Friday, July 20, 2018

Colonial Michigan: Mackinac and Detroit - There Are Stories to Tell

Many do not realize that my home state of Michigan has quite the colorful colonial past that seemingly has been all but ignored by national historians. I suppose many 'frontier' states can say this...but over the years I have tried to help rectify this by posting a number of articles about the history of Michigan as well as my birthplace of  Detroit. And by researching and digging deeper into the earlier times of this area, I am finding that Michigan has a much richer colonial past than most would believe, though it is quite different when compared to the eastern states however. 
So, what I have put together for this post is only a brief overview of a portion in time of Michigan's history. The information herein I snatched from various books, magazine articles, and web sites. The intention is to give a basic understanding of the role Michigan played in the earlier years of the European settling of this great frontier country, including details of the far-reaching French & Indian War and the Revolutionary War
There are stories to tell (some of which would make for excellent movies, by the way) and I hope this will help to bring a few of them to light.

                                                                              ~   ~   ~

Michigan map 1669
Before the European explorers and settlers arrived in "Meicigama" (Ojibwa for "large or great water"), there were numerous Indian tribes who called the area their home, including the Chippewa (Ojibwa), Miami, Sauk, Wyandotte, Ottawa, Huron, Potawatomi, and a number of others who were spread out across the land.
In the early 1600s the waterways were explored by the Europeans who came here, though it was Father Jacques Marquette who founded the first permanent European-based settlement up in Sault Ste. Marie in 1668. Three years later, he founded St. Ignace, at the bottom of the upper peninsula. It was also the French who, in 1715, built Fort Michilimackinac at the tip of the lower peninsula, eventually founding Mackinaw City.
Voyageurs with the Woodland Cree Native
As more and more explorers came to this area, many began to intermingle well with the local natives and were known as French Voyageurs. Though they were of French origin, this group of explorers did not come directly from France. Rather, they came from the large French settlements in Montreal and Quebec. The Voyageurs were a group of adventurers who are unique to the Great Lakes region of Michigan, as well as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario, Canada, and they bought, sold and traded animal fur and pelts. They adapted the Indian-style canoes and bateaux (a small, flat-bottomed rowboat used on rivers) to move their furs, as well as using sailboats. Besides fur trading, the Voyageurs were also missionaries and explorers. They built earthen huts and farmed "strip farms," which were long pieces of land beginning at the narrow end near the lake and extended inland for about a half mile with a width of about 500 feet. In this way they were able to take full advantage of the natural waterways surrounding Michigan.
Throughout most of the long, dreary winter months, Fort Michilimackinac was ice-bound and cut off from communication with the main settlements of Montreal and Quebec, and those who lived there were long without word from "neighboring" posts at Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie. Because of this desolate detachment filled with monotony, it was not a popular post to be stationed at.
In the summer months, however, the Michilimackinac population would swell (much as it does with vacationers today), for Voyageurs and traders would arrive from Montreal and points east, creating a busy business district, while other trappers and traders would come to meet them from the interior part of the state, as well as hundreds of Native Americans.
All made for quite a place for commerce and social relations.
Fort Michilimackinac
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 Pennsylvania.
They may have beaten George Washington, who was little known at the time, but they couldn't hold their own fort. In 1761 the French relinquished Fort Michilimackinac to the British, who would soon assume control of Canada as a result of their victory in the French and Indian War.
However, the French civilian community remained at the fort and, as the story goes, encouraged the Native Americans to drive out the English.
And the Natives were happy to do so, for they were none-too-happy with the "new management"; one of the first changes with regard to Indian affairs was that goods and provisions were no longer freely dispensed to them as a way of obtaining their cooperation. Goods were distributed only in exchange for valued commodities. This created some conflicts with the Indian nations. In 1763, the Ottawa leader Pontiac led an alliance of Indian nations in the Ohio Valley in a war of resistance against the British.
June 1763: Playing baaga’adowe (aka lacrosse)
It was in June 1763, when, as a part of the larger Pontiac’s War, a group of Ojibwa and possibly Sauk gathered outside of Fort Michilimackinac and started to play a game of lacrosse (baaga’adowe). A crowd quickly gathered to watch the fast-paced, spirited game. As the audience watched the sport, several women with guns hidden under their blankets wandered into the fort. The lacrosse ball was sent soaring toward the gate and the Indian players followed it. The British didn't think twice about this until the Indians, finding their opportunity, rushed into the fort. Taking the guns from the women, the Indians quickly killed and/or captured the British soldiers. The French-Canadians at the Fort were not touched.
The Indians held onto the fort for a year before the British regained it. In taking the fort back, the British promised to offer a better supply of gifts to the Indians.
Robert Rogers
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 unit called Rogers' Rangers during the French and Indian war. At first, French-Canadians and their Indian allies were very effective by using guerrilla tactics against the British Regulars. To counter the French tactics, Robert Rogers raised companies of New England frontiersmen for the British and trained them in woodcraft, scouting, and, without a fixed method of warfare, sent them on raids along the frontiers of French Canada. The Rangers soon gained a considerable reputation, particularly in the campaigning in upstate New York around Fort Ticonderoga and Lake Champlain. They also launched a long-range raid to destroy Indian allies in the St. Lawrence valley, gained the first lodgement in the landings on Cape Breton to capture Louisburg, and took the surrender of the French outposts in the Upper Great Lakes at the conclusion of the war.
Then, of course, came the Revolutionary War. Though Michigan and the Mackinac region did not play a major role, the British eventually determined that the wooden fort on the mainland was too vulnerable. In 1781 they built a limestone fort on nearby Mackinac Island, and the buildings from Fort Michilimackinac were dismantled and moved to the new fort over a period of two years, including the Church of Ste. Anne de Michilimackinac, which was built in 1743.
Those parish records are still preserved at Ste Anne Catholic Church on Mackinac Island, by the way.
Now known as Fort Mackinac, it was apparently also initially named Fort Michilimackinac.
The British held the outpost throughout the American Revolutionary War, but abandoned it in 1783, after the Americans gained independence of their thirteen colonies. Despite the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783), which included  the Straits of Mackinac within the boundaries of the United States, the British did not officially relinquish the fort to the United States until 1796.
The site of the fort in present-day Mackinaw City is a National Historic Landmark and is now preserved as an open-air historical museum.

