ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL BEGINNINGS OF MICHIGAN
A Study of the Settlement of the Lower Peninsula during the Territorial Period 1805-1837
Lansing, Wynhoop, Hallenbeck & Crawford Co
SOURCES AND CHARACTER OF POPULATION
It is almost a truism that the habits and ideals of a new country are determined largely by the environment from which the people come. Their inheritance–social, economic, political, religious–is transplanted with them and forms the matrix from which their life in the new environment is to grow, and in turn the new environment, as the medium through which their life seeks to express itself, tends to modify the inheritance. The study of settlement finds a large part of its value in the aid it can give to explain how the life of a people has come to be what it is, and hence the question of the sources of population and of their relative contributions to different areas is one of its important problems.
In this respect a typical Michigan county is Washtenaw.1 The chief areas from which settlers came immediately to this country is suggested by the relative number of original land purchasers who registered from different places. Five hundred and eighteen patents give places of registration in the
Other Middle Atlantic states........5
Washtenaw County, Michigan.212
Other Michigan counties..........41
By far the largest number of New York purchasers registered from Genesee, Monroe, Ontario and Seneca counties; Cayuga, Livingston, Steuben and Wayne counties made up the next largest number; these eight counties, which made a fairly compact area, were in the northern and central parts of western New York. Four-fifth of the patents (183) name counties lying west of the n median of Stony Point, which passes through the eastern end of Lake Ontario; and of these seven-tenths (129) name these eight counties. Less than two-fifths of the whole number (89) mention counties bordering on Lake Erie and Pennsylvania, and purchasers were fewest in the latter. In both western and eastern New York they were most numerous in the area which was influenced directly by the Erie Canal.2
A glance at this data revels a relation between the number of purchases made from a county and the rate and amount of the county’s growth. On the whole it was from the counties of slow growth that the purchases were most numerous, like Seneca. Though its population was small, growing in ten years from 21,000 to 25,000, it gave next to the highest number of purchasers. The largest number was given by Genesee County, which belonged to the group of slow growth but of large or medium population; notable examples of this group are Ontario and Wayne. An apparent exception was Monroe County, just west of Wayne; it had a large population but its growth was comparatively rapid; it ranked third. The small number of purchases from counties of small population and rapid growth is seen in Orleans and Niagara counties directly west of Wayne and Monroe, which had quite as good soil and location; the same may be said in large measure of Erie and Chautauqua. In these four counties, still in the pioneer stage, land was plentiful and there was no need of purchasing elsewhere.
Almost all of the New York purchasers registered from Canal or Hudson River counties. There occurs one striking gap in the former group, in the area covered by southern Herkimer, Fulton, Montgomery, Schenectady and Albany counties; all of these appear in the United States census of 1830 and of 1840 with a fair population 3
Outside of New York 4 the greatest number of patents registered from any one State was ten from Massachusetts. This was two-thirds of all that were registered from New England, and these purchases were made mainly in the 20's, by persons from Berkshire, Worchester and Franklin counties, and from Boston.
Connecticut and Vermont rank next among the New England States. Four purchasers registered from Caledonia, Addison and Franklin counties, Vermont; and five from Connecticut, from the counties of Litchfield and New London, and from the city of New Haven. From Rode Island one registered from Providence, one from Newport, and one from Washington County.
Pennsylvania and Ohio were next, furnishing each three registrations, comparatively late; the Pennsylvanians were from Bradford and Dauphin counties, the Ohioans from the counties of Heron and Sandusky.
From teach of the remaining sources Main, New Hampshire, Virginia, New Jersey, Upper Canada, England and Scotland there were registered but one or two purchasers.
Two hundred and twelve persons registered from Washtenaw County, Michigan. Outside this county the largest number of registrations was from Wayne County (24), over one-half of which were from Detroit. Lenawee County ranked next with nine. Oakland, Monroe, Livingston and Jackson counties furnished together eight purchasers. 5
Turning now to the settlers: of 965 adult settlers who came to Washtenaw County between 1815 and 1850, less than a third (277) were of foreign birth; of these Ireland, England and Germany furnished the greater number, respectively 91, 85, and 82. Scotland sent 10, Canada 7 and Switzerland 2.
