OTTISSIPPI: Chapter 16 part 1 | Early St. Clair County Pioneers

By Cheryl Morgan

BWHL is proud to share excerpts from Cheryl Morgan’s book, Ottissippi. To purchase a copy of Cheryl’s book in its entirety, click here.

British Lieutenant Patrick Sinclair in 1765 was the first permanent British-English settler along the St. Clair River, and the only one until 1772. Sinclair purchased 3,759 acres from the Chippewa Indians, and the fort post was active from 1765 to 1782. It was a pinery with a mill and fields for crops. Sinclair supplied posts in the Upper Great Lakes and sent lumber to Detroit. 

Nimekance, or “Lightening”, served under St. Clair, helping to build Fort Sinclair Trading Post and working there for Sinclair, and lived near Judge Bunce. He grew corn nearby the judge’s home, still attending his fields at 105 years old. Nimikance lived to 112 years old.

The British engaged the Hessians Aux. Reg. from Germany to fight the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Many of these men settled in Upper Canada, now Southern Ontario. After the Revolutionary War, many Pennsylvania German, Plain Folk, Mennonites, Dunkards, Moravians, Amish, and Hutterite emigrated to Canada. 

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Bouvier and LaSalle came in 1785, North of the fort, and claimed land. 

Denis Causlet, a Frenchman, was the first White settler in now Port Huron, settling near the mouth of Black River before 1790. Causlet and Peter Brandamour were couriers in the service of the French traders who deserted and came to live among the Indians at Black River. Brandamour, also a Frenchman, located on land in now Port Huron two years after Causlet. Peter Jr. was born at Port Huron in 1802, being one of the oldest settler families in St. Clair County. James, Peter’s son, was a raftsman in the lumber business. Rufus, another son, as a boy played with the bow and arrow and canoe with the Indian boys and ran errands for the officers at Fort Gratiot. He, too, was in the lumber business. Frank Brandamour was the first White child born in St. Clair County. 

Peter Bonhomme, or Burnham, built a log house at Fort Gratiot. Racine had a house at the foot of Butler Street. The other French families who had come to live on Black River – Riviere Dulude – were Francois Laviere, Baptiste Levais, J.B. Duchesne, Michel Jervais, J.B. Corneais, Peter Moreaux, M. Duprey, and the two brothers Burnham. They were permitted to build shanties and cultivate small patches of land on the flats. 

The name “Delude” was after a man who was drowned in the river. They called this place Desmond (St. Clair County).

Jacob Hill owned land on the St. Clair River previous to 1796 near Algonac. Ignace Champagne owned land on the St. Clair River previous to 1796 near Algonac. Pierre and Joseph Mini and Joseph Bassinet were also land claimants prior to 1796 near Algonac on the St. Clair River. McNiff, James Robertson, and Rowe were also early land claimants. Also, Antoine Nicholas Petit, Jean Marie Beaubien, Fontenoy, Toussaint Chovin, James Cartwright, John Wright, and McDonald. 

“George Cottrell was born in Detroit and came up the river about 1781. The Cottrell family were the earliest settlers on the River St. Clair. He married Archangel Minnie Cottrell. She was born on the river. He built a store and trading post with a palisade around it and hired Frenchmen to guard it” (Fuller). Captain George Cottrell had three sons and one daughter. Henry was the sheriff, and David the associate judge.

The Negro, Harry, a faithful worker of Meldrum and Park, was given a farm near St. Clair.  

Cotton Point was in the South of St. Clair County on the St. Clair River. Francois Marsac bought the land in 1808. 

Jacob Harsen from Holland came from New York during the American Revolution. A gunsmith and fur trader, in 1778 he received a grant of 3,000 acres of land from the Indians. It was then called Harsens Island. In 1783, he bought Jacobs, or James, Island from the Indians. He had three sons: Jacob, George, and Frank. Jacob came to Michigan on horseback from New York. He was an associate of John Jacob Astor in the Fur Trade. His daughter and son-in-law, Isaac Graveraet, a silversmith, came with him and worked with him. A grandson, James Harsen, was accidently shot by John Riley, the Black River Chief in 1810 or 1811. 

Henry Robertson was born in Cottrellville about 1790. He was a captain on the lakes, sailing the Gratiot, one of the first steamers on the River St. Clair. 

In 1780, James Thompson received a deed to the island, Pakassanecayank, of five Chippewa chiefs. It was also called Laughtons, Dickinsons, Stromness, St. Clair, and Thompsons Island. Asa C. Dickinson received a deed from the Indians in 1780. 

“Antoine Morass worked at James Baby’s Mill at Baby Creek, now Bunce Creek, in Marysville, Michigan, on the St. Clair River. Negig, an Indian chief, lived on this land. Morass then worked for Judge Abbott at Abbottsford, running his mill called Morass mill. The Abbottsford Mill was on Mill Creek – Gorse Creek,  near Black River. 

