Saturday, November 10, 2012

Colonial Michilimackinac - Part I

After leaving the Caro area of Michigan, where we had been staying with some relatives we headed north-east.  One of my cousins offered to let us stay at their vacation cabin for a couple days.  Originally we'd been planning to camp near Mackinac, but Amy really liked the idea of the cabin and rain was forecast for the days we'd be in the area.  We ended up enjoying a beautiful afternoon at the cabin and I took Amy canoeing for the first time (her first time out anyway).

The next day we drove north towards Mackinac and stopped in the shadow of the Mackinac Bridge at Colonial Michilimackinac.  We decided not to visit Mackinac Island, partly because the ferry cost made us realized that we wanted to spend more time on the island than just part of one day if we were going to have to pay a good deal to get there.  I figure we'll go back on another trip and perhaps even spend some time on the island.

The original French settlement was located on the north side of the straits (between lakes Michigan and Huron), in the Upper Peninsula near modern St. Ignace.  Fort de Buade was built by the French to protect their mission and settlement about 1690.  By 1698 the fort had been abandoned as the French retreated (due to the depressed fur trade).  Years later they returned, but this time located on the southern side of the straights at Mackinac.

Hoping to stabilize Indian relations and to prevent English intrusions from Hudson’s Bay, Governor Philippe de Rigaud Vaudreuil dispatched Constant Le Marchand de Lignery to Michilimackinac in 1712. Lignery, however, had no troops and could not control the forty coureurs de bois trading there. He did issue a few trade licenses to demonstrate the government’s authority. 
Lignery probably began building the new fort after twenty French troops reached Michilimackinac in 1715. He erected the post on the south side of the Straits near the Ottawa, who had recently moved their village to cultivate new fields. Following close behind, the Jesuits re-established the mission of St. Ignace de Michilimackinac.
--from Mackinac, A Brief History of Michilimackinac section

The visitor center is located directly under the bridge approach.

You can see this a bit easier from further away.

Beautiful flowers were planted out front.
I thought that this kids play area looked rather neat.
Just outside the forts walls we saw this replicated Indian encampment.  I think there might have been someone here later--we certainly did see a fire--but it was raining so we didn't stop to see if anyone was truly around.
We continued under the trees until we reached the fort itself.
For some strange reason I can't find a picture of the outside of the fort, but at least I can show you a view inside the water gate.
The wooden palisade walls of Michilimackinac, 18 feet tall, protected the military and civilian community within. Two entrances allowed movement in and out of the fort. The Water Gate, situated just a few yards from the shore of Lake Michigan on the north side of the fort, allowed voyageurs and other traders to bring their furs and goods directly inside from their birch bark canoes.
--from Virtual Mackinac
If you look back out of the gate you can see the lake not too far out of the gate.

Michilimackinac was the major depot for the northwestern fur trade. Large canoes, weighted down with brandy, trade goods, and munitions, arrived from Montreal. Traders and voyageurs carried this merchandise on to Indian customers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ontario, and beyond. Many traders, known as hivernants, spent the winter among Indian hunting camps. In spring, they brought their furs to Michilimackinac for shipment to Montreal. At the Straits, they rendezvoused with their friends and recent arrivals from Montreal and spent their wages in a few days of wild celebration. 
Since most traders wintered among the Indians, few Frenchmen lived at Michilimackinac all year. In 1749, only ten families and a garrison of about twenty soldiers resided at the fort. Few bothered to raise vegetables. Instead, they subsisted on corn, deer or moose grease, and fish purchased from Indians. Winters, when ice made canoe travel impractical, were long, cold, and lonely.
--from Mackinac, A Brief History of Michilimackinac section

Once inside the gate there were a good number of buildings visible.
As we walked towards the back of the fort we noticed a garden and a new building (it can be seen on the left of the picture below).
As one of the longest ongoing archaeological excavations in the northern hemisphere, archaeologists are onsite throughout the summer, pulling history from the soil, bit-by-bit, and answering questions about the important work of piecing together history.
--from Colonial Michilimackinac brochure
As mentioned above there are excavations inside the fort every year, and they have been going on for decades.  After an area is thoroughly excavated a new structure may be erected based upon what was discovered.  Right now a rowhouse is being constructed in the south-southwest corner of the fort.  It was started in late 2011 and scheduled to open in the summer of 2013.

There were still a few fruits and vegetables in the garden.  I'm not sure if they are harvested for any use or just left as they grow.
The juxtaposition of the bridge and the fort was quite interesting.
I believe this was the commander's quarters.
We didn't look around too long before it was time for the musket demonstration.

I took video during the demonstration with my camera, it runs a bit long, but was very interesting.

I was able to take a few pictures with my iPhone while I was recording with the camera.  I didn't manage to get any shots with smoke from the guns visible however.

After the demonstration we took a short tour of the fort with one of the reenactors, but I'll save that for the next post.


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