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Elizabeth Mitchell

Elizabeth Bertrand, an Ottawa/Ojibwa girl, born around 1761 at L'Arbre Croche married Dr. David Mitchell of Montreal in 1776. They returned to Mackinac Island and where Dr. Mitchell worked as a surgeon for the British at the fort. Later, he began to earn a living through the fur trade. The Mitchells had a large family of 12 children. All of their children were educated in European fashion, the sons were sent to Montreal and the daughters to Europe. Elizabeth is remembered for her love of cards and dancing and their home was a hub of Mackinac Island society.

During the War of 1812, Dr. Mitchell served in the British Army, leaving Elizabeth to tend their established fur trade business. After the end of the war, Dr. Mitchell moved to Drummond Island following the British surrender of Mackinac Island to the Americans. Elizabeth remained on Mackinac Island, where she went through a difficult period after the war. Without her husband, she was persecuted by the Indian Aget, Henry Puthuff and accused of being a spy for the British. An 1815 placard directed to Elizabeth was posted on the church door follows:

Whereas a certain Eliz'th Mitchell under a pretense of trading with the savages is and for many years has been, as it has been represented to me, in the habit of holding her private councils with those unfortunate deluded People and of advising with and persuading them to the adoption of measures injurious to their real interests and that of the American government -
I therefore feel it to be my Duty hereby to forbid the said Elizabeth Mitchell to hold any further intercourse with the Indians that may visit this Island either directly or indirectly until further orders from the American Government.

The American Indian Agent determined that Elizabeth persuaded the local Indians to act against the American Government. A series of letters between Puthuff and Dr. Mitchell followed the posting of the placard in which Dr. Mitchell defends his wife and son (who was living on the island with her), demanding that she continue in the fur trade business. Puthuff's responses are full of condescension. The situation escalated when there was destruction of her property. The commander of the Fort defended the conduct of his soldiers toward Elizabeth who, has ever been treated with Civility by officers of this garrison and determined that it was, some dishonest Citizens of the Island who perpetrated the destruction of her property. Later, she was prevented from putting out her fishing nets, thereby denying her the ability to feed herself.

It is clear Elizabeth was harassed by American government employees from the garrison and the Indian Agency. By November of 1815, she left the island and went to er husband on Drummond Island. She later returned to Mackinac Island after a time to find that the atmosphere between the Americans and the British sympathizers had normalized. She continued in the fur business and supervised a large farm while Dr. Mitchell maintained a commercial post as well as his medical duties on Drummond Island.

She was described by David Armour in, David and Elizabeth, the Mitchell family of the Straits of Mackinac, She was tall and stout and always wore black, usually silk. Her full skirt had two large pockets in which she placed her hands as she stood. She wore a black neckerchief about her neck and a plumed black beaver-felt hat on her head. (p. 12)

Elizabeth maintained a large garden of 2 to 3 acres on the island. Therese Baird provides a description in her Remeniscences. It was an every-day occurrence to see Mrs. Mitchell coming to inspect her garden, riding in hr calash, a two-wheeled vehicle, being her own driver. When the old lady arrived the men would hasten to open the gate, then she would drive in; and there, in the large space in front of the garden beds, in the shade. the man would fasten the horse, while my lady would walk all over the grounds giving her orders.

Always at the center of the island society, Elizabeth hosted the wedding of Josette LaFramboise, daughter of her good friend Madeleine LaFramboise, and Captain Benjamin Pierce, brother to the future President, at her home in 1816.

On February 25, 1827, during one of her visits to her husband on Drummond Island, she became ill and died. A letter from her son Andrew to John Bailey, Esq., dated April 18th 1827 states, Report of a boat from Drummond Island, Andrew Mitchell master having on board the corpse of the late Mrs. Mitchell and the necessary provisions of the voyage. (Steere Collection, Bayliss Library, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan)

Elizabeth Mitchell was a brave and spirited woman in the face of a hostile government at a volatile period of Mackinac history who was, nevertheless, successful and became wealthy in a difficult business typically run by European men. As an intrepid metis woman, she set the stage for those women who followed in her footsteps.