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.

 

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…)

On This Day: Battle of Mackinac Island, August 4, 1814

American soldiers from the 17th, 19th, and 24th Infantry Regiments joined men from the Corps of Artillery, the Marine Corps, and the Ohio militia during the battle.

On August 4, 1814, war came to Mackinac Island. The island, which had been captured by the British in 1812, was now the focus of an American campaign to reclaim the region. That campaign reached its zenith as hundreds of American troops landed on the island’s north shore, marched inland, and encountered well-entrenched British, Canadian, and Native American troops. (more…)

Forts Mackinac and Holmes in 1815

Forts Mackinac and Holmes in 1815

Captain Charles Gratiot, an American engineer officer, sketched both forts on Mackinac Island during the summer of 1814. Fort Holmes, here named Fort George by the British, was nearing completion when Gratiot made this sketch. National Archives

At Mackinac State Historic Parks, we are fortunate to have a huge variety of historic information available to help us protect, preserve, and present the resources under our care. Our archives and artifact collections contain numerous descriptions and depictions of the historic sites we manage, providing unique snapshots in time. A great example of these descriptive works is a report written by Lt. Col. Talbot Chambers in September 1815, soon after American troops returned to Mackinac Island following the War of 1812. (more…)

Special Events at Colonial Michilimackinac

Special Events at Colonial Michilimackinac

Although there aren’t any big anniversaries to celebrate this year, there will be a number of exciting special events throughout the summer at Colonial Michilimackinac. From June to September, two weekends each month will highlight a different aspect of the site’s history with special programs and activities.

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What’s on the Other Side of the Lake? Green Bay!

What’s on the Other Side of the Lake? Green Bay!

A combined British-Native force from Fort Edward Augustus helped diffuse tensions at Michilimackinac following the attack of 1763. Courtesy of British Library

A combined British-Native force from Fort Edward Augustus helped diffuse tensions at Michilimackinac following the attack of 1763. Courtesy of British Library.

You may be aware of Mackinac’s connection to cities like Detroit and Montreal, but many other communities can also trace a historic connection back to the straits. One such city is Green Bay, Wisconsin, which will be celebrating several important milestones in 2017. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Fort Howard, built by American troops, and the 300th anniversary of the colonial French Fort La Baye. Both posts were located in present-day Green Bay and had ties to Mackinac.

By the 1600s both Mackinac and Green Bay were part of French Canada, and both deeply linked to the fur trade. The majority of the fur trade that went west from Michilimackinac headed to Green Bay. Green Bay’s Fox River was a main artery for reaching the Mississippi River and trading grounds in central Wisconsin and Minnesota. As a result of the first Fox War (1712-1716), the French established Fort La Baye to protect this vital trade route. Many of the French soldiers who built and later garrisoned La Baye were sent from Fort Michilimackinac, which was built around 1715.

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Métis Women of Mackinac

Métis Women of Mackinac

Métis culture held a unique place of being part of two cultures, French and American Indian, that became a unique culture itself. This culture came about from the French men of the fur trade coming into the Great Lakes territories, populated by local tribes throughout the region. Families and bonds were made with this interaction.

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

By the 1820s and 30s, the fur trade was at its height on Mackinac Island. John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company had its headquarters on Market Street. While it held a virtual monopoly on the fur trade, small independent traders held their own and had many successes. The métis culture held one foot in the European American world and one foot in the American Indian world, becoming an integral part of the fur trade as part of the middle ground to interact between these other two cultures.

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Snowshoeing at the Straits of Mackinac

Snowshoeing at the Straits of Mackinac

Snowshoeing is a popular winter pastime in northern Michigan, but it’s not a new activity. People at the Straits of Mackinac needed snowshoes to go about their daily lives 250 years ago. Take a look at this brief video in which Museum Historian Craig Wilson describes the nature and the need of snowshoeing through the centuries.

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