The native American settlers were born chiefly in New York and New England. Of these New York furnished alone more than one-half (274), which was more than a third of the whole number. From the other Middle Atlantic states came 89; 40 of them from Pennsylvania, 44 from New Jersey and 5 from Virginia. The absence of birthplaces in Delaware, Maryland and the western and southern states is notable.
New England furnished considerably less than a third of the total 92240. Of these the least number came from Maine (2), while Rhode Island furnished 5 and New Hampshire 12. The near equality of representation from the three largest contributors is noteworthy–Massachusetts 70, Vermont 69, Connecticut 66.6
To summarize briefly: the Irish were the leading foreign element, with the English and the Germans close rivals. Scotch and Canadians were few. New York led in the native element, with New England close. The foreign, New York, New England and other elements contributed in about the proportions of 27, 21, and 8. Of the New England sources, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island contributed few; Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut contributed about equally and in considerable numbers. Pennsylvania and New Jersey showed less, and in about equal proportions. A few settlers were from Virginia.
Comparing the results obtained from the biographical sketches and the patents, large and general likenesses appear. In each group the New York element was very much larger than that from any other source four times greater in the nativities and twenty two times greater in the places of first land purchases. The New England, foreign, and Middle Atlantic contributions stood next, while in both groups the western and southern states were of but slight importance.
In each group, New England furnished a large percent of the population, largest from Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut ranked as contributors second and third; while Main, New Hampshire and Rhode Island contributed the least number.
In the Middle Atlantic states there were represented the same contributors, in addition to New York; namely, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia-the latter being subordinate in each group. Neither group included southern states; and it was the same with western states; excepting a few patents to Ohioans.
The most marked difference between the two groups appear in the foreign element. The difference in native population appear especially in the percentages, differences which in their larger aspects would not be materially affected if the birth figures for the foreign elements were omitted. The nativities show a very much higher percent of New Englanders than do the nativities. The former statement is true also for the other Middle Atlantic states. This is probably indicative for the masses of what is so frequently found true in particular families of old settlers in the county, that the immigration to the county from New York was largely by persons born in other states who in the earlier days had settled in New York. 7
An interesting confirmation of the large New York and New England elements in Michigan’s population is obtained by noting some of the county’s prominent public men of the period- although quite the reverse of the proportions is found. In these the percentage of New York nativities is greater than that for New England. Forty-eight percent of those members of the legislature 8 whose nativities are given were born in New York, thirty-seven percent in New England, thirteen percent in the Middle Atlantic states outside of New York, and two percent in New England. The New England contributions were made mainly from Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and in nearly equal numbers. The same Middle Atlantic states outside of New York were represented; namely, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the former leading. Maine and Rhode Island did not contribute. The only foreign element was one Englishman.
Examining the counties in which were born the members of the Michigan Legislature from 1835 to 1850: one-half of the members who were born in New York came from the western part of that State, Ontario and Cayuga counties alone furnishing seven of these, the former four, the latter three: Wayne and Niagara counties furnished each one. Excepting Niagara, not any of the extreme western and southwestern areas contributed. Of the southern and southeastern counties only Chenango, Broome and Orange counties were represented-each sent one. The remaining New York members came from central and eastern counties; one each from Lewis, Madison, Otsego and Schoharie counties, and three from east of the Hudson River; two of these were born in Columbia County, and the third in Renssalaer County.9
From New England, the Connecticut members were natives of Sharon and Litchfield 10 in Litchfield County, Norwich 11 in New London, Danbury 12 in Fairfield, Canterbury13 in Windham, and Sterling 14 in Tolland County. Massachusetts members came from the comparatively limited area of two counties, Berkshire and Norfolk. Sandisfield,15 West Stockbridge,16 Cheshire17 and Great Barrington,18 were nativities in the former; Weymouth,19 in Norfolk. Members of Vermont birth came from St. Johnsbury 20 in Caledonia County, from Rupert 21 in Bennington, from Rutland 22 in Rutland and from Newfane 23 in Windham; the birthplace of one other member the writer has been unable to ascertain with certainty. 24 New Hampshire contributed from Petersboro 25 in Hillsborough County.
