Reminiscences of the early 1800's in St. Clair County including
Harsens Island and Clay Township. These memoirs include
stories of early pioneers of St. Clair County and some of their adventures during the war of 1812.
Written in 1876
Published in the
Marine City Gazette, The Pioneer Society Minutes and the
History of St. Clair County by A.T. Andreas & Co. 1883
Republished and indexed
Robert, Susan and Starr Williams
in Honor of
Harvey Stewart and Aura P. Stewart
The Dedication of the Michigan Historical Marker
2007 Stewart Road
Harsens Island, Michigan, USA
May 30, 2004
"I was born in the town of Canandaigua, in the State of New York, on the 20th day of May, A. D. 1804. At the time of my birth, my father had charge of a large distillery and brewery owned by Mr. Dewey, a merchant of Canandaigua, who failed, by which my father lost $600, and was thrown out of business for several months. In 1805, my father established his business of distilling and brewing on what was called Mud Creek, in the town of Bristol, adjoining Canandaigua. At the birth of my brother, John H. Stewart, my mother began to decline, and her illness increasing, died in the month of May, 1810. At this time there was much talk about the new Territory of Michigan, and from the favorable reports secured, my father was determined to see the new Territory and seek in it a home. Accordingly he set about the settlement of his business, and in the latter part of November, 1810, he shouldered his pack containing his clothes, accompanied by a brother, and took his journey for Michigan. On arriving at Buffalo he learned that on account of the lateness of the season, there were no vessels bound for Detroit; that the few vessels then navigating our lakes had gone into winter quarters and laid up. On this information my father and his brother determined to travel on foot through the then wilderness of Canada, and crossing the river at Black Rock, our travelers entered upon their long tedious journey. At this time the weather was warm for the season; much rain had fallen, rendering the roads, which were mere pathways, almost impassable. After traveling two days, father and his brother came to a tavern kept in two large log buildings joined together; the landlord was at work chopping down some heavy timber for the purpose of enlarging his farm. Our travelers rested the following day, during which they engaged to assist the landlord at his chopping for a small compensation and board for a week or more, hoping within that time a change of weather would freeze up the mud and make the roads more passable.
At the expiration of ten days, the weather became cold, and the mud in the roads was frozen, and our travelers pursued their westward journey. After several days' travel, in which my father and his brother suffered much inconvenience in obtaining food and lodging, they came to the border of what was in those days called Long Woods; the distance through this dense and dreary forest was twenty miles or more. Here night overtook them, and our travelers sought lodgings at a log cabin, and were refused by the woman of the house, on account of the absence of her husband. The weather was at this time extremely cold, and there being no other place where lodgings could be found within ten miles, the woman finally consented to their remaining over night. She could furnish neither bed nor supper, and to keep warm our travelers filled the fire-place full of wood, placed their packs under their heads and laid down on the bare floor to rest for the night. At the dawn of day the next morning, our travelers shouldered their packs, knowing that they could get no refreshments until they reached Ward=s Station, ten miles distant, where was kept a house of entertainment for travelers at about the middle of the Long Woods. My father had not traveled many miles before he became faint from hunger, but fortunately he found in the road a valise, on opening which he found a lunch of boiled beef, biscuit and cheese. This was a treasure to our travelers, most timely and unexpected, and they sought a resting place on a log and refreshed themselves with the contents of the valise. On reaching Ward's Station, our travelers concluded to remain over night, and secure the whole of the next day to accomplish the remaining ten miles of that dreary forest. The next morning, our travelers, after partaking of a hearty breakfast, pushed forward with a determination to accomplish the remaining ten miles as soon as possible, which they did in good time, and were glad to find that the remaining part of the journey led through a settled district. On arriving at Moravian Town, my father fell in with a chap by the name of Ransom, a Connecticut Yankee, as he was called by the Canadians, who had been a resident of that place for a long time; he had built a grist-mill, saw-mill, and had a large farm under cultivation: he was the principal business man of the place.
He appeared extremely glad to meet my father; told him that he had but recently entered into a contract with a Mr. McGregor, of Windsor, to furnish the timber for masts and spars and finishing lumber to be used in the construction or building of the British fleet intended to command our lakes; Mr. McGregor being the first contractor with the British Government. My father entered into contract with the said Ransom to select and hew the timber in the woods to fill the contract, Ransom to haul it to the bank of the River Thames for inspection. This was the winter of 1811, and in the month of April the timber and lumber were placed on the bank of the River Thames, ready for inspection and rafting. Ransom was in the habit, once in a while, of drinking spirituous liquors to excess, and was so well pleased to have his contract filled and accepted by the agent of the British Government that he went on a big spree, became deranged, cut his throat, and died before he paid my father for his labor. The timber and lumber were to be delivered by Ransom at Malden. Mr. McGregor being the first contractor, came up and took the timber as it lay on the banks of the Thames and contracted with my father to raft and deliver it at Malden. After floating the timber down the Thames, it was put into strong cribs to be taken through Lake St. Clair. At that day the manner of rafting timber and lumber through Lake St. Clair from the Thames was to tow it along the lake shore with ox or horse teams, unless the wind was fair to force it forward. After many days' toil in this manner the raft entered the Detroit River, and when below Hog Island, a violent gale of wind sprang up which broke the raft and landed it on the American side of the river; it was seized by Mr. Watson, the custom house officer at Detroit, and he and other parties, knowing that the contents of the raft were to be used in completing the British fleet, then in process of building at Malden, sought opportunity to have the lumber and timber confiscated to the American Government, but my father, faithful the trusts reposed in him, avoided all traps set for him. He had the case brought into the United States District Court, and there a decision was had restoring to him the timber and lumber. After the decision of the court, my father collected the timber and lumber together and delivered it at Malden, for which Mr. McGregor paid him very liberally, and promised to assist him in getting his pay from the estate of Ransom; this he could most easily do, as he had been appointed administrator of the estate of Ransom. While in Detroit my father became acquainted with the firm of Mack & Miller, who owned a distillery on Harsen's Island, in the county of St. Clair, who wished him to make up a quantity of grain they had in store into whisky; but before doing so he visited Mr. McGregor and leased the Ransom farm for one year, together with the team and farming implements, and sent his brother up to take charge of the farm and put in a crop, which he did, sowing that season twenty acres of wheat and rye. My father, after three months, finished his engagement with Mack & Miller and returned to the Thames, and spent the balance of the summer and the following winter in distilling for Matthew Dalson and Esquire Jacobs. In the month of May, 1812, my father returned to the State of New York to visit his boys, whom he had left in the charge of their grandmother, at the town of West Bloomfield, Ontario County, and I can well remember with what gladness parent and sons met.
After a visit of two weeks, my father returned to Michigan, and at the proper time, went up to the Thames, and himself, his brother and five hired men entered the harvest field, and were progressing finely in securing the grain. At this time Tecumseh was, with a band of his Indian warriors, stationed a few miles above where my father was at work with his men. Previous to this, war had broken out between England and the United States; and my father had consulted Esquire Jacobs about his remaining in Canada long enough to secure his grain, and settle some other business matters, and was informed that he could; and as his office was civil and military, he would protect him. Esquire Jacobs was a very prominent and influential man, and under his protection my father felt safe. But some envious and loyal person had informed Tecumseh that seven Americans were at work in a field some distance below and urged their capture. Tecumseh's feelings being hostile to all Americans, he sent sixteen of his band, all mounted on horses, to take my father and his men prisoners; but fortunately a friend of my father's, on learning that Tecumseh was about to send a band of his warriors, mounted his horse and ran him to the field where my father was at work, and gave timely notice. The messenger told my father that he must leave the field instantly or he would be prisoner within ten minutes. My father expressed a wish to go to the other side of the field to get his coat, as it contained his pocketbook, papers, and all of his money; but his friend insisted that it would not be safe to do so, and he and his men rushed to the river, jumped into a canoe and rowed down as fast as possible for about a mile, when my father jumped on shore at his boarding house to get his clothes. He had just entered the house when the band of Indians came up; on seeing them, the lady of the house requested my father to jump down into the cellar, which he thought not safe to do, if the house was searched; he jumped through the window and entered the harvest field where her husband was at work, and went to work with the other men. The Indians were told that there were seven men in the field, and when they saw the six men in the canoe, they hesitated, giving them time to cross the river and enter the woods. They found lodgings that night at a French house near the mouth of the Thames, and the next day took the road leading to the River St. Clair, and crossing over at Harsen's Island, hired a friendly Indian to take them across to Clinton River, when they followed the road bordering Lake St. Clair and so safely reached Detroit.
My father, being separated from his comrades, found many kind and sympathizing friends. He was furnished with a wallet filled with provisions, and a boy by the name of Putnam gave him a large cavalry pistol with powder and ball. With these supplies, my father entered the woods, traveling on a line with the road. It was late in the afternoon when my father entered the woods, and when night came he was forced to climb a small tree to protect him from the wolves, who came so near he could hear them snap their teeth. At the dawn of day the wolves left, and father descended from the tree, took the road, which he safely traveled, reached Windsor, crossed the river and entered the city of Detroit. It was a happy greeting when the seven men met in Detroit; his companions supposed that father had been taken prisoner.
The boy Putnam when grown to manhood became Col. Putnam, who joined the Canadian patriots and was killed at the battle of Windsor, at the patriot invasion in 1832.
My father remained in Detroit and witnessed its shameful surrender by Gov. Hull. He gave me a description of that scene, and of the appearance and conduct of Gov. Hull on that day. It was fashionable in those days for gentlemen to wear ruffled bosoms and white cravats; the Governor had besmeared his with tobacco spittle in his excitement and fright. At that time there was a lawyer by the name of Brush residing in Detroit, who was believed to be a traitor and unfriendly to the American cause, and who had a controlling influence over Gov. Hull. It was believed by the citizens of Detroit, capable of judging, that Brush had secretly consorted with Gen. Brock and advised the manner of attack. It was known to many of the most prominent men of Detroit, that Brush had advised the surrender of Detroit, and argued the impossibility of successfully defending it; that he was Hull's adviser, and his influence over him great. There was one thing noticeable, that when Brock had arrived within musket range, he halted, and stood regarding the American force, and their ability to oppose him, as if in doubt whether he was not leading his men into a trap.
I have listened to Judge William Conner, of Mt. Clemens, while discussing the conduct of Hull and Brush in the surrender of Detroit, and they gave it as their opinion, supported by the best men of Detroit, that the cause of its surrender was cowardice on the part of Hull, and treachery on the part of Brush.
Detroit, after its surrender, was put under the command of Maj. Mulir of the British Army; he was a perfect gentleman, and treated the citizens with kindness and respect. The British had collected together about fifteen hundred wild Indians; some of them were Pottawatomies, but they were mostly from Mackinaw, and along the shore of Lakes Michigan and Huron, and to keep them from annoying the citizens of Detroit, they were stationed at the River Ecorse, below the city. The Indians were commanded by a half-breed by the name of Magee. Once in awhile some of these Indians would venture up to town, at sight of which many of the women, children and timid citizens would be alarmed, but Magee, when notified of their presence, would go into the street and give a few tremendous yells, at the sound of which the Indians would gather around him, and he would order them back to camp, and they would instantly obey him. At times when the Indians would come to town, Magee would be so drunk that he would have to be assisted into the street and held upright by some of the citizens; but notwithstanding, his unearthly yells (and he had a voice like a lion) would bring all the Indians around him, and he would order them back to camp.
