St. Clair County Histories (Part Two): History of St. Clair County, Michigan, 1883 (Andreas)

Port of St. Clair County map that is included in Andreas, page 16.

A portion of the St. Clair County map that is included in Andreas, page 16.

by Vicki Priest (c)

This is a continuation of St. Clair County Histories, A Consideration of Subscription Financing and Accuracy, looking at some factors that should provide an idea of the reliability of what locals know as Andreas’ history of St. Clair County (Michigan).  Author credibility and biographies are emphasized.  This second part in the series may be the longest one–indeed, it is quite long–but I hope you find it informative, if not amusing.

First, a note on the authorship of History of St. Clair County.  Without some background information, the authorship and even publisher of this book are unclear.  “Chicago, A. T. Andreas & Co, 1883” is found on the title page, with no other authorship or publisher obviously provided (an available reprint provides the author as “anonymous”).  The Preface is written by Western Historical Company (WHC), which was a publisher of such works and is known as such; specific authors are not mentioned, including Andreas.  Normally, WHC books have that firm’s name and date where Andreas & Co. have theirs (a note about the book being entered into the Library of Congress is usually inside, too).  Searched collections of this company’s works didn’t yield the History of St. Clair County, Michigan, and writings on A. T. Andreas don’t normally yield this title either, making this history more obscure than those known by either author or publisher (in addition, Ristow 1966 doesn’t provide it in his list of Andreas’ county histories).  However, it turns out that Andreas and WHC are one and the same (at least at this time)!  It seems odd that he would use two different company names together, but in any case, Andreas is attributed as the author even though he may have written very little of the book.[1]  He appears to have been the compiler and final editor, but more on that below.

Part of title page of the 1881 History of Northern Wisconsin.

Part of title page of the 1881 History of Northern Wisconsin.


But who was Andreas?  His full name is (Captain) Alfred Theodore Andreas (1839-1900) and he produced county atlases and histories for a living for quite some time after his Civil War service.  Andreas is especially known for his atlases made 1871-1875, and his three-volume History of Chicago (1884, 1886).

A couple of years after his army discharge in 1865, Andreas became employed as a salesman for Thompson & Everts publishing company, a publisher of county maps (Thomas and Everts were war-time friends of Andreas).  Andreas, despite his initial distaste for the job, became a top salesman.  But having the idea to make more detailed maps–atlases–and having a superior talent for organization, he began his own publishing company with an in-law, known as Andreas, Lyter & Company (of Iowa).  His firm was very successful at producing and selling county state atlases from 1871-1875.  He has been attributed as the originator of illustrated atlases (Ristow 1966:122).[2]  “The idea of making an atlas of a State on a grand scale . . . was the product of Capt. Andreas’ fertile brain” (Fidelity Pub Co 1879:79).

Based on this success, Andreas decided to venture bigger.  He moved his firm to Chicago and produced his first state atlas, for Minnesota, in 1875.  For various reasons this atlas was a financial loss for Andreas.  In that same year he produced the Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa (with subscriptions starting at $15), which “was then, and still is, an outstanding reference book” (McInroy 2009).  Unfortunately for Andreas, his next atlas (Indiana) was, like Minnesota’s, a financial failure and he had woes from then on out.  His firms, which he had a number of, continued to publish until 1886.  His last publication, a three-volume history of Chicago, “is still recognized as the best historical record of Chicago in the nineteenth century” (Ristow 1966:129).  Andreas’ History of Chicago (1884, 1886) has been highly praised and utilized as a primary and/or significant source by many researchers and authors.

Notwithstanding the Fidelity Publishing Company’s (FPC) exposè (How ‘Tis Done, 1879) of the less savory aspects of the atlas and county histories craze of the latter 1800s, Andreas appears to have been a credible editor and publisher.  Not only as viewed in hindsight, as noted in the previous paragraphs, but in grudging acknowledgment in How ‘Tis Done.  “It would be a gross injustice to all parties concerned to class atlases under the general heading of swindles” (FPC 1879:77).  Swindles did happen, and sometimes it was the publisher, like Andreas, who was swindled by a canvasser (the field salesman).  In this same book (pages 94-96) a story is told of a “rascally canvasser” who forged almost 650 signatures in order to get paid for nothing.  Normally, the salesmen turned in signed lists of subscribers and then they were paid on a weekly basis without much question, but the rascal in question turned in too many and his employer became suspicious.  He finally ran.  “Capt. Andreas followed him to California, but did not succeed in catching him” (96).  The author claims that the criminal’s ties to Masonry helped him evade jail time.

