Gun Parts from the South Southwest Rowhouse at Michilimackinac

Between 1998 and 2007 Mackinac State Historic Parks excavated the east end unit of the South Southwest Rowhouse, now the site of Hearthside Museum Store in the reconstructed rowhouse. From its construction in the 1730s through the time of the 1763 attack it was lived in by French Canadian fur traders, mostly members of the Desriviere family. When the British returned with more soldiers in 1764, this was one of the houses they rented for foot soldiers to live in before the barracks was built in 1769. It appears to have reverted to a French Canadian trading household in the 1770s, before being moved to Mackinac Island in 1780.

One of the most interesting categories of artifacts excavated at the house was gun parts. In part this was because of the quantity present. A total of sixty-one were recovered, thirty-one (whole or fragmentary) gun worms and thirty other gun parts. By way of comparison, House D of the Southeast Rowhouse, the Bolon-Mitchell house excavated from 1989 to 1997, yielded thirty-five total gun parts, ten of which were gun worms. We have found eleven gun parts, six gun worms and five other parts, in the first thirteen seasons of excavation at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse.

Two-eared gun worm.

Of the sixty-one gun parts from the South Southwest Rowhouse end unit, just over half (thirty-four, twenty-two gun worms and a dozen other parts) came from in and around the cellar, suggesting the parts were stored there.

1st model Long Land buttplate.

Two gun parts from British military weapons came from the cellar. The first was an unusual two-eared gun worm, the only one found during the project. The second was a buttplate from a first model Long Land Service Pattern musket. Both of these could have been used by foot soldiers of the 60th Regiment living in the house in the late 1760s.

Two other parts suggest that one of the traders living in the house was stockpiling gun parts, possibly for sale. The first is an unused wrist escutcheon from a c.1740 Type D fusil fin, a high quality French civilian gun. A wrist escutcheon serves as an anchor for the screw attaching the triggerguard to the stock of the gun. We can tell this one was never used because it was never drilled through. It is currently on display in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit at Colonial Michilimackinac. The second is a buttplate which cannot be further identified because it was deliberately wrapped in birchbark to protect it. It was found near the bottom of the cellar.

Wrist escutcheon from a c.1740.

Buttplate wrapped in birch bark.

Gun parts are just one artifact category that tells us more about what the inhabitants of the South Southwest Rowhouse were doing and where they were doing it. If you are interested in learning more, the final report on the project will be published later in 2021. In the meantime, there is more information on the project in the Archaeology pages of the Explore at Home section of mackinacparks.com.

Porcupines of the North Woods

Porcupine quillwork on a birch bark container, depicting a beaver.

  For thousands of years, Native Americans of the Great Lakes region spent the cold, dark months of winter engaged in hunting and trapping, ice fishing, mending snowshoes, and making things around the hearth fire. Before glass trade beads became available, women perfected the art of decorating clothing, baskets, bags, and other items with dyed porcupine quills. Quillwork takes patience, skill and practice, and has been taught by parents to their children for many generations.

A porcupine curls into a ball before taking a nap at the tip of a branch, high up in a tree.

  Winter is also a traditional season for storytelling. In the Ojibwe culture, certain stories are only meant to be shared when there is snow on the ground. One of these tells the tale of how a clever porcupine, originally covered by just a coat of thick fur, outsmarted a hungry black bear. After placing hawthorn branches with sharp thorns on his back, porcupine rolled into a ball just as bear sprang upon him, offering a spiky surprise. When Nanabozho learned of this clever trick, he took some branches from a hawthorn tree and peeled off the bark until their spines were white. After putting clay all over porcupine’s back, Nanabozho stuck in the thorns, one by one, until it was completely covered. He then made this a permanent part of porcupine’s skin so he and his descendants would always be protected from their enemies.

