Historic Interpreters getting ready to celebrate Christmas at Michilimackinac

Holiday Traditions of the 17th and 18th Century are Alive at Colonial Michilimackinac

Historic Interpreters getting ready to celebrate Christmas at Michilimackinac The sun sets on the Straits of Mackinac. Fires crackle in stone hearths. The smell of treats and warm beverages fill the crisp winter air. Laughter, conversation, and more can be heard emanating from inside the palisaded walls. It’s A Colonial Christmas Saturday, December 11, at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City.

 From 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (last admission at 6:30 p.m.) the holiday traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries are alive for all to explore. As visitors enter through the secondary entrance off Straits Ave under boughs and decorations, lanterns will light the path to the palisaded walls, as the historic residents of Michilimackinac invite you into their homes to celebrate.

 “A Colonial Christmas is a chance to dig deeper into the lives of the historic residents of Michilimackinac and explore even more of this history of the Straits of Mackinac,” said Mackinac State Historic Parks director Steve Brisson. “We hope our visitors find it to be an enriching and fun event that will help us all appreciate the history of holiday traditions.”

 Upon entering the South Southwest Rowhouse, travelers will be welcomed with hot chocolate and the chance to look at available wares (and purchase tickets to the event, if you don’t already have one). Upon exiting the Rowhouse, more lanterns will light the paths, while the smell of treats and the fires burning in the fireplaces indicate the buildings to enter. You are now on your own to explore at your own pace.

 At the Merchant’s House you’ll find coriander cookies and seats around the fire, where you’ll learn about Réveillon, the French tradition of eating a night-time meal after Midnight Mass, including many desserts. In the Northwest Rowhouse the French celebration of New Year will also be observed, as it played a major part of the holiday festivities. Here you can sample the King’s Cake, but be on the lookout for the ‘bean’ that will make you king for the day.

Looking outside at Colonial Michilimackinac In the Barracks you’ll learn of British and German military traditions, as the soldiers may have celebrated the holidays with feasting, storytelling, and games. Here you’ll be able to sample tea cakes and learn about the tradition of the Christmas pie. British holiday traditions will continue in the British Trader’s House, as 18th century stories will be told while guests sample comfit.

 Wassailing will take place in the Priest’s House, where hot wassail will be available as you make your way into Ste. Anne’s Church, which will be dressed for Christmas Mass.

 The celebration continues outside, as a fire pit on the parade ground welcomes all to get warm and learn about the first Christmas at Mackinac recorded by the Jesuits in the late 17th century. On the other side of the parade ground you’re encouraged to join a game of Trap Ball, a game played all year, but especially during the holiday season.

 Finally, down in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit, you’ll learn how the soldiers and fur traders decorated their houses for the holidays and have a chance to make your very own decoration to help decorate your own house.

An interpreter hanging greenery at Michilimackinac Admission to A Colonial Christmas is $10 per adult, $6 children ages 5-12, and free for children 4 and under and Mackinac Associates members (excluding Heritage Level). Tickets are available now online at www.mackinacparks.com/a-colonial-christmas/. Tickets will also be available upon arrival. Last admission is at 6:30 p.m. Call 231-436-4100 for more information.

 Visitors are encouraged to dress warmly, as the buildings at Colonial Michilimackinac are not insulated for the cold weather. Restrooms will be available in the South Southwest Rowhouse.

 Much of Colonial Michilimackinac has been reconstructed based on archaeological excavations, including its 13 buildings and structures, many of which will be open featuring special activities during A Colonial Christmas. The fort and fur trading village was founded by the French in 1715 and is depicted today as it was in the 1770s when occupied by the British. Colonial Michilimackinac will open for the 2022 season on May 4.

The Commanding Officer’s Privy: A New Addition at Michilimackinac

 When you visit Colonial Michilimackinac in 2022, if you look in the right place you’ll see a newly-reconstructed building. It’s small and very humble, and is located behind the Commanding Officer’s House. Up against the palisade, you’ll find a privy! While the privy is by no means the largest building at Michilimackinac, it’s the first reconstruction added to the site since 2013, when the South Southwest Rowhouse was completed. More importantly, our new privy helps us better recreate and interpret Michilimackinac as it appeared in the 1770s.

 Our reconstructed privy is located in the same spot as an original structure associated with the Commanding Officer’s House. Ruins of the original privy were discovered during work on the palisade wall in June 1985. Although not formally excavated, archaeologists noted the privy’s location and retrieved a few artifacts, some of which are currently on display inside the Commanding Officer’s House. The remains of the privy were reburied and remain largely undisturbed.

