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Fort Mackinac

Fort Mackinac

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Fort Mackinac is a former American military outpost garrisoned from the late 18th century to the late 19th century near Michilimackinac, Michigan, on Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is an island and resort area covering in land area, part of the U.S. state of Michigan. It is located in Lake Huron, at the eastern end of the Straits of Mackinac, between the state's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The island was home to a Native American settlement before European...

. The British
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 built the fort during the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 to control the strategic Straits of Mackinac
Straits of Mackinac
The Straits of Mackinac is the strip of water that connects two of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and separates the Lower Peninsula of Michigan from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is a shipping lane providing passage for raw materials and finished goods, connecting, for...

 between Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one located entirely within the United States. It is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume and the third largest by surface area, after Lake Superior and Lake Huron...

 and Lake Huron
Lake Huron
Lake Huron is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. Hydrologically, it comprises the larger portion of Lake Michigan-Huron. It is bounded on the east by the Canadian province of Ontario and on the west by the state of Michigan in the United States...

 (and by extension the fur trade
Fur trade
The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur. Since the establishment of world market for in the early modern period furs of boreal, polar and cold temperate mammalian animals have been the most valued...

 on the Great Lakes) and did not relinquish it until fifteen years after American independence. It later became the scene of two strategic battles for control of the Great Lakes during the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

. During most of the 19th century, it served as an outpost of the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

. Closed in 1895, the fort is now a museum on the grounds of Mackinac Island State Park
Mackinac Island State Park
Mackinac Island State Park is a state park located on Mackinac Island in the U.S. state of Michigan. The island park encompasses 2.81 mi² , which is approximately 74% of the island's total area of 3.78 mi² . The park is also within the boundaries of the city of Mackinac Island and has permanent...


American Revolutionary War

Before 1763, the French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 used Fort Michilimackinac
Fort Michilimackinac
Fort Michilimackinac was an 18th century French, and later British, fort and trading post in the Great Lakes of North America. Built around 1715, it was located along the southern shore of the strategic Straits of Mackinac connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, at the northern tip of the lower...

 on the mainland south shore of the Straits of Mackinac to control the area. After Treaty of Paris (1763)
Treaty of Paris (1763)
The Treaty of Paris, often called the Peace of Paris, or the Treaty of 1763, was signed on 10 February 1763, by the kingdoms of Great Britain, France and Spain, with Portugal in agreement. It ended the French and Indian War/Seven Years' War...

, the British occupied the French fort but considered the wooden structure too difficult to defend. In 1780/1781, its lieutenant governor Patrick Sinclair
Patrick Sinclair
Lieutenant-General Patrick Sinclair was a British Army officer and governor in North America. He is best remembered for overseeing the construction of Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island in what was to become the U.S. state of Michigan.-Biography:Sinclair was born in Lybster, Scotland, and enlisted...

 constructed a new limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

 fort on the 150-foot limestone bluffs of Mackinac Island above the beautiful Straits of Mackinac
Straits of Mackinac
The Straits of Mackinac is the strip of water that connects two of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and separates the Lower Peninsula of Michigan from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is a shipping lane providing passage for raw materials and finished goods, connecting, for...

. The British held the outpost throughout the war. After Treaty of Paris (1783)
Treaty of Paris (1783)
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain on the one hand and the United States of America and its allies on the other. The other combatant nations, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic had separate agreements; for details of...

, the British did not relinquish the fort to the United States until 1796.

War of 1812

In June 1812, at the start of the War of 1812, British General Isaac Brock
Isaac Brock
Major-General Sir Isaac Brock KB was a British Army officer and administrator. Brock was assigned to Canada in 1802. Despite facing desertions and near-mutinies, he commanded his regiment in Upper Canada successfully for many years...

 sent a canoe party 1,200 miles (1,900 km) to confirm that a state of war existed. This party returned with an order to attack Fort Mackinac, then known as Fort Michilimackinac.

A miniature United States garrison of approximately sixty men under the command of Lieutenant Porter Hanks then manned Fort Mackinac. Although a diligent officer, Hanks had received no communication from his superiors for months.

On the morning of 17 July 1812, a combined British and Native American
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 force of seventy war canoes and ten bateaux under the command of British Captain Charles Roberts attacked Fort Mackinac. British Captain Roberts came from Fort St. Joseph (Ontario)
Fort St. Joseph (Ontario)
Fort St. Joseph is a former British outpost on the southernmost point of St. Joseph Island in Ontario, Canada, on Lake Huron. Situated on approximately 325 hectares along the St. Mary's River, Fort St. Joseph was the staging ground for the initial attack in the War of 1812...

 and landed on the north end of Mackinac Island, 2 miles (3 km) away from the fort. The British quietly removed the village inhabitants from their homes and trained two cannons at the fort. Surprise took American Lieutenant Hanks, who perceived his garrison badly outnumbered. The officers and men under Roberts numbered about two hundred; a few hundred Native Americans of various tribes supported him.

