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Michilimackinac (/ˈmɪʃələmækənɔː/ MISH-ə-lə-MACK-ə-naw) is derived from an Ottawa Ojibwe name for present-day Mackinac Island and the region around the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.[1] Early settlers of North America applied the term to the entire region along Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior.[2] Today it is considered to be mostly within the boundaries of Michigan, in the United States. Michilimackinac was the original name for present day Mackinac Island and Mackinac County.


Woodland Period (1000 BCE–1650 CE)[edit]

Pottery first appears during this period in the style of the Laurel complex. The people of the area engaged in long-distance trade, likely as part of the Hopewell tradition.

Overhead view of the Straits of Mackinac linking Lakes Michigan (left) and Huron (right)

The Anishinaabe and the French (1612–1763)[edit]

The Straits of Mackinac linking Lakes Michigan and Huron was a strategic area controlling movement between the two lakes and much of the pays d'en haut. It was controlled by Algonquian Anishinaabe nations including the Ojibwa (called Chippewa in the United States) and the Odawa. The area was known to the Odawa as Michilimackinac, meaning "Big Turtle".[3] For these people, "Michilimackinac is literally the birthplace and centre of the world" and is where the Three Fires Confederacy took place.[4]: 22 

The Anishinaabe had good relations with the Iroquoian-speaking Wyandot, who were the first group to establish relations with the French after Champlain's arrival in 1608. The Anishinaabe used these relations to trade indirectly with the French.[4]: 26–30 After the fall of Huronia in the Beaver Wars, The Anishinaabe began to trade directly with the French, and started inviting French settlers to Michilimackinac.[4]: 36–43 

The French were the first Europeans to explore the area, beginning in 1612.[5] They established trading posts and Jesuit Catholic missions. One of the oldest missions, St. Ignace Mission, was located on the north side of the strait at Point Iroquois, near present-day St. Ignace, Michigan. This mission was established in 1671 by the Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette. In 1654, a large Iroquois force was attacked by the Odawa and Ojibwe as they tried to cross the straits near Michilimackinac. In 1658, the Iroquois attacked again, but were again defeated by the Anishinaabe.[4]: 35 

In 1683, under pressure from the Odawa, the French established a presence on the North side of the straits at the St. Ignace Mission in an alliance with the Anishinaabe against the Iroquois.[4]: 49–51 

Between 1670 and 1700, Michilimackinac flourished and became one of the central sites of the fur trade. Soon, French visitors reported vast summer markets taking place along the shorelines each year. Both natives and newcomers flocked to take advantage. Hundreds of Native Americans from around Lakes Michigan and Superior would make the voyage to the straits to meet French traders coming up from the St. Lawrence. In the words of a later French traveler, Michilimackinac became "the landing place and refuge of all the savages who trade their peltries." Consequently, Michilimackinac rapidly became the "general meeting-place for all the French who go to trade with stranger tribes."[4]: 51 

In 1715, the French established a fort and settlement on the south side of the strait. It was called Fort Michilimackinac. The fort became a major trading post, attracting Native Americans from throughout the northern Great Lakes. After Great Britain defeated France in the Seven Years' War (French and Indian War), their colonial forces took over the fort and territory.[6]

Fort Michilimackinac fell to an Ojibwa attack during the Native American uprising of 1763, sometimes called Pontiac's War.[6] It was reoccupied by the British in September 1764. In 1780, during the American Revolution, British commandant Patrick Sinclair moved the British trading and military post to Mackinac Island, which was held by the British for some time, and abandoned Fort Michilimackinac after the move. After the rebel Americans gained independence in the Revolutionary War, this site became part of a territory of the United States. The fort saw its only military action 17 July 1812 when Lieutenant Porter Hanks bloodlessly surrendered it to the British during the war of 1812.[7]

Today, Fort Michilimackinac is preserved as a tourist site. Re-enactors portray the historic activities of the French and English. An archeological dig at the site is open for viewing.

European presence in the Michilimackinac area[edit]

