Port Huron’s “Report to the People, 1964-65”

We’re not advocating ancestor worship here at PHAHPA, but the report below–scanned to images so you can click on them to see large-scale–seems to be advocating the opposite.  While Port Huron has lost many buildings to fires, it has lost a great many to redevelopment and blight removal.  This 54-year-old report shows the attitude of the times, that the sturdy and artful buildings of downtown were “antiquated” and therefore ready for demolition.  It is proud of the demolitions and of the building owners who otherwise covered up their old buildings’ “rustic” facades.  When do you see buildings like that being made today, with actual brick, hardwoods, marble, etc.?

It also was proud of clearing the first ward area, which not only had small homes as shown in the report, but examples of older and smaller business buildings.  The municipal buildings now standing in that area seem antiquated themselves, and indeed, the library is planning on erecting a new structure (but where?).  Lastly, north Military Street would be pretty much cleared of the buildings that the people who built the city in the first place had erected, if the city had followed-through with its plans.  It would have received lots of federal dollars for doing so.

In any case, what buildings people like can be pretty subjective, and it depends on comparisons of what’s available.  But if I imagine whether I’d rather live in a rehabilitated decent home or business block from the past–or the present library–there is just no question at all.  And looking at what styles people choose for their homes, it’s clear that people like “relatable” environments to live and move around in.  That is, “human scale,” with textured designs and materials that are (or at least seem) natural; you don’t see many homes that look like the library or the sad historic commercial buildings covered by flat, boring facades.

No one goes to the ocean expecting or wanting to see a flat or monotone surface, and no one visits Michigan for its fall colors expecting or wanting to see trees all the same size and all the same color (although, to be sure, trees are almost always nice).

We hope you find the reproduced report useful.  Click on the images to open large readable views.

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Halloween, a bit on its origins and a bit on local shenanigans of old

This article was published first at Blue Water Healthy Living, earlier in October 2018.

Homemade—and effective—Halloween masks (unsourced photo found at https://bit.ly/2OCj3m5).

Vicki Priest (c) 2018

Celebrating, or having community night-time activities, on October 31st goes way back in time. It was the New Year’s Eve (Samhain) of the ancient Druidic Celts, living in what are today France and the British Isles. After the Romans conquered these areas, aspects of the feast honoring the goddess of fruits, Pomona, were incorporated into Samhain. Dunking for apples stems from the Roman tradition.

But what were the “celebrations” of the Druids? Despite what many seem to think, the Druids on this day were attempting to ward off—not worship—ghosts, evil spirits, and witches (a number of cultures believed that there were women who sold themselves to the devil, and these are referred to as witches). For whatever reason the Druids thought that on this one night of the year, October 31st, the Lord of Death allowed the departed to roam the land of the living. And the dead could be dangerous.

Applying the “Carrot and Stick” approach to the visiting spirits

Food was set out on tables in to appease spirits, and if that didn’t work, the grotesquely-carved and hollowed-out root vegetables, lit from the inside, were sure to scare them. The carved pumpkin of today seems to come from that tradition, although why they came to be called Jack-O-Lanterns is not fully known (for the various hypotheses, see Merriam-Webster’s page on the subject).

On hilltops, giant bonfires were lit to scare the evil spirits away.  People would wear masks, sing, dance, make loud noises and tell stories around these fires. It may be that witches, if caught, would be burned in the fire. In Ireland, farmers would use their pitchforks to raise blazing hay aloft, waving it in the air with the hope of frightening witches away. (It’s interesting that our New Year’s Eve celebrations still include the making of lots of noise and filling the air with sparks.)

Treats and Tricks

Time went by and the Catholic church decided that All Saints Day, originally “All Hallows Day,” was to be celebrated on November 1st (instead of May 13). The eve of All Hallows Day came to be known as Halloween. In 998, All Souls Day was added as a day of prayer on November 2nd. Now on the eve of either of these holy days, apparently, children would go around begging for “soul cakes.” In exchange for cakes the children would pray for the souls of the giver’s departed loved ones. This activity is thought to be the precursor of children going door-to-door begging for treats, although the pagan activity of wearing a costume was added.*

But what about the “tricks”? As one source (Krythe p. 216) writes: “After the spread of Christianity, enemies of the church made fun of the Christians; and on Halloween they worshiped the Devil, set skulls on pretended altars, or painted profane crosses on church walls.” In the U.S., tricks were alive and well early on. People, I’m going to assume young people, made themselves annoyances by opening (or removing) gates so that farm animals roamed free, altering street signs and house numbers, setting bonfires in streets, and, amazingly, hoisting wagons onto roofs. As if these activities weren’t bad enough, in some places Halloween “pranks” became more destructive after World War II. In response, more and more communities began to have parties and other Halloween activities for children and adults alike.

Halloween in Port Huron in the early-1900s

Port Huron was an early participant in city-wide Halloween events, having one as early as 1920. The news article about it claimed that it was an “unqualified success,” and that “it was the merriest scene ever put on in this city” (The Times Herald, Nov. 1, 1920, p. 5). A parade was held (with prizes afterwards), the Boy Scouts led a snake dance, there were acrobatic performers, and a band played until 1 am; dancing in the street proved to be very popular. The interviewed policeman expressed gratitude for the event, saying that the boys were kept busy and no property was destroyed that night.

Port Huron seemed to have needed something to stop the damage to property that was happening every year. Here are a few examples of the “Hallowe’en depredations:”

Halloween 1900: “The work of devastation indulged in by the young boys of the city Wednesday night will entail considerable financial loss. In many instances entire strips of sidewalk were torn up, windows broken and gates and horse blocks smashed. Five fires can be traced directly to the work of the boys . . . . A vacant house on Howard street was set on fire and partially destroyed and a slight blaze in the Bryce house on Howard street was extinguished before material damage was done. Several boys were locked up last night as a result of Hallowe’en depredations . . . ” (The Daily Herald, November 1, 1900, p. 1).

Halloween 1905: Oddly, the writer of The Daily Herald (Nov. 1, 1905, p. 1) article that detailed the usual “Hallowe’en depredations” actually applauded a possibly dangerous prank by saying it was the “best ever.” The lauded prank involved successfully making the conductor of a street (rail) car think that his vehicle hit and “hurt or killed” someone. The article had started out on a cheery note as well: “Pranks galore were played by Young America [on] Hallowe’en. Sidewalks were torn up, wood-sheds and other outhouses were dumped over, gates and fences were carried away and other depredations were committed.” Also, a doctor in town was driving with his wife and a small girl in the car when he hit a “horse block” that had been placed in the road.

Halloween 1917: “While chasing boys [from ‘Skinnay’s Crew’] who were getting away with an old express wagon on River street last night, Patrolman Barney Hand stepped into a hole, fell and broke two ribs. He will be off the job several days . . . . The usual number of Hallowe’en depredations were reported to the police. Windows in some sections were broken and hundreds of others ‘soaped.’ Fences and small movable buildings changed locations during the night . . . “ (The Times Herald, November 1, 1917, p. 5.

So one can see why the City and various groups in Port Huron sponsored a major event in 1920. But despite the event’s popularity, it did not continue as an annual event. Not every year was surveyed for Halloween shenanigans, but a sample from 1930 and 1940 seem to indicate that much less mayhem was happening on October 31st than in previous decades (the post WWII period was not studied). In 1930 there was very little reported to the police on that night (The Times Herald, Nov. 1, 1930, p. 1), and in 1940 there were “fewer reports of property damage than in previous years” (p. 26). The worst thing seems to have been “the meanest woman in Port Huron” dumping garbage into children’s bags after she said she’d give them pears. It was reported that schools and clubs had many events for the children and residents of the city (The Times Herald, November 1, 1940, pp. 1 and 26).

An unknown person once said, “During the day I don’t believe in ghosts. At night I’m a little more open-minded.” This Halloween, may you be free of both ghosts and pranksters.

Goofy pumpkins (by annca at Pixabay).

* For more on the possible antecedents of trick-or-treating, see History of Trick-or-Treating. This article was not used more for this article, however, since sources and many dates were not provided.

Additional Sources:

Anonymous. “Halloween 2018”. 2018. HISTORY. Accessed October 21 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween.

Krythe, Maymie R. All About American Holidays. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962.

Pearson, Sharon Ely. “All Hallow’s Eve.”  Episcopalschools.Org. Accessed October 21 2018. http://www.episcopalschools.org/docs/public-library-documents/all-hallows’-eve-and-all-saints’-day.pdf?sfvrsn=6.

Shima, Kristen. “All Hallows’ Eve : Soul Cakes”. 2015. The Tradition Tree. Accessed October 21 2018. http://thetraditiontree.com/2015/10/all-hallows-eve/.

Why Oscar Mueller, an invested “man among men,” left Port Huron

The following article was first published at Blue Water Healthy Living on June 27, 2018, under a slightly different title.  All rights belong to the author, Vicki Priest, however, and republished here by permission.

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Oscar Mueller. Undated photo from muellerfamilytree.com.

