MICHILIMACKINAC

Michilimackinac referred to the entire strait area where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet, including the island; but, originally, it meant in particular present-day Saint Ignace, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula across the strait from Mackinaw City. The original French fort and Jesuit mission were there from about 1671, although there was no French commandant after Lamothe Cadillac left in 1697, as the post was ordered closed in 1696. The Jesuits (and several coureurs de bois) remained there until the Jesuits burned their residence and church in 1705. The coureurs de bois (illegal traders) never really abandoned the place, nor did the governor of New France. The Jesuits were ordered to return in 1706 and built a smaller fort/residence, but they soon accompanied the Ottawas (Odawas) to the lower peninsula at present-day Mackinaw City to locate better fields for planting, as the other site had been exhausted. A French commandant was again approved about 1714 but did not arrive until some years later because of the Fox wars.

Cadillac named the fort Fort Buade in 1694, after the then-governor, Louis Buade de Frontenac, but that name does not appear in the documents very often. The usual name, as I said above, is Michilimackinac, spelled in a surprising variety of ways! It is said to mean Great Turtle in Algonquin.

My ancestor, Maurice Ménard was interpreter, even before 1695, when his son Antoine was baptized there, and later interpreter and sergeant there for a number of years. Some of his sons and his daughter Suzanne (married to Gabriel Bolon) also were there. Maurice petitioned to have his wife, Madeleine Couc, granted the right to also go to the fort in 1713, but I have no evidence she ever did. She seems to be deceased before 1736, though, and may have died there. The Bolon home has been part of the excavation and archaeological studies in recent years at the reconstructed fort at Mackinac City. It is called House D.

Suzanne
Suzanne Boivin Sommerville Michigan, USA (lower peninsula, close to another strait called Detroit, the narrows)(1)


Neither the French nor the Jesuits ever abandoned the area or the Natives, mainly Ottawa, at Michilimackinac, even though the Jesuits did burn their mission at St. Ignace in 1705. The Jesuits were back by the summer of 1706 to erect a new one and a new fortification, accompanied by my ancestor Maurice Ménard, interpreter. More furs and pelletries went down to the mother colony from Michilimackinac than from newly-founded Fort Pontchartrain, Detroit, in the 1706-1710 period.

According to Jesuit, Father Marest, there were several Frenchwomen present, in 1713, at Michilimackinac. He praises Daniel Amiot dit Villeneuve's wife, Domitilde Oukabé, Ottawa sister of Chief Lafourche, as an example of wisdom to the few French women who are here and to the Indians. He also reports Father Chardon was looking forward to perfecting his learning of the outa8ouaise language during the winter, with Domitilde, Madame Villeneuve, as his teacher. (NAC, Série C11A, microfilm F-34, photocopy.)

Baptisms and marriages were recorded for the years 1712-1740, although that original register no longer survives, the new one beginning in 1740. Maurice traveled between the mother colony and Michilimackinac in these years, even into the 1730s, serving as sergeant and interpreter. His wife, Madeleine Couc, accompanied him in 1713 and most likely died there, and sons and a daughter, Suzanne Ménard, and her soldier husband, Gabriel Bolon, were also there, married at Michilimackinac in 1726. The site of their home has been excavated at the reconstructed fort at Mackinaw City.

Michilimakinac was an active hub for voyageurs traveling for various reasons to other points north and south between 1698 and the re-establishment of the fort at the present Mackinaw City position, and for the fur trade, especially after the glut of beaver furs (that essentially closed the fort in 1697-98) was discovered to have rotted in a warehouse by 1714. From one of my articles:

"An anonymous manuscript plan of Michilimackinac circa 1717 places the fort at its modern-day Mackinaw City, Michigan, reconstructed site and says, This post is called MissilimaKinaK, the French abandoned the older one [at modern-day St. Ignace, Michigan] because this location is more suitable, there is a fort, a commandant and some habitants, even Frenchwomen [;] in 1716 during trading season there were about 600 Frenchmen, coureurs de bois. They were more properly voyageurs at this time. Map reproduced in Mapping the French Empire in North America, An Interpretive Guide to the Exhibition Mounted at The Newberry Library on the Occasion of the Seventeenth Annual Conference of The French Colonial Historical Society, Catalog prepared by David Buisseret, The Newberry Library, Chicago, 1991, p.46. "

This suggests the fortification at modern-day St. Ignace was abandoned, at the latest, about 1715, by which time a new commandant had been officially named for the fort at the new site.

It is absolutely fascinating to view the surviving original register, complete with signatures. That so many individuals, men and women, were able to sign in witness of religious events at this distant outpost of New France is wonderful to see.

Suzanne Boivin Sommerville (4)


Additional information:

During colonial times the two most important French Canadian communities were Michilimackinac and Detroit. The French military had constructed a fort and community at the Straits of Mackinac. Although the Jesuits maintained their mission on the North side of the straits at St. Ignace, the French military abandoned the Fort there in 1698.

By 1715, the French had constructed a fort on the South side of the straits near the relocated Jesuit mission and Ottawa village. The French used the fort in their war against the Foxes. The French used Fort Michilimackinac as their base in the war against the Foxes who fled to the Green Bay-WInnebago area in Wisc., where they blockaded the Fox-Wisconsin waterway. The French fought the Foxes for decades.

The straits of Mackinac rapidly resumed its role as the center of western Great Lakes fur trade, and Michilmackinac became a strategic point on the map of New France. Every summer canoe brigades arrived from Montréal to rendezvous with trappers and Indians at the small settlement. The population of the village swelled, but in winter it dropped to a handful of residents. Strictly tied to the fur trade, the French Canadian Settlers depended on the Indians not only for furs but also for fish, meat, corn and spouses. (2)

French Canadians at Michilimackinac

"There are ten French families in the fort among whom three are of mixed blood; although this piece of land is quite barren they could nevertheless give themselves some of the comforts of the life if they were more laborious, for the soil produces as good peas as may be seen, beans also grow very well, all root crops in general would do as well, but if would cost them too much effort to procure these good things for themselves. They prefer strolling around the fort's parade ground, from morn till night, with a pipe in their mouth and a tobacco pouch on their left arm, rather than take the least pain to make life more comfortable... They only take the trouble of going to the edge of the lake, as if going to the market, to get their supplies of corn and fish, and deer or moose grease....They make use of Maple water which they let turn sour, and of rather clear bear oil of the same color and taste as lard when it is in the process of cooling down....To put it briefly, they are content as long as they have their corn and grease to live on all year round, which makes me think that for a long as there will be one single pelt to be had in there countries they will never engage in any other business. The traders of this place, who all turned merchants after having made three or four trips as engage's, and who must be farmers since they all come from rural areas, would feel dishonored if they cultivated the soil." (3)

People married at Fort Michilimackinac from 1725 through 1837.

(1) Date: Fri, 31 May 2002 22:55:39 -0400
From: Suzanne B Sommerville
To: QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L@rootsweb.com

(2)French Canadians in Michigan by Dulong.

(3)Observations of Michael Chartier de Lotbinière in 1749

(4) Date: Mon, 29 Mar 2004 13:28:29 EST
From: Suzanne Boivin Sommerville
To: QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L@rootsweb.com
Subject: Re: [Q-R] Michilimackinac