In 1779, during the height of the Revolutionary War, British soldiers commanding the fort of Michilimackinac in Michigan began to worry that the post was vulnerable to naval attacks by American rebels. Over the course of the next two years, they dismantled the fort and moved all the people who lived there to nearby Mackinac Island. As Brandon Champion reports for Michigan Live, archaeologists recently discovered an object that was left behind during the mass relocation: an intact, 250-year-old lock.
Found in the root cellar of a fur trader’s house, the lock appears to have been attached to a small chest or trunk. Lynn Evans, curator of archaeology at Mackinac State Historic Parks, tells Champion that the piece was likely used sometime between 1760 and 1770. It is caked with mud and grime, but an ornate design is nevertheless visible.
By the time the lock was in use, Michilimackinac was a thriving trade post. The fortified community was founded around 1715 by French soldiers, according to the Mackinac State Historic Parks website, and soon became a hub for traders operating around the Great Lakes. Each summer, thousands of Native Americans and French Canadians would descend on the fort, peddling furs and other wares.
Trade remained stable when the British took over Michilimackinac in 1761. Then, in 1763, the post became embroiled in the Pontiac uprising. A Native American coalition, led by the Ottawa chief Pontiac, swept through the Great Lakes region, attacking British forts in the hopes of preventing settlers from seizing their ancestral lands. Chippewa fighters captured Michilimackinac in 1763, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia, but the fort was reoccupied one year later.
When the community of Michilimackinac moved to Mackinac Island, residents burned any buildings that were not dismantled and transported to the new location. Since 1959, archaeologists have been hard at work excavating and reconstructing this historic site.
Because the entire community of Michilimackinac was uprooted in the late 18th century, archaeologists rarely unearth large, intact objects like the lock. Still, they have unearthed about one million artifacts to date—a collection that now includes a rare lock dating back to the fort’s heyday.