  Most visitors to Mackinac State Historic Parks learn a great deal about beavers. Beaver pelts fueled the fur trade for centuries, providing jobs for Native Americans, voyageurs, merchants, soldiers and civilians. Guests at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park can even hike the trails to search for fresh signs of beaver activity and look for their dam built across Mill Creek. Only humans alter the landscape more dramatically than this industrious mammal, the largest rodent of North America.

Porcupines usually rest during the day. Activity is mostly nocturnal (at night) or crepuscular (during twilight hours).

  Few people realize that Mill Creek is also home to the second largest rodent on the continent, the North American Porcupine. Growing up to 30 pounds and more than two feet long, a porcupine can live up to 10 years. Porcupines are slow, secretive, and solitary, usually seen sleeping at the top of a tree or walking warily across a road.

  A porcupine is truly amazing in many ways, particularly due to its needle-sharp, barbed quills, which are actually modified hairs. A fully-grown porcupine has more than 30,000 quills, which are loosely attached to muscles just beneath the skin. Despite a popular myth, porcupines cannot throw or shoot their quills. When threatened, they turn their back to an attacker and quickly flick their tail, driving quills into the toughest flesh. As quill tips are barbed like a fishhook, they are very painful and difficult to remove.

  Porcupines can be found many places in the woods of Michigan. As you hike, watch for signs such as chewed tree trunks or branches, as inner bark is especially sought after in the winter months as a source of food. Porcupines even chew on buildings and trail signs looking for salt, glue or paint, and will even seek out sweat residue left on wooden tool handles. Because they are rodents, a porcupine’s teeth continually grow, just like a mouse or beaver’s do. With binoculars or a camera, look closely to see if you can spot the orange coating on their teeth, which is an iron-rich coating of enamel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Visitors to Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park can learn about porcupines and other animals of the north woods during naturalist programs throughout the season, which begins on May 7. To get a treetop view, also join us on an Adventure Tour and climb the steps of the Treetop Discovery Tower. Who knows, you might even see eye-to-eye with a porcupine! Tickets can be purchased here.

She Lived Here, Too: Sally Ainse

. Sally Ainse was one of many people drawn to Michilimackinac in the 18th century. During her life she worked as an interpreter, fur trader, farmer, and real estate investor. Her work in the fur trade gives us insights into how women moved through the Great Lakes during this era of business and opportunity.

  Ainse was born in the 1720s along the Susquehanna River to a family belonging to the Oneida Nation. In her early childhood, she was almost certainly exposed to the fur trade business. Nearly all Indigenous communities worked with traders from England, France, or Canada to purchase supplies in exchange for beaver, otter, muskrat, and any number of other furs. She grew up speaking her native language while also likely learning the European languages spoken around her.

  By the age of about 18, Ainse married a fur trader named Andrew Montour. He and Ainse did not remain lifelong partners. When they separated he received custody of their older children, while she was able to keep the youngest. To support herself and her baby, she worked at a variety of jobs. As an official Indian Interpreter, Sally was able to use her highly valuable language skills to assist government officials in negotiations with various Indigenous nations. At the same time, she also bought and sold merchandise to make money in the fur trade business.

An interpreter at modern Colonial Michilimackinac, dressed as the historic residents of Michilimackinac, like Sally Ainse, would have dressed.

  To tap into more lucrative markets, Ainse moved from the New York region further west to Niagara, Detroit, and then, in the mid-1760s, to Michilimackinac. By that time, the area was under British military control, although the trade was still being largely run by French-Canadians and Anishinaabek people. Most people at the straits were transient, which created a very diverse population, and Ainse’s own history growing up elsewhere would not have been in any way remarkable at Michilimackinac. She rented or purchased a unit in a rowhouse and clearly had the means to support herself.

  Her activities at Michilimackinac were likely typical of other fur traders. While she did not leave records herself, her name does appear in a few documents related to the Michilimackinac community. In April 1774, John Askin wrote about her in his journal when she left Michilimackinac for the Grand Traverse area to meet with the Odawa living there. This meeting was likely a trading event, although Askin did not specify the exact purpose of the trip. In any case, she was not gone long and came back just a few short days later, seemingly successful in whatever she had traveled there to do.

