Chapter 5: Michigan under the British flag.
For almost a century, the British had endeavored to gain the favor of the western tribes. They had sold the Indians liquor at a time when the French authorities were trying to stop this practice by French fur traders. The British had sought to buy the Indians' friendship through the lavish distribution of presents, and the traders had paid the Indians more for their furs than the Indians could get from the French. After the British took over control of these interior lands, the Indians expected these past practices to continue, but were soon dismayed to learn that this was not to be the case. General Jeffrey Amherst, commander of the British forces in America at the end of the French and Indian War, was largely responsible for these changes in Indian policy. He was opposed to any further coddling of the Indians. The war had been an enormously expensive burden on Great Britain, and with the fighting in America at an end, Amherst was under pressure to reduce all unnecessary military expenses, including gifts to the Indians in time of peace. The Indians thus found themselves cut off from a major source of the European goods upon which they had come to depend. They could still obtain these goods, but only through dealing with the fur traders. Amherst also ordered rigid restrictions on the sale of liquor to the Indians, and declared that no more leniency should be shown toward the Indians who were guilty of misbehavior. Amherst lacked any real comprehension of the problems involved in dealing with these proud native peoples.
The abolition of the French fur-trading monopoly gave independent traders free rein and opened the way for an orgy of cheating, fraud, and dishonest dealings that quickly infuriated the Indians. Shoddy goods were dispensed at high prices and the natives were taunted for their gullibility. In spite of restrictions, whisky or rum was offered as an inducement, but was diluted with water, tobacco being added to give it the desired "kick." The new rules compelled the Indians to come to the forts to sell their furs, where the soldiers and some of the British traders were haughty and scornful to them. Another development that alarmed the Indians was the entrance into Kentucky, western Pennsylvania, and Tennessee of settlers from the East. If this kept up, how long would it be before they would be crowded out of their hunting grounds? Finally, the French habitants and fur-trading personnel in the West were sympathetic with the disgruntled natives, and assured the Indians that the king of France was only asleep and would presently awake and scatter these usurpers. The possibility of the resumption of French control was substantiated by the fact that at the time the Indian uprising was in the making, no treaty of peace had yet been signed by Britain and France.
It appears quite likely that both the French in the Illinois country and those living along the St. Lawrence were involved in encouraging the Indians to strike back against the British. In the fall of 1762, George Croghan at Fort Pitt learned from a Detroit Indian that during the preceding summer there had been a secret war council at the Ottawa village along the Detroit River, attended by chiefs of the Ottawa, Huron, and Potawatomi tribes as well as the Chippewa from the Lake Superior region. The Chippewa had brought with them two Frenchmen in Indian dress. The council plotted to attack the British, the informer related, and had sent deputies to the tribes on the Wabash and along the Ohio River to the south. Croghan later received another report that the Shawnee in the Ohio Valley had received a war belt from Detroit and that the tribes in that region were being stirred emotionally by a "prophet" among the Delaware nation, a psychotic who claimed to have had visions in which a spirit told him that the Indians, by purifying themselves and returning to their ancient ways, would be able to drive the white men out of their country. Meanwhile in the East, the Seneca, who had tried to make trouble for the British two years before, were hatching a definite conspiracy. There is reason to believe that the Seneca were inspired and encouraged by the French along the St. Lawrence. The Seneca passed a war belt on to the Delaware, who conveyed it to the Shawnee and the Miami. The Seneca sent another war belt to Detroit. The Detroit Indians thus were prompted from both west and east to attack the British.
Pontiac was unquestionably the moving spirit in the plot devised to capture Detroit. Francis Parkman believed he was the instigator of the entire uprising of the western Indians against British rule, a belief that Parkman expressed in his History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac, published in 1851. A century later, however, Howard Peckham, in Pontiac and the Indian Uprising, convincingly refuted Parkman's conspiracy theory and demonstrated that Pontiac could be credited only with leading the attack against British authority in the Detroit area. In 1763 Pontiac was probably in his forties and had long since risen to leadership among his fellow Ottawa tribesmen because of his intellect, shrewdness, bravery, and oratorical prowess. His plan, as he outlined it to a conclave of Detroit Indians held in April 1763, in what is believed to be the site of the present Council Park in the downriver Detroit community of Lincoln Park, called for gaining entrance into the fort on the pretext of desiring a parley, and then, at a given signal, attacking their enemies. Unfortunately for the Indians, the commandant of the fort had been forewarned. There are many stories about how Major Henry Gladwin, who had succeeded Captain Campbell in command, learned of Pontiac's plot. Gladwin never revealed the name of the person who warned him. The most persistent theory is that it was an Indian woman, named Catherine, who was romantically linked with Gladwin or one of the other British officers and who therefore wanted to save her lover from possible death. A famous painting by J. M. Stanley, an artist who came to Detroit in 1834, depicts a handsome Catherine delivering the warning to Gladwin. Aside from the fact that other versions of essentially the same story describe the woman as old and ugly, rather than young and beautiful, it is more likely that Gladwin was tipped off by one of the French residents, many of whom had close ties with the Indians and could have been privy to Pontiac's plans. (1)
Pontiac's strategy called for approximately sixty of his best warriors to accompany him into the fort, each concealing tomahawks, knives, or sawed-off muskets under their blankets. The rest of the Ottawa would be spread around, also carrying hidden weapons. Pontiac would speak to Gladwin and hold up a belt of green and white wampum. When he turned it over it would signal the Ottawa to fall upon the British. On Saturday morning, May 7, 1763, approximately three hundred braves and squaws, almost all of them wearing blankets, crossed the river to the fort. They were admitted through the gate, and small groups began to move through the town. They found that the merchants had closed and locked their shops, and on the parade ground they saw the soldiers drawn up with muskets ready. Gladwin and Campbell stood waiting, wearing pistols and sabers. Pontiac realized that Gladwin had learned of the plot and was prepared to deal with the Indians. Stripped of the element of surprise that was essential to the success of his plan, Pontiac, after expressing indignation at the unfriendly attitude the British were showing toward him, withdrew from the fort. Two days later, he tried again, but this time the Indians were not even admitted to the stockade. Meanwhile, Gladwin prepared for a siege and moved into the fort all the food supplies the French farmers would sell.
After a week in which the Indians killed or captured approximately thirty Englishmen outside the fort, Pontiac asked for a day's truce. Captain Campbell and Lieutenant George McDougall went out to meet him, hoping to restore peace, but Pontiac broke the truce and kept them prisoner. Later, during a sortie from the fort, one of the officers killed a nephew of Wasson, chief of the Chippewa who had joined Pontiac's forces, and then proceeded to scalp the young man and wave the bloody trophy insolently at the Indians. Wasson was so enraged that he killed Captain Campbell, tore off his scalp, cut out his heart, and ate it.