It was a happy day in Port Huron when Oscar Mueller announced that his family agreed to open a metal working plant here, and a sad one when he decided to sell his interests in what became Mueller Brass, and leave. He did so much to make a wonderful home for he and his wife, too—establishing a large recreational park for his employees along the Black River, and on his estate next door, planting a large orchard that he thoroughly enjoyed—that one would wonder why he left that all behind. But for those living here at the time, in 1935-1936, no doubt it was not a surprise at all.

Oscar was one of Hieronymus Mueller’s seven children to carry on with the family’s various factories (which primarily produced plumbing-related parts and fixtures), centered in Decatur, Illinois. His father was mechanically gifted and filed several patents, some of which, like the Mueller Water Tapper and various auto-engine features, are still being used today; he and his sons filed 501 patents. His sons, like their father, were gifted in business as well as mechanics and engineering. And as Mueller craftsmanship and products became recognized as the best, the family business grew, with their metal working factories springing up here and there. For his part, Oscar graduated from the University of Illinois, got married to Beatrice Wetzel in 1895, and together they had their first child, Bernhardt Frederic, in 1901.

Hieronymus’ interest in automobiles led him to demonstrate his patents. His youngest son Oscar was the driver of their modified car in the first race in this country, perhaps the world, in 1895. He came in first place in the 92 mile race in Chicago, speeding through the track at 10 miles per hour (one source said his car was the only one to finish). Another (official) race was held the next year and Oscar and the Mueller car came in second. Unfortunately, Hieronymus’ work with autos also led to his death. While working on an auto in 1900, his oil-soaked clothes caught fire and he died from his injuries some days later. He had plans to open an auto factory, but those plans were not carried out by the family after his death.

Mueller Manufacturing had a New York branch, which Oscar began to manage in 1904. During their time in New York, in 1906, a second child was born to Oscar and Beatrice, Beatrice Florence (known as Florence). The Muellers expanded into Canada with Oscar as president, and their Sarnia plant was opened in 1912. During World War I, the English government requisitioned this plant for munitions (precision detonation fuses) manufacture, but when the U.S. entered the war the government canceled their contract with Mueller without warning. This left the company in a real bind, as it had had more than $1,000,000 worth of materials in stock. The Muellers had talks with the U.S. government, which decided it would like those detonators made for its own military. A new plant in Port Huron would allow all the machinery to be relocated close by. This plant, Mueller Metals, was up and running in 1917 with Oscar in charge.

After the war, the Mueller family invested about $2,000,000 for the plant to be converted to manufacture other metal-based (primarily brass) products instead of munitions. This plant did very well and Oscar liked Port Huron enough to commit to it entirely, both selling his interest in Mueller Manufacturing (the name was actually simply “Mueller” beginning in 1924) and acquiring all interest in the Port Huron plant in 1927. Apparently he had been planning this for a few years.

Oscar sold the family house at 1117 Pine Grove Avenue late in 1925 (or early in 1926) and built his new home far up Water Street (on what would later be Strawberry Lane). The 100 acre estate came to be called Waldheim. It was filled with an extensive orchard, and vegetable and flowers gardens, all of which were watered with a sprinkler system. His Mueller Country Club was announced in 1924 and all was up and running by 1926. This recreation area was made for his employees but still exists, in part at least, as the Black River Country Club. Oscar Mueller was highly regarded by all, even his employees, whom he took a great interest in. He felt a responsibility for his employees, was amongst them all the time, and even looked into their welfare indirectly. One fellow recalled Oscar calling him into his office and asking about his family and financial situation, which surprised him since he didn’t know how Mueller knew about his problems. Upon finding out the nature of the problems and the amount of debt the employee was in, Oscar wrote the man a check for $2000 to cover it all (Times Herald, April 25, 1941, pp 1, 4; this same article is the source of the quote found in the title).

Beatrice Florence Mueller Irving. Undated photo from muellerfamilytree.com.

So things seemed good for Oscar and his family. He had obviously made plans to stay in Port Huron and the fruition of his plans, the acquisition of the Mueller company plant here, came to pass. He liked it here and people liked him. But then tragedy struck the family in the same year that he gained sole control of Mueller Brass. His daughter, Florence, who had just gotten married in June of that year at the Waldheim estate, was killed in an automobile accident in Seattle, Washington.

She had married John Hamilton Irving who lived there (he was a nephew of Hamilton Irving, a Safety Commissioner for Port Huron), and it was in August 1927 that the car they were passengers in crashed. She was the only person to die. According to one article (Detroit Free Press, Aug. 12, 1935, p. 8), Florence had earlier suffered from the strange “sleeping sickness” that struck people starting in 1916 and afflicted Americans into the 1920s. Many died from this strange ailment, and if they didn’t die they usually never fully recovered. So it must have been with a great deal of relief and gladness that Florence had finally recovered after a years’ time. Yet she was still taken from her loved ones while still very young. One of Oscars brothers, Phillip, also died that year, and another, Frederick, died the next, in 1928.

Bernhardt “Bud” Mueller. Undated photo from muellerfamilytree.com.

Time passed and Oscar’s son Bernhardt, known as “Bud,” learned his dad’s trade and became Vice President of Mueller Brass. He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce’s legislative committee and General Chairman of that organization’s FHA committee. As such, Bernhardt was in charge of the local Better Housing Program, a program of the new (depression-era) Federal Housing Administration. His personal life appears to have had some ups and downs, as he married Mayme M. MacQueen in 1923, and after apparently divorcing, married her again in New York in 1931. They never had any children, and while reference to Mayme could still be found in papers, Bernhardt married Alberta F. Chartier in February 1934. They had a boy, Frederic, in the spring of 1935. But then tragedy struck the Mueller family again.

Bernhardt wanted to have some fun with his new car and with his friends, which ended up costing him his life as well as the life of one of those friends. While taking a drive with three others in his car, Bernhardt swerved to miss hitting a dog, but the swerve led to a plunge. Gordon Godley, husband and father, was killed instantly, and Bernhardt was seriously injured. The two others were much less injured in the May 18th, 1935 accident. Very sadly, Bernhardt succumbed to his injuries and died on May 25th.

Idealized sketch of Bernhardt (Bud) Mueller. From the Times Herald, May 23, 1935, page 1.

Reading testimony presented in probate court2, one wonders if Fate was trying to take a holiday and Bernhardt just wasn’t listening. The following is not meant to demean Bernhardt, but to wonder at events seen in hindsight. When he and his friends had left the Black Water Country Club that evening, Bernhardt was very insistent that they go with him for a drive in his new car, which was at his house. They didn’t want to go, but he was insistent. When he arrived at his house, he argued with his wife. He also realized he left his new car’s keys at the club house. He wanted to take the drive so badly that he wouldn’t take no for an answer from his friends, he appears to have disregarded his wife’s interests, he drove all the way back to the club house to get his keys, and he was driving dangerously fast at the time of the crash (the odometer read 92 miles per hour after the crash). The last thing Bernhardt said in the car was in response to his friends commenting on the speed he was driving.

So, enduring what no parent should have to—the death of all one’s children3 before one’s self—Oscar decided to retire and leave behind all he had done here. Considering how he had developed his estate Oscar no doubt planned on spending his retirement years here, watching his son run the company he had built.4 But that all changed. After the arrangements to transfer the company were made in 1935 he sold his interest in it and retired the following summer. He and his wife had a summer home in Florida and that’s where they moved to permanently, although they also spent much time in North Carolina. In Florida, Oscar fished like he wanted to, catching a 99 pound Tarpon during a 1937 contest (the winner was actually 120 ½ pounds!), and he and Beatrice involved themselves with other social and community doings. Back in Port Huron the Waldheim estate, described as “one of the most beautiful sites on the Black River” (The Times Herald July 28, 1940, page 5), began to be subdivided in 1940. Oscar died in Bradenton, Florida, in 1941, and Beatrice followed him some years later in 1952.

Notes

1) This house was likely demolished with one of the later hospital expansions; an inventory of the affected properties needs to be taken. If demolished it might seem ironic, since the new hospital that was finished in 1937 was largely funded by Oscar, other Mueller family members, and Mueller Brass.

2) The cases against the Bernhardt Mueller estate also went to the circuit and state supreme courts, but were ultimately settled out of court or dismissed.

From the Honolulu Advertiser, May 5, 1989, page 6.

3) Bernhardt’s son, Frederic, was raised by his mother and her new husband (Cyrenus Gillette) in Hawaii. He had inherited $2.5 million from his grandparents and went to Harvard, graduating with a degree in art history. He enjoyed acting and produced a play in 1961 that included Barbra Streisand and Dom De Luise. His primary activity, however, was running an art gallery, the Pace, in New York. Frederic returned to Hawaii a few years before he died, which was in 1989. He left no children, ending the Oscar Mueller and Beatrice Wetzel line. Sources: The Times Herald July 12, 1952, p. 1; The Honolulu Advertiser May 5, 1989, p. 6; New York Times May 9, 1989, archived; The Times Herald May 20, 1989, p. 3.

4) When he left, Mueller Brass was having its best year ever. It was expanding. In 1925 the Detroit Free Press (August 12, p 8) called it the city’s leading industry, and when he died The Times Herald (April 24, 1941, p 1) wrote that Oscar founded the “city’s largest plant.”

