Organizations commemorate 1781 February Raid in Niles ceremony

Published 3:28 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

NILES — A special ceremony was held Saturday to commemorate an American Revolutionary War event that led to Niles becoming known as the “City of Four Flags.”

Community members and guests braved frigid conditions to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony Saturday at the Fort St. Joseph Site commemorating the 1781 February Raid, an attack on Fort St. Joseph in early 1781 by Spain. The ceremony was conducted by the Capt. Samuel Felt National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, Col. Joseph Westnedge National Sons of the American Revolution, Michigan Sons of the American Revolution and Ki-Ka-Ma- Sung Society Children of the American Revolution – service organizations dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history and securing America’s future through better education for children.

After the ceremony, guests convened at the Niles History Center for cake and refreshments.

“I’m beyond thrilled,” said Mary Drolet, event organizer and Senior Leader of the Ki-Ka-Ma- Sung Society Children of the American Revolution. “I think we had a great turnout and good participation.”

“It was such a great turnout,” added Tifanni Dash, National Vice Chair of the DAR Community Classroom Committee. “To have all different societies here today is special. A lot of folks came into town for this.”

Fort St. Joseph was founded in 1691 and was a trading post, mission and garrison located on the St. Joseph River in Niles. On Feb. 12, 1781, a Spanish force captured the British-controlled Fort St. Joseph in revenge for an earlier attack on the Spanish Post of St. Louis, raising Spain’s flag over Michigan during the American War for Independence.

The Spaniards’ one-day occupation of Fort St. Joseph in the 1781 February Raid allowed the community to coin the phrase the “City of Four Flags,” as the only Michigan community over which four flags – French, British, Spanish and American – had flown.

“Because of these raids, the British decided to keep an entire regiment of British forces in Fort Detroit and Fort Michilimackinac,” said David Van Hoof, SAR VPG Great Lakes District. “That’s an entire regiment that (British General Charles Cornwallis) could have used at the Battle of Yorktown and that may have turned the tide at that battle. There may not have been any surrender and so because of this little raid, British forces were stuck here in Michigan when forces could have been used elsewhere.”

The event is the first in a series of events planned in conjunction with the United States Semiquincentennial Commission –  also known as America250 – from now to July 2026 to celebrate the upcoming 250th anniversary of the United States declaring independence from Britain. Dash believes the event was a great start to a project she hopes will engage Americans across the country.

“I think with it being 250 years old, there are several generations that weren’t alive during the 200th anniversary in 1976,” she said. “They have really no idea where in our area we have American patriot things at. We have actual patriots who fought in the American Revolution right  here in Niles and Buchanan and Galien. To bring that to a new generation and get them interested in their history and to know that it’s not just history that’s so far away you can’t see it; It’s physically there. You can go touch what they have.To me, that’s the cool part.”

Dash said the DAR will be putting on more America250 events in the area as well as statewide and nationally. 

“We’re excited for the next two years,” she said.

Drolet thanked the City of Niles for its years of supporting Fort St. Joseph and its activities. 

“It’s things like this that we couldn’t do without the city,” she said. “We have such a great partnership between the Fort St. Joseph Project and the city.”