SAMUEL FLETCHER COOK
DRUMMOND ISLAND; THE STORY OF THE BRITISH OCCUPATION (1815-1828)
Published by R. Smith Printing Co., Lansing, Michigan, 1896.
Chapter: I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X XI XII
Lying across the northern end of Lake Huron, and separated from the mainland of the upper peninsular of Michigan by the Detour Straight, is an island, 20 by 13 miles in extreme length and breadth, and comprising an area of about 118 square miles. Its shores are lined with beautiful harbor bays, which are thickly studded with small islands whose high lying surfaces are decked with a dense covering of perennial green. Streams and small woodland lakes abound on the island, which is densely wooded with both the larger and smaller growths native to that northern clime. What may be called the southwestern corner of this island, is a long point of high rocky formation, averaging less than a mile in width, the sunny southeastern slope of which looks out on a Bay in which are numerous islands, and affords land and waterscape views of no ordinary beauty. On the west side of this point is the Detour Straight - the pathway of immense commerce passing through the St. Mary's River. On the eastern side of the point, in a locality which seems to have been chosen more on account of its beauty than for its value for military strategy, the British flag floated and the red coats performed garrison duty, during a period of 13 years, in defiance of the Treaty of Ghent, the award of the boundary commissioners thereunder, and the comity of nations.
A recent visitor remarks of this once important spot, that "It is wonderfully beautiful and interesting in its present loneliness, but to nearly every one, in these latter times its history is a sealed book." Where once was the life and bustle of a military post, garrisoned by warlike Britons, now are only the remains - and sad ones - of the populous and well built garrison town. There are broad and well graded avenues lined with Lombardy poplars, roads upon which was handled the heavy artillery, great chimneys of stone with their ample fireplaces, marking where stood upwards of 50 buildings, kitchen garden plots grown up to luxuriant grass, wild flowers and underbrush intermingled with rose bushes, while apple cherry, plum and pear trees are not infrequent, and still yield their fruit. And at no great distances lies the city of the sleeping dead, who since their comrades were driven thence, have been undisturbed by the sunrise gun, and over whom the winds alone have chanted requiems.
Today, the town and garrison sites may be readily traced, and with the aid of the map which has been constructed partly from the sketches of the engineer officers, and partly from the detailed accounts sent forward to headquarters by the commandants, the lines of the government buildings and the private houses, with their grounds, may readily be made out. Some of the houses were of large size, and were warmed during the long and severe winters by means of enormous stone chimneys having huge fireplaces on two of their sides. A few of the chimneys show that the houses which were about them were two storied structures; but this was true of but a few. In addition to the more solid and comfortable homes of the more opulent of the inhabitants, very many of the people found not uncomfortable shelter in structures called «bark lodges». These were made of a framework of poles, covered over, roof and sides, with cedar bark. Houses of that kind were very comfortable while new, but decayed very rapidly, and were liable to take fire and be consumed almost in a breath. When Col. T. L. McKenney, the traveler and writer on Indian affairs, visited the place in 1827, only the year before its abandonment, he found the post surgeon, who had recently arrived from London with a young bride, housed in a structure of this kind, and seemingly contented with his home and its appointments.
During their stay, neither citizens or civilians seem to have been laggard in the matter of providing for their own comfort, expecting, as we can but infer, that there was to be their permanent home. The kitchens of the larger houses, of which the location can be made out with reasonable certainty, were separate from the houses, and in some instances at quite a distance away. There are now no traces of an oven in connection with these houses, nor indeed any cranes in the fireplaces, and it would seem that the private as well as the public baking was done in the large bake house, situated on a little neck of land projecting into the Bay, and nearly surrounded by water. The nearness to the surface, rendering the digging of cellars too onerous, resort was had to surface cellars, some of which are yet so well preserved as to give evidence of their purpose.
A short distance south of the town are the remains of a lime kiln, and open quarry close to hand. The quality of the lime which was burned there, must have been excellent, since it has withstood the action of weather for two-thirds of a century, with but slight evidence of decay. The structures which surrounded those chimneys crumbled to mold more than half a century ago, but the chimneys themselves stand as witnesses to the quality of their building. On the east side of the long arm of the Bay extending north of the town was at some time a saw mill, as is shown by the vestiges of the flame, the dam and the foundation timbers which have been preserved by the action of the water. Neither the traditions of the island or the mainland record anything more of this mill than is evident to the eye today. It is evident that sawed lumber was used to some extent in the buildings, since even now a few boards can be found hidden in the rank grass covering the spots where houses formerly stood, bearing the nail marks peculiar to roof boards. It is fairly certain that the mill does not belong to any recent date, and it seems probable that by its aid, the lumber necessary to give the houses, at least, an air of finish, was prepared.
The structures used by the garrison were unusually large for log houses, and were also more scattered than was usual in those days for military posts. The parade ground fronted on the Bay, and the barracks and commissary buildings were at its western border, while back of these a rocky hill rose suddenly. The officers' quarters were scattered here and there in such a manner as, judging from the appearance at the present time, they chanced to be dropped down, without assignment of location by the engineer or reference to the other buildings.
The boulevard which passed on the east front of the town site lots and thence to the parade ground, beyond which it again appears as the artillery road to the shore of the Detour Straight, is now after the lapse of so many years, as perfect in form as when constructed. Deep gutter lines at the edges of a well rounded roadway, carry the water quickly away, and the summer torrents and departing winter snows have not succeeded in injuring its true alignment. This roadway, for the distance of about 2000 feet, its northerly end beginning some 500 feet from the Bay, is treble the width of the artillery road.
The bold curve of land into the Bay at the east side of the boulevard was reserved, without any buildings, for gardens, and near its center is the ruin of an unusually large cellar which must have furnished ample storage for the protection of all the potatoes and other vegetables needed by the garrison for a season.
On either side of the roadway was space of 25 feet for lawn, and then a row of Lombardy poplars, quite a number of which are yet sustaining a vigorous life, drawn from the porous limestone rock, with the aid of very little soil. The labor and expense incident to the construction of this boulevard were not slight; and considering the fact that during all the period of the occupation the local army chest was hampered for funds for the needed repair of the buildings of the post, it may be believed that the expense was met from sources other than those apparent. The inhabitants, no doubt, made contributions of money and labor, but it would not be strange if considerable quantities of the presents charged out as distributed by the Indian Department were used in payment for the labor expended on this excellent piece of road construction. The same is true of the artillery road, which was deemed by those in command of the post as necessary for the transport of the heavy cannon to the other side of the ridge in case there should be need to warn away or engage an enemy approaching by way of the Detour Straight. When built, it made a wonderfully fine drive, but the orders from headquarters did not allow of any expenditures of that kind. Built it was, and yet remains, grasses grown and embowered in thick shade, as a proof of unwillingness to submit to the inevitable.
Over those roads the dwellers there, no doubt, took their carriage drives with their wives, their children or their sweethearts. Nor can we doubt that along those charming stretches of boulevard and mountain road, many happy moments were spent by people who, shut off from the world at large, had the tact and the spirit to provide themselves with those comfortable surroundings which should remove the disagreeable from their lives.
The little cemetery, situated about halfway between the town and the top of the ridge to the west, was an object of no little thought and careful attention. At the present time it is so filled with rank growths of trees and bushes that it is obscured from view even from the artillery road which passes it no more than 50 feet away. This place for burial was laid out 100 by 150 feet, and was surrounded by a fence of cedar posts hewed uniformly 6 inches square, and set in the ground 4 inches apart. It would seem that the death-rate at the post must have been unusually large for that healthful climate, since as nearly as can now be made out very little room was left within this enclosure, unoccupied, when the last interment was made. It is known, however, that the first to be laid here were a large number of soldiers who were so sadly neglected by the government they served, as to their food supply and the medical care thereby rendered necessary, that they were carried off by scurvy. This little hamlet of the dead was not for those alone whom death had discharged from the service of the King, but any of his faithful subjects who for any cause were dwellers in that region when their final summons came, found here a resting place. The interments appear to have begun at the southwest corner and to have been in regular rows with little space between the graves. All the certain vacant space no remaining, is a part of the last row on the east side. Around three of the graves are neat palings of pickets. At a number of the graves are large headboards, thick and substantially prepared. Over the rounded top is an iron band to protect the grain of the wood from the weather, and the inscriptions made with black paint show not unusual skill in lettering, but a rare quality of paint which has withstood the weather sufficiently to remain after the rain and wind of half a century has worn away the wood around the letters so that they stand out in relief as though embossed.
Only a little more than half a century seems to have effaced from the memory more than it has been able to from the face of the island; for the story of the establishment, building, occupancy and relinquishment of the military post seems well nigh forgotten, even by those whose lives have been spent in the intermediate neighborhood. But the officer who founded the post, and his successors in command as well, were good letter writers who neglected no opportunity to inform their superiors of the occurrences there, nor omitted from their reports the rumors wafted to them from the distant regions. Their letters analyzed and compared, furnish the story of this well nigh forgotton spot in the midst of the great unsalted seas.