  In another instance, a British soldier named William Maxwell wrote about his interactions with Sally. Maxwell served in the British Army during some of the most well-known campaigns of the Seven Years’ War. After the war ended, he served in the western Great Lakes as commissary, and that is when he and Ainse met at Michilimackinac. In a letter between Maxwell and one of his acquaintances he described a proposal he made to Ainse:

till I was better Convinced of her Sincerity, I was willing to a small settlement for a year, and in that Time if her Temper would please me I would have pleased her if I could, but she would not trust me with her so she walked off and I did not hinder her, for she had tried me heartily, (I mean with her Tongue and Hands both) I believe on the Whole Socrates need no more be quoted for his patience with his Wife where my Storey is known.

A rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac, similar to where Sally Ainse would have lived.

  The length of Sally and William’s relationship is unknown. Maxwell left Michilimackinac in 1772 and by 1775 Ainse had left Michilimackinac to live at Detroit. By 1779 she owned at least two houses near the city as well as livestock and enslaved people. She traded in a variety of items including fur, rum, and cider, perhaps from her own orchards. She continued to do business with John Askin, who similarly had relocated to the area from Mackinac. Ainse was well-known by Major Arent DePeyster and in 1780 when the commanding officer made a list of assets at Detroit, he included two bateau loads of merchandise as belonging to her.

  Much of Ainse’s later life was spent petitioning the government. Shortly after moving to Detroit, Ainse began purchasing land on what would become the Canadian side of the Detroit River. Eventually, Sally’s ownership of many of these properties came into question, and she fought a long battle to keep them. In the end she lost most of her property after the government of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) refused to acknowledge her ownership of the land.

  Sally Ainse died in 1823 after a long life of consistently being involved in the fur trade. Her diverse work as a fur trader, interpreter, diplomat, farmer, and real estate owner was typical for the time and gives us a better understanding into how women successfully worked in the Great Lakes fur trade. Visit our website for more information or to visit the recreated fort at Colonial Michilimackinac that Ainse, Maxwell and many others called home.

Jim Evans – 50 Years at Michilimackinac

It would have been very easy for Jim Evans to take a victory lap during the 2020 season.

2020 was his 50th season at Colonial Michilimackinac (as in, half a century), and he made the decision during the 2019-20 offseason that it would be his last. He’d be turning 70 after the season, and he wanted to get out and take some well-deserved time to fish, hunt, and be outdoors.

He could have announced his retirement early, took that victory lap, and rode off into the sunset. But, despite possibly being the most photographed man in Michigan, he wanted no part of the spotlight. He just wanted to be part of the team, like he has every summer since 1970.

So, in typical fashion, Jim worked the season and then quietly announced his retirement to staff in November, effective January 22, closing the book on an incredible career of teaching, entertaining, and being a stabilizing and welcoming presence at Colonial Michilimackinac.

In addition to being a constant at Colonial Michilimackinac, Jim was also one of the driving forces of the award-winning and Mackinac Associates-funded Historic Mackinac on Tour educational outreach program that has visited classrooms across the state for more than 30 years. Oh, and those cannon, mortar, rifle, and musket firings that are as much a part of the Mackinac tradition as anything else? Jim spent his winters making the powder charges for them.

It’s estimated that Jim saw nearly 6,500,000 visitors during his time at Colonial Michilimackinac. Additionally, it’s estimated he saw more than 250,000 kids in classrooms across the state in the winter months. The numbers are truly staggering.

“It went pretty quick,” Jim says. “I’ve worked with a lot of great people. You remember your coworkers, supervisors. You really think of the people. I truly did have the best job, and I mean that seriously. It is truly a hard job to leave, which is why I worked here as long as I did.

“This was a hard decision,” he continued. “Things got a little harder as I got older, and I want to have a little quality for a few years. I didn’t want to say goodbye on my last hurrah, I really wanted to enjoy that last season, and I did, immensely.”

