Remembering Dr. Beaumont at Mackinac

 In 1955 the “Beaumont Memorial” opened at the corner of Market and Fort Streets on Mackinac Island. Now known as the American Fur Co. Store and Dr. Beaumont Museum, the property is operated by Mackinac State Historic Parks. It was originally funded by the Michigan Medical Society.

 The Beaumont Museum was not the first nor only place that the Dr. Beaumont has been commemorated on Mackinac Island.

Beaumont Monument, Fort Mackinac

 In 1900 the Upper Peninsula and Michigan State Medical Societies placed this monument to Beaumont and St. Martin Beaumont inside Fort Mackinac. It is located next to the Officers’ Stone Quarters, where Beaumont began his experiments.

Dean Cornwell Studies for Beaumont and St. Martin, 1938

Pencil Study for Beaumont and St. Martin

Pencil Study for Beaumont and St. Martin

Oil Study for Beaumont and St. Martin

Donated by Paul Douglas Withington

 Dean Cornwell (1892-1960) was one of the most prominent American illustrators from the 1920s into the 1950s. A major corporate commission was The Pioneers of American Medicine by Wyeth Laboratories. The series of eight paintings commemorated the achievements of America’s medical heroes. Beaumont was one of the subjects chosen.

Oil Study for Beaumont and St. Martin

 The original 1938 painting was exhibited for several decades at the Beaumont Museum but was returned to Wyeth Laboratories in 1999. However, Mackinac State Historic Parks has two original studies by Cornwell in its collection, currently exhibited at The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. They represent preliminary work done for the final painting. Cornwell was a gifted draftsman and master of composition. All his paintings were preceded by extensive research. Nonetheless, true accuracy was often sacrificed for drama and idealism. The rustic cabin setting presents a more “frontier” atmosphere than Beaumont’s own quarters at Fort Mackinac, where the experiments took place. Likewise, Beaumont probably did not conduct his work wearing a full-dress uniform.

Marshall Frederick, William Beaumont M.D. Bas Relief Plaque

 In 1955 the Michigan Medical Society commissioned this bas relief for the Beaumont Museum. It is now also on exhibit at The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum.

 Marshall Fredericks (1908-1998) was one of the most prolific sculptors of the twentieth century, known in America and abroad for his monumental figurative sculpture, public memorials and fountains, portraits, and animal figures. His sculptures can be found in more than 150 public and corporate locations in seventeen states and seven foreign countries.

 Mackinac State Historic Parks is commemorating the bicentennial of the accidental shooting of St. Martin that led to Beaumont’s experiments throughout the summer of 2022. A new exhibit is on display at the American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum, which will be open through August 20. Admission is included with a Fort Mackinac or Historic Downtown Mackinac ticket.

 

Maple Sugaring at Mackinac

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

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

Sweet Science

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

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

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

Maple Sugar Making in 1763

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

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

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

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

The Maple Sugar Trade

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

Bois Blanc Sugar Camp

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

Indian Sugar Camp by Seth Eastman, 1853.

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

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

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

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

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

She Lived Here, Too: Fanny Corbusier

The Fort Mackinac Soldier’s Barracks in the 1880s.

  For a brief time, from April of 1882 until September of 1884, Fanny Dunbar Corbusier and her family lived at Fort Mackinac. She and her family thoroughly enjoyed their time on the island, which was already a tourist destination. While living on Mackinac Island, Fanny and her family took advantage of the island’s natural beauty and social scene to engage in activities familiar to modern visitors.

  Fanny was born in 1838 in Baltimore, but also lived in Louisiana and Maryland as a child. She was an active part of her church, wherever she lived. Public service was important to her and she served as a nurse during the Civil War. At the age of 30 she met and married William Henry Corbusier, a military contract surgeon. He was one of many northern soldiers occupying Mobile, Alabama with the army after the war. Together, they enjoyed a 49 year-long marriage and raised five sons. The marriage plunged Fanny into the transient life of civilians attached to the army, moving from station to station as William was transferred to different posts.

  At various times, Fanny and the family lived in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, the Philippines, the Dakota Territory, Wyoming Territory, Kansas, Colorado, Virginia, Indiana, California, New York, Nebraska, Alabama and of course Michigan. Their extensive travels were facilitated by regular long-distance train trips. The growing national railroad network allowed the army to move troops (and associated civilians like Fanny) quickly and easily around the country.

  Within the small, close-knit army community, William’s position bestowed a level of social prestige upon Fanny. Officers and their families were generally quartered in larger, nicer homes, separate from the enlisted soldiers. Fanny had, and expected to have, servants to help her with cooking, laundry and other chores. She hired a nurse to assist with her first baby and at various times employed off-duty soldiers, Chinese workers, and Indigenous people to work in her household. Fanny hired a woman named Carrie Greatsinger to work as a nurse for the children before moving to Fort Mackinac.