Now, let's make our way south, via Lake Huron, on the ship, The Welcome, as the Revolutionary War rages on:
A replica of The Welcome (from THIS page)
Amid the political history of the Revolution, the sailing ship, Welcome, seems like a mere speck on Lake Huron, a simple courier of letters and passengers. But the ship forged connections between Michilimackinac, Detroit, Fort Erie, and all the scattered communities and individuals in between.
The sloop Welcome was constructed in 1774 at Michilimackinac as a private trading vessel by John Askin, who came to America as a member of the Highland Regiment shortly after the British conquest of Canada. He served in the French and Indian War, and upon its termination remained to enter into a trading partnership with Major Robert Rogers. Although the partnership soon failed, Askin entered aggressively into the Indian trade and was soon one of the leading merchants of the Upper Country with his operations extending from Montreal on the east to the farthest reaches of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron on the west and south. Askin had a small fleet of merchant sailing vessels of various sizes with Welcome and a sister ship being the largest.
On June 27, 1778 the ship was purchased by the British military for £900, and it was converted to an armed sloop. The crew consisted of 12 sailors and 12 soldiers. The British used Lake Huron strategically, distributing provisions, ferrying troops, transporting Indians, relaying reassuring or chastising messages, and harvesting resources.
In 1779, Welcome was commanded by Lieutenant George Clowes and was sent to supply the British Fort St. Joseph, near present day Niles, Michigan. A British and Indian force was assembled there in the belief that General George Rogers Clark was planning to lead an invasion of rebels from Illinois against that fort and northward to Michilimackinac. This action did not come to pass. The British continued to occupy the fort at old Michilimackinac up through the early part of the American Revolution.
In 1781, Welcome was used to assist in the movement of people and materials from old fort Mackinaw to the new fort on Mackinac Island when the British, as mentioned earlier, felt that the wooden fort on the mainland was too vulnerable..
The natives of the lake shore – whether French, British, Indian, or mixed ancestry  – had no reason to go to war against the British and seemed to remain somewhat nuetral. The crew on Welcome helped maintain the prewar status quo. Sometimes the war was on their minds, but, most days, they sailed and worked without any fear of Patriot or Indian rebellion. The security of the Great Lakes worried some British authorities, but for men aboard the Welcome and people around Lake Huron, this was home. To many, home seemed to be becoming more British. When the time came at the end of the war to draw the borders of a new country, the Lakes became the division between the United States and British Canada. The Welcome, as much as any other part of the Revolution on the Great Lakes, had helped solidify the British loyalty that created this border.
This information about The Welcome comes from The Journal of the American Revolution web site as well as the Maritime Heritage Alliance website. I blended the two writings together to give a more tight and cohesive note on this Great Lakes adventure.