While the British held Detroit, they sent two expeditions against Fort Mays, then called Frenchtown; now the city of Monroe, where there was a little stockade defended by Ohio militia. At the first attack, the British troops were repulsed with considerable loss. Some of the best marksmen in the little picket fort, when the British had placed their artillery to play upon the fort, were ordered by their commanding officer to pick off the men at the gun, a six-pounder, and if possible not allow it to be fired; and I have been told that they did their work so thoroughly that the British had to abandon their gun; that the moment they attempted to load it, every man fell. On the return of this party, my father asked a Welsh soldier how they made out; he shook his head and said, 'very bad;' on asking the reason of the failure, he said. 'Yankess squint, he never squint,' meaning that our riflemen took aim when they fired but he did not.
The next expedition the British sent to capture Fort Mays was more successful; they not only took the little stockade, but they allowed the Indians to murder their prisoners and the inhabitants; this affair is known in history as Winchester's defeat, and it was a cruel and sad affair. The Indians on their return had the scalps taken from the slain elevated on poles as they entered town, among which was seen some beautiful hair, taken from the heads of females.
The inhabitants residing on the border of the river and Lake St. Clair, and in fact all persons having their residence north of Detroit, were compelled, at the breaking-out of the war, to seek safety in Detroit. The Indians, in passing down the St. Clair River, would go on shore and shoot down the cattle, sheep and hogs of the inhabitants, and take anything they took a fancy to, and for this reason all the inhabitants of Northern Michigan were compelled to seek protection in Detroit, and there remained until relieved by Gen. Harrison.
The British at Malden and Americans at Erie were pushing forward, with all possible dispatch, the building and equipping of vessels of war intended by each Government to command our lakes, both fleets being in readiness by the 1st of September, 1813.
The British, while holding Detroit, to prevent Gen. Harrison from gaining information of their strength and operations, kept a strict guard over their citizen prisoners, allowing none to leave the town; but a merchant of Detroit got permission to go down to Malden to settle some business, and on his arrival the battle between the two fleets had begun. I have forgotten the merchant's name, but I think it was Truax. He produced a glass and a ladder, and got on top of a house, and there witnessed the whole transaction, and as soon as he discovered that the American fleet were the victors he hastened back, putting his horse at a fast trot, to bring the glad news to his American friends. It appears that the officers commanding Detroit had got the news before Truax=s arrival, but held it secret from their American prisoners, who were waiting with the greatest anxiety, and were most joyfully relieved on Truax's arrival. Now followed great confusion at the fort and in the town; the British were in a hurry to evacuate the town, and seized every boat and canoe to convey them and their baggage across the Detroit River. Amid this confusion and hurry of the British, the Americans collected and held a secret consultation; they knew that the British soldiers would leave Detroit that night; but they had great anxiety about those six hundred wild Indians lying at the River Ecorse; fearing they would rush into town and rob, and perhaps murder the citizens, it was thought a messenger should be sent to Commodore Perry, requesting him to send them succor as soon as possible.
The persons selected to bear the message to Commodore Perry were William Macomb, William Conner, Henry Graveraet, ---- Naggs, Charles Stewart, and Harvey Stewart; there were two other persons selected, the names of whom I have forgotten --eight in all. A canoe had been secured and hid, and our messengers, each paddle in hand, jumped into their canoe, and propelled it down the Detroit River, exerting themselves to deliver the message to Commodore Perry as soon as possible. The night was dark, and on arriving at the mouth of Detroit River, no shipping could be seen; but they heard the sound of oars and judging from the peculiar sound of the oars that it must be a ship's boat, they hailed , 'Boat a-hoy!' the answer was 'Ariel;' the boat hailed in turn; the answer was , 'A canoe from Detroit with a message for the Commodore!' The officer in charge of the boat took the canoe in tow, and brought the messengers to the Commodore's ship, where they remained the night, the Commodore assuring the messengers that 'if the Lord would permit, he would relieve their anxiety, by bringing his ships before their town by 9 o'clock the next morning.' The Commodore asked the messengers many questions, and on hearing that they were all well acquainted with the sections of country through which Gen. Harrison would have to pass in his pursuit of the British troops, he gave them his letter of introduction to Gen. Harrison, who, on a further examination, employed the whole eight persons as guides to his army up the River Thames. At this time Gen. Harrison was crossing his army and landing them at Malden, under cover of Perry's fleet. I will here relate a little circumstance as related by my father. The report of cannon at the battle between the American and English fleets on Lake Erie was plainly heard in Detroit, and while the battle was raging, father took a stroll up town, hoping to hear from the combatants; on entering Smith's Hotel, he saw a number of British officers seated around a table drinking whisky and discussing the probabilities of success to the British arms. One of their number, a civil officer, after filling his glass and elevating it high, said 'God will bless the British arms, and I drink to the success of our brave seamen now engaged.' At that speech of the British official, father said he became excited, and knowing that he could gain no satisfaction by replying, left the house in disgust; but soon after Mr. Truax returned from Malden and brought the glad news of Perry's victory; it was then amusing to see the boaster's hurry to get over the Detroit River.
After Harrison's army had crossed over at Malden, Perry's fleet weighed anchor, and the wind being moderate, all sails were spread, and the army being in line for marching, both proceeded up the river, the army keeping abreast of the fleet, which my father said was the most beautiful sight he ever witnessed. Where the army rested that night, I am not certain, but I believe they reached Dalson's Station, on the River Thames; if so, it would be fast marching, as the distance would be at least sixty miles. The British had troops stationed at Dalson's, who had joined the retreating army from Detroit, and in their hurry had left some of their supplies. When the army halted at Dalson's Station, Gen. Meigs rode up in front of his brigade and gave his order not to molest the citizens by entering their gardens and orchards, saying, 'We have not come to molest the peaceable citizens, but to fight those who are in arms against us.'
Gen. Trotter, on hearing Gen. Meigs' order, rode up in front of his men and said: 'Boys, don't go to bed hungry; if you can find anything good to eat, take it, and I will pay for it.' It appears that the whole army approved and followed Gen. Trotter's order. It was vegetables the men wanted, and they took them, wherever found. The next morning Gen. Harrison sent for the men who's gardens had been invaded; the damages were estimated and paid to the satisfaction of all. The British troops, in their hurry, left at Dalson's Station several hundred loaves of bread, which Mrs. Dalson was selling to our men at twenty-five cents a loaf, which my father put a stop to, by informing the men that it was left by the British troops, and did not belong to Mrs. Dalson.
After the army left Dalson's Station on their march up the Thames, the Indians would place themselves in ambush on the opposite side of the river and fire at our men; at such assaults, a return volley from the infantry would put the Indians to flight; but they would run ahead of our men, and, at some bend in the river, open fire again. There were three assaults of this kind by the Indians before Harrison's army engaged the British troops at Moravian Town.
I must stop here and give an account of a very singular and daring old man by the name of Whitney, a Kentuckian, and at that time about seventy years old. While a boy, I have heard Judge Connor and my father relate the circumstance many times, of Col. Whitney's adventures and death at the battle of the Thames. It appeared that Col. Whitney was an old resident of Kentucky, and had fought many a battle with the Indians on the bloody ground. He said that this would be the seventh Indian war he had engaged in, and he expressed a great desire to see Tecumseh. Col. Whitney had no command in Harrison's army, but on account of his age and experience in Indian warfare, he was treated with great respect by Gen. Harrison and his officers. Col. Whitney's tent was the best in the army; his horse as spirited and splendid animal; his rifle was silver mounted, and he had with him two active negro servants, and he traveled wholly at his own expense. The army after leaving Dalson's Station soon came to a branch of the Thames called the forks. The British in their hurry had thrown the plank from the bridge into the river, leaving the timbers or frame standing, and had also set fire to a large log house on the opposite side of the river. Gen. Harrison on his arrival ordered the plank replaced and the fire in the log house extinguished, believing that the house contained valuable military stores, which was found to be true.
Col. Whitney, mounted on his spirited horse, was always with the advance guard of the army, and the order was given to cross the creek and extinguish the fire; the Colonel, rifle in hand, attempted to cross on the timbers of the bridge, but they being muddy, he slipped and fell into the water below, the fall being about twelve feet; he came ashore without assistance, and proceeded at once to clean his rifle, and when the army was ready to march he took his station with the advance guard. The army had not traveled many miles when they were fired on by the Indians, as before stated. At the second assault of the Indians, Col. Whitney got his eye on one of them, leveled his rifle, and fired. He saw the Indian fall, and to ascertain whether he had killed him, swam his horse over the river, and found the Indian dead; he scalped him, swam his horse back, and took his station with the army; and here we must leave the Colonel until after the battle of the Thames is over.
The officer in command of the British forces saw that further retreat was useless; that Harrison's pursuit was so vigorous that he could not avoid a battle, so formed his men, placed his artillery and opened fire on the Americans. Gen. Harrison returned the British fire, and then ordered Col. Johnson to charge with his regiment of horses. The Colonel dashed through and broke the British lines, followed by the American infantry, and the British surrendered. During this battle with the British Regulars, Tecumseh had placed his Indians a little below, and off to the right, a low piece of ground thickly grown with brush lying between him and the Americans. It was quite difficult to pass through this brushwood, and the officer in command of that part of the army assigned to fight Tecumseh and his Indians, in his endeavor to get through the thicket of brushwood, met with so severe a fire from the Indians that he was forced back, and sent to Gen. Harrison for support. This message came immediately after the surrender of the British Regulars, and Col. Johnson was ordered to the support of the vanquished party. Then followed another charge upon the Indians, and here Col. Johnson had that desperate encounter with an Indian chief, not Tecumseh, as claimed by history, and as Judge Conner and my father had good reasons for believing, from the fact that the Indians had fought at least three-quarters of an hour after Col. Johnson had returned wounded and disabled. My father says that when the battle began, he took his station with Gen. Trotter's brigade, which was placed in reserve; he saw the Colonel when he returned, badly wounded, his horse pierced by seven balls, and falling immediately after the Colonel was taken from him; the battle with Tecumseh and his indians was still raging, and continued for at least half an hour thereafter. It was the opinion of those acquainted with Indian warfare, that the Indians fought until Tecumseh fell, and no longer. But all admit that Col. Johnson had, while wounded and disabled, a dreadful encounter with some daring Indian chief, notwithstanding all awarded to Col. Johnson the honor of being the most efficient officer of that day's fight.
The battle over, Gen. Harrison gave orders to an officer to take his men and examine the battle-field where the Indians fought, to take care of the wounded, to collect and bury the dead, and report to him. My father asked and obtained liberty to accompany that officer over the battle-field. After passing through the thicket of brushwood, they ascended to higher ground, with little or no underbrush; the trees were large but sparsely scattered over the field. The officer in command divided his men into small parties, and sent them over the battle-field. My father remained with the officer, and in their search they first came to Col. Whitney, and about four rods distant lay Tecumseh, both dead on the battle-field. My father had seen Tecumseh often in Detroit, and pointed him out to the officer, who had never seen him before. The shout that Tecumseh was dead brought all the parties together to see him, and was soon stripped of his dress and ornaments; but how and where Tecumseh was buried, father did not remain to see; but he could have taken his turban, and has since expressed a wish that he had.
