Happy birthday, dearest Michigan
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” — George Orwell
I love this state.
I love that we enjoy all four seasons and have a decent chance at a white Christmas every year. I love that we have rich urban centers and charming rural enclaves. I love that we have lakes as big as seas and mountain-like regions that create stunning landscapes jutting out of those lakes. I love that we have grand architectural marvels like one of the longest suspension bridges in the world connecting our two peninsulas.
Out of that deep love, I wish a very happy birthday to the state of Michigan, which turned 186 on Jan. 26.
The Michigan Territory became the 26th star on the flag on that date in 1837.
The road to that milestone is long and winding, filled with petulance and war and exploration and genocide and invention and politics. Great books have been written on the subject, but I’ll try to condense the story here, using the Legislature’s official brief history of the state as a guide.
Michigan began with the Native Americans, including the Ojibway, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Huron, Sauk, Miami and Menominee. They farmed, hunted, and made settlements along rivers and along the Great Lakes shores, primarily in the southern Lower Peninsula. They mined copper in the Upper Peninsula.
Europeans first arrived in the very early 1600s, hitting what is now the Sault Ste. Marie area as they traveled west from Quebec in search of a connection to Asia.
Financed by Quebec founder Samuel de Champlain, French explorers such as Etienne Brule and Jean Nicolet traversed much of the Great Lakes region, but a losing war with the mighty Iroquois in New York blocked off passages through Lakes Ontario and Erie, forcing white explorers to settle much of the northern parts of Michigan before the lower parts. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac wouldn’t establish a fort at the Detroit River until 1701, nearly a century after his predecessors first traveled to our state.
Behind the French explorers came the French missionaries, who worked to convert the Native Americans to Christianity and built the first white settlements in the state. In 1668, Father Jacques Marquette founded the first permanent settlement in Michigan at Sault Ste. Marie. Three years later, he founded St. Ignace.
Along with the French missionaries came fur trappers and traders from France and other European nations.
All the while, the French competed with the British for influence in the area until tensions flared into the French and Indian War in 1754. Fought primarily in Canada, no major battles in that war happened in Michigan, but the British victory ended France’s control of the Great Lakes. In 1760, the French formally surrendered Detroit to the British.
While the French mostly treated Native Americans with respect and often lived among them, the British ruled with a stronger arm and had allied themselves with Great Lakes tribes long unfriendly to Michigan tribes. The British mistreatment of the Michigan tribes led Pontiac, an Ottawa leader, to orchestrate a rebellion in 1763 that felled every British fort except Detroit, Pitt, and Niagara. Failing to capture Detroit, Pontiac’s Rebellion eventually fell back.
Michigan seemed little disturbed by the American Revolution until the war ended with maps that put Michigan under American control.
Through the early years of America, Michigan or parts of it belonged to different territories whose changing boundaries at one time or another included parts of what is now Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakotas.
Moving into the 1800s, Americans’ westward migration was slow in Michigan, in part because of ongoing fighting with British-backed Native Americans.
Michigan briefly returned to British control with the launch of the War of 1812, but America won that war and reclaimed Detroit in September 1813 and Mackinac and Drummond islands in 1815.
Lewis Cass, then governor of Michigan Territory, negotiated new treaties with Native Americans in 1819, 1820, and 1821, allowing a surge in the white population into the 1830s. By 1833, we had a large enough population to seek statehood and in 1835 drafted a state constitution.
We had a brief skirmish with the new state of Ohio over a 468-square-mile strip of land at our southern border. The first statehood convention in September 1836 refused to give that strip of land to Ohio as a condition of statehood, but the second convention in December agreed.
We earned full statehood the following month.
Then began a long, booming era of settlements for logging, trapping, farming, and other endeavors, until 1886, when Karl Benz patented the gas-powered automobile in Germany, and 1903, when Henry Ford founded his Ford Motor Co.
You know the rest.
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.