Sources. In addition to those included in the article itself, the following sources were used for this piece (those sources read and compared, but not used directly, are not included):

Bellows, Alan. The Sleepy Sickness (this isn’t the best source, but it is accessible; see ScienceDirect.com for “encephalitis lethargica” if you want to know more).

Find A Grave Memorial #162186202, Beatrice A. Wetzel Mueller.

Hieronymus Mueller Museum, various pages and photos.

News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida). December 24, 1937, p 5.

Tallahassee Democrat. March 8, 1931, p 7.

The Decatur Daily Review. July 17, 1932, pp 7-9; April 24, 1941, p 48.

The Decatur Herald. April 25, 1941, p 3.

The Tampa Tribune. August 11, 1927, p 3; March 8, 1931, p 26; June 4, 1937, p 18

The Times Herald: March 21, 1922, p 16; December 24, 1923, p 6; January 21, 1924, p 7; June 26, 1925, p 4; July 17, 1925, p 14; October 27, 1925, p 4 (house ad in later months as well); January 14, 1926, pp 1, 8; June 22, 1927, p 8; August 8, 1927, p 1; February 2, 1924, p 8; December 21, 1931, p 8; October 30, 1934, pp 1, 2; January 30, 1935, p 7; May 18, 1935, p 3; May 23, 1935, pp 1, 6, 14; May 25, 1935, p 7; May 28, 1935, pp 1, 14; November 30, 1935, pp 1, 12; June 9, 1936, p 1; June 23, 1936, p 1; June 24, 1936, pp 1, 12; August 6, 1937, p 7; April 25, 1941, p 6.

WTVP. Illinois Adventure #1406 “Mueller Museum”

Wm. Soutar Collection, from Friends, 1871 – 1878

As briefly written of in a previous post, William Soutar was lumberman Wm. Jenkinson’s private secretary in Port Huron for many years (City Directories, 1893-94, page 226, and 1899-1900, page 297). Although Soutar was connected to Jenkinson in some way by 1879, when he first appears in Port Huron a couple of years later he is a bookkeeper for Brooks & Joslyn (1883 City Directory, page 134; he is not listed in the previous 1881 directory, but that doesn’t tell us or not if he had actually moved here by then).  Previous to living in Port Huron, Soutar worked and lived in Saginaw, although his actual home was in Rattle Run, St. Clair County, where his wife and other family members lived.

From the other letters in the collection, we know that Soutar was from Newport on Tay, Fife (or thereabouts), Scotland. The three letters here appear to be the only ones from friends, although the collection has not yet been fully studied.  The collection, too, is what seems to be only one group of papers that was saved by someone and does not at all include all of Soutar’s correspondence.  The documents relating directly to William Jenkinson were already posted.  Future posts will include letters from his wife, Agnes, and letters from his family members back in Scotland.  What remains, business documents, will also be scanned and posted.

The Sim letter was in excellent shape and needed no enhancing, but the writing of the other two letters was very dim (especially Gowling’s) and the images here are enhanced ones.  While the images alone (with captions) are posted first, the texts will be typed up and added to this post at a later date.  The images are provided as .jpg and are clickable for large-scale viewing.  Please give credit to PHAHPA if you use them.

From H. Batchelor, 1877, page 1 of 4; mentions farm life and thoughts on lumbering investment.

From H. Batchelor, 1877, page 2 of 4; mentions thoughts on land and lumbering investment.

From H. Batchelor, page 3 of 4, 1877; more thoughts on lumbering investment and lumberers cutting quickly, no matter the market, over fire fears.

From H. Batchelor, page 4 of 4, 1877.

From Gowling (?), pages 1 and 4, 1878; regarding Soutar’s illness (1), and, (4) “Henry Howard has bought the Hibbard Mill,” mentions McMorran’s mill and the mills doing well, the National Bank moving to building across the street.

From Gowling (?), pages 2 and 3, 1878; thoughts on future position, work that doesn’t just put money in other men’s pockets, and moving permanently to Port Huron (2), and, (3) business doing better than it has for some time, railroads came or expanded quickly, Mr. Batchelor has moved, the Phoenix (?) burned down on Butler Street and the owners building a new brick block in its place (3).

From Charles Sims, relating to Boston, page 1 of 4, 1871.  The entire letter includes information about the conditions of employment in various parts of the country, and gives some details on amount of pay and costs of living.

From Charles Sim, page 2 of 4, relating to Boston, 1871.

From Charles Sim, page 3 of 4, relating to Boston, 1871.

From Charles Sim, page 4 of 4, relating to Boston, 1871.

Wm. Jenkinson Letters to Wm. R. Soutar, 1879-1892

Portrait of William Jenkinson (in Andreas 1883, page 576.5).

Below are some letters and other items from the William Robert Soutar collection (used by permission from Lynne Secory).  All are either written by William Jenkinson (1834-1896), or pertain to him and his family.  A brief but very telling biography of Jenkinson is included below.

William Soutar was Jenkinson’s private secretary for many years, and even served as the estate’s secretary after his employer and friend’s death (City Directories, 1893-94, page 226, and 1899-1900, page 297). Although Soutar was connected to Jenkinson in some way by 1879, as evidenced by one of the letters here, when he first appears a couple of years later in Port Huron he is a bookkeeper for Brooks & Joslyn (1883 City Directory, page 134; he is not listed in the previous 1881 directory, but that doesn’t tell us or not if he had actually moved here by then).  From the other letters in the collection, we know that Soutar was from Newport on Tay, Fife (or thereabouts), Scotland.  In a letter from his parents, dated January 31, 1880 (#2.0207), the writer answers his inquiry about the Tay Bridge Disaster (1879) and tells him that none of his friends were on the train.

The documents are provided as .png images and clickable for full, large-scale viewing.  Please give credit to PHAHPA if you use them.

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“WILLIAM JENKINSON, manufacturer and dealer to pine lumber, is a native of the North of Ireland, and was born in 1834.  Upon reaching manhood, emigrated to the United States in 1853, and four years later came to Port Huron and engaged in buying white oak staves, and continued in that business for twenty years.  In 1874, he engaged in manufacturing pine lumber. He owns seven thousand acres pf pine land, and cuts from five to ten million feet annually; ships his lumber to Chicago, Buffalo, Rochester and other Eastern points.  He controls steamers and barges for freighting his lumber from the mills; he is a director and the largest stockholder in the First National Bank, and is largely interested in real estate and city property.  In 1856, Mr. Jenkinson was united in marriage to Miss Eliza M. Stettler, a native of Canada.  They have one daughter–Jennie” (History of St. Clair County, Michigan, A.T. Andreas 1883, page 577).  (Jennie later married Dr. Mortimer Willson.  It might be expected that Wm. Jenkinson’s house was built well, and no doubt it was, but it is no longer standing.)

February 18th, 1879, letter to Wm. Soutar. Envelopes in the collection from this time place him in either Sandusky, Ohio, or Saginaw, Michigan, while his home–where his wife lived–was in Rattle Run, St. Clair County, Michigan.  (#1.0074)

April 4th, 1881 letter to Soutar while in Saginaw, Michigan, with one subject seeming to address Soutar’s interest in moving to Port Huron. Since Port Huron is closer to Rattle Run, his interest in doing this would make sense. Wm Jenkinson’s simple calling card is included in this image also.  (#2.0294 and #2.0295)

July 8th, 1883 letter from Glasgow, Scotland. Please excuse that the pages are transposed.  (#2.0249)

Short letter from London, on their way to Rome via Liverpool. October 8th, 1883.  (#2.0199)

From San Francisco, after having visited Los Angeles. If you can decipher what Jenkinson is referring to regarding Mr. Upton, please leave a comment. Dated April 7, 1886.  (#2.0289)

A short letter letting Soutar know they were leaving and stopping at some other places before their expected arrival home on April 27th. Dates April 16th, 1886. Note the change in stationery during the 9 day interval.  (#1.0060)

You probably noticed that this letter from Jenkinson isn’t to Soutar, but to the president of Grand Trunk Elevator Company. As can be seen from the company stationery, Jenkinson was the treasurer. It is included because of its probably significance related to the company and to Botsford, and perhaps the rarity of the stationery. Why Soutar kept a few of these types of correspondence is not known. Dated January 3rd, 1887. I like Jenkinson’s endnote (and not because of the misspellings), “hope you will come home as Earley in the Spring as posable–remember I know nothing about an Elevator . . .”  (#1.0181)

This also is not a letter to Soutar, but included for any persons interested in the companies that are parties in the court case. Please see the district court (Detroit) summons for the names. Dated January 10th, 1888.  (#2.0209)

Dated March 6, 1891, this letter to Soutar was from Mexico City. They went sightseeing with the legate of Mexico and his wife (Mr. & Mrs. Butter?). I wonder if Mr. Soutar ever felt envious.  (#1.0100)

A bit longer letter with personal and business references. Note the testimonial on the hotel stationery–it’s no wonder health seekers rushed to California. This hotel is still in business, is a National Landmark, and the area is indeed nice; it must’ve been astounding when Jenkinson was there, however, without all the urban growth that now exists. Dated April 16th, 1891.  (#2.0201 and #2.0201A)

Eliza wrote this personal letter to the Soutars from Scotland, but what’s wonderful about this is that she sent heather from the Soutar’s homeland in the letter and its “shadow” is visible in the paper. A fitting ending to the Jenkinson correspondence within the Soutar collection. Dated September 15th, 1892.  (#1.0109)

An Account of Native American Activity in Port Huron and St. Clair County, Michigan

The original title to this relatively short piece is “Legends of Indian History in St. Clair County,” published in Volume 6 (1883) of the Collections of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan (Lansing, reprinted in 1907), pages 416-418.  It’s not really about “legends,” however, but of eyewitness accounts of events in the 1700s and 1800s; maybe that word was chosen because of perceived exaggerations?  After the verbatim text from the 1883 article, a related excerpt from Andreas 1883 (History of St. Clair County, Michigan) is also provided.