Who killed Tecumseh is a question that cannot be answered, but Judge Conner, my father, and many others believe that Col. Whitney went into battle with a desire to meet Tecumseh, and it is possible that he killed him; Gen. Harrison and his officers lamented the death of the old veteran; but how they disposed of his body I never learned.
I will now relate an incident as related to me by my step-mother. At the assault made by the British on Lower Sandusky, commanded by Col. Crogan, there were many Indians from about Mackinaw that accompanied the British troops, but they met with such a spirited resistance that they hurried back in great fright. The Indians traveled in their large birch canoes, which would carry sixteen persons. Two canoes filled with the retreating Indians were passing up the St. Clair River, and when opposite Harsen's Island they were overtaken by a thunderstorm at about 8 o'clock at night, and one of the canoes filled with Indians was upset; here were about sixteen Indian warriors in the middle of the river in total darkness, struggling to find shore, their whoops and yells, mingling with the thunder's roar, rendered the scene truly frightful. My step-mother in her fright seized an infant daughter of her brother's, threw a blanket around it, and was about rushing for the woods, fearing death by the hands of those wild and barbarous Indians, but her brother refused to let her go. The storm lasted for an hour or more, and then all was quiet on the river; but there was no sleep that night, for Mr. Graveraet and his sister were both anxiously waiting to know the cause of the hideous yells on the river that night. At dawn the next morning, two canoes were seen to leave the opposite side of the river, and approach the residence of my step-mother; on landing, the Indians came on shore, over twenty in number, their faces painted black; they told Mr. Graveraet that they had been to war, that the British were defeated at Lower Sandusky and a great many killed; that they were returning home; that one of their canoes was upset that night and two of their number drowned; that on account of the darkness of the night, they had great difficulty in getting ashore. Mr. Graveraet wished that the whole of them had drowned, yet he expressed sorrow for their misfortunes and they in turn advised him to leave immediately, as the Kit-che-moco-mons (long knives) were coming by hundreds and would kill him.
I will relate another incident of the war of 1812, as I have heard it from the parties connected with it. At the breaking-out of the late war with England, there resided a family of Indians on the Big Bear Creek, on the Canada side, who were known as the Sha-na-way family; in this family there were five brothers, all warriors; one of them bore the name of Me-gish, who followed the British Army and was at the battle of Lundy's Lane, where he was killed. I got the particulars of his death from his mother and sister who often repeated the story of Me-gish's death in my hearing when a boy. They say that he got between the two armies as they were approaching, and a little before the battle commenced; that he was fired on and killed by the Americans; this circumstance would not be worth relating were it not for the statement of Capt. Chesby Blake, one of the old pioneer captains of our lakes. Capt. Blake, at the breaking-out of war, and while the British fleets were blockading our coasts, was mate of a brig outward bound, and then lying at Newbury Port, waiting for an opportunity to go to sea; he had been waiting about two months, and seeing no chance of passing the British squadron, determined to remain inactive no longer, and at his solicitation the whole brig's crew joined the American army; Blake, possessing a good business education, was placed in the Commissary Department and his regiment belonged to Scott's Brigade. In 1840, Capt. Blake came to Harsen's Island for the purpose of getting some choice timber for one of Mr. Newbury's boats, and during his stay lodged with my brother, Capt. John H. Stewart. My father called to see the Captain one evening to have a chat, and the conversation turned on the late war with England, and the part each had taken. Blake here stated that he was at the battle of Lundy's Lane; that as the two armies were approaching, and a little while before the action, an Indian attempted to pass between the armies, running for dear life; his Captain said, 'Blake, can't you kill that Indian?' at which he leveled his gun and fired, but did not hit him; he loaded his gun in an instant, and fired again, the Indian gave an upward leap and fell apparently dead. After the Captain had ended his story, I told him that that Indian's mother and sister had, more than thirty years ago, related the same circumstance of their brother's death, and both statements put together go to show a strong probability that Capt. Blake killed the Indian Me-gish.
My father was married to Miss Mary Graveraet in the winter of 1814, and remained in the city of Detroit during the war, which ended in February, 1815. The people who had abandoned their homes made preparations to return, and in the month of April, 1815, my father moved his family and goods up to Harsen's Island, and took possession of the house and lands of his wife that had been abandoned during the war. The settlers on the border of Lake and River St. Clair were, at the breaking-out of the war, compelled to remove all their stock of horses, cattle and hogs to Detroit (to protect such from the Indians), where all were consumed; and while many were deliberating how, and where they were to be supplied, Capt. Andrew Wesbrook went to the State of Ohio and purchased cattle, selecting such as were most required to meet the immediate wants of the inhabitants; this he continued to do until all were supplied. As Capt. Wesbrook was in his day a very prominent man in St. Clair County, I will here mention a few incidents in his life. Before the war with England, he was a wealthy farmer and businessman, residing near the Moravian town on the River Thames; in his immediate neighborhood, there lived one Maj. Tawsby, who was an aspirant for Government favors. At the breaking-out of the war the British Government, took immediate steps to organize the militia of Canada, and at such organization, Tawsby received a Major's commission, and Wesbrook was offered a Captain's commission under Tawsby, which he indignantly refused. Wesbrook was born in the State of New York, and his sympathies were with the American cause; and he, on the appointment of his enemy, Tawsby, determined to leave Canada and join the Americans; he had counted the consequences of this act; and, knowing that the confiscation of his valuable property would follow, he collected his goods together, and all that he could not remove he burned with his house and barn. On Wesbrook's arrival in Detroit, he stated his case to Gov. Hull and received a Captain's commission, and was found to be a very useful man in the Commissary Department in collecting supplies for the troops. There were many reconnoitering parties sent up the River Thames during the war, or before the surrender of Detroit, and Capt. Wesbrook was a valuable guide to such parties. On one of these expeditions, Capt. Wesbrook, learning that Maj. Tawsby was at home, surrounded his house, and took him prisoner. The hatred that Wesbrook and Tawsby bore toward each other was mutual and violent. After this reconnoitering party had gone into camp for the night, and the guns were all stacked, Tawsby seized a musket and made a lunge at Wesbrook with intent to kill him, but in the act he stumbled and the bayonet entered Wesbrook's boot; for this act Tawsby was put in irons until he reached Detroit. Capt. Wesbrook, at the close of the war, purchased a farm of a Frenchman joining the Recor farm, and other lands adjoining, from which he made one of the best farms then in St. Clair County. Our first Representative to Congress from the Territory of Michigan made known to that body the loss of Capt. Wesbrook's property in Canada, and on such representation an act was passed granting him two sections of land, which he selected mostly in the township of Clay, in St. Clair County, which lands passed through several purchasers, and now comprise the valuable farms of Seva and Dana Richardson.
My father, soon after his settlement of Harsen's Island, and in the month of May following, was visited by his brother, Daniel Stewart, who had determined to make his home in Michigan; after a short visit, he returned to West Bloomfield, N. Y., to settle his business affairs there before he sought a permanent home here; he was to bring with him Aura P. Stewart (the writer) and John H. Stewart, the two boys that father had left in the care of their grandmother at West Bloomfield. Uncle Daniel spent the months of June, July and August in preparation for his journey. He had purchased several crates of earthenware, several barrels of salt, and other articles which bore a great price in Detroit, hoping to realize a good profit on his arrival there. On the 1st of November, he placed his goods in the wagons, and, with his boys in charge, left for Michigan. On our arrival at Buffalo, there were no vessels in port bound to Detroit; a little craft, that hardly could be called a vessel, was lying in Buffalo Creek taking on a cargo of salt for Detroit, and our uncle engaged a passage on board the miserable, shabby thing; she was not ceiled inside, had no cabin, and her bulkhead was formed of salt barrels, leaving a space in the after part which was called the cabin; a platform was made on which some buffalo robes and blankets were spread at night on which to sleep. The whole ship's crew consisted of three persons, to wit: Mr. Mason, the owner, Capt. Thomas, master, and Jack Bachallor, sailor. In his contract, uncle was to furnish his own board, a large part of which he had brought with him; the stores of the vessel's crew consisted of a bucket of beef, six loaves of bread, and a small bag of hard tack. There were not ten buildings in Buffalo on our arrival there; the British had, during the war, burned the town. My brother and I amused ourselves on our arrival in looking down the cellars and up the chimneys; there were no warehouses in town, at any rate near the creek; the freight was brought to the vessel in carts drawn by oxen --rather a novel sight this would be in the great city of Buffalo to-day! On the second day of our arrival, the miserable thing called a vessel put to sea; however long we were in reaching Put-in-Bay Islands I do not remember, but I well remember that my brother and I, on the day before, were told that the ship was placed on short allowance; that thereafter our portions would be one cake of hard tack a day, and as much water with it as we wished to drink. I inquired after grandmother's butter and cheese, and was informed that they were reserved for the night watch.
I was awakened one morning by a loud noise on deck, and I crawled out of the hole, called a cabin, to ascertain the cause; on reaching the deck, I saw that we were near land, and was told the vessel was aground on an island; I inquired if my father lived on that island, and was disappointed on learning that he did not --that it was one of the Put-in-Bay Islands. All on board were pushing with poles and rolling barrels of salt over the deck, trying to get the vessel off; not succeeding, the captain declared that the craft could not be gotten off unless the anchor was carried out into deeper water; there was no boat on board and it was decided that Jack, the sailor (who was a tall, stout man) should get overboard, and carry the anchor on his back out into deeper water. Jack refused at first, but finding by measurement that the depth of water where the vessel lay was hardly above his hips, consented, and a rope was tied under his arm and he was lowered gently into the water, where he received the anchor on his broad shoulders; with it he waded cautiously out until the water reached his armpits, when he dropped his heavy load; a few turns at the windlass sufficed to float the vessel.
The wind being favorable, the vessel was steered up Sandusky Bay, and when near the head of the bay it was judged that we had passed Detroit River; the vessel's course was changed, our navigators thinking it was best to keep along near the shore, hoping in that way to find the river. On the day after leaving Put-in-Bay, a gale of wind sprang up, overtaking the vessel on a lee shore. Recognizing the impossibility of weathering the storm, the captain beached the craft. As soon as the shore was reached she commenced pounding, and the oakum began to work out of the seams, letting the water into the cabin; our bedding and clothes were wet, notwithstanding my brother and I endeavored to force the oakum back with our jack-knives to prevent such a catastrophe. The seams appeared to give way all at once, and the water came in upon us so fast that we yelled lustily to be taken out of the miserable coop. At every dash of the waves the vessel was thrown nearer the shore, and when she appeared motionless, Uncle Daniel jumped overboard and took us ashore on his back. Soon the vessel became immovably fixed in the sand, and then commenced a search for our clothes and other effects, but the vessel was full of water and nothing could be found. Brother and I lost our extra suit of clothes, in which we expected to appear on meeting our father; the captain, on learning that the bedding in the cabin was getting wet, secured his clothes and blankets, which were all that were saved. The only things got ashore that night were the foresail and jib, of which a tent was made in which to sleep, the jib composing the bed. In coasting along the shore we had noticed, some three miles below where we were wrecked, a number of tents, and , as we had nothing to eat, my uncle and Mr. Mason determined to find them that night and procure food, promising to return at an early hour the next morning. We boys were unused to long fasting, and thought it hard to go to bed without our supper, especially after having been on short allowance for two days previous, but, being weary, we soon forgot our troubles in sound sleep.
