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of the
Pioneer Society
of the
State of Michigan

Vol. VI

Lansing, Mich.
Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Company
State Printers

page 443


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Read at the annual meeting of the State Society, June 14, 1883.

In May, 1835, I emigrated from the town of Aurelius, Cayuga Co., N. Y., to Detroit, Mich. Pecuniary losses, and the prospect of the successful prosecution of an extensive business enterprise were the motives which induced me to emigrate. We arrived in safety and spent the summer in the City of the Straits. A change in my business prospects induced me to remove to Ann Arbor. Accordingly in the autumn of 1825 I hired a small row boat into which I loaded my goods and chattels and getting my family aboard we started. I knew the journey would be long and tedious, but at that time I thought it preferable to journeying by land with no other road than an Indian trail. The first day of our journey we glided down the Detroit river as far as the mouth of the river Ecorse, where we went ashore and spent the night. The next day we reached the mouth of Huron river about thirty miles from Detroit. Here a family by the name of Truax permitted us to remain with them over night. On the morning of the third day, we left the Detroit river and entered the Huron. Thus far our journey had been performed with ease, but now we must row against the current when the stream would admit of rowing, and when it would not, the boat was propelled by means of poles. The third night we reached Smooth Rock and stayed at the house of a Mr. Vreeland. The next morning I heard the boatmen talking about a bend in the river which we must pass that day. On making inquiries I learned that the land route to the house of the brother of our house, Mr. Vreeland, was but two miles, while the route by water would consume most of the day. I then proposed to my wife that I would carry the babe if she would walk across and wait there for the boat. Our journey was soon accomplished, but we waited till the stars shone that night before the boat arrived.

The Huron from Smooth Rock to Ypsilanti is very crooked, and this day's experience induced me to procure some other mode of conveyance for my family. I purchased a yoke of oxen and obtained the services of a man named Johnson with another yoke of oxen and a wagon, and taking from the boat such articles as we should need, on the morning of the fifth day we again set forward, leaving the boat to make the best of its devious course. The country through which we passed was rolling; there was no road, so we dodged here and there through the openings, over hills so steep that it required all the strength of both yokes of oxen to make the ascent, and to descend safely we would take one yoke of oxen and fasten them with a chain to the back end of the wagon and they would pull pack while the other yoke went forward.

We reached Ann Arbor on the seventh day after leaving Detroit, but the boat containing our goods did not arrive at Snow's landing, four miles below Ypsilanti, which was as far as it could come, till the fifteenth day. It cost me forty dollars to come from Detroit to Ann Arbor.

We found twenty-six families in what is now called the upper town, and eight log dwelling houses, and one small frame building occupied by Cyrus Beckwith as a store, and containing about two hundred dollars' worth of goods.

We moved into a log house which already contained two families, and was a hotel and boarding house besides.

My own family consisted of nine persons, which was quite an addition to the former occupants, and we found that the three families numbered twenty-six. Each family occupied a separate room, but we found ourselves packed into very close quarters.

Dr. David E. Lord was the first physician in Ann Arbor, and he and his family formed a part of our household community. The other family was that of George Roberts.

We found the people all very kind, warm hearted, and social, but all poor, mutually dependent on each other, and mutually inclined to assist each other.

I had provided myself with three barrels of flour and such groceries as I thought necessary for my family's present use, but had not purchased my meat, supposing I could procure it here.

One morning, about a week after our arrival, one of my little daughters cried for some meat. I thought I would go to a neighbor's and borrow some pork, till I could obtain a supply. To my surprise, I learned that there had never been any pork killed in the settlement, and every one was as destitute as myself. I could not bear to hear my children cry for any kind of food which it was in my power to procure, so I started the next morning for Detroit. When I reached Plymouth I was joined by Henry Ward and Esquire Root, who were going on the same errand. We had fifty dollars each, making one hundred and fifty, a part of which we expended in the purchase of eighty bushels of wheat, which we obtained low by purchasing such a quantity.

Just before leaving Detroit, we noticed a vessel coming up the river loaded with hogs. As soon as the vessel hove to, I went on board, and found that the owner was a man by the name of Leonard, with whom I was acquainted. Of him I purchased eight hogs for myself, and eight for my two friends, and advised Mr. Leonard to come with the remainder of the drove to Ann Arbor. When we reached Springwells, we met a man with a drove of fat cattle, and I bought a cow.

I reached home near night of the second day, and the next morning before breakfast, I killed my cow and divided the meat among my neighbors, only being able to reserve enough for one meal for my own family. After breakfast I commenced butchering the hogs, and they were also divided, till only two of the eight remained for myself. Fortunately for the inhabitants, Mr. Leonard had taken my advice, and arrived the next day, and all were well supplied. Mr. James Dunn of Tonquish Plains, got my wheat floured at the Buckland Mills and brought it to Ann Arbor. Two of my barrels of flour and the flour from all my share of the eighty bushels of wheat was gone in fifteen days.

