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February 12

1781

Fort St. JosephA 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.