The signing of the Treaty of Ghent, December 28, 1814, found the island of Mackinaw, with its fortifications, in the possession of the British; but under the terms of the treaty this island again became the property of the United States, and made necessary the transfer of the British garrison to some other point. Where that point should be, was to be determined by the anxiety of the British officers in command in America, to retain control of the passage between the upper and lower lakes, and perchance, to found a second Gibraltar, whose guns should compel obedience to the royal mandate; but more especially the anxiety to retain prestige among the Indian tribes for which they had labored so hard and had enjoyed so long. It is a matter of note that the news of the signing of the treaty, and the consequent close of the war was so long a time in reaching the northwestern frontier that hostilities did not cease in the vicinity of Mackinaw until late in the spring of 1815. The messenger sent with the dispatches and orders relative to the carrying out of the treaty, was two months on the road from York, now Toronto, to Mackinaw; and rumor had ample time to convey to the post commander the general nature of the news which he might expect subsequently to learn officially.
It was not until May 11, 1815, that Lieut. Col. McDonall, in command at Mackinaw, received the official dispatches, with a copy of the treaty, and instructions to prepare for the turning over of that post to the United States military authorities. Those instructions comprehended not only the evacuation of that, to the British, important post, but the commandant was enjoined to select some place in the same neighborhood which could be a point of defense and offense, there to erect temporary quarters for the garrison and shelter for the government stores, and to remove his command thither.
By these instructions McDonall was sorely perplexed. His services on the frontier had made him the spokesman on behalf of the King with the Indian tribes of the whole northwest. The country included in his command was, to use his own words, greater in extent than the whole of Lower Canada; and from his intimate relations with the Indian tribes, and the promises he had held out to them on behalf of the King, it seemed to him than in relinquishing the island of Mackinaw, for a long period a favorite resort for numerous tribes who were accustomed to gather there from regions as far distant as the basin of the Mississippi and the Red River of the north, he would be leaving them to a fate which they did not deserve, while the British would lose the influence which they had sought and so long maintained over these allies. To him it appeared both politic and necessary that the new post should be situated as to be easily accessible to the Indians, and capable of being made of even more strategic importance than Mackinaw. The fort he had in contemplation must, with its surroundings, be such as to insure the respect of the allied tribes, and cause them to look with disdain upon Mackinaw as the representation among them of an inferior power.
To build a new army post in that country and at that time was no easy task, for the British military system was not supple, and the red tape necessary for even trifling expenditures from the military chest was well nigh unlimited. But the urgency of the matter was great. The United States authorities, from the Secretary of State down to the subalterns in command of frontier outposts, were pressing compliance with the terms of the treaty, and frame excuses for delay as he would, McDonall realized at the outset that no great length of time could elapse before he must yield to the inevitable. He must remove his garrison, but where should he plant the flag of the King? In his dispatches to his superiors he discussed every spot that seemed to him available; the St. Mary's River, St. Joseph Island, Great Manitoulin Island and the island just east of Point Detour, for which he gave no name. The Falls of St. Mary, with many advantages, was a point too far removed from Mackinaw. St. Joseph Island, although occupied by the Northwest Company as a trading post, and where they had buildings which had cost £6000, was unfit for fortification, and no locality on Grand Manitoulin seemed to meet the demands of the case. But move he must, and seeing as yet no way of the dilemma, McDonall began the shipment of quantities of commissary and Indian stores to St. Joseph Island, where they could be conveniently stored in the ample warehouses of the Northwest Company.
There was one question which caused Lt. Col. McDonall no little uneasiness, and to which he constantly reverted in his dispatches - whether wherever the new post might be located it would not finally be acceded to be on territory belonging to the United States. With this feeling of doubt in his mind, the pros and cons of each locality were discussed in his letters, and while as a thorough Briton he could see no justice or reason in allowing any of the assumptions which he felt sure the United States would make, he evidently feared that his government would yield until the British were crowded from that part of of the country. But McDonnall, from his point of view, removed from any of the reverses of the war, failed to realize that the United States had conquered the terms of the treaty, and so he protested in strong terms that the noble nation whose humble servant he was, should not surrender their honor to the pusillanimous Americans, and thus, while rendering themselves despicable in the minds of the Indians, lose all hold upon the Great Northwest. In the light of history, his fears and predictions have almost the tone and force of realized prophecy.
About the middle of June, Capt. Payne, Royal Engineers, and Capt. Collier, Royal Navy, having arrived at Mackinaw for that purpose, the three officers set about determining the site for the future post. They cruised about among the islands at the north end of Lake Huron, and on the 24th, McDonall reported that the location had been agreed upon. He described its advantages, but gives, in his letter, no name for the island to which he was to remove. However, in a speech he sent a few days later to the Indians in the region of the Mississippi, he said: "I invite you once a year to the King your great Father's new fort at Pontaganipy." This then, was the Indian name for the island; but it does not appear in any of the letters sent to headquarters. His first dispatch after arriving at the island was dated simply "Manitoulin Island," while the next and all subsequent ones were date "Drummond Island." We may well believe that this name for the island was selected by the officers who made a choice of it for a military post, in honor of the then «Lieutenant Governor and Commander of the Forces in Canada», Sir Gordon Drummond.
In his dispatch announcing the location of the new post, McDonall said: "The situation combines several important advantages, viz., an admirable harbor, proximity to the Indians, and will enable us also to command the passage of the Detour, giving our vessels the double advantage of a good anchorage in that strait, in addition to a fine harbor adjoining. The ground fixed upon for the new post and which was best calculated for the harbor is very rock and will be difficult to work."
Near the southwesterly point of Drummond Island, as already described, a beautiful Bay studded with islands pierces the land from southwest towards northeast, and is divided from the Detour Strait by a high rugged ridge of limestone rock, which averages a little less than a mile in width. On the east side of this ridge and fronting on the Bay in which a large fleet might ride at safe anchorage, was the site chosen for the post. By means of artillery advantageously placed on the other side of the ridge, it was expected to command the navigation of the strait on the west, and thus be able to control the commerce between the lower lakes and Lake Superior. The site fixed upon for the new post, and the fort which the officers did not doubt would be built, was on land afterwards described by the United States land survey as Section 1, Township 41 north, of Range 4 east; a selection which for military purposes was well nigh useless, but as a rendezvous from which to retain influence over the Indians, and as a spot surpassingly beautiful, was admirably chosen.
On Capt. Payne, Royal Engineers, devolved the duty of making ready for the occupancy of the place, and with the limited means at his command, he entered upon the task of clearing off the timber, grading the surface, and erecting the buildings necessary for the use of the garrison. But the commandant's plan for the post contemplated more than the construction of a fortification; there was to be a trading post of importance, and as a necessary adjunct thereto, a town of reasonable dimensions. In conformity with this plan, as rapidly as the labor of clearing the ground permitted, Capt. Payne laid out the lines of the fort, near which he marked an ample parade ground, and staked out the future town. This, on the plan sent to headquarters for approval, was named «Collier», and had its streets, park, and fair sized lots. The dimensions of the lots intended for residence purposes were uniformly 50 by 150 feet.
It was the 18th of July when the British garrison finally took its departure from Mackinaw, and sailed away to a new rendezvous. The date for their leaving had been set for July 1st, and the United States troops who were to occupy the place, arrived on that date; but the British had made so little progress in the removal of their stores, and were so scantily provided with transport that they begged for fifteen more days in which to get themselves away. Col. Butler did not wish to be disobliging, and having agreed to the delay asked for, encamped his troops on the low ground south of the fort and awaited the convenience of the British commandant. The boats to be had were small, and made but slow progress in their sailing, and as there was no wharf at Drummond, the unloading was accompanied with serious hindrance. When the 15th of the month arrived, so much yet remained to be moved that a further postponement of three days was granted, at which time the Stars and Stripes were again unfurled from the flagstaff at the fort, before the departing British had reached their boats at the dock.
The force which Lt. Col. McDonall had under his command, consisted of one company of the 81st, and two companies of the Royal Newfoundland regiments. The term of enlistment of the last two companies had already expired, and they were relieved and sent home in late autumn. To the number of those under arms are to be added about 25 men in the employ of the Indian Department, together with a large number of families belonging to the soldiers, and the numerous attachés of the Northwest Trading Company. While no accurate return has been left of the number of people who on that July day, 1815, found themselves in the wilderness of Drummond Island engaged in the task of providing themselves shelter, a careful estimate from the data at hand places the number at between 300 and 450, exclusive of the Indians, who in large numbers were prompt to accompany them, in order to share their food supplies.