Term start Term end Commander Name Picture Forts and missions in the Michilimackinac area Missionaries, explorers, and tribal leaders in the Michilimackinac area Regional Governor (dates)
1671 1683 New France did not have a post yet. St. Ignace Mission Jacques Marquette (1671–1675), Louis Jolliet (1673–1674), Father Henri Nouvel, "superior of the Otawa mission" (1672–1680 with a two-year break in 1678-1679, and again from 1688 to 1695.) Governor General of New France -- Daniel de Rémy de Courcelle (1665–1672), Louis de Buade de Frontenac (1672–1682), Joseph-Antoine de La Barre (1682–1685)
1683 1690 Olivier Morel de La Durantaye St. Ignace Mission Father Henri Nouvel "superior of the Otawa mission" Joseph-Antoine de La Barre (1682–1685), Jacques-René de Brisay de Denonville, Marquis de Denonville (1685-1689)
1690? 1691? François de la Forêt (Tonty 2nd in command)[8] St. Ignace Mission Father Henri Nouvel "superior of the Otawa mission" Jacques-René de Brisay de Denonville, Marquis de Denonville (1685-1689)
1691? 1694 Louis de La Porte de Louvigné Fort de Buade and St. Ignace Mission Nicolas Perrot (1690–???) Louis de Buade de Frontenac (second term) (1689–1698)
1694 1696 Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac Fort de Buade and St. Ignace Mission (abandoned by 1705) Étienne de Carheil 1686–1702 Louis de Buade de Frontenac (second term) (1689–1698)
1696 1714 (Post abandoned by New France in favor of Detroit) St. Ignace Mission Father Étienne de Carheil 1686–1702. Kondiaronk "Le Rat" / Chief of the Hurons. Father Joseph Marest (1700–1714) Louis-Hector de Callière (1698–1703) Philippe de Rigaud Vaudreuil (1703 to 1725)
1715 Constant le Marchand de Lignery Fort Michilimackinac Philippe de Rigaud Vaudreuil (1703–1725)
1722 1725 Constant le Marchand de Lignery Fort Michilimackinac Philippe de Rigaud Vaudreuil (1703–1725), Charles le Moyne de Longueuil, Baron de Longueuil (acting governor 1726)
1729 ??? Jacques-Charles Renaud Dubuisson Fort Michilimackinac Charles de la Boische, Marquis de Beauharnois (1725–1747)
1730 1733 Jacques Testard de Montigny Fort Michilimackinac Charles de la Boische, Marquis de Beauharnois (1725–1747)
1738 1742 Pierre Joseph Céloron de Blainville [9][10] Fort Michilimackinac Charles de la Boische, Marquis de Beauharnois (1725–1747)
1744 1744 Monsier de Vivchevet [11][12] Fort Michilimackinac Charles de la Boische, Marquis de Beauharnois (1725–1747)
1745 1745 Louis de la Corne, Chevalier de la Corne[13] Fort Michilimackinac Charles de la Boische, Marquis de Beauharnois (1725–1747)
1745 1747 Nicolas-Joseph de Noyelles de Fleurimont [11][10] Fort Michilimackinac Charles de la Boische, Marquis de Beauharnois (1725–1747)
1748 1750 Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre[13][14] Fort Michilimackinac Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière (1747–1749)
1750 1750 Monsieuer Duplessis Faber[11] Fort Michilimackinac Jacques-Pierre de Taffanel de la Jonquière, Marquis de la Jonquière (1749–1752)
1753 1753 Louis Liénard de Beaujeu de Villemonde[11] Fort Michilimackinac Michel-Ange Duquesne de Menneville (1752–1755)
1754 1754 Monsieur Herbin Fort Michilimackinac Michel-Ange Duquesne de Menneville (1752–1755)


  1. ^ Blackbird (1887), pp. 19–20.
  2. ^ Strang (2005), p. 1.
  3. ^ Nichols, John D.; Nyholm, Earl (1995). A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  4. ^ a b c d e f McDonnell, Michael A. (2016). Masters of empire : Great Lakes Indians and the making of America. New York. ISBN 0-8090-6800-1.
  5. ^ Strang (2005), p. 3.
  6. ^ a b White (2010), p. 287.
  7. ^ Dunnigan, Brian Leigh (August 16, 2012). "Fort Michilimackinac". www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Retrieved October 29, 2021.
  8. ^ Clarence Monroe Burton; William Stocking; Gordon K. Miller (1922). The city of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922. The S. J. Clarke publishing company. pp. 103–.
  9. ^ Kelton (1889) pp.2–
  10. ^ a b "Biography – CÉLORON DE BLAINVILLE, PIERRE-JOSEPH – Volume III (1741-1770) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography". www.biographi.ca.
  11. ^ a b c d Kelton (1889) pp106-108
  12. ^ Bailey, John Read (September 8, 1896). Mackinac: Formerly Michilimackinac. D. D. Thorp & son. p. 150 – via Internet Archive. DUPLESSIS FABER Michilimackinac.
  13. ^ a b "Officers at Michilimackinac and Fort Mackinac 1742-1882". www.mifamilyhistory.org.
  14. ^ http://users.usinternet.com/dfnels/legarde-zip.htm Archived March 10, 2016, at the Wayback Machine "In 1747 he became the Commander of Fort Michilimackinac & involved in the Second Sioux Company until 1749. His next command was"


  • Blackbird, Andrew J. (1887). "Earliest Possible Known History of Mackinac Island". History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan. Ypsilanti, MI: Ypsilanti Auxiliary of the Woman's National Indian Association.
  • Kelton, Dwight H. (1889). Annals of Fort Mackinac. Detroit Free Press Printing Co. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
  • Strang, James Jesse (2005) [1854]. Ancient and Modern Michilimackinac, Including an Account of the Controversy Between Mackinac and the Mormons. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library. Retrieved June 11, 2006.
  • White, Richard (2010). The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 (Anniversary ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Further reading[edit]

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