Friday, February 27, 2015

Storing an Empire: Commercial and Military Storage at Colonial New France Forts

            What is the primary purpose for establishing a fort? Most people would think that a fort’s major function is to serve as a launch point for military operations or a defensive structure to protect colonists from Native attacks. While the military and strategic value of eighteenth-century French forts cannot be denied, another important role that they served was as a trading post. The trading that took place in and around French forts in the western Great Lakes was critical for maintaining their alliances with Native peoples. Fort St. Joseph was no exception, and the trading that went on there was so important that during the 1690’s beaver glut it was one of only three forts that was kept open. As military commanders and governmental officials explained to the king, if Fort St. Joseph was closed the Miamis and Potawatomis might begin to trade with the British and leave the French alliance network.
            Key then to preserving the French’s foothold in the western Great Lakes was the storage facilities at forts. Keeping a well maintained storehouse for highly desirable trade goods kept Native peoples happy as they became ever increasingly savvy traders. My research so far has shown that these commercial storehouses were important buildings. The storehouse at Fort Pontchartrain (near present day Detroit) was constructed out of high quality oak in the piéce-sur-piéce (piece on piece) style. These buildings were also quite large, 37.5 feet long by 22 feet wide with walls being 8 feet tall; this at a time when most residential cabins were no larger than a medium sized bedroom. The sources I have consulted thus far have made it seem this was normal for these types of buildings. I have also begun to get an idea about the volume of goods that came through Fort St. Joseph. Consulting some of the documentary evidence has shown that Fort St. Joseph was a key commercial post, and that many goods passed through its storehouse.
Example of piéce-sur-piéce (

            In the upcoming weeks, my partner and I will continue to explore the storehouses at other forts in an effort to hypothesize about what the storehouse at Fort St. Joseph may have looked like. We will also examine what the powder magazine may have looked like at Fort St. Joseph by comparing it to other forts. I look forward to continuing this research. I am enjoying learning about Fort St. Joseph. I study Native-French interactions during the seventeenth and eighteenth-century, but this is my first time learning about Fort St. Joseph.

Kyle Moerchen

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Museum Explorers’ Night a Go!

            On Thursday, February 12, we celebrated the opening of the exhibit Evidence Found! at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum with a reception entitled Museum Explorers’ Night. Joseph Hines of Project Arts and Ideas did a fantastic job creating the display in collaboration with Dr. Michael Nassaney and the Museum. Dozens of curious spectators joined us that evening to discover the new displays. There were a number of events that night including a special children’s event, a lecture given by Dr. Michael Nassaney, and a really nice reception sponsored by the Michigan Society for Colonial Wars. Aaron Howard, my fellow Fort St. Joseph intern, and I were also in attendance promoting the Project, the Niles History Center, the Historic Chapin Mansion in Niles, and our annual summer camp program.
Attendees gaze at the many exciting aspects of the new exhibit.
            The exhibit, which officially opened Saturday February 14 and runs until August 31, highlights the importance of archaeology through various displays covering a number of different sites from all over the globe, including Fort St. Joseph. The exhibit looks great and turnout was better than expected with a wide variety of interested spectators. Artifacts from a wide range of time periods were on display as well as some of the tools used by archaeologists when conducting field excavations and laboratory work. There were also hands-on activities that explain key concepts of the discipline in ways relatable to people who might not have any prior knowledge of what archaeology is and how it works.
            There was also a children’s gameshow put together by the Kalamazoo Valley Museum staff which was  held in the auditorium. The audience had to choose who the real archaeologist was and who was fictional and made their choices based off of several factors including the archaeologists’ clothing, introductory statements from the four candidates, and questions from the audience.

Can you tell the difference between a real and fake archaeologist?

            The highlight of the evening was a lecture given by Dr. Michael Nassaney to a full audience in the auditorium of the museum. During the lecture, Dr.Nassaney explained to an eager audiencethe development of the new exhibit, the  goals of archaeology, what archaeologists have learned from some sites in southwest Michigan, and the important work at Fort St. Joseph that highlighted inferences about 18th century life at the fort.

            Overall it was a great event hosted by the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. Many people enjoyed the event which could not have been made possible without the hard work of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum staff, Joseph Hines, Dr. Michael Nassaney, the Michigan Society for Colonial Wars, and various others who contributed.

Dr. Michael Nassaney gives a talk on archaeology "in our own backyards."

John Cardinal
Fort St. Joseph Museum Intern