The siege of the fort was now on in earnest. Gladwin had only 123 soldiers, approximately twenty English traders, and a few Frenchmen who would aid him in the defense of the fort. Pontiac's forces probably numbered more than five hundred. Gladwin did not fear a direct assault on the stockade so much as he did fire from burning arrows. Every precaution was taken to make ready water supplies to extinguish such fires. Two ships with small cannon, the sloop Michigan and the schooner Huron--part of the fleet that the seafaring British began building up as soon as they gained control of the Great Lakes--could defend the fort from the river side, although it became necessary to use these vessels to bring in supplies and reinforcements. In response to a plea sent to Niagara for help, approximately one hundred men with barrels of meat and flour were sent out in ten small boats. Discovering this force moving along the north shore of Lake Erie, Indians attacked when the men landed for a night's sleep. Only forty of the men escaped, but they still managed to bring some of the provisions through to Detroit. By using larger vessels, Gladwin could depend on securing troops and provisions from the east, and this enabled him to hold out.
Meanwhile, Pontiac's actions at Detroit helped to inspire Indians elsewhere to attack other British-held forts in the West. These efforts were so successful that by July only Detroit, Niagara, and Fort Pitt remained in British hands. The capture of the fort at Michilimackinac was accomplished by a clever stratagem worked out by Minavavana, chief of the Chippewa. He first sent away all of his followers who were not wholeheartedly against the British. He then cultivated a friendship with the post commander, Captain George Etherington. Charles Langlade warned Etherington that there was a plot to capture the fort, and Alexander Henry, a young English trader who had arrived at the Straits in 1761 ahead of the British troops, also warned the commandant of possible danger. Etherington, however, did not put any stock in the reports, having been completely duped by Minavavana. The chief proposed that they celebrate the birthday of King George III on June 2 (although the king's birthday was actually on June 4). As part of the festivities, the Indians would demonstrate their loyalty by staging a ball game between the Chippewa and some visiting Sauk Indians from Wisconsin, which Etherington thought was a fine idea. The spot chosen for the game was just outside the gates of the fort, along the shores of Lake Michigan. Near the gates, squaws squatted or stood, wrapped in their blankets, even though it was a hot day. Underneath their blankets the women had concealed a variety of weapons. The ball game began much to the amusement of the soldiers and officers, who watched idly without taking the precaution to arm themselves. The game, baggataway, was similar to lacrosse. A wooden ball was clouted by any member of the team in the general direction of a goal post by means of a four-foot bat terminating at one end in a circular curve, netted with leather strings. After the game had gone on for some time, the ball was worked toward the gate and finally was hit over into the fort. The players dashed to retrieve the ball, but as they reached the gates the Indian women passed them the weapons they had been hiding and the attack began. The French traders went to their homes and were not harmed, but within minutes twenty British soldiers and one English trader lay dead. One who escaped was Alexander Henry, who concealed himself in the attic of Langlade's house. Years later Henry wrote a vivid account of the frightful events:
Through an aperture which afforded me a view of the area of the fort, I beheld, in shapes the foulest and most horrible, the ferocious triumphs of barbarian conquerors. The dead were scalped and mangled; the dying were writhing and shrieking under the unsatiated knife and tomahawk; and from the bodies of some, ripped open, their butchers were drinking the blood, scooped up in the hollow of joined hands and quaffed amid shouts of rage and victory. (2)
With Captain Etherington at Michilimackinac were Lieutenant William Leslye, whom he had succeeded in command, and Lieutenant John Jamet. The fort at the Sault had burned the preceding December, and Jamet and his small force had sought refuge at Michilimackinac. Jamet was killed while defending himself with his sword. Leslye and Etherington were taken prisoner by the victorious Chippewa, along with fifteen soldiers and three English traders. Thus ended what has come down in history as the Massacre at Michilimackinac, a term used by white historians. The Indians regarded this as a victory for their cause, won by the only tactics that could have enabled them to capture a fortified post such as Michilimackinac.
Just why the Chippewa spared their prisoners is not known. It is probable, however, that most if not all of the prisoners would have been killed were it not for the intercession of the Ottawa Indians from L'Arbre Croche. The latter had not been notified of the planned attack on Michilimackinac either by Minavavana, who prepared the plan, or by Matchekewis, who carried it out. Had they been notified, the Ottawa might not have chosen to participate in the attack, since they were not as anxious to battle the British as were some of the other Great Lakes Indians. Now, however, they were furious at not being able to share in the plunder. They set out at once for Michilimackinac, and arrived there on June 4. They immediately seized all the British prisoners, but after a conference allowed the Chippewa to keep five, while they retained custody of the other prisoners, including Etherington and Leslye. A Chippewa chief who arrived too late for the baggataway festivities killed four of the five prisoners held by the Chippewa. One body was cut up, boiled, and eaten.
The Ottawa carried their prisoners back to L'Arbre Croche. There they were joined by the garrison from Green Bay. The Sauk, Fox, Menominee, and Winnebago Indians in Wisconsin had long been at odds with the French and accordingly had made no trouble for Lieutenant James Gorrell and his garrison, which had taken over the old French fort at Green Bay. Gorrell, however, had been sent word by Etherington, who now considered himself and his men safe among the L'Arbre Croche Ottawa, to join him. Gorrell and his men, together with a number of Wisconsin Indians, crossed Lake Michigan to L'Arbre Croche, where Gorrell successfully persuaded the Ottawa to take their prisoners to Montreal and collect a reward from the British authorities. In spite of the objections of the Chippewa, the Indians started for Montreal with their prisoners on July 18 and arrived at their destination less than a month later. Among the prisoners they delivered was Ezekiel Solomon, the first Jewish trader in Michigan. He had been among the first traders to arrive at Michilimackinac in 1761. After the suppression of the Indian uprising, he returned to Michigan and traded in the area for a number of years. His fellow trader during these same years, Alexander Henry, owed his life in 1763 not to the actions of the Ottawa, as Solomon did, but to Henry's friendship with a Chippewa leader, Wawatam, who successfully pleaded with Minavavana to release his friend. (3)
About a week before the Chippewa had captured the fort at Michilimackinac, Potawatomi warriors had overwhelmed the small garrison at Fort St. Joseph where Ensign Francis Schlosser was in command. He apparently paid no heed to the warning of Louis Chevalier, a French resident of the area for more than thirty years, that the Indians intended to attack the fort. On May 25 a group of approximately one hundred Potawatomi from Detroit appeared, saying they had come to visit relatives. They notified Schlosser that they wished to bid him good morning. A Frenchman warned the commandant that the Indians' intentions were not friendly, and Schlosser then hastened to put his men under arms. But it was too late. The fort was already swarming with Indians, and Schlosser was seized and eleven soldiers killed. Only three soldiers were spared. They, along with Schlosser, were taken to Detroit, where they were handed over to Gladwin.
Even though the Indians were successful in capturing every British post west of Niagara except Detroit, Pontiac's inability to take this crucial outpost led to the failure of this great Indian uprising. Captain James Dalyell reached the besieged fort at the end of July with 260 redcoats to assist in the defense. Dalyell, contemptuous of the Indians, at once urged Gladwin to take the offensive and launch a surprise night attack on Pontiac's camp. Gladwin at first demurred but at length consented. The emergence of the British force at 2:30 A.M. on July 31 was quickly reported by Indian spies, and approximately two miles from the fort, Dalyell and his men were ambushed by Pontiac and more than four hundred Indians. The fighting raged along what was then called Parent's Creek but which was thereafter dubbed Bloody Run. Before the British could fight their way back to the fort, twenty of their number, including Captain Dalyell, were dead, forty-two were wounded, and an uncounted number taken prisoner.