For the task of building a new town and the necessary public structures, the garrison seems to have been unequal; they lacked the ingenuity and ability necessary to clear away the timber with readiness, and to make use of the material at hand for the erection of the needed buildings. The commandant began at once a complaint of the inefficiency of his men for the labor at which he was compelled to employ them, and clamored for some companies of trained artisans to be sent in lieu of those he had. It seems more than probable that the two companies of the Newfoundland regiment whose term of enlistment had closed with the war, and who were anxious to be sent home, failed to exhibit any special energy in the pioneer labor of felling trees, rooting out stumps and hewing timber for log houses which would benefit those who should take their places. The first attention was necessarily given to the matter of barracks for the soldiers and shelter for the people and the stores on hand, and there was no opportunity to do no more in the matter of fortification than to make plans relative thereto. But there was another reason for the delay in the building of the promised fort - the uncertainty whether the island they had chosen would be awarded by the commissioners under the treaty, to the British King. So serious was the doubt on this subject in the mind of the home government, that under date of October 10, of that year, Earl Bathurst wrote from Downing Street, directing that no steps should be taken towards the construction of fortifications on Drummond Island until the commissioners should make their report.
Lacking everything in the way of building material which seemed to him requisite to the purpose, McDonall proposed to his chief in command that the buildings on St. Joseph Island, belonging to the Northwestern Company, be purchased, taken down and re-erected at the new post.
When, in 1812, war having been declared between the United States and Great Britain, a British express was sent to the northwest posts to inform thereof, he found a captain and 40 men stationed on St. Joseph Island, together with the employees and retainers of the trading companies; and it was from there that the successful raid which resulted in the capture of Mackinaw by the simple demand to surrender, was organized and started.
When the British left Mackinaw Island in 1796, they removed to St. Joseph Island in St. Mary's River, and there established a small post. As that location had no advantages from a military point of view, nor indeed from any other that can be discovered, it is probable that the choice of location was made by the fur companies, prompted by the desire to be sufficiently near to Mackinaw to retain their trading relations with the Indians who passed through the Mackinaw straights or came from Lake Superior. There the military defenses were slight. A «blockhouse», surrounded with a picketing, a magazine and a commandant's house, seem to have been all the government provided for itself; but the fur companies had for their uses some large and well built structures. The «blockhouse» was probably nothing more than a large log house. Lieut. Robert Cowell, commanding there in 1801, said that it contained but three rooms, which did not furnish sufficient accommodations for the officers. However, he speaks in his letter of the "fort and its enclosures." The magazine, which was a stone structure, remained in good repair up to and during all the time of the occupation of Drummond Island, and was used as the storing place for the ammunition of that post. But the buildings belonging to the trading companies were extensive in size and number, and were not a little tempting to the garrison which was in need of comfortable shelter. The negotiations for the purchase resulted only in securing some of the larger ones for the use of the post, and the officers were obliged to buy the dwelling houses on their individual account. The commandant and a portion of the officers were thus able to house themselves comfortably before the winter set in, and the others followed their example the ensuing season.
In order that the Indians might still be impressed with an overpowering sense of the greatness of the British, notwithstanding their reverses and enforced relinquishment of the island of Mackinaw, Col. McDonall conceived that an extensive system of fortifications for offense and defense was necessary. When leaving Mackinaw, he had told the Indians that at the place he was going there would be a larger fort and bigger guns than those he was leaving, and that those who remained true to their allegiance to the King should be able to look with disdain upon those who remained with the Americans. The place selected, on Drummond Island, was chosen for its supposed adaptability to the purposes of fortification; and the first among his thoughts, on his arrival there, was how to carry out his plan in that direction.
Just what Col. Mc. Donall's plans for fortification were, or how extensive they were, it is now not possible to determine, since he seems to have withheld the details of his dream of greatness from his superiors, giving only here and there a hint as to the possibilities and propriety of making a veritable stronghold of the rocky neck of the island which he had chosen on behalf of his King, and was holding in his name. But from the scattered hints to be found in his letters, as well as the sketches and memoranda from the engineer department, and the ruins of what constituted the defenses which were actually constructed, we may with reason conclude as to the plans which the doughty colonel harbored in his mind, and as far as he was able, put into tangible timber and stone.
The first demand in the interest of safety which he tried to meet, was something in the way of defense from outside attacks; and for this Col. McDonall conceived that a «blockhouse» would meet the necessary requirement. Before the command itself had been housed for the approaching winter, the timber for the proposed structure had been cut, hewn and gotten on the ground where it was to be erected. This was on the point of a hill lying due north from the barracks, some eighty rods, and which seemed to offer more then ordinary inducements for fortification. The edges around the southern point of this hill were originally steep, and were made more so by digging, so as to present a sharp declivity about 15 feet high, upon which an attacking party would have difficulty in climbing. On top of this hill, it was proposed to construct the wished for blockhouse. But instead of permission to use the public moneys for the building of this most ardently represented necessary means of defense, the order came from London to expend absolutely nothing in the construction of military works upon the island until the decision of the question as to boundary was had, and the island was assured as belonging to the King. Notwithstanding this positive prohibition, which was accompanied with the reasons therefore, at frequent intervals up to the time of the announcement of the boundary award, the authorities at Quebec were urged in language stronger than modern military etiquette would allow, to consent to the building of this blockhouse. The authority was never given.
It may not be difficult to understand that a lack of authority for the expenditure of money, may mean simply the charging of the expenditure to some other account. Before the order not to fortify Fort Collier arrived, the engineer at the post had expended nearly £300 in getting ready for the blockhouse. He had already graded the hill to suit his plans, and he had erected on the top an earthwork (a heavy breastwork of stone) 50 foot square on the inside, with the necessary platforms for the handling of heavy artillery. Being cut off from his projected blockhouse which was intended to be formidable in size, and to serve the double purpose of barracks and fort, a small blockhouse, 12 feet square at its base, and presumably 16 feet square in its upper story, was built a short distance north of the northwest corner of the open earth-work, which might serve as a guard house for the detail in charge of the artillery, and from which they might fire upon marauders with musketry without exposing themselves to danger.
The earth-work, and the ruins of the little blockhouse may yet be seen as silent witnesses of the ardor of the officers who built them, as well as of their constant fear of the hordes of Indians which visited them every year clamoring for gifts, and seeming to be ready to take for themselves whatever was denied to their request.
But beyond every other consideration, Col. McDonall regarded the command of the Detour passage by the King's artillery as of the very highest importance. He was not at all at peace with the United States, and evidently expected that the treaty which had been made by the King would be of short life. He seemed to think that the navy of the United States would sail up the lakes and attempt the capture of the points north of Drummond, in violation of the treaty and the comity of nations. The reports to headquarters show that the rugged contour of the point which had been chosen by McDonall and his brother officers, had been selected for the reason that there, more advantageously than elsewhere, the King's cannon might be so placed as to compel obedience to the demands of the King's officers. He seems to have been oblivious to the fact that the passage around the eastern end of the island was equally good and easy to make, and that he might thunder forth his wrath at his pleasure from the heights of the point he had set himself down upon, while the wily Yankee could laugh at his scorn as his good boat danced over the waters of the eastern passage.
A little more than half a mile to the northwest of the garrison town, rises a hill, steep, and of contour to win the heart of him who would plant a cannon to be used at long range. Its side abuts on the western shore of the island, and its summit stands 175 feet above the water. From the clearing made by the British, for the fort which they hoped there to erect, one of the finest views in all lake country may be had. Sitting at the door of the cottage there placed a homesteader in search of the romantic, on any evening during the season of navigation, one may see five mariner's beacons casting their kindly light over the waters to guide him on his way, - the Spectacle Reef, Detour Point, Frying Pan Island, and Pipe Island lighthouses, and one of the river range lights; one flash light (red and white), two white lights and two red lights.
It was from this very spot that Col. McDonall hoped to sound the lion's growl at will, and from there send forth the note of defiance from the deep throated gun. His hopes were not realized; the fort was never built. Under the regime of his successors, the clearing he had made for the erection of a lofty fortress was turned to the uses of agriculture, and 10 acre field, enclosed by a rail fence which still remains as a relic of the departed Britons, yielded potatoes for the sustenance of the King's soldiers.
But a fort situated at such an altitude that the guns of a ship could not hope to reach it so as to cause any disturbance to those behind its ramparts, was not enough to satisfy the demands of the time and place; a water battery seemed necessary to ensure to the British complete control of the Straight. On the southern arm of the Portage Bay, was found a spot suited to this purpose. Protected by broad shoals of rock in front, against even the attacks from small boats, it seemed a place where a battery of 32-pounders might command respect. Whether any of the work necessary for the handling of the guns at that point was ever done is now uncertain; but the road over which the heavy guns could be hauled to the spot was so thoroughly made as that today it might be used for a similar purpose.
