Fort Ingall

81 rue Caldwell, Témiscouata-sur-le-lac, Québec


If you were giving a tour of the architecture of Detroit and someone asked you for the most interesting building in the city constructed by the federal government, which edifice would you show them?  The Lighthouse Tender’s Depot (Poe, 1874) on Wight at Mount Elliott near the Detroit River would be one to consider.  Or you might prefer the Theodore Levin Federal Courthouse (Wetmore and Derrick, 1932) on West Lafayette with its classical judicial style.  The only reason to show the Patrick McNamara Federal Building (Smith, Hinchman and Grylls, 1976) on Michigan Avenue would be to illustrate how uninspired federal architecture can be.  Of course, the brutalist style was somewhat popular in the 1960s and it may still have its fans.  Many would select Historic Fort Wayne(Meigs, 1840s) as the best example of interesting federal architecture in the city.

How does Fort Wayne link to Fort Ingall?  I seem to be able to link lots of different places and sites to Detroit.  Fort Wayne was constructed because of continued disputes between England and the United States, disputes that some members of Congress felt might lead to a war, thus leading to the building of forts along the northern border.

The 1783 Treaty of Versailles ended the Revolutionary War and mentioned the matter of the northern border of the United States.  That treaty was drawn up by diplomats in France who did not have much accurate information about the geography of the area where the United States and the British Empire came together.  As a result, for the next 60 or 70 years, there were disputes and the threat of warfare about which country controlled which land.

In the late 1820s, the very sparsely populated land in northern Maine became valuable because of the stands of high quality timber.  People from Maine and Massachusetts as well as from New Brunswick and Québec entered the area and to trees for much profit.  This led to controversy.  Residents of Maine claimed that the St. Croix River was the northern border of their state while people from Canada argued that the Penobscot River—about 70 miles to the South—was the northern border of the USA.  There were also disputes about the boundary in the heavily wooded Madawaska region—that area near the northern tip of Maine where New Brunswick, Quebec and Maine come together.  Both the British and the United States claimed that remote region.

In addition, the British and Canadian traders sometimes wished to travel from Québec City to Halifax.  That was most easily accomplished by a very long boat journey but the St. Lawrence was frozen for almost four months many years.  An alternative was a trail from Rivière-du-Loup, Québec that eventually reached Halifax; a trail that went along the shores of Lac Témiscouata.

Continuing controversy led to negotiations, and in 1831, there was an agreement to let the King of the Netherlands, Willam I, arbitrate the matter.  Many in the United States saw his decision as too strongly favoring the British land claim so the United States Senate formally rejected his proposed solution.

People from Maine continued to move into the disputed area and cut its timber.  This set the stage for the Aroostook War—a war that did not involve any bloodshed.  The British, to protect their interests, decided to build four forts.  These were Fort Dégelé in Dégelis, Quebec; Fort Little Falls in Edmundston, New Brunswick; Fort Grand Falls in Grand Falls, New Brunswick and Fort Ingall that is pictured on this webpage.  Fort Ingall was the largest and most substantial of these outposts consisting of eleven wooden buildings surrounded by a substantial wooden stockade.  I believe that there are no remains of the other three forts.  They were wooden so little survived for 175 years.

In 1838, the Maine legislature passed a resolution calling upon the United States government to declare war against Britain.  This is often cited as the only time a state has declared war on another nation.  I do not know about the accuracy of that claim but Maine took military actions.  The state appropriated $800,000 to recruit 10,000 militia men to fight the British and Canadian forces if necessary.  Then Maine established two military outposts in the disputed territory claimed by Britain; Fort Kent and Fort Fairfield.  Congress never voted for the Aroostook War—so called because of the area in northern Maine in dispute.  Congress, however, appropriated ten million dollars to recruit a fighting force of 50,000 men for the possible war with England.  President Martin van Buren was much more reluctant than President Madison when it came to declaring war against the English.  He sent General Winfield Scott to Augusta, Maine to keep the peace.  Scott contacted New Brunswick Lieutenant Governor John Harvey and they agreed to a truce in the bloodless Aroostook War.  The United States and England agreed to negotiations and the 1842 Webster-Ashburn Treaty established the present northern border of Maine, although there may still be a dispute about several uninhabited Atlantic island near the Maine-New Brunswick border.  The United States claimed about two-third of the disputed land area although the very attractive Lac Témiscouata area remains in Canada.

What does this have to do with Fort Wayne in Detroit?  The 1840s were years of United States-British disputes about land areas.  In addition to Maine, the British claimed that the Columbia River was the southern border of their land in the west while the United States claim land extending north to the border with Russia which is now Alaska. There were also disagreements about the northern border of Minnesota and the British continued to occupy Michigan’s Drummond Island until 1828. In 1837 and 1838, there were rebellion in both Lower and Upper Canada.  Some members of Congress feared that the British would send troops to Canada to put down those rebellious Canadians who were very unhappy with the colonial administrators.  After doing that, it was reasonable to think that the British troops would settle their many disputes with the United States by sending their forces sources to recolonize the United States.  In 1841, Congress appropriated funds to build a chain of forts along the Canadian border.  Military planners and members of Congress, it seems to me, often assume that the next war will be similar to the previous one.

Detroit was a key theater in the War of 1812, and President Madison’ plan to defeat the British began with an invasion of Canada at Windsor in August, 1812—an invasion that was almost instantly repulsed by British forces.  Presumably, planners in the early 1840s assumed that a British invasion of the United States might begin at Detroit. So the very large Fort Wayne, designed by famous architect Montgomery Meigs borrowing from the ideas of accomplished Seventeenth Century French military engineer, Sebastian Vauban.  Quite likely Fort Wayne is the best example of a late medieval military fort to be found in the United States.

The version of Fort Ingall that you see has been reconstructed on the site of the original fort.  I do not believe that many or any of the structures you see are original ones. 

Built: 1839
Architect: Unknown to me
Use in 2014:  Historic Site
Website for Fort Ingall:
Photograph:  Ren Farley, June, 2013
Description prepared: January, 2014

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