The first items in the Detroit Gazette that mention the sources of immigration to Michigan emphasize the “Genesee country” of western New York, especially the counties of Monroe and Ontario, and the most frequent comparison made of Michigan lands in with those along the Genesee River. 26 Says the Gazette of September 13, 1825, “The emigration is still principally from western (the richest) counties of New York. It appears that a knowledge of this country has not yet reached further east than the county of Onondaga.” The same for January 16, 1827, estimates that nearly three-fifths of the new population desire to adopt the New York system of township government in preference to that of New England.27
A more conservative estimate, made for 1837 and including the New England element, places the New Englanders and New Yorkers at about two-thirds of the total population. 28 As early as 1822 the Gazette mentions Vermont, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio (in this order) along with New York as chief sources. 29 Virginia also should be mentioned especially for the southwest, and men from that State were conspicuous leaders in shaping the earliest laws of Michigan. 30 If New York may be called the second New England, Michigan may justly claim to rank as the third. Owing to the great foreign immigrations to New England in later times, Michigan represents today more truly the blood and the ideals of the Puritans than does any one of the New England states. 31 The foreign immigrants who came after 1848, finding Michigan already largely occupied, moved farther west to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. As a result of the early immigration from New York and New England, Michigan probably has a larger percent of original New England stock than has any other State in the Union. 32
The qualities, habits and ideals of Michigan settlers in this period were therefore essentially those of New York and New England. A new society was to be formed in the wilderness by a group of hardy middle-class farmers, young, hopeful, ambitious, and inbued with the traditions of individualism in church, state and society, cut loose from conservative forces, and set down in the midst of almost boundless natural resources. 33
The settlers had those qualities which are most significant for ability to endure the severe and continued hardships of pioneer life. The great majority of them were young and had been schooled by the stress of hard times to suffer privations; they had a firm faith in the future grounded in a supreme self-confidence; they had that vivid imagination born of the presence of great resources that buoyed them up in many times of distress. Many of them had large families. The supreme desire to leave their families a competence is the burden of many a pioneer reminisence and was a powerful stimulus, and the leaders among them had thoughts for remoter posterity.
The selective process of economic pressure in the East together with the Government’s regulation of land sales, especially the repeal of the credit system, insured comparative economic equality. This meant comparative equality of opportunity, for a society where every man could own a farm there was little chance for any marked separation into economic or social classes. This comparatively even chance and practical social equality tended to induce comparative contentedness and satisfaction with life, even under the most trying ills-a bulwark of strength for a new commonwealth.
Along with self-confidence there was a healthful self-assertiveness, the sum of those fighting qualities which sharp competitions and the struggle with wild nature tended to enhance. The absence of the accustomed aids fostered initiative and originality. The demands of primitive conditions encouraged versatility in both the individual and the community. In almost any community of these pioneer farmers there were men from various walks of life, men who were ready to turn the hand to the old occupations, but whom the comparative ease of supporting a family by farming in Michigan had induced to abandon, at least temporarily, the old pursuits. 34
Being mainly young people, naturally they lacked the conservative elements which usually characterize the older settled sections. They had the characteristic venturesomeness of youth and radicalism, well illustrated in the public improvement schemes of the early days.35 Their private enterprise is illustrated in the building of the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad not a half dozen years after the first successful road in England.36 On the other hand, their impetuosity and impatience of restraint were a fertile source of danger, as seen in the results of land speculation and the early banking laws. Filled with the traditions of the Declaration of Independence, removed from conservative influences, and taking a new inspiration from the freedom of the wilderness, this new society had as its fundamental principle the exaltation of the individual. In striking contrast were the “volatile, reckless, amiable” French-Canadians along the eastern shore waters, reared under a paternalistic regime and reverencing the traditions of the French monarchy.37
Notwithstanding this spirit of individual independence, these immigrants had a deep sense of social responsibility. Unlike the hunter type of pioneer, characteristic of some parts of the southern states, these people were a sociable, home-loving people, fond of close neighbors. This was a social bond of great value; a clearing in a Michigan forest might become the nucleus of a village or city. Despite the sharpness of competition among the settlements there was a lively sympathy which made for coherence in the social body, while the tendency to take the large outlook kept them in touch with the world outside. It is said to have been a characteristic desire of the New Englander at home to know “how things were going in other parts;” and now, in the Michigan forest, it was naturally emphasized by the desire to know what was going on “back home.” In their thought national affairs loomed large, as is evident from the early Michigan newspaper, which often gave verbatim reports of the important speeches in Congress.