Bonhomme, or Burnham, bought land on the south side of Black River, known as the Campau Tract. He also bought land where Fort Gratiot was to be built” (Adapted from, Jenks, 1912). 

“Other early settlers of the township include James Gill, B. Sturgis, S. Hueling, James Young, and A.F. Ashley. When they arrived, it was covered in forest and was Indian country. After the U.S. took possession of this land from the British in 1796, soldiers received bounty lands for part of their pay for their service to the country. Many sold their bounties to men who would buy up many lands for huge parcels of land ownership. 

Thomas Knapp built the first settlers store on Quay Street at Black River in now Port Huron. 

George McDougal was the keeper of the Fort Gratiot lighthouse built in 1822. He was also a territorial general, officer of the militia, postmaster, and a lawyer. George and his brother, John, sold their inheritance, Belle Isle, to William Macomb, a slaveholder. Their father, George McDougal Sr. of the Royal Navy, obtained a grant of land from King George III, who obtained the deed from the Chippewa and Ottawa Indians with goods. George had a negro boy valet who combed, oiled, and brushed out his voluminous wig. 

Jonathan Burtch built a store on the north side of Black River near 7th Street. It was the first frame store in Desmond. He operated a lumber business and farmed. Daniel Harrington worked in his store and later bought out his employer” (Adapted from, Jenks). Burtch came in October 1828, he built and owned the Central Hotel in 1834. He later went into lumbering at Lakeport and Alpena. 

“Joseph B. Comstock and his brother, Alfred, opened a General Store in Desmond – Port Huron – in 1835” (Jenks). 

“John Riley, the half-breed Ojibwe chief, lived at the Black River near Military Street and the St. Clair River. He operated a trading post and was very important to the U.S. Government and the Ojibwe Indians. Riley Township is named after John Riley. He built two houses, one on the west side of Black River.

A road was called for by the Board in 1824 to run from John Riley’s to Morass’s mills on Black River. 

Jacob Kendall came in 1825 and purchased land near Algonac. He held every township office in Clay Township, except constable. John B. Kendall, his son, was once sheriff of St. Clair. 

Edward Petit was a fur trader who lived near John Riley in Port Huron. His family was the earliest family living in Port Huron, Michigan in 1788 along with the Natives. Anselm Petit (his father) was the only resident on the assessment roll of 1821 for Port Huron” (Adapted from, Jenks 1912). “Edward Petit was born in 1813 in a log house built by his father near the present foot of Court Street in Port Huron. A sister married McDougal who kept slaves, two of them named Jo and Callette. Anselm helped build Fort Gratiot. Edward attended the missionary school at Fort Gratiot. The teachers were John Hudson and Mr. Hart, who taught there for three years before removing to Mackinaw. These were Edward’s only lessons, learned in a box of sand. Edward hunted and fished with the Indian boys. He learned their language, his parents’ French, and English from the new settlers, all spoken fluently. He was well equipped for the fur trade being employed from boyhood. He told of Old Father Badin visiting at his father’s house, and at St. Ann’s Church in Detroit, he received the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church from Pere Richard” (History of St. Clair County, Michigan, Western Historical Co.). 

“Edward platted land where the homestead farm of 19 acres was at Court Street. The village was called Peru. These lots were the beginning of Port Huron, Michigan. 

The bears were very plenteous and disputed with the inhabitants the right to fresh meats which were not under lock and key” (History of SCCMI, Western Historical Co. p. 144). 

“Baubien settled in 1781. Westbrook later bought his claim in St. Clair” (Fuller). 

Captain Robertson lived south of Marine City. He caught large quantities of whitefish on the St. Clair River. 

Captain Thorn came West before 1770. He was a ship pilot in the fur trade and the military for both the British and Americans. He lived in Detroit for a time and then settled at Cottrellville, North of Algonac, in 1783. His sons were William and John. John owned and plotted the first village lots in Port Huron. He had three daughters: one married James Fulton, the Founder of St. Clair, one married Andrew Westbrook. Captain Thorn was famous for being the first captain to pass through the St. Mary’s River at Sault. Saint Marie between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. He was arrested as a British spy after having sailed for the British for 20 years. He also named Put In Bay, Ohio. When his crew ran out of provisions, he and his crew were reduced to eating a flour and water mixture called putin or pudding, which later became Put In Bay. 

William Thorn of the River Sinclair in 1789 sold land to Meldrum and Park of Detroit. Meldrum and Park purchased a large tract of land by deed, with 27 Indian chiefs confirming the purchase in 1788 made to Patrick Sinclair. One Vatiren, a Canadian, received the lands to dispose of as he wished when Patrick Sinclair left the country in 1782. The land was sold at auction in 1784; it was four miles deep, and the survey indicated 33,759 acres. Five families settled on the land as squatters in 1800, one as a tenant of Meldrum and Park, and nineteen farmers claim, under Indian deeds in 1780 and 1782. George Knaggs was a tenant. 