Subsequently, Andreas, with his then-partner H. F. Kett, who “tried to do a satisfactory business,” came up with new rules for canvassing “on account of the rascality and carelessness of some of the agents” (FPC 1879:166).  Part of the rules specified the careful gathering of information from subscribers and nonsubscribers alike.  They still had problems, however, and made an effort to address errors.  As part of the Western Historical Company, Andreas and company had fired all the known trouble makers and they wrote the county histories “in advance of the canvass.  They [submitted] all their manuscript[s] to the best informed men, before it [was] put in type, and again afterward.  In this way nearly every error” was hoped to be found (FPC 1879:191).  Considering that the History is 790 pages of almost pure text, it wouldn’t be surprising if some errors snuck in, and there are some.


This series of posts could easily blossom into a whole book, so of course not all or even most issues (or laudable things) with any one of the books will be addressed.  Below are just a few examples of errors, considerations, or things that the subscription-based history got right.  As noted already, Andreas and his Western Historical Company were aware of past problems with county atlases and histories, and were making an effort to eliminate errors.

The Preface of the history should make their intent clear.  Impartiality and fairness are brought up three times in the brief piece.  “Even after the notes were made by the township historians, they were rewritten, submitted in many instances, again placed on the type-writer, and mailed for revision and approval to the parties interested.”  “In searching old documents and French pamphlets, the writer arrived at new facts which, on account of their connection with the St. Clair region, are introduced into the history of the county, rather than into that of the State” (Andreas 1883, no page number; my emphasis, indicating primary research and sources).  It goes on to delineate the prominent and professional sources used, including official records.  For the times, the atlases–and later, the more accurate histories–Andreas produced “included . . . unexcelled historical, biographical, and pictorial record[s] of midwestern America . . . ” (Ristow 1966:129).

Biographies.  The separated-out biographical entries that are obviously included from subscriptions are in alphabetical order, which is a blessing; they are more often than not entered randomly in similar publications.  Most are written in a uniform manner, indicating single authorship or central editing, although some longer biographies take on a flowery, self-important, or otherwise more detailed approach that indicates they were written “outside the form.”  The questions canvassers asked each subscriber were standardized, and subscribers paid 2.5¢ per word.  Longer biographical entries are obviously different, even from each other, in tone.  One flowery biography is that of “Hon. Ezra C. Carleton,” page 563.  The whole thing is entertaining, but if he wrote it himself . . . “Industrious, resolute and temperate, he brings to his important duties the leading essentials of success; vigorous in person, clear in mind, fortunate in his private, as in his public life, he has deserved, and will continue to merit such civic honors as his fellow citizens can bestow.”  Aside from such aggrandizing, whether self- or staff-written, the material facts included are probably accurate.

One of the very few illustrations in the History, a portrait of William Jenkinson (page 576.5).

One of the very few illustrations in the History, a portrait of William Jenkinson (page 576.5).

The “Pioneer Sketches” section (starting at page 303), added at the end of the “Pioneer Reminiscences and Sketches” chapter, is part of the historical narrative and therefore not dependent on subscribers to pay extra for the inclusion of (often dead) relatives.  “In this chapter the writer of the general history has essayed to make a collection of pioneer biographical sketches which might escape the notice of his assistants to whom the complication of the personal history of the county is intrusted [sic].”  This is a nice, if not responsible, touch.  At page 551 a biography of Edward Petit, a Port Huron pioneer, begins.  A note gives the source as “from Mrs. B. C. Farrand’s historical paper,” which was read to the Pioneer Society of Detroit in 1872 (and can be found here).  Neither Mrs. Farrand nor Andreas (page 494) repeat the often heard but refuted claim that Edward was the first white child (by which is meant pure-blooded white) born in the Port Huron area.  This is a good thing.