The attitude of the early settlers toward political and governmental problems was intensely democratic. They were themselves men of small means, many of whom were not unfamiliar with the ills of debt. Their sympathies were naturally with the debtor class; imprisonment for debt was abolished in Michigan about the close of this period, hastened debtless by the experience of land speculation and banking. 38 The so-called “wild-cat banking” was an experience growing naturally out of the popular demand for a “democratic” extension of what was regarded as a special privilege. The democratic spirit found a typical governmental expression in the town meeting, which is said to have found in Michigan 39 its first home in the West
On the other hand these settlers were strictly conservative in their social, religious and educational inheritances from the East. Their intensified individualism tended in some respects to emphasize these; slavery, for example, was abhorrent to them. 40 The first State Constitution prohibited slavery in much the same language as that used in the Ordinance of 1787.41
Many settlers came in from the states on the south because of the greater security offered in Michigan against slavery. The people of the southern Michigan counties took a prominent part later in aiding the escape of fugitive slaves from the South.42
Essentially Puritan in spirit, the church and the school were to be found among the earliest institutions in every settlement. The presence of the congregational Church was a pretty certain indication of a New England settlement. A Baptist Church was likely to be at the center of a distinctively New York settlement.43 Church schools and colleges were inevitable. Kalamazoo, Albion, Olivet, Hillsdale and other present-day Michigan colleges of the denominational type are the fruit of this spirit. Religious leaders, including men like Father Richard, were to be among the strongest educational and political forces of the commonwealth. The first professors in the embryonic university at Detroit were Father Richard and John Monteith, a Catholic priest and a protestant minister, the former being one of the early delegates to Congress. To the Reverend John D. Pierce, first State Superintendent of Public Instruction, is due more than to any other one man the shaping of Michigan’s early public school system.
For the masses of the people, despite the advantages of church and school, which in truth in this period were meager, there was an almost irresistible tendency to revert to primitive conditions. Yet the domestic virtues, the strength of will and the hard common sense characteristic of the Yankee were qualities much more important to the young life of the community than the amenities of the East. A New Yorker traveling through Michigan in 1833-34 says:44 “I found myself among the most intelligent population of the middle class (the bone and sinew of every community), I ever mixed with.” On the moral side their sterling traditions, the intensified individualism which placed a premium upon character in the individual, and the quick and generous recognition of personal merit, acted as a powerful uplift.
