DETROIT (AP) — A War of 1812 grave site, discovered in the 1980s during an archaeological survey ahead of the People Mover’s construction, was recently commemorated with a historical marker in downtown Detroit.
A years-long effort to raise money and plan for the marker’s dedication culminated with a small crowd of about 21 people standing in the median of Washington Boulevard, across the street from the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, near the intersection with Michigan Avenue.
“I’m very thankful that this Michigan War of 1812 marker was installed,” Jim McConnell, of the Michigan War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, told The Detroit Free Press. “The story of Detroit in the War of 1812 is truly an amazing story.”
The War of 1812 was “caused by British restrictions on U.S. trade and America’s desire to expand its territory,” according to History.com. During the conflict, Fort Detroit had been surrendered to the British “without a fight,” according to the website.
The marker explains what happened later:
“War of 1812 Grave Site: In reaction to (American naval commander) Oliver Hazard Perry’s Lake Erie victory, the British withdrew from Detroit on September 26, 1813, setting fire to the buildings within the fort and the Citadel. Three days later, United States troops returned to a city that lacked housing and food supplies.
“A disease, probably cholera, broke out among the soldiers. By December 1, 1813, an estimated 1,300 of them were ill. The medical supplies were soon depleted: conditions worsened. When coffins became unobtainable, many soldiers were buried in a common grave at this site. Some 700 may have died before the epidemic finally ran its course.
“This grave site was identified in 1987 during an archaeological survey for the People Mover that found four burials associated with the War of 1812.”
McConnell worked with the United States Daughters of 1812 Michigan State Society, which had reached out to help him make the marker a reality. Grace Smith, the society’s president, stood at the dedication ceremony wearing 10 medals with names of her ancestors who fought in the War of 1812.
“Most of them were in New York. I had one (ancestor) who died at Fort Meigs, Ohio, and the others lived normal lives,” Smith said. “We pay tribute to them; it’s important to us.”
The Free Press reported in July 1984 that the bones of two humans were found in the path of the future People Mover, near the Michigan Avenue Station.
“About 500 American soldiers died during a typhus epidemic in 1814, the year after the city was reclaimed from British capture during the War of 1812. Their bodies were placed in shallow graves on what was then a military reservation,” the Free Press reported.
The marker was developed with a local partnership that also involved the Detroit Historical Society, Michigan Historical Center and the office of Detroit City Councilor Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, in whose district the marker is located.
“We honor our veterans, and these men all died in Detroit during the War of 1812. We have to honor them; we do it by putting up a monument or having a ceremony,” Smith said. “At least they won’t be forgotten.”