George Meldrum had sons: John, James, William, and David. 

In 1790, Jarvais, or Gervais, settled on Indian Creek, it was renamed Jarvais Creek. 

In 1796, when the Americans claimed the eastern shore of Michigan, Captain William Thorn, Captain Paschal, Robertson, William Brown, Joseph Minne, Captain John Cottrell, and Captain Alexander Harrow claimed lands near Algonac as war bounties. 

Mr. Chortier, Shirkey, Minne, Basney, and William Hill were early residents of Pt. Aux Tremble, near now New Baltimore. 

William Macomb purchased Grosse Isle and Stoney Island, an area some 6,000, acres. He established 10 tenants on them. He supplied the military fort with trade goods. He had 26 slaves. He also bought Belle Isle from George McDougal and his brother, John, who had inherited it from their father, George Sr.

William Brown and his wife, Martha Thorn Brown, purchased land in 1806 from the Indians on the St. Clair River opposite St. Clair City, living here until 1814. Choosing to be Americans, they removed to Cherry Beach two miles South of Marine City in St. Clair County. Captain William Brown resided in Canada on the St. Clair River. He was the father of Nancy Brakeman. He took the Oath of American Citizenship and moved in 1814 to the other side of the river in Macomb, then near Cherry Beach in Algonac. William Brown was born in British Detroit in 1774. His playmates were the French and Indian boys. He spoke three languages fluently: French, English, and Indian. His parents settled at Cottrellville. He went sailing for Judge Abbott. He married the daughter of Old Captain Thorn. He worked for the government as a carpenter and sutler. He kept a public house for 30 years. He was known as “Uncle Billy Brown”. He was appointed the first coroner of St. Clair County and served twelve years and was elected three times. He was postmaster of the township. He built the first dock between Detroit and Marine City and sold wood for boats and vessels running between Buffalo and Chicago. He kept a fur trading post and farmed. He was the first subscriber to the Detroit Free Press from this county. His daughter, Anna, married Peter Brakeman. 

Morttenger came in 1814. 

The Brakemans first lived in the township of Moore, County of Kent, Upper Canada. In the summer, travel was by sail boats and canoes; in the winter, carioles and French trains on the ice. There were no roads in those days. 

Peter F. Brakeman was a fur trader who did extensive trade with the Indians at Cottrellville, buying up grain and flint corn to sell at Mackinac. The grain was grown on Harsens Island and Walpole Island. He built the first dock and warehouse in Port Huron built on the river. He was a farmer, supplying the Fort Gratiot. He moved to Willow Creek in then Sanilac County, now Huron City in Huron County, where he engaged in lumbering in 1847. He and his partner owned a steam mill, one of the first between Saginaw and Lexington, Michigan. See “Peter Brakeman” in “Chapter 6: Trade and Traders”. 

Joseph Campau and Robert Abbott were large business owners operating out of Detroit. 

Captain Francoise Marsac came around 1798 to Tremble Creek near New Baltimore, Michigan and, prior to 1790, to Swan Creek four miles from New Baltimore. 

Cartright owned Cartright Island near Algonac. Chartier, or Chortier, lived near Algonac. He was a trapper and raised ponies, feeding them on the prairie at Duchene. 

Harvey Stewart operated a small distillery on Harsens Island. He married Mr. Graveraet’s daughter. Graveraet came to Harsens Island and worked in the silversmith business. He married Jacob Harsen’s daughter. 

Alexander Harrone, or Harrow, owned a large tract of 14,400 acres, deeded by the Indians. He was a ship captain and lieutenant and commander of the Naval Armament in the wars along with Captain Thorn, as both a British and American lake pilot. He transported the officers of the wars. He built a distillery on his land North of Algonac. Captain Harrow’s plantation was called “Newburgh”. 

Peter Yax lived near St. Clair. Recorr was an early settler near Marine City.  

Alexander St. Bernard furnished lumber for St. Anne’s Church in Detroit, and the rebuilding of Detroit in 1805, from his father Louis St. Bernard’s timber. He piloted the Grand Turk, the first boat built at St. Clair, and worked carrying supplies for the government to Chicago at Fort Dearborn. He also piloted the first iron warship in America, if not the first in the world. For the next quarter of a century, he remained in government service.  

James Fulton bought land of Meldrum and Park’s and laid out the village of St. Clair. He sold his interest to Thomas Palmer of Detroit. This was the first village on the St. Clair River. 

In St. Clair County in 1807, there were 51 land claims. The remaining land was Indian land until the Treaty of 1807, which ceded Southeast Michigan to the U.S. Government. 