The Hill Quarters at Fort Mackinac.

  Regardless of where she lived, Fanny took the education of her children seriously. As a child, she attended the Hannah More Academy in Maryland, where her mother was principal. While raising her own children, she made sure that they always had access to education. At Mackinac, her younger children attended classes in the Fort Mackinac reading room, where Sgt. Fred Grant and Pvt. Crawford Anderson served as teachers. In addition to school, while on Mackinac Island Fanny also “sent for all of the histories and romances of Mackinac that were ever published” and read with her family about Alexis St. Martin, Dr. William Beaumont, and John Tanner.

  Fanny and William shared a lifelong interest in nature and spent time observing “the superb moonlight night” during their winters on Mackinac. In the fall they ”saw the island in its best array. The woods were gorgeous in the vari-colored trees and shrubbery, and then the aurora borealis in all its splendor would sometimes be seen.” Fall on Mackinac Island is still one of the most beautiful sights in Northern Michigan.

  Fanny Dunbar Corbusier left Mackinac Island in 1884 after experiencing it in much the same way as countless others of the past and present. Her life only brought her back one more time in 1892. She visited with old friends and went for “lovely drives” to see what had changed. If you would like to learn more about the experiences of Fanny Corbusier and the other women who called Fort Mackinac home in the 18th and 19th centuries, check out our website for details on how to visit. Also consider joining Mackinac Associates, a friends group that makes it possible for us to interpret Fanny’s life as well as countless other facets of Mackinac’s rich history.

Things Named Mackinac/aw

A logger wearing a mackinaw coat near a log train, ca. 1906. Hennepin County Library

Today there are several easily recognizable places and things named either Mackinac or Mackinaw. Mackinac Island, the Straits of Mackinac, the Mackinac Bridge, and Mackinaw City all come to mind. Did you know there are even more uses for Mackinac/Mackinaw? (more…)

Preparing for the Season

Preparing for the Season

The site (between the barrels) buried under several feet of snow.

After the spring melt.

Ready to excavate.

Spring has sprung in the Straits of Mackinac region, and with spring comes the preparation for another archaeological field season. Regular blog readers will remember that at the end of last season we lined the site with heavy plastic sheeting and bales of straw. The long snowy winter was very good for preventing the wall from slumping too much. When we removed the straw and plastic last week, the site was in fairly good condition. (more…)

Patrick Sinclair

Patrick Sinclair

This silhouette is the only known image of Sinclair. The star on his coat may be the badge of the 15th Regiment, in which he served from 1761 to 1773.

Today, if Patrick Sinclair is remembered at all, it is as the somewhat inept British officer who established the fort and permanent community on Mackinac Island. However, Sinclair enjoyed a long career before he arrived at the Straits of Mackinac. (more…)

Episode 2 Mackinac: An Island Famous in These Regions

Episode 2 Mackinac: An Island Famous in These Regions

We continue with chapters three through five of Mackinac An Island Famous in These Regions by Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter. We last heard about the native peoples of the region; the origin of all life and the Great Turtle. Now, Phil describes the addition of Europeans to the region, encouraged by religion, economic benefit, and exploration.

If you would like more information about this publication or others, or want to learn more as you plan your trip to visit our historic sites, visit us online at www.mackinacparks.com or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And be sure to subscribe to receive our upcoming episodes.


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Episode 1 Mackinac: An Island Famous in These Regions

Episode 1 Mackinac: An Island Famous in These Regions

“Mackinac: And Island Famous in These Regions” was written by Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter and first published in 1998. The book covers the history of the Straits of Mackinac, its people, and its impact on the region and the world.

These first two chapters, narrated by Phil Porter, cover the origins of the region and the people who first called it home.

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2015 Collections Acquisitions

2015 Collections Acquisitions

The year 2015 was a busy one for collections as the Mackinac Island State Park Commission accessioned 140 gifts and 150 purchases to the historic object and archival collections. Many of the objects acquired this year were images of Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City and the surrounding area. These include photo album pages with images from visitor’s trips, stereo views that were a popular souvenir in the late 1800’s, postcards and press photographs. The park purchased a rare bill for fish from 1853 and a medal commemorating one of Fort Mackinac’s commanders. (more…)

Numerous Pets Hold Place in Mackinac History

Numerous Pets Hold Place in Mackinac History

Animals below Fort Mackinac

Grand: Several men and their dogs gather on the government pasture below Fort Mackinac. These soldiers are likely from the 23rd Infantry or belong to the Michigan state troops, who gathered on Mackinac Island for summer encampments in the late 1880s.

Many visitors to the Straits of Mackinac today bring their four-legged friends with them. It’s not unusual to see any number of pets out with their owners in Marquette Park on Mackinac Island or strolling along the shoreline in Michilimackinac State Park. (more…)