1. There are two reasons for basing this chapter upon a study of the population of Washtenaw County; first, the settlement areas treated in the proceeding chapters are too large to admit within the scope of this study either of the necessary detail or of some degree of control of the necessary detail or of some degree of control of the material. Data for other Michigan counties have been given to some extent in connection with chapters dealing with the several settlement areas, and the results substantially agree with those here obtained. Again, Washtenaw is a typical county in a typical group of counties. In surface, soil, drainage, timber, water-power, ease of communication and proximity to adequate markets and supply depots it closely resembles Oakland and Lenawee counties, and this area appears to be fairly representative in population, if we except the southwestern counties where there was a much larger proportion of settlers from states outside of New York and New England. The chief limitation upon results is imposed by the extent, accessibility and nature of the materials. It hardly needs saying that satisfying results can be obtained by the census bureau, by counting individuals, and one may well ask what is to be understood by a source of population for the individual. It was exceptional for a settler to emigrate directly from his place of birth to Michigan. He was much more likely to have a number of intermediate stopping places; for example, he might be born in England, migrate with his parents to Connecticut, be educated in Vermont, engage in business in New York, and then spend some years on the frontier in Ohio and perhaps return to New York for some years before settling finally in Michigan. It is pertinent to ask, Where did he “come from” and to which environment was he most indebted for his qualities and ideals? The relative efficiency of different environments in these respects is doubtful, and it might vary with individuals. The relative length and dates of sojourn would introduce variations that could hardly be calculated. The influence of birthplace in the case above given would probably be slight, but if the birthplace were Connecticut, and especially ere a background of eminent colonial antecedents and family traditions, its influence would tend to be considerable. It would matter much if the sojourn were made say, at Albany between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five in the period of the canal projects. Undoubtedly the web of influences would be very difficult for even the person concerned to disentangle.
The factors chosen here are birthplace and the place of residence at the time of making the first purchase of land in the county. This section is a likely to prove rational as another, and it is practicable. Some compensation is sought by individualizing representative citizenship. The material is definite and easily accessible, consisting of land patents and biographical sketches. The originals of the United States land patents issued to the first purchasers of land in the county are on file at Washington. There are duplicates of about one-half of them in the Register of Deeds’ office in Ann Arbor, and these are used here. Of those consulted, there were five hundred and eighteen that were useful for the present purpose, which were issued between 1824 and 1839. Of these buyers two hundred and fifty-three registered from Michigan, reducing the number on which to calculate outside sources to two hundred and sixty-five. This number however ought to be fairly representative of the early period. Undoubtedly some of these purchasers were not actual settlers. Yet the size of single purchases does not in general indicate the professional speculator. Comparatively few of the names recur frequently in other United States patents of the period, and of such as do recur often the second registration is usually from Washtenaw County, very probably indicating settlement there. Early local deeds of sale bearing these names are almost uniformly from persons giving Washtenaw County as their place of residence. The material used for determining birthplaces is taken almost entirely from the biographical sketches in the back of the History of Washtenaw County. If compromises are sometimes permissible when the ideal is unattainable, clearly one must be made here. It would be quite inexpedient to try to check up this material except by sketches of a similar nature, as for example those in the volumes of the Mich. Hist. Colls., and it is not always certain that these are independent sources. A fair number of test cases have given results entirely favorable to sketches in the History of Washtenaw County.
2. Counties in western New York Contributing:
Counties in eastern New York contributing;
31-c New York City...........4
A-Counties crossed by the Erie Canal
b-Counties within the Canal’s immediate sphere of influence
c-Hudson River counties
The population for 1830 and 1840 appears at the left of the counties; the unit is 1000. The number of purchases appears at the right. Comparisons must take account of relative density; relative numerical strength may deceive, owing to the varying size of the counties. Of course the counties as they then existed are not the present counties, and allowance must also be made for changes in county boundaries between 1830 and 1840. See plates 5, 6, 7, 8 of the United States Statistical Atlas, 1900. Plate 8 shows a considerable area on the Pennsylvania border that was still sparsely populated in 1850. For population in 1830 and 1840 see United States Census (1830), 36-47, 50-53 and Ibid., (1840), 110, 123. Specific references to the patents in the Libers are for reasons of expediency omitted.
3. Excepting Fulton County, in 1830, Plates 6 and 7, United States Statistical Atlas, 1900, show the density of population to have been comparatively small in the area east of Utica, which agrees with this in part.
4. (Liber and page)
New Hampshire.........D 413-38-593
Vermont...................D 386-E, 292-I, 275-31, 800
Upper Canada........... E, 170-M,376
The earliest Libers use the alphabet, and are continued numerically beginning with 27. The above are sample references (those Nor New England, etc).