In 1809, The Michigan Essay and The Impartial Observer were the State’s first newspapers by James M. Miller. 

John Riley, the half-breed, owned the site of Port Huron until 1836. He was a Great Spirit and chief of the bands near Port Huron and across the river in Ontario. His home was on Military and 6th Street next to the great burial mound on Water Street where now stands the federal building. This was the Indian reservation set aside for the Indians’ use in the 1807 Treaty of Detroit. 

In 1816, numerous families of Indians resided on Black River: Old Black Snake, numerous family related to John Riley, and a strong-built Indian called Black Duck.

John Riley accidently shot Mr. James Harsen, who died 6 months later. “All inhabitants were accustomed to bear arms for protection and hunting. There was a well-organized militia. George Cottrel was Lieutenant Colonel” (Jenks 1912).

“Louis Facer owned a farm at Quay Street, and in his house, he inaugurated inn keeping in 1821” (Western Historical Co.).

“Daniel B. Harrington was a civic promoter of Port Huron, possessed with great executive energy. He made pencils and clerked in Z.W. Bunce’s store at Fort Gratiot. He was a fur trader and founded the first newspaper, founding two newspapers in total. He was also a lumberman, banker, railroad man, and lawyer and built the Lapeer Plank Road, 80 miles west into the wilderness to Brockway, opening up the West for development. He helped organize the city government of Port Huron in 1857. He was the first president of the First National Bank and the Port Huron Savings Bank. He was postmaster of Port Huron and a state senator. Early voting was done at his farm on Black River. His biography is found in “Chapter 6: Trade and Traders”. 

Jeremiah Harrington bought land at Black River.

Lambert Minnie lived at Algonac; his father came in 1790. 

John Oakes engaged in lumbering on Black River. He built mills on the river and then moved to St. Clair and farmed. He held many offices in the township. 

Sam Ward came in 1818 to the mouth of Belle River and laid out the village of Marine City – Newport. This was the second village on the St. Clair River. He operated a tavern there and then proceeded in shipbuilding. Sam was appointed associate judge of the County Seat. Z.W. Bunce was the Chief Justice, and David Oaks was associate judge” (Adapted from, Jenks, 1912). He became a very prosperous man. More steamboats and sail vessels have been built in these shipyards than anywhere else in the State. 

Eber Ward was the wealthiest man in the State of Michigan. 

Crocket McElroy was a shipbuilder, merchant, manufacturer of staves and salt, timber ranger, and mayor of St. Clair. As State Senator, he was a great reformer of early Frontier life, changing railroad laws, roadway laws, village and city laws, and protection laws. He was the man who first used hydraulic water in the mining of salt. Due to his judgment, ingenuity, and persistence, the Salt Industry was established in St. Clair County. 

Henry Whiting lived at St. Clair, Michigan. 

John Swartout came with his sons; they settled near Algonac.

“Joseph Watson owned land east of Military Street. In 1817, the town of Montgats was Joseph Watson’s town on the south side of Black River at the mouth. He sold a parcel to Michel Kelly, who built a house which was used for a store and tavern for many years. The street called Water Street was barely 24 feet wide, very narrow, and then called Mill Street” (Mitts, D., The Times Herald, SCC Library, MI Room). Mill Street led to the water mill of Monsieur Gervais at the outlet of Indian Creek – Riviere Gervais – on the south bank of Black River, just east of 7th Street” (Mitts, D.). 

“John K. Smith came to Detroit with the army and settled at Stromness Island as a potter in 1818. He then began a store and went on to become probate judge and chief justice of the county under Governor Louis Cass. He was appointed deputy collector of customs and was the first postmaster in the county. As justice of the peace at Point Office and Algonac, he heard cases from all over the county, and his business exceeded that of the county court for many years. He was a great peacemaker, and he had a greater record of marriages than any of the justices in St. Clair County. He had great judgment and was straightforward and conscientious to duty.  

John M. Robertson was a captain on the lakes and enlisted in Co. 1 First Michigan Engineers during the Civil War. He became a lawyer and lighthouse keeper at the Upper Light on the St. Clair Flats ship canal.

Abram Smith, son of John K., carried mail as a young man. He engaged in lumbering and built ships. He held various offices of the county and school. 

At Pte. Aux Tremble were four families: Chartier, Minnie, Basney, and Hill. 

Shortly after John K. Smith settled in Point Office and Algonac, Ira Marks, Ebenezer Westbrook, and Silas Miller bought land south of him to the Point.

Other men from near St. Clair and Marine City were William Gallagher, Amasa Memmenger, Hamilton, John Fish, Carleton, Charles Larned, Bassenet, Charles Phillips, Everett Beardsley, and Stephen Rose. 

At Marine City, an immense ship building trade ensued. There was a large tannery at St. Clair and at Port Huron called English and Walker, and D. Sheldon was superintendent at both. He also had a large brickyard at St. Clair. 