On awakening next morning, we found we had been sleeping in the water, and that the vessel had been stranded on a sandy beach formed by the waves; also, that on the other side of us was a great marsh extending inland several miles, covered over with muskrat houses. Soon uncle and Mr. Mason arrived; they brought with them a little bag of flour, a dozen dressed muskrats and a camp kettle. Sailor Jack immediately went to work preparing breakfast; having no kneading pan nor anything to bake in, his only alternative was to make some balls of dough and place them in the kettle along with the muskrats; the kettle was hung over a quick fire, for all were famously hungry, especially we boys. After the contents of a pot were thought ready to serve, they were placed in portions on a piece of sail cloth by Jack, and brother and I went at work to satisfy our famishing stomachs. Good old grandmother's puddings and pumpkin pies never relished better! We ate without reserve, and when completely gorged, threw ourselves on the sand and rolled and laughed for very satisfaction. I afterward learned that this shipwreck occurred in Sandusky Bay, at a place between Soder and Stony Points. The next day we had another feast on like delicacies, and about 8 o'clock A. M., a man from the camps arrived with a canoe, having been previously engaged to take uncle and Mr. Mason to the River Raisin Bto Frenchtown, now the city of Monroe.
Capt. Thompson, when two days out from Buffalo, was seized with ague chills and every other day confined to his bed on the cabin floor. When camping on the beach, his attacks were more violent; these ague attacks may have been the main cause of running the vessel past the Detroit River. In the absence of uncle, Capt. T. was cross to us and interfered with our play; in his sick state the poor man appeared to be deranged, and it seemed to be a relief to him to give us boys a blowing up, and at length we became frightened; having learned the whereabouts of the hunter=s camp, we determined, the next morning, to leave at an early hour. Accordingly we left Jack and the captain sound asleep on their bed of sail cloth and sand. The distance was about three miles, and we hurried our steps, hoping to reach the camp at the breakfast hour, hoping to get a change of diet. On our arrival, the hunters received us very kindly; the first thing we asked for was something to eat, and they gave us what was left of their breakfast, which we ate with a good relish. That day for dinner we had ducks and potatoes stewed in a pot, and bread baked in a pan before the fire; this, to us, was an extra and delicious meal, for half-fed as we were we had begun to dislike boiled dough and muskrat, of which we complained to our hunter friends. They tried to persuade us that muskrats were excellent eating, provided they were properly cooked, and promised to give us some of their cooking for our supper. Their manner of cooking was to run a sharp stick through them, and then place the other end in the ground near the camp fire, turning them around as occasion required until thoroughly cooked; this we found to be an improvement and ate of them very heartily. Next morning after breakfast, we prepared to return to the wreck, hoping to meet with uncle, but before leaving, we had obtained liberty from the hunters to return if uncle had not arrived. On our arrival we were glad, not only to find uncle, but to see a large boat and a number of men at work taking on board the stuff saved from the wreck. Uncle had brought some fresh beef, a number of loaves of bread, and some cooking utensils, and before leaving one of the men was selected to prepare what was to be our dinner and supper; this was hastily eaten and all jumped on board the boat glad to get away from the wreck; brother and I began to calculate on soon reaching home and meeting our father, whom we had not seen for the past three years. We had a calm and beautiful evening, and our French boatmen enlivened the hours with song after song, as they tugged at the oars. I had never seen any Frenchmen, or listened to their speech and song; we boys were so much amused and delighted that we could not sleep, though comfortably stowed away in the bow of the boat. At about midnight, the boat reached a little sand island in the mouth of Miami Bay, where we rested until daylight the next morning, when we continued our journey and that day reached Frenchtown, on the River Raisin. Uncle, on making inquiry for a place to lodge his boys, found a man who offered to board us for a stipulated sum for two days, and on going to our boarding-house we found but one room in the log cabin, only one bed and the children covered with rags. The place appeared more dismal than the tent in the sand we had so gladly left. Our disappointment increased when supper time came, for that meal consisted of a slice of bread, roasted potatoes and salt. If we could have made a selection we should have preferred the muskrat stew on the beach we had left. Being dissatisfied with our supper and weary, we asked to go to bed, and here our astonishment and disgust was increased when our landlord, from a corner in the house, brought out an old buffalo robe and spread it out before the fire; he told us not to undress as he had no covering for us; that we would not be cold, as he kept a good fire burning all night. The next morning we went to find uncle and make our complaint, and he procured an ordinary meal of victuals at another place. The large batteau in which we came was engaged to take us to Detroit, and we got liberty from our French boatmen to lodge and have our meals with them. We boys had taken a great liking to the Frenchmen and were amused at their speech, which was broken English; they appeared to be a jolly, good-natured set. The day after our arrival at Frenchtown, we wandered about and fell in with some French boys who showed us the stockade or picket fort commanded by Gen. Winchester, who, during the last war with England, was defeated and most of his men massacred by the Indians. The boys in broken English, which we could hardly understand, told us frightful stories about that transaction, and we were so terror-stricken we dared not enter. On the morning of the third day after our arrival, we left for Detroit and reached Detroit River that night; the boat was run ashore for the night, and brother and I laid down in the place assigned us in the bottom of the boat, but were awakened to find ourselves and bedding wet; the men had neglected to keep the old leaky boat free from water; our blankets being wet, there was no more sleep for us that night. On attempting to move the boat, it was found that ice had formed for some distance around it, the thickness of window glass. It was so cold the men and all on board were glad to get at the oars to keep warm. At about 8 o'clock we reached a tavern where we were to get breakfast. The tavern was the most comfortable and respectable house we boys had entered since we left Buffalo, and we were kindly received by the landlord and lady who appeared to be hurrying forward our breakfast. Jack bought a half pint of liquor and drank it all down, which soon after altered his step and manner; on going down to the boat, he commenced scolding me, which I resented, and Jack, being irritated at my replies, slapped me in the face, causing the blood to flow freely from my nose. On seeing and learning the cause, uncle because very angry, and was about to have Jack arrested and punished, but he pleaded his case so well against me, that uncle thought I deserved further punishment, although my crime consisted of accusing Jack of drinking too much liquor and being fuddled. Uncle having procured an apple-tree sprout, led me out, but the good landlord came to the rescue, took me away and led me into the house, where the landlady washed the blood from my face, and led me to the breakfast table; a good breakfast and the kindness of our landlord and his wife restored me to my usual good spirits; and anxiety to reach home only remained. We had been a month on our journey, as I was told, and would reach Detroit that day; one day's sail more would bring us to Harsen's Island, the home of my father.
After partaking our breakfast, all hurried to the boat and proceeded up the Detroit River; at about noon, Mr. Mason and uncle determined to walk the remaining distance to Detroit; brother and I asked to accompany them, but uncle refused, telling us that we could not walk that distance. There were only two men at the oars. Capt. Thompson had rolled himself up in his blankets and lain down in a snug corner of the boat. The boat moved very slowly, and brother and I became lonesome and disheartened; Capt. Thompson was asleep; there were two hard-looking men with my enemy, Jack, to propel the boat, and under this state of things I felt for the first time a disposition to cry -- the first time since I left the home of our grandmother. Our tears moved the boatmen to put us ashore, and on reaching the road, we ran and jumped and shouted for a few rods in expression of our gladness; when these little freaks were over, we struck off into a fast walk, determined to reach Detroit as soon as possible.
We had not proceeded far before we came to the River Rouge; we felt disappointed to find the river in our way, and asked an elderly looking Frenchman to ferry us over. He seemed surprised to see two boys of our age traveling alone. He questioned us very closely, and from his broken English we knew him to be a Frenchman. His questions were: 'Where you go, you little boy? what your name? where your father live?' etc. We answered his questions promptly, and gave him a short history of our travels; but he shook his head doubtingly and said: 'I believe you be runaway boy.' At this moment, looking up the road he saw a company of men on horseback approaching, and told us that we could cross the river with them. On the arrival of these men, we were questioned again, and all being well acquainted with our father, our story was readily believed; of these men, there were eight in number, and all but one belonged to the Indian Department. Among them were Mr. Noggs, Indian agent; William Macomb (son of Gen. Macomb) and Francis Harsen, an uncle to my step-mother. Now we had fallen into the hands of real friends, who appeared to take special interest in our comfort and welfare. They had been out to recover some horses that had been taken by the Indians during the war, and were now returning with them. We were each given a horse to ride, and soon ended our journey, entering Detroit in fine style. We found Mr. Henry Graveraet in town making preparations to go to Mackinac, having an appointment to the Indian Department there. He took us in charge, and agreed with uncle to land us at father's residence on Harsen's Island. The next day we boys went to examine the vessel in which we were to go, having, from hard experience, a poor opinion of watercraft generally. But this one pleased us greatly, being well fitted out, and our opinions on the subject underwent change. In looking around the vessel, I lost sight of brother John, and called to him; receiving no answer I became frightened, and searched everywhere, but no John could be found. Fearing he had fallen overboard, I ran on the dock, when he called to me and on looking up found him standing on the top sail-yard, swinging his hat. I called him to come down, which he did after laughing at my fears for a while. When eight years old, he climbed the center post of a church steeple said to be 150 feet high, and did it because one of the workmen had performed the same feat, gaining much notoriety thereby. We returned home, and the next day got on board the vessel and left at an early hour for father's, arriving there at about 8 o'clock in the evening. Father was not at home, but Uncle Charles Stewart was there, and the kind manner in which we were received by our step-mother made us feel that we were at home and our journey had ended.
For many years, I saw but little of Michigan, except that portion bordering on the shore of Lake and River St. Clair. I came from an inland and thickly settled district, and had seen no flowing water save brooks and rivulets; I had seen no forests but in the distance, and though but a boy of twelve years of age I could not but feel impressed with the wild beauty of my new home. The dense and almost impenetrable forests, the magnificent River St. Clair, the countless number of every variety of waterfowl flying over my head or resting and sporting on the bosom of the beautiful waters, the howling of wolves at night, the constantly passing and repassing canoes of the strange looking Indians, their stealthy tread through the woods and their unintelligible shouts as they passed each other, and, last but not least, the merry songs of the French voyageurs toiling at the oar, propelling their boats swiftly over the blue waters -- these were new scenes to me, and called forth my wonder and delight. I have now entered upon the seventy-second year of my life -- nearly sixty years thus far have been spent in Michigan. I have witnessed the improvements made in the county of St. Clair; flourishing towns have sprung up, and a large portion of our older settlers have become wealthy; all have shared in the conveniences of modern improvements and comforts, but yet, for my own part, I could enjoy no greater pleasure than for a short time to see Michigan as I saw it in 1815, wild and romantic as it then was; to traverse its dense forests, to paddle my canoe over its waters, surrounded by game of every description on river, lake and shore; and at night, while partaking of a supper of game taken through the day, hear the howling of the wolves, the hooting of owls and other voices of the night. Fancy ofttimes leads me back to the dear old primitive days, and then I am a boy again! Alas! The vision lingers not! I am an old man with increasing infirmities, and nothing is left to me but the memories of the past!