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By Hon. William T. Mitchell

Read at the annual meeting of the State Society, June 13, 1883

When the French explorers first came to the upper lakes, they found the lake country from Mackinac to Lapointe and the northern part of the lower peninsula, occupied by the Chippewas, or as the French named them, the Ojibeway Indians; a part of the great Algonquin family, then one of the most powerful Indian nations of North America.

The Hurons, who afterwards, and in about 1720, joined the confederacy of the six nations, and so became a part of the Iroquois, occupied the southern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan and of western Canada. The Wyandottes, also called Hurons by the French and in league with the Iroquois, occupied lands south and west of Detroit.* [this is reference to a note in the original appendix, which is included here]

When the Americans became possessed of Michigan the early settlers found none of the Iroquois, but in their place large numbers of Chippewas, and some Ottawas, under various tribal names.  It was from them the Indian titles to most of our lands were obtained, and to them most of the reservations in Michigan and western Canada were secured.  I am not aware of any authentic history of this change of possession, or how the Chippewas became possessed of the lands of the Iroquois.  The Hurons, by themselves, were not powerful, but associated with, and as part of, the Iroquois, they might well consider themselves invincible, and entitled to much of the renown that attached to that remarkable confederacy.

I have what follows, from one of the most venerable and worthy men of Michigan, Hon. Zephaniah W. Bunce, now approaching his ninety-sixth birthday.  As stated in the sketch of the history of St. Clair county, he came into the town of Port Huron in May, 1817, and soon after entered into the fur trade.  Great numbers of Chippewa Indians were in his immediate neighborhood with whom his business brought him in constant contact, and with whom and their language, he became familiar.  Among others that he knew, was Nimekance, a principal chief of the Chippewas, whose house was on the reservation, near Port Sarnia, opposite Port Huron.

Nimekance had been a great warrior, and with his nation, joined the English, and was with General Sinclair in most of his campaigns against our people.  As a reward for his services and bravery, the English had conferred upon him special marks of honor, and given him the dress and uniform of a brigadier general.  Within a year of his death, at the age of 106 years, he walked several miles to visit Judge Bunce, wearing and displaying with great pride, his English uniform.  Nimekance also loved to dwell upon the prowess and exploits of his father, Kioskance, the great chief of the Chippewas, and who, he said, had driven the Iroquois far to the east from Michigan.  As he related the story, his father, Kioskance, was the king or principal chief at the head of the Chippewas at Lapointe, on Lake Superior, and moved with most of the nation to the country and islands near the Sault and Mackinac.  They found the country to the east of Lake Superior as well as to the west, cold and bleak, and not abundant in game.

Iroquois, or more especially the Hurons and Wyandottes, their ancient enemies, held the warmer and pleasanter lands at the east and to the south of lake Huron.  The Chippewas claimed that they had once held and been unjustly driven from these favored hunting grounds, and the Iroquois being involved in the wars between the French and English, they resolved, under the lead of Kioskance to make a determined and well concerted effort to drive them from their possessions.  Kioskance gathered his warriors and launched in 400 canoes to traverse the waters of Lake Huron.

A part came up the Saginaw bay, and landing on that river pursued their course by land, so as to strike the Wyandottes near Detroit, while the larger part followed the coast to the St. Clair river, landing near the mouth of the smaller stream, since known as Black river, and passing a large camp of the Iroquois at the foot of the lake, near what is now known as Fort Gratiot.

Nimekance, then a young man, came with his father and described the canoes as holding eight warriors each, and enough to extend the whole length of the big river.

Scare [sic] had a landing been effected when the battle commenced; a battle, as described by him, unequaled in any strife where Indians alone were the combatants.  From side to side of the stream since known as Black river, the contest surged, till after days of terrible carnage, the Iroquois yielding, were driven across the great river and far into Canada.  The detachment sent against the Wyandottes had been equally successful, and the two conquering forces joining, stopped not in pursuit until they had driven their ancient foes across the Niagara.

Numbers of great burial mounds, filled with skeletons, Indian weapons, and ornaments, until a recent day attested the terrible slaughter.  One large one[,] on the ground now covered by the United States custom house was devoted to the distinguished Chippewa braves.  There were too many to be placed in bark tombs above ground, after the usual manner of Indian burials, and they were buried in a mound of earth.

Kioskance returning from his victorious pursuit, ever after made his home near Fort Gratiot, and died about 1800, at the advanced age of over 106 years, was buried in his English uniform, on the same mound with his father, great numbers of his people assembling to honor his memory.

How much reliance may be placed upon the story of Nimekance I will not pretend to determine, but there are many evidences that indicate its general truth, not perhaps of the number of canoes and warriors, but of the fact that the Iroquois were driven away and the Chippewas remained in possession as conquerors.  Judge Bunce gives it implicit credit.

Nimekance left five children, two sons and three daughters; one of whom, Mrs. Ogeetee, or Ogeetz, died on the Indian reservation, near Sarnia, in 1882, at the age of 107 years.

When the Indian reserve, known as the Riley reserve, covering the western portion of Port Huron and the ground on which the custom house stands, was released and put in market, the friends of the Indian chieftains caused their bones to be removed to a burial ground in the south part of the city.  That has since been vacated, and in the removal all trace of their remains have been lost.

On the spot where they first joined their fathers in the happy hunting-grounds of the Indian dead, the government that has ever been so unmindful of Indian rights and Indian memories, has unconsciously erected a monument, it is true not to their honor, but a memory that will for ages mark the place of burial of the Indian hero dead.  A fitting memento of the fast disappearing red man, and of the fact that all that they were, and all their rights have gone “glimmering down the dreams of things that were.”

A 1922 photo of Native American burials. This image was included in “Native American ancestral remains to be reburied at Michigan tribal cemetery.” It is presently unknown if the burials referred to in this post’s article, “bark tombs,” would look the same as these.

* [Endnote on page 524] This paragraph is open to correction and explanation.  The tribe of Indians who called themselves Wyandots were called Hurons by the French; by the English they were sometimes called the Tobacco Nation.  In 1649 they were defeated and scattered from Lake Superior to Quebec by the Iroquois; many of them were carried prisoners into the Iroquois country.  It was in 1680 that they formed their permanent settlement near Detroit.  They took sides with the French against the English and Iroquois, who were always, in historical times, their enemies, thought their language shows them to have been of common stock.  The Iroquois probably never had any permanent village in Michigan or immediately adjacent territory. (Parkman.)

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From Andreas 1883, page 608:

Nimecance, or Lightning, a son of old Kioscanee, served under Sinclair, on garrison duty, in the old fort at the mouth of Pine River.  Judge Bunce states that when he came to the county, this Indian was one hundred and five years old, five and a half feet high, energetic and capable of attending to his corn-field, four miles south of Black River, as well as to the chase.  Every New Year’s Day, he was accustomed to sail down the river in his large birchen canoe, on the bow of which he would fling the American colors to the breeze.  On such an occasion, he would don his gold-laced coat, beaded moccasins and leggins [sic], and all the ornaments in his possession.  Nimecance reached the age of one hundred and twelve years.  It is related that Kioscance was chief of the Otchipwes in their wars against the Wyandots and Six Nations.  In his expedition from Lake Superior to Lake Erie, his fleet was so extensive as to cover the St. Clair River from Fort St. Joseph, or Gratiot, to Walpole Island.  On his return from the lower lakes, he camped at Fort Gratiot, and afterward made the district his home.  Nicholas Plane, Sockscotowa, is a grandson of Nimecance, and chief of the Sarnia Indians.

Shignebeck, a brother of Nimecance, was one hundred and nine years old at the time of his death.  Mrs. Ogotig, a sister of the chief, lived to the age of one hundred and seven; old mother Rodd is said to have been one hundred and fourteen years old at the period of her death; Onsha, the third son of the chief of Kioscance, reached a very old age.  The Koscance, or Rapid Tribe, must be considered the first actual settlers of St. Clair County.  Previous to their coming, the Indian settlement was on the east bank of the river, about a mile northeast of the present village of Point Edward.

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A recommended article:  A Lost Chapter in Local History

Histories of Fort Gratiot and Port Huron Townships (including Marysville) from an 1876 Atlas

For reference purposes, the following word-for-word histories of Fort Gratiot Township and Port Huron Township (including Marysville) are provided here.  From the Combination Atlas Map of St. Clair County Michigan . . .  by Everts & Stewart, Philadelphia, 1876, pages XVII and XVIII.

