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Fort Mackinac, Michigan


TitleFort Mackinac, Michigan
Artist/MakerSeth Eastman (1808 - 1875) 
Date1872
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions h. 24.75 x  w. 35.5 in. ( h. 62.9 x  w. 90.2 cm)
Credit LineU.S. Senate Collection
Accession Number33.00014.000


  • Object Description
  • Fort Mackinac is located on Mackinac Island, Michigan, in the narrow waterway between Lakes Huron and Michigan, very near the present border with Canada. During more than a century as an active military post, the fort changed ownership several times and participated directly in only one conflict, the War of 1812. British soldiers built this outpost in 1781, on a high limestone bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. The isolated post provided much needed protection and support for the Great Lakes fur trade. In 1783, following the American victory in the Revolutionary War, the fort became United States property. However, the British remained for another 13 years in an attempt to control fur trade in the upper Great Lakes. In 1796 they evacuated the fort in accordance with the terms of Jay’s Treaty, and the American army occupied and repaired the aging outpost. When the United States declared war on Great Britain in June 1812, the British attacked and recaptured the fort, holding it until the Treaty of Ghent ended the war and returned the post to American possession. The fort sat idle during the Civil War and thereafter was irregularly garrisoned by troops until 1895, when it was finally closed.

    The painting successfully conveys a place and climate quite different from the other locations in the fort series. Like a walled town, the elevated structure consists of separate buildings within the walls. At the right, outside the fort, is a very large house. At the foot of the steep hill are three houses, then a stone wall with a gate, and finally the shore with a rudimentary jetty. A canoe approaches the jetty. A large fishing boat is on the shore, partly covered, with a fisherman in attendance. The looming cloud in the darkening sky warns of an approaching storm, whose advance winds have stirred the water of this safe harbor into small whitecaps, occasioning this small flurry of activity. In the distance at the left, beyond the point, the viewer glimpses a steamship and a sail on Lake Michigan. For the weather-bearing clouds, Seth Eastman has employed blended swirls of blue-black paint in an improvisatory pattern. It is clear from the painting that the island is populated, if sparsely, but there is no evidence of the very slight military presence that was still there in 1872.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings
  • Signature (lower right corner): S. E. / 1872