In spite of this success, Pontiac was in trouble. Detroit continued to be supplied by ship, and there seemed to be no prospect that the siege could be successful since the Indians did not have the weapons and skills needed to cut off the flow of waterborne supplies to the British. Delegations of Indians from beyond Detroit began seeking peace with Gladwin. On September 9, seventy Potawatomi from the St. Joseph region arrived and asked for peace. Pontiac's forces began to melt away, particularly when news came from the east that Colonel Henry Bouquet had inflicted a defeat on the Indians at the Battle of Bushy Creek. During October, several Indian chiefs smoked the pipe of peace with Gladwin. As the first snows of winter fell, more of Pontiac's allies wanted to leave in order to provide their families' winter food needs. Finally, in desperation, Pontiac sent a messenger to the French commandant at Fort Chartres, Major Neyon de Villiers, seeking his help. De Villiers had just Learned that the treaty of peace had been signed and that France had ceded all its lands east of the Mississippi to Great Britain. He was interested only in waiting for the British to assume control of the fort so he could return to France. He thus informed Pontiac that there was no longer any possibility of French assistance in the attack on Detroit, and advised him to give up the fight.
Therefore, on October 31, Pontiac accepted that he had failed. He sent Gladwin a message, written down for him by a Frenchman, in which the Ottawa leader announced that he was abandoning the siege. He also expressed a wish to begin peace talks. A few days later, however, Pontiac and a few of his devoted followers slipped away to the Maumee River area, where they spent the winter. In March 1764, Pontiac went to Illinois and talked of resuming the war against the British. He abandoned such ideas when it became obvious that he had little support even among his fellow Ottawas. Had he attempted to go ahead with his military plans it would have been a futile gesture. Colonel John Bradstreet was sent by General Thomas Gage, who had succeeded Amherst as British commander in chief, on an expedition across northern Ohio, and on August 26, 1764, Bradstreet reached Detroit, where representatives of the western tribes were assembled. They acknowledged the sovereignty of King George, agreed to surrender all their captives, and promised to make war on any tribe that turned against the British. Another expedition from Fort Pitt, under Colonel Bouquet, was necessary to finally pacify the western natives and to convince them that further resistance was pointless.
At Oswego, New York, Sir William Johnson presided over a great peace council in July 1766 that put the finishing touches on the peace arrangements hammered out earlier by Bradstreet and Bouquet. Pontiac himself was present at this council, and he, like the other leaders who were there, stood up and pledged to work for peace between the British and the Indians during the remainder of his life. The great Michigan Indian leader appears to have kept his word, as he went among the tribes of the Midwest and preached that the realities of the situation, if nothing else, made it impractical for the Indians to oppose the presence of the British among them. It was because of his pro-British attitude, apparently, that members of the Peoria tribe in Illinois murdered Pontiac in the spring of 1769. Others took his body across the Mississippi and buried him in St. Louis.
Following Colonel Bradstreet's arrival in Detroit in August 1764, Henry Gladwin, having served his king most capably, returned to England, where he lived the life of a country gentleman until his death in 1791. Bradstreet sent Captain William Howard to reoccupy Michilimackinac. Charles Langlade, who had done what he could to save the British garrison, now carried out a plan he had made before the uprising to move his headquarters to Green Bay, where he had numerous relatives. Here he spent the remainder of his life, although during the American Revolution he fought with the British against the thirteen colonies. He became reconciled to American control, however, and lived until early in the nineteenth century. He became known as the "father of Wisconsin," and a county in that state is named for him. (4)
After the Indian uprising the British did not reestablish permanent garrisons either at Sault Ste. Marie or at Fort St. Joseph. Around the latter place the Potawatomi continued to occupy their villages, and the fort remained a rendezvous for fur traders. Louis Chevalier was given the responsibility of guarding British interests in the St. Joseph Valley following the suppression of the Indian outbreak. He was under the supervision of the commandant at Michilimackinac.
Having acquired a vast new territory from the French under the peace treaty signed at Paris on February 10, 1763, the British were confronted with the problem of how to govern it. The responsibility for formulating a policy was entrusted to the Earl of Shelburne, who was president of the Board of Trade. Unlike many of his contemporaries who spent their time drinking and gambling, Shelburne was industrious and well read. On June 8, 1763, he proposed the policy that was adopted by the British government and announced in October 1763. It is known as the Proclamation of 1763.
Shelburne drew up his plan before news of the Indian uprising led by Pontiac had reached England. Nevertheless, its provisions were based on considerations related to the Indian problem. During the French and Indian War the British, in order to secure Indian support, had signed the Treaty of Easton with several chiefs, pledging that the region west of the Alleghenies would be reserved for the natives. The British had also pacified the Cherokee in the south by making a pledge similar to the one they had made to the northern tribes at Easton. Hence the British government, if it was to keep its pledges to the Indians, had to reserve the trans-Allegheny region for them. The need to take steps to counter the menace of Indian revolt was underscored when news reached England of Pontiac's attack on Detroit and the Indian assaults on other British-held posts. This news hastened the issuance of the Proclamation by the British authorities. (5)
The Proclamation reserved all the lands west of the Alleghenies for the Indians, and no purchases of Indian lands were to be made except through imperial agents. Traders were required to take out licenses from the governor or commander in chief of the colony where they resided. The Proclamation provided for civil government in the province of Quebec, but that province was to include only the French settlements along the St. Lawrence. This left the entire Great Lakes area under military rule.
Several of the thirteen colonies had claims under their charters on the region west of the Alleghenies. The Proclamation nullified these claims, and this nullification became one of the basic causes for the animosity against the mother country that led to the American Revolution. The Proclamation was not intended to be permanent, but was designed as a temporary expedient to quiet hostile Indians. The British appear to have contemplated a gradual and orderly acquisition of Indian lands through purchase by imperial agents, which lands would then be opened to settlement. By failing to provide civil government for Detroit, Michilimackinac, and other western posts, the Proclamation left the French people who resided at these places, as well as the British who came to them, under military rule until the passage of the Quebec Act in 1774.
The method of regulating the fur trade was a major problem facing the British after the defeat of Pontiac. As early as 1756 the British government had appointed two imperial agents, one in the North and the other in the South, to regulate the fur trade. The appointee in the North was Sir William Johnson, whose prestige and influence among the Indians made him particularly well suited to the task of developing policies that would assuage the Indians' fears and hostilities. In November 1763, Johnson proposed a comprehensive plan to place Indian affairs entirely in the hands of the two imperial agents, himself in the North and Captain John Stuart in the South. The plan would be administered by their agents, who were called commissaries. These commissaries were to control prices, keep the traders from cheating the natives, and see that the rules of the trade were enforced. They were to act in cooperation with the military commandants at the various posts, who were subject to the orders of the commander in chief of the British forces in America. Johnson advised that all trade be confined to the posts and that each trader be licensed. This plan was received with favor by the Board of Trade in London, but it never received full approval. In January 1765, General James Murray issued a proclamation declaring hostilities with the natives at an end and opening the fur trade at designated posts, including Detroit and Michilimackinac, to licensed traders. In spite of the fact that no authorization had been received from London, Johnson's plan was partially put into effect. It evoked a storm of protest from Montreal merchants, particularly that part of it which prohibited trade outside the posts. Spanish and French traders operating out of New Orleans and St. Louis would capture a large part of the peltry trade, it was feared, if the British traders were confined to the posts. At Michilimackinac, Captain Howard issued permits to a few individuals to conduct trade outside the post, an action for which he was harshly criticized by those who were denied the coveted permits.