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Fort Gratiot Township was organized as a township in the year 1866, with H. Stevens as the first Supervisor.  It is situated in the eastern part of the County, at the foot of Lake Huron.  It is a fractional township, and is designated Town 7 north, Range 17 east; it is bounded on the north by Burtchville, east by Lake Huron and St. Clair River, south by the city of Port Huron and Port Huron Township, and west by Clyde Township.  The surface of the country is mostly level, with some marsh land, and was originally timbered with pine and hemlock.  The soil is of a sandy nature, producing wheat, oats, hay, potatoes, and corn.  It is traversed by the Black River in the southwestern part.  T. Lymburner is the present Supervisor; and the population numbers one thousand three hundred and sixty-one.

Fort Gratiot, the principal village and post-office, is situated at the foot of Lake Huron, on the line of the Grand Trunk Railway, at the point where it crosses the St. Clair river, and contains a population of about eight hundred.

It is one mile north of the city of Port Huron, and sixty-three from Detroit, and derives its name from the fort of that name which is located here, on the site of the old French trading-post [this had been disputed and is not supported by the 1989 archaeological study of Fort Gratiot by Bruce Hawkins and Richard Stamps].  It is of importance as being the point where the traffic of the Grand Trunk Railway crosses the river, and contains one Methodist Episcopal church, a union schoolhouse, stores, hotel, express-office, and telegraph-office, and was settled as early as 1817, although the trading-post was established here many years prior to that date. This place is also of some notoriety as being the distributing-point for large numbers of emigrants who come direct from Portland [Maine, apparently].

Portion of page 32 of the atlas, showing the Fort Gratiot area.

Port Huron Township was originally known as Desmond, and was organized in 1828 (with J. Herrington as the first Supervisor), although the area embraced within these limits was settled many years prior.  It is reduced in size by the organization of other townships, and is fractional in its dimensions.  The city of Port Huron, within the original limits, now forms a distinct organization.

This township contains at present a population of one thousand and seven, and is designated Town 6 north, Range 17 east, and is bounded on the north by Fort Gratiot Township, east by the city of Port Huron and St. Clair River, south by St. Clair Township, and west by Kimball Township.  Its proximity to the St. Clair River and city of Port Huron makes it desirable as a place of residence.

This, like all the other portions of the County, was a timber region, in which pine, black ash, and hemlock abounded.

The characteristic feature of the soil is sandy, with considerable marsh land, producing corn and oats.

Among the pioneers of the township are Judge Z. W. Bunce, James M. Gill, B. Sturgis, S. Huling, A. F. Ashley, and James Young.  Judge Bunce located on the same place where he now resides (five miles south of Port Huron) in 1817, and has been prominently identified with the interests of the County ever since his settlement here.

The principal village post-office and shipping-point is Marysville (formerly Vicksburg), situated on the river St. Clair, in the extreme southeastern corner of the township, six miles south of Port Huron, and about the same distance from St. Clair.  It contains a population of about three hundred, and is the headquarters of the Mills’ Transportation Company, which is an extensive corporation.

Ship-building was formerly carried on at this point to a considerable extent, and it is a regular stopping-place for all river and lake boats, and has immediately in the village two large steam saw-mills, and two more closely by.

There is also a Methodist Episcopal church, a union school-house, store, hotel, and telegraph-office in the village.  The Chicago and Lake Huron Railroad, and the Grand Trunk Railway, both traverse the township, and the Black River touches the northeast corner.

There are many interesting facts connected with the early settlement of this section that will be treated in the history of Port Huron.

Portion of page 45 of the atlas, showing the layout of Vicksburg, now Marysville.

History of Port Huron from an 1876 Atlas

For reference purposes, the following word-for-word history of Port Huron (city) is provided here.  From the Combination Atlas Map of St. Clair County Michigan . . .  by Everts & Stewart, Philadelphia, 1876, page XVIII.

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In the year 1819, when the Hon. D. B. Harrington came to this place to make it his abiding place, nothing but a vast wilderness met the eye on every side.  The Chippewa tribe of Indians were the occupants of this region; and during the fishing and hunting season they congregated at the mouth of the Black River in large numbers; and their huts and wigwams dotted the shores for a long distance north and south.  There were at this time a few French families scattered around, whose names are mentioned in the early history of the County, and who at times were seriously annoyed by the Indians.  The propensity to steal was largely developed among them.

The first house ever built in Port Huron, or, as it was then called, Desmond, was located near the Hogan House, in Court Street, and was occupied by Anselm Petit.  The second building was occupied by a half-breed named John Riley, and was located on the site of William Stewart’s hardware store.  These two buildings comprised the village in 1819.  There were no inhabitants north of Fort Gratiot at that date, on the eastern slope of the lower peninsula, with the exception of three or four families scattered along the Black River and Mill Creek.  On the Canada side a wilderness prevailed, with nothing to indicate the presence of humanity except the wigwams of the Indians.

The village of Port Huron was originally in Desmond Township, embracing all that part of St. Clair county north of Township 5.

The first meeting held to effect its organization was at Fort Gratiot, on the first Monday in May, 1826, when the following officers were elected:  Martin Pickens, Supervisor; Jeremiah Harrington and Isaac Davis, Assessors; Morris McGarvey, Isaac Davis, and Richard Sansbury, Highway Commissioners; Reuben Dodge, Lewis Facer, and Francis Duchein, Constables.  The first village plat was made in 1835, by Mr. E. Petit, and was called Peru.  The next made was in the fall of 1835, by D. B. Harrington, and the lots sold by White & Harrington.

In 1837 the third piece of land was platted and sold by Major John Thorn, and called Paris.

The name of Port Huron is accredited to Mr. D. B. Harrington in 1835; and the projectors of the other village plats followed his example, and the whole assumed the name which it has since borne.

The first school-house erected was by Francis P. Browning, and was located on the west side of the park and north of Black River.  The first hotel built was of logs, in 1827, on Quay Street.

Early map of Port Huron showing the park west of which was built the first school. This early era area of Port Huron is now taken up by McMorran plaza and the community college.
Detail from the 1859 Geil map of Macomb and St. Clair counties.

In 1833 the road now known as Military Street was built, and a bridge erected across Black River.  In 1832, during the Black Hawk war, the citizens of Port Huron rendered effective service in palisading the fort.  John B. Phillips built the first steamboat at this place.

The village of Port Huron became a city under a charter obtained April 8, 1857, at which time the City Council met for the first time, W. L. Bancroft presiding as Mayor.  The city of Port Huron of to-day looms up grandly beside the little straggling hamlet that nestled on the shores of the St. Clair River forty years ago.  The natural advantages possessed by this place surpass by far those of any other section of the County, and it is only a question of time when this city shall take a prominent position among the first cities of the State in population and business interests.

It has a very large lake and river traffic, and the great railroad lines centering here bring a heavy trade to this point.

The Grand Trunk, and Chicago and Lake Huron Railroads on the Port Huron side, and the Great Western Railroad on the Sarnia side, give to it an air of busy importance.  For Gratiot is located on the northern limit of the city, and was occupied in 1814 by a detachment of United States regulars and militia, under Major Forsyth of the regular army.  Captain Gratiot was the engineer officer who built the first fort, and after whom it is named.  Its original cost was three hundred dollars.  In 1822 it was abandoned, and the buildings turned over to two Presbyterian missionaries named Hart and Hudson, who occupied them until 1828, when they were reoccupied by the Government, and the buildings and grounds were enlarged and strengthened.  The fort has since been occupied as a military post, with the exception of a period during the Mexican war and the war of the Rebellion [the Civil War].  The date of the first village organization is not clearly established, but from the most reliable information obtained, it was incorporated about the year 1842, and the first paper published was in 1835 or 1836, by D. B. Harrington, and was called the “Lake Huron Observer.”  The most important business interests here are the cutting of lumber and ship-building, furnishing employment to large numbers of men.

The marine interests of the city are large; many officers and sailors residing here with their families, and many vessels being owned here.  A large wholesale trade is also being rapidly developed with the country north and west, especially in the grocery and hardware lines.  This is the market for the produce of St. Clair, and large portions of Sanilac, Lapeer, and Macomb Counties.

The city has a population of eight thousand three hundred, and is rapidly increasing.  It is the County seat of St. Clair, and contains among its public buildings and enterprises three public or graded schools, two on the south side of Black River, and one on the north side; a very handsome structure occupying the site of the one burned in 1873, with two more contracted for, and to be speedily erected, one in the Fifth and the other in the Sixth Wards.  A new city hall and court-house, and engine-house on Water Street, a new custom-house of elegant design, Pine Grove Park, city cemetery, now water-works building, all owned by the city, except the custom-house, which is a Government building.  The fire department consists of one stream and one hand engine.  The water-works are of the Holly pattern, with four engines, having a pumping capacity of three million gallons per day.  The city is divided into six wards, with regularly laid out streets and fine side-walks, principally of wood.  There are street railways, and the city is well supplied with gas.

There are eight churches, two large iron bridges spanning the Black River, two lines of ferry-boats plying between Port Huron and Sarnia, Masonic, Odd-Fellow, Good Templar, and other lodges, besides stores, hotels, and shops in large numbers.  The United States Signal Service Bureau have also established a station here, and render excellent service to the shipping interests.