Zephaniah W. Bunce’s grandfathers, Bunce and Drake, were sea captains, owning their own vessels in the East. They dealt in foreign commerce, the West Indies Trade, privateering prisoners of the British pirates who escaped. Zephaniah learned the Hatter Trade and was a fur buyer for his uncle. He was also a great horseman who had many near-death experiences on the icy rivers. 

Judge Bunce headed to Michigan with a one-horse wagon with 8,000 dollars-worth of ready-made clothing and other goods for Detroit. He came on a ship from Buffalo to Detroit in 1817. Judge Bunce arrived in St. Clair County in the fall of 1817. He sold his goods at Detroit for one year and then lived as a bachelor, later marrying his wife, Laura Ann Duryea. He traveled extensively throughout the territory and knew every man in Michigan. He built the only house in the area at Bunce Creek, formerly Baby Creek, now in Marysville, Michigan. Bunce owned land on the St. Clair River, four miles in length and a half a mile back. There were no houses in Port Huron then. The land became known as Bunceville. 

General Cass, Territorial Governor of Michigan, was a frequent visitor at the Bunce Homestead. He appointed Joseph Bunce, Zephaniah’s brother, as territorial judge. Joseph returned East and Zephaniah was appointed. 

The Bunce Mill site was built in 1828 at Bunce Creek, where the judge was a trader and supplier to the military and settlers. At this site, there were mills built in 1697 and 1738. The lumber was sent to the Detroit dock built by Mr. Baby. Judge Bunce also kept a store at Fort Gratiot. Daniel Harrington worked for him for a time in 1828.

He built the road from his home to Fort Gratiot at Lake Huron in 1827 and a road, 20 miles south of his place toward Swan Creek in the now Southern part of St. Clair County. The roads were nearly impassible in spring and fall. He operated two sawmills for Judge Abbott, then bought one for himself in Clyde Township and then in Burtchville. Judge Bunce employed many Indians called ‘Bunce’s Indians’. Z.W. Bunce was justice of the peace and colonel of the 3rd Michigan Militia. He then became the chief justice of the county courts along with Sam Ward and David Oaks Associates. Then Bunce became probate judge, then worked in the Michigan Legislature. He lived to 102 years old. 

He with his brother, Horace, who came in 1825, were in the lumbering and trading businesses. He built a gristmill in the town of Abbottsford in Clyde Township, also lumbering and farming. Judge Bunce moved to Abbottsford in 1833, where he kept a boarding house for his people working the Lumber Trade at Abbottsford. Smith Humphrey kept the boarding house for Judge Bunce. Judge Bunce lived here until 1846, moving back to Bunceville at Bunce Creek on the St. Clair River” (Adapted from, Jenks 1912).

“Judge Bunce employed many Indians at his businesses; they were called ‘Bunce’s Indians’. They were lumberman and loggers in his mills and trade post. Some came across the river to work for him. He had many great friends, both Red and White. The Indians camped at Abbottsford and at Bunce Creek when working for the judge in the logging and trading businesses. 

At Abbottsford in now Clyde Township, Ignace Morass built a sawmill in 1816. James Abbot purchased and rebuilt this mill and also purchased a gristmill built by Z.W. Bunce. A post office operated here from 1892 to 1942. There were over eight hotels in the area and many boarding houses for the men who worked in the lumber camps along Black River and Mill Creek. 

The area around Ruby and along Black River into Grant Township is a state game area. Most of this land was formerly owned by the Beards and Glyshaws, comprising over 7,000 acres. Before Black River was obstructed with dams, sturgeon, pike, and mullet went far up this stream to deposit eggs at the spawning streams. During the logging era, often the sturgeon were late in getting down and would be in deep holes, waiting for a flood, and the Indians would capture them.

Judge Bunce had many trials by travel in water, ice, and mud. He seemed to have nine lives. A great birthday celebration was made for Judge Bunce at his 100th year. He was much-loved and memorialized. Judge Bunce died in 1889. He was known throughout the Northwest Territory. He had two sons, Mumford and Lefferts, and one daughter, Louise Ann. Of the Pioneer Sunday School, the Judge was a member. He was bright, witty and kind, loved and respected. 

Horace Bunce, brother of Zephaniah, arrived in 1825 and lumbered with his brother and farmed. He was a member of the State Legislature in 1860. He married Martha J. Westbrook. He also built a gristmill at Abbottsford. 

General Cass was a frequent visitor to Judge Bunce’s place, many times conducting government business at his home on the St. Clair River” (Adapted from, MPHC, vol. 1, O.C. Thompson).

