Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings
Ownership and Administration. State of Michigan; Mackinac Island State Park Commission, Mackinac Island.
Significance. Fort Michilimackinac was an important bastion of French and English power on the Straits of Mackinac and a vital fur-trade center. French hegemony in the American heartland was closely related to its control of the highly strategic straits, the crossroads of the upper Great Lakes connecting Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior. In the early interior exploration of North America, the Great Lakes and their related waterways were the main routes into the continent for the French, the first Europeans to penetrate them. The importance of the straits did not escape them.
The earliest French activity on the straits centered on Mackinac Island and at St. Ignace, on their north side. In 1670-71, Pere Claude Dablon founded a Jesuit mission on the island, which he named St. Ignace after the founder of his order, St. Ignatius. He was soon joined by Père Jacques Marquette, who came with his Huron flock from the upper end of Lake Superior. In 1672, the mission was moved to the mainland on the north shore of the straits, at which time Marquette took charge, and a fort was added to the mission.
For a few years after 1698, the French officially abandoned the straits, but traders maintained contact with the Indians around the Mackinac area. Early in the 18th century, the French formally returned to the straits and during the years 1715-20 erected a new fort, Fort Michilimackinac, on the south shore of the straits at the site of Mackinaw City. The British took over this fort during the French and Indian War, but the garrison was surprised and most of its occupants massacred in 1763 during the Pontiac uprising.
The British reoccupied the fort in 1764, and it was the only British-garrisoned outpost on the Great Lakes above Detroit until near the close of the War for Independence. In 1781, when U.S. attack appeared imminent, the post was relocated at Mackinac Island. The British remained in control until 1796 and between 1812 and 1815. From 1796 to 1812 and after 1815 the fort belonged to the United States. (The Straits of Mackinac and Mackinac Island are eligible for the Registry of National Historic Landmarks, primarily because of their association with the advance of the frontier, 1763-1830.)
Present Appearance. The restoration of Fort Michilimackinac effectively demonstrates the coordination of archeological and historical research. Modern restoration began in 1932, but the most important work was done after 1959, when the Mackinac Island State Park Commission floated bond issues totaling $125,000 to finance the complete restoration of the fort. In addition to the reconstructed buildings, exhibits at the park include objects found during the excavations and the uncovered foundation outlines of other structures. The park affords a superb view of the Straits of Mackinac. 
NHL Designation: 10/09/60
Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005