“Jim has been an example and leader for the interpretive staff at Michilimackinac, as well as an important part of the Michilimackinac experience for visitors,” said Craig Wilson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Chief Curator. “People ask if he’s at work all the time because he has been such an important part of a visit to Michilimackinac for so many people over the years.”

Jim grew up in Mackinaw City and volunteered at the Michilimackinac Pageant every summer from 7th grade through high school. After his freshman year at Lake Superior State University, he came home for the summer and got a job as a seasonal interpreter at Michilimackinac. He’s been back every summer since. He was promoted to lead historic interpreter in 1977.

“I believe I was meant to do public service,” he says. “It’s rewarding to give an interesting, educational, but making it real, program. When I first started, as a young college student, it wasn’t where I’m at now. As I got older I think I got better. You have to try to feel out how much they (the guest) want to know, then give it to them. Craig (Wilson) made us a lot better. We know so much more, and we gear it to the people that I’m talking to.”

The Historic Mackinac on Tour program started going on the road in 1989. Along with Dennis Havlena, who served as Lead Historic Interpreter at Fort Mackinac, Jim spread Michilimackinac’s history to thousands of classrooms around Michigan.

“To do that program was a joy,” he says. “I had the chance to work with Dennis until he retired, which was pretty special. We did a lot of hands-on stuff. Dennis would do a dance, we’d do activities. To see those kids’ eyes light up…it was pretty neat stuff.

“Those teachers, who are gifted at what they do, they thank us, even now, and I thank them for what they do and allowing us in,” Jim continued. “It’s really special to get thank-yous from teachers when we appreciate so much what they do.”

Any conversation with Jim about his career usually moves toward talking about those that worked with him. While he’s loved that he’s been able to meet and interact with so many people, he worries that the interpretive staff gets too much attention because they’re the most public face of the organization. “It’s a team. I never tried to lose that. It’s a team. I sometimes feel bad that I’m the one they recognize, because there are lots of others,” he said.

“A skilled and dedicated interpreter, Jim has always provided our guests with outstanding programs and presentations,” said Phil Porter, Director Emeritus for Mackinac State Historic Parks. “He used those same assets to serve students throughout Michigan in our Education Outreach Program, Historic Mackinac on Tour. Hundreds of thousands of visitors and students have a better appreciation and understanding of Mackinac history as a result of Jim’s great work.”

Jim is comfortable with the state of the organization and Colonial Michilimackinac, which is another factor allowing him to retire comfortably. He mentioned the entire staff at Michilimackinac, with Wilson and Interpretive Assistant LeeAnn Ewer mentioned in particular.

The other reason Michilimackinac is in good hands is the presence of Dr. Lynn Evans, Curator of Archaeology, and Jim’s wife. She’ll be in the fort overseeing the archaeological field season. Jim and Lynn met in 1989 and were married in 1997 – at Michilimackinac, of course.

“The fort has done everything for me – I even met my wife, Lynn,” Jim said. “She’s the best thing to ever happen to me. I owe the park more than the park owes me.”

“Through all of the decades his love of this place remained evident,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director. “His great legacy, the wonderful thing about working with him is his changeless-ness, in that he was always so positive and always so committed to this place. He will truly be missed.”

So, what’s next for Jim Evans? He actually has a pretty strict schedule that will feature some variation: first it will be ice fishing, followed by steelhead fishing season, then turkey season, then walleye fishing, followed by goose season, then small game with his dog, followed by bow season, and then firearms season.

“I’ll have to pace myself,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ll have the opportunity to rest up and do activities, do the chores, have some more responsibility with cooking. It’s a cycle.”

Jim was leery of trying to start giving names of people he’d like to thank or remember, as he was nervous he’d miss some. He did reach out and call Keith Widder, who originally hired him. “I thanked him, and I need to thank him more.” He also very fondly remembers the time working with Havlena on outreach, and thanked Porter, especially for his support with education outreach.