The Dorsey House Restaurant and Tavern was built in 1847, serving travelers and lumbermen. It was formerly called the Halfway House, being halfway between Port Huron and Brockway Center – Yale. It was then called the Wildcat Hotel. The Dorsey House was on the Wildcat Road at Port Huron to Lapeer Plank Road, now Beard Road – M136 at Wildcat Rd. in Clyde Township, St. Clair County. There were five or six rooms above the tavern and a blacksmith shop in back where people had their horses shoed. They would stay the night. It was known for its great meals and dancing was, a big draw on the weekends. A gun fight – duel –was said to have taken place in the back yard at the hotel. The original building has been replaced with a modern building. 

The Handy Brothers Railroad used rails for their sugar factory. They built the trestle over Mill Creek at Ruby. This huge trestle no longer exists, though it was a great feat in its day. 

“The first minister of the Gospel in 1818 was Mr. Dickson at the Methodist Episcopal Church on Harsens Island” (Brakeman/Jenks 1912). 

Land was not open for sale to the public domain until 1818. The price was $2.00 per acre, one-fourth down and the remainder the second, third, and fourth year with 6% interest. Few purchases were made under those terms. In 1820, the price was amended and reduced to $1.25 per acre, cash, all credit being abolished. There were no sales until 1823 and very few until Hartford Tingley from Providence R.I. purchased speculation land of 3,500 acres in 18 sections. Almost half the county was purchased in speculation between 1830 and 1836. 

Section 16 of every township was granted to the State for schools, and all salt springs within the State, up to 12, with 6 sections of land adjoining were to be State land, selected by 1840. “Local government was often conducted in homes and the local taverns, the one place large enough to accommodate large gatherings” (Lauriston). “Railroad lands were also set aside, including 3,568 acres in St. Clair County. W.R. Bowes, Augustus D. Griswold, and Amos Gould were the men authorized to administer these lands. Railroad lands were given to railroad companies to build a railroad within 10 years. 

All swamp land belonged to the State, including 29,552 acres in St. Clair County. The legislation of the nation and the state were negligent in carrying out this law. Nearly six million acres were patented to the state as swamp land, and much of the land was not swamp but high and well-timbered with pine and other valuable wood. Much was sold at greatly discounted costs. Many fortunes were made this way, buying timber land worth 10 to 30 dollars per acre, at a dollar per acre in cash: ‘Frittered away by neglect and reckless donations of the legislature until nothing of value is now left to the people. A few have been enriched with no benefit to the great mass of our citizens. Wasted to the lasting injury of its sons and daughters’” (Jenks, History of St. Clair County Michigan, 1912, vol. 1).

“In 1821, the only taxpayers living in Algonac were Silas Miller, Ira Marks, and Angus McDonald.

In 1824, Catholic Point – near Marine City – was purchased for a Mission by Reverend Father Gabriel Richard of Detroit. In 1826, Rev. Pierre DeJean built Saint Felicite here, the first Catholic church in the county. When the St. Mary’s River and St. Clair River were dredged for shipping, Lake St. Clair became deeper and the church was rebuilt on higher ground. The first foundation and cemetery are flooded over and under preservation. Also in 1826, Ira Marks and Ebenezer Westbrook bought land in section 10, now Ira Township, and built the Methodist Episcopal Church, the first Protestant church building in the county” (Jenks, 1912).

“Henry Baird and his son, William Baird, Scotch Colonists from the Jones Colony, came to Port Huron in 1828. The town was a mere struggling Hamlet skirting the river bank. They settled in China Township in the blacksmith trade and later went into the lumber business. William Baird worked at Andrew Westbrook’s shop, a pioneer workman at the forge. His brother was Dr. Robert E. Baird, living at Marine City. William served as a lieutenant of Co. K, the U.S. Red Colored Unit famous as sharpshooters, in the Civil War. He was taken prisoner and suffered horribly. He went into the lumbering business at St. Clair and was a lawyer, postmaster, and a salt manufacturing with his brother, Robert. He was president of the Soldier and Sailor Association of Macomb, St. Clair, and Sanilac Counties” (Jenks, Biographical Memoirs of St. Clair County).

Other early settlers in the Lower St. Clair River were David Robertson, Chester Rankin, and Richard Allington.

In 1825, the lighthouse was built at the mouth of the St. Clair River, the first on the Upper Lakes. Port Huron was the third village on the St. Clair River. John Thorn Plat was on the north side of Black River. James H. Cook, a representative of Thomas S. Knapp, came in 1825 and built a store and trading post on the north bank of Black River. 

“In 1827, a mail route was established from Pontiac to Port Huron, stopping at Washington Village, this being the only office between the former place and Mt. Clemons. It necessarily served a very large extent of country, the mail bag originally carried on foot and, afterward, on horseback for ten or twelve years. The mail carrier always remaining at Washington overnight. Shortly after 1836, the mail was brought by stage from Detroit until the completion of the Grand Trunk Railroad and a regular line of easy coaches, lumbering stages, or dilapidated buggies were alternately the means of transit” (History of Macomb County). 