 In 2021, interpretive staff members decided to rebuild the privy as a season-long demonstration project. The wood for the privy was hewn and sawed at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, where millwright interpreters assembled the framing timbers. Dimensions and construction details were copied from another 18th century privy located near the powder magazine, which was fully excavated and documented by archaeologists in 1978-79. The framing timbers and lumber were brought to Michilimackinac in August and assembled onsite by staff and volunteers during our Askin’s Men and Women special event. Finishing touches, including the seat and cedar shingles, were added soon after, and our interpretive staff moved the completed structure to the location of the original privy behind the Commanding Officer’s House.

 Although it isn’t very large, the new privy helps us interpret 18th century health and hygiene at Michilimackinac. Archaeologists have discovered remains of other privies around the fort, including near the powder magazine and behind the Southwest Rowhouse, but only the military latrine in the northwest corner of the fort had been reconstructed prior to the addition of the new privy. While not every house had an associated privy in the 18th century, they would have been a common sight at Michilimackinac.

 The privy is just one part of our ongoing efforts to reconstruct Michilimackinac, which began over 60 years ago. In the next few years you will likely be able to visit a much larger reconstructed building. Mackinac Associates, our friends group, has generously funded design work for an additional house unit of the Southwest Rowhouse. Rebuilding the house will provide additional interpretive or exhibit space and will better represent the rowhouse at it appeared in the 1770s (this house unit was excavated archaeologically in the 1960s, but not rebuilt). If you would like to support future reconstruction efforts, please consider joining or making a donation to Mackinac Associates, and we hope you’ll visit us at Colonial Michilimackinac to see what’s happening next!

Michilimackinac Archaeology 2021 Wrap-Up

Southeast root cellar. This image shows the cellar shortly before completion. Only a gray circular area of cultural deposit, probably a postmold, and remnants of the south wall remain. 

  The 2021 Michilimackinac field season came to a satisfying end in late August. After seven seasons of excavation, we have finally reached the bottom of the southeast root cellar! The cellar was first tentatively identified in 2015. Since that time remnants of the north, west and south walls have been exposed and excavated along with a wide variety of interesting artifacts. More cellar deposit and the east wall are still present in the east profile and extending into the area of the House D excavation where the cellar was identified, but not excavated.

Central cellar. The dark soil surrounded by lighter sand is the central cellar. Six posts are now visible along the eastern edge of the cellar, two on the south, three on the west, and one on the north.

  The central cellar, on the other hand, became better defined and shows no sign of ending. It continued to yield trade goods, such as hawk bells, and structural artifacts, such as a hinge.

  A second new square was opened in the north row of squares where we eventually expect to find evidence of the north wall of the house. Both squares opened this summer are now down to the rubble layer created by the 1781 demolition of the fort.

  The newest square yielded the most interesting artifact of the second half of the season, a clear, circular intaglio set with Masonic symbols on it. The square and compass surrounding the letter G are easy to see. The surrounding symbols are not as legible but appear to include a trowel on the left. The set is .42” in diameter and could be from a linked button or a ring.

  While the lodge at Mackinac (St. John’s #15) was not established until 1784 on Mackinac Island, many of the soldiers and traders at Michilimackinac were members of lodges in Detroit or further east. Known Masons at Michilimackinac include: Major Robert Rogers, Lt. John Christie, Captain John Vattas, Lt. Robert Brooks, Lt. George Clowes, Surgeon’s Mate David Mitchell, Felix Graham, Benjamin Lyon, Forrest Oakes, David Rankin, and Ezekiel Solomon.

Masonic intaglio from a linked button or ring.

  This list is a starting point for possible owners of the intaglio. It could be a clue to the “British trader” who owned the house or could have been lost by a guest of his. It is particularly interesting to note that three other residents of the southeast rowhouse were Masons, Lt. Clowes (House A/B), Ezekiel Solomon (House C), and David Mitchell (House D).

The site is packed and waiting for spring.

  The 2021 field season was sponsored by Mackinac Associates, and we thank them for their generous support.

Michilimackinac Archaeology 2021 Mid-Season Update

We have reached the halfway point of the 2021 archaeological field season at Michilimackinac and there is progress to report.

Door latch

  The southeast cellar seems to be showing signs of bottoming out. The soil in the southern portion is becoming very sandy with pebbles, like the glacial beach which lies under all of the fort. Some of the wood wall fragments have disappeared. Part of a door latch was found in this area. The northern part of the cellar is becoming somewhat sandier, but the wood planks continue, and it recently yielded a small, plain pewter button and a musket ball.

Pocketknife

  The east wall of the central cellar has become better defined with the burned tops of eight wood posts now exposed. The most interesting artifact of the summer (so far) came from the north edge of this cellar, an intact pocketknife. We hope that future research will help us date it or at least identify it as French or British in order to better understand the construction sequence of the cellars.

  Excavation of 1781 demolition continues further north. We expect to find remnants of the north wall of the house in this area. We have opened the first quad in what we expect to be the final row of squares for this project.

