|Fort Michilimackinac was originally built by the French in 1714-1715
to control the fur trade and European development of the upper Great Lakes.
Michilimackinac was more of a fortified community than a military outpost.
The colonial community was located both inside and outside the walls and
the walls were expanded several times during the French and British occupation
of the area. There was an Odawa (Ottawa) community along the shore when
Fort Michilimackinac was built, but the Odawas moved 20 miles west to L'Arbre
Croche (present day Cross Village) in 1741 when their corn fields were
no longer fertile.
In the summer months the Michilimackinac population would swell (much
like today) as voyageurs and traders arrived from Montreal and points east.
Other trappers and traders would come to meet them from the interior, as
well as hundreds of Native Americans.
The Church of Ste. Anne de Michilimackinac was built in 1743. The church
was one of the buildings moved across the ice when the community was moved
to Mackinac Island. Those parish records are still preserved at Ste Anne
Catholic Church on Mackinac Island
During the French and Indian War, joint Native American and French forces
from Michilimackinac traveled south to battle British and colonial American
troops. On July 9, 1755 those forces, led by Michilimackinac's Charles
de Langlade participated in the defeat of General Edward Braddock and
a young George Washington at the Battle of Monongahela River in
The French garrison departed the Mackinac Straits at the conclusion
of the French and Indian War and British troops arrived 1761. The French
civilian community remained and encouraged the Native Americans to drive
out the English. During Pontiac's Uprising in 1763, Native Americans defeated
the British garrison, using the subterfuge of a bagataway (lacrosse) game
to take the British unexpectedly. Many of the British were killed with
some taken prisoner. The French population (which far out numbered the
British) was unharmed. Alexander Henry was one of the English fur
traders who was taken prisoner and his journal provides a fascinating glimpse
of life at Michilimackinac at the time, as well as the battle and his life
with family of Chief Wawatam during the following year.
With Pontiac's Uprising's lack of success in Detroit, British troops
were unopposed when they retook Fort Michilimackinac in 1764. Native American
and British relations improved over the following years and by the time
of the American Revolution, Indian forces from the region participated
in the war on the side of the British.
The most famous British Commander at Michilimackinac was Major Robert
Rogers who was Commandant from 1766-1768. A colonial farmer from New
Hampshire, Rogers created a the French and Indian war unit called Rogers'
Rangers. He was portrayed by Spencer Tracy in the movie The Northwest
Soldiers from the 10th Regiment of Foot were transferred from Fort Michilimackinac
in 1774 and participated in the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.
The Fort was relocated to the new Fort
Mackinac on Mackinac Island during the American Revolution, with
some of the buildings moved across the ice in the winter of 1780-1781.
The remaining structures were burnt to the ground.
Archeologists are happy to stop and talk to Michilimackinac visitors
The immediate area was uninhabited for nearly 80 years until the community
of Mackinaw City was started in the 1860s. The original 1857 plate laying
out Mackinaw City preserved the Fort grounds as a park. In 1904 the city
turned over control of the park to the State of Michigan and it became
Michilimackinac State Park.
A WPA project erected a wooden palisade along the lines of the old walls
and the replica was opened on July 1, 1933 with a pageant re-enacting the
"massacre" of 1763. In 1959 archeological work at Michilimackinac
began and much more accurate reconstruction of the Fort began in 1960.
The work has continued every summer, making Michilimackinac the longest
running archeological dig in North America.