Opinion: River Raisin National Battlefield Park shares history
The River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Southeast Michigan is on its way to becoming a top tourist destination soon providing a world class educational experience. There visitors can hear the untold story of the War of 1812, learn about the ongoing social justice issues surrounding Native Nations, and understand local history more deeply.
Recently, it was announced that the River Raisin National Battlefield Park Foundation in partnership with the City of Monroe and other private/public partners has acquired properties through a $4.8 million dollar Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant. These properties are slated to come down this month to begin the development of the National Battlefield Park’s Old Frenchtown area.
The entire River Raisin Heritage Corridor plan is a 20-year $100 million-dollar project that will transform the Southeast Michigan area to become a world class educational experience teaching visitors about the creation story of Michigan, War of 1812 and its aftermath that still influences American policies today. The site will be a locus for historical, cultural, recreational, and ecological tourism.
What is the significance of the January 1813 clashes that took place in what was once known as Frenchtown, and why should what transpired here be of interest to us more than 200 years later?
Locked in the early stages of a war with the British and a confederacy of Native Nations under the powerful leader Tecumseh, an American army was nearly wiped out (only 33 soldiers escaped death or capture) and the country suffered its worst defeat of the conflict. Not only were more than 500 U.S. troops imprisoned – the most POWs ever taken by a foreign power on our soil – but a number of wounded Americans were too injured to travel and left behind in the settlement.
This terrible episode became the bloodiest battle in U.S. history, and nearly nine months later in at the Battle of the Thames, Americans rushed the field crying “Remember the Raisin,” killing Tecumseh and shattering the British army. Combined with Oliver Perry’s naval victory one month earlier on Lake Erie, these triumphs effectively ended the war in the Old Northwest territories with the U.S. firmly in control.
What about the long-term effects of the Battles of the River Raisin and the War of 1812?
As the only Battlefield Park dedicated to preserving, interpreting, and commemorating the war, we see these as considerable and critical to the growth of our nation. The battles here led to westward expansion and the formation of Michigan and other surrounding states. In 1830, influenced in part by the tragic aftermath of the Battles of the River Raisin, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, paving the way for the Native Nations’ "Trail of Tears," which moved most tribes west.
These events comprise one of the great untold stories of our nation’s history. With a growing partnership between the Battlefield Foundation and its many private and public partners, we are united and determined to change that narrative via the implementation of the River Raisin Heritage Corridor plan, which when realized, will dramatically improve Southeast Michigan. We invite you to visit the park to learn for yourself, and sincerely welcome your interest, your involvement, and your support going forward.
We are thrilled for visitors to be immersed into the untold story: making decisions, choosing sides, experiencing frontier life, and understanding the importance of history and its influence on social justice issues today. We hope that you will become a part of this phenomenal project and watch a National Battlefield be developed to become a top cultural and educational tourist destination.
Toni Cooper is executive director of the River Raisin National Battlefield Park Foundation.
Adam Ginsburg is donor relations coordinator of the River Raisin National Battlefield Park Foundation.