~Colonial Detroit ~
New York (New Amsterdam), NY 1625
Boston, MA 1630
Charleston, SC 1670
Philadelphia, PA 1682
*Detroit, Mi 1701
Trenton, NJ 1719
Concord, NH 1725
Baltimore, Md 1729
Richmond, VA 1733

The above list shows the years these well-known colonial American cities were founded. And right smack dab in the middle is Detroit.
Wait! Detroit? A colonial city?
Yup. Ha! It's even older than Baltimore, and only 19 years younger than Philadelphia!
So let's go back to the beginning...to it's French roots.
Here's a very brief history of early Detroit from Wikipedia:
The city name comes from the Detroit River (French: l'√©troit du Lac Erie), meaning the strait of Lake Erie, linking Lake Huron and Lake Erie. In the historical context, the strait included Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River.
In 1674, Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle was given command of Fort Frontenac (located at present site of City of Kingston, Ontario). On May 12, 1678, La Salle was given King Louis' permission to continue the explorations of Louis Joliet and Father Marquette. Specifically, he was to descend the Mississippi River and find a port on the Gulf of Mexico.
Le Griffon - from an old woodcut
In 1679, near Black Rock (near Niagara) La Salle built a ship called the Griffon. On August 10, La Salle sailed the Griffon through the Detroit River, possibly to the future site of Detroit, to pick up his Lieutenant, Henri de Tonty. There he reported seeing a Huron Indian village and evidence of previous visits by Jesuits and coureurs de bois. The Griffon is the first known ship to sail the Detroit River.
In September 1679, the Griffon (without La Salle) and her crew were lost in Lake Michigan after encountering a storm.
But it was while sailing up the Detroit River on Le Griffon that Father Louis Hennepin noted the north bank of the river as an ideal location for a settlement. There, on July 24, 1701, the French officer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, along with 51 additional French-Canadians, founded a settlement called Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit, naming it after the comte de Pontchartrain. Under Louis XIV, France offered free land to attract families to Detroit, which grew to 800 people in 1765, the largest city between Montreal and New Orleans. Francois Marie Picot√©, sieur de Belestre (Montreal 1719–1793) was the last French military commander at Fort Detroit (1758–1760), surrendering the fort on November 29, 1760 to the British. Detroit's city flag reflects this French heritage. 
Joseph Campau built this house before 1760 - his farm consisted mostly of fruit trees.
The church was built for use of the people who lived along the Detroit River.