“Captain John Clarke came in 1833 to Port Huron to run the steam mill for Dr. Rice. He then lived at China Township on the St. Clair River. He built a store and dock and traded in furs, etc. He was the Indian commissioner for the State of Michigan, a senator, a postmaster, and was a representative elected to the Territorial Convention which framed the first Constitution of this State. John Clark was called upon to help those in difficult circumstances: a vessel had a great gaping hole in it and was having difficulty staying afloat; he went to his cellar and wrapped a large slab of pork, which he took to the vessel and had the men shove into the hole. Then he piloted the boat to Detroit as the exhausted men took a rest. He was captain of the General Gratiot steamboat for two years. 

He was the first senator from the fifth district of the new State of Michigan. He served, a number of years as chair of important committees. He was the highest degree mason in the State, having gone to Europe to receive two more. He was the third highest in the United States, the vice eminent grand captain general. He named China and Casco Townships after his hometown and township in Maine. 

The St. Clair Academy School and Church near Algonac was established by Rev. O.C. Thompson, a Presbyterian minister, who was instrumental in educating many people. Many young men went on to serve the people. He was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves to freedom across the river in Canada. 

In 1830, there were 14 families with 50 people on both sides of the Black River.

Ai Beard came to Desmond in 1830, settling at Abbottsford in the now village of Ruby in Clyde Township, where he built a sawmill. His sons David, John, and James went into lumbering. Lumber from the Beard Mill was said to have built Milwaukee, Wisconsin at an early day.

There were 80 men at Fort Gratiot, a few French families along Black River, and the Indians. These were all the inhabitants of Port Huron in 1830” (Jenks History of St. Clair County 1912).

“In 1835, whiskey was .50 cents a gallon at the Comstock Store, which was painted red, on the south side of Black River. Powder was .50 cents a pound, eggs were .19 cents a dozen, sugar and pork were one shilling per pound, and butter was .20 cents. Potatoes were $1.00 per bushel, flour was $6.00 per barrel. Shingles were $1.50 per thousand” (Jenks, 1912). 

In 1835, the first village plat was made by Edward Petit, north of Court Street, now Port Huron, and called Peru Village. Edward Petit was a fur trader for the Williams Brothers.  

Joseph Watson was at one time, secretary of the territory under Governor Hull. He bought 80 acres south of Black River from 7th Street to Griswold Street; his village was called Montgats. The land was then considerably higher and was often referred to as “the Hill”. Black River and the St. Clair River were once much shallower, the banks much higher, before the canal was dug and the shipping channel was dredged, allowing more water from Lake Huron. 

Harrington and White, platted Port Huron Village the same year as Edward Petit. They then bought Joseph Watson’s plat, and this was then known as White’s Plat and went west to 10th Street. The village was then called Desmond. 

Major John Thorn laid out the village of Paris, which then became known as the village of Gratiot. John Thorn Jr., his son, along with Thomas S. Knapp, owned the Thorn Plat or the village of Gratiot in 1837.

In 1837, St. Clair County had one gristmill and 40 sawmills. In 1854, St. Clair County had four gristmills and 39 sawmills. A woolen mill was operated in Yale, St. Clair County. Chicory, a coffee substitute, was produced in Port Huron. The Indians living in the area liked to trade venison for farm goods, especially homemade bread. A sturdy peg on the outside of the cabin was used to hang the meat from time to time in exchange for bread. The Indians were seen along the creeks and rivers, camping and gathering items to make baskets to sell, into the early 1900s. 

Port Huron was the transportation hub for the Eastern Thumb Region. Lumbering was the area’s largest industry. Port Huron was also the central market for the produce of the interior settlement, playing a central role in trade, steam mills, and the attraction of manufacturing activities. St. Clair County developed as an industrial center, producing heavy machinery and equipment. 

“Thomas S. Knapp was sheriff of Wayne County and owned a mill on Black River, half a mile south of Jeddo, and also had a trading post on the north side of Black River near its mouth. He also owned, along with John Thorn Jr., the Thorn Plat or the village of Gratiot, one of four plats that made up the town of Port Huron in 1837” (Jenks/ Clark Papers, MI Room SCC Library). 

Bartlett Luce came to Port Huron early and was one of the early lumbermen. 

Charles Butler was a famous railroad owner and promoter and the largest stockholder in the Huron Land Company. He platted the Butler Plat and the town of Huron north of Black River. The men were the leading business men in New York and Boston. The Huron Land Co. bought the old LaSalle and Bonhomme claims. The land between the military reserve and Holland Road and the McNeil Tract became the town of Huron. 