 

 

Petit Family Child Abducted by Indians Finds Family as Adult

By Vicki Priest (c) (All Rights Reserved)

This is an amazing tale of Edward Petit’s firstborn son,* which so far as I have seen from genealogies is unknown, and of crazy “coincidence.” It’s also an example for remembering that when, historically, folks report how many children they have or had, they usually only give the number that have survived past infancy or early childhood. In Edward’s case, Victoria Louise is said to be his oldest child and the child that is the subject of the article below was not in his will, for whatever reason. To me, anyway, there’s no reason to doubt the story. The only oddity I’ve noticed so far is that it took so long for the son to meet the father (the mother, Henriette Victoria Stevens, died in 1873, and the Civil War ended in 1865; Edward died in 1875, so the meeting must have occurred very shortly before Edward died). The article is reproduced as it was posted in The Times Herald, May 16, 1891 (page 6), and includes historically important information beyond the story of Henry.

None of these men is Henry, but his brother Marshal is shown standing on the right. From George Smith’s book “A History of Port Huron in Pictures” (1971, page 30). An 1890 date is given to the photo. The other fellows are (L to R) Lewis Atkins, William Bottomby, and Jacob Jacobi.

Romance of an Abduction (Indianapolis Journal)” [no date is provided for the reprinted piece]

There is a barber named Henry Petit who has a rare tale of adventure to tell concerning himself, of how he was stolen when four years old by the Indians, and how he finally found his father. Petit was born in 1838 at the Indian trading post near Port Huron, Michigan, where his father had an exchange store and was patronized by the Indians.

In 1842 Turkey Foot, chief of the Black Creek Indians, got into a difficulty with the father of Petit, claiming that he had given him a “wildcat” dollar in making change. This was denied by Petit, who would not take back the money. The Indian went away mad, and vowing that he would get even. The Indians about this time sold their lands about port Huron, and were being removed to a reservation near the present city of Sandusky. This Indian at once executed a plan to get revenge on Petit.

The night before Turkey Foot left he stole the boy in this manner: He found out that Petit was not at home one night, and he entered the house about midnight. Walking lightly across the floor he jerked the sleeping babe from the arms of the mother, who awoke in alarm only to find that her baby was gone. A diligent search failed to find a trace of the missing boy, and he was given up as dead. The Indian took the lad, now four years old, to Ohio, where an old squaw took charge of him.

There was a white man with the tribe named Timothy Crocker, whom the Indians sent back to Port Huron to tell Petit that his boy died in Canada. Thus the parents were made to believe that their boy was dead. The lad lived with the Indians until 11 years old, when a man named Howser, of Williamsport, Pa., who was among these Indians, bought the boy for a small consideration and took him back to his home. The boy there learned the barbers’ trade, but as to where the Indians got him he could not remember. He was sent to school at Republic, O., where he received a license to teach. He was there going by the name of Timothy Crocker, and in 1855 he was married to Miss Catherine Eckert, who lived at Delphi, Indiana where he purchased a barber shop.

When the war commenced he enlisted in the Ninth Indiana infantry. While this regiment was with Sherman in the “march to the sea” and in Alabama, “Crocker” was approached by a man who asked him his name. “Crocker” told him, and the man denited it, saying that he was the very counterpart of a Mr. Petit, at Port Huron, Mich.; that he must be the missing son, long since supposed to be dead. The stranger took the name of the town where “Crocker” lived, and told him that when the war closed proof would be presented showing that “Timothy Crocker” was Henry Petit, the son of Edward Petit.

After the war “Crocker” settled at Westville, near La Porte, where he soon heard from the mysterious person who had told him such a strange story while in the army. This was soon followed by a telegram from Edward Petit, of Port Huron, saying, “Come at once and lose no time.” “Crocker” went hardly knowing what to think would be the outcome of the trip. He arrived at Port Huron, and upon stepping from the train he met his father face to face—two men almost the exact image of each other. There could be no mistaking the fact that one was the father and the other the son. The mother had died many years before. [The End]

* Edit of January 15, 2018:  Actually, Edward F., born and died in 1837 (Lakeside Cemetery, Port Huron), is very probably Edward and Victoria’s first-born child.  He has Edward’s name, just as the first girl born to them has her mother’s and grandmother’s name–Louise/Louisa Victoria (b. 1841).  A news entry from when Victoria died in 1873 says that she and Edward had 10 children, but only 4 were still living at the time.  These would’ve been Louise, Marshal (1849-1939), Franklin (1855-1910), and John/Jean B. (1857-1917).  There was a Basil born to them in 1855, and now we know about Henry (b. 1838) (and Edward F., b. 1837), leaving three more that are unknown; the gaps in births are between 1842 and 1848, and 1850-1854.

 

 

 

On deciphering fact from family folklore, or “Who was Anselm Petit, really?”

By Vicki Priest (c) 2018 (all rights reserved)

Often, researchers delving into the past of a particular person, family, or property, might find the record sadly sparse, and so when some tidbit of published information is found, pounce on it as if it was a tempura shrimp dinner. The problem comes about when it’s swallowed whole. Who doesn’t want to believe what someone has said about themselves or others, especially when it comes to the census or personal diaries or letters? It seems that in the case of the pioneering Petit family, story-telling was important to some of them and people like newspaper editors didn’t seem to want to question things; we don’t have access to any early family documents and can only investigate various published sources. The Petits were the first permanent settlers in what was to become Port Huron and Anselm’s son’s house is still standing—the same son who created the first plat of Port Huron and the same house where both of them died. Because of their importance, I’m going to present here an exercise in the consideration of various “facts” about Anselm (and a bit on his son Edward) Petit as they have been published in various sources.

Some background is necessary first, however, for the separation of lore and evidence to have context. Anselm Petit (1776-~1862), a French-speaking Canadian, is known as the first non-native (so, “white,” as the record so often points out) to settle in what was to become Port Huron. This happened in the late-1700s. He married Angelique (or Angelica) Campau, of Detroit, in 1804. They had at least 8 children, though not all survived to adulthood. Their son Edward is written about so much that one would think there were no other children, and he is sometimes said to be the oldest son, yet he was not.i Edward’s claim to be the first “white child” born in the area never seems to be questioned in newspaper articles relating to him, even though two others were born here before him (Miss Causely/Mrs. James Brandimore in 1802, and a son of Jean Baptiste Deschamps, in 1805, who is recorded as living in Port Huron in 1824. Of course, “half-breeds” are never counted.).ii

1818 survey map of the (future) Port Huron area. Anselm’s land is the almost 20 acre area indicated by the arrow.

Winston Churchill is quoted as saying that “history is written by the victors,” and “to the victor go the spoils” is a common saying. While more scholarly histories of the area have more accurate accounts (as referenced here), the stories given in the newspapers, reflecting what is passed on by those remaining (the “victors”) in Port Huron (as opposed to others who moved or died), are what has been reprinted in more popular publications and what is often retold by residents. Other sources have Denis Causely living here prior to 1790, and Brandamour/Brandimore coming second. This is the stuff for a future article. In any case, what year Edward was born—1812 vs 1813—is important not in relation to birth disputes among the light-skinned population, but in how it relates to the family’s activities during the War of 1812.

While Anselm came to own the land he settled on in Port Huron,iii it was Edward who platted it in 1835, calling it the village of Peru. Despite the family’s apparent delight in stories, no one ever learned why in the world Edward called the village “Peru.” Edward’s own children and grandchildren somehow never learned why that name was chosen (or else they kept it secret), yet had all kinds of tales about Anselm. As well to consider concerning the veracity of Petit family lore: William Jenks, who published a history of St. Clair County in 1912 and who even lived in the same city (Port Huron) at the same time as some of Anselm’s grandchildren, was unable to squeeze the Peru name meaning out of any of them. That Jenks both published Edward’s birth year as different than what the family saidiv and left out other seemingly fanciful claims made by the family, and that none of the Petits included a biographical entry in Jenks’ history, may be indicative of “factual issues.”

It is definitely unfortunate that the Petits did not include a biographical sketch of Anselm and Angelique in either of the published histories here (1883 or 1912).v The family even had a “Petit Block” (business building) early on, just like other business men, yet sources reviewed so far do not mention it and it’s not called out in the city directories. In the earliest directory (1870/1871) we find that Edward’s office is “over 17 Military” and Marshall, his son, is a produce dealer in the basement (Edward’s land, where his house still stands at 1426 Griswold, was known as the Petit Farm). From ads we know the building was brick, on Military near the bridge, was “opposite [the] new city opera house,” and had offices leased to attorneys and surgeons (The Times Herald, April 20, 1875, p 3). An ad from 1888vi has this building’s new address as 914 Military, which—amazingly—is still standing!

Anselm: Fact vs Fiction

Let’s start with an old newspaper article published by a granddaughter (Louise Petit Smith, oldest daughter of Edward, and with the help of Amelia Petit Probett) (The Times Herald, March 19, 1921, p 6). It is an example (or comedy) of errors, or at least conflicts in the record, of Anselm’s early life. I don’t mean to be overly critical of Anselm’s descendants. This is probably typical of at least some families’ historical recollections and I would hope that Anselm himself would get a good laugh out of it all. If we use our imaginations a bit more we could use family lore regarding Anselm as a base for a “Paul Bunyan” of our very own, and by doing so not only have some creative fun, but possibly draw out proof about this family that someone may have stashed in a drawer somewhere.

