The Doctor's Secret Journal
PAGES FROM THE ORIGINALMANUSCRIPT AS WRITTEN BYDANIEL MORISON, SURGEON’S MATE2ND BATTALION, 60TH REGIMENTFORT MICHILIMACKINAC 1769-1772
“... swore by a bloody oath he would come witha Hatchet and pull down my house.”
by DANIEL MORISON, Surgeon’s Mate
Edited by George S. May
Illustrated by Dirk Cringhuis
Mackinac State Historic Parks
Mackinac Island, Michigan
BRITISH 60th FOOT ROYAL AMERICANS
Copyright © 1960 by The Fort Mackinac Division Press
Printed in the United States of America by Harlo Printing Co., Detroit Michigan
Third Printing, 1969 15,000 copies
Fourth Printing, 1974 15,000 copies
Fifth Printing, 1984 10,000 copies
Sixth Printing, 1993 5,000 copies
Seventh Printing, 2001 3,000 soft cover—1,500 hard bound
On September 28, 1761, a year after France’s vast NorthAmerican empire had been surrendered to the British atMontreal, Canada, the flag of Great Britain was raised overFort Michilimackinac, far to the west at what is now MackinawCity, Michigan. A force under Major Robert Rogers,leader of the almost legendary Rogers’ Rangers, had reachedDetroit in 1760 and had taken control of that post, but thecoming of winter had compelled the British to wait until thefollowing year to take over the other French outposts in theupper Great Lakes.
Although Major Rogers later was to serve as commandingofficer at Michilimackinac, the red-coated troops who marchedinto the little stockaded fort on the south shore of the straitsconnecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan were commandedby Captain Henry Balfour. He found that the French garrisonhad departed for the west months before, leaving thefort in charge of Charles Langlade, a native of the area whohad fought brilliantly on the French side during the Frenchand Indian War. Balfour was greeted by several enterprisingEnglishmen who had gotten a head start in the race to gain6control of the lucrative fur trade which for so long had beenmonopolized by French traders at Michilimackinac.
After accepting the fort’s formal surrender and beforeleaving for the west, Balfour detailed a small force from thefamous Royal American or 60th Regiment to remain as thegarrison. Two years later, during the great Indian uprisingof 1763, fierce Chippewa warriors massacred over half ofthe soldiers and temporarily drove the British out. But withina year they returned in greater numbers, and from then until1781, when it was abandoned for a new, more easily defendedpost on Mackinac Island, Fort Michilimackinac was one of thekey links in the chain of military and trading posts whichGreat Britain maintained on the western frontier of its Americancolonies.
Among those who came to the fort in the late 1760’s wasa Scotsman, Daniel Morison, surgeon’s mate in the RoyalAmericans’ Second Battalion. Of his life before and afterhis tour of duty at Fort Michilimackinac we know nothing.Under ordinary circumstances we would agree with one ofMorison’s commanding officers who told him bluntly, “Youare not worth my Notice.” But Morison is worth our attentionbecause between 1769 and 1772 he kept a journal in whichhe set down in language that is often unintentionally hilariousand at other times brutally frank the best account that wehave of life at this outpost of European civilization.
This important historical document, now published forthe first time in its entirety, was purchased in 1914 by thegreat collector of materials relating to the history of Michiganand the Old Northwest, Clarence M. Burton, who boughtit from a book seller in London, England, for $55. Hebrought the journal back to the state in which it was writtenwhere it now rests in the Burton Historical Collection of theDetroit Public Library.
Dr. Morison’s journal provides us with a picture of theEnglish population of the fort, a people beset by violence,lawlessness, tyrannical officers, petty bickering, and assorted7other problems. A reading of the journal should dispel anyromantic notions of what conditions were like at aneighteenth-century frontier fort.
The inhabitants of Michilimackinac consisted of severalgroups. There were the soldiers, numbering around a hundredmen. A few of them, we learn from Morison, had broughtout their wives. The commanding officer’s house was the mostimpressive of the thirty-odd wooden buildings located withinthe stockade. The other officers lived in various cabins in thefort, as did the rank and file of the troops until 1769 when alarge barracks was constructed in the center of the fort. Dr.Morison’s complaints about the poor quality of the housingare supported by statements of others who commented on theramshackle construction which necessitated constant repairsand made the danger of fire an ever-present fear.
As a military fort Michilimackinac was scarcely adequateeven to withstand the attacks of Indians. The post was maintained,however, because it was a convenient center of thefur trade. The small garrison, with its six-pound and nine-poundcannon mounted on the bastions, was enough to impressthe Indians who lived in the vicinity and those whogathered here each summer with the reality of British armedmight. This symbol of military power protected the Englishfur traders who made up the second, and most important,segment of the fort’s population.
By 1767 Michilimackinac had become for the British asit had been for the French the headquarters for the fur tradeof a fourth of the continent. Canoes were sent out from hereloaded with trade goods to be exchanged for furs at distantIndian villages located in the uncharted wilderness northand west of Lake Superior, westward across the Mississippi,and southward to the Illinois country. For two or threemonths in the summer hundreds of voyageurs and traderscame back from the west, bringing in the furs they hadgathered during the previous year or two. Like the lumberjacksof a later era, these men were bent on enjoying to the8fullest degree their brief contact with the comforts of civilizationbefore they returned to the west to barter for more furs.