A thousand patents which might be obtained by following the later registrations would perhaps vary these proportions somewhat, by including the later purchases. As each patent gives also the location, date, and extent of the particular purchase, these items could be made to reveal the distribution of the purchases in different periods over the county.
5. Oakland, 3
Total outside Washtenaw County in State, 41
6. Maine 2
New Hampshire 12
Rhode Island 5
New York 374
New Jersey 44
New England 224
New York 374
Other Middle Atlantic states 89
Western states 0
Southern states 0
7. Nativity % Patent %
New England 24 9
New York 38 86
Foreign 29 2
Other Middle Atlantic states 9 2
Western states 0 1
Southern states 0 0
8. The volume of Michigan Biographics (1888), compiled under the auspices of the State of Michigan, gives sketches of forty-six members from Washtenaw County in the Territorial and State legislatures between 1835 and 1850. On checking these up from the legislative manuals, the volumes of the Mich. Hist. Colls., Representative Men, the histories of the county and other sources, scarcely an error was found. The figures are based upon the material in Michigan Biographies.
9. Members of Territorial and State legislatures from Washtenaw County from 1835-59. References are to Michigan Biographies, with page and the initials of members.
Counties in western New York contributing: nativities–
Counties in eastern New York contributing-
Two members, not known what counties N .R.R.541-J.W.H.343
Members of the State legislature 1850-84 who settled in Washtenaw County before 1850.
Counties in western New York contributing: nativities–
Counties in eastern New York contributing-
Unknown...............C.S. 586-I.R.555-O.H. 342
11 A.G. 290
12. A.W. 696
13. J.K. 396
14. H.H. 318
15. O.P. 513
16. G.S. 602
17. N.P. 525
18. G.S. 575
19. M.P. 521
20. A.C. 208
21. O.R. 556
22. A.M. 463
23. M.K. 391
24. W.A.B. 135
25. W.M. 473
26. Detroit Gazette, October 12, 1821: June 7 and August 2, 1822.
27. In an important contribution by W.V. Smith, entitled “The Puritan Blood of Michigan,” Mich. Hist. Calls., XXXVIII, 355-61, it is pointed out that the practice of the courts in Michigan, from Justice Court to Supreme Court, is taken almost entirely from New York; that the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Michigan was a New Yorker; that the “Big Four” (Justices of the Supreme Court), James V. Campbell, T.M. Cooley, I. P. Christiancy and B.E. Graves were all New Yorkers; that the Michigan real estate law was also adopted from New York.
28. Channing and Lansing, Story of the Great Lakes, 267. See also Farmer, Hist. Detroit, I, 355.
29. Detroit Gazette, June 7, 1822
30. Mich. Hist. Colls., I 344; XIV, 285, Michigan Biographies, 77, 715. Southwestern Michigan drew also largely from the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana
31. Mich. Hist. Calls., XXXVIII, 360.
32. McLaughlin, History of Higher Education in Michigan, 12; see also O.C. Thompson’s opinion in Mich. Hist. Calls., I, 400; and United States Census, 1870, under Population.
33. Lanman, History of Michigan, 295-300; American Historical Review, XI, 304-327; Magazine of Western History, IV, 389-393; Atlantic Monthly, LXXVIII, 291-293; LXLI,87-90.
34. Hoffman, A Winter in the West, I, 191
35. Campbell, Outline of the Political History of Michigan 487-500.
36. Mich. Hist. Calls., I, 231
37. Lanman, Michigan, preface, vii
38. Session Laws (1839), 76
39. John Hopkins University Studies, I. No. 5, p. 10.
40. Farmer, History of Detroit, I, 345-348; Mich. Hist. Calls., VII, 523
41. Michigan Manual, (1838), 45, Art. II.
42. Coolidge, History of Berrien County, 26.
43. The central point among the first churches and schools in a community was a fair indication of the center of population.
44. Hoffman, A Winter in the West, I, 152.
This server space is provided by
Michigan Family History Network
Visit the Michigan Family History Network for more Bay County names.
2012 all rights
reserved of transcription by Karen L. Brooks, html coding and graphics by