New Quad Opened Up

  The 2021 field season is sponsored by the Mackinac Associates, and we are grateful for their support. Follow MSHP’s social channels and this blog for updates on the rest of the season, or, better yet, come visit the site. We will be excavating every day, weather permitting, through August 21.

Michigan State Troops at Mackinac, 1888

Drill was a regular feature of daily life for the soldiers of the 23rd Infantry posted at Fort Mackinac in the 1880s. Like American soldiers across the country, they spent several hours every week at drill, target practice, and other exercises to hone their skills. However, the small American army of the 1880s was widely dispersed at isolated posts, meaning that soldiers rarely had the opportunity to practice large-scale maneuvers or tactics. To provide the soldiers with a taste of regular campaigning, through the 1880s the 23rd Regiment partnered with the Michigan State Troops (a forerunner to the Michigan National Guard) to host summer training camps. In 1888, the Michigan State Troops elected to hold the annual encampment on Mackinac Island.

Fort Mackinac during a summer encampment- note the tents in the distance, pitched on the government pasture.

  Since over 1,000 men belonged to the brigade of the Michigan State Troops, they visited Mackinac in two waves. The 2nd and 4th Regiments came to the island July 12-16, while the 1st and 3rd Regiments arrived on July 19 and departed on July 24. Additionally, Colonel Henry Black, commanding officer of the 23rd Infantry, brought two more companies of regulars and the regimental band from Fort Wayne in Detroit. Alongside the men of Companies E and K stationed at Fort Mackinac, these professional soldiers of the 23rd were expected to teach the part-time troops of the Michigan State forces by example. All of the visiting soldiers set up camp on the government pasture, now the Grand Hotel golf course, and named their small tent city Camp Luce after Governor Cyrus Luce.

  For the most part the camp went smoothly, with the amateur and professional soldiers working alongside one another. The troops participated in a variety of large-scale drills, culminating in a sham battle staged for Governor Luce and Governor Richard Oglesby of Illinois on July 23. However, numerous reports from the Cheboygan Democrat newspaper, and some of the officers of the 23rd and the Michigan State Troops, make it clear that some of the men may have had a bit too much fun at Mackinac. On July 12 the Democrat shared the story of an MST soldier who, after drinking downtown, went back to camp

“but did not have the countersign, and was afraid of the guards. Finally a bright idea struck him. He went back downtown and secured two bottles of beer, and one under each arm proceeded back to camp. Soon he was halted by a sentry, and the following conversation ensued: ‘Halt! Who comes there?’ ‘A friend with two bottles of beer.’ ‘Advance, friend, and deliver up one bottle.’ The truant did so and passed into camp.”

Soldiers inside the fort.

  The summer nights were apparently quite cold for the men sleeping in tents in the pasture. On July 19, the Democrat reported that as the sentries called out “Two o’clock and all is well” one man “in a sober strong, foghorn voice,” yelled back “Two o’clock and colder than hell!” In the same issue, the Cheboygan reporter noted that Mackinac’s saloons were doing brisk business, with one taking in $218 in a single day. “Pandemonium reigned in the village and respectable ladies had to keep off the streets.” Later the same week the paper reported that a gang of soldiers boarded the yacht Julia in the harbor and “stole two marine glasses valued at $75, and even went so far as to climb the mast to steal the brass ball off the top mast head.” The same soldiers apparently “stole everything they could lay their hands on in the stores and elsewhere.” On July 26, the Democrat proudly related that at least some of the mischievous MST men met their match earlier in the week and “had a genuine experience in war in about one-hundredth of a second after they insulted a Cheboygander’s better half Monday. One had both eyes blacked, and the other had his bread basket kicked in, and the rest took to their heels.”

  Reflecting on the island camp, Colonel E.W. Irish of the 2nd Regiment of the MST advocated against returning to Mackinac. Given the hijinks reported by the Cheboygan Democrat, Irish’s assertion that “I fear the many attractions of the isle of ‘Fairy Legends’ necessarily interfere somewhat with the devotion to duty which ought to be expected of soldiers” seems to be a bit of an understatement. According to another Democrat report from July 12, the “dude soldiers with new uniforms and a pocketful of cash” from the state troops also caused friction with the regulars of the 23rd Regiment.

  In any case, the 1888 summer encampment was the first and last time the Michigan State Troops ventured to Mackinac. In 1889 they stayed in southern Michigan, going into camp at Gognac Lake, near Battle Creek (previous summer encampments were held at Island Lake near Brighton). The men of Companies E and K traveled south from Mackinac for the summer training period, this time joined by the entire 23rd Regiment. If you would like to learn more about the soldiers of the 23rd Infantry and the summer drills held on Mackinac Island, plan a visit to Fort Mackinac. Please also consider joining or making a donation to Mackinac Associates, who fund projects throughout Mackinac State Historic Parks’ museums.

