Skip to main content

Raising the White Flag: The Surrender of Fort Mackinac

Issue #4

Audio file

On July 17, 1812, a small British warship and a group of canoes silently slipped along the north shore of Mackinac (mack-ih-naw) Island. Captain Charles Roberts led the British forces. He was in charge of the British soldiers (sohl-jurs), Native-American allies (al-lies), and voyageurs (voy-ah-jures). They were preparing for battle with the Americans living on the island. The War of 1812 had begun one month earlier. 

The day before, Captain Roberts had captured an American scout. A scout is a person who is sent out to get information about an unknown area. The scout told Captain Roberts that the Americans on the island didn’t know the war had started! 

All the American cannons were pointing out to the southern harbor. But the British soldiers landed on the northern end of the island. A small British cannon was wheeled to a hilltop behind Fort Mackinac. The cannon fired one shot, which did not hit anything. It was fired to let the Americans know that the British were there.

Captain Roberts met with the American leader, Lieutenant (loo-ten-ant) Porter Hanks, under a flag of truce (troose). A truce is when armies agree to stop fighting for a certain period of time. Captain Roberts told the Americans the war had started on June 18, 1812.

There were many more British soldiers on the island than American soldiers. There were also women and children living in the fort. The Americans had no choice but to surrender (seh-ren-der).

Not all battles during the War of 1812 ended that way. The Americans tried to take back Mackinac Island on August 4, 1814. In that battle, 19 American soldiers were killed and 45 were wounded (woon-ded), or hurt. None of the British men or their allies were killed in that fight. Great Britain held Mackinac Island until the end of the War of 1812. They left the island in 1815.


This story was written by Genot “Winter Elk” Picor. Genot was a school teacher and is now a storyteller and musician.
The map drawing was made by Lori Taylor. The painting is from Wikimedia Commons and Seth Eastman. The photo of Mackinac Island today is from Mackinac State Historic Parks.


To surrender (seh-ren-der) is to give up because you can’t win. If an army raises a white flag during a battle, it means they are surrendering or asking for a truce (troose). A truce is when armies agree to stop fighting for a certain period of time. When the truce is over, one army might surrender to the other or the fighting could continue.

Allies (al-lies) are people who work together. A voyageur (voy-ah-jure) was a person who traded furs and moved them from one place to another.






a drawing of mackinac island

This drawing of Mackinac Island shows where some events happened during the War of 182.

Seth Eastman painting of Mackinac Island from 1872

This painting of Fort Mackinac was done by Seth Eastman in 1872.  

photograph of mackinac island in modern times

This is what Fort Mackinac looks like today.