~Detroit During the French and Indian War~
Chief Pontiac
During the French and Indian War (1754 to 1763), British troops gained control and shortened the name from Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit to just 'Detroit.' This occurred in 1760. It was in 1763 that several Indian tribes, led by Chief Pontiac, the Ottawa leader, launched Pontiac's Rebellion, and this included  a siege of Fort Detroit, as well as Michilimackinac, as noted earlier. The rebellion against Detroit occurred on May 7 when Pontiac, with a force of 300 warriors, attempted to capture Fort Detroit by surprise. However, the British commander was aware of Pontiac's plan and his garrison was armed and ready. Undaunted, Pontiac went ahead and laid siege to the fort two days later. Eventually more than 900 Indian warriors from a half-dozen tribes joined the siege of Fort Detroit where a number of British soldiers and civilians were killed or captured. French colonists were left alone.
Upon hearing this news, Robert Rogers (of Roger's Rangers fame) offered his services to General Amherst. Rogers then accompanied Captain Dalyell with a relief force to Fort Detroit.
Their ill-fated mission was terminated at the Battle of Bloody Run (current site of Elmwood cemetery now a part of Downtown Detroit) on July 21, 1763 when, in an attempt to break Pontiac’s siege of Fort Detroit, about 250 British troops, led by Dalyell and Rogers, attempted a surprise attack on Pontiac's encampment. However, Pontiac was ready — supposedly alerted by French settlers — and defeated the British at Parent's Creek two miles north of the fort. The creek was said to have run red with the blood of the 20 dead and 34 wounded British soldiers and was henceforth known as Bloody Run. Captain James Dalyell was one of those killed.
However, the situation at the fort itself remained a stalemate, and Pontiac’s influence among his followers began to wane. Groups of Indians began to abandon the siege, some of them making peace with the British before departing. On October 31, 1763, finally convinced that the French in Illinois would not come to his aid, Pontiac lifted the siege and traveled south to the Maumee River, where he continued his efforts to rally resistance against the British.
Soon after these events, Pontiac's rebellion collapsed and Chief Pontiac himself faded away into obscurity and death.    
Partially in response to this, the British Royal Proclamation of 1763 included restrictions on white settlement in Indian territories. 

 ~ Detroit During the Revolutionary War ~
Detroit was not directly involved in the American Revolution in the strictest sense; it was, instead, a strategic stronghold for the British in North America, housing American prisoners of war. It also served, as it had with the French a generation earlier, as an important staging area for Indian raiding parties. Although the Indians had risen in revolt against the British in 1763, a decade later they understood that an independent thirteen colonies disposed to aggressively settle western lands was far more of a threat to them. Indeed, the British government since 1763 had made significant efforts to limit white settlement and mollify tribal sentiment.
Henry Hamilton
During the war colonists felt particular animosity toward the British command at Detroit because of the activities of Henry Hamilton, the city's lieutenant governor and military commander. Hamilton not only supplied arms and ammunition for Indian raiding parties but also agreed to pay a bounty for scalps. Kentuckians, who were the particular victims of this policy, labeled him "the hair buyer" and loathed him. It seems to have mattered little that Hamilton did not actively encourage scalping, and was in fact following orders from above. Other British officers in the region also implemented the same policy, but Kentuckians characterized Hamilton as a war criminal. George Rogers Clark, a Kentucky militia officer, eventually persuaded the Americans to undertake a daring plan to put an end to Hamilton's raiding parties by capturing various British outposts in the West. After Clark won several initial victories, Hamilton personally led an expedition from Detroit to stop the upstart Kentuckian. The British expedition failed, however, and in 1779 Clark captured Hamilton at Vincennes. Hamilton spent the rest of the war as a prisoner in Williamsburg, Virginia, while Clark's victory created a new military situation in the West. According to Hamilton's own account, a-waiting him in Williamsburg was "a considerable Mob (that had) gather'd about us." The governor of Williamsburg, Patrick Henry (yes, that 'give me liberty or give me death' Patrick Henry!) ordered that Hamilton be shackled in the gaol (jail).
As a result of Hamilton's defeat, several of the Indian tribes' loyalty to the British wavered. The Odawa and Chippewa announced their neutrality in the war. The Wyandot, camped near Detroit, announced that they planned to seek a peace treaty with the Americans. The British garrison in Detroit, worried over losing their Indian allies and fearing attack by Clark, decided to abandon the old French fort. They built a new fortress on a hill located behind the town which they believed gave them superior military advantage. The new bastion was named Fort Lernoult after Captain Richard Lernoult, who had succeeded Hamilton as commander in Detroit. It was designed to withstand an attack by an enemy equipped with cannon, a concern that Cadillac, who saw the fort's primary responsibility as resisting Indian warriors, had not taken into consideration when he placed the original fort along the river.
In October of 1779, Colonel Arent Schuyler de Peyster assumed command of Fort Detroit, after Lernoult was sent to Niagra. de Peyster continued the practice of sending raiding parties into Kentucky. He and his wife took an active part in the social life of Detroit during their stay. In dealing with the Indians, he expressed his displeasure at their tactics and urged them to bring in more prisoners and less scalps. During the coarse of the war, over 500 prisoners, including Daniel Boone (a distant relative of mine!), were held at Detroit.
With the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781, fighting on the east coast came to a halt. The war in the west continued, with skirmishes occurring throughout the Ohio Valley, while peace talks were held in Paris. 
The above italicized print came from David Lee Poremba's book called "Detroit: A Motor City History," a fascinating and easy read that doesn't become over-wrought with minute political details to drag it down. I highly recommend it for the reader who would rather choose something a bit lighter rather than a more deeper serious tome.