Jim was also very appreciative of Mackinac Associates, especially for support of the education outreach programs. “I thank them so much for their support. They need to know that a lot of those students come to our sites, and we build on that history when they come. We make these great connections with these groups that come from across the state. Thank you, Mackinac Associates, for helping us educate these young people in a fun, entertaining way.”

While Colonial Michilimackinac will open next spring as it always does, it will, undoubtedly, be different. There is no easy way to replace someone like Jim Evans, and his legacy will not be forgotten.

“It’s nice to be remembered – I guess you’re doing something right if they do remember you,” he said. “It truly has been a joy, and I’m leaving with no regrets. It’s been such rewarding work, and I really mean that. I’ve been blessed.”

Row Covers and Bell Jars

As many visitors to Colonial Michilimackinac know, we have a lot of gardens inside the palisade. The walls of the fort, as well as the geography of northern Michigan, create a unique climate at our site. But what if we need more protection from the weather? In the 18th century, gardeners devised a number of creative ways to extend the growing season and control the climate to shelter their garden plants.

Starting in the 17th century, some gardeners began using a tool called a bell jar, or cloche. Resembling a small bell, glass cloches functioned as a miniature greenhouse. Gardeners placed jars over an individual plant, occasionally with one side propped up to allow air circulation. Sunlight passing through the glass warmed the air inside. While it may be cool outside, the plant underneath the glass stayed cozy and warm, and continued growing where otherwise it may not have survived. This method is useful at Michilimackinac today when we are setting out our warm-weather crops, such as melon and cucumber, which need warm temperatures to grow well.

Another tricky tool that gardeners used was a row cover. Row covers were inexpensively built with paper, glue, a wooden frame, and linseed oil.  Although seemingly fragile and susceptible to damage, even from a heavy rain, paper row covers were surprisingly resilient. Gardeners could expect to get a full summer’s use before the paper would need to be replaced. If we can keep the chickens away from them, our row covers at Michilimackinac usually last from April to October.

The most labor-intensive way of protecting plants in a small garden involved the use of cold frames and hot beds. These wooden boxes needed to be built with “lights” or windows on the top, and were usually oriented toward the southern sky to catch as much light as possible. They worked by trapping heat from the sun under the glass, similar to a cloche but on a larger scale. Gardeners could further heat the interior of their frames by placing them over a pit filled with fresh manure. With a layer of soil on top of the manure, these hot beds could reach temperatures high enough to start planting lettuce outside in a Michigan March.

Various gardening how-to books from the 18th century suggest the use of an assortment of strategies and tools to protect important plants from the cold and the wind. Stop by Colonial Michilimackinac to see if you can spot the cloches, row covers and frames that are keeping our plants happy. Many elements of our gardens, including the cloches, were provided through the generosity of Mackinac Associates. If you would like to contribute to the Michilimackinac gardens, or any other Mackinac State Historic Parks’ project, consider becoming a Mackinac Associate today.

Early Christmas at Mackinac

In the midst of the holiday season, and with Christmas upon us, let’s take a look at one of the earliest recorded Christmas celebrations in the Straits of Mackinac.

This map, drawn around 1717, shows the location of the original St. Ignace Mission, labeled “maison des Jesuits,” as well as the Odawa and Huron communities nearby. Edward Ayer Collection, Newberry Library

  During the winter of 1679, Fr. Jean Enjalran supervised the Jesuit mission of St Ignace. Originally intended to serve a group of refugee Huron people brought to Mackinac by Fr. Jacques Marquette, the mission also served converts among the local Odawa. Combined with ministering to a French trading settlement that sprang up soon after the mission’s founding in 1671, Fr. Enjalran spent much of his time preaching to Native converts and instructing them in the Catholic faith. There were so many Odawa people living near the St. Ignace mission that the Jesuits eventually set up a smaller church, dedicated to St. Francis de Borgia, to specifically minister in their communities.