It appears that there were no permanent settlements made on the River St. Clair prior to the conquest of Canada by the British forces, but immediately following that event lands were located and permanent residences made. At Point aux Trembles, there were four families; on Strumness Island (Dickinson's) there were three families, and three, also, on Harsen's Island; between Point aux Trembles and Recor's Point were fourteen, and five families were settled between Recor's and Black River. The names of the residents on Point aux Trembles were Chortier (Shirkey), Minne, Basney and William Hill. [Since Mr. Stewart wrote his memoirs, Mr. Hill departed this life at the ripe old age of ninety years.] Mr. Chortier appears to have been the most prominent man of the Point aux Trembles settlement. The names of the residents of Harsen's Island were William Harsen, Jacob Harsen, Francis Harsen and Mary Stewart, formerly Mary Graveraet. Capt. Peter Laughton was the first settler on Strumness Island; he was a retired British naval officer, and had selected the island as a part of the land he was entitled to draw from the British Government. Mr James Harsen and his son-in-law, Isaac Graveraet, were the first settlers on Harsen's Island. Mr. Harsen was a gunsmith, and Mr. Graveraet, a silversmith; they came from the city of Albany, N. Y., for the purpose of dealing with the Indians, and selected Harsen's Island as their place of business; they purchased the island from the Indians, under the sanction of the British Government.
The first settlers on the River St. Clair, in what now comprises the township of Cottrellville, were Capt. Alexander Harrow, Cottrell, William Thorn, Pascal, Robertson, William Brown, Joseph Minne, and some others whose names I have forgotten.
It appears that the British were very liberal, in that day, in the distribution of wild lands to the officers of their army and navy, and Capt. Harrow, of the navy, located all the land on the river extending from the present site of Algonac to Belle River. After the United States Government came to possession of the Northwest Territory, embracing the State of Michigan, Congress passed an act limiting individuals to one section, and Capt. Harrow was compelled to make his selection in accordance with this act. The lands re-selected by him are now embraced in the township of Clay, and extended from Abram Smith's mill in Algonac to the mill of W. C. & W. S. Roberts, at Roberts' Landing.
Mr. Cottrell (his Christian name I never knew) and Capt. Harrow were the most prominent men of their day in the settlement along St. Clair River.
The original Mr. Cottrell, when a boy, was taken prisoner by the Indians in one of their raids on the Wyoming Valley during the French and Indian wars with the American Colonies. He was purchased from his captors by a Frenchman named Cot-ter-ell, and who brought the lad up as his own son, giving him his name. His sons were George, David, Henry and another son, who made his residence at or near Grosse Point, and whose first name I cannot recall. The old Cottrell homestead, a few miles below Algonac village, is well known to all my readers.
Henry Cottrell was for many years Sheriff of St. Clair County; in fact he held that office as long as Michigan was a Territory, and, I believe, one term after she became a State. He was a very jovial companion, a good neighbor, energetic, industrious and prompt in the discharge of his official duties. I could relate many pleasing anecdotes of Sheriff Cottrell, but I will only give one: Cottrell was given an execution against my uncle, Charles Stewart, who declared the judgement was more than double the sum he owed, and refused to pay it. Under our Territorial laws we had imprisonment for debt, and Cottrell responded -- "Stewart, I shall have to imprison you, then." "All right," said Uncle Charley, "now is your time; I am going into the lumber woods, and you will have hard work to find me." "Very well," said Cottrell, "You are willing to go to jail, I see; here take this writ and go and deliver yourself up to the jailer!" Uncle took the writ and delivered himself to the keeper of the jail, where he remained for a few days, when he returned home.
Mr. David Cottrell was one of your sedate, candid, judicious sort of men; he possessed good natural abilities, once held the office of County Judge, and from the first election under our State government held the office of Justice of the Peace to the day of his death; he also was the people's favorite man for Supervisor, holding the office for many years.
As I have given a short account of the life and character of two prominent men of an adjoining town, I must not forget those of my own township. John R. Smith, Esq., now long deceased, was born in the State of Vermont, and at the breaking-out of the war with England, was serving his county as Sheriff, or Under-Sheriff, and he was almost constantly in his saddle riding through and beyond his county on business.
On one occasion, his business led him to a little town on the banks of the River St. Lawrence; it was in the winter; the name of the town and the year in which the occurrence happened I have forgotten, although I have heard the Squire related it many times. I think, however, it was the winter of 1813. Both of the hostile armies had gone into winter quarters, and none expected a renewal of hostilities before the spring. It appears that the British officers in command of a station on the Canada side of the river, having obtained an account of the situation of the town, and number of American troops, planned a night attack, hoping to surprise the Americans and capture the town with ease. For this purpose, selecting a dark night, he crossed his men over to the American shore a few miles above town, and to prevent information of his intentions reaching the American officer, he seized and placed under guard all persons he thought capable of giving information of his approach. That night Mr. Smith had put up at a tavern near where the British landed, and being unwell went to bed at an early hour; the British made prisoners of the landlord and all in his house capable of giving information and put them under guard; they were about to send Mr. Smith off with the guard, but he being lame and ill, and the landlady pleading so hard for him, the officer judged him harmless and let him remain. As soon as Mr. Smith thought it safe, he went to the stable, mounted his horse, and being well acquainted with the neighborhood, took a circuitous route, put his horse at full speed and reached town in time to give the officer in command notice of the approach of the British. Immediately on this notice, the officer in command ordered his men under arms, with as little noise as possible, and placed them in a position to surprise the British on their approach. The British soon made their appearance, and before their lines were formed for the assault the Americans delivered their volley, which so surprised the British that they wheeled about and retreated as fast as possible until they reached the Canadian shore.
For this timely warning, Mr. Smith became a favorite of the American officers of the army, and the Colonel commanding the place he had relieved from surprise induced him to join his regiment as forage master and licensed trader with the soldiers -- what they called their sutler. The name or number of the regiment I have forgotten, but it appears that in the spring following Mr. Smith procured a stock of supplies and joined that regiment and remained with it until disbanded at the city of Detroit in 1816. Among the discharged men of that regiment there were two experienced potters who wished to remain in the Territory, and they requested Mr. Smith to establish a pottery and give them employment.
Mr. Smith, on ascertaining that no brown earthenware had ever been manufactured in Michigan, and that the prospect for a ready sale was good, sought for a place to establish his pottery. He came up to the River St. Clair, found the old Laughton house on Strumness Island vacant, and leased it from David Laughton, one of the heirs, and in May, 1817, had his pottery in full operation, continuing the business until late in the fall of that year. In the winter of 1818, he was induced by my father to teach school on Harsen's Island. At that time there were only three families on Harsen's Island, but there were several scholars from over the river, altogether making a school of twelve scholars. Mr. Smith taught school on Harsen's Island the next winter, and at the same time was carrying on trade with the Indians in company with Mr. David Laughton, occupying a house of Mr. Jacob Harsen's, a part of which was occupied as a school-room, the other half as an "Indian department." I remember there was a barrel of cider in the Indian department frozen so hard that no attempt had been made to use it. The boys got an iron rod, heated it red-hot, and thrust one end into the barrel, and by this means they drank up the teacher's cider; this was done in his absence, although we had good reason to believe he was acquainted with the operation.
I may be a year later than I ought in giving the time of Squire Smith's first appearance in St. Clair County; he was, however, the first person that was commissioned Justice of the Peace, residing on the River St. Clair, by Gov. Cass. Macomb County embraced all of the territory of St. Clair County, and the Governor's commission is dated the 17th day of March, A. D. 1818.
The next office bestowed on Esquire Smith, under our Territorial government, was his appointment to the office of Postmaster at Plainfield, St. Clair County in the Territory of Michigan. He was the first Postmaster appointed in what is now the county of St. Clair; his commission was dated Washington, August 26, 1826, and signed by John McLean and William Dening, clerk. I should have stated that J. K. Smith, Esq., was appointed Special Commissioner by Gov. Cass for the county of St. Clair, in the Territory of Michigan, which appointment is dated the 20th day of April, A. D. 1827.
Squire Smith was also made the first Customs Inspector on the American shore of St. Clair River, commencing the discharge of his duties in this office May 1, 1832. This office and that of Pathmaster he held until after 1841, how much longer the records do not show.
Mr. Smith married, and in 1819 established his residence on what was then considered the most pleasant location in the neighborhood -- now a part of the Kendall farm, just above the present site of Algonac; this he designated "Point Office." Some years thereafter, he removed and settled on a tract of land now embraced within the limits of Algonac. When this village was surveyed, he made a large reservation, retaining possession of a number of the choicest lots in the plat, and most of them are held by his heirs to the present day.
When the Squire settled at Point Office and at Algonac, litigants from all parts of the county came before him to have their causes adjudicated, and his business exceeded that of the county court for many years. His popularity was very great, gained through his judicious judgements and straightforward, conscientious attention to duty and business. He held the office of Justice of the Peace from 1818 up to the day of his death, which occurred in April, 1855 -- thirty-seven years. It is a fact that up to his demise he could show a greater record of marriage services performed by him than any (if not all) Justices in St. Clair County.
He was the first Probate Judge elected by the people of this county. Well do I remember that election, for I then cast my first ballot, forty years ago! It was held at St. Clair (Palmer), and the whole number of electors assembled of that day did not exceed thirty. Squire Smith was opposed by an old Detroit lawyer named George McDougal. The lawyer received the French vote, but was defeated.
For many years before his death, the Squire was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and did much in his lifetime to spread the Gospel, and for the elevation and moral training of the community in which he lived. He never encouraged litigation. He died in 1855 in the Christian faith, surrounded by his family, loved and lamented by his children and personal friends, and respected by the public.
The next one of the old pioneers of prominence was Dr. Harmon Chamberlain, who settled in St. Clair. I first saw him at Justice Smith's office in 1819; he was then a youthful looking man just from his studies. He lived with the Squire a short time, but soon moved to St. Clair, where he lived and died.
The Doctor was a great favorite with the old pioneers on the river. I make the record of his first arrival only; his memory is too fresh in the minds of the people for me to do more. His aged wife still lives in St. Clair.
Another pioneer of our county is Judge Bunce. He is yet living, and can best give his own record. I think he came to the river in 1819, and the little vessel that was carrying his effects up to his present residence above Vicksburg or Marysville, came to anchor opposite my father's on Harsen's Island. I was then a boy of fourteen years, and was sent to bring him ashore, and also took him back to his vessel; on reaching deck, he gave me a finished two-bladed knife, an instrument rarely seen in those days. I seized the treasure and hurried ashore to examine it; then I leaped and shouted in delight and was the happiest boy in the neighborhood that and for many days thereafter.
Capt. Henry Ainsworth settled in the township of Clay in 1820, and purchased the Basney farm at Point aux Trembles. He was a well-informed, energetic man, and had he lived he would have been a valuable acquisition to our community. He died after a two years' residence, and his son, Henry, occupies the old farm.