In the autumn of that year - 1815 - the outlook for the future of his new town had assumed, in correspondence with the ruddy glow of the forest foliage, such roseate hues, that McDonall turned his thought to the purchase for and on behalf of his royal master, of the entire island from the Indian claimants. He stated in a letter to the military secretary of the department that "the principal right and title to this island is vested in a Chippewa chief who usually resides at Sagana Bay, between this and Detroit, and some of his relations." Indian Agent John Askin reported that the owner was "Nebawgnaine, Chippewa chief, who was wounded in the arm at Proctor's defeat." Under McDonall's direction, the Indian agent called those who had claim to the island together, and the two enthusiastic officers were able to formulate with the Indian chiefs a conditional agreement that in case the determination of the boundary line was favorable to continued British occupation, the island should be regularly purchased and paid for. To bind the bargain which was simply one of good faith for future contingent fulfillment, the Indians were given «the freedom of the city and a keg of rum» with which to assuage their grief over the prospective loss of their property. A keg of rum, as put up for a present to Indians, contained three gallons. Each succeeding year, when Nebawgnaine visited the post, as indeed he did not fail to do so, he was treated with the most marked attention, lavish presents and the unfailing keg of rum to lighten the toils of his homeward journey. It appears that the bargain was held to be in force as long as the British were able to remain on the much coveted island.
The commandant was delighted to report the arrival on the 4th of October of a company of sappers and miners, for which he had urgently asked, and his hopes for the future of the post were correspondingly raised. He also reported that owing to the purchase of houses from St. Joseph Island, by the officers of his command, the former settlement there could be barely traced. This statement must have been under the inspiration of his determined enthusiasm over the bright prospect for the new town, since in fact a number of those houses were not removed until the following spring, and quite a number of the buildings were never removed at all, but continued as late, at least, as the summer of 1829. He also boasted that as a result of the removal of houses ready for putting together the new town "is rapidly rising into notice. 14 lots facing the harbor have already been granted to as many respectable individuals, beside nearly as many on another street." A condition which he appended to each grant of a lot, provided that "the houses are to be built the ensuing year, uniform (in front only), not less than 40 foot front and 12 high, well finished and in a manner that will admit of their being whitewashed or painted." He had hopes that by this means "the town will have a fine effect from the beautiful picturesque harbor, between which and the proposed fort there is already a noble parade on which a strong brigade might manoeuvre upon the smooth, solid rock." So sanguine were his anticipations for the future of the place that he asked for himself the grant about his house on the same conditions as the others.
The spring of 1816 found the garrison the victims of a severe type of sea scurvy, which resulted in the loss of a large number of men. The two companies of the 37th Regiment, which had formerly served in India, had come thither from Amherstburg the autumn before, worn out with fever and ague engendered in the low country along the lower Detroit River, and their debilitated condition made them easy victims of the exclusive salt diet to which they were confined. There seems to have been an entire lack of ready resource on the part of all concerned, for they were able during the winter, to secure but few fish in a locality where they are known to plentifully abound, and there is no evidence of any attempt to secure wild game, although there was a large number of Indians and Canadians (presumably half-breeds) at the post the entire winter, who ought to have been exercising their skill in providing a supply of the luscious wild meats for which that region has so long been famous. Early in June the strength of the garrison was decreased by sending away the company of the 81st, and one company of the 37th regiments, leaving only a decimated company of the 37th, and a part of an artillery company. The only labor reported as having been done that season was the gathering together the heavy timber which had been gotten out the previous season for a blockhouse, and piling it up to ensure its preservation from decay.
During the first year on the island, McDonall had purchased a good frame house from the Northwest Company, on St. Joseph Island, had it taken down, transferred it to his new town and re-erected it for his own use and at his own expense. Finding that his dreams for the future were not soon to be realized, he negotiated a sale of his house to the government, and asked to be relieved from the command at that point. On June 26th, Lt. Col. Maule arrived at his post, and to him McDonall resigned his command, and left for Kingston and Quebec. A little later he returned to England, a broken hearted man. During his stay at Mackinaw he had studiously taught the Indians that England was a mighty nation, wholly invincible in war, and that the United States were not worthy the notice of high minded people. When forced to retire to Drummond Island he had told them that there would be a greater fort and heavier guns than at Mackinaw, and the action of his government in yielding up those important places, or even in delaying to assert their superiority and determination to remain in that region, seemed to him to be a direct blow at his character as a gentleman of honor. He carried the sting of this feeling to his grave.
The year 1817 witnessed no change in the affairs of the island. The engineer department sent forward fresh plans for fortification which were promptly rejected on the ground that the title to the island was not yet secure. During the year 1818, Lt. Col. Maule was relieved by Thomas Howard, Major 70th Regiment, and he by James Winnet, Major 68th Light Infantry. The work of the year consisted of a thorough repair of the buildings. The year 1819 passed with nothing to disturb the monotony of the record. On the 25th of June, 1820, a forest fire swept over the island, and strong gale drove the flames towards the town. By the efforts of the garrison, assisted by about four hundred Indians who were visiting the post at the time, no damage was incurred except the destruction of the square timber which had been prepared for the blockhouse.
The commissary department had been stirred to action by the loss of life from scurvy during the spring of 1816, and each summer thereafter a number of beef cattle were shipped from Amherstberg to this post. There was excellent pasturage on St. Joseph Island, but none on Drummond, and the cattle were sent to St. Joseph and cared for by the squad which kept guard over the magazine. During the winter these cattle were driven across the ice to the post to be slaughtered as needed. On January 22, 1821, while this was being done, a number of the cattle broke through the ice, and one was lost.
Major Winnett and his command were relieved June 10, 1822, by a detachment of the 76th Regiment, Major Goff commanding. It was during this year that the determination of the commissioners under the treaty, that Drummond Island did not belong to the King became known at the post, and was the cause of no little correspondence and query as to what to do next. There was, however, no haste on the part of the British authorities to withdraw from United States territory. The transfer of the post to some other point was discussed, but no satisfactory location fixed upon. They seem to have regarded the removal as a matter to be attended to at their convenience.
As a measure preparatory to the evacuation, however, in June, 1823, a board of officers made an inventory of the government property on the island and appraised the value of the 18 buildings used for the purposes of the garrison. They found the total value of the structures on Drummond Island to be £1273, Halifax currency, and of those on St. Joseph Island, £90.
Major Goff, with his command, was relieved in June, 1824, by Lieut. James J. Gaston, with a part of a company of the 70th Regiment, who remained until June, 1827, when they were relieved by Lieut. Thomas Carson, with half a company of the 68th Regiment.
From the time when it became known that there must be an entire relinquishment, the garrison devoted themselves to the one purpose of making themselves comfortable, and their routine of duty as little irksome as possible. While the military authorities discussed where the new post should be located, the real work and expense of the post was for the benefit of the Indians who were all too ready to visit any place where they would be fed without labor on their part, and where their grief for the reverses which had befallen their British friends could be assuaged by copious draughts of the King's rum.
During all their stay at the island, the British were unflagging in their zeal to retain their influence with and control over the Indians who resided in United States territory. In the treaty they had agreed to relinquish all claim and effort in that direction, but the fur trade and the immense profits resulting therefrom to those who were in government employ, overcame what little of honor they possessed, and specious arguments framed for the occasion were a sufficient excuse for enticing those who they agreed to relinquish, to still visit and trade with them. The post at Drummond Island was regularly supplied each year with a vast amount of «Indian goods», which included everything in the way of wearing apparel, guns, ammunition, cooking utensils and the inevitable rum, all of which were distributed to their dusky visitors, or at least charged up on the accounts of the Indian Department as so distributed.
The average number of Indians who were regular visitants at Drummond from the territory now included in northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as shown by the returns made of these visitors who came with wives and children, was fully 4500. At each recurring visit they were fed and supplied at the King's expense. But between the military officers and the fur traders, the Indians were sorely cheated. On their arrival they must needs have a taste of rum for friendship's sake. This was absolutely necessary in order to facilitate trade. When the trading was over, they had very little to show for it. The furs they had brought with them had disappeared, and in return they had a supply of useless but gaudy baubles. The King's officers gave them presents; the traders purchased the presents with rum. Stripped of their season's labor, with no supplies with which to carry on their next season's hunt, the traders made them up an outfit which they were to pay for with the peltries they should bring on their visit the succeeding year. In this way the traders, by the aid of the commandants, kept a perpetual mortgage on the entire catch of nearly every one of their Indian dependants, and reduced them to practical slavery. The King's officers and treasure were actively engaged in this league of robbery, and there can be no doubt that the officers profited more largely than the traders, since the traders were there on sufferance, and if the tribune was not satisfactory, some excuse would readily be found for sending the offender to Quebec to answer for his misdeeds, either real or trumped up. With this fear constant before their eyes, it is not strange that the traders were ready to be the obedient servants of their military protectors.