~Detroit in the Late 18th Century~
Welcome to Detroit...late 18th century
With the war ended, Detroit was included in the territory awarded to the new United States, and continued to grow larger in size, with more settlers and farmers entering the frontier. 
It's also in Poremba's book that I have found some contemporary descriptions of the citizens of Detroit as well as the surrounding land in an official report written by Captain Henry Hamilton on September 2, 1776, that is most likely apt to be the same after the war. Here are a few snippets from that letter
"The new settlers manage their farms to the last advantage."
"The river is plentifully stocked with fish."
"Hunting and fowling afford food to numbers who are nearly as lazy as the savage."
"The soil is so good that the most ignorant farmers raise good crops."
"There is no limit to the number of traders here."
And the group of citizens who made up this growing village were, as Joseph Moore, a Quaker visitor from Philadelphia, quite diverse, as seen in his remarks from 1793, "The inhabitants of the town are as great a mixture, I think, as ever I knew in any one place. English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch (German), French, Americans from different states, with black and yellow, and seldom clear of Indians of different tribes in the daytime."
As David Lee Poremba writes: The town continued to be a center for commercial activity as the fur trade was still prospering. Detroit was well supplied with taverns and stores where travelers could lodge, quench their thirst, and trade their goods.
There were coopers, blacksmiths, and, as mentioned, storekeepers and tavern keepers. 
Taverns were the pulse of 18th century urban life, and their importance to the local community cannot be overstated. The main difference from today to an 18th century tavern is that the colonial taverns were also usually a stage coach stop for travelers; a patron could spend the night and eat breakfast, dinner, and supper, should the need arise. Taverns were also the main source of information for the locals.
Alice Morse Earle wrote in her 1901 book Stage Coach and Tavern Days: "Though today somewhat shadowed by a formless reputation of being frequently applied to hostelries of vulgar resort and coarse fare & ways, the word "tavern" is neverless a good one..."
These "publick houses" (or 'ordinaries,' as they were also known) have played an important part in social, political, and even military life, though we see them taking more of a back seat in their role in our Nation's history.
Detroit's first known taverns appeared right around 1760. 
Typically, a large house known by sign and reputation was opened to the public by its owner, who, as mentioned, offered food, drink, and lodging for a fee. The owner's family usually lived on the premises and worked the business. The fact that taverns do not appear in the records until, nearer the end of the 18th century, should not lead to the assumption that Detroit did not have these 'publick houses.' Detroit founder Antoine Cadillac summoned a brewer from Montreal soon after his arrival in 1701, and wines were an important part of every cargo arriving on the frontier. 
But it was William Forsyth's tavern, which opened in 1771, that was the first on record. It was located approximately at the southwest corner of today's Jefferson Avenue and Washington Boulevard.
Paying the tavern wench (or bar maid) for my drink.
No, this is not William Forsth's tavern. 
Nor is it a replication, for there are no images of any kind of that very first known 'publick house' in Detroit. But it does give an appearance of one from the time, does it not? 
Forsyth was a former soldier who had served in the Sixtieth Regiment of Foot and was wounded at the Battle of Quebec. It was common for retired British soldiers to be entrusted with tavern licenses. This worked well for him in Detroit for most of his clientele were most likely fellow military men. 
Forsyth soon had competition; by 1796 there were at least five other taverns in the village.
When Americans took charge of Detroit in 1796, loyalties were tested. Forsyth was the first to put his tavern up for sale, as did others. But many English residents stayed remained and, due to a clause in the Treaty of Paris, retained their British citizenship.
(The above William Foryth's tavern information came directly from an article written by Joel S. Stone that was published in the March/April 2008 issue of Michigan History Magazine)

