Before the first Europeans arrived in Michigan, several Native American tribes populated the area, including the Ottawa (Odawa).  The first European explorers in the area were French, who arrived in the 17th century to trap, hunt, and convert the Natives.  The county is named, as is the city of Charlevoix, to honor Pierre-Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, a French Jesuit missionary, historian, explorer, and spy, who was sent by the French king to find a Northwest Passage to the Pacific in 1720.   Father Charlevoix’s book about his travels by canoe along the coast of Lake Michigan describes a spot likely to have been Charlevoix, and a night spent on an island thought to have been Fisherman’s Island.


In 1763, after losing the Seven Years’ War, France ceded its North American colonies east of the Mississippi to the British.  Michigan became part of Quebec in 1774, and continued to be sparsely populated by Europeans.  During the Revolutionary War, most of the colonists in the area supported independence, and the United States won the area from the British in 1783.  It became part of the Northwest Territory in 1787, part of the Indiana Territory in 1800, and finally the Michigan Territory in 1805. 


British forces, who were allied with the Ottawa and other tribes against the United States, captured Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812.  In 1836 the northwest Michigan area, known as Michilimackinac, was ceded to the United States by representatives of the Ottawa and Chippewa nations in the Treaty of Washington.  The next year, Michigan became a state.


In 1840 Michilimackinac was broken into several regions.  Today’s Charlevoix County was part of the region called Keskkauko.  It was renamed Charlevoix in 1843.   In 1847 the controversial James Strang led a group of Mormons from New York to establish the first white settlement in Charlevoix County on Beaver Island, and proclaimed himself king.  Pine River, later named Charlevoix, was founded by fishermen in 1852 at the site of a Native American settlement; the first permanent settlement there was established by several Mormon families who left Beaver Island in 1854 before Strang’s assassination in 1856.  Boyne City was founded by John Miller in 1855, and East Jordan in 1874. 


In 1869, Charlevoix County was created from portions of Emmet and Antrim Counties.  The county seat was moved from East Jordan to Boyne City in 1886, and following the destruction of the courthouse by fire, it was moved temporarily to Charlevoix, and then finally to Charlevoix in 1897.