A Quick Essay on the Early History of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Northern Wisconsin

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the U.P. for you) and Northern Wisconsin is a land filled with the vastness of Lake Superior and the vibrant green of the northern forests. Besides that, these two have a rich and intertwined history, etched centuries before the coming of the European explorers.

Once trade began there was no looking back. The culture and character of the land were shaped by the trade of fur and lumber. These and other stories of modern-day adventurers are a great start to our drive through the story of the U.P. and Northern Wisconsin. hope you enjoy this one!

Before Settlers (10,000 BC - 1600s)

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The Anishinaabeg were the original walkers of the land, comprising the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi nations. These were folks who were one with nature, practicing sustainable fishing, hunting, and gathering. Inscriptions and petroglyphs were found in copper mines and these stand as a testament to their trade, and workmanship. These ancient marks also point to the vibrant spiritual traditions of the people.

European and the Fur Trade (1600s - 1800s)

In the 17th century, the land was explored by French explorers like Étienne Brûlé and Jean Nicolet started charting the region. In truth, the French had been in the Upper Midwest by the early 1500s. Soldiers, fur traders, and Catholic missionaries were all coming into the general area, with some searching for a way to the Great Orient. Fur trading posts were established at places like Fort Michilimackinac and Sault Ste. Marie. The latter in particular, is the site of the oldest European settlement in Michigan where native Americans had previously settled for hundreds of years.

With these new interactions with the French, the Anishinaabeg began the journey towards a complex exchange of goods and cultures. The French had particularly steady relations with the locals, more than the British and later the American farmers that came this way. They forged alliances amongst the various tribes, treating the Natives as partners and not conquered subjects.

The French Indian War (1756-1763

) The area of Michigan had been divided into French and British colonies, with each side by native allies. The British colonies had nearly two million settlers compared with the French who had only about 60,000. Still, the French had considerable support from native tribes such as the Wabanaki Confederacy and the Algonquin and Ojibwa.

The war began due to disputed control over the site called the Forks of the Ohio and the site later to be known as Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The Forks was an influential point where the rivers Allegheny and Monongahela met. That led to the Battle of Jumonville Glen in May 1754, and here we saw the future president and a young George Washington with his party ambushing a French patrol.

A significant moment in the conflict was the Battle of the Monongahela in 1755, which the British Commander General Edward Braddock lost to French allies. Braddock died days later. after a string of bad losses in the Province of Pennsylvania and neighboring New York, British fortunes turned when they captured Fort Beauséjour. The British began expelling the Acadians to make way for British settlers from New England.

British and American Rule (1763 - 1840s)

British campaigns against the French in the province of Quebec alongside the victory of the Montreal Campaign of 1760 turned the tide. The French ceded Canada in the Treaty of Paris and also all the territory east of the Mississippi. That treaty also saw the territory nominally become part of the US.

Pontiac's Rebellion saw American Indians unite in an effort to drive out the British. that led to the capture of Fort Michilimackinac presently Mackinaw City. That attack saw hundreds of British killed. After this, the British and American Indians negotiated and this ushered in a period of relative stability. The fur trade flourished. then the American Revolution happened.

The Upper Peninsula fell under American control and Northern Wisconsin became part of the Northwest territory. Eventually, the two areas joined their respective states, i.e. Michigan in 1837, and Wisconsin in 1848.

After briefly falling under American control, the U.P. and Northern Wisconsin became part of the Northwest Territory, eventually joining their respective states – Michigan in 1837 and Wisconsin in 1848.

Mining Boom and Bust (1840s - 1900s)

The U.P. was the site of a gold rush in the 1840s with the discovery of vast amounts of copper and iron ore. Suddenly the land that had been described as "forever destined to be a wilderness" was thrust into the national limelight. Coupled with improved shipping due to the opening of the Soo Locks and the building of the Marquette docks, the U.P. became the nation's largest supplier of copper and iron by the 1890s.

Towns like Houghton, Hancock, and Marquette boomed, attracting immigrants and transforming the landscape. The Cornish from Great Britain, the Irish, French Canadians, and Germans all settled in the area, triggering a great rise in the migrant population.

Besides that, the timber boom of Northern Wisconsin drew loggers from all around. That boom led to environmental degradation and the overexploitation of indigenous lands.

Historical Impact Still Present

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Today if you visit the U.P. and Northern Wisconsin, you'll come across traditional Anishinaabeg practices. These include Powwows, storytelling, basket weaving, and intricate beadwork. The centuries-old practice of lumberjacking is still active, with log-rolling competitions and festivals in Wisconsin.

You will also see historic sites like Fort Mackinac, Apostle Islands, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The Ojibwe Cultural Museum is an amazing resource where you can see cultural reenactments, including Native American dancing and drumming. Besides events, at the museum, you'll get to sample the region's biggest collection of authentic Native American art and craft.

Signing Off

As you can see, the areas of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Northern Wisconsin share a rich and fascinating history. Not only does this area tell the story of some of the earliest American settlers and natives. It is also a phenomenal story of industry and resilience, with ingenious pioneers of industry. And, a political story in which the State of the Union draws deep roots.

Take a visit to the U.P. and Northern Wisconsin to experience in person the natural charm, beauty, and culture that these regions have to offer. See you soon!

The Upper Peninsula Traveler