Lt. Col. McDonall had persisted from the outset in disregarding the treaty provisions relative to the Indians, which as a military officer it was his duty to carry out. He seems also to have been intent on picking a quarrel with the United States, as represented at Mackinaw, When, in the spring of 1816, his men were dying for want of proper food and medical supplies, he requested the loan of such articles, from the commandant at Mackinaw, as were sorely needed, not only were the articles sent without parley, but the United States surgeon was also sent, in order to render any possible relief. Notwithstanding the gentlemanly treatment he had received, he wrote frequent letters complaining of the doings of the officers at Mackinaw relative to certain persons resident there who retained their allegiance to the King, and also in regard to Indian affairs, some of which, at least, were couched in terms none too polite.
One of the amusing features of the relations with the Indians at that time, was the readiness with which, in their search for rum, the noble red men carried tales to both parties. After a visit to Mackinaw, where they were treated as government wards, resident in Unites States territory, and where they had told of the wrong doing of those at Drummond, and the taunting, ugly speeches they had heard there, and had tasted of «a keg of milk, that they might know how to sing», a visit to Drummond was stealthily made, and with the strongest protestations of regard for the King, they prevailed upon the officers to «moisten their lips that they might tell the truth» in regard to what they had but recently seen and heard at Mackinaw. By this means some of the shrewder of the old men among the Indians were able to subsist in comparative ease, and enjoy frequent debauches, as well. But the result of this method of madness on the part of the tale bearers, was to keep the officers of both posts in a constant state of irritation and petty alarm. In reply to a letter written by McDonall to Lieut. Col. Chambers, commanding at Mackinaw, and which was referred to William Henry Putoff, local agent of Indian affairs, Mr. Putoff wrote as follows: "It has been repeatedly observed to me by the Indians that you in council with them on Drummond Island, in the name of the government have forbidden them to trade with the Americans, have ordered them to bring their corn their British Father, or, if prevented by stress of weather, to leave it with the British traders only, on the island of Mackinaw, or bury until spring; that you have sent your order to an Indian trading at L'Arbre Croche for Michael Douseman, forbidding him to trade for or deliver his corn to an American; that you have a few days since held a council at which barrels of rum were opened to them, minute guns were fired and they were informed that the tomahawk would again be raised early in the spring; that the red wampum and tobacco mixed with vermilion was distributed; and they were advised to be on the alert as it was the intention of the Americans to invite them to this island with a view to massacre them; that you would again appear in the night with your big gun upon the island of Mackinaw and that the Americans would dare not to oppose you. These and many other reports of a like character have been repeatedly made to me." The methods instituted by McDonall were faithfully followed by his successors, as long as the supplies of presents and food for so doing were sent forward; and even when the quantity of supplies was curtailed, there was no diminution of effort to secure the regular visits of the Indians.
The necessity for removal from Drummond Island being conceded, and the Prince Regent having expressed a wish that a post should be located at some point near the boundary between the two countries having equal advantages for communication with the Indians and watching the operations of the United States in those regions, a commissioner was sent to examine all the practicable locations and report thereon. His report set forth the site of the Northwest Company's buildings at Sault Ste Marie would cost £1800 to purchase, but that in order to reach their location, vessels must pass directly under the guns of the American fort, which was distant only a mile and a quarter. Hence that site was totally unfit for a military post. Portlock's Harbor, 30 miles north northwest of Drummond, he regarded as out of the question on account of the difficulties of navigation. Although possessed of a good harbor, it would be cut off by the ice in winter, and the passage up the rapids was slow and uncertain at any time. The location on St. Joseph Island, where the post had been prior to 1812, pleased him best, but the expense incident to the entire rebuilding of a fortification at that place made it seriously objectionable. In view of all the contingencies, the chief anxiety being for a point readily accessible to the Indians, Penetanguishene, near the southeast corner of Georgian Bay, seemed to present the fewest disadvantages.
This report, dated September 9, 1825, had to run the gauntlet of officialdom to such an extent that fully three years more had passed before the order for its adoption was promulgated. And so the seasons came and went, until at last, the patience of the United States government being well nigh exhausted, without having provided any place for the reception of the garrison or the safety of the stores, and with no more preparation than though they were escaping from an advancing and overpowering foe, they hustled themselves away.
The order for the abandonment of the post and the transfer of the small garrison to Penetanguishene on Matchedash Bay, having been given, as well as the arrangement for turning over everything except the garrison movable, to an officer of the United States, a brig, the Duke of Wellington, of 130 tons burthen, had been sent from Fort Erie to effect the transfer. It was now later in the season than it was usual to attempt navigation on Lake Huron, but the evacuation could not be longer delayed. The post was to be behind very much as it had been first occupied, without adequate means for the removal, and with a haste amounting to precipitancy.
For 13 years this islands had been the abode of a large number of people. Entering upon it in a wilderness state, they had made for themselves real homes, and accumulated about them quantities of those things which are necessary to home life, and without which frontier life would be unbearable. The family cow, the horse, the pigs, the sheep, poultry, and the produce of their well cared for gardens, were now to be abandoned. The departure of the few soldiers whose presence had been their needed and only protection, made it necessary for them to remove with, or soon after the garrison should be gone.
The officers and their families, accustomed as they were to but short residences at any place, had been obliged to provide themselves there, as they would not have done at locations where it was possible to purchase the ordinary comforts of life, and so they had had their gardens and their domestic animals. The soldiers, as well, had engaged in agriculture, and so well had they succeeded that they left behind them at departure, over 2000 bushels of potatoes which they had secured for their winter's supply. None of those things was it possible to remove with them.
The Duke of Wellington was not able to take in her possible cargo even the government property, and the garrison with their families, and a small United States schooner - the Cincinnati - was chartered to assist in carrying away what was absolutely necessary. But even this was not sufficient, and Lieut. Carson was obliged to send a large quantity of stores to St. Joseph Island for winter storage. The government movable were gotten away, but the household furniture of the officers, which was their private property, including bedsteads, chairs, sofas, dressers, cupboards and the food supplies which they had laid in for the winter, was all left behind for lack of transport. Nor could these articles be sold, since those who remained on the island expected to depart as soon as they could do so, and they well knew that since these things must be left, they would fall into their hands without purchase.
It was on November 14, 1828, that T. Pierce Simonton, Lieutenant U.S.A., sent thither from Fort Brady to receive the surrender, gave his receipt for the 20 buildings which had been occupied strictly for government purposes, and on the 16th the two vessels set sail in a blustering snowstorm for their destination in undisputed British territory. The number of persons who that day embarked from the shores of Drummond Island, as shown by the return of D. A. C. General, James Wickens, was 7 officers, 40 men, 15 women, 26 children and 3 servants; a total of 91 people. They arrived at Penetanguishene on the 21st of the month, having endured the storm and the choppy seas of the Georgian Bay for five long weary days. From that date Drummond Island passes out of the realm of British history, in all except the claims for losses to the officers and men sustained by reason of the sudden evacuation.
There is a strange tradition in the neighborhood, that when the British sailed away on that November day, they set fire to the beautiful little town, thinking thus to cheat the Americans out of their booty. It is, however, fairly conclusive against this, that the town and military structures were not immediately destroyed, that Lieut. Simonton's instructions relative to the evacuation, included the selection and employment of a careful man to take charge of the public property for the time being.
At what time the island was finally deserted is not entirely clear, but that the town was not destroyed by the retreating occupants seems certain. The family of James Farling, the post blacksmith, remained in their home at least for the winter, and all the circumstances seem to indicate that they were not lacking for company. The civilians who, during all the years of the occupation had, from various reasons of trade and employment, in very considerable numbers made it their home, were not able, even if they desired, to obtain transport with the troops, and from the nature of the case were left to care for themselves. The lateness of the season compelled them, no doubt, to remain until the following spring.
Neither does the tradition that the town was wiped out by fire seem to be borne out by the present appearance of the site. There are evidences of forest fires, and probably successive ones, which the rank growths of grass would greatly facilitate; but it is worthy of notice that even forest fires have not disturbed the little cemetery with its cedar paling fence and lead-boards of wood. James J. Strang, the Mormon king of the Beaver islands, said in his pamphlet, Ancient and Modern Michilimackinac, that Mackinaw was "enlarged and beautified by stealing from the United States the town on Drummond Island, surrendered by Great Britain." The truth of the statement is certainly within the range of probability. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the dwellers on Mackinaw Island, finding abandoned structures on Drummond which contained materials suited to their needs, should carry it thence and utilize it as best they might for their own comfort.
The real destruction of the town may safely be set down as not the result of human intent, or yet of accident; but as due primarily to the ever-acting forces of nature which hasten to obliterate the scars inflicted on her bosom by imperious man. Deserted as human habitations, lacking the repairs necessary for their preservation, the houses, which were either log structures or bark lodges, soon began crumbling to decay, and when at some time the thick mat of grass was kindled by a spark from some hunter's fire, the ruin was made more complete.
