Fort Michilimackinac is an impressive presence on the northern-most point of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Now overlooking the mighty Mackinac Bridge, it once stood as a vital safeguard of the straights that connect Lake Michigan with Lake Huron. As impenetrable as the military buildings and walls seem, it sounds incredible that something as simple as a game of lacrosse brought about its defeat.
First established by the French in 1715, Fort Michilimackinac (pronounced “mish-ill-ee-mack-in-awe”), the fort safeguarded the French-Canadian trading post system. Traders from the Atlantic Coast were able to access the Mississippi River its surrounding territories through the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.
The fort transferred to British possession in 1761, following the defeat of the French in the French and Indian War. It continued to stand guard over the Straights of Mackinac but increasingly gained importance as a trading post. It was two years later that one of the most curious defeats in military history took place.
Fort Michilimackinac stood in the midst of settlements of Europeans and Native Americans. The Ojibwe were the most prominent tribe of indigenous people in the area. On June 2, 1763, a group of Ojibwe staged a game of baaga’adowe outside the fort. Baaga’adowe was a forerunner of the modern game of lacrosse. The British soldiers were intrigued and came out to watch the game.
With the soldiers properly distracted, the Ojibwe gained entrance to the fort and killed most of the inhabitants. They did this as part of what would become known as Pontiac’s Rebellion. The Ojibwe held the fort for a year before negotiating a return to the British.
The British held the ford until 1781 when they abandoned it in favor a limestone fort on nearby Mackinac Island. It was initially named Fort Michilimackinac, but it was eventually renamed Fort Mackinac. Baaga’adowe was likewise renamed as lacrosse, and both institutions now symbolize peaceful, cultural coexistence, rather than the bloodshed they once triggered.
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