Support Mackinac Associates Fall Appeal 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.

  Unless otherwise designated, donations received on Giving Tuesday will go to support this year’s fall campaign raising funds to ensure we can continue the archaeology field project at Colonial Michilimackinac. With your help, 2021 will be the 63rd consecutive season for the Colonial Michilimackinac archaeology field project. Every summer from mid-June to late August, visitors can watch archaeology in progress at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, the site of a reconstructed 18th-century fort and fur-trading village. An interpreter is on site to answer visitor questions, explain the process and show sample artifacts.

Brass sideplate from a British trade gun.

  Started in 1959, the excavation at Michilimackinac is one of the longest ongoing projects of its kind in North America. Structures there are built on previously excavated areas and interpretation is guided by what was found at the site in addition to available records documenting that time period. Over a million artifacts have been recovered since 1959, providing valuable information regarding diets, trade goods, firearms and recreation, helping identify between French and British, military and civilian. A pause in this program could leave artifacts exposed and cause deterioration at the site. The longer the project takes, the more the integrity of the site is threatened.

  While public support is always valued and appreciated., it is especially critical during these challenging times. By supporting the upcoming season of the archaeology field project, you will help Mackinac State Historic Parks continue to protect, preserve, and present the rich historic resources of the Straits of Mackinac and make history come alive for all of us!

  2020 has been a challenging year for many and Mackinac State Historic Parks is no exception. We hope you will participate in the fall appeal and Giving Tuesday and help us fund the archaeology field project in 2021.

  To donate to Mackinac Associates on Giving Tuesday or any other day, please visit

http://mackinacassociates.com/donate.htm.

#preservemackinac

#givingtuesday

#thisismackinac

18th Century Elections

With Election Day 2020 upon us, let’s take a look at British elections over two centuries ago.

In most of Great Britain and its growing empire, as well as in the rebel American colonies, the franchise, or right to vote, was very limited. In general, only white men over age 21 who also owned a specific amount of land (upon which they paid taxes) were allowed to vote. As a result, with few exceptions women, Native Americans, free and enslaved Black people, and the poor or anyone who did not own enough property were all excluded from voting. Catholics were also generally denied the right to vote. Election practices and timing also varied between Britain and the various American colonies.

William Hogarth, The Polling, 1758. William Hogarth cynically satirized the voting process in this view of a rural British election in 1758. Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs, New York Public Library

Despite the limits of the franchise, British citizens at home and abroad were well aware of the civil rights theoretically extended to all Britons, and acted accordingly to protect what they felt were their inalienable rights and privileges. These feelings were especially pronounced when dealing with the British army on election days. Many Britons viewed the small standing army with suspicion, believing it to be a potential agent of tyranny. As a result, in Britain and the American colonies, troops were usually sent away from polling locations, or out of towns and cities entirely, on election days. In some ways this was a merely practical matter, as voting often took place at roadside inns. In Britain, troops were also quartered in these inns, so sending them away during an election freed up space for voters. However, stationing troops near polling locations could quickly inflame the local population with accusations of voter intimidation, especially in the American colonies. In New York City in 1768, for instance, General Thomas Gage, who commanded all British forces in America, confined troops to their barracks and prohibited them from having “entirely any intercourse with the inhabitants during the said election.” A year later in Boston, troops were again restricted to their barracks during the May 1769 election, but voters still complained. They requested that the British commander completely remove his troops from the city so that voters “should be in the full enjoyment of their rights of British subjects upon this important occasion.” When the officer refused, colonial authorities claimed that “armed men, sent under the pretense indeed of aiding the civil authority” had in fact meddled with the election.[1]

People at Michilimackinac regularly discussed politics, even if their newspapers were out of date.

In Quebec, which included Michilimackinac after the colony was significantly expanded via the Quebec Act of 1774, there was no elected legislature as there was in other American colonies. Instead, a royally-appointed council comprised of civil, military, and church officials assisted the governor with colonial administration. However, that did not prevent Michilimackinac residents from remaining engaged with colonial and national politics, even following Parliamentary races in Britain. Although sometimes months out of date, newspapers and letters carried updates on developments in the Atlantic colonies and Great Britain. The political world in which Michilimackinac existed in the late 18th century was complex and evolving, reflecting the combined political and civil traditions of Britain and French Canada (many of which were carried over into the political theories and framework of the new United States). Although elections likely did not take place here, politics were just as much a part of daily life at Michilimackinac as they are today. Ask about 18th century politics next time you visit Colonial Michilimackinac, and consider joining Mackinac Associates, which makes many of our programs and exhibits possible.

[1] John McCurdy, Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution, (Cornell University Press, 2019), 171, 185-86