives

 The main question the project was designed to answer was when and by whom was the Wood Quarters built? It first appears on a plan of the fort drawn in 1817 by Major Charles Gratiot.

 In addition to serving as an officers’ barracks, with three apartments, the building later housed the post hospital, a sutler’s store, laundresses’ quarters, a reading room and library, general storeroom, billiard room, and canteen. After the military period it was remodeled into an artist’s studio in the 1920s. It was restored back to its military appearance in 1933-34 and housed museum exhibits.

A button dating between 1812 and 1815 recovered at the Officers' Wood Quarters.

U.S. Infantry button that dated the construction of the Wood Quarters. 

 Clifford was able to answer the puzzle of the building’s origin through the presence of a United States Infantry button in the construction layer. The button dates from between 1812 and 1815. Since the British occupied Fort Mackinac throughout the War of 1812, this button could not have arrived at the fort until the Americans returned July 18, 1815. The Wood Quarters were present by the time Gratiot drew his map in 1817. Therefore, the building must have been built in 1816 by the Americans.

The Wood Quarters today. 

 After the 1986 restoration was complete, the west room was furnished as the 1880s billiard room. Like all the buildings inside Fort Mackinac it, is open to the public from early May through late October. In 2022, Fort Mackinac will open for the season on May 3.

Archaeology at Fort Mackinac – The British Well

The well is marked “C” on this plan of Fort Mackinac drawn in 1796 by Lieutenants James Sterrett and Ebenezer Massey.

 The earliest archaeological excavation at Fort Mackinac took place at one of its earliest structures, the well. When British soldiers began building Fort Mackinac in 1780, one of their first projects was to excavate a well within the fort’s walls. This required digging at least 80’ and possibly up to 150’ into the limestone bedrock. The well was still in use as late as 1800, but had failed by the beginning of the War of 1812. Over the next century and a half, the well and associated depression were filled with a variety of materials. In 1965 a team of archaeologists from the University of Michigan, led by Dr. David Brose, looked for the well, but they only had a week at the end of a project elsewhere on the island and the well proved to be further down than they expected.

Archaeologists standing in well by casing stones in 1981.

 In 1980, as part of the celebration of the bicentennial of Fort Mackinac, a major archaeological excavation was undertaken to search for the well. The project was carried out by a team from the University of South Florida under the direction of Dr. Roger T. Grange, Jr. He was assisted by Robin R. Wright. Her master’s thesis, The 1780 British Well Site, was the main source used in preparing this blog post. All of the filling had resulted in the remains of the well being located eight feet below grade at the end of the 1980 field season. It took another season of excavation, in 1981, to fully understand the construction and destruction series of events.

 The limestone shaft of the well, 14’ in diameter at the top, was topped by a dressed stone casing. The excavation also revealed a previously unknown revetment wall seven feet west of the well. It appears that the first major fill episode, including the removal of the well superstructure, took place around 1821. By this time the garrison was beginning to pump water into the fort.

 The second major episode of filling took place in 1878 when the original powder magazine, just north of the well, was demolished to make room for a new post commissary, which still stands today. This resulted in a layer of boulders which had to be removed by backhoe during the archaeology project!

Well casing stones visible today at Fort Mackinac.

 The final episode of filling was more-or-less continuous filling by MISPC operations personnel from 1934 until 1980 as the area continued to settle. Fill was brought in from the Early Farm across British Landing Road from Wawashkamo Golf Club and raked in from pea gravel paths throughout the fort. When the excavation was complete, the well was left exposed, so visitors to Fort Mackinac could view this remnant of the earliest construction. You can see the well to your right as you enter through the south sally port. Fort Mackinac opens for the season May 3, 2022.