Michilimackinac Archaeology 2021 Has Begun

The archaeology crew at work on opening day.

  The 63rd archaeological field season at Michilimackinac got underway on June 1. This will be our 14th season on our current project, the excavation of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse. The rowhouse was built in the 1730s, rebuilt in the 1760s, and demolished in 1781 when the community moved to Mackinac Island. The house was always occupied by fur trading households, first the household of French Canadian trader Charles Gonneville, and later the household of an as-yet-unknown English trader.

  Despite not knowing his name, we have learned quite a bit about the English trader through the artifacts we have recovered. He supplemented the fish diet everyone ate with pigs and other domestic animals. He owned up-to-date ceramics, including styles developed in the 1770s. He was a snazzy dresser, with ornate buttons, buckles, and linked button fasteners. His trade goods likely included hawk bells and fishhooks.

  Although only half of the houses at Michilimackinac had a cellar, this house had two. We will excavate both of them this summer. At the very end of last season, we got a glimpse of the north wall trench of the house, and we hope to expose more of it this season.

  This house has had many surprises and we are excited to see what this season has in store. Interesting discoveries will be posted on MSHP’s social channels and this blog. Better yet, come visit us in person. We will be excavating every day through August 21 (weather permitting). This year the archaeological field season is sponsored by Mackinac Associates and we are grateful for their support.

Memorial Day at Fort Mackinac

  It’s a crisp morning in late May. Members of the 23rd Regiment at Fort Mackinac assemble on the parade ground in their dress uniforms and begin the slow, somber march out of the North Sally Port at Fort Mackinac and head toward the Post Cemetery. Soldiers muffle their drums as they would for a funeral, and play a cadence. They’re joined by civilians for the walk to the ceremony.

  Upon arrival at the Post Cemetery, short remarks are made, the soldiers fire a salute, and “Taps” is played. If you didn’t know any better, you might have thought you’ve stepped back in time to the 1880s, but this exact scenario will play out at Fort Mackinac and the Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery this Memorial Day, May 31, as a way to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers who served at Fort Mackinac. 

  It is a tradition Mackinac State Historic Parks has done for more than 20 years – recreating the Decoration Day, or Memorial Day, ceremony that soldiers had historically done at Fort Mackinac. In 1883, Captain Edwin Sellers suspended duty at Fort Mackinac and held the first Decoration Day ceremony.

Captain Edwin Sellers

  Some additional background on Sellers: he was commissioned second lieutenant, 10th infantry, in October 1861 during the Civil War. He was engaged in multiple battles, including Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg, and received three brevet promotions for “gallant and meritorious service” during the war. He took command of Fort Mackinac in 1879, and lived with his wife, Olive, and four sons in the commanding officer’s house west of the fort.

  While he instituted Decoration Day at Fort Mackinac in 1883, it was, unfortunately, the only one he lived to see. One year later he was buried at the Post Cemetery after a brief and sudden bout of pneumonia.

  On this Memorial Day, costumed interpreters will lead attendees from Fort Mackinac to the Post Cemetery and perform a short ceremony and salute, just as the soldiers did in 1883. Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Steve Brisson will speak at the ceremony while interpreters lay a wreath on Sellers’ grave. Afterwards, soldiers will fire a rifle salute followed by “Taps” played by a bugler. Afterwards, the procession will march back to Fort Mackinac.

  The program begins at 8:30 a.m. and will conclude by 9:00 a.m. It’s a free event. Events such as this are sponsored, in part, by Mackinac Associates, friends preserving and sharing Mackinac’s history. More information on the event can be found here.

Shifting Sands

Remains of the lighthouse dock in April 2021.

The high water levels of the Great Lakes in recent years have caused significant erosion along the shoreline, exposing many long-buried landscape features. This year, water levels have fallen slightly, revealing previously-buried or submerged pieces of the past. The dock remains currently visible in front of the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse are but one example of how the power of the Great Lakes can alternately hide and reveal reminders of our maritime history.