A few traders who had acquired sufficient means to enablethem to hire others to do the actual trading remained herethe year round and occupied cabins in the fort. These Michilimackinactraders, men like Benjamin Frobisher, Isaac Todd,George McBeath, and others not mentioned by Morison, togetherwith their agents or partners in Montreal who obtainedthe trade goods and sold the furs, dominated the furtrade for decades.
From Morison’s narrative we see that the officers and thetraders permanently in residence at the fort formed an elitegroup. It is obvious that the French habitants and half-breedswho comprised a third part of the fort’s population, not tomention the Indians of the area, were not admitted to thisexclusive social club. That the strain of being cooped up inthe small fort, cut off from all contact with the outside worldfor over half the year, proved too much for some of the membersof this clique, especially the bachelors, is also obvious.
Equally apparent is the fact that Dr. Morison, poor man,was unsuited to withstand the rigors of life at this post. Hewas apparently an educated man who could quote accuratelyfrom Virgil’s Aeneid, and a man of refinement and sensitivity.To some of the cruder members of the English set he musthave seemed an easy target and a source of amusement whenlife became too dull and the bowls of toddy ran dry. Feelinghimself much persecuted, as he certainly was, and outragedby the injustices of which he and others were the victims,Dr. Morison fumed, but, with a few exceptions, as when herefused to permit the whipping of a soldier to continue, helacked the courage necessary to stand up to his oppressors.So, like Lieutenant Maryk in The Caine Mutiny, who kept asecret log on the activities of his sick captain, Dr. Morisonrecorded in his journal the evidence which he no doubt hopedwould some day enable him to bring Ensign Robert Johnson,Captain George Turnbull, and his other tormentors to justice.
Actually, Dr. Morison probably was not a doctor at all.He was a surgeon’s mate, which means that he may oncehave been an apprentice to a surgeon and that he may havetaken a course or two at a medical school but that it is unlikelyhe ever graduated since had he done so he would nothave been simply a mate. The professional ability of theBritish army surgeon’s mate was of a notoriously low order,and, if we may believe one of the Royal Americans’ regimentalsurgeons, Daniel Morison was no exception in thisrespect. Surgeons were scarce, however, and a small frontiergarrison, even when, as at Michilimackinac, it had beenplagued by much sickness, had to be satisfied with the servicesof a mate. Unlike the surgeon, who was commissionedby the king, the surgeon’s mate was only a warrant officerappointed by the colonel of the regiment. The mate, therefore,was inferior in rank even to the ensign, the lowest of thecommissioned officers. This was undoubtedly the source ofmany of Morison’s problems. He claimed the title of doctorand demanded equal status with the officers, who, for theirpart, treated him as they would a common soldier.
Comments added at the end of the manuscript in a differenthandwriting indicate that someone in England whopossessed Morison’s journal in the nineteenth century intendedto publish it in a magazine. No evidence has beenfound that this was done. In preparing the journal for publicationwe have ignored the numerous changes that thisearlier editor made in the document and have retainedMorison’s own phraseology at all times, including the misspelledwords and grammatical construction so typical of hisage. The narrative has been broken into five parts, andparagraphing and punctuation has been supplied at someplaces in the interest of easier reading. Material withinbrackets has been inserted by the present editor.
GEORGE S. MAY
March 6, 1960
“Doctor, damn your blood, get up & give us a bowl of Toddy!”
An Entertainment and a Violent Assault
Dr. Morison begins his journal innocently enough withan account of a party which he and others gave in the fallof 1769. Among the other hosts was Isaac Todd, who laterhelped found the great Canadian fur-trading firm, the NorthWest Company, and whose long-time partner, James McGill,endowed McGill University in Montreal. The party beganto get out of hand with the arrival of a couple of rowdytraders—John Chinn, who is best remembered as a partnerin an unsuccessful copper-mining venture in Michigan’s UpperPeninsula, and Forrest Oaks, who was a prominent furtrader at Michilimackinac and later at Montreal for a numberof years after 1769.
Morison, who seems to have been something of a name-dropper,mentions as he goes along other men who are familiarto students of the fur trade and British military history.But all of them are dwarfed by Ensign Robert Johnson, whocrashed Morison’s party and soon turned the evening intoa nightmare. Johnson (which is apparently how he spelledhis name, although Morison insists on calling him Johnstone)is the villain of Morison’s journal, a scoundrel and bullywhom we come almost to admire for the infinite variety ofways in which he gave vent to his evil nature.
He had been deeply involved in the Robert Rogers affairwhich had rocked the little community at Michilimackinactwo years before. Johnson was in Detroit in the fall of 1767where he had gone for the treatment of an injury when amessenger from British military headquarters for North Americaarrived with orders to place Major Rogers, commandantat Michilimackinac, under arrest on suspicion of treason.Johnson brought these orders back to the Straits, and it wasLieutenant John Christie, an officer who also figures prominentlyin Morison’s journal, who arrested Rogers. Johnsonlater asked to be given charge of the detail that took Rogersto Montreal for trial, boasting that he would foil any attemptthat might be made to set Rogers free. However, whenRogers was acquitted, those who had hoped to see him convictedcharged that the prosecution’s case had been fatallyweakened by Johnson’s testimony which had enabled thedefense to show that Rogers had been mistreated while hewas a prisoner. Such mistreatment would be in keeping withthe picture of Johnson’s character which emerges from areading of Dr. Morison’s