Claiming Michigan: The 1820 Expedition of Lewis Cass

September 16, 2023 - January 27, 2024

On Saturday, September 16, the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center will be opening a landmark exhibition on the 1820 expedition of Lewis Cass on the Great Lakes. The exhibition, “Claiming Michigan: the 1820 Expedition of Lewis Cass,” will feature dozens of images, excerpts from journals, detailed narrative information and large format maps. There will be an opening reception at 1 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres and light beverages. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public and will be open through January 27, 2024. Open hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Monday through Friday), until 8 p.m. on Thursdays and 12 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

In 1820, the governor of the Michigan Territory, Lewis Cass, and thirty-five companions participated in an expedition from Detroit to the furthest limits of what would become the states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, this was not a journey of discovery. Everything they experienced had already been seen before by the region’s indigenous people and early European explorers. In fact, without the assistance of their Anishinaabe guides, they would never have travelled to all the places they visited. In the end, the point of the expedition was not to discover but to claim the region for America and make their presence known. Less than six years after the War of 1812, America’s hold on the region was still tenuous. Along the way, they studied the landscape to determine what resources might benefit the United States in the future. Little did they or anyone else know the lasting impact this journey would have on the Great Lakes region, which within the next 30 years would see a boom of American settlement.

Many noted individuals are part of this story, including Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Shingabowossin (Chief of the Ojibwe at Bahweting – Sault Ste. Marie), Ozhaguscodaywayquay (Susan Johnston), Charles Trowbridge and David Bates Douglass. For each of these individuals, the expedition would alter their lives, in positive and negative ways. For many of the expedition’s participants, they would leverage the adventure in their pursuit of government appointments and political ambitions. For the Indigenous people, this expedition would begin the process of American settlement of the region and the exploitation of its resources. The impact on their way-of-life and the natural world they relied upon them would be devastating, the effects of which they still struggle to deal with to this day.

The Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center is located at the corner of 7th Street and Tracy Ave. on the campus of Northern Michigan University. For more information call 906-227-1219 or go to