Fort Michilimackinac was originally established by the French in 1691 where the town of St. Ignace, Michigan now stands. It was continued there for six years and then removed to Detroit. In 1714 it was moved to the place which is now Mackinac City. In 1759 all this upper lake country was taken over by the English and was occupied by them for a score of years. This fort was merely a stockade of timbers and the English garrison felt very uneasy there when the American Revolution was in full progress. This portion of the country known as Michilimackinac was at that time the envy of many nations; and great wealth and power were in this northern section to which Mackinac Island was the key. The fortune of the fur industry was there and later was to be realized as the greatest copper and iron mines in the world, to say nothing of the vast forests.
After sufficient pressure was brought to bear orders were given for the fort to be removed to Mackinac Island. Major Sinclair thought the island an excellent place for a fort with its advantageous position, its abundant forests, its wonderful water and its good harbor; consequently, in 1790 the fine block-houses were built, a government house and a few other buildings were erected and the English troops took possession. This new fort was declared as a part of our settlement at the close of the war but a settlement which the British were very slow in making, and their reluctance is not to be wondered at.
When we think of the American Revolutionary War we think of Valley Forge, Bunker Hill, Lexington, Concord and Yorktown. Our thoughts automatically travel those sacred places in the east; we are not about to dwell upon Mackinac Island in Michigan. And yet the giving over of Mackinac Island to us by the British was the last act of the Revolutionary War and our final victory. We waited, however, for thirteen years before the transfer was made. The English were loath to surrender this jewel of the straits, and made use of every possible technicality to procrastinate and put off the day, when, at last, the Stars and Stripes should he seen floating front the old block-house. But with his characteristic breadth of vision and pains-taking detail, President Washington was not to let this slip nor be overlooked in any way.
When the treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 and all this upper lake country was secured. Great Britain was supposed to withdraw her troops "with all convenient speed". Washington promptly sent Baron von Steuben to Montreal to receive the forts from Gen. Haldimand; but the General made excuses that he had no orders from his government to hand them over. Gen. Knox was sent on this errand, also Col. Hull, and our minister to England, John Adams, insisted on the terms of the treaty being immediately carried out-but to no avail. Great Britain made excuses, and argued that the Americans had not carried out some details stipulated as their part in the treaty; and thus the case was unsettled for a long, long time. It was not until another treaty came about, the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation, that the forts were evacuated and turned over to the United States Government. George Washington said in his address to Congress in December, 1796:
"The period during the late session, at which the appropriation was passed for carrying into effect the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation, between the United States and his Britannic Majesty, necessarily procrastinated the reception of the posts stipulated to be delivered, beyond the date assigned for that event." He adds: "As soon, however, as the Governor General of Canada could be addressed with propriety on the subject, arrangements were cordially and promptly concluded for their evacuation and the United States took possession of them comprehending Oswego, Niagara, Detroit, Michilimackinac and Ft. Miami."
When the war of 1812 was upon us, just sixteen years after the British had given over the island with its splendid new block-houses to us, to recover them was one of the very first moves made by England. The British landed unseen at three o'clock one morning on the northwest side of the island, known to this very day as British Landing. They planted their cannon on higher ground than that occupied by the fort. And with some Indian allies of the woods they firmly established themselves. This was the situation at daybreak. Our troops found themselves unprepared for resistance, for through some mistake or negligence which has never been determined upon, word had failed to reach the American Commandant that the United States and England were again at war. Resistance being utterly useless the English flag was again raised at the fort. This was the first stroke of the war and the fort was held by England until 1815 when by the Treaty of Ghent it again became ours and has remained so ever since.
Mackinac Island has been voted by the Michigan Society D.A.R. as Michigan's most historic spot.
---Hazel Fenton Schermerhorn