The dock may have been the first element of the light station to be built, as it would have been necessary to receive materials for the construction of the original fog signal building in 1890. According to the 1894 Annual Report, “the landing crib was carried away by ice.” A replacement was completed the following year. It is depicted on a 1907 map as extending 198 feet out into the straits.

Keeper George Marshall greets a lighthouse inspector on the station dock. 

The dock was gone by 1921, when the District Superintendent explained in letter to the Commissioner of Lighthouses that it was not necessary to construct a new dock because “supplies and fuel can be unloaded at a city dock and transported to the Station.”

The remains of the dock you see today are over one hundred years old and fragile. Please do not disturb them. Archaeological remains such as the dock, whether located on land within Michilimackinac State Park or submerged in the waters of the Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve, are protected by state law.

More information about the Old Mackinac Point Light Station can be found in Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse: A History and Pictorial Souvenir by MSHP Director Steve Brisson, available at MSHP museum stores. Visit our website to order a copy, or for more information about visiting Old Mackinac Point.

 

Gun Parts from the South Southwest Rowhouse at Michilimackinac

Between 1998 and 2007 Mackinac State Historic Parks excavated the east end unit of the South Southwest Rowhouse, now the site of Hearthside Museum Store in the reconstructed rowhouse. From its construction in the 1730s through the time of the 1763 attack it was lived in by French Canadian fur traders, mostly members of the Desriviere family. When the British returned with more soldiers in 1764, this was one of the houses they rented for foot soldiers to live in before the barracks was built in 1769. It appears to have reverted to a French Canadian trading household in the 1770s, before being moved to Mackinac Island in 1780.

One of the most interesting categories of artifacts excavated at the house was gun parts. In part this was because of the quantity present. A total of sixty-one were recovered, thirty-one (whole or fragmentary) gun worms and thirty other gun parts. By way of comparison, House D of the Southeast Rowhouse, the Bolon-Mitchell house excavated from 1989 to 1997, yielded thirty-five total gun parts, ten of which were gun worms. We have found eleven gun parts, six gun worms and five other parts, in the first thirteen seasons of excavation at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse.

Two-eared gun worm.

Of the sixty-one gun parts from the South Southwest Rowhouse end unit, just over half (thirty-four, twenty-two gun worms and a dozen other parts) came from in and around the cellar, suggesting the parts were stored there.

1st model Long Land buttplate.

Two gun parts from British military weapons came from the cellar. The first was an unusual two-eared gun worm, the only one found during the project. The second was a buttplate from a first model Long Land Service Pattern musket. Both of these could have been used by foot soldiers of the 60th Regiment living in the house in the late 1760s.

Two other parts suggest that one of the traders living in the house was stockpiling gun parts, possibly for sale. The first is an unused wrist escutcheon from a c.1740 Type D fusil fin, a high quality French civilian gun. A wrist escutcheon serves as an anchor for the screw attaching the triggerguard to the stock of the gun. We can tell this one was never used because it was never drilled through. It is currently on display in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit at Colonial Michilimackinac. The second is a buttplate which cannot be further identified because it was deliberately wrapped in birchbark to protect it. It was found near the bottom of the cellar.

Wrist escutcheon from a c.1740.

Buttplate wrapped in birch bark.

Gun parts are just one artifact category that tells us more about what the inhabitants of the South Southwest Rowhouse were doing and where they were doing it. If you are interested in learning more, the final report on the project will be published later in 2021. In the meantime, there is more information on the project in the Archaeology pages of the Explore at Home section of mackinacparks.com.

Historic Mission Church

  Located in the eastern end of Mackinac Island’s historic downtown, Mission Church is Michigan’s oldest surviving church building. Built in 1829, it is one of the earliest examples of a New England Style church in the Midwest. Now serving as a museum, visitors can walk up and down the aisles of this beautiful church from the past.

  In 1823 Reverend William Ferry and his wife Amanda, missionaries with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission, established a Protestant mission on Mackinac Island. Their mission was to educate indigenous children from around the Great Lakes region.

