The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Mackinac Customs House Manifests


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Mackinac Customs House Manifests


For a number of years a special collection has been housed in the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library. Members of the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History have used the 18 archival boxes looking for information on Daniel Dobbins, the Propeller INDIANA, and early references to vessels engaged in upper lakes commerce.

To make the public aware of the rich holdings of the Burton Historical Collection, the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History decided in April 2010 to have the collection copied as digital images. In this way the information can be dispersed among the Associations membership and an index to the documents can be generated. With that objective in mind Association member John Polacsek began to create a master file of digital images.

When the collection was first processed, it was cleaned, repaired, and organized in a dated sequence with the dates being added to the top right hand corner. In May member Jerry Metzler assisted in checking all the boxes of manifests. In this manner all the dates were placed in order and a listing of the various file folders was generated. Once the material was organized, the next step of the project involved the creation of front and back digital images of some 5,000 pieces.

The collection is listed as the Mackinac Manifests, a group of documents that were created by the U.S. Customs House on Mackinac Island from 1802 – 1860. The documentation within the collection is more than just the manifests that were issued every time a vessel entered or left the customs district. The collection contains U. S. Customs House Circulars, Manifests of Vessels entering and leaving the district, Enrollments and Licenses, Quarterly Reports of Coastal Traffic, Quarterly returns for various Lighthouses on the Upper Lakes, and Payment records such as those to the crew of the Snow ADAMS.

The use of the material also involves the interpretation of the penmanship of the various customs house officials who recorded the documents. Some documents are on scraps of paper, others on printed forms. Not all the documents are uniform, and they come from various customs districts across the Great Lakes. The quality of the ink also varies from extremely faded to excellent.

The camera was a Sony Model DSC-H20 and it captured the images on 4 GB Memory Sticks. Some images have the color auto corrected, others were left as is due to the paper color and the ink. The colors of the paper vary from yellow, blue, tan, white, white with mold stains, to white with water stains, while the ink varies to excellent to almost faded, so bad that you cannot read the original that is in your hand.