MIKINAK (Meckinac, Mequinac, “The Turtle”), Ottawa chief; d. 1755 at Detroit.
Mikinak is first reported in 1695 or 1696 as a leader of an Ottawa-Potawatomi expedition from Michilimakinac against the Iroquois. The Iroquois had been actively seeking alliance with the tribes of the pays d’en haut. Their aim, had it been achieved, would have been disastrous for French interests, since trade would then have drained through Iroquois middlemen to the English. Prompted by Cadillac [Laumet*], the commandant of Michilimackinac, Mikinak and his party attacked some Iroquois who had been hunting around Detroit, and thus effectively disrupted chances for peace between their nations.
After Cadillac established a post at Detroit in 1701, Mikinak frequently carried messages between him and Joseph-Jacques Marest*, the Jesuit missionary among the Michilimackinac Ottawas. Commandant and missionary struggled bitterly over where the Indians should settle, and in 1702 Mikinak was still unwilling to move to Detroit. By 1737 he was certainly living there and was described as a “great chief of the Ottawas.”
He made several trips to Montreal, including one in 1742 when he presented his son to the governor, Charles de Beauharnois. Although on this occasion and almost certainly on the others Mikinak made polite assurances of support and promised to discourage all trade with the English, he apparently had an independent view of Ottawa interests. When Orontony and a group of Hurons from Sandoské (near Sandusky, Ohio) revolted against the French in the summer of 1747, Mikinak was said to sympathize with them. Years later Pontiac told the French that Mikinak had declared he “would carry the head of your commander to his village, and devour his heart, and drink his blood. . . .” Whatever the foundation of such accusations, after the arrival of more troops at Detroit in the fall of 1747 Mikinak appeared more friendly toward the French. He offered to use his influence to get the dissident Hurons to move back to Detroit from Sandoské, and suggested that the French bring in reinforcements to use against them should they remain defiant. In return for his good offices he demanded to have his prestige restored by being given equal treatment with Kinousaki, an Ottawa chief opposed to the revolt, who had been sent a scarlet coat with silver lacings. Paul-Joseph Le Moyne* de Longueuil, the commandant at Detroit, advised that Mikinak could provoke considerable trouble if his request were refused.
Although a coat was sent, Mikinak continued his somewhat independent course. In 1751 Kakȣenthiony reported to Governor La Jonquière [Taffanel] that Mikinak had been to the English post at Chouaguen (Oswego) and he hinted that the Ottawa chief had also had dealings with the English in the Ohio country.
When Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros* de Léry visited Detroit in the winter of 1754–55, he noted that Mikinak was discontented at being obliged to cede the land around Presqu’île (Erie, Pa.) to the French for a fort, and that he was to have gone to Montreal in the spring. On 26 February, however, the old chief died.
In contemporary documents and in later accounts, Mikinak is usually described as a vacillator, one whose “loyalty to the French weakened.” Such an interpretation does an injustice to an Ottawa chief whose territory was occupied by one European power and threatened by another. No one ever questioned Mikinak’s fighting ability or his qualities as a leader. Only after his death was Pontiac able to gain ascendancy among the Detroit Ottawas.
AN, Col., C11A, 67, f.139v; 75, f.91; 77, f.199. “Cadillac papers,” Michigan Pioneer Coll., XXXIII (1903), 113–14, 121–22, 126–29; XXXIV (1904), 288. Charlevoix, History (Shea), IV, 278. [G.-J. Chaussegros de Léry], “Journal de Joseph-Gaspard Chaussegros de Léry, lieutenant des troupes, 1754–1755,” APQ Rapport, 1927–28, 411, 413, 414, 418. French regime in Wis., 1727–48 (Thwaites), 262–64, 456–68, 478–92; “French regime in Wis., 1743–60” (Thwaites), 104–8. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow). The siege of Detroit in 1763: the journal of Pontiac’s conspiracy, and John Rutherfurd’s narrative of a captivity, ed. M. M. Quaife (Chicago, 1958), 99–100.