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Today in 1763, the British lost Fort Michilimackinac

Amelia Payette

It didn’t look like an attack at first when American Indians in the Straits of Mackinac joined the rebellion against the British. Ojibwa and Sauk Indians started a game of baggatiway – renamed lacrosse by the French – in front of Fort Michilimackinac.

Indian women watching the game kept hatchets under their garments and passed them to the warriors when they rushed the fort. They quickly killed more than 15 British soldiers and held the fort for a year. One observer reported seeing the attackers "furiously cutting down and scalping every Englishman they found."

The battle was part of Pontiac’s War, a Native American uprising against the British just a few years before the American Revolution.

Tribes in the Great Lakes had gotten along well with the French, but less so with the British. Phil Porter, the director of Mackinac State Historic Parks, says the British acted more like landlords.

“They came in here to be in control of the area, to conduct the business, and to get out,” Porter says.

The British were not interested in local customs like giving gifts when they met with tribal leaders to trade or negotiate.

Credit Amelia Payette

“The British said, ‘well that’s nonsense. We’re here to trade and we’ll trade for what we want and what you want, but we’re not going to give you gifts,’” Porter explains.

Pontiac’s War ended with a treaty. The British returned to Fort Michilimackinac, but later burned it when the garrison was moved to Mackinac Island.  

The original fort was built by the French 300 years ago in 1715. A replica stands today on the site of the original at the base of the Mackinac Bridge. The site has been excavated for decades and yielded more than a million artifacts.

Peter Payette is the Executive Director of Interlochen Public Radio.