A Spanish force from St. Louis captured the British fort of St. Joseph and raised Spain’s flag over Michigan.
During the American War of Independence, the United
Kingdom’s European enemies frequently attempted to take advantage
of Britain’s wartime weaknesses. In late 1780, Frenchmen and
Indians intent on plundering British goods and regaining
property taken by the British, approached the Spanish governor at St.
Louis, Francisco Cruzat, and urged him to authorize and
equip an expeditionary force to attack the British at Fort St. Joseph in
Michigan. Cruzat felt the British might attack his position
during the coming Spring, and he agreed to their request.
Indeed, he believed that a successful raid on Fort St.
Joseph would diminish both English influence and supplies among
the Indians and also serve as a demonstration of Spanish strength. In
January of 1781, forces departed from St. Louis totaling
sixty-five militiamen and sixty Indians. On February 12, 1781, they took
Fort St. Joseph by surprise. The fort was looted and
much of it was destroyed, its inhabitants became prisoners, the
Spanish flag was raised, and the entire region was claimed for the
Spanish Monarchy. The invaders left the following day
for St. Louis. During the Paris peace negotiations which
concluded the American Revolution, Spain's claim to the
territory proved ultimately unsuccessful. After the Spanish attack, the
fort ceased to be of significant military importance. The
present city of Niles, Michigan (founded in 1829), is very close to the
site of Fort St. Joseph. Spain’s short occupation of Fort
St. Joseph has allowed Niles the distinction of being the only
Michigan community over which four flags had flown: French, British,
Spanish and American.