Mackinac Indian Agency

Mackinac Island Community Hall, formerly an American Fur Company building.

  Modern visitors to Mackinac Island still have a chance to see numerous reminders of the community’s heyday as a center of the Great Lakes fur trade. Walking down Market Street, it’s hard to miss the large cream-colored buildings that once belonged to the American Fur Company (today the Community Hall and Stuart House Museum) or the original Michilimackinac County Courthouse, built in the late 1830s. Fort Mackinac still looms over the town and harbor. However, just below and east of the fort, there once stood another complex of buildings which reflected Mackinac’s key role in not only the regional economy, about also in the federal government’s relationship with the Anishnaabek and other indigenous people of Michigan. Although largely gone today, the Mackinac Indian Agency was a critical part of the island community for much of the early 19th century.

  In the 1780s and 1790s, after a series of stinging defeats at the hands of the tribes of the Great Lakes, the new United States government adopted a broad policy of conciliation and treaty-making with indigenous groups. Rather than automatically attempting to subjugate the tribes with military force, the government embarked on a program to “civilize” Native people and transform them into white American citizens. Treaties with the Anishnaabek and other indigenous groups, in which the tribes ceded land to the federal government in return for goods and services, were a key feature of the civilization program, which continued in some form well into the 20th century. To carry out treaty provisions and distribute the goods and annuity payments promised in negotiations with the tribes, Indian agencies were established around to the country to act as the primary point of contact between indigenous people and the federal government.

View of the Agency House with the Indian Dormitory beyond it.

  The first agency in Michigan opened on Mackinac Island in 1815, shortly after the island returned to American control following the War of 1812. The first agent, William Puthuff, concentrated on diminishing British influence among the tribes of northern Michigan, many of whom fought against the United States during the war, and enforcing trade regulations, which drew the ire of the powerful American Fur Company. Puthuff was soon replaced, but subsequent agents continued the work of providing government goods and services to the regional Anishnaabek, thousands of whom visited Mackinac every summer. The Mackinac Agency was centered around the agent’s house, which served as a residence for the agent as well as a warehouse for government goods. A sprawling structure with two wings, it was surrounded by well-tended gardens. Writing in 1835, a traveler described it as a “very comfortable house,” which presented a “conspicuous figure, being well situated at the fort of the hill, with a good garden in front.”

Henry Schoolcraft

  In 1833 perhaps the most consequential (and controversial) of the Mackinac Indian agents arrived on the island: Henry Schoolcraft. Schoolcraft previously served as agent at the Sault Ste. Marie Agency, where he married into a prominent Ojibwa family. He used his position to ensure that his wife Jane’s extended Anishnaabek family reaped federal benefits, and wrote extensively about Anishnaabek history and culture. As the Mackinac agent, which also served as Michigan’s superintendent of Indian affairs after 1836, Schoolcraft oversaw negotiations for the 1836 Treaty of Washington. This agreement saw the Anishnaabek of northern Michigan cede 14 million acres of their land in return for annuity payments, regular distribution of food and supplies, payment of debts, and other provisions. The treaty helped clear Michigan’s path to statehood, but left the Anishnaabek unsure of their future in northern Michigan.

The Treaty of Washington ceded nearly 14 million acres to the federal government. This territory, which makes up just under 40% of the state of Michigan today, is colored yellow on this map.

  With the new treaty grudgingly ratified by the Anishnaabek on Mackinac Island in the summer of 1836, the agency continued to serve as a critical point of contact with the federal government. In 1838 Schoolcraft supervised the construction of a dormitory building to house visiting Native people (the building went largely unused, as they preferred to camp on the beach). By 1839 the agency employed several people: a dormitory keeper, a physician, two interpreters, four blacksmiths, a gunsmith, two carpenters, three farmers, and Schoolcraft himself. Workshops lined the base of the bluff behind the dorm. In keeping with federal policy, these employees were to provide services and education in an effort to force the Anishnaabek to abandon their traditional culture and adopt the lifestyle of white American farmers.

  Despite its importance in the 1830s, the Mackinac Agency gradually fell into obsolescence as federal policies changed and the government focused more on tribes of the far west. Since the agents were always political appointees, they came and went as presidential administrations changed (Schoolcraft lost his post in 1841). Indian affairs were consolidated at the Mackinac Agency through the 1850s, and the Michigan superintendent’s office moved to Detroit in 1851. Agents only returned to Mackinac to distribute summer annuity payments, and the old agent’s house was rented out and gradually fell into disrepair. The house was described in Constance Fenimore Woolson’s 1880 novel, Anne, and several of her other writings, which were partially set on Mackinac Island. The dormitory served as the island’s public school beginning in the late 1860s.

The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum.