The article includes these claims:

  1. Anselm (spelled Ansolem in this article, but nowhere else) was born in 1764 in France and came to Canada with his parents shortly thereafter. However, based on the parish records of Cap Sante in Quebec, Anselm was born there in 1776. His father Nicolas/Nicholas was also born there, and not in France. It was his great great grandfather Charles who immigrated to Canada from Roen, France. He had only one son, Nicolas, born in 1674. According to one online genealogical source, Anselm’s father immigrated to Detroit in 1774 and apparently went back and forth between the Detroit area and Quebec until his death in 1794.vii If this is true, the people in those days were hardy travelers!
  2. Anselm had been a medical student for awhile before joining the Hudson Bay Fur Co. There is no evidence of Anselm ever being a medical student, and one wonders how he could have fit this in when he had traveled to Detroit prior to 1794, perhaps even prior to 1790, when he would have been only 14. (To Louise and Amelia’s credit, if they thought Anselm was born in 1764 this would have seemed more plausible.) His connection, if any, with the Hudson Bay Fur Co. is not otherwise known, but working away from home as a teen would not have been unusual for that time.
  3. During the War of 1812 Anselm left his family in the wilderness and through government employ—because he was a master ship builder—helped build Captain Perry’s ships that won the Battle of Lake Erie. He is also said to have been “aboard of [sic] the Detroit at the time of Perry’s victory.” This is all too much, as one wonders how he managed to fit in the time to become a master ship builder, and why (or how, being in an enemy-held city) he would have gone to Erie Pennsylvania to help build Perry’s ships (most or all of the ship-building crews were from New York and Philadelphia), and why being on board the British HMS Detroit would’ve been a good thing! (Perry was victorious while commanding the Niagara.)viii
  4. After the events above, Anselm traveled back to Quebec to retrieve an inheritance but lost most of it on the way back due to a “clever scheme of a stranger.” After all that, THEN they returned to Port Huron following the war. The sad inheritance event may be true, and certainly the family came back to Port Huron after the war. There is just the discrepancy of leaving the family in the wilderness (3) but then coming back from Detroit.
  5. His mother had a dangerous encounter with Indians after her twins had died and while Anselm was away, with the result of Angelique’s hair turning white all at once. None of that story seems to be true, as Anselm and Angelique never had twins. This story has been reprinted in the paper many times, and columnist Dorothy Mitts repeated it in her book of articles.ix
  6. His mother was the daughter of Barnabas Campau and relates some information about that family, but Angelique was a daughter of Simon Campau and Veronica Bourdeau (see note v).

Whew! What we don’t have in the newspaper account is what Anselm actually did for a living after he got married. That is, for most of his life. I suppose that might’ve been too boring! Without writing a whole history of early St. Clair County and Port Huron, which could take up a lot of space, we’ll consider what Anselm may have done with his time, which also may help explain why he chose to settle where he did.

Anselm and Early Settlement

A group of French-speakers came here in about 1790 or so, and Anselm is said to be among them, or he may have arrived a little later (by 1794). Mrs. Farrand in her 1872 talkx said that the group came to the area with their families for the purpose of making a settlement. Andreas (1883, p 262) referred to it as a “courier settlement” (coureurs traded goods for furs with the Indians, although there were also coureurs of wood), writing that “Denis Causlet and Peter Brandemour, settled at the mouth of Black River previous to 1790. Anselm Petit, Francois Lariviere, Baptiste Levias, J. B. Duchesne, Michel Jervais, J. B. Courncais, and Peter Monreaux, located in this vicinity previous to 1794.” Pierre Brandimore (Brandemour) testified in 1821 that he took possession of what became known as the Campau tract along the south side of Black River in 1791, having cleared and fenced two acres of it.xi Whichever the year (and for whatever reason), Anselm came to the area when he was only 14 to 18 years of age (his birth year of 1776 is confirmed), and is claimed to be the first “permanent settler” since he is remembered for having built a home more permanent than “shanty.”

Why did Anselm settle here? It was a complete wilderness, and with much Native American activity. Anselm’s indian name was Ciscesit, meaning “cut feet,” which tells us that the dangers from general pioneer living could perhaps be higher than from the natives themselves (Anselm was given that name by his native neighbors because he had some toes amputated due to frostbite).xii Besides the claim from his granddaughter, some have said that Anselm was a fur trader. However, Edward, as a teenager, was actually working as an indian trader for others and not his own father.xiii So, if Anselm ever did participate in fur trading as a business endeavor, it would seem odd for him to be still involved in it while his own son worked for others doing the same thing. He farmed, as early and prominent settler Judge Bunce recalled seeing Anselm “plowing wheat with a bull and a horse side by side.”xiv The first tax assessment occurred in 1821, when the county was formed, and Anselm was assessed only for one horse, two cows, and some house furniture (he was not assessed for either wild or improved land), perhaps because he hadn’t received the patent yet for the land.xv

Reverend O. C. Thompson wrote that several french-speaking families settled at the mouth of the Black River (then La Riviere Delude), where they were permitted by the Indians to build shanties and cultivate the land. This appears to be a description of the land Anselm came to own. It was this group of early french-speakers that named the area Desmond, but also called it by the river’s name, La Riviere Delude.xvi So, according to this author, the settlers did the typical settler thing: farmed. Port Huron (and other parts of St. Clair County) was an early lumber milling area and it wouldn’t be surprising if Anselm at one point or another, in one way or another, was involved in the timber industry, especially since one of his co-settlers (Michel Jervais/Gervais) built a mill upstream at Indian Creek (according to Jenks, page 365, this mill was built in 1800 or a little earlier).xvii

Looking at land claims awarded by the US government before and after the county land was surveyed (most in 1818), and the summaries of testimonies given for such awards, one can see that it is likely that Anselm had relatives that were active in the region early on. The following are (only the) Petit-related claims and testimony.xviii (It is unknown as to why Anselm himself did not go before a land board in order to receive his land for free from the U.S. government, having instead paid for it later.)

Portion of the 1818 survey of township 3 north, range 16 east, indicating claim 206 awarded to A. N. Petit. Online at the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office documents.

A. N. Petit lived on claim No. 167 “before and after 1796” (until he sold it to the awarded claimant, Joseph Rowe); Antoine N. Petit rented the land of claim No. 192 from Meldrum & Park “previous to 1796”; Antoine Nicholas Petit was awarded claim No. 206, which he had purchased from the previous settler in 1807 (this is in Cottrellville Township, somewhat north of Robert’s Landing); Louis Petit was awarded claim No. 175, which he had purchased from the previous settler in 1797; Jean Baptiste Petit was awarded claim No. 505, which he had purchased at some point from a previous settler (someone referred to, perhaps mistakenly, as “Louis Petit Clair” owned it for a short time previous to this); prior to 1797 an M. Petit tenanted the land (claim No. 539) owned by Meldrum & Park. M. Petit seems to have worked for Meldrum & Park since Farrand said he built the second saw mill in the Port Huron area for that Detroit-based partnership (many of their other “employees” were slaves).xix

As noted, Antoine Nicholas’ claim of 206 was downriver from Port Huron, and it was sandwiched in amongst many other such claims in that area. Perhaps when Farrand stated that the settlers “came up the river in canoes,” it was more specifically from this area that they came rather than Detroit (and as mentioned in endnote i, Anselm Jr is buried in Cottrellville). Of the Petit claims listed above, only A. Nicholas’, Anselm’s, and Edward’s (for the area where he built his house along Griswold Street in Port Huron), are within the online database (of St. Clair County) of the General Land Office Records.xx

Anselm and the War of 1812

For most people, the events of the War of 1812 are probably pretty murky, but the war figures prominently in Anselm’s life and the in the history of the Port Huron area. We already read of some of what Anselm’s descendants wrote of his War of 1812 exploits, most of which seem closer to fiction than fact. If only we knew what it was really like for the settlers here at that time regarding their relations with the natives. Tensions were building in the territory as natives saw more and more settlers coming in, taking their lands. Natives did sell their lands to settlers, as they did in this county with the earliest of those that came in, but later agreements in the wide territory often were made in corrupt fashion and/or most Indians were upset over not being represented. Many in the U. S. believed the British were fomenting the natives against the Americans, and so this growing problem was one of the reasons for the war.

The war began on June 18, 1812 and Detroit was taken by the British on August 16, 1812. The Battle of Lake Erie was won by the U.S. on September 10, 1813 and Detroit re-occupied by Americans after the British burned the public buildings and left on September 26th. Our capital was burned by the British in August 1814, but we came out victorious in the end (not because we were so great, but because Britain had to focus on Napoleon) and the Treaty of Ghent was signed at the end of December. Fort Mackinac was not relinquished until later in 1815, however.xxi

So what happened with Anselm and the others during this conflict? The story goes that a friendly native woman warned them of upcoming hostilities, so Anselm and the others left. All accounts say, too, that they left a few months after Edward was born. So while Edward and his family always passed on that 1813 as his birth year, it doesn’t make much sense in the light of historic events. It is more likely that he was born in 1812 (February 7), and that the family fled to Detroit around the time the war started. We know that the family had been living in a log home at this time since Edward was born in their log house. The family had also reported that that same home had been burned down by the Indians,xxii so it seems reasonable to guess that it was during the war and their absence that it was thus destroyed. In any case, Angelique, at least, still had family in Detroit so it probably wouldn’t have been too strange or difficult for them to live there for awhile. As stated earlier, it seems doubtful that Anselm was a master shipbuilder and that he was part of Perry’s shipbuilding team. Americans or American sympathizers were most likely not free to move about while the British controlled the city.