One of the factors that created delay and uncertainty in America was the frequent changes in ministries at the British capital. Shelburne, who had been responsible for the Proclamation of 1763, was replaced by Lord Hillsborough even before the Proclamation was issued. But in 1767 Shelburne was back in office. He did not share Johnson's view that the West should be kept as a permanent reserve for Indians and fur traders. He had never intended that the Proclamation should be more than a temporary policy. He saw in the West a great area for future settlement and colonization, whereas Johnson thought of it only in terms of the fur trade and Indian relations. Shelburne suggested the formation of three new colonies: one around Detroit, another in the Illinois country, and a third on the Ohio River. He proposed to let the thirteen colonies control the fur trade, to withdraw the troops gradually, and to open the area for settlement in an orderly fashion. Before the talented Shelburne could press the plan upon the king there was another political overturn and Hillsborough once more replaced him. Hillsborough's plan was neither to follow a determined policy of imperial control nor to put the responsibility squarely on the colonies. The Indian agents were retained, but with reduced authority. The colonies were to pay the salaries of the lesser officials at the posts and were to supply presents for the Indians, a wholly impractical idea. No new colonies were to be authorized. The plan utterly failed to give the colonies any stake in the West, yet, for reasons of economy, it made imperial control ineffective.
The Proclamation of 1763 had virtually invalidated the claims and dashed the hopes of the land speculation companies that had been formed just prior to the French and Indian War in Virginia and Pennsylvania. But there was a rash of new schemes in the years following 1763, based on the expectation that the terms of the Proclamation would be modified or reversed. A Virginia group, which included on its roster of members the Washingtons and the Lees, and a Pennsylvania company that included Benjamin Franklin among its members, sought to induce the British government to grant large tracts of land for purposes of settlement. Several other such companies were formed in America. Major Robert Rogers, commandant at Fort Michilimackinac during part of the period, and Jonathan Carver, one of his subordinates, each made a proposal for new western colonies, including one with its center at Detroit. Largely through pressure from land speculators and the companies they formed, the imperial agents negotiated with the Indians for an extension westward of the Proclamation line. Although the larger schemes of the land speculators seemed at times close to realization, they failed to materialize prior to the outbreak of the Revolution. The opposition of the great fur merchants in London and the probability that any large-scale colonization would have sparked a new Indian revolt were probably the principal factors in bringing about the failure of the schemes of the land speculators.
Thus Michigan and the entire Great Lakes area remained Indian country, with the British asserting their authority only at a few isolated posts. In the interests of economy, garrisons were maintained after 1771 only at Detroit and Michilimackinac. Trade revived at Detroit, where Indians from the entire lower lakes region brought their annual catches to exchange for clothing, guns, ammunition, trinkets, and--whenever possible--intoxicating liquor. The French habitants, scattered along both banks of the Detroit River, appeared quite indifferent to the change in masters, so long as they could enjoy their small farms and orchards, have a hand in the fur trade, and worship in their beloved church. Although Detroit remained under military rule, a magistrate was appointed and petty disputes were settled by suits at law.
The most colorful figure appearing at Michilimackinac during the British regime was Major Robert Rogers. After he had successfully carried out his assignment to accept the surrender of Detroit to the British in 1760, he was sent to the Carolinas to help put down the revolt of the Cherokee. While there he met Governor Arthur Dobbs, the aging governor of North Carolina, who long had been fascinated by the lure of the imaginary Northwest Passage. He appears to have found an ardent disciple in Rogers, who accepted his belief that there was a waterway between Hudson Bay and the Pacific Ocean. In 1765 Rogers went to London in quest of authority and financial backing to make a search for this passage. He had resigned his military commission, having gotten into the ill graces of both General Gage and Sir William Johnson. But he made quite a hit in England, got some influential backers, and won an appointment as commandant at Michilimackinac. When he left England he was confident that his extravagant requests for financial backing, together with permission to undertake the search for a northwest passage, would be forthcoming, although he had no positive assurance of either. He assumed command at Michilimackinac in 1766. In the fall of that year he sent out an expedition to look for the passage. The expedition was led by Jonathan Carver, from whose pen we have vivid descriptions of the West of that day. (6) Carver got only as far as the Grand Portage, north of Lake Superior, when lack of supplies forced him to return.
Soon after the return of Carver, Rogers fell on evil days. Gage and Johnson, both distrustful of Rogers, sent a commissary to watch over his activities. The man chosen was Lieutenant Benjamin Roberts, with whom Rogers had already quarreled. Roberts found that the traders were very favorable to Rogers, for Rogers knew the Indians well and understood every aspect of the fur trade. Disregarding orders to confine the trade to an area near the fort, Rogers granted permission to the traders to venture in all directions. In 1767 thirty-two canoes carrying trade goods left Michilimackinac for Lake Superior, sixty canoes for Green Bay, and twenty-nine for other destinations in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Because he was heavily in debt, Rogers traded on his own account, which was forbidden, although this was essentially what officers since Cadillac's day had always done. Rogers also allowed liquor to be used in trading, another violation of his orders. Needless to say, he was soon involved in a bitter quarrel with Roberts. Although they managed to compose their differences temporarily, Rogers was accused of conspiring to join hands with the French traders operating out of St. Louis. For this he was arrested and taken in chains back to Montreal for trial. Despite the efforts of his powerful enemies to convict him on a charge of treason, he was acquitted and returned to England, where he was again lionized for a time. Rogers's career, however, was ultimately ruined by the charges that had been made against him, and the remaining years of his life were increasingly tragic for him. (7)
While Rogers was at Michilimackinac, the British also made an effort to exploit the mineral wealth of the Lake Superior region. Much earlier the French had discovered that the shores of this great lake abounded in copper, but they had not vigorously pursued mining the mineral. Apparently through his acquaintance with Rogers, Charles Townshend, a British official, became interested in the possibility of exploiting the mineral wealth of this region. He commissioned Rogers to investigate the possibilities, and Rogers responded in 1767 by engaging Henry Bostwick, a British trader, and Jean Baptiste Cadotte, who was acquainted with the Indian legends and the stories of the French attempts at mining, to make an exploratory trip. Alexander Baxter, Jr., son of the Russian consul at London and a mining expert, also appeared at Michilimackinac, probably because of his interest in the project. Upon examining the data and specimens collected by Bostwick and Cadotte, Baxter became convinced that great riches could be gained by exploiting the area. A company was formed for this purpose by a group of English noblemen and funds were subscribed. Alexander Henry, the fur trader, was also involved in the project. A shipyard was set up near Sault Ste. Marie, a fort was constructed, an assaying furnace was begun, and men were sent out to collect ores. It was confidently expected that they would find gold and silver as well as copper.
