A History of Fort St. Joseph
French King Louis XIV grants land to the Jesuits for the Mission de Saint-Joseph. Father Claude Allouez ministered to the local Potawatomi population creating a strong partnership within the community.
Officially established by the French, Fort St. Joseph housed a small garrison and served as a trading post located along two significant trails, the Sauk Trail and the Grand River Trail. It was also located in proximity to a portage that connected the Great Lakes watershed with the Mississippi River. Fort St. Joseph was occupied for 90 years from 1691 to 1781. Control of the area shifted during this time from the French, to the British, to several Native groups (including the Potawatomi and Miami), and then briefly to the Spanish.
England gains control of FSJ from France following the Seven Years’ War, 1756-1763.
Natives allied under the Odawa leader Pontiac rebel against British rule and attack several Forts including FSJ. British commander Ensign Schlosser is taken prisoner. The British do not regarrison FSJ though traders remained.
An expedition of French and Native American subjects from Spanish St. Louis claimed FSJ for the King of Spain. They plundered the Fort and promptly returned to St. Louis. FSJ was essentially abandoned after the raid. Over time the exact location of the fort was lost and the town of Niles developed around it.
Fort St. Joseph lives on through community memory. A commemorative boulder was dedicated at the Fort’s approximate location.
The Women’s Progressive League erects a granite cross to replace a wooden cross at the assumed burial site of Father Allouez.
An organization called Support the Fort, Inc. asked Dr. Michael Nassaney of Western Michigan University to search for the fort. Dr. Nassaney worked in partnership with Dr. Joseph Peyser, a French Professor at Indiana University-South Bend who had identified an area of Niles as a likely location. Through surveys and excavation, Dr. Nassaney was able to definitively locate the area that once contained the fort itself. Ongoing excavation and research are revealing information about the appearance of the fort, its occupants, and their role in the fur trade and colonialism.