But did the Petits run back home as soon as they could, after Detroit came under control of the Americans again in September or October, 1813? Maybe, but the natives were still a danger along the St. Clair River at this time. It’s been passed down that Anselm helped build Fort Gratiot, and since it was built with a large crew of French speakers from Detroit,xxiii it would seem likely that he was among them. He was from the area, after all, and doing this task would’ve put him in a position to decide whether or not it was safe to bring his wife and small children back to the area. Having the fort built and garrisoned would’ve made the place safer, too (seemingly, anyway). The fort’s location had been decided in May 1814 and so it was built after that.xxiv So if Anselm didn’t linger in Detroit after it was built, he may have moved back to Port Huron in the fall of 1814. But then again, with winter coming on and having no produce from farming or anything else while he was gone, and perhaps not even having a house, they may have stayed in Detroit until the spring of the next year. According to the history printed in the 1873 city directory, “During the war of 1812, the settlers were obliged to leave their homes, but they returned in 1815 with reinforcements, and again took possession of their homes” (p 11).

Maybe this is entirely true, maybe it is not. What is less likely to have transpired, however, is the shortened history of events relating to the Petit family during the War of 1812 that one senses after reading much that is in print about this subject. They probably did not leave for Detroit in 1813, but earlier, and they probably did not return to their land at the mouth of Black River soon after Detroit was regained; Anselm probably did not help build Fort Gratiot after he was back living there, but probably when he came with the other French hired from Detroit to do it. The shortened scenario would have Anselm gone for maybe a year-and-a-half. This is a long time to be away from home, yes. But it is more likely that he was gone from at least June 1812 to perhaps sometime in 1815, which is about three years.  One item that could prove that they were back in Port Huron earlier than 1815 is the time and place of the birth of their son David.  If he was really born in Port Huron, in the year 1814, then that would settle one end of the matter.  This article will be updated if more such evidence is found.

If you enjoy reading about Port Huron’s past, I hope you found this a fun and informative read. Many sources were used and stacked against one another to try and discern an accurate picture of Anselm Petit and his times. Not all of my research is presented here, however, and there are more sources of information out there. Reading about all the things that Anselm supposedly learned and did put a smile on my face, but it’s saddening that the harsh life of settlers and all the hard but “ordinary” work they did seems to have been dismissed and forgotten.

Endnotes

i Even Farrand (see note vii) wrote this; did her family informants really forget Anselm Jr?? The children were: Veronica (b 1805), Anselm (b 1807), and Francis (b 1809), who were all born in Detroit (Anselm and Angelique traveled there specifically for the births of their children), while Edward (b 1812), David (b 1814), Madeline (b 1819), Simon (b 1820), and John (b 1825), were born in Port Huron—except for John, who was born in Disco, Macomb County. Very sadly, Anselm (Jr) died in 1834 of Cholera (buried in Cottrellville), shortly after his marriage to Emily Gervais.

ii Jenks, William Lee, St. Clair County, Michigan; Its History and Its People (2 vol.s) (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1912), pp 140-141. Andreas has a Mrs. Peter Brandamour as being born March 10, 1803 (p 494).

iii While no one doubts he was living on the land earlier, the government patent was not granted to Anselm until April 1st, 1825.

iv Reverend C. Denissen and H. F. Powell, in Genealogy of the French Families of the Detroit River Regions 1701-1911 (2 vol.s) (Detroit: Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, 1976), also give the year 1812 and not 1813 (as reported by William Doyle in his 1986 booklet (Port Huron: Acorn Press) An American Pioneer: The Story of Early Port Huron and its First Settler.

v Jenks (1912), and History of St. Clair County, Michigan (Chicago: A. T. Andreas & Co., 1883). While there is a time gap between these two histories, they still would both have solicited funds for the costs of making the publications through paid biographical entries.

vi Jacob Jacobi clothing is listed in the prior year at 17 Military, and being across from the Opera House. Not long afterwards, Jacobi is found in a different location on Huron Ave. The Times Herald, June 6, 1888, p 1.

vii http://www.geni.com, Nicolas Petit page, managed by Nancy Ann Frantz and others (accessed January 1, 2018). Jenks (1912) had stated as such in his history, but Doyle (1986) provided a detailed assessment of the Campau family issue, based on Denissen (above).

viii Denys Knoll, Battle of Lake Erie: Building the Fleet in the Wilderness (Naval Historical Foundation Publications, Spring 1979) http://www.navyhistory.org/battle-of-lake-erie-building-the-fleet-in-the-wilderness/

ix Dorothy Mitts, That Noble Country (Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1968), pp 75-77. Doyle (1986) discusses in detail how this story cannot be true.

x Farrand, Mrs. B. C., “A Historical Paper Prepared by Mr.s B. C. Farrand, of this City, for the Pioneer Society of Detroit” (Port Huron Daily Times, June 17, 1872).

xi Jenks (1912) p 76; this 612 acre claim, at the north end of the Chippewa Indian Reservation, included about 1/3 of the reservation. Another pre-1794 settler on record was Pierre Lovielle, who had a house and farm close to Fort Gratiot beginning 1792. This land area was smaller than Brandimore’s and was directly across from it along the Black River, but also had water front along the St. Clair River at its northeast end. Part of Fort Gratiot was actually within this claim, and in any case, the US Government simply had taken it over as part of its military reservation (Plat MI 190060N0170E0 online, Bureau of Land Management).

xii Andreas (1883). p 265.

xiii Farrand (1872) reported that he had worked for Gurdon (Gordon?) and Ephraim Williams.

xiv Andreas (1883), p 271.

xv Jenks (1912), pp 132, 135.

xvi Andreas (1883) p 496. According to Farrand, it was more commonly known by the river name.

xvii Sadly, this creek, also called Jervais or Gervais Creek, has long since been plowed over. The same is true for Baby, or Bunce Creek (Marysville), where the earliest saw mills in the county had been built and operated (see Jenks, 1912, pp 362-374 for a history of early St. Clair County saw mills).

xviii The Denissen book is online at the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research—if you’re a member. Queries for volunteer help are made through their Ancestry board, which one also has to be a member of. Donations to PHAHPA would allow us to have memberships in order to access more research materials.

xix Andreas (1883), pp 222, 227, 228, 230-231. Jenks (1912), p 74.

xx Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/search/ . . .).

xxi Willis Frederick Dunbar, Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1965), and Rober L. Rosentreter, Michigan: A History of Explorers, Entrepreneurs, and Everyday People (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014).

xxii “Death Ends Community Service of M. N. Petit,” The Times Herald, May 15, 1939, pp 1-2.

xxiii Bruce Hawkins and Richard Stamps, Odyssey Research Monographs (Vol. II, No. 1): Report of the Preliminary Excavations at Fort Gratiot (1814-1879) in Port Huron, Michigan (Oakland University, 1989), p 14.

xxiv William Jenks, “Fort Gratiot and Its Builder Gen. Charles Gratiot,” Michigan History Magazine (Vol. IV, No. 1), January 1920, pp 141-155).

Beloved Community Leader, Stanley McFarland

After spending some time researching people from the past, it would be hard not to notice how some people are remembered fondly at passing, and others not so much. Some well-known people in the community get their obligatory obituaries, tersely written, while others get a long and detailed one, splashed with kind words and compliments; and, memorials besides the obituary are found.*

Stanley McFarland (The Times Herald, February 24, 1940, page one).

A case in point is that of Stanley McFarland, 1879-1940. One could say he was a beautiful man who led a beautiful life; I say that he appears to have been a rare, super-fine human being. The following information is from his obituary in The Times Herald (February 24, 1940, pages 1 and 5). Following that, two memorials that anyone would be proud of are quoted in full; please read them to learn more about this example of a man.

Stanley was 60 when he died, having been laid low by a virulent infection that had started in his ear; apparently surgery made it worse. He had come to live in old Fort Gratiot as a boy when his parents, John and Catherine McFarland, moved here from Ontario (Port Hope), Canada. He grew to be 6’4” and was an “outstanding” athlete, being “an exceptionally good tennis player.” He was a director of the YMCA for some years. Stanley was known for an extraordinary mathematical ability, where “he could add large columns of figures in his head more rapidly than other clerks could do by using the adding machines. His answers to mathematical problems were always found to be accurate.” But he wasn’t just brilliant at adding numbers. He was highly regarded for his ability to analyze whole and difficult financial reports and regurgitating them in an easily understood way to others. He seemed pretty brilliant and inquisitive in general, as he traveled by car throughout the country, delighting in learning all about different areas. Continue reading