Among the most active, industrious and prominent men in the early settlement of our town (now Clay) was Jacob Peer. He came to Michigan in 1821 with the intention of settling at or near Pontiac, but he fell in with Capt. Andrew Wesbrook and was induced by him to come up to the River St. Clair. Peer purchased Wesbrook's land (that had been given the latter by act of Congress to indemnify him for his Canadian losses during the war of 1812), selecting some 300 acres lying west of Point aux Trembles, bounded south and west by Lake St. Clair. It was almost wholly prairie land, and Mr. Peer in four years' time placed sixty acres under cultivation. Prospectively he had one of the best stock farms in the country, but, unfortunately, the waters in our lakes had risen so high that in 1827 his farm was completely submerged; when strong westerly winds blew, the water was forced up to his door. Mr. Peer had to leave, a poor man again. He next selected lands lying north, adjoining the village of Algonac, and went to work with his usual vim to clear up another farm. When he died (in 1855) he left to his son, Jacob Peer (Jr.), what is now considered one of the very best farms in our township, and one having the largest orchard in the county. Mr. Peer has an apple orchard of thirty-five acres, each tree, in all the hundreds he owns, being thrifty and bearing fruit. The orchard alone is a source of considerable revenue to its proprietor.
Wever [Weaver] Stewart, came to our little village about the year 1828, and a few years after purchased lands of Mason and Luse, occupying them until his death. He was a quiet, easy sort of man; a kind and obliging neighbor, industrious, thrifty, and much respected by all who knew him; his wife and children are still residents of our town, and his son, Charles Stewart, is one of the prominent business men of Algonac.
Another of the early settlers at St. Clair County was Jacob Kendall, now deceased. He purchased a tract of land lying about a mile north of Algonac in 1825. He was a well-informed man; had read a great deal and up to the day of his death had held almost every office in his town except Constable. Mr. K. was considered one of our best citizens, and was respected by all who knew him; his farm and residence, so pleasantly situated on the bank of the River St. Clair, is now owned by his son, John B. Kendall, Sheriff of the county. The next and last one of the old pioneers that I shall attempt to mention is John Swartout, now past the ninetieth year of his age. He came to Michigan about the year 1835, and made purchase of lands lying on the north line of the township of Clay. Mr. S. was a very energetic and industrious man, and to this day, notwithstanding his years, he is very useful about the farm; with the assistance of his sons, Martin and Abram, he soon cleared up a large farm and placed it in a good state of cultivation, which is now divided and owned by the sons mentioned. Mr. S. had two other sons, Dennis (who chose the profession of sailor) and Benjamin, who to-day is one of the successful business men of Algonac.
There were many other persons that came and settled in the southern portion of the county, at a very early date, who, after remaining a few years, sold out and removed to other parts; I could also mention the names of a number of early settlers in the northern part of our county, but as they have made their record better than I can describe it, I shall not make the attempt. The remaining part of my memoirs will treat of men and matters that came within my own knowledge, dating back to a very early day, with such incidents and anecdotes as I think will be of interest to the people of this county.
At the death of Mr. Harsen (the first), the old homestead on the Island fell to his son Francis, who, during the war of 1812, and for many years thereafter, held an appointment in the Indian Department at Detroit. At the close of the war, in 1815, he leased his farm to one Robert Little, a Canadian, and a most lawful British subject. By the lease, Harsen was to receive rent from the products of the farm, a part of which would be apples and cider. In the succeeding fall, Harsen came up and collected rent without difficulty; but in the fall of 1816 Little refused to pay rent to Harsen, who was astonished at such refusal and wished to know the reason. Little stated to Harsen that the Island was in his Britannic Majesty's dominion, and that no American citizen could, under present laws, hold lands under the British Government; that he had rendered important services to his government and was entitled to lands; that he was now in possession of the farm and should claim and hold it under British laws; he then drove Harsen from the premises. Harsen returned to Detroit and engaged a lawyer by the name of Whitney, and in the year 1817 commenced suit in the County Court of Macomb County, then embracing all that portion of the territory lying north and east of the present boundary of that county. Judge Clemens was the first Judge, and Robert Fulton, the first purchaser of the land upon which St. Clair City now stands, was Sheriff. There was some delay in the prosecution of this suit, it seems, for it was late in the fall of 1817 before the writ of ejectment was placed in the hands of Sheriff Fulton. On its receipt this officer proceeded to execute it; he called on Little and demanded the surrender of the premises. On this Little forcibly put the officer out of doors, and told him that he should procure arms and shoot any person attempting to oust him; he claimed that he was a subject of Great Britain and under the protection of that power; that no American court could interfere with or molest him. Fulton told the usurper that he would execute the writ if it took all the militia in the Territory. Accordingly he called on Lieut. William Brown for assistance; Brown made a selection of six men, two of whom had been discharged from our army, and the next day crossed over to the island, landing at my father's residence; after procuring a small jug of whisky for his men, the party proceeded up to Harsen's farm, the owner joining them on the way. It appears that Little was on the lookout, and informed of the Sheriff's coming, and had prepared for the fight. He loaded the four guns in his house with coarse shot, and had a large five pail kettle over the fire filled with boiling water, and thus prepared he waited the assault. The assaulting party, on their arrival, took possession of an outhouse, where they agreed upon a plan of attack, and fortified their courage by several nips from the contents of the little jug. It was agreed in council that Sheriff Fulton should first go to the outer door and in the name of the sovereign people of the United States demand a surrender of the premises, and, if refused, signal Lieut. Brown, who was to take the place by storm. Accordingly Sheriff Fulton proceeded to make the formal demand, followed, at a short distance, by Mr. Harsen, when Little fired on Harsen from a window, wounding him in the fleshy part of the leg. At the report of Little's gun, Brown ordered his men to surround the house and return the fire, which was done; the first shots shivered the door behind which Little stood, one bullet going past him and entering the bed on which his daughter was sitting. Little did not wait for another volley, but cried for quarter, and surrendered himself into the hands of the Yankees he so much hated.
Little had taken possession of the Harsen farm some months before my father arrived. He seemed to be annoyed at the presence of the hated Yankee, and sent his son down one morning to ask father what right he had to settle in British territory; father answered that he claimed none but lawful rights, and such as he could maintain.
I am not in possession of the date when the county of St. Clair was first organized; but I remember that the township of Cottrellville once embraced all the territory of the township of Clay; the division was made in the month of May, 1828. The township of Cottrellville held two township meetings for the election of officers, previous to the division in 1828. The people of the township of Clay, looking forward to the time when a division would be made by common consent, called this township by the name of Plainfield, and the circumstances which caused the division are as follows: Capt. Samuel Ward, one of the earliest settlers in St. Clair County, was a prominent business man, a good and obliging neighbor, but a rabid politician. There was no compromising matters with the Captain when his resolutions were once formed. Previous to the election in 1828, the Captain made his selection of the township officers, and on learning that the people of the south part of the township were opposed to his nominations, and would, if allowed to vote, defeat him, he opposed our vote, alleging that we belonged to the township of Plainfield and were not residents of Cottrellville. The people of Clay called a meeting at the office of J. K. Smith, Esq., for the purpose of taking into consideration the threats of Capt. Ward, and to determine how to act. At this meeting it was determined that, as we legally belonged to the township of Cottrellville, we would all go up and offer our votes, and if rejected, we would return to Mr. Smith's office and hold an election of our own. Accordingly we were at an early hour at the polls and tendered our votes, which were rejected, upon which we returned and held our election, and before separating a petition was drawn up and signed by the electors asking our Legislative Council to legalize our proceedings, and fix the boundary of our township. At this time Judge J. W. Bunce was our Representative in the Territorial Legislature, and he caused immediate action to be taken on our petition; the act was passed and approved May 28, 1828. Capt. Ward did not relish the division of his township, for at that day there were more voters in Clay than there were in Cottrellville, and in respect to numbers we were a small township before the division.
Judge Bunce was elected to represent us by scarcely a dissenting voice; but the prompt manner in which he took our petition in hand was offensive to Capt. Ward, who afterward became his most bitter opponent.
At a very early date, about the year 1820, there came to the city of Detroit a lawyer by the name of Alexander O'Keffe, who was liberally educated and a thoroughbred lawyer, but was extremely intemperate in his habits. His drinking sprees were frequent, sometimes lasting for weeks. He became acquainted with Judge Bunce, visiting him often, sometimes prolonging his visits for weeks, and through the Judge's influence he became Prosecuting Attorney for the county of St. Clair. O'Keffe, on one of his visits to Judge Bunce, expressed a wish to represent St. Clair in our Legislative Council at its next sitting, and he stated that the Judge favored his election, which was doubted by the leading men of the county. In the following year, O'Keffe came up from Detroit to canvass the county, and made his first call on my father. He introduced his subject by stating that he had quit the use of intoxicating liquors; that he had determined on a thorough reformation, and was about to take up his abode permanently in St. Clair County. Relying on his reformation and ability, he had come to offer himself as a candidate to represent our county in the Territorial Legislature. In reply my father said: "Counselor, I am glad to hear of your proposed reformation, and as to your abilities, no one doubts them. Come and make your home among us for one year, and give us proof of your reformation, and there is not the least doubt that you will become a favorite among the people, who will certainly give you their hearty support; but to be candid, Counselor, I must insist on one year's reformation before I can give you my support." At this O'Keffe became angry and said: "Sir, I wish you to know that I was educated at two of the best seminaries in England, and I was bred at the Irish bar; and, sir, I can write your Governor down." After this outburst of passion there was a pause. Mr. James Wolverton, who was present, remarked: "Counselor, you remind me of the story of the calf that sucked two cows." "Indeed." said O'Keffe, "and what of that sir?" "Nothing in particular," said Wolverton, "only it is said the more he sucked the larger he grew." At this remark, O'Keffe smiled and became apparently good natured, when the three went in to a calm discussion of the matter. My father and Wolverton tried to convince him that Bunce did not support him, but on the other hand was seeking his own election. O'Keffe said: "It may be so, but if I thought there was such deception in professed friends, I would throw myself on the mercy of the Lord." From the first organization of our county up to the year 1830, O'Keffe practiced in our County Court, most of the time as Prosecuting Attorney. A soldier at Fort Gratiot had murdered a comrade, and was delivered over to the authorities for trial; at the time, Judge Sibley, of Detroit, was our Circuit Judge, and O'Keffe, Prosecuting Attorney. This was the first time I sat on a grand jury. The jury in this case found a true bill of indictment. The bill was drawn up by O'Keffe while visiting Judge Bunce. In order to dress in the backwoods style of that day, O'Keffe procured a pair of buckskin pants, which he wore on visiting my father. I thought if he had had a little of my experience, he would not be so proud of his buckskin pants, for I had worn several pairs. When new and kept dry, they are rather pleasant things to wear; but when frequently wet they become stiff and rattle like a brass kettle. If wet on going to bed, my plan was to hang them up and make the legs as round as I could get them. After several wettings they become almost unmanageable. In instances of this kind I used to bring them to the barn and run them through the flax break, which would soften them and make them quite dry again, but in spite of me they would retain the sound of the brass kettle.
