Sidebar 20: Colonial Michilimackinac, Michigan - Lu Ann De Cunzo

A “sister city” to Louisbourg, Michilimackinac was also built by French colonists and soldiers in the early 1700s. The French strategically located the fortified settlement on the Straits of Mackinac separating what we now know as Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. From this prominent location, Michilimackinac promoted and protected the French fur trade in the region for nearly fifty years (ca.1714-1761). At the conclusion of the French and Indian War, the French transferred the post to the British. When they, in turn, moved their garrison to a new fort on Mackinac Island, they destroyed all aboveground evidence of the old fort. Today, the reconstructed settlement is a National Historic Landmark, a status granted by the United States government only to those sites significant to the history of the nation as a whole. It also boasts the longest ongoing archaeological program in the country.

Over the course of more than four decades, archaeologists have painstakingly uncovered the traces of the palisade, the remains of more than a dozen buildings, and fragments of the furnishings, clothing, tools, and food and other trash discarded by the residents. From the thousands of wooden post stains, stone hearths, remnant garden soils, and artifacts, Michilimackinac has risen again from the sands along Lake Michigan. Visitors can explore the life of the village’s military contingent and their families, fur traders, tradespeople, and Native Americans with the aid of costumed interpreters. A wonderful exhibit, “Treasures from the Sand, Archaeology at Michilimackinac,” presents the techniques and results of decades of archaeology at the site, and displays hundreds of carefully conserved and researched artifacts. Remains of the underground powder magazine and several root cellars have been preserved in place for viewing. Each summer an archaeological team returns to Michilimackinac to uncover the past before the visitors’ eyes.

Lynn Evans directs the current program, as curator of archaeology for the Mackinac State Historic Parks. She writes, “Michilimackinac is a wonderful place to do archaeology. The site is incredibly rich, due to excellent preservation and because it was set aside as a park in 1857. Because of the long-term nature of both the archaeological and historical research at the site, we have been able to learn detailed information about the daily lives of the inhabitants of the fort. This helps make the past come alive for our visitors. This is the first time many of them have seen an archaeological dig and they are fascinated to see pieces of history unearthed. It is rewarding to be able to share our results with the public through conversations, interpretive programming and exhibits, in addition to more traditional reports.”