History of Michigan from 1776-1837: Major Events & Laws

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn the history of Michigan between 1776-1837. We will learn about some of the important events during this time, and discuss when Michigan became a state.

The State Shaped Like a Mitten

Ah, Michigan. One of the most recognizable states. It is the state shaped like a mitten. What happened in this state in the early years of our nation? Maybe you've learned a few things about the American Revolution and the beginning of the United States, but how does this relate to Michigan? That is what we will learn about in this lesson. Let's look at Michigan history between 1776-1837.

Michigan During the American Revolution

Much of the Michigan region was originally settled by the French. Originally called Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, Detroit was founded as a French fort in 1701. However, the British victory during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) meant that control of Detroit (and much of Michigan) passed to the British. There were also many Native American tribes who wanted control of the region. As you can see, the Michigan region was very much contested.

A depiction of Fort Detroit in the 18th century.

During the Revolutionary War, Michigan was the site of small-scale skirmishes. In 1781, Spanish raiders came up the Illinois River and attacked a British fort called Fort St. Joseph. The Spanish raiders basically plundered the fort and then left. Following the raid by the Spanish, control of the fort shifted to American Patriot forces. The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, ended the Revolutionary War. But there was a problem. Actually, there were two problems. One of the problems was that the Native American groups in the region refused to recognize the new American government. This resulted in frequent skirmishes between American and Native American forces. The second problem was that the British refused to leave Fort Detroit. Under the Jay Treaty, signed in 1794, the British finally agreed to withdraw from Detroit by 1796.

The War of 1812

For the next few years, Michigan continued to be a contested territory. Its exact boundaries were pretty unclear. Conflict with Native American groups continued to be an issue. When the War of 1812 broke out between the United States and Great Britain, British forces retook Detroit. They also captured Fort Mackinac at the Northern tip of the Lower Peninsula after firing only a single artillery round. A considerable naval conflict took place in the Great Lakes during the war, and the Great Lakes region itself was one of the major theaters of the war.

Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812.

Growth and Statehood

The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812 and ensured American control of the Michigan Territory. Following the war, the American government renewed its efforts to remove hostile Native American groups. During the 1820s, numerous Native American groups were forced to relocate further west. Also during this time, the Michigan Territory began to attract New England and New York migrants. They brought their culture with them, resulting in parts of the territory becoming culturally affluent. As settlement of the Michigan Territory took place at a rapid pace, calls for statehood emerged.

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