  Ferry’s work sparked a religious renewal and desire to build a church for the congregation. Lumber cut on the mainland at Michael Dousman’s sawmill (now Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park) was transported to the island and construction of Mission Church was completed in 1829. Mission Church reflects the New England architectural heritage of the Ferrys. Many prominent island residents involved in the fur trade attended the church, including American Fur Company official Robert Stuart and Indian agent Henry Schoolcraft.

  Changes soon came to the island and the straits region. Attendance at the Mission Church declined due to the American Fur Company leaving the island and the mission closed its doors in the late 1830s. The church passed into private hands and was used for meetings, a theater for dramatic productions, and occasionally religious functions over the next sixty years. In 1874 parishioners of Ste. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church worshipped there while their new church was under construction. Unfortunately, Mission Church did not receive proper attention and the building began to deteriorate by the 1890s.

  In the late 19th century, Mackinac Island became a popular summer destination for many people. Summer cottager Reverend Meade C. Williams led a successful effort to purchase and restore the building, which was Mackinac’s first historic restoration project. Mission Church reopened for religious services on July 25, 1895. In 1955 the church was transferred to the state of Michigan. Mackinac State Historic Parks continues to restore, maintain and interpret the church as a public museum.

  Today, couples can host their wedding ceremony at Mission Church, or any of the other sites offered by the Mackinac State Historic Parks. Wedding ceremonies are available for booking from early May through October. Imagine this simple and elegant church as your wedding venue on beautiful Mackinac Island in late spring, summer or early fall.

  More information on Mission Church, as well as the other wedding venues, can be found at www.mackinacparks.com/weddings.

Archaeology at the Biddle House

This Castle pattern plate was manufactured by James and Ralph Clews of Staffordshire between 1815 and 1834.

  The Mackinac Island Native American Museum at the Biddle House will be one of the exciting new offerings from Mackinac State Historic Parks for the 2021 season. As visitors explore the new galleries a few of the artifacts they will see come from an archaeological excavation that took place on the property nearly fifty years ago.

  In the summer of 1972, Dr. Lyle Stone, then staff archaeologist, brought over a small team from the Michilimackinac project to excavate the site of an old privy. It was discovered while restoring the privy you see on site today, which was built in the mid-nineteenth century. This older privy, five feet west of the existing one, appears to have been in use from the early 1820s into the 1840s, immediately preceding the existing one. The privy was constructed of horizontal log cribbing.

Several styles of wine glass were present in the privy.

  The Biddle House was constructed around 1780 during the move of the community of Michilimackinac from the mainland to the island. Edward and Agatha Biddle purchased it in mid-1820s and moved in around 1830, so the excavated privy dates to the early years of their residence.

  Fragments of two birchbark containers were found, reflective of Agatha’s continued ties to her Anishnaabek heritage. A wide variety of industrially manufactured artifacts made between 1810 and 1840 were recovered as well.  Some of these may have been purchased from the American Fur Company store at the end of Market Street.

Glass tumblers from the privy had a variety of designs on their base.

  At least fifty-seven mendable ceramic vessels were represented. Nineteenth-century ceramic materials, forms and designs changed quickly as the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. These changes were well documented and form the basis for dating the privy. Twenty-eight of the vessels were blue transfer-printed earthenware, including twelve plates, eight bowls/saucers, five cups and two pitchers and jugs. Other ceramic types represented are pearlware and annular-decorated creamware.

  Fragments from a wide range of glass vessels were recovered. Recognizable bottle forms included dark green wine bottles, a clear rectangular case bottle, pharmaceutical phials and some indeterminate condiment or medicine bottles. Recognizable tableware forms included at least twenty-three clear tumblers, clear wine glasses, a light green glass pitcher and a small decanter or cruet. Utilitarian glass forms include fragments from two oil lamp bases and a fragment of windowpane.

Ceramics with annular designs around their circumference were popular in the early nineteenth century.

  Other commercially made artifacts included eleven white clay smoking pipe fragments, two milk glass buttons, a drawer handle, a scythe fragment, and an iron trap part. The most unusual finds were forty-two textile fragments, which consisted of fifteen types of fabric, mostly wools, perhaps from socks, coats, or sweaters.

