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…)

Fort Fright

Fort Fright

The autumn air is crisp and cool as you pass down the trail of lantern lights, the skeleton soldiers are waiting to welcome you to Colonial Michilimackinac. It’s time for Fort Fright.

A Werewolf watches as unsuspecting visitors enter Fort Fright.

This haven for lutins, werewolves and other bad-tempered creatures, the fort provides a fun, fall atmosphere for the entire family with it’s fair-share of scary experiences and historical background. (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…)