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.

Quilt Along: A Star Pattern Quilt Square

The earliest quilting was done not for bed coverings, but for clothing. The layers of fabric and padding stitched together gave garments protection and warmth. As quilting evolved, it began to be used as bedcoverings. The earliest quilted bedcoverings were typically made of large pieces of cloth and called “whole cloth” quilts. By the 1830s, though, pieced quilts used on beds were becoming more popular. These quilts often incorporated depictions of current or local events into the design. Many people began to see designing and sewing quilts as a way of commemorating events, showing off their needlework skills and keeping busy. It certainly could be a practical use of fabric, but some quilt experts today also note that quilting was perhaps more commonly seen as a socially acceptable pastime, even on Mackinac Island.

When Mackinac Island merchant Edward Biddle died, nine quilts were listed in his probate records. We have some idea of the patterns used for these quilts are based on letters exchanged between Edward’s daughter Sophia and her cousin in the Detroit area. These letters mention Irish double chains and star pattern quilts. There were many different types of star pattern quilts around by the time these letters were written, so we will probably never know the specific one Sophia had chosen.

We have chosen a common and simple square from the 19th century for you to take a stab at and make yourself. Piecing and sewing can be a creative and satisfying way to connect to the past. Try your hand at this “star pattern” quilt square. Be sure to share a picture of the finished product with us on Facebook!

Pattern:

You will need:

– Scissors
– Sewing thread
– Sewing needle
– Two colors of fabric
– Backing fabric (about 12” square, at least) 2.5” strip of fabric for binding the edge or pre-made tape
– Ruler or other measuring tool

Notes: Be creative when you are gathering supplies. If you don’t have quilt batting, try using an old towel, layers of scrap fabric or anything else that you might have around the house. It is sometimes a good idea to work your pattern out with paper. You can play with the layout and may even end up creating your own unique design.

Step 1: Cut out four squares from your first color that measure 4.5” square, and one that measures 5 3/8” square. These will be your background pieces.

Step 2: Cut out three squares from your second color that measure 5 3/8” square and one that measures 4.5” square. These pieces will make your star.

Step 3: Cut your larger squares into four equal triangles. Draw or press lines into them from corner to corner to get straight lines.

Step 4: Arrange your pieces into a star pattern with the main fabric square in the center and the background color around the edges.

 

 

 

Step 5: Piece your block together using ¼” seam allowance. Press each seam open as you sew.

 

 

 

Step 6: Layer your quilt block, filling material and back together and baste, baste, baste!

 

 

 

Step 7: Quilt your block! Stitch along the seams or use your own pattern.

Step 8: Trim the block to cut away any unevenness and bind the edges.

 

 

 

 

Step 9: Consider adding the year and maker to the block with ink or thread.

Step 10: Admire your work and send us pictures of your finished quilt block.

Mackinac Parks: 125

Mackinac State Historic Parks turns 125 years old in 2020. Established in 1895 when the federal government shuttered the country’s second national park, Mackinac National Park, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission has pursued the important mission of protecting, preserving and presenting Mackinac’s natural and historic wonders. Today, Mackinac State Historic Parks is a family of living history museums and nature parks located in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island. (more…)

Biddle House Update

As you may have heard, we’re currently in the process of updating the Biddle House to include the Mackinac Island Native American Museum. This new exhibit, which tells the continuing story of the Anishnaabek on Mackinac Island and in the surrounding Straits of Mackinac region, will open in early summer 2020. To get the building ready for the new exhibit, the Biddle House itself is currently undergoing a variety of restoration work. (more…)

Support Mackinac Associates on Giving Tuesday

Mackinac Associates’ mission is simple and encompassing: Friends Preserving and Sharing Mackinac’s Heritage.

Mackinac Associates is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports programs at Mackinac State Historic Parks through membership dues and other gifts. Mackinac Associates has supported needed projects in every area of museum operation, and make possible interpretive programs, publications, exhibits, natural history education, park improvements and more. (more…)

Historic Food Tasting, Part 2

Historic Food Tasting, Part 2

If you have ever visited Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City or possibly the Biddle House on Mackinac Island, you know that cooking historic recipes is a major part of what we do. We thought it would be fun to make a historic recipe and have our coworkers sample it. A couple of months ago one of our lead historic interpreters, LeeAnn, made a liver pudding for our staff to try. This time, it’s a 1770s broiled trout recipe. Enjoy!

Historic Food Tasting

Historic Food Tasting

If you have ever visited Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City or possibly the Biddle House on Mackinac Island, you know that cooking historic recipes is a major part of what we do. We thought it would be fun to make one of these historic recipes and have our coworkers sample it. Enjoy!

 

Cooking with Fire

Cooking with Fire

Where does family usually end up gathering at the house? It seems like the kitchen is the place for a lot of people. Food is universal and meals bring people together in a home.

The Biddle House, on Market Street on Mackinac Island, has a working kitchen with a fireplace that is used for demonstrating a household of the 1830s by means of creating a meal that would have been commonplace for the time period. Open hearth cooking remained the primary cooking method until the mid to late 1800s, when wood and coal burning stoves were commonplace. Every summer, staff and visitors gather here to learn more about the family around the fire. (more…)