The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter I
Activity in the Fur Trade

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton

 

 ACTIVITY IN THE FUR TRADE.

After the failure of Pontiac's schemes, until the War of 1812, things were comparatively quiet on the Michigan frontier. The English sought to conciliate both the Indians and the French. The fur-trade was prosecuted with new vigor. The Hudson's Bay company, formed in 1700, now extended its sway towards the Great Lakes. Mackinac Island became a center of this trade on the upper lakes, the fort having been removed thither from the south side of the straits during the Revolution. Mackinac was one of the main posts of the Northwest Company, where the peltries were received which had been collected from the forests and streams of the north, and were packed and shipped to England by way of Montreal. The story of the fur trade on the Michigan frontier in this period is the story of bitter rivalry between these companies for supremacy, which continued even after the Northwest Company transferred a large part of its Michigan trade to the American Fur Company, organized by John Jacob Astor. The Michigan fur trade, centering at Mackinac and Detroit, was destined to thrive under Astor's company for many years after the Great lakes region had passed forever from the control of Great Britain. The historian, Lanman, has given a picturesque view of scenes at Mackinac as they were just before the War of 1812:

"Even as late as 1812, "the island of Mackinac, the most romantic point on the lakes, which rises from the watery realm like an altar of a river god, was the central mart of the traffic, as old Michilimackinac had been for a century before. At certain seasons of the year it was made a rendezvous for the numerous classes connected with the traffic. At these seasons, the transparent waters around this beautiful island were studded with the canoes of the Indians and traders. Here might be found the merry Canadian voyageur, with his muscular figure strengthened by the hardships of the wilderness, bartering for trinkets at the various booths scattered along its banks. The Indian warrior, bedecked with the most fantastic ornaments, embroidered moccasins and silver armlets; the Northwesters, armed with dirks--the iron men who had grappled with the grizzly bear and endured the hard fare of the north; and the Southwester also put in his claims for deference. It was a trade abounding in the severest hardships and the most hazardous enterprises. This was the most glorious epoch of mercantile enterprise in the forest of the Northwest, when its half-savage dominion stretched upon the lakes for a hundred years over regions large enough for empires, making barbarism contribute to civilization."

During the Revolution, Detroit was the military headquarters of the British in Michigan. Sir Henry Hamilton was in command there from 1774 to 1779, when he was captured at Vincennes by George Rogers Clark. In 1780, Mackinac island was fortified, and strongly garrisoned, through fear that Detroit might now be captured by the American patriots and the Indians be tempted to repeat the tragedy that befell old Mackinac in 1763. The fort, built on a high cliff that overlooked the village, occupied a position which protected it from surprise and assault by the Indians. Reminiscent of the glory of this historic island region, Mrs. Stewart writes:

"Like Detroit, Michilimackinac has been the theater of many a bloody tragedy. Its Possession has been disputed by powerful nations, and its internal peace has continually been made the sport of Indian treachery and of the white man's duplicity. Today, chanting Te Deums beneath the ample folds of the fleur-de-lis, tomorrow yielding to the power of the British lion, and, a few years later, listening tot he exultant screams of the American eagle, as the stars and stripes float over the battlements on the 'isle of the dancing spirits.' As a military post in time of war, the possession of Michilimackinac is invaluable; but as a commercial mart, now that the aboriginal tribes have passed away, the location is of little consequence.

"In these later days, to the invalid and the pleasure-seeker, the salubrity of the pure atmosphere, the beauty of the scenery, the historical remininiscenes which render its classic ground, and the many wild traditions, peopling each rock and glen with spectral habitants, combine to throw around Michilimackinac an interest and attractiveness unequalled by any other spot on the Western Continent."

 

History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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