The first saw mill in Ann Arbor was built by George W. Noyes, and was complete when I arrived there, except the saw, which he had not the means to purchase. Having a little money on hand, I lent him the required sum, and he started off immediately to make the purchase. Having obtained his saw, he carried it on his shoulder from Detroit to the mouth of the river Ecorse from whence it was brought in a boat. That saw mill was a great blessing to the young town. Poor George Noyes; he was suddenly killed a few years after at the raising of a house.

After my return from Detroit I began to make arrangement to build a house on the lot now owned by Norton R. Ramsdell, Esq. I concluded to merely erect a lean-to for the winter and in the spring build an upright part in a proper manner. I raised a light frame and enclosed it by setting planks upright and close together. The floor was laid of loose boards, the fireplace and hearth were of cobble stone, and the chimney was of sticks plastered over with mortar. One part of the house was partitioned off into two bedrooms; we had also a snug little pantry and a recess for another bed. In about four weeks we took possession; and when my wife had neatly arranged the furniture and we were once more settled in a home of our own we considered ourselves the happiest family in the village.

Soon after I came to Detroit I made a contract to carry the mail from Detroit to Ann Arbor for four years, and all that time I forded all the streams, never once crossing a bridge, for there were none to cross. During the winter of 1825 and 1826 my son Lucius and I carried the mail on horseback, and often in fording the rivers in high water we were obliged to secure the mail bags on the top of the saddle, grasp the horse's mane and swim him over.

On the first day of March, 1826, I began to cut a road from Ann Arbor to Detroit, on the Indian trail running by my present residence. I got all the help I could, and in sixty days completed a wagon road through from Ann Arbor to Plymouth. On the first day of May, 1826, I took a light two-horse wagon and three Indian ponies, and went to Detroit one day and back the next. This was a great wonder in those days, and my friends expostulated with me, asserting that such an enterprise was the most enthusiastic extravagance, and if I persisted in it, I would certainly fail in less than a year. But I did not fail, and instead, I found my mail contract of some value, as the tide of emigration was setting westward, and my pioneer stage was loaded with passengers. Sometime in the summer, Major Abraham Edwards, who was then speaker in the Legislative Council, passed over the road on his way farther west. On his return, he made inquiries of Esquire Root concerning the opening of the road, and on learning the facts, he advised me to apply to the legislature for remunerative appropriation. I took his advice, and two years afterward received $200.

When necessary to feed my horses in those staging days, I would choose some dry, shady spot, drive out by the side of the road, unhitch my horses, and turn them out to browse, and leave the passengers to enjoy themselves as they chose. In pleasant weather, and at low water, the trips to and from Detroit were not unpleasant, but in the winter and in high water it was not only unpleasant but sometimes dangerous. Twice during the four years my conveyance was upset in the river, and I had various other hair-breadth escapes.

Once, when the time came for me to start for Detroit, the Huron was frozen over except in the middle, and my friends gathered around me and tired to dissuade me from attempting to cross, but I resolved to try. I had a good span of horses; when I got out on the ice a short distance the ice broke, and down went horses and wagon together. Nothing daunted, the horses pushed on till they reached the edge of the ice on the opposite side, the water was so deep that the ice was up to their chins; they settled back on their haunches, raised their fore feet, and brought them down with great force on the ice, and thus continued to break a path for themselves to the shore.

In 1826, the population increased very rapidly, but most of the emigrants, though highly respectable, and many of them well educated, were poor. As yet the soil did not produce enough to support its cultivators, and there must have been a great amount of suffering in Washtenaw county, but for the benevolent kindness of E. P. Hastings and C. C. Trowbridge, directors of the old bank of Michigan. They proposed that a number of the inhabitants of Ann Arbor give their joint notes to the bank, which these two directors would discount. By this benevolent arrangement the people were enabled to live comfortably, and in time the debt was cancelled.

In 1827, Messrs. Hastings and Trowbridge wished me to ascertain how much money there was in Washtenaw county. On minute inquiry, the sum total, so far as I could ascertain, was seventy-two or seventy-three dollars.

In March, 1829, I was appointed by the Governor as one of the commissioners to go with Jonathan F. Stratton and Oliver Whittemore to determine the central point of Jackson county. We were accompanied by Dr. Benjamin Packard and Elijah P. Morgan. We found a saw mill commenced a little above where the village of Jackson now stands. A Mr. Gillett was at work on the mill, and Mrs. Gillett was the only woman in the place. We surveyed the county during the day, returning to Mr. Gillett's at night.

After some days spent in this manner, we at length stuck the stake for the center of the county, on the hill opposite John N. Dwight's residence. We found lime, sandstone, and Spanish brown during our explorations. Mr. Morgan made out an interesting report, but from some dissatisfaction, another set of commissioners was sent out, who removed the stake about thirty rods towards the river.

After the expiration of my mail contract I exchanged my property for a farm of eight acres, where I now live. During the summer I built a double log house, forty feet long and twenty feet wide. I moved my family in the fall of 1829. In 1835 I bought a few acres where this house stands, and here I have lived ever since.

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A special 'thank you' to Bonnie Petee for transcribing and submitting this historical data.

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