During one of the      Christmas processions the Huron carried a banner depicting the Holy House of Loreto, which some believe was the house that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived in while Christ was a child. The remains of the house are now enshrined in the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto, Italy. This image may have been chosen thanks to the Huron’s familiarity with Fr. Pierre-Joseph-Marie Chaumonot, another Jesuit who worked extensively with the tribe in New France and who felt a special connection with the Holy House after visiting multiple times before sailing for Canada.

  During the Christmas season, Fr. Enjalran supervised an elaborate series of services, processions, and feasts to mark the birth of Christ. In preparation, the Huron converts built a grotto in the mission church, complete with a cradle and a statue of the infant Jesus. After Fr. Enjalran conducted a midnight mass on Christmas, the Hurons and some of the Odawa asked that the priest bring the statue to their villages. Instead of simply moving the statue, the Hurons planned an elaborate procession for Epiphany, recreating the visit of the Magi to the infant Christ. The Hurons, including those who were not converts, split into three large groups, each with a tribal leader wearing a crown and carrying a scepter to represent the three kings and accompanied by the sounds of trumpets. Proceeded by a banner carried on standard depicting a star on a sky-blue field, the three groups marched to the church, where they presented gifts to at the grotto and prayed. Fr. Enjalran then wrapped the statue in a fine linen cloth, and followed the procession, this time led by two Frenchmen carrying a banner depicting Mary and Jesus, to the Huron village. Once there, all of the Hurons, including those who had not converted to Christianity, participated in a dance and feast. A week later Fr. Enjalran supervised a similar procession, with the Huron this time visiting the Odawa community for another feast. A complete description of these rituals can be found in the Jesuit Relations of 1679, vol. 61.

  We hope that you enjoy this festive season. From all of us at Mackinac State Historic Parks, happy holidays!

John Askin’s Garden: Lettuce

 As we know, from 1774 to 1775 John Askin used his journal to record activities in his garden. Another of his frequently-mentioned vegetables remains a staple of meals everywhere today: lettuce.

Growing food of any sort at Mackinac was not always easy. Jonathan Carver wrote in 1766 that “The land about Michilimackina for some miles has a sandy, dry barren soil, so that the troops and the traders here can scarsly find sufficient for gardens to raise greens on.” The sand meant that the soil was rather poor at the fort, and that made growing many plants very difficult. We know that the people here who chose to garden had to add soil amendments to succeed, and most people relied heavily on whatever foodstuffs they could import. However, certain foods, like lettuce, did not transport well and had to be grown near where they were to be eaten.

In 1775 Askin mentioned planting lettuce on May 2. Shortly after that, on May 10, he “sowed some more lettice.” This sort of staggered planting meant that his household had a steady supply of good lettuce, and did not have had to deal with a surplus at any one time. It was, and quite often is, the common way of growing these sorts of foods. Practicing succession planting ensures that the plants mature one after the other, rather than all at once. It makes it much easier to manage the amounts of produce and avoids any sort of gluts.

Askin never specified the type of lettuce he was growing but there were generally two types: those that would form heads, and those that modern gardeners call “cut and come again.” The “cut and come again” varieties were valued for a steady production of leaves that could be harvested two or three times from the same plant.

Some of the tougher and more bitter lettuces were often blanched in the garden. Blanching is a technique that makes them sweeter by tying the leaves together or covering them with an upturned bucket or flowerpot, or even burying the plants completely to exclude the light. Keeping the light away from them causes them to stop producing chlorophyll and improves the taste, generally making them whiter, sweeter and more tender.

Garden writers from the time recommended that all types of lettuce be planted in a sheltered location to protect them from the wind. At Michilimackinac we certainly get a lot of wind, so we are careful to protect lettuce by placing the plants strategically. Removing the dead leaves and keeping them free from weeds were also common recommendations for a successful crop.

