July 16, 1812: The Attack on Fort Mackinac

Fort Mackinac (circa 1897-1924) by Detroit Publishing Co

The Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University remembers that on July 16, 1812, British forces moved on Fort Mackinac:

British General Brock of the Michigan Command ordered Captain Roberts, on St. Joseph Island, to attack the American Fort on Mackinac Island. That morning Captain Roberts embarked for Michilimackinac on the Northwestern Fur Company’s ship, Caledonia, with two six-pound guns, ten batteaux (flat-bottom boats), and seventy canoes. Captain Roberts’ force was composed of 42 regulars and 4 officers, 260 Canadians, 572 Chippewas and Ottawas, 56 Sioux, 48 Winnebagoes, and 39 Menomonies. The British arrived at Mackinac Island at 3:00 a.m. on July 17.

Fort Mackinaw’s American commander, Lieutenant Hanks, immediately prepared for action. However, around 9:00 in the morning he discovered that the British were in possession of the higher ground above the fort and that British artillery was already directed at the Americans’ most defenseless position. At 11:30 in the morning, the British sent in a flag of truce and the fifty-seven United States officers and enlisted men at the Fort surrendered.

After this victory, the British constructed Fort George (now known as Fort Holmes) about a half-mile behind the main Fort in order to protect it during future invasions. Great Britain retained control of Fort Mackinaw until the United States won it back in the Treaty of Ghent in 1815.

This photo of Fort Mackinac was taken sometime between 1895-1924. Learn more about Fort Mackinac at Mackinac State Historic Parks.

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March 3, 1875: Mackinac National Park & Fort Mackinac

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Old Fort [Mackinac] from pasture field, Macinac [sic] Island, Mich., courtesy Library of Congress

“Mackinac is a place largely visited by people from all parts of our country, and I take it from many foreign lands. A National Park is established on the island and I think the military post should be made not only comfortable but attractive.”
-Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs

It’s a birthday of sorts for Mackinac State Historic Parks which is a treasure trove of our colonial history. The page from Mackinac Parks on Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac National Park explains the birth of the park and how one forward thinking officer may very well have created the model for historical preservation in the park that holds so much of Michigan and the nation’s cultural history:

After Congress created Yellowstone in 1872, Senator Thomas Ferry introduced legislation to create a second park on Mackinac Island. In addition to the island’s attractive history and natural features, the U.S. government already owned much of the island as part of the Fort Mackinac military reservation and the soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac could act as caretakers. As a result, the park would cost almost nothing, which Ferry knew appealed to the tight-fisted Congressmen of the 1870s. After two years of campaigning, President Ulysses Grant created the Mackinac National Park, the second park in the country, on March 3, 1875.

The park made Mackinac Island even more attractive to Midwestern visitors, and brought changes to Fort Mackinac, where the commanding officer became the park superintendent and a second company of soldiers joined the garrison. The Army finally performed some long-overdue repairs at the fort … Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs believed that “the fort itself is to the public one of the greatest curiosities within the lands of the park,” and required the fort’s commanding officer, Major Alfred Hough, to repair the post’s aging blockhouses. Although the blockhouses served no military purpose, Meigs knew that they were “among the few relics of the older time which exist in this country,” and believed that “there would be a cry from tourists” if they were destroyed. Fort Mackinac thus became as much a part of the national park as the island’s natural curiosities.

…On September 16, 1895, the last soldiers formally transferred Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac National Park to the state. Although the national park ceased to exist with this transfer, the state immediately created the Mackinac Island State Park, which continues to welcome thousands of Mackinac Island visitors every year.

You can view the photo taken somewhere between between 1880 and 1899 bigger and see more great old Mackinac Island photos in this Mackinac Island slideshow from the Library of Congress.

Lots more from Mackinac on Michigan in Pictures!

Lilac Island: Mackinac Island’s Lilacs & Lilac Festival

Mackinac Island Lilacs and Lilac Festival

Fort Mackinac & Lilacs, photo by Steven Blair

The 66th annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival starts tomorrow and runs through June 14th. It celebrates the Island’s historic varieties of lilacs (many from the Colonial era) and equestrian culture and is one of the Island’s biggest attractions.

Apparently it’s “Lissa Edwards Goes to Mackinac Week” on Michigan in Pictures as I turn again to one of my favorite writers for her take on the Lilac Festival.