A silly textual contradiction.  On page 104 (History of Michigan section) is written:  “By an ordinance enacted by Congress, dated July 13, 1787 [RE Northwest Territory] . . . there was a clause in Article VI saying that ‘there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory . . .’.  Notwithstanding this wise provision our ancestors paid but little attention to it, for whenever a spruce negro was brought by the Indians he was sure to find a purchaser at a reasonable price.  Most every prominent man in those days had a slave or two . . .”.  But at the bottom of the next page and continuing, it concludes the slavery section thus:  “When the celebrated ordinance of 1787 was extended over the Northwest, Michigan assumed for the first time the first grade of government, and the laws of Congress were put in force, no more slaves were afterward allowed to be brought into the Territory, and slavery was known no more here!” (emphases mine).

An Incredible Chapter:  Military History. I don’t want to write much about this chapter, only to say that it is insanely detailed.  I doubt that anyone who was not in the military, as Andreas and many of his publishing friends were, would have put so many pages and so much ink to bear on the subject.  And who would think the county would have so much to impart militarily, anyway?  To give an idea of what I mean, this chapter is 43 pages long–and that’s without including the histories of the forts or any militias (which are in the city and township histories)–while the county’s religious history chapter is only 6 1/3 pages (more religious history is included in the city and township chapters, however).  The military chapter includes statistics (of course), letters, poems, related organizations, and lists of everyone (so it seems) who served in any infantry or cavalry, or served in some other military-related capacity, within the county.

Civic Positions Held.  As with the Military History, civic history is (often) very detailed.  As part of the city history of Port Huron, Andreas not only lists the first mayor and the other first elected positions, but how many votes each office holder received.  This type of information may no longer be available anywhere else (the Port Huron City-County building burnt down in 1949, destroying records with it), except in available contemporary newspapers.  When doing research in areas like this, any and all sources will want to be checked by the researcher, but the point is that it’s pretty amazing that this level of detail was thought to be included in a county history.

The positions of mayor, marshal, alderman, supervisor, and controller for Port Huron are listed on pages 500-501. These can be checked via available city directories, which the county library has starting with the year 1871 (the library doesn’t hold a volume for every year thereafter, however), but Andreas’ list goes back to 1858.  And if Andreas used official documents as his source, those should have been more accurate than directories; newspapers can also be checked.  I’ll be looking at this subject in more detail in the next part of the series, but will note here that when it comes to biographies, it’s what’s left out of them that may be a more significant concern than potential errors.


As a historic resource History of St. Clair County, Michigan has been shown to have basic credibility.  It no doubt has a number of errors, or information that with further research can, and has, revealed mistakes or something new.  This does not make the history unreliable overall, since errors and contrary post-publication findings are typical of many research-related writings.  Indeed, the author we look at next, Jenks, who was a primary founder of the Michigan Historical Commission, wrote up a very long addenda to his own 1912 county history.  As with any research, whatever various sources are available (especially primary) should be checked against one another.  For the sake of helping other researchers and the general history-loving public, if you know of errors in Andreas, feel free to post them in the comments section.


[1] As an exclamation point to authorship issues of older publications, a major source I’m using here is attributed to Bates Harrington, yet that name is nowhere to be found in the original 1879 How ‘Tis Done—at least not in the digital reproductions that can be found online, where no pages seem to be missing.  An academic article I used here, by Walter Ristow, also referenced this 1879 book, published by Fidelity Publishing Company, but with a Bates Harrington attribution.  Turns out the book was republished in 1890 by a different publisher, who I’m guessing named the author.  I haven’t seen an online reproduction of the 1890 edition, so I can’t be sure, but everyone and their grandmother gives Harrington as the author of the 1879 book.  The 1879 edition indicates that it was filed with the Library of Congress as “by The Fidelity Publishing Company.”  So that is who I list as the author.  I haven’t yet determined whether or not “Bates Harrington” was even a real name/person.

[2] Walter Ristow was the associate chief of the Library of Congress’s geography and map division.

Major Sources (not linked above)

A.T. Andreas & Co. History of St. Clair County, Michigan. Chicago: A.T. Andreas & Co., 1883.

Fidelity Publishing Company. How ‘Tis Done: A thorough ventilation of the numerous schemes conducted by wandering canvassers together with the various advertising dodges for the swindling of the public. Chicago: Fidelity Publishing Company, 1879.  Attributed to Bates Harrington.

McInroy, Mary R. “Andreas, Alfred Theodore.” The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press. 2009. (accessed September 29, 2016).

Ristow, Walter W. “Alfred T. Andreas and his Minnesota Atlas.” Minnesota History Magazine. Fall 1966.


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