Fearing that the Native Americans on the British side would massacre his men and allies, American Lieutenant Hanks accepted the British offer of surrender without a fight. The British paroled the American forces, essentially allowing them to go free after swearing to not take up arms in the war again, and made the island inhabitants to swear an oath of allegiance as subjects of the United Kingdom. After capturing the island, the British under the command of Colonel Robert McDouall
Robert McDouall
Major-General Robert McDouall was a Scottish-born officer in the British Army, who saw much action during the Napoleonic Wars and the Anglo-American War of 1812...

 of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment built Fort George, a stockade and blockhouse on the highest point of the island. In an interesting epilogue to the capture of Fort Mackinac, Lieutenant Hanks made his way to Detroit and the American military post there. Upon his arrival, superiors charged him with cowardice in the quick and bloodless surrender of Fort Mackinac. Before court martial of Lieutenant Hanks could begin, however, British forces attacked Fort Detroit. A British cannonball apparently decapitated Lieutenant Hanks, and he certainly died in the battle.

United States Army Colonel George Croghan
George Croghan
George Croghan was an Irish-born Pennsylvania fur trader, Onondaga Council sachem, land speculator, British Indian agent in colonial America and, until accused of treason in 1777, Pittsburgh's president judge and Committee of Safety Chairman keeping the Ohio Indians neutral...

 and his superior General William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison was the ninth President of the United States , an American military officer and politician, and the first president to die in office. He was 68 years, 23 days old when elected, the oldest president elected until Ronald Reagan in 1980, and last President to be born before the...

 designed a large campaign to capture control of the Great Lakes and sever the fur trade alliance between the British and the tribes of the region; as part of this campaign, the Americans attempted to retake Mackinac Island in July 1814. The two-pronged campaign included an assault on Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Prairie du Chien is a city in and the county seat of Crawford County, Wisconsin, United States. The population was 5,911 at the 2010 census. Its Zip Code is 53821....

, on the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...


Battle of Mackinac Island (1814)

On 26 July 1814, a squadron of five United States ships arrived off the Mackinac Island, carrying a landing force of seven hundred soldiers under the command of American Colonel Croghan. This landing began Battle of Mackinac Island
Battle of Mackinac Island
The Battle of Mackinac Island was a British victory in the War of 1812. Before the war, Fort Mackinac had been an important American trading post in the straits between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron...

. To his dismay, Colonel Croghan discovered that the new British blockhouse stood too high for the naval guns to reach, forcing an unprotected assault on the wall of Fort George. The Americans shelled Fort George for two days with most shells falling harmlessly in vegetable gardens around the fort.

A dense fog forced the Americans back from Mackinac Island for a week. Major Andrew Holmes led the American forces in returning a week later; they assaulted the north end of the island near the location of the British assault in 1812. The Americans worked their way to the fort through dense woods, which Native American allies of the British protected, finally emerging into a clearing below Fort George.

British Colonel McDouall meanwhile placed a small force bearing muskets, rifles, and two field guns, behind low breastworks at the opposite end of the clearing. When the Americans emerged from the woods into the clearing, British guns easily targeted them. British warriors killed 13 Americans, including Major Holmes and two other officers, and wounded 51 Americans. The heavy losses compelled American Colonel Croghan to order his men to retreat back through the woods to the beach. The Americans then rowed back to their ships and retreated.

Later years

The American defeat in Battle of Mackinac Island left Mackinac Island in the hands of the British through the end of War of 1812. Following Treaty of Ghent
Treaty of Ghent
The Treaty of Ghent , signed on 24 December 1814, in Ghent , was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

, American forces reoccupied Fort Mackinac in July 1815. They renamed Fort George as Fort Holmes, in honor of Major Holmes, killed in the 1814 attack. After War of 1812, Fort Mackinac gradually declined in military significance. No longer needed as a front line border defense against the British in Canada, the fort instead took on the role of a strategic troop reserve. The Army essentially could deploy troops not needed elsewhere to Fort Mackinac until a need arose to transfer them to other locations of military importance. This arrangement led to the near-total abandonment of Fort Mackinac on numerous occasions. People also used the fort as a fur trading post.