It is a curious as well as a disagreeable fact that while the British records of the occupation and relinquishment of Drummond Island are full and presumably complete, it has proven impossible to secure from the United States Departments at Washington anything bearing upon the evacuation and disposition of the property left in the hands of the War Department by the retiring British. Repeated requests of the War Department for copies of documents which from the very nature of the case must be in their possession, have been treated gingerly as though it were a subject they did not dare to uncover.
They have, however, been able to find one letter, which raises so many questions which other documents ought to answer, that it seems strange that they have even divulged this. It is as follows:
Fort Brady, 13 Nov., 1828.
SIR: I have the honor to inform you that I have received a letter from the officer condg. the British troops at Drummond Island informing me that he had received orders from the Commander of the Forces to turn over the public buildings to our Government and requesting me to send an officer to receive them. I have this day sent Breveted Lt. Simonton to receive them, with directions to employ a respectable citizen to take charge of them for the present, the British troops are to leave there by the 15th or 18th.
With great respect,
(Sgd) D. WILCOX, Capt. 5th Regt, Comdg.
COL. R. JONES, Adjt. Genl., Washington City.
It may be noted that this letter is dated on the 14th, and that the receipt given by Lieut. Simonton to the British commandant was dated on the 15th. Capt. Wilcox says that he had directed Lieut. Simonton to place a respectable citizen in charge of the property to be turned over, "for the present", meaning, undoubtedly, until he could receive further orders from his superiors. It is not to be supposed for a moment that Lieut. Simonton did not make formal report of his doings at Drummond, on his return to Fort Brady, nor is it supposable that Capt. Wilcox did not at once report to Adjt. General Jones, what Simonton did not avail himself of the power conferred on him by his superior, to "employ a respectable citizen to take charge of" the property for which he had given his receipt, as the representative of his government.
In view of all the circumstances, it is not a little strange that the Asst. Secretary of War should declare that after a diligent search in his office no trace can be found of any report having been made of the transactions attending the evacuation of Drummond.
The rules laid down in the Treaty of Ghent for the determination of the boundary between the United States and the British possessions, were not so easily followed as may have been thought possible by their framers. All places held by either country prior to the declaration of war, were to be restored, and the boundary was to be restored, and the boundary was to be run through the center of the Great Lakes, and in the center of the main channel of the waters connecting the lakes. Starting at the southern extremity of Lake Huron and running north, the most natural center line led to the False Detour, at the east end of Drummond Island. The custom of navigation has, since the building of the first locks at the Sault Ste. Marie, made the western or Detour channel the main channel; but it is not certain that if the sailing course had been to the east into the Georgian Bay, instead of south through Lake Huron, the eastern channel might have justly been regarded as the main channel. From the moment that the commissioners - one British and two American - entered the Detroit river, the British representative showed a disposition to insist that the main channels were invariably on the west side of various islands in their course, and it became necessary, in nearly every case, to make an examination by means of small boats, soundings and measurements of currents, in order to convince him that such was not the case. Mr. Bartlett, the British commissioner, was accustomed to the heavy dinners and hard drinking connected therewith, of his native environment, and pursued the same custom on board the vessel which had been provided by the United States for the work of the commission. In fact, it is among the unpublished records of the boundary survey, that he indulged in the flowing bowl to such an extent as not only to hinder the work, but also to cause him at times to be the reverse of amiable in his manners. While passing up Lake Huron, with the charts of the lakes and their connecting waters before them, it was agreed that the course by way of the False Detour should be the one taken. In the meantime, Mr. Bartlett had had dinner and an extra supply of grog, and when they had passed the eastern end of Drummond Island he began, in no very polite manner, to charge that he had been cheated while dining, and that the course should have been by the Detour passage. But as he had himself given instructions to the sailing master, he soon found that the charge of bad faith against his fellow commissioners would not answer, and quickly changed his tactics. He bethought him that it was necessary for him to consult his instructions, and asked that the vessel "lie to" until morning. This being assented to, the night was spent of the north east coast of Drummond Island. In the morning Mr. Bartlett had not fully recovered his self control, and the suggestion being made that the line through the St. Mary's River be passed for the time, and finally determined on their return from Lake Superior, that method was adopted. During the intervening period, Mr. Bartlett discovered that the British had for a long time had possession of and a semblance of a military post on St. Joseph Island, and insisted that the island must, under the treaty, be yet retained by them. But before the return passage of the St. Mary's River, the sailing master had become somewhat familiar with Mr. Bartlett's moods, as affected by after-dinner potations, and so timed his passage that the difficult places should appear for final determination when he would be in his most pliable moods. Advantage being taken of those moods, it was shown that the true line under the treaty was by the east channel; but that in view of the long possession of St. Joseph, if that island should be accorded to the King, it would even up matters to such an extent as that there could be no fault found on either side. The moment for the final discussion and determination had been judiciously chosen. Mr. Bartlett acquiesced, signified to the draughtsmen that the line so suggested was agreed to, and - quietly went to sleep in his chair. Drummond Island, on which was at that time a military post supplied with ample artillery and a vast amount of provisions and stores, was thus lost, and irretrievably, to His Most Christian Majesty. The same element of persuasion which had been used to influence the Indian claimants to part with it, was able to cause its final loss. It is a fact worthy of note, however, that prior to the occupation in 1815, neither the British nor the Americans had regarded this island as of any strategic importance, and there had been no claim thereto, backed by possessory right. It had been entirely unoccupied by the citizens of either nation.
He whose powers and prerogatives were declared to be "By the Grace of God, King of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith", etc., the head of the English church, did not accord to his military servants banished to a lonely spot in the northwestern wilderness of the American continent, even the religious care and attention which was accorded to the convicts in his prisons. For the 13 years of their stay on Drummond Island the King's troops were unprovided with a chaplain. The residents there were born, married, lived, died, and were buried «without benefit of clergy». And this, too, for a considerable population, the dutiful servants of «His Most Christian Majesty».
It was not until 1828, the last season of their stay on the island, that a chaplain was sent to visit them - the Rev. E. Boswell, of Sandwich, the regular chaplain of that point. The Bishop of Quebec directed him to make a visit to that far-away post, and requested the Earl of Dalhousie to direct that his expenses be allowed from the public chest. Mr. Boswell's order was stated to be "in consequence of the destitute situation of the inhabitants of Drummond Island - military and civil - with regard to their utter deprivation of the services of any clergyman." But, indeed, it had taken His Holiness a very long time to find out that "utter deprivation", and to take action for some relief therefrom.
While the State church was thus unmindful of its own people and careless as to the «cure of souls», it need be doubted that the ever-toiling, earnest and unwearying Catholic clergy from the Sault or Mackinaw, or both, made not infrequent visits, and were on the alert for the good of their French and half-breed faithful, as well as the Indians generally.
Is it unreasonable to surmise that this trip of Mr. Boswell's was the beginning of the summer tourist travel of clergymen worn by their home duties and cares, who, given leave of absence and a comfortable purse by their loving flocks, seek rest and recuperation among the delightful scenes and quiet places which so abound on the shores of the upper lakes?
One of the legends of the time of the occupation which has lingered in the neighborhood is that of «The hidden pot of gold». The story is crude and uncertain in its form. It is related that a trader who lived in a house located near the north end of the little island opposite the government wharf, became insane. He had not, however, shown any dangerous tendencies, and was simply being watched to see that he came to no harm. One day when he chanced to be left alone, he slipped out of the house carrying his wealth of gold in an iron kettle, and disappeared in the bushes toward the south end of the island. He was not long absent, but when he returned he had not the pot of money with him, nor could he be induced thereafter to reveal the place of its concealment.
Like all tales of hidden pots of money - and they are of frequent occurrence - this story has caused no end of laborious search and digging over the ground to the south end of the little island. Even to this day, the visitor at Drummond is prone to cast a longing look at the island of about one-and-a-quarter acres area, and wonder if perchance it may not be his fortune to come by accident upon the long buried treasure. It seems one of the peculiarities of secreted gold, that its receptacle is so uniformly an iron cooking pot.
That this particular treasure was not long ago recovered and converted to use, is not known; only surmised. If a store of gold was certainly known to have been buried in that island, there were people enough at that post in those days to have carried away the whole island in a week in feverish search for it.
But there may have been a foundation for the legend. Insane people have more correct ideas and good judgment than they are commonly credited with. In the autumn of 1815, Assistant Deputy Commissary General Monk, who had been with the British forces at Mackinaw and had come to Drummond at the transfer thither, "from extreme anxiety to provide for the pressing wants of the troops and Indians in an exhausted country, became deranged in his mind." In other words, the poor fellow was broken down from overwork to the point of insanity. In addition to his duties as general provider of everything needful, he was in charge of and responsible for the army chest. Under the circumstances it will not seem strange to those versed in the science of alienism, that he should have placed the funds, in regard to the safety of which he must have suffered a constant anxiety, in some place of concealment which seemed to him in his impaired condition of mind would ensure its safety from the pillage which he constantly feared was awaiting it.