The fur traders disliked all this hubbub and looked askance at the establishment of a fort near the Sault. Meanwhile Lieutenant John Nordberg, another Russian mining expert, found a stone that assayed in London 75 percent silver. The promoters were elated and redoubled their efforts. Workmen were first taken to the mouth of the Ontonagon River, where some mining was attempted in 1771, but in 1772 prospecting was shifted to the northeast shore of Lake Superior, where a shaft thirty feet deep was sunk. The vein did not prove profitable, and the next year the project was suspended. Thus ended the British effort to exploit a source of wealth that one day was to prove far richer than the commerce in furs.
Persistent reports of disorder and even disloyalty in the West reached the British commander, General Gage, but nothing was done to meet repeated demands from Detroit, and even from the Illinois country, for civil government. An alternative, seriously considered and favored by Gage, was to deport the French residents of Illinois, and perhaps others in the West, in the manner in which the British had earlier uprooted the Acadians from Nova Scotia and sent them to Louisiana. "Let the savages enjoy their Deserts in quiet," advised Gage. But when the Earl of Hillsborough, who favored Gage's plan, was succeeded as president of the Board of Trade by the Earl of Dartmouth, whose ideas were quite different, the policy of deportation was abandoned.
In 1774 Parliament passed the Quebec Act, which extended the boundaries of the province of Quebec west to the Mississippi River and south as far as the Ohio River. French civil law was to be applied, but in criminal cases British law would prevail. Roman Catholics would enjoy religious liberty, whereas only limited toleration was the rule in England at the time. Four lieutenant governors were to be appointed, one each for Detroit, Michilimackinac, the Illinois settlements, and Vincennes. The governor of Quebec was to have an appointed legislative council, but there was no provision for an elected assembly, since representative government was not part of the French inhabitants' cultural heritage. When the Revolution broke out, this act helped to retain the allegiance of the French people of Quebec to Great Britain, and caused them to turn a cold shoulder to proposals of the Continental Congress that they join in the revolt against the mother country. Their priests felt that the full freedom of worship accorded Roman Catholics in the Quebec Act might be more than they could expect were the Puritan New Englanders to have a voice in their affairs. But so far as the thirteen colonies were concerned, the Quebec Act was associated with the other "coercive laws" passed in 1774 to discipline the colonies. Indeed, it is the only British act that the Declaration of Independence mentions specifically. The Declaration cited the omission of an elected assembly in the Quebec Act as evidence of the intent of the king's government to impose tyranny on America. By extending the boundaries of the province of Quebec, the Quebec Act was also viewed by Americans as invalidating the claims of Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut to western lands even though the act contained a provision specifically denying this intent.
Sir Guy Carleton, who became governor of Quebec, appointed Henry Hamilton as lieutenant governor at Detroit the year following the passage of the Quebec Act. Inferior courts of jurisdiction were to be established both at Detroit and at Michilimackinac, with appeals possible to the superior courts at Quebec and Montreal. This was the extent of civil government in Michigan. The revolt of the thirteen colonies, which started in 1775, made it impractical to carry out further the plans for civil government. Hamilton became the commander of the British forces around Detroit as well as the chief resident civil official; thus, there was little real modification of military rule, except that marriages could now be legally registered, petty disputes could be resolved by civil processes, and matters such as the inheritance of property could be handled in a legal manner.
The American Revolution, which delayed for more than a decade the full implementation of the Quebec Act, was to a considerable extent more the direct result of problems growing out of administering and developing Britain's new western lands, such as Michigan, than it was of the events around Boston that American historians have traditionally emphasized. The British taxpayer had paid dearly for the French and Indian War; the British national debt more than doubled. After the war, the cost of maintaining garrisons and officials at places such as Detroit and Michilimackinac meant a further drain on the British treasury. It was about time, the British government concluded, that the colonies paid part of the bill. The Americans protested the taxes that Parliament proceeded to impose on them, partly because of their natural aversion to any taxes, and partly because they contended that they received no benefits from the maintenance of British garrisons in the West which the taxes were designed to pay for; rather, the profits from the fur trade which these garrisons protected went into the pockets of London merchants. The colonists were denied the legal right to settle on the western lands by the terms of the Proclamation of 1763, although these were not fully observed. The resentment of the Virginians in particular against the closing of the West to settlement persuaded them to join forces with the New Englanders, who were protesting the new taxes. This combination of forces from New England and Virginia made possible the American Revolution and victory for the patriots.
During the Revolution, as during the earlier colonial wars between Britain and France, no actual fighting between the principal combatants occurred on Michigan soil, but Michigan again played a major role in the war, this time as the center of British power in the West, just as it had been the center of French power in the earlier conflicts. The Indians, who only a dozen years before had fought to drive the British out of this region, now fought with them against the Americans. British policy after 1763 had been designed to assuage the Indians and to prevent encroachment on their lands by colonial farmers. Thus it was inevitable that the natives would side with the British, because an American victory would, Indian leaders correctly foresaw, have disastrous consequences for the Indians of the Middle West. The Continental Congress never entertained the hope that the Indians could be persuaded to support the patriot cause, but concentrated its efforts on keeping the Indian tribes neutral. Even with this limited objective, only the Shawnee and the Delaware tribes promised to remain neutral.
In the Michigan area, the veteran frontier soldier Charles Langlade organized and led Indian war parties in support of the British as he had done so many times on behalf of the French in earlier wars. On July 4, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was being signed in Philadelphia, Langlade was departing from Michilimackinac on an assignment designed to prevent the revolutionists from achieving their goal of independence. Much of the attention of Langlade, the Michigan Indians, and the British authorities was directed at Kentucky, then part of Virginia, where a few settlements had been established in violation of the Proclamation of 1763. The Indians resented this invasion of their hunting grounds, and the Revolution afforded them an open invitation to attack these settlements. Indians around Detroit demanded that Governor Hamilton furnish them with arms, ammunition, and supplies for their forays against the Kentuckians, and pay them a bounty for the scalps they brought back. Although reluctant to let loose the barbarism of an Indian war, Hamilton had no alternative if he was to retain the loyalty of the Indians to the British cause. This was no excuse in the eyes of the Kentuckians, who nicknamed Hamilton "the hair-buyer"--a term that has stuck with Hamilton, despite the work of recent historians who have shown that the practice of taking scalps was not one that Hamilton actively encouraged. These historians have also shown that Hamilton's policy of turning the Indians loose was dictated by his superiors and carried out by other British officers as well, who have escaped Hamilton's fate of being branded an early-day war criminal. (8)
Tiring of the constant raids, George Rogers Clark, a young Kentuckian, determined that the best defense was to take the offensive. He journeyed to the Virginia capital of Williamsburg in the winter of 1777-78, where he obtained approval and some assistance from Governor Patrick Henry to attack the British-held posts in the Illinois country and ultimately to advance north and attack the bases in Michigan from which the Indian attacks originated. By this time an alliance of the Americans with France had become a certainty, and Clark hoped to use this as a lever to secure the backing of the French inhabitants in the West. His little army reached Kaskaskia in southern Illinois on July 4, 1778, approaching so stealthily that its defenders had little chance to resist. Nearby Cahokia was occupied without any resistance. The local priest, Father Pierre Gibault, was among those whom Clark won over to the American cause, after he promised the priest that the Americans would not interfere with Catholic worship. Gibault not only helped convert the local French inhabitants to the patriot cause, but also journeyed overland to Vincennes, where his persuasion was important in securing for Clark the support of the local French inhabitants. Ever after, Father Gibault was known as the "patriot priest." He had come to the Illinois country in 1768, and was for many years one of very few Catholic priests in the Middle West after the departure of the Jesuits, who had left in 1762 when they were expelled from France and French possessions by order of the king. On his way out to Illinois in 1768, Gibault stopped at Michilimackinac and Fort St. Joseph to hear confessions, to baptize, and to perform marriage ceremonies, and from his base in Kaskaskia he made at least two more missionary trips to Michigan. He was at Fort St. Joseph in 1773, where he made the last entry in the register of the mission begun over eighty years before, and at Michilimackinac in 1775, returning from the latter by way of Detroit. (9)
By August 1778, Clark was in control of the Illinois country. The alliance of the Indians with the British threatened to come apart in the face of Clark's confidence, his blustering speeches, and his distribution of presents. When Hamilton in Detroit learned of Clark's actions, he hastened to take countermeasures. He summoned the Indians, gathered supplies, and enlisted the militia for a retaliatory blow. He left Detroit on October 7 with approximately 250 men. Their route led them down the Detroit River to Lake Erie and into the Maumee River, which they followed to its source. Then they went over a short portage to the Wabash and down that river to Vincennes, which they reached after a journey of seventy-one days. Since Captain Leonard Helm, whom Clark had sent to take possession of the fort at Vincennes, known as Fort Sackville, had but one man to help him, he had no recourse but to surrender. The 621 inhabitants of Vincennes were summoned by Hamilton to renew their oaths of allegiance to Britain.