  Food remains included seeds and bones. Raspberry, cherry, grape, and squash/pumpkin seeds were identified. Pig, snowshoe hare and passenger pigeon bones were identified. Many fish bones were present but could not be identified as to species. Two coprolites (fossilized feces) were recovered, neither of which contained any parasites.

  Taken together, the artifacts reflect a fairly high-status household, as we would expect from the Biddle family, successful merchants.

 

2020 Collections Acquisitions

  In 2020, the collections committee accessioned 425 objects into the state park historic collection and archives. In addition to several purchases, over 160 items were donated for the collection. Although the summer collections internships were cancelled, the park was able to hire an intern for October and November. During this time, the inventory scheduled for the summer of the Heritage Center General/Furniture Storage and the historic buildings downtown was completed.

  Several of the objects purchased in the early part of the year were for new exhibits including the Native American Museum inside the Biddle House and the restored second floor of the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. Purchases for Biddle House included a school textbook and axe which now appear in the museums exhibit cases. On the second floor of the lighthouse, two new bedroom period settings were furnished with beds, dressers and other items to show what may have been used originally by the families.

  During the summer, the park purchased several pieces of souvenir china and glass, a register from the St. Cloud Hotel, postcards and other items from avid collector John Huibregtse of Mackinac Island. Many pieces of ruby glass inscribed by island store owner Frank Kriesche were among the new additions. Two unique purchases this year were a brass luggage tag and an early 1800’s lithograph. The brass tag is inscribed with the name of Captain George Etherington who commanded the British troops at Fort Michilimackinac from 1762 to 1763. The lithograph entitled Fort Americain dans l’Ile de Michilimakimac dates to 1838 and was drawn by Jacques Prat for the publication Vues et Souvenirs de l’ Amerique du Nord by Francois, comte de Castelnau. The image is done from the top of Fort Hill and looks east toward Fort Mackinac and downtown.

  The state park received several interesting donations this year including a silver set, photographs, steamer trunk and paintings. The silver set belonged to Bernard and Laura Wurzburger who owned a residence on Mackinac Island around 1900. The set has beautiful floral etching with some pieces inscribed “LW.” Photographs included snapshots from different eras on Mackinac Island, images of the east end of Grand Hotel under construction and a wonderful color view of Fort Mackinac by the Detroit Photographic Company. The steamer trunk came from islander James Bond and has a storied history belonging to both Dwight Kelton, soldier and author of Annals of Mackinac and Helen Donnelly. Finally, thanks to the Mackinac Island Artist in Residence program, the park received two of the paintings inspired by artists who stayed on the island in 2020.

Row Covers and Bell Jars

As many visitors to Colonial Michilimackinac know, we have a lot of gardens inside the palisade. The walls of the fort, as well as the geography of northern Michigan, create a unique climate at our site. But what if we need more protection from the weather? In the 18th century, gardeners devised a number of creative ways to extend the growing season and control the climate to shelter their garden plants.

Starting in the 17th century, some gardeners began using a tool called a bell jar, or cloche. Resembling a small bell, glass cloches functioned as a miniature greenhouse. Gardeners placed jars over an individual plant, occasionally with one side propped up to allow air circulation. Sunlight passing through the glass warmed the air inside. While it may be cool outside, the plant underneath the glass stayed cozy and warm, and continued growing where otherwise it may not have survived. This method is useful at Michilimackinac today when we are setting out our warm-weather crops, such as melon and cucumber, which need warm temperatures to grow well.

Another tricky tool that gardeners used was a row cover. Row covers were inexpensively built with paper, glue, a wooden frame, and linseed oil.  Although seemingly fragile and susceptible to damage, even from a heavy rain, paper row covers were surprisingly resilient. Gardeners could expect to get a full summer’s use before the paper would need to be replaced. If we can keep the chickens away from them, our row covers at Michilimackinac usually last from April to October.