On 6 June 1822, a fur trader named Alexis Saint Martin waited to trade in his furs when a gun accidentally discharged just inches from him, blowing a hole in his abdomen. The post surgeon, Doctor William Beaumont
William Beaumont
William Beaumont was a surgeon in the U.S. Army who became known as the "Father of Gastric Physiology" following his research on human digestion.-Early life:...

, attended to the man. Doctor Beaumont cared for the obviously doomed Saint Martin the best he could. To his surprise, the man apparently made a recovery. Doctor Beaumont took the man into his home and cared for him for several years. Saint Martin then healed despite a hole connecting his stomach to the outside world. Beaumont seized the opportunity and began observing and conducting experiments on the man. Through these experiments, Beaumont ably described digestion in detail and unlocked its mysteries. Doctor Beaumont wrote a book about his experiments and later became known as "The Father of Gastric Physiology."

The fort evolved into an important staging area for exploration of the northern Michigan Territory
Michigan Territory
The Territory of Michigan was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from June 30, 1805, until January 26, 1837, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Michigan...

, including the expedition in 1832 under the command of Lewis Cass
Lewis Cass
Lewis Cass was an American military officer and politician. During his long political career, Cass served as a governor of the Michigan Territory, an American ambassador, a U.S. Senator representing Michigan, and co-founder as well as first Masonic Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Michigan...

 to explore the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Henry Schoolcraft
Henry Schoolcraft
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft was an American geographer, geologist, and ethnologist, noted for his early studies of Native American cultures, as well as for his 1832 discovery of the source of the Mississippi River. He married Jane Johnston, whose parents were Ojibwe and Scots-Irish...

 held the post of Indian agent at Fort Mackinac for a time in the 1830s and conducted pioneering studies of the Native American languages and culture of the region.

During the Mexican-American War and for long periods during the Civil War, the Army left the care and upkeep of Fort Mackinac to an ordnance sergeant. Despite these periods of relative inactivity, the fort did manage to play a small role in the American Civil War, briefly acting as a prison for three Confederate political prisoners. Brought to the Mackinac Island and the fort during the summer months, these three men enjoyed relative freedom, guarded only by a volunteer militia. However, when faced with the prospect of enduring a long, harsh winter on the island, two of the prisoners signed loyalty oaths and obtained release. The third Confederate refused, and the Army ultimately transferred him to another post, thus ending brief role of Fort Mackinac in the war.

Seth Eastman in 1872 made an oil painting of Fort Mackinac, now part of the collection of the United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...


Mackinac National Park

From 1875 to 1895, Mackinac National Park
Mackinac National Park
Mackinac National Park was a U.S. national park that existed from 1875 to 1895 on Mackinac Island in northern Michigan making it the second National Park in the United States after Yellowstone National Park in the Rocky Mountains. The 1,044 acre park was created in response to the growing...

, the second national park in the United States after Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, is a national park located primarily in the U.S. state of Wyoming, although it also extends into Montana and Idaho...

, included Fort Mackinac and much of Mackinac Island. During the national park years, the troops stationed at Mackinac acted as park rangers. The Army tasked these men with maintaining and policing the park, so they spent much time cutting new roads and footpaths through the park and performing other mundane tasks. A mood of progressivism then apparently prevailed at the fort, as the Army constructed a bathhouse (in which every man at the fort was required to bathe at least once a week), a post toilet (complete with flush toilets), and a post canteen (where the men could read current magazines, play pool, and most importantly buy beer and wine) to boost morale and truly make Fort Mackinac a "desirable station." Soldiers, however, did not ignore military duties as the troops drilled on the parade ground and took target practice at least once a week on either a 600- or 1000-yard rifle range. The skills learned and honed at the fort, seemingly trivial at a peaceful post such Mackinac, later proved important for many troops at later postings in the still-dangerous American West.

State administration

In 1895, Congress closed Fort Mackinac and Mackinac National Park and gave the fort and park to the State of Michigan, which created Mackinac Island State Park, the first state park in Michigan. The semi-autonomous Mackinac Island State Park Commission in 1895 began governing Fort Mackinac and the other surrounding historic sites on or near Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is an island and resort area covering in land area, part of the U.S. state of Michigan. It is located in Lake Huron, at the eastern end of the Straits of Mackinac, between the state's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The island was home to a Native American settlement before European...

: Colonial Michilimackinac, Historic Mill Creek, The Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, and Mackinac Island State Park. The Governor of Michigan
Governor of Michigan
The Governor of Michigan is the chief executive of the U.S. State of Michigan. The current Governor is Rick Snyder, a member of the Republican Party.-Gubernatorial elections and term of office:...