The capture of Vincennes by Henry Hamilton was the prelude to one of the most heroic exploits in American history. When Clark learned that Vincennes had fallen to the British, he decided that since his own small force was no match for Hamilton's, the only hope he had of recapturing the Indiana outpost was by means of a surprise attack. Actually, only a third of Hamilton's attacking force remained with him as the Indians and most of the militia returned to their homes once Fort Sackville had been captured. In any event, Clark reasoned that Hamilton would not think the Americans would move on Vincennes in midwinter, but that is precisely what Clark did. With 172 men, he proceeded overland on February 6, 1779, sending supplies by the water route down the Mississippi to the Ohio, and then up the Ohio to the Wabash and on to Vincennes. Clark's men, half-starved, waded through deep mud in driving, cold rains, often fording streams where they had to break the ice with their shoulders as they waded across. Hamilton was unaware of Clark's approach until Clark opened fire on the fort. The townspeople were easily won over and furnished the Americans with supplies of ammunition and food which they had hidden away. The Kentucky riflemen, with deadly accuracy, picked off the British defenders, and on February 25, Hamilton surrendered the fort and its seventy-nine defenders to Clark. Hamilton was then taken to Williamsburg, where he was confined for many months in the jail that is now one of the leading tourist attractions in the restored colonial city. He was never brought to trial for the atrocities for which he had been held responsible. Eventually, this ex-lieutenant governor of Detroit was handed back to the British, and he finished out his career as governor of the British colony of Bermuda, the capital of which is named in his honor. (10)
Clark's victory created a new situation in the upper Middle West. The Indians began to waver in their support of the British. Colonel Arent Schuyler De Peyster, the commander at Michilimackinac, had called Charles Langlade from Green Bay and Charles Gautier, another who was, like Langlade, engaged in the fur trade when not on military assignment, to organize an Indian force to cooperate with Hamilton in the attack he had planned to make from Vincennes to recapture control of Kaskaskia and Cahokia. When the Indian war party arrived at what is now Milwaukee, it learned of Hamilton's surrender. At once the Indians turned insolent and refused to go further. Already they had been somewhat affected by agents sent among them by Clark. De Peyster received reports that the Ottawa and Chippewa had promised American agents that they would remain neutral in the event of an attack on Michilimackinac. At Detroit, Captain Richard Lernoult, who had succeeded Hamilton in command there, was told by the Wyandot that they intended to make peace with the Americans. At a council held in June 1779, Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi chieftains in the Detroit area made similar declarations. Anticipating that Clark would strike north at Detroit, Lernoult hastened to strengthen the defenses of Detroit by building a new fort on a hill located behind the town, from which point an attacking enemy force, equipped with cannon, could have forced the surrender of the old French fort on the river. Designed to withstand an attack by a properly equipped army rather than to impress the Indians, the new bastion was named Fort Lernoult. (11)
Colonel De Peyster, who wrote verses that provide interesting insights into life in Michigan in these years and who eventually retired to Scotland, where he became the close friend of another poet, Robert Burns, (12) was transferred from Michilimackinac to the command at Detroit. Major Patrick Sinclair replaced De Peyster at Michilimackinac, arriving there in the fall of 1779. Sinclair at once decided to relocate the fort at the Straits on Mackinac Island, where he would be in a better position for a defense against an American attack than he would be within the decaying walls of the old French fort along the shores of Lake Michigan. Between 1779 and 1781, a new fort was built on the south side of Mackinac Island. Materials from the old fort were used in the new post and in the adjacent settlement, with some buildings, including the Catholic church, being hauled in their entirety or in sections over the frozen surface of the Straits in the winter. What was left of the old fort was destroyed when the island fort was occupied in 1781. When Francis Parkman visited the site in 1845, little was visible to help him recreate the scene of the Indian attack of 1763. Much remained beneath the surface, however, which archaeologists have uncovered since 1959 and which has enabled many of the fort's buildings to be reconstructed on their original locations. (13)
As it turned out, neither Fort Lernoult nor the new Fort Michilimackinac would have had to have been built, because George Rogers Clark was never able to organize the forces needed for an assault on the British bases in Michigan. Instead, in 1780, the British took the offensive and planned an attack on the Illinois settlements, to be launched from Michilimackinac. An Indian force of more than seven hundred warriors was assembled by Charles Langlade and other traders, with supplies being provided from Michilimackinac. The force, which included several Sioux warriors, gathered at Prairie du Chien, where the Wisconsin River enters the Mississippi. The foray was directed against Spanish St. Louis as well as Kaskaskia and Cahokia, since Spain had joined the war against Great Britain in 1779. Langlade's forces assaulted both Cahokia and St. Louis on May 26, 1780, but without Langlade's customary success. Both places fended off the attacks, and in a short time countermeasures against the British were being planned.