  Today, the Mackinac Agency is largely invisible on the landscape. The site of the old agency house and gardens is now occupied by summer cottages. A playground and the Mackinac Island Peace Garden sit where blacksmiths and gunsmiths once worked. Only the 1838 dormitory, now open to the public as The Richard and Jane Mannogian Mackinac Art Museum, remains standing. Next time you visit Mackinac, stop by the art museum and consider the building’s previous life as part of the agency. If you would like to learn more about the agency, join Chief Curator Craig Wilson outside the art museum at 5:00 PM on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 for a free walking tour describing Mackinac Island’s bustling community of the 1830s.

When historic Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island sites open in 2021

Fort Mackinac endured a hostile takeover by the British. Held captives during the Civil War. Survived a seamless transition from national park to state park. And its 14 original buildings have been repaired and restored all along the way.

  Now, one of the most popular Mackinac State Historic Parks attractions has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, too.

  After a year of uncertainty when the opening of historic sites was delayed or even cancelled, Fort Mackinac is open for tours in 2021. So are The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park and most other Mackinac State Historic Parks sites.

  With COVID-19 health precautions at Mackinac State Historic Parks, you can safely visit and enjoy any or all of the sites in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island this year.

  Here’s a rundown of when each Mackinac State Historic Parks attraction opened or will open

May 1, Historic Fort Mackinac
May 1, The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum
May 1, Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum
May 1, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop
May 5, Colonial Michilimackinac
May 6, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
May 7, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park
June 5, American Fur Company Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum

Things to keep in mind as you plan your 2021 visit to Mackinac State Historic Parks

  One Mackinac State Historic Parks site, the 200-year-old McGulpin House, is not scheduled to open this year due to ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. A few other attractions have activities or areas that are not expected to open in 2021 including the Kids’ Art Studio at The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, the tower tour at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the Treetops Discovery climbing wall at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.

  With the exception of the climbing wall, the Adventure Tour at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park will be open this year including the thrilling Forest Canopy Bridge and the Eagle’s Flight Zip Line. And even though you can’t climb the tower, you can take the stairs to the top and enjoy a stunning view of both Mackinac Island and the Mackinac Bridge.

  While the tower tour is closed this year, you can experience several new exhibits that have opened at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. The second floor of the lighthouse has been restored to how it looked in 1910 and gives a great sense of what life was like for George Marshall and his family when he was the first lightkeeper. The lighthouse also is the site of the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum and features a new exhibit devoted to lighthouse optics and lenses as well as sound and fog signals. In fact, you can hear a demonstration of the lighthouse’s Fog Signal Whistle several times each day.

  The new historic tours and demonstrations at Colonial Michilimackinac this season will focus on the year 1778, when rumors swirled about whether the Revolutionary War would reach the Upper Great Lakes. Demonstrations and tours led by costumed interpreters take place throughout the day, with several programs being moved outdoors to provide more opportunity for social distancing.

A new Mackinac State Historic Parks experience for 2021

  Starting June 5 and continuing daily through Sept. 5, one lucky visitor will be able to fire all of the black powder weapons at Colonial Michilimackinac as the fort closes. That includes the Short Land Musket, Wall Gun, Coehorn Mortar and cannon. “Guns Across the Straits” is available to one Colonial Michilimackinac guest each day for an extra fee, and reservations are now being taken for this first-time-ever opportunity.

  Colonial Michilimackinac also will host a special “Fire at Night” exhibition on July 7, welcoming guests to visit at dusk and watch the fireworks of the fort’s black powder weapons being shot.

  Tickets to all Mackinac State Historic Parks sites for the 2021 season are now on sale, with money-saving combo packages available when visiting more than one attraction.

Residents Appreciation Day

For residents of Mackinac, Cheboygan, or Emmet counties, for one weekend, we discount the admission prices for all of our sites to what they were when we first began operating our modern museum programs for the public in 1958. (.50 cents adults, .25 cents children). Thank you for supporting Mackinac State Historic Parks!

This special offer includes residents of Mackinac, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. Proof of residency is required (e.g. driver’s license).

Residents Appreciation Day

For residents of Mackinac, Cheboygan, or Emmet counties, for one weekend, we discount the admission prices for all of our sites to what they were when we first began operating our modern museum programs for the public in 1958. (.50 cents adults, .25 cents children). Thank you for supporting Mackinac State Historic Parks!

This special offer includes residents of Mackinac, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. Proof of residency is required (e.g. driver’s license).

What’s New for 2021?

  Opening day for Mackinac State Historic Parks’ sites is a little more than two months away, and MSHP staff have been busy readying new tours, exhibits, publications, and more.

  The most exciting opening for the season is the Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum. It had been slated to open for the 2020 season. However, construction progress was derailed during at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing MSHP to only open the site for a weekend at the very end of the 2020 season. It will open on May 1 with the rest of the MSHP island sites.