] appoints the Commission, which then meets many times during the course of a year to govern Mackinac State Historic Parks. The commission and historic parks preserve, protect, and present the rich and natural history of Mackinac Island and the Straits area.

In the 1950s, Mackinac Island State Park Commission developed a new way of financing its park, based on the system that financed the Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac Bridge
The Mackinac Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Straits of Mackinac to connect the non-contiguous Upper and Lower peninsulas of the U.S. state of Michigan. Opened in 1957, the bridge is the third longest in total suspension in the world and the longest suspension bridge between anchorages...

. Michigan financed construction of Mackinac Bridge through revenue bonds repaid from the later cash flow of the bridge after it opened in 1957. Mackinac Island State Park Commission modified this idea to park restoration purposes, with Fort Mackinac admission fees serving as the cash flow. More than three-fourths of budget of Mackinac Island State Park Commission
Mackinac Island State Park Commission
The Mackinac Island State Park Commission is an appointed board of the State of Michigan that administers state parklands in the Straits of Mackinac area. It performs public activities under the name Mackinac State Historic Parks...

 now comes from admission fees and other self-generated cash flow. Most United States parks-and-recreation agencies instead depend upon public subsidies. Mackinac Island State Park Commission operates one of the largest parks in United States that generates a significant majority of its own operating budget.

The Fort today

The current museum at the park includes 14 historic buildings.

Today, Fort Mackinac stands as a popular tourist destination. Situated on 150 foot bluffs above the beautiful Straits of Mackinac
Straits of Mackinac
The Straits of Mackinac is the strip of water that connects two of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and separates the Lower Peninsula of Michigan from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is a shipping lane providing passage for raw materials and finished goods, connecting, for...

, it is one of the few surviving American Revolutionary War forts and one of the most complete early forts in the country. In 2005, Fort Mackinac celebrated 225 years standing guard over Mackinac Island.

During the main tourism summer months (June through August), visitors ascend into a bustle of activity within the old British-built stone walls of old Fort Mackinac after entering its weathered gates. Costumed interpreters then greet visitors, portray life in the 1880s, answer questions, pose for pictures, and lead tours throughout the day. Some of these "soldiers" carry original 45-70 Springfield Model 1873
Springfield Model 1873
The Model 1873 "Trapdoor" Springfield was the first standard-issued breech-loading rifle adopted by the United States Army...

, the type used at the fort during the 1880s. Others still play music or just simply greet and mingle with the crowds of visitors.
The second largest cannon regularly demonstrated on the Great Lakes, the 1841 model six-pounder, positioned just as it would have been during the attack and bombardment of Fort Mackinac in the War of 1812, fires many times during the day. Activities also include rifle firings, court martial re-enactments, and even dances of the type done during the early days of Fort Mackinac with many musicians providing music.

Extant buildings

There are 14 original buildings standing on the site as well, including:
1. Commissary Building: Once used for food storage; today houses a video program.
2. Post Headquarters: Used for the paymaster and offices.
3. Quartermaster's Storehouse: Held any and all equipment needed by the soldiers during the Fort's history.
4. Post Bathhouse: The newest building, built in 1885, housing 6 baths for the soldiers comfort.
5. Soldiers Barracks: Used to house the 100+ soldiers stationed there, but today houses a museum and the gift shop called the Sutler's Store.
6. Post Schoolhouse: Where the soldiers went in the last years of Fort Mackinac's military existence to become better educated.
7. Hill Quarters: Many Lieutenants lived within these walls, notice the difference from the Barracks.
8. Post Hospital: Where the post doctor/surgeon treated patients until a new hospital was built in 1860.
9. Officer's Stone Quarters: Michigan's oldest building (1780) and used to house officers. Today holds the Kids Quarters and the Tea Room. Operated by the Grand Hotel
Grand Hotel (Mackinac Island)
The Grand Hotel is a historic hotel and coastal resort located on Mackinac Island, Michigan, a small island located at the eastern end of the Straits of Mackinac within Lake Huron between the state's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Constructed in the late 19th century, the facility advertises itself as...

, the Tea Room offers light lunches and exquisite dinners eaten on the Fort's primary veranda overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, Marquette Park, and the town below.
10. Wood Quarters: Used for various purposes over the life of the building, including officers' quarters and a post canteen that served Schlitz beer, but no whiskey.
11. Post Guardhouse: Prisoners had been held on this site for over a century.
12-14: North, East, and West Blockhouses: Stone towers built by the first Americans garrisoning Fort Mackinac standing like restless sentinels, watching over the three main palisades of Fort Mackinac.

See also

U.S. Constitution, British held onto Fort Mackinac

External links