Early in 1781, an emissary of the French government, Colonel Mottin de la Balme, arrived in Illinois to rally the French residents against Britain. As a result of his efforts an expedition was organized that captured the British post on the Maumee River near present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. But Miami Indians under Chief Little Turtle pursued La Balme and killed almost all of the invaders, including La Balme. Of more interest to Michigan's history, an expedition of sixteen men from Cahokia had marched against Fort St. Joseph in December 1780. There had been no garrison at that southwestern Michigan fort since the 1763 uprising, and the Indians who lived nearby were away on their winter hunt. Some fifty bales of goods were seized and several traders were taken prisoner. But as the raiders were retreating down the shore of Lake Michigan, they were overtaken near the present site of Michigan City, Indiana, by a pursuing band of British militiamen and traders. Four were killed, two were wounded, seven surrendered, and three escaped in the woods. The goods and captives they had carried off were confiscated. (14)
Fort St. Joseph, though not garrisoned, was a place of some importance to the British during the Revolution. In 1779 De Peyster had sent his second-in-command at Michilimackinac, Lieutenant Thomas Bennett, with a force of twenty soldiers and sixty traders and Indians to Fort St. Joseph to intercept an American detachment that, he had been informed, was coming up the Wabash to occupy the place. The rumor proved not to be based on fact. Bennett arrived at Fort St. Joseph, which apparently was in ruins, and is believed to have built a fortification on the western side of the river. His attempt to obtain pledges of support for the British cause from the neighboring Potawatomi ended in failure. Even the arrival of Langlade with a reinforcement of sixty Chippewa did not change the attitude of the natives, and Bennett returned to Michilimackinac. The following year Sinclair, who had succeeded De Peyster at Michilimackinac, decided it would be best for the British cause if the inhabitants at the site of Fort St. Joseph were removed. Louis Chevalier, the trader on whom the British had relied, was now suspected of secretly favoring the American cause. He and his wife were brought to Michilimackinac along with the others. He was subsequently taken to Montreal, where he was tried and acquitted of charges of disloyalty.
Some traders were apparently left at Fort St. Joseph, and they were the ones who were captured by the French raiding party from Cahokia, and later released by the force which overtook and broke up the raiding party. The British force was under the command of Lieutenant Dagneau de Quindre, who had been sent from Michilimackinac by Sinclair to safeguard the place. He and his men appear to have been encamped some distance from the old fort when the raiding party arrived. As soon as the news of the disaster which had befallen the raiding party reached Cahokia and St. Louis across the Mississippi River, a retaliatory force was recruited. Don Eugenio Poure, a militia captain at St. Louis, was given command by the Spanish commandant at St. Louis, Don Francisco Cruzat, who organized the expedition. It included sixty-five militiamen, both Spanish from St. Louis and French from Cahokia, and at least sixty Indians. Setting out in the dead of winter, the party arrived at Fort St. Joseph on February 12, 1781, after following the portage from the Kankakee to the St. Joseph River. One of the members of the party was Louison Chevalier, son of the trader now under suspicion by the British. The fort was taken and the Spanish flag was raised, giving Niles the distinction of being the only place in Michigan which has been under four flags. The Spanish control of the area was transitory at best, however; only twenty-four hours later, after gathering all the loot it could carry, the expedition took the flag down and left Fort St. Joseph to make its way back to Cahokia and St. Louis.
To this day, the motives behind this raid on Fort St. Joseph remain unclear. Older historians were inclined to believe that it was designed to give Spain a claim on the lands east of the Mississippi. Some of the more recent investigators, who have had access to the Spanish archives, reject this theory, declaring that although the Spanish did seek to use the raid to advance their claims to these areas, this was after the raid had taken place. There is no evidence that the raid was officially inspired or ordered by the Madrid government. Some suggest that it was planned to forestall another possible attack on Cahokia and St. Louis by destroying supplies that were presumed to have been deposited at Fort St. Joseph for such an expedition. Other writers, however, view the raid as having been inspired by the hope for loot, or a wish to revenge the defeat suffered by the raiding party of the preceding year, or that it was part of an effort by the Spanish to strengthen ties with some Indian groups. (15)
The British in Detroit continued to plan expeditions against both Clark in Illinois and Fort Pitt, while Clark and the commander at Fort Pitt planned to attack Detroit. None of these plans succeeded, although there was a great deal of fighting in the Ohio Valley area even after the surrender at Yorktown in the fall of 1781, which virtually ended hostilities in the East. Not until De Peyster received word in April 1783 that a treaty of peace had been signed did hostilities cease in the western country.
During the war an episode in Michigan history demonstrated the plight of those who chose not to fight on either side. A religious group called Moravians, who came originally from Germany to settle at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, had established some missions among the Indians near the present town of Tuscarawas in southern Ohio. The missionaries had taught the Indians arts and crafts, as well as their religion, which, like that of the Quakers, was opposed to war. When the Revolution broke out the Moravians and their Delaware charges attempted to stay neutral. This was difficult because the patriots regarded all the western Indians as openly or secretly disposed toward the British. In order to escape the tide of conflict, the settlement was moved northward to the neighborhood of Sandusky on Lake Erie. Late in 1781 some of the Delaware, called "Christian Indians," returned to their town of Gnadenhutten in southern Ohio to harvest the grain they had planted. While there, a party of Virginians and others deceived them into surrender by telling them they would be taken east for protection. Then the Americans murdered ninety of them in cold blood. David Zeisburger, leader of the mission, had conferred with De Peyster at Detroit regarding the removal of his community to Michigan. Hearing the news of the frightful massacre at Gnadenhutten, Zeisburger and his followers started for Detroit, with their possessions.
For a time the Moravians and their Delaware charges lived in or near Detroit. Zeisburger left this description of the town in April 1782:
It is something wonderful here, and pleasant if anyone is found who Shows a desire for God's word, for the place here is like Sodom, where all the sins are committed. The French have, indeed, a Church here and a Priest, who, however, is quite old, and never preaches, but merely reads mass. The English and Protestants have neither church nor preacher, and wish for neither, although they could have them if they would. (16)
Somewhat later the Moravians and their Delaware converts were allowed to build a community on the Clinton River near present-day Mt. Clemens. It consisted of twenty-seven log cabins and a meetinghouse. Land was cleared, crops were raised, and a road was built--the first inland road in Michigan--between the settlement and a mill situated within the present city of Detroit. The community prospered between 1782 and 1786. But when it became clear that Michigan would ultimately be taken over by the United States, most of the group moved to Canada, where they built a town called New Gnadenhutten on the Thames River. Here again a successful and thriving community developed, only to be destroyed once more as a result of war when the armies of William Henry Harrison swept through the area during the War of 1812.
The end of the Revolutionary War found the Americans in somewhat shaky control of Kentucky and the Illinois country and the British still in firm possession of the Great Lakes region, including Michigan. Therefore, had each side kept the territory it controlled at the close of the war, Michigan would have remained in British hands. That this did not happen was due largely to some aspects of European politics at the time.
Several generations of historians held the belief that the conquests of George Rogers Clark saved Michigan and the Northwest for the United States. But a careful study of the peace negotiations has led the foremost authority on the subject and many other writers in recent years to deny that such was the case. They have concluded that Clark's hold on the Illinois country at the time the peace was negotiated was weak; there is even some doubt about whether the negotiators were fully acquainted with Clark's earlier victories. It now seems clear that, in any event, the principal reason the United States was able to obtain title to the area between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi was that Great Britain preferred to see the United States get all this region rather than allowing Spain to obtain a portion of it. (17)
The disaster the British suffered at Yorktown and a change in the ministry made the British government ready to negotiate for peace. A peace commission was appointed and proceeded to Paris, where it met the American negotiators, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay, and Henry Laurens. The American commission had been instructed by Congress to negotiate jointly with the French. But when Jay learned that the French foreign minister, Count Vergennes, had sent an aide to London to confer with British officials, he suspected that the French were dealing separately with Britain, and persuaded his fellow commissioners that this justified them in proceeding with separate negotiations as well. Franklin proposed to the British commission that it would be desirable for Britain to cede all of Canada and Nova Scotia to the United States. But news that the Franco-Spanish assault on British-held Gibraltar had failed served to stiffen the British attitude, and it became evident that it was out of the question for the United States to secure Canada. The question then was how much territory south of Canada the United States would be able to acquire, and where the boundary lines would be drawn.