Lettuces were among the most popular vegetables of 18th century English and French gardens. When Pehr Kalm visited Canada and described the food on the table, he mentioned meat, certainly, but also noted that it was eaten “together with different sorts of salads.” He also observed that “carrots, lettice, Turkish beans, cucumbers, and currant shrubs” were “planted in every farmer’s little kitchen garden.” It sounds charming, to be sure, but it was also perennially practical. Easy access to fresh produce is every cook’s dream. Besides salads, some lettuces would be used in soups or sautéed as a tasty side dish.

John Askin’s journal is used as a valuable source of information that can help us understand what it was like to have a garden at Michilimackinac. Be sure to visit Colonial Michilimackinac to see how our plants are growing. Please also consider joining Mackinac Associates, a friends group which supports our gardening activities and programs and exhibits throughout Mackinac State Historic Parks’ sites.

John Askin’s Garden: Potatoes

Potato Flower

Although most food was purchased and shipped to Michilimackinac, local gardens provided an important source of fresh produce for the community’s 18th century residents. We currently maintain over 5,000 square feet of gardens at Colonial Michilimackinac, guided by a variety of historic sources. One of the most interesting 18th century documents at our disposal is the journal of the Michilimackinac merchant John Askin, who recorded his garden activities in 1774 and 1775. In this semi-regular series, we’ll examine some of the plants Askin (or more likely the free and enslaved employees working for him) was cultivating at Michilimackinac in the 1770s.

Askin really liked growing potatoes. They are the most-mentioned vegetable in his journal. If he wrote about his farm or garden, it was highly likely that he was writing about potatoes.

They are first mentioned on April 27, 1774 when he “Sett potatoes at the farm” and once more the next day “sett potatoes at the farm.”  The next month he planted more potatoes on four different occasions. It appears they grew well over the summer, and he was able to dig most of them on the 8th of November just a couple of days after a 4-inch snowfall. We finally see the last mention of in 1774 on November 14 when he “dug the last of my potatoes.”

With one season of cultivation under his belt, Askin decided that he could perhaps get a better potato crop if he changed the ways in which he was planting them. In 1775 he decided to try some experiments. Experimenting in the garden or on the farm is something that growers love, no matter the time period. In the 18th century there was a huge interest in how things grew and the various ways of improving crops. Gardeners around the world were developing new methods for growing plants and it is no surprise that it was happening at Michilimackinac as well.

On August 29, 1775, Askin wrote that the potatoes were put into the ground “with a little dung in the holes.” This is different from his previous entries where he does not mention planting with any sort of manure at all. Gardeners like Philip Miller wrote pages and pages about the worth of various sorts of animal and vegetable manure in the 18th century. Even George Washington experimented with various types of muck to see which would grow the best beans, etc. While Askin does not tell us the sort that he used, he did have a small number of cows and horses. Both animals produce excellent dung with superb growing qualities.

Digging up potatoes at Colonial Michilimackinac.

He also “Set three hills of potatoes near the pease” on October 28. In each of these hills he employed a different method of planting. In the first hill he put “one potatoe cut in 3,” and in the second and third hills he put “3 whole potatoes” about “4 inches deep.” Modern gardeners still debate over the necessity and results of planting potatoes whole versus cutting them into pieces. It seems like cutting the potatoes can potentially leave the pieces more vulnerable to disease. However, if you have a small amount available to plant you will get more by dividing the tubers that you do have. Unfortunately, John himself did not tell us which side of the debate he stood on after his experiments.

No matter how you plant them, potatoes are a welcome addition to any garden. They are an easy and reliable vegetable to grow whether it is 1774, 1775 or 2020. The next time you come to Colonial Michilimackinac see if you can spot the potatoes growing in our gardens in the same way they were being grown nearly 250 years ago. Check back for future entries about other parts of John Askin’s garden, and consider contributing to Mackinac Associates, which makes our gardens and many other activities possible.

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

Making Charcoal: A Blacksmith’s Experiment

Charcoal is one of the few things that we know for sure would have been produced at Michilimackinac in the 18th century. Join Michilimackinac blacksmith Justin Popa as he attempts to make charcoal the same way the historic residents of Michilimackinac would have. Enjoy!