  Up at Fort Mackinac, the beloved Kids’ Quarters will receive an update, the third to the exhibit in its history, helping to fulfill MSHP’s mission in presenting the history of the Straits of Mackinac. Housed in the oldest public building in Michigan, the Kids’ Quarters will allow guests to experience how soldiers and civilians lived at Fort Mackinac in the 19th century. Here you’ll be able to play various musical instruments used by the military, try on clothes, or design your very own fort, among many other activities.

  New programs at Fort Mackinac for the 2021 season include “The Changing Face of Fort Mackinac,” “The Army of the 1880s,” a deeper look into Mackinac National Park, a tour showcasing the women who called Fort Mackinac home, a Signal Drill Activity, and a program dedicated to what happened at Fort Mackinac after the army left in 1895. The Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, operated by Grand Hotel, will feature new menu items for the 2021 season, and, as always, will feature one of the most stunning views in Michigan. As always, the classic cannon and rifle firings will take place throughout the day, and guests can purchase the opportunity to fire the very first cannon salute of the day.

  At The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, located in front of Fort Mackinac in Marquette Park, a new juried art exhibition will debut on the second floor – “The Seasons of Mackinac.”  While Mackinac has always been known as a “summer gathering place,” its beauty is unparalleled in all seasons. Mackinac Island resident and award-winning artist Bill Murcko will serve as juror for the show. It will be on display at the art museum from May 1 through October 10. Additionally, seven artists-in-residence will stay on Mackinac Island throughout the summer. Each artist will host a special, free workshop on the second Wednesday of their residency.

  Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include the annual Vintage Base Ball game, on July 24, special activities for July 4, and Movies in the Fort throughout the summer. New evenings events exploring Historic Downtown Mackinac and a look at Fort Mackinac then versus now will debut, as well as a new natural history event later in the summer.

  As guests enter Colonial Michilimackinac, in Mackinaw City, they will be stepping back in time to 1778, when rumors of war and peace swirled around Michilimackinac. Guests will see and hear how soldiers, civilians, and Native people responded to threats real and imagined as they attempted to maintain their livelihood, the fur trade. Two new programs at the fort will provide guests an opportunity to get more hands-on with history, where you’ll unpack a trade bale and another where you’ll explore an artilleryman’s arsenal. Other programs at the site will talk about women’s roles at the fort, the enslaved community, the 5,500 square feet of gardens, as well as musket and artillery demonstrations.

  An exciting new program at Colonial Michilimackinac allows guests the opportunity to fire all four black-powder weapons at Michilimackinac: the Short Land Musket, Wall Gun (a BIG musket), Coehorn Mortar, and, as the finale, the cannon. This program is available every evening after the fort closes for regular business June 5-October 8.

  The Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 63rd season in 2021. Work will continue in House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. Archaeologists will be out daily (weather permitting) during the summer months.

  Special events at Colonial Michilimackinac include an exhilarating “Fire at Night” program, informative history talks on topics such as gardening, archaeology, laundry and more, a celebration of the King’s Birth-day on June 4, Movies by the Bridge, A Colonial Christmas, a weekend exploring John Askin’s Michilimackinac, and others.

  The last few years have seen several gallery openings at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse – the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum, the Science and Technology Exhibit, and the Marshall Gallery on the extensively renovated second floor. All galleries will be fully open for the 2021 season. Throughout the day, historic interpreters will sound the Fog Signal Whistle.

  Over at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, the Adventure Tour will return to operation for the 2021 season. A more robust daily events schedule will showcase the sawpit and sawmill, an extensive tour looking at what else happened historically at Historic Mill Creek, and guided nature hikes through the three miles of groomed hiking trails. A special evening program discussing archaeology at Historic Mill Creek and a closing weekend celebration mark the special events for Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park this summer. Click here for the complete list of special events.

  Two new publications will hit bookshelves in 2021. The first, Preservation at Mackinac – The History of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, 1895-2020, is an update to 100 Years at Mackinac, originally published in 1995 as part of the centennial celebration of Mackinac Island State Park. This updated version fills in the past 25 years and adds additional details to other events. The other publication, Pipes and Bottles or Bacchanalian Revels? The Truth About Robinson’s Folly, is a new vignette by Todd E. Harburn and Brian Leigh Dunnigan. Both books will be available at museum stores this summer.

  Road work will continue along M-185. The road, which has been heavily damaged by high water levels the last few years, will be fully paved throughout the summer. While this may cause annoyances for the 2021 season, the completed road will allow visitors to explore the beautiful shoreline in peace for many years in the future.

  The Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center, located on Main Street across from Marquette Park, will become home to the Official Mackinac Island State Park Store. Souvenirs, clothing and merchandise inspired by the natural and historical elements of Mackinac Island State Park will be available. Additionally, the six other museum stores will feature new and exciting items for the 2021 season.

  Most major projects were funded, in part, by Mackinac Associates. Visit mackinacparks.com for a complete listing of updates and projects at Mackinac State Historic Parks. The season begins at Fort Mackinac, The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, and Biddle House on May 1. Tickets can be purchased here.

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.

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.