MARQUETTE - As the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 between the United States and England is observed this year, it might seem far-removed from the Upper Peninsula.
However, the war is the only one in U.S. history in which fighting took place in the U.P.
Friday's 12th annual Sonderegger Symposium focused on that connection, with speakers delving into everything from Fort Mackinac's role in the war to the experience of Native Americans living in the region during the conflict.
Phil Porter, director of Mackinac Island State Park, speaks about the island’s role in the War of 1812 during Friday’s Sonderegger Symposium at Northern Michigan University. This year is the 200th anniversary of the conflict between England and the United States. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
"A lot of Yoopers feel we're isolated. When you look at the history, we're kind of in the middle of everything," said Russell Magnaghi, director of the Center for U.P. Studies and history professor at Northern Michigan University.
Sponsored by the center every year and held at the university's Mead Auditorium, the symposium focuses on different aspects of U.P. history delivered by a variety of local historians and researchers. The symposium is named for the late Richard Sonderegger, a longtime history professor at NMU.
The War of 1812 began on June 18, 1812, due to several factors, including the impressment of American soldiers into the British Navy and attempts by the British to influence the Native American population to fight against the growing American population, said Phil Porter, director of Mackinac Island State Park, who spoke during the symposium on the role of the island fort in the war.
"Mackinac really represents this larger area," Porter said of the U.P. "It is one of the few times that there was combat on Michigan territory."
Although Fort Mackinac represented the only major conflicts of the war in the U.P., the impact of the war was felt throughout the region as Canadian trading companies began to fear attacks on posts crucial to the fur trade network, Magnaghi said.
In particular, Native Americans in the U.P. began joining the British cause as the ever-expanding United States and its citizens continued efforts to assimilate the native population, destroying its culture in the process.
"It's not only taking the land," Magnaghi said. "It's also taking their culture.
"The local population was completely pushed aside. You either assimilated to the American way or you were pushed out."
Building on that fear was a concern that Americans would begin to encroach on the British trade empire that extended throughout the Great Lakes region and into the west.
"This had been an ongoing concern since the American Revolution," Magnaghi said.
Those fears led to the Northwest Company, one of the Canadian trading companies, hiding a ship on Isle Royale in case Americans invaded Lake Superior and the formation of Native American companies that fought alongside the British.
Fort Mackinac State Park has been hosting events throughout the summer, along with new exhibits, with additional events planned for 2013 and 2014.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.