Metaphors for islanders and their favorite shrubs are easy pickings. Lilacs are tough as native islanders (or native islanders are hearty as these flowers?). Like their human counterparts, lilacs thrive in the cold Straits of Mackinac winters; neither lilacs nor island folk shrink from sinking their roots into the island’s craggy limestone bedrock. In fact, they crave that acidy terra firma. And last but best, lilacs prefer their soil the way these islanders like their beer: well drained.

When the long, cold winter and cool spring finally ends, Mackinac lilacs show their joy by transforming the island into a fairyland of blossoms. Cotton candy–colored tinkerbelles tempt from behind white picket fences. Big bold creamy Madame Lemoine lilacs strut next to a fluttery pink and white Beauty of Moscow in Ste. Anne’s churchyard. Down at the marina, where voyageurs working the Great Lakes fur trade once pulled their canoes, blue President Lincolns wave next to white Betsy Rosses. A froth that includes double pink Elizabeths and dark purple Monge spills out over the rolling green lawn at Marquette Park. And the gauzy backdrop to them all: the anything-but-bourgeois, lilac-colored common lilac.

The island is home to all 23 lilac species, some 400 varieties and thousands of individual plants. In June—and even into July in the case of late-blooming varieties—these flowers radiate their perfume into the windy Straits, where it melts into the aroma of warm fudge wafting from Main Street’s famous fudge shops and fresh horse apples (cars are banned on Mackinac Island) to create a signature Mackinac Island scent.

Read on for lots more.

View Steven’s photo background bigtacular on the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival’s Facebook and see a bunch more lilac photos from Mackinac Island on his Photography by Blair Facebook.

More lilacs and more Mackinac on Michigan in Pictures.

Fort Mackinac

fort-mackinac-mackinac-island-mi-by-bill-johnson

Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Island, MI, photo by Wrong Main

Every once and a while I come across something about Michigan that I can’t believe I haven’t featured. Here’s the latest…

Wikipedia’s comprehensive entry on Fort Mackinac explains that the first fort on the Straits of Mackinac was Fort Du Buade. Built by the French around 1690 near the St. Ignace Mission, Du Bade was closed in 1697. In 1715 the French constructed Fort Michilimackinac on the south side of the Straits where Mackinaw City is today. Michilimackinac became the hub of the upper Great Lakes fur trade and a French outpost until 1761 when British soldiers took control after the French and Indian War.

The Mackinac State Historic Parks history of Fort Mackinac continues:

By 1776 the American Revolution was underway. With the successes of George Rogers Clark in capturing British posts in the south, and American forces moving northward, the British grew anxious that Fort Michilimackinac , a wooden fort built on the beach, was vulnerable. Consequently, British Commandant Patrick Sinclair chose to relocate the fort to Mackinac Island where the high limestone cliffs and good harbor provided a more defensible location. Between 1779 and 1781 many buildings were taken apart on the mainland and reassembled on the island. What was not moved was burned. The civilian community was built around the bay below the fort. One of the first new buildings to be built on the island was the Officers’ Stone Quarters, the oldest building in the State of Michigan today.

The fort and island became United States territory as a result of the American victory in the Revolution. However, it took thirteen years for American troops to arrive and finally take control of the fort from the British. The latter were reluctant to leave the island, as British merchants continued to dominate fur trading, even in American territory. After leaving Fort Mackinac in 1796, the British went to St. Joseph’s Island, at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River and established Fort St. Joseph .

War broke out between the United States and Great Britain in the summer of 1812. Under the cover of darkness, a 300-man force of British soldiers and Native American allies embarked from Fort St. Joseph and landed on the north shore of Mackinac Island . They dragged their cannon to the high ground behind the fort, took positions in the woods and prepared to attack. American soldiers, about 30, were completely surprised and outnumbered by the British invasion. They quickly surrendered without a fight following a single warning shot by the British. This was the first land engagement of the War of 1812 in the United States .

You can read on to learn how the Americans ultimately got the fort back and how became a center of the Great Lakes fishing industry, its time as a Civil War prison, and the hub of the second national park in the U.S., Mackinac National Park. If you want to visit – bear in mind they close for the season October 13th!

Bill took this shot October 1, 1982 on Plustek OpticFilm 7600. Check it out background big, see more in his slideshow and definitely click to view his photo of the Mackinac Bridge taken on the same day.

More Mackinac on Michigan in Pictures, and get a little bit more about Michigan’s role in the War of 1812 in The Battle of Lake Erie.