Book shines a light on Native American women who lived on Mackinac Island

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Lansing – What began as a personal search for Theresa Weller to learn more about an ancestor’s Anishinaabe name has turned into a book, “The Founding Mothers of Mackinac Island: Agatha Biddle’s Band of 1870 .

It tells the story of the Agatha Biddle Band, a group of mostly Native American women who lived on Mackinac Island in the 1800s.

The group was a unique Native American community as it consisted of 66 women and eight men. It was very unusual for a group to be predominantly female. In addition, the women had no connection with each other, which was also unusual at the time.

They formed their band because they each owed annuity payments from the US government for land ceded in the 1836 Treaty of Washington, DC

Weller tells the genealogy of the families in the group and gives readers a glimpse into the life of them and others on Mackinac Island in the 19th century.

“At first I was just collecting annuities and wanted to know what my ancestor’s Indian name was, and it just blossomed. I thought there are so many that are related to the people of Mackinac Island that I should continue with that, ”Weller said.

In the preface, Weller says that his purpose in writing the book “was to name the Indians.” Who were these women? Where do they come from? How was their life? Sauvages is a French word meaning wild or natural.

Weller used the annuity payment records to find out who belonged to the group.

“The writing process started with me doing spreadsheets of all the various annuities I had and trying to compare them. But there were so many gaps between the two, ”Weller said.

Weller was able to obtain records from the Mackinac Island Genealogy and Family History for 1858-1859. These years were important because 1858 was the last year that the names of women for annuity payments were written in their own Indian names.

After that, the annuities were written with the names of their husbands.

Weller said she found many interesting stories about women and people were extremely generous in giving her information and photos of their ancestors to include in her book. This information helped her gather information and identify certain members of the group.

The majority of the women were at least half-blood, and many were married to fur traders.

Biddle joined the band in 1837 and became its leader in the early 1860s. His parents were most likely from the Odawa and Potawatomi tribes. However, it is not known how much Indian blood Agatha had.

Her maiden name was Buckwheat and she married a man named Edward Biddle, with whom she had at least four children.

Biddle maintained his Catholic faith throughout his life and was buried in Ste. Ann’s cemetery on Mackinac Island.

Because the group was made up of members from many backgrounds, they did not have to follow typical rules of behavior and did not have to marry people outside of their birth clan.

This has led to many mixed marriages among the children of the members.

Weller’s ancestor, Angelique Belonzhay, was the sister of Marie Charlotte Dejadon, a member of the group. Belonzhay women are believed to be from Mississippi, but not much is known about their family’s origin.

Weller, a resident of St. Ignace and a freelance writer, said the community of St. Ignace is still extremely tight-knit and that many residents with French surnames are descendants of women in the group.

“I have received a number of emails from people thanking me for confirming ideas or theories they had,” Weller said.

Weller said she hopes readers will learn more about her book about Native American women and the hardships they endured.

“The Founding Mothers of Mackinac Island: Agatha Biddle’s Band of 1870” ($ 32.95) is available from Michigan State University Press and Amazon.

Emilie Appleyard writes for Great Lakes Echo.


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