I learned that St. Clair County was organized May 8, 1821. James Fulton was the first purchaser of the site on which the city of St. Clair now stands, which in process of time became the property of Thomas Palmer, of Detroit. Mr. Fulton made the purchase with the view of making it the county seat of St. Clair County, and Mr. Palmer labored hard to accomplish the same end. Fulton and Palmer were opposed by Capt. Samuel Ward, who wished the county seat established at or near his tract of land, which now embraces over Marine City. In the county seat war, my father favored St. Clair. Charles Noble, of the city of Monroe, one of the Commissioners appointed to decide on the proper place for the county seat, called on my father on his way up to examine the two proposed places. My father gave his reasons for favoring the town of St. Clair; our first county seat war was ended by the location of the county government at the latter point.
Capt. Eber Brock Ward, late of Detroit, was but a mere child at this time, and had no connection with the business of his uncle, Capt. Samuel Ward, until the fall of 1832, when he took my place as clerk for his uncle.
The first jail in the county was erected by James Fulton, at the county seat. It is stated that the building was so constructed as to answer the double purpose of jail, and in absence of prisoners, was used by Mr. Fulton as a root house. I could name the first criminal lodged in the institution, but for the sake of friends forbear. I could relate many interesting anecdotes of the county seat war, but time will not permit.
For the entertainment of our commercial men, I will give the names of the first steamboats that plied between Detroit and Port Huron. The first boat making her appearance on this route was the Argo, in 1830. She was constructed from two large whitewood trees converted into canoes or "dug-outs," and joined together so as to make a sharp bow and square stern. She was owned and commanded by Capt. Burtice, of Detroit. On her arrival at Strumness Island, the Captain would take on board a quantity of fence rails, as it appears she could not carry sufficient fuel for the trip.
About the year 1831, the Gen. Gratiot was placed on the St. Clair route. She was owned by Dr. Rice & Co., of Detroit, and commanded by Capt. John Clark, of East China. The length of time the Gratiot kept the St. Clair route I have forgotten. Capt. Clark was well liked and the Gratiot became a great favorite with the traveling public. About the year 1833, Capt. Burtice placed the Gen. Brady on the same route, but she did not remain over two years. The Lady of the Lake, commanded by Capt. Sylvester Atwood, was a small boat fitted for carrying freight; she did not remain long on the route. In the year 1836, the Erie made her appearance on St. Clair River, and was the fastest boat of her size on the lakes. She was principally owned by James Abbott, of Detroit, and continued on the St. Clair route until 1842, when she was lost in the ice of Lake St. Clair. Capt. Samuel Ward placed the Huron on the same route in 1840. The Huron was the largest and best boat on the route, and was commanded by Capt. E. B. Ward. At this time, Newport, St. Clair and Port Huron were rapidly increasing in population, and the county was filling up with active and industrious farmers; the same spirit of enterprise was manifested on the Canada side of the river. Lake Huron shore and river ports gave this steamer full freights; her handsome commodious cabins were always crowded with passengers. She continued on the route until worn out, each year of her service netting the Wards thousands of dollars; she was the first great paying investment, and her earnings formed the foundation for their colossal fortunes. There were other boats that ran in opposition to the Huron, but they were either run (or bought) off the route by the Wards. All opposition lines to them have incontinently failed, and when Eber B. Ward sold the route its purchasers followed in his steps and maintained their claims against all opposition.
The first boat built in our county was owned and commanded by Samuel Ward, called the St. Clair, which was built in the year 1820, for lake navigation. After the Erie Canal was opened, Capt. Ward freighted his boat at Detroit for New York City, and took on board two horses to tow her through the canal. On arriving at Erie he took down his masts, stowed them snugly on deck, entered and towed safely through the canal; arrived at the Hudson he shipped the mast, bent the sails, and soon came to anchorage at the Metropolis. Procuring a full freight back, he returned, but was somewhat disappointed upon being required to pay toll. Capt. Ward not only calculated on getting through the canal free of toll but expected to receive a premium, as his was the first boat from the lakes. The St. Clair was the first boat built at Marine City, which is to-day the most extensive ship-building town in the State except Detroit.
The first vessel built at the town of St. Clair was the Grand Turk, owned by the father of Capt. Alex St. Barnard; she was about forty tons burden, Barber, the master-builder, was a very ordinary workman, and the vessel, when completed, was a rough-looking concern, and, perhaps, "Grand Turk" was the most appropriate name for her. To look at her --
"She seemed to dare the elements to strife!"
but under a press of sail, did not --
"*walk the waters like a thing of life!"
However, in her day, she carried many a load of lumber and shingles to Detroit.
The first vessel Clay produced was built by Capt. Amos Henkly and R. Newhall, about the year 1824; she was about fifty tons burden and was called the Savage, of Detroit. She was used as a trader, and ran to Mackinac and Green Bay. She was the first vessel that entered and wintered in St. Joseph River. Henkly, on his return to Detroit, represented it as a fit place to build a flourishing town, and, when the site was secured, he claimed an interest in the lands as his possessory right, he having built the first house on the premises. In 1834 he died on his boat and was buried in the sand on the Canada shore. The following winter, Mr. William Brown had the body raised and properly interred on the American side of the river. Mr. Brown had a perfect likeness of Capt. Henkly which he carefully preserved, and it is now in the possession of some of his family.
Within the past two decades, a multitude of boats and vessels have been built at Marine City, but the first vessel built on Bell River was the Pilot, and was owned by Capt. Andrew Wesbrook and Capt. A. B. Henkly. The owners disagreed about the management of the vessel, and to settle the difficulty the boat was sold to Mr. Newberry, of Detroit. A full history of the ship-building of St. Clair River, together with a sketch of the lives of the different commanders, would make a large and interesting book.
Before closing, I claim it to be my duty to leave a little record of my deceased brother, Capt. John H. Stewart. He may be justly ranked among the pioneer sailors of the lakes; he also stood high in his profession, and was greatly respected. In 1817, my father built a little sloop of twelve tons burden, for the purpose of carrying shingles, tan-bark, coal and such other freight as could be picked up along the shore of the river. In those days, men having freight of this kind were expected to help load and unload, as well as assist in the management of the boat. My brother commanded the sloop, and it was then he acquired a love for sailing and determined to make it his business. At the age of seventeen he made his wishes known to my father, who gave his consent, and in order that his boy might become perfect in his profession, he had him placed in charge of Capt. Chesley Blake, who had command of a fine schooner called the Mariner. My brother remained with Capt. Blake two seasons, and sailed the following season with Capt. Flaharty, on board a little Cleveland schooner called the Eclipse. He spent the winter of that year at Rochester, N. Y., and at the opening of navigation the next spring, entered the employ of Thompson & Co., of Buffalo. After that he entered the employ of O. Newberry, of Detroit, and sailed with Capt. Dingly on board the La Salle, and the two following seasons he was mate on one of Newberry's vessels. He next commanded the Pilot, built by Wesbrook & Henkly, and the following season he fitted out the Marshal Ney, owned by Ward & Newberry, and went as mate on her that year with Capt. Ward. I am not in possession of the dates, and can only give the time in which my brother first went as seaman, and the length of time he continued on the lakes. He shipped with Capt. Blake in 1820, as an apprentice. The names of the vessels and boats he commanded are as follows: The Pilot, Marshal Ney, Jena, Marengo, La Salle, Napoleon 1st, the brig Manhattan and Napoleon 2d, which Mr. Newberry placed on Lake Superior. It strikes me very forcibly that he had commanded one more vessel, but am not certain. In 1840, he chartered the Gen. Harrison from Capt. Ward for $1,200, and on his first trip from Chicago to Buffalo, he brought down a cargo of wheat at 25 cents per bushel, which amounted to $1,000, $200 less than the charter.
The first time business took me to Black River, where the city of Port Huron now stands, there were but three dwelling houses in the place, on being occupied by a Mr. Petit, and another was used as an Indian trading house. At the time, a mission school was opened at Fort Gratiot with one Mr. Hudson as principal, and a Mr. Hart as assistant. A very interesting and correct account of the early settlement of Port Huron and Black River has been published by Mrs. B. C. Farrand, of Port Huron, she obtaining information principally from Mr. Petit. I was much pleased when I read the whole article, on account of its correctness. The only error I detected, was in spelling Mr. Graveraet's name. Mr. G. assisted in procuring scholars for the mission school, and without his influence scarcely a scholar could be got. He was my step-mother's brother, and uncle to Garret G. Stewart, of Harsen's Island. After a trial of about two years, the mission was moved to the Island of Mackinac, where it was assisted by Mr. Graveraet's brother Henry. The only Indian scholar that I can remember attending the Fort Gratiot school was a brother-in-law of Mr. Jonathau Burtch, who came to Port Huron at an early date, and if I am not mistaken he erected the first frame building in which goods were sold. The first mill for the manufacture of pine lumber erected on Black River was built by Mr. Enos Morass, some years before the war of 1812. During the late war with England, our Government wanted some large sticks of pine timber, and the contract for furnishing them was given to Mr. Morass, who procured men and teams and went up Black River, selected and cut the timber, passing with it on his trains down Black and St. Clair Rivers, over Lake St. Clair, and down Detroit River, all the way on the ice, which at that day was considered an extraordinary undertaking. Another risky and dangerous undertaking which happened during the war, was performed by Mr. William Brown, father of Mr. James Brown, of Cottrellville. The troops at Fort Gratiot were short of provisions, and the Commissary at Detroit had orders to supply them. A short time previous, a Lieutenant of the Fort, in passing down the river, was shot by the Indians and killed, but the men who accompanied him escaped. At this time it was considered dangerous for small bodies of men to travel along the northern shore of Lake and River St. Clair, as large numbers of Indians were secreted in the woods. The commissary, in looking for a man who was thoroughly acquainted with the roads and paths through the forest, was recommended to Mr. Brown as a man well posted in the route, also a man of great courage and energy. Mr. Brown was engaged, and the next morning at an early hour he left Detroit with a train of fat cattle and other articles, arriving at Point aux Trembles that night. The next day he arrived at Fort Gratiot all safe. The supplies were gladly received, the officer in command thanking Mr. Brown for his promptness in the delivery. Another circumstance by which Mr. Brown met the approval of the military authorities happened in the fall of 1819. The militia of St. Clair was commanded by Capt. Wesbrook and Lieut. William Brown. While engaged in training, two of the militia men quarreled and wanted to fight, but were prevented by Lieut. Brown. Capt. Wesbrook said, let them fight if they wish, which remark brought on a quarrel between the Captain and the Lieutenant. Wesbrook charged Brown with disobeying a superior officer. Brown appeared before the Commander-in-Chief, who discharged Wesbrook and appointed Brown Captain in his place.
The first minister of the Gospel that visited our country came to my father's residence in the winter of 1818. His name was Dickson, and he was connected with the M. E. Church. There were but three families on the island, all of whom assembled at my father's residence to hear Mr. Dickson's discourse, which was the first sermon preached in St. Clair County by a Protestant minister. Two years after, we had preaching once a month by Methodist ministers, their circuit being very large, embracing the city of Chatham, Ont., and the country along River St. Clair. They were almost constantly in the saddle to meet their appointments. My father, although a Calvinist Baptist, and strongly opposed to Armenian doctrines, opened his house for these energetic men, and encouraged them until they organized societies able to support their own ministers. The Methodist ministers of that day were poor, humble and devout men, and the members of their societies lived the same prayerful lives. The Methodists of to-day, I think, have lost the religious simplicity possessed by the ministers of those early days. The Methodist ministers of to-day have more learning, the church has become wealthy, they have got hold of the silver spoons, and are standing on their dignity like other sectarian churches.