There is nothing in the records to show that he did anything of the kind. But the records are ample as to the occupancy and ownership of the little island, which was originally occupied by the commissary department, and there, near the extreme north end was a large bake house for the use by that service. The necessities connected with the arrival of the troops on the island, compelled Commissary Monk to immediately erect a house for himself, and as a sequel shows, it was a better house than those of the other officers. The duties of the commissary were performed during the next three years by a temporary clerk; but in the summer of 1818, Mr. Monk's disabilities continuing, William Bailey arrived as his successor. Ten years later, when the claims of officers for losses incident to the abandonment of the island, were being adjudicated, Mr. Bailey testified that on his arrival at the island he could find no way of housing himself, other than to purchase the house on this island; and that he was obliged to pay for the island and the house thereon, the sum of £200. This property remained in his ownership, until it ceased by reason of the evacuation.
That there was an insane man resident on the island is clear, but whether Monk was the one to whom belongs the credit for the concealment of the gold, is not at all uncertain.
The mystery of «The hidden pot of gold» is still unresolved. The legend remains; but whether it ever had any foundation in fact, whether the pot of money was ever hid, whether if hid, it was ever found, whether if found it was restored to its rightful owner, or whether if hid it still remains a possible treasure trove, is all uncertain. But of this we may be sure, that as the years revolve, the visitors at the spot will continue to search for it as for the wealth hidden by the famous pirates of the 18th century.
The intrepid fisherman who sails near by or ventures to land on the shore of the Great Manitoulin Island after sunset, is appalled and his blood is curdled by the sight of two headless soldiers who walk to and fro, clad in the red coats and other regimentals of the early part of this century.
And stranger still, when nights are dark and cold, and the belated fishermen, lured by a firelight on the shore, thinking that friendly greeting and warmth await him there, runs his boat on the beach and hastens to the blazing logs piled high a short distance away, he finds there no fisher comrade belated like himself, but instead the two headless soldiers sitting on a log in the glow, and warming themselves by the blaze made furious by the night wind. With chattering teeth, with hair erect and eyes starting from their sockets, he runs to his boat and puts out into the night regardless of the dangers of the deep, so that he may but be far away from the uncanny guardsman of that lonely shore. And when afterward, being jeered by his acquaintance for his superstition and cowardice, he goes to the same spot by daylight, he finds the selfsame pile of logs deeply charred by fire, but then not burning. Nor does he see any traces of the two headless redcoats.
It was in midwinter, so the tradition runs, that two soldiers of the King deserted from the post at Drummond Island. They were evidently homesick. They longed for the scenes of old England. They could not longer endure the hardships, the rigors, the lonesomeness of that little village in the northern wilds. An officer with more ample pay, and wife and children with him, had some traces of home life and enjoyment, from all of which the private soldier was cut off, he being considered to the monotony of fatigue duty and rest, without opportunity for enjoyable recreation. They might perchance have made their way to Mackinaw Island, and thus been freed from military restraint; but this was not their choice. They evidently set out for home. Their hearts longed for the lands beyond the rising sun. The shores and bays of Lake Huron were frozen over, and over the bridge thus made for them across the unsalted sea, they would make their way to the farther shore of the Georgian Bay, and thence eastward to the scenes for which they yearned.
But the post commandant was wrathful when he learned of their unannounced departure, and stormed as only a Briton or a fisherwomen can storm, with swaggering bluster and volubility of oaths. Then he sat him down and wrote. In his anger he had sworn to have the men or their lives. He had murder in his heart. When he arose from his desk, an orderly took the sheet on which he had written and nailed it on the door of the barracks. It made an offer of $20 each for the heads of the two deserters if found dead, and the same for their bodies if found alive. There were whisperings about the post, but there were none who dared to express their thoughts. In the Indian camp there seemed greater quietness than usual; but before the day had passed two swift snow-shoe runners were noticed to leave the post, as if on an urgent errand. A night passed. A day - a short winter day - slipped away, more quickly closed to the denizens of Drummond post by the high ridge which towered on the west of the town, and under shadow of which they were hid. Another long night settled down, dragged its weary length across the northern ice and snow, and at length across the northern ice and snow, and at length was driven far away as the sun in all its winter glory rose from the clear depths of the Georgian Bay. For since the days are shorter in those regions their glorified brightness is such that it makes amends for the brevity.
The post commandant had not yet taken his morning coffee when in walked two Indian athletes covered with frost, their breaths coming quickly, and the eyes eager and ferocious. Advancing to the center of the room, each unfastened from his girdle a human head that had dangled there, and placing it on the table, demanded the reward for the two deserters.
The commissary was quickly summoned, and soon the bearers of the heads were washing away all thought of the blood they had treacherously spilled for money, in copious libations of the King's rum; rum, the main reliance in those days for the accomplishment of their most nefarious ends; rum, with which they made slaves and brutes of the Indians; rum, under whose influence they plotted massacres and murders, and by the aid of which these were accomplished.
The Indian runners, as the tale is told, followed hard after the deserters who, all unaccustomed to travel over the ice and snow, had made their way with difficulty, came up with them on the Great Manitoulin Island. But they did not warm them of the danger. Like beasts of prey, they skulked out of sight until a favorable moment should appear. Weary and cold, the soldiers gathered material for a fire. High they piled the logs and loud was the crackling of the frozen wood. They flames leaped high. Higher yet they piled the wood, and having eaten their scanty supper, sat them down before the fire with no thought of impending danger. Hovering in the darkness two red men watched their every motion; even their every breath. Lulled by the warmth and dulled by their weariness, the soldiers dozed. Perchance they are dozing yet, for they never wakened in this world. Stealthily from behind came the swift swish of the tomahawks as they cleft the air, falling upon necks conveniently bending forward. The deed was done. The hunting knives finished the work. The two heads were fastened by the scalp locks to their girdles, and back they hastened, eager for their money and their rum.
The headless trunks remained sitting on the log and warming themselves by the fire which made the night lurid with its glare. And ever since, unburied, they wander on those shores, seeking the heads which they lost while sleeping; and when the nights are cold, the fire burns brightly, and they sit and warm them there.
So runs the legend. In the records of the post no incidents are found from which this tragic tale could have been woven. But public records do not always possess the reliability suited to the purpose of those who would lay open the bald facts of history. In this case it is not improbable that, if two men deserted from the King's service, and were killed by Indians in pursuit, either by stealth or on refusal to surrender, the report thereof ascribed their demise to natural causes, and without mention of the desertion. There were no telegraphs or daily papers in those days to note each transpiring incident, and matters well known and freely discussed at that isolated post, might be reported to headquarters at Quebec in manner other than had been there understood.
But would you know the truth of this weird narration, sit with fisherman of the northern Lake Huron around a cabin fire, when fierce winds are howling their requiem for those who venture to encounter their wrath, and are piling high the angry water, and they will tell you that the headless guardsmen of the Manitoulin sit quietly and doze beside their fire, which never fails to burn for them on such a night, with a ruddy glow that sends its rays of light far over the wind tossed sea.
Another of the reminiscent tales of the departing British is this, that in order to keep them from falling into the hands of the Americans, they cast into the Bay some of the cannon which they could not take with them. In proof of this local legend, people passing over the waters of the Bay, at various times, have reported that they had distinctly seen at the bottom of the clear water, one or two brass field pieces, the breeches and trunions being plainly visible. Having no means at hand for marking the spot, they have been unable afterward to discover the cannon. More than one searching party has spent considerable time in thoroughly planned and executed search for those lost pieces of ordnance, but without success.
When the British evacuated the island, they took with them no guns heavier than their muskets. But it need not be supposed that they left anything of that kind there. In 1820, eight years previous, a survey of the ordnance stores at the post, showed a total of 34 field, garrison and naval guns, as follows:
24 pounders, iron ............. 8
18 pounders, iron ............. 2
4 pounders, iron .............. 6
8 oz. swivels ................... 5
32 pounder carronades ..... 6
24 pounder carronades ..... 4
3 pounder, brass .............. 1
2 pounder, brass .............. 2
In view of the well believed story that some cannon are lying at the bottom of
Drummond Bay, the question as to what became of all these big guns during the
eight years for which there appears no mention of them in the record, becomes
The only transport sent aid in effecting the removal of the post, was a brig of 120 burthen. This vessel was packed in every corner, two-thirds being devoted to provisions, commissary stores and Indian presents, and the remainder was filled almost to suffocation, with the human freight and the personal baggage. The post commissary hired in addition, an American sloop of 50 tons, which he loaded to its fullest capacity with what were called «barrack stores». But this was not sufficient, and a large quantity of material was sent to St. Joseph Island for the winter. It is not to be supposed, however, that any cannon were either left lying around among the rocks or hidden in the underbrush on the island. But what then? Simply that during the last four or five years, when vessels came to the island with the annual supplies, they took on for the return trip, such of the cannon as they conveniently could, and carried them to points below. More probably, most of the supply shown to have been at Drummond, found a new resting place at the fort which then being built at Amherstburg.