William L. Bancroft was a leader who did much to promote Port Huron’s civic projects. He came to Port Huron in 1844, became a lawyer and partner with Omar Conger, and was a newspaper owner, banker, lumberman, State Senator, and Port Huron’s first mayor, who helped organize the city government of Port Huron. He was also into railroad building to Chicago, which was the Grand Trunk Western, and became part of the Grand Trunk System. He joined the John Johnston & Co. Bankers to form the First National Bank. 

Three road districts were established, dividing the township of St. Clair, and Plainfield – Clay – and Cottrellville were added. 

James Abbott laid out the village of Abbottsford near the Morass Mill, which he bought, in what is now known as Ruby, Michigan. Judge Abbott was a large trader and American Fur Company representative from Detroit; he was a partner with Z.W. Bunce in the fur trade. The town of Abbottsford was named after him. He owned the Morass Mill at Abbottsford, and Antoine Morass ran it. Abbott also had a mill at Lakeport in Burtchville Township. 

District 2 included the dwellers on Black River above Riley’s fence corner to the extremity of the settlements. This included the Morass Mill people at Abbottsford. In 1827, this district was known as Desmond, and Martin Peckins was the supervisor. The other two districts were St. Clair and Plainfield – Clay. Wolf scalps were $4.00 each. Clyde Township, was set off of Desmond in 1827, greatly reducing the township of Desmond. 

Ralph Wadhams built a gristmill in 1830 on Black River in Clyde Township, the second one in the county. In 1834, Wadhams was supervisor of Desmond, then of Clyde Township. He was the postmaster at Clyde Mills, now Wadhams, in Kimball, Township, as well as a lumberman and cattleman. The mail ran twice a week. He was a delegate to the First Commission of the Constitution of the State of Michigan. 

By 1836, the small canoe ferry gave way to the bridge over Black River. In the same year, a village plat of Algonac was made, the land bought from Silas Miller and Ebenezer Westbrook. There was a frame house on the north side of Black River near the mouth.

“A great many Indians were visiting Port Huron, traveling in birchen canoes from the Saginaw country and the Ausable. Mr. Brakeman was an extensive trader with the French and Indians. He spoke their language fluently and was a great favorite of theirs. They were frequent visitors at our house and never left hungry or cold. 

There were many friends, Mother Rodd was a frequent visitor, Chief Okemos and his family. His Totem was the Bear. The Settlers used flint and punk in starting fires. Cooking was done by fireplaces. We were given gifts of maple sugar, venison, berries, baskets, etc. Cranberries from Riley, near Memphis on Belle River, were brought to Port Huron to exchange for store goods” (Nancy Brakeman Papers, SCC Library, MI Room). 

In 1838, the mail route from Mt. Clemons to Fort Gratiot was weekly. There were Indian trails in every direction and the rivers for transportation, and a few roads. 

“The Indian burial mound on Water Street on the site of the federal building at the end of 6th Street and Black River. Scaffolds seven to eight feet high and small low houses made of wood were built over graves. Early pioneers saw numerous ancient burial rites. The deceased were buried in a sitting position, placed that way after death. Dressed in his best and wrapped in a most brightly-colored blanket, with ornaments, weapons, jewelry, and foodstuff, he was buried facing West toward Indian Heaven. Foods, weapons, and other necessities for the journey of four days were buried with the body” (Mitts, D., As the Wild Goose Flies, The Times Herald, SCC Library, MI Room).

Part 2 of Ch. 16 will be published next week. Until then, check out Cheryl’s previous excerpts here.



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Blue Water Indian Pow Wow, 1995, booklet

Friends of the St. Clair River Watershed, Brochure

Harpers Magazine, Vol. 98, Pokagon, Simon, The massacre of Fort Dearborn at Chicago, 1899, www

Marine City Gazette, 1876, Western Historical Co., Aura Stewart, Early St. Clair County

Michigan Archeology, Vol. 3, 1957, Richard A. Pohrt, War Club

North American Review, 1830, Jackson Treaties

Sarnia Observer, Shirley Brownlee, 1857, Lumbering, Barnes, Ojibwe, 1967

Saturday Evening Post, 1947, Robert Murphy, Mother Rodd

The Detroit News Tribune, 1896, Dixon, Mother Rodd

The Penny Magazine, April 29, 1837, Ontario, Canada

The Smithsonian, 2014, Amanda Foreman, The Birth of American Freedom and the Founding of the Union

This book came about after a visit to the library where I could not find local Indian History. I grew up in the St. Clair and Black River area of Michigan, fishing on all the area waters with my father and brothers. I loved books, libraries, horses and puzzles; I was not a tech person. I love to cook, garden, travel, and camp. I was determined to find and share the truth. This has been a difficult journey in every way. I give you, the reader, the truth and blessings I also reaped. Cheryl Morgan

Cheryl Morgan lives near Port Huron, Michigan with her husband Tom and dog Fred.

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