The most labor-intensive way of protecting plants in a small garden involved the use of cold frames and hot beds. These wooden boxes needed to be built with “lights” or windows on the top, and were usually oriented toward the southern sky to catch as much light as possible. They worked by trapping heat from the sun under the glass, similar to a cloche but on a larger scale. Gardeners could further heat the interior of their frames by placing them over a pit filled with fresh manure. With a layer of soil on top of the manure, these hot beds could reach temperatures high enough to start planting lettuce outside in a Michigan March.

Various gardening how-to books from the 18th century suggest the use of an assortment of strategies and tools to protect important plants from the cold and the wind. Stop by Colonial Michilimackinac to see if you can spot the cloches, row covers and frames that are keeping our plants happy. Many elements of our gardens, including the cloches, were provided through the generosity of Mackinac Associates. If you would like to contribute to the Michilimackinac gardens, or any other Mackinac State Historic Parks’ project, consider becoming a Mackinac Associate today.

Card Games on Mackinac Island

The Mitchell House, home of David and Elizabeth Mitchell.

Studying the lives of 19th century people on Mackinac Island often brings us to the work that they did. We know there were soldiers, fur traders, and families living and working together on the island, but what did they do for fun? Luckily for us there are a few clues.

In 1830, a woman named Juliette Kenzie traveled to Mackinac Island on a steamship from Detroit. She was originally from Connecticut and was an experienced traveler. She wrote an account of her excursion and mentioned that while the boat “the ladies played whist” to pass the time.

While on the island itself, Juliette noted that there were many whist parties held at Mrs. Mitchell’s home. Elizabeth Mitchell, a prominent Ojibwa and French-Canadian woman, was very much involved in the work of the fur trade with her husband, Dr. David Mitchell. While David mostly remained in British Canada after the War of 1812, Elizabeth supervised their business on Mackinac Island, and was a leader of the local society. Going to her house for a whist party was probably an event that many Mackinac Island residents in their circle experienced and enjoyed.

Agatha and Edward Biddle lived across the street from the Mitchells, and cards were part of social life in the Biddle household as well. Retail records indicate that Edward purchased cards from the American Fur Company store, located down Market Street. Other Mackinac Island residents also picked up a deck or two from the American Fur Company store, including Fort Mackinac post surgeon Dr. Richard Satterlee and his wife Mary. Other items sold at the store, like violin strings, remind us that early 19th century life on Mackinac Island wasn’t all work.

A rear view of the home of Edward and Agatha Biddle, across from the Mitchells and down Market Street from the American Fur Company store.

If you would like to try you hand at whist and experience a popular Mackinac Island card game of the 1820 and 1830s, grab a deck of cards and follow the instructions below. Visit mackinacparks.com for more information about planning your own visit to Mackinac Island, and please consider joining Mackinac Associates, who make many of our programs possible.

– Rules of Whist:

You will need 4 players and a standard 52-card deck. The cards rank from highest to lowest: A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 in each suit. The players play in two partnerships with the partners sitting opposite each other. To decide the partnerships, the players draw cards and the players with the 2 highest cards play against the two lowest. Any comments on the cards between partners is strictly against the rules.

– Shuffling and Dealing:

Any player can shuffle the cards, though usually it is the player to the dealer’s left. The dealer can choose to shuffle last if they prefer. The player on the dealer’s right cuts the cards before dealing. The dealer then passes out 13 cards, one at a time, face down. The last card, which belongs to the dealer, is turned face up and determines trump. The trump card stays face-up on the table until play comes to the dealer. The dealer may then pick up the card and place it in their hand. The deal advances clockwise.

– Play:

The player left of the dealer starts. They may lead with any card in their hand. Play continues clockwise with each player following suit if they can. If they cannot follow suit, any card may be played. The trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, or the highest trump. After each trick is played, its stack of cards should be placed face down near the player who won that trick. Before the next trick starts, a player may ask to review the cards from the last trick only. Once the lead card is played, no previously played cards can be reviewed. The winner of each trick begins the next round. Play continues until all 13 cards are played and then the score is recorded.

– Scoring:

The partners that won the most tricks score 1 point for each trick after 6. The first team to score 5 wins.