And here's some descriptions from primary sources of everyday life in the late 18th century on the streets of old Detroit (taken from the book "Michigan Voices" by Joe Grimm:
The first I have here are of two offenses by a couple of residents: Two cows belonging to Mr. Wm. Scott were found in the street, and a Mr. G. McDougal left his cart in the street all night. Also, a number of hogs are running in the street daily, to the great detriment of the public.
Speaking of streets, they tended to be in just as bad a shape in the 1790's as they are today:
The street opposite the church was in bad order, and there was a log missing in front of George Leith & Co. And poor Mr. Hand had no logs at all in front of his house!
Neighbor troubles are nothing new, just ask the local tanner, Mr. George Setchelsteil. He was assaulted while on horseback by Simon Girty. It seems Mr. Girty seized Setchelsteil's horse by the bridal, making use of abusive words in doing so. Mr. Setchelsteil found some means to turn his horse away and was able to distance himself from Mr. Girty. Girty, however, was throwing stones at the man, one of which struck him in the head and gave him a wound from which much blood gushed out. Setchelsteil claimed there was no provocation given to cause this.
Ah, city life. Not much has changed, eh?
(Though Simon Girty had made a name for himself - click HERE to read about him)
A contemporary (of the time) sketch made of Detroit in 1794
Also, according to David Lee Poremba, "There is mention of slaves in the early censuses of Detroit, (but) it is difficult to determine the racial origin of them. Those French inhabitants who could afford them generally purchased slaves from the Indians. Slaves were taken from rival Indian tribes  and from plantations as far away as Virginia, and they were obviously red or black. Among the slave holders were Joseph Campeau, George McDougall, and John Askin. Several slaves were sold at auction in Detroit, and some were purchased in Montreal.
The practice of owning slaves lasted until the early part of the 1800's."

Looking into the future, in 1805 a fire destroyed most of the settlement. A river warehouse and brick chimneys of the wooden homes were the sole structures to survive.

~

While this is no large history lesson on my state's involvement in the wars and life of the 18th century, I hope you were able to get a glance of its past, for, as you can see, Detroit played an interesting role in the history of our nation - much more important than let on by the well-known history books. I find it unfortunate that the local schools rarely, if ever, speak of Detroit's role in the two important 18th century wars.
Even Detroit itself seems to have forgotten its pre-Civil War past. And that is such a shame.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed this little summary of my local history as it played out on the National stage. I know each area/territory of our great country has stories to tell, and I wish we could read and hear more of such wonderful history. They give such a more well-rounded look at our past.

Until next time, see you in time.

(portions of the above lacrosse/uprising account comes from THIS page)
Also, some of the information about Detroit during the Rev War came from THIS page and THIS page

Besides Michigan Voices" by Joe Grimm and David Lee Poremba's book Detroit: A Motor City History I also found snippets from Pictorial History of Michigan by George S. May.

And HERE is a more in-depth history of Detroit I wrote a while back.















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