The Count of Aranda, Spanish minister at the French court, now attempted to persuade Vergennes to back a plan that would not only return Florida to Spain (it had been lost to Britain in 1763) but would also give Spain a large area east of the Mississippi, extending from the Ohio River to the Gulf of Mexico. Under Aranda's plan the United States would have retained parts of what are now the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio. The remainder of the region north of the Ohio would have been allowed to remain in British hands while Spain would have received the area south of Tennessee. The British rejected this proposal, and instead agreed to cede all the region between Canada and Florida east of the Mississippi to the United States.
But the question remained as to exactly where the boundary between Canada and the United States would be located. The Americans gave the British a choice of two lines: one, the 45th parallel from the St. Lawrence River to the Mississippi, the other, through the middle of Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, and Superior, and the rivers connecting these lakes. Had the British accepted the first option, the United States would have secured what is now southern Ontario, but the northern tip of lower Michigan, all of upper Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and northern Minnesota would have remained British. Great Britain would have had title to all the rich iron and copper deposits of the Lake Superior region. The British selected the boundary through the middle of the Great Lakes and their connecting waterways probably because this left them free to use these lakes and waterways for the fur trade and other commercial purposes. (18) This boundary was not surveyed for another forty years, and until that was done, disputes over the precise location of the line described in the treaty were an ever present threat to peace between the British and their former colonies.
The Treaty of 1783 specifically gave Isle Royale in Lake Superior to the United States. It stated that the water boundary should run "northward of the isles Royal and Phelipeaux." The latter first appeared on a map prepared by the cartographer Bellin in 1744. The island does not exist, but it continued to appear on maps of Lake Superior for many years, including the Mitchell map used in the Paris peace talks of 1783. Many writers and others, including park rangers at Isle Royale National Park, have perpetuated the story that Franklin, knowing of the existence of copper deposits on Isle Royale, managed to include the island within the United States because of that knowledge. This story, for the most part, has now been disproved. Mitchell's map shows both Isle Royale and the mythical island of Phelipeaux centrally located in Lake Superior, which was, in the case of Isle Royale, considerably to the south of where that island is actually located. According to Mitchell, therefore, the natural water dividing line that the negotiators were attempting to describe in the treaty would run north of Isle Royale, which is no doubt the reason the island was placed on the American side of the line, where it would ultimately fall within the boundaries of the state of Michigan. (19)
The preliminary articles of peace were signed on November 30, 1782, but they did not take effect until the Anglo-French treaty, settling the war between Britain and France, was signed on September 3, 1783. Even then, however, all provisions of the treaty with the new United States were not immediately carried out. Although Great Britain had agreed to withdraw all of its garrisons from the territory ceded to the United States, this promise was not kept. Until 1796, British soldiers continued to occupy Detroit, Mackinac Island, and other "northwest posts," including Niagara, Oswego, and several forts extending as far east as Lake Champlain. For thirteen years, British occupation of these areas, including Michigan, effectively delayed occupation by the Americans.
There were several reasons for this delay. Even before the treaty had been ratified, influential fur merchants in London were urging the British government to retain the posts for two or three years to give them time to readjust their trading operations. The day before George III proclaimed the treaty, an order went out to America to retain the posts. But instead of keeping the posts for two or three years, the British stayed on for thirteen years, offering as justification the claim that the United States had violated some terms of the treaty. The United States had agreed to "earnestly recommend" to the states the return of confiscated properties belonging to loyalists who had fled the colonies during the Revolution. Congress made the recommendation but the states did nothing. The treaty also specified that debts owed by Americans to the British prior to the Revolution were obligations still to be honored. The implementation of this treaty provision was again one that was impeded by the actions of the individual states. Nevertheless, it is clear that the British had decided to retain the northwest posts before they knew whether the Americans were going to live up to all of their treaty pledges.
The British not only kept their troops at Detroit and the fort on Mackinac Island, but they also took measures to establish institutions of civil government in Michigan--political actions which implied an intention to go beyond a mere temporary occupation of the area. Michigan was administered as part of the province of Quebec, established by the act of 1774. During the Revolution, thousands of loyalists had settled in what is now southern Ontario. Almost at once they began to demand the traditional British rights, such as habeas corpus, trial by jury, British commercial law, and an elective assembly. To meet these demands, Sir Guy Carleton, now Lord Dorchester--the governor--established four administrative districts in the region. Detroit, with a population still predominantly French, was included within the district of Hesse. A court of common pleas, sheriff, and justices of the peace were provided for the district. William D. Powell presided over the court of common pleas, which held its sessions at Sandwich (present-day Windsor) on the Canadian side of the Detroit River.
In 1791 a more comprehensive plan for the government of Canada divided Quebec into two provinces: Lower Canada (so-called because it was on the lower reaches of the St. Lawrence River), with a predominantly French population, and Upper Canada, where the small number of French people in Michigan was far outnumbered by approximately twenty thousand English-speaking loyalists now living in the region of Kingston and Niagara. Each province was to have an elected assembly. John Graves Simcoe, a British officer in the Revolution and an ardent imperialist, was appointed chief executive of Upper Canada with the title of lieutenant governor. Soon after his arrival in the capital of Kingston, counties were established from which representatives were to be chosen to the assembly. Simcoe chose good English names for the counties, as well as for the towns. The Detroit area was divided between the counties of Kent and Essex. In 1792 the first election in Michigan history was held to choose the area's members in the provincial assembly. The victors from the Detroit area were William Macomb, Francois Baby, and David W. Smith. In addition, another area resident, Alexander Grant, was appointed to the lieutenant governor's council. Laws were quickly passed for the introduction of trial by jury, a system of courts, and English civil law, replacing the French civil law that previously had prevailed in the area. Another law legalized all marriages that had been contracted irregularly because of the absence of clergy in these remote settlements.
Aside from these political changes, life in Michigan went on much as it had before the war. The Indians continued to bring their furs from great distances, exchanging them for the usual trade goods and for liquor when they could get it. One British official estimated the value of the fur trade at Detroit in 1785 at 180,000 [pounds sterling], of which well over half came from territories within the boundaries of the United States. After 1785, however, the fur trade at Detroit declined, but at Michilimackinac the volume of trade continued to be high. The northern trade was largely in the hands of the North West Company, formed in 1783. Headquarters were on Mackinac Island (which the British, however, still called Michilimackinac) adjacent to the fort. By 1793, the French Revolution began to have an effect on the fur trade. The French aristocrats, who had always been heavy buyers of furs, were fleeing into exile or were falling victim to the guillotine. Keeping the forts in repair and providing for the garrisons began to be viewed as an increasingly heavy expense which, together with the decline in the fur trade, was a factor in the British decision to evacuate these posts. But the involvement of Great Britain in a new war with France in 1793 and a brilliant victory over the Indians by the American general, Anthony Wayne, were the decisive factors in finally ending the British occupation of Michigan.
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|Publication:||Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1995|
|Previous Article:||Chapter 4: Michigan under French development.|
|Next Article:||Chapter 6: Michigan and the old northwest, 1783-1805.|