It is not impossible, however, even with this view, that the two brass pieces shown in the return of 1820, are now, and have been for 70 years, at the bottom of Drummond Bay. They may have been placed in a batteau, and that may have been capsized; they may have been dropped into the water by accident while in the process of being loaded on a vessel. The statement that they have been seen and then could not again be found, is not in itself improbable, since the action of the waves at the bottom would cover quite deeply with sand at another.
There are few persons who, riding on the waters of that Bay will not involuntarily cast their eyes with peering gaze into the depths in the hope that a glimpse of the bright brass pieces may be caught, and thus add a slight romance to their lives.
More than to any other point which had been in dispute between England and the United States, the British clung with great tenacity to countries adjoining the straights of Mackinaw. A firm foothold there, seemed to them the key to the whole northwest territory, if not indeed, to the lands to the southward bordering on the Mississippi. They had brought themselves to believe that the control of the Indians on the American continent was not only necessary to them, but to the Indians as well. This was no dream of those who represented the government on this side of the ocean; it was the settled purpose of the home government, as shown by the orders whose high official character was attested by being dated simply, «Downing Street».
The aim of the British government was then, as it has always been, to «further the interests of trade». Rum, money and blood were ever ready to aid in the accomplishment of this end. Any plan which has this in view found a ready hearing. The trade in furs had, under the fostering care of the government, reached enormous proportions, and it was not to be thought of that it should be in any way abridged. To their minds the existence of the fur trade depended on the Indians. They had not comprehended the fact that a white trapper would make a much larger catch than the average Indian. But even if they has appreciated that fact, as well as the other fact that Indian hunting meant the extermination of the fur bearing animals, yet Indian hunting was still necessary to the «interests of trade». The white trapper must be paid for his peltries a fair price and in gold. The Indian, being first filled with rum, sold his furs for gaudy trinkets of little worth, but at a higher price.
It was for «the interests of trade» which the entire British regime was intended to foster and uphold, that an absolute control of the Indians by means, first of rum, and if that failed, then by cannon, should be maintained. The Indians were necessary to them as a people whom they could plunder at will. But in a sense they were necessary to the Indians. They had taught the red men to forsake all their crafts for procuring food and clothing, and to but them instead. They had taught themselves exclusively to fur gathering, and this had made them doubly dependent. Under the teaching of the British, they were rapidly losing the art of clothing themselves, and in lieu if the warm and serviceable garments which they had formerly made from furs and skins, they had come to need the cloths of British manufacture, which «for purposes of trade» were made as cheaply as possible. The making and use of the bow and arrow were among their lost arts, and in order to hunt, they must buy from their loving British friends, the necessary guns, powder and lead. The British, following the example of the Philistines of the times of Sampson, who did not allow the Israelites to have a blacksmith among them, but compelled every man who needed to have his iron tools repaired or sharpened, to go to a Philistine mechanic for the needed service, sold the Indians the necessary tomahawks, hatchets and axes, but compelled them to visit a British post to have them sharpened. If the guns which they had sold them needed any repair, as was too often the case, a journey must be made to a British post, where a blacksmith, who was also a gunsmith, was kept on government pay and rations to render this assistance, but for which the Indians paid many times its value.
The arts of civilization which the British had with such care taught to the Indians, were only those which were expected to make them dependent, and by means of that dependence, their servants. While they used every effort to quell and avert wars among the several tribes, they did not so from any principle of right or humanity, but because tribal dissensions lessened the annual catch of furs and interfered with «trade» which, as carried on under the British regime, was more villainous, and fraught with as great atrocities as the sack and pillage of towns by marauding chieftains. Having made servants of the Indians by the use of threats, cajolery and rum, they brought them to fight their battles; the fighting done, they repaid them for their faithfulness, wounds, toil, loss of relatives and hunting grounds, with showy medals of cheap metal and of little value, and filling them once more with rum, sent them again to the gathering of furs.
The only question upon which the Prince Regent was urgent, in his dispatches relative to the evacuation of Drummond Island, was that an arrangement should be made such that Indians who lived in United States territory, should have some point in his dominion which should be satisfactory to them, where they could repair for their annual dole of presents. Mackinaw Island had been lost to the British as the result of war; Drummond Island, as they deemed it, had been lost by the failure of their commissioner under the treaty to properly defend the rights of the crown. This latter loss seemed to them an injustice. In leaving there, it was not the being deprived of a particular spot or a certain number of acres, that galled the British government, but the necessary removal from the very essential nearness to the Indians which rendered it easy for them to visit frequently and receive the careful teachings of the officers detailed for that trust. They could not brook the idea that the Indians whom in the treaty they had relinquished, were not yet their care, and to some extent their property. When the departure was finally made, it was arranged that such of the Indians as could, should visit Amherstburg for the presents, and the others go to Penetanguishene.
All during the occupation of Drummond Island, the United States government, knowing full well that until the Indians were stopped from visiting the British posts there would be no such thing as quiet residence and behavior, had used every endeavour to pacify them, and General Cass was employing his greatest skill in weaning them from their British allegiance. It was not without just cause that he had frequent occasion to complain of the British in this regard, and to remonstrate against their course in drawing from the regions far inland from the boundary between the countries, a traveling horde of savages to pilfer and beg from the settlers, and terrify the women and children along their route; a pestiferous nuisance which the later generations cannot well appreciate.
But to the protests of the United States the British authorities paid little heed in fact, although at times using smooth words in palliation of their defense. So firmly did they cling to their hold upon the Indians, that as late as 1846, eighteen years after they had been finally ousted from their last foothold on United States territory, and the giving of presents had at last been stopped, George Ironsides, Superintendant of Indian Affairs at Amherstburg, wrote to his superior advising that the Indians were yet true in their loyalty to the British, and that he had a well considered plan for again making soldiers of them against the United States. But, he said, it would be necessary as the first step in these operations, to seize again the straights of Mackinaw and the contiguous territory.
Prior to the latter date, however, the sweetness had all but been extracted from that theoretical luscious fruit. The Indians had been decimated by the poison of the British rum, and the yields of furs even to the persistent hunter, had dwindled to very moderate proportions. By degrees, the British traders, shorn of military protection, had been confined to the regions east and north of Lake Superior, and the companies which had accumulated vast wealth in the fur trade, were crumbling on their financial foundations. And yet this typical son of Britain longed again to seize the waters connecting the great lakes, plant there on the shores the flag of the realm, and summon the few dusky braves who had withstood the blight of British friendship, to engage in rifle practice against the people of the United States. Their dream of supremacy on the American continent seems to have vanished but slowly. Driven from one point, they retreated sullenly to another, and only retreated farther when there was no other alternative.
The occupation of Drummond Island was but one of those small episodes in the British dream of continental control, but an episode which cost them thousands of pounds sterling in funds, deeper chagrin than if they had obeyed the treaty agreement at the outset, and brought in return no added glory to their prestige or their arms.
The antiquarian, or the lover of the romantic in nature, who would visit the scenes and places sketched in the foregoing pages, may find his way thither, in these later days, with ease; indeed with positive comfort. Any of the steamship lines whose vessels wend their way through the devious channels of the St. Mary's River will land a pilgrim to the wilds of Drummond at the docks at Detour, the port on the main land directly opposite the spots he seeks; from thence, either by small boat and oars wielded by sturdy arms, by fishing smack with wide distended sail, or by steam yacht, he may be placed on the shores so long held by the soldiers of the King, in contraventions of the treaty and the equities thereunder. As he steps on the rocky shore, he will be greeted most hospitably, and the hours, or days, or weeks which he may linger there, will be a season of continuous delight; and he will carry thence, memories more pleasing than often remain as the legacy of a summer outing.
[End of S. F. Cook's monograph]
1. S. F. Cook's original dedication: "To Hon. Joseph H. Steere, the ripe scholar and eminent jurist, the ardent collector of rare volumes of history and legend of the great northwest, and careful student of their varied contents, this little volume is most respectfully dedicated." He also included a few sketch maps in his monograph; a rather splendid map of Drummond Island, Chippewa County, is available.
2. Bill Martin has transcribed A. C. Osborne's account of The Migration of Voyageurs from Drummond Island to Penetanguishene in 1828, originally published by the Ontario Historical Society in 1901.
3. Keith Widder has written a most illuminating account on the impact of evangelical Protestantism on the Native Americans and their Métis relatives at the Mackinaw Mission in the 1820s and 1830s; Battle For The Soul, Michigan State University Press, Lansing, 1999; ISBN 0-87013-491-4.
4. Transcription and sketch map by Dr. Roger Peters [Home Page].