Shore Indian Trail – Hull’s Trace

The Shore Indian trail was one of the five major routes of land travel leading out of Detroit. It was one of the best known to the early settlers. The trail begins from the rapids of the Maumee River to Toledo, then closely along the shore through Monroe and Brownstown to Detroit. From Detroit, it continues northward along the Detroit and St. Claire Rivers, past Fort. Joseph, (Fort Gratiot), and into the Thumb. There is some debate if it continued to the spiritually significant location of White Rock and further north to Pointe Aux Barques.

Shore Indian Trail – Fort Miamis Trail – Hull’s Trace

This trail was considered part of the Great Trail; a network of footpaths created by Algonquian and Iroquoian-speaking indigenous peoples prior to the arrival of European colonists in North America. It connected the areas of New England and eastern Canada, and the mid-Atlantic regions to each other and to the Great Lakes region.

Battle of Lake Erie,
Battle of Lake Erie, U.S. Senate Art Collection, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

The Trails Role in the War of 1812

This trail became a crucial tactical element in the War of 1812. The young United States was concerned about supplying Fort Detroit, then in American hands, and the surrounding Michigan Territory. Since the British controlled Lake Erie, overland supply was the only option. Starting in June 1812, troops under the command of General William Hull constructed what became known as “Hull’s Trace,” a 200-mile military road running from Urbana, Ohio, to Fort Detroit. 150 men under the command of Hubert Lacroix completed “Corduroy Road” on July 4, 1812, with the bridge over the River Huron.

Hulls-Trace Survey
Burton Historical Collection

The survey map above came from a research volunteer at River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Monroe. Rusty Davis found the map while working on a research project while looking through the map card files at the Burton Historical Collection.


This is a draft map of Hull’s Road in Michigan and it is surmised that this is the map McCloskey produced to fulfill the contract he was given after the lottery in December 1808. Because he turned this map in January, he must have just followed the existing trail, taking compass readings as he traveled. Somewhere around the Huron River, he may have deviated because Hubert Lacroix writes in 1812 that he wasn’t able to find the slashes on the trees for the original route

Hull’s Trace ran close to both Lake Erie and the Detroit River, making it vulnerable to British attacks from the water. The first land-based skirmish of the war, the Battle of Brownstown, was fought on the road just north of this section. The later battles of Maguaga and Frenchtown were also fought along the trace. Hull’s Trace has been considered Michigan’s first road at the beginning of the settler era.


Michigan Historical Marker of Hull’s Trace

In April 1812, as the United States prepared for a possible war with Great Britain, Michigan’s Territorial Governor William Hull, became the commander of the Army of the Northwest. His first task was to lead his army from Dayton, Ohio to Detroit, building Hulls Trace, a two-hundred-mile long road, as it marched. The army left Dayton on June 1. As it cut the trace through the wilderness from Urbana north, it laid logs crosswise across swampy areas to create a rough but stable corduroy roadbed that could support supply wagons. In late June, a detachment from Frenchtown commanded by Hubert Lacroix also worked on the road, attempting to follow a route laid out under an 1808 territorial Legislative Council act. On June 18, 1812, the war was declared. Hulls army arrived in Detroit on July 5.

Hulls Trace, which linked Detroit and Ohio, was to be the Michigan Territory’s inland lifeline during the War of 1812. However, the Detroit River and Lake Erie gave the British easy access to the Michigan portion of the road. American efforts to use the road to bring supplies and men from Frenchtown, present-day Monroe, were foiled twice before Hull surrendered Detroit on August 16, 1812. After the war, the Hulls Trace was used for ever-improving roads, beginning in 1817 with a new military road. In 2000 low water levels in the Huron River revealed a quarter-mile of the old corduroy road, lying three to six feet beneath Jefferson Avenue. Ax marks were visible on some of the logs. This rare example of a surviving corduroy road is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


Books About Indian Trails in Michigan

Sources for Hull’s Trace Reseach

  • Ayres, Harral, The Great Trail of New England. Boston, MA: Meader Publishing Co. (1940)
  • The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Volume 1
  • Map of Western Lake Erie – Found by Rusty Davis – Burton Historical Collection

Related Reading

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3 thoughts on “Shore Indian Trail – Hull’s Trace”

  1. Very interesting stories on the Shore Indian Trail. I’ll have to spend some time with the sources as this is a wonderful insight into early travel into and around the Thumb of Michigan!

    • Thanks Mark!, I know you have done a lot of research on this. More and more resources are coming online with greater insight. I’m convinced the Thumb was the happy hunting ground that was highly prized and fought over.


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