RECOLLECTIONS OF A PIONEER OF EARLY MICHIGAN
BY JUDGE ALBERT MILLER.
Editor Sunday Times:
Your article "Sixty-two Years
Ago", published in the Sunday Times on March 5, 1893, brings to my mind so
vividly some of the scenes and events of that early date in the history of
Michigan, that I am inclined to jot down a few items which you can publish if
you think they will be of any interest to your readers. One of the
items in the article referred to, signed by John Farmer, was dated on the
twenty-first anniversary of my birthday (May 10, 1831). I had then been
eight months a resident of that portion of the territory of Michigan that is now
Genesee county. The old map you refer to was quite familiar to me in those
early days. The surveyed portion of northern Michigan included the
mouth of the Saginaw river and the forks of the Tittabawassee. I
think you will find on that map a tract of country about Port Huron marked
Desmond. I believe the territory referred to had been set off into a
township by that name. Mr. Farmer gives the boundaries of the territory of
Michigan as it existed in 1831, but it was greatly enlarged in 1834 by the
addition of all the territory belonging to the United States lying north of the
state of Missouri and west of the Mississippi river. By an act of the
legislative council of the territory of Michigan, dated September 6, 1834, that
territory was set off into two counties - Dubuque county comprising all the
territory north of a line drawn west from the south end of Rock Island; and
DesMoine county, the portion lying south of said line to the northern line
of the state of Missouri.
The population of the territory of Michigan as constituted in 1830 (the census being taken after I became a resident of the territory) numbered 31,000 and some hundreds. Detroit then contained 2,222. The territory that is now Genesee county, where I then resided, contained seventy whole and between the Flint river and the Straits of Mackinaw there were twenty-eight.
I was well acquainted with John Farmer, the author of the map referred to. In 1837, when I was a managing director of the Portsmouth company, we employed him to survey the ground and make what is known as "Farmer's plat of Portsmouth." At the time of the publication of the map referred to in your article the story was that Mr. Farmer was employed by Orange Risdon, a United States deputy surveyor residing in Washtenaw county, to copy the minutes of his surveys and prepare the matter for a map which he (Risdon) intended to publish; that while Farmer worked for Risdon during the day, he made a copy of his work at night and forestalled Risdon in the publication of a map. Risdon afterwards published a map but it had but a limited sale and Farmer had a monopoly of publishing maps of Michigan and Wisconsin for many years. I knew Mr. Risdon very well; he surveyed the United States military road between Flint and Saginaw. I met him at the laying of the corner stone of the State capitol; he was then the oldest Free Mason in the State.
During the winter of 1831-32 I taught a school in Grand Blanc, which was the second term of school in the lower peninsula of Michigan north of Oakland county, and during the winter of 1834-35 I taught a school at Saginaw, which was the first school taught between Flint river and Mackinaw. In November, 1832, I assisted Judge Jewett in navigating a raft of sawed lumber, which was manufactured at the Thread river and hauled
across to the Flint and run down that river to the drift wood, and during the winter of 1832-33 was haled on sleighs to a point opposite Green Point. That was the first raft of sawed lumber that ever floated on any of the tributaries of the Saginaw river. In the summer of 1833 I erected a frame dwelling with a portion of said lumber, which was the first of the kind outside of Saginaw city that was ever erected between Flint river and the Straits of Mackinaw. In the summer of 1834 I assisted Charles A. Lull, late of Bridgeport, to cut boards by hand to lay floors in the log house he then erected near where South Saginaw now is, when there was not a saw-mill within forty miles of the Saginaw river.
In February, 1833, I removed from Grand Blanc to Green Point. I had never lived within twenty miles of a voting place after becoming of age and had never voted. I did not attend the spring election at Saginaw, but was elected to an office that constituted me a member of the board of inspectors of elections and held that position for fifteen years in succession - during the first five years of which time I handled all the votes that were cast on the lower peninsula between Flint river and the Straits of Mackinaw.
Saginaw county was laid off by proclamation of Gov. Cass in 1822, including four townships now in Midland county. In the winter of 1830-31 Saginaw township was organized embracing the territory of Saginaw county as it then was. Previous to that the whole of northern Michigan to Mackinaw was in Oakland county and under the township jurisdiction of Pontiac. In March, 1831, after the organization of Saginaw township, the four townships referred to were set off into Midland county. In February, 1835, Saginaw county was organized with the boundaries as they then extended. Upon the organization of the county I was appointed to the office of judge of probate, the first to hold the office on the lower peninsula north of Oakland county, and I think my commission bears the earliest date of any person now living in Michigan that has held that office. Hon. Oka Tonen, of Allegan, who is living still, was commissioned to that office a few months later. One of the first estates I undertook to settle was of a person who died in my own town of Saginaw, but in the territory that had been set off to Midland county. It was soon discovered that the estate although in the township of Saginaw was in Oakland county and it was afterwards settled in that county.
In July, 1836, I projected and laid out the town of Portsmouth which was the first move towards building a town at this end of the river, and erected on said plat a saw-mill, which was the second put in operation in the Saginaw valley. In February, 1837, I was appointed postmaster of Portsmouth, the first appointment of the kind in the lower peninsula north of Saginaw.
In February, 1839, I united with the First Presbyterian church of Saginaw, it being the first and thoroughly religious organization in the valley. In 1850, with my business matters, I erected at Portsmouth a small edifice to be used for religious purpose, which was the second in the valley that was ever dedicated to the worship of God, the first being the Indian mission church at Kawkawlin. I was a director in the company that procured the building of the first railroad to Bay City and procured the organization of the second company that manufactured salt in the valley, and I caused to be thrown up the first embankment with a view of reclaiming the marsh lands from the overflow of the waters of the Saginaw river.
I was president of the first Pioneer society organized in the Saginaw valley and the first president of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society. This is not what I intended to write when I commenced, but I mention these facts to show that I am entitled to the appellation of Pioneer which I have assumed.
Bay City, March 10, 1893.