While I am writing about Methodist ministers, I will relate a little incident that happened about the year 1820. It was about midwinter, the weather being extremely cold; our minister called on us about 4 o'clock, and was seated in the sitting room before a roaring fire. While thus seated, the juvenile part of my father's family spoke to each other in whispers, and walked over the floor on their tip-toes. We were a noisy set usually, but our reverence for a minister of the Gospel was such as to place us under restraint. The house in which my father resided was of the old French style, and was built soon after the taking of Canada from the French. It had two bedrooms, a sitting room and a large kitchen, with a small bed room for the boys; consequently we could not lodge many guests. At about 8 o'clock that evening, three men called and asked for lodging for the night. They were three lawyers from Detroit; one was Judge B. F. H. Witherall, who was then a young lawyer, bearing a very youthful appearance. After our lawyers had partaken of their supper, arrangements for bed accommodation were made. Of course the minister must have the best bed and room; as the three lawyers could not sleep in one bed with comfort, it was therefore decided to bring the bed and bedding from the bed room and place it on the parlor floor before the fire-place, which was large, and was, on that occasion, provided with sufficient wood to keep fire at least ten hours. Our legal guests cheerfully submitted to the arrangements, and as the night was very cold, a pitcher of hot whisky sling was prepared for them before retiring, and a kettle of hot water was left on the hearth in case they required more sling. It appears that the lawyers spent the most of the night in drinking, telling anecdotes, laughing, etc. I learned from our good minister what had been going on in the parlor during the night. He got up about 4 o'clock and asked me to get his horse; he had had but little sleep and intended leaving before breakfast, not wishing any more of their company. I expressed my sorrow, and hoped that the next time he came he would have no Detroit lawyers to disturb him. I don't think there could be found at the present age a minister who would leave bed at 4 o'clock to avoid the company of three young lawyers. I have forgotten the names of the two that were with young Witherall, and have not since learned whether or not they repented their sins. I was afterward informed that Witherall, some years later, joined the Methodist Episcopal Church at Detroit. He was a good lawyer and afterward became Judge of the Wayne County Criminal Court.
But few, at this day, are aware of the hatred manifested by the old British settlers of the Territory, toward the Yankee, a name given by them to all American citizens of the United States. It was not so with the French people; they were glad to have the Bostonians come among them; but the most hatred was manifested by the old Indian traders. They feared the settlement of the States would injure their trade. In the neighborhood where my father lived there was an Indian trader; he was at home but a few months in the year; most of his time was occupied abroad with the Indians. He had a particular hatred for the d----d Yankee, as he generally called all persons from the States. He had manifested his spleen toward my father, who was informed of it through friendly parties. Early in the spring of 1816, he called apparently in great haste. He said that the Black Chief had called a council of the Indians, and that they were determined that no American should reside on the island; that the first settlers on the island were in general council adopted with their children into their tribes and could remain, but they would force all others to leave. He said he had called to give timely notice that my father could be put on his guard; and he feared he would have trouble with the Black Chief. This message was delivered in a hasty manner, and our informant left. In a few days an Indian called at my father's somewhat intoxicated. He made some statements which led my father to believe that he had been stuffed by the Indian trader. At this time, a neighbor stepped in and the Indian picked a quarrel with him and was knocked down. My father believing that the trader's whisky and council was the cause of the Indian's insolence and threats, seized his ax and hastened to the trader's house and when there walked deliberately in, knocked in the head of his barrel of whisky and turned it on the floor. The next day he manned his canoe and went to Detroit and stated his case to Gov. Cass. He informed the Governor that he had on one side a loyal British subject who disputed his right to reside on the island, and on the other hand, an Indian trader whom, he had good reason to believe, was instigating the Indians to annoy and molest him. On this representation the Governor told my father to return and if he should be further molested, to give him notice, and he would send troops to protect him. This affair ended all further trouble; the Indians became my father's best friends, and for many years supplied his table with venison and all kinds of wild game.
While I am writing about Indians, I will state a circumstance that happened in the year 1812 or 1813, as related by my step-mother. At the breaking-out of the war, the British Government secured the services (with but few exceptions) of all the Indians residing at Mackinac, Sault Ste. Marie and the shores of Lake Huron; a large number of them went in with the British troops to the assault on Fort Sandusky, commanded by Capt. Croghan. The repulse given by the Americans was so spirited and so destructive, that the British made a hasty retreat back to Malden, which caused a panic among their Indian allies, many of them refusing to remain. Two large birch canoes, filled with returning Indians were passing up the River St. Clair in the night, and when near my step-mother's residence on Harsen's Island, a thunder-storm burst upon them and upset one of their canoes, throwing about sixteen Indian warriors into the river to struggle for their lives. The night was perfect darkness and it was a long while before they could reach the shore. Those that reached the shore shouted to those struggling in the water, through the lightning's flash and peals of thunder. The shouts of Indians continued until all not drowned reached the shore. To my step-mother the scene was so frightful that she seized her brother's infant, threw a blanket around it and was about rushing into the wood near by, fearing that the Indians would massacre them, when she was prevented from doing so by her brother, and they both waited for the morning to reveal the mystery of the Indian shouts and yells of the night. At the dawn of day the next morning, two birch canoes filled with Indians were seen to leave the opposite side of the river and approach the island, and twenty great strapping Indians came ashore, their faces all blackened with charcoal --the Indian manner of mourning for departed friends. They looked very solemn, and stated that they were induced to go to war by the British, and were told by them that the Kit-che-moco-mans (Long-knives) were great cowards, and easily whipped, but they had found the statement not true; that the Americans had killed a great many British at Lower Sandusky; and that they had to retreat to save their lives, and were returning home when the storm struck them last night; one of their canoes was upset; that they were a long time in reaching the shore; that two of their number were drowned. The Indian speaker ended his statements by advising Mr. Graveraet to leave immediately, as the Long-knives were coming and would kill them.
At the breaking-out of the last war with England, there resided at or near Mackinac an Indian chief by the name of Wing, who was friendly to Americans, and when the British with their Indian allies surprised and captured Mackinac, in 1812, the chief, Wing, refused to take any part in the transaction, and through his influence restrained the members of his band from taking presents from the British, not even accepting a plug of tobacco. His fidelity to the Americans was so great that he selected eight strong men of his band to man his large birch canoe, with which he passed down Lakes Huron and St. Clair, and gave information to Gov. Hull of the capture of Mackinac. For this information and his zeal and fidelity to the American Government, he became a great favorite with the officers commanding at Mackinac. He visited the Governor every year at Detroit until his advanced age prevented him.
I have one more Indian story to relate, which happened in the spring of 1816, when Col. McNeil commanded Fort Gratiot. Among the numerous families of Indians that resided on Black River was that of an old Indian by name of Black Snake. He had a numerous family and was related to John Riley, a half Indian, who selected lands and resided in the township of Riley, St. Clair County. The town at its first organization was called Riley, in memory of the old Indian residents. The father of John Riley was a resident of Albany, N. Y., where his son John was educated when a boy. John considered himself a citizen of the United States, and the band of Indians to which he belonged were, through his influence, recognized as belonging to and under the protection of the American Government. Among the band of Indians there was a strong-built Indian by the name of Black Duck. He had for a wife a daughter of Black Snake and was strongly attached to the American Government. The Black Duck was an invited guest at a great Indian feast held at or near the mouth of Black River. At this feast much whisky was drunk and many speeches made. The Indians from Canada took part, one of whom boasted of his power and bravery as a warrior, and related how many Americans he had killed and scalped during the past war. As soon as the Indian finished this speech, Black Duck jumped to his feet, and seizing a tomahawk, approached the speaker and said: "You are a great brave; you have killed many Americans; you have taken their scalps. The Americans you have killed were my friends, and you will kill no more!" Black Duck buried his tomahawk in the boastful speaker's head and here the pleasures of the feast ended. The Black Duck knew that the avengers of blood would be upon him, for with Indians it was, as it has been in olden times, "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;" he therefore hastened to lay his case before Gov. Cass, and seek his protection. He was placed in the fort for safety. The Governor was well acquainted with John Riley, who had rendered valuable service to our Government during the war. Through Riley, a proposition was made to have the matter settled by paying the Indians for their dead relative. On this proposition a council was held before the Governor, at which the avengers of blood agreed to take the pay for their dead relative according to their valuation, besides a selection of goods from the public store in Detroit. They demanded forty quarts of whisky, which they considered necessary in order to soften their hearts and cause the tears to flow more easily over their dead relative. The Governor's Secretary drew an order on my father for the forty quarts of whisky. I was present and wondered that Indians with such dark skins should paint their faces with black charcoal, but I was told that they were mourning for the dead.
I have stated that Mr. Jacob Harsen was the first purchaser of Harsen's Island. He had a family of seven children, five sons and two daughters. His eldest daughter was the wife of Mr. Graveraet, who settled with him on the island. Immediately after the purchase of the island from the Indians, Mr. Graveraet died, leaving a family of four children, who, with their mother, made their home principally with their grandfather, until grown up and sufficiently old to take care of themselves. In the two families, thus united, there were several serious accidents causing death of some of its members and loss of limb to others. It appears that Mr. Harsen was brought up in the faith and discipline of the Lutheran Church, and he endeavored to train his children in accordance with the rules of that church. Although in a wilderness where wild game was abundant, he forbade the use of fire-arms on the Sabbath. But one Sabbath morning while all was quiet and the members of the family were all in the house, a large flock of ducks lit on the shore near the house. The sight of the ducks was so tempting to the eldest son that he seized his gun and attempted to fire at the ducks, but the powder flashed in the pan; he ran into the house to re-prime his gun. When entering, the butt of the gun struck the door, which caused an explosion, the whole charge entering Miss Graveraet's arm, then a girl of seven years. It was so frightfully mangled that she was immediately taken to Detroit to have it amputated. Miss Graveraet spent most of the days of her childhood in the family of Judge May, of Detroit, where she learned to sew, and became so expert with the needle that few could excel her at various kinds of needlework. She became my father's second wife in 1814, and was the mother of Capt. Albert Stewart, of Detroit, and Garret G. Stewart Esq., of Harsen's Island. The next serious accident that happened in the Harsen family was in 1800. At this time old Mr. Harsen was dead, and his son Barnard became head of the family. It appears that a keg of powder had been placed in the parlor chimney, and on Saturday evening several pounds had been weighed out to men that had been at work in the harvest field during the week, and some had been spilt on the hearth; by some means fire had been communicated to the powder, and the whole keg of twenty pounds exploded, blowing the house into fragments, and instantly killing Mr. Barnard Harsen and Mrs. Graveraet; a large pewter platter, which was lying on the head of the keg, was driven with such force as to almost cut Mrs. Graveraet in two; other members of the family were badly burned and wounded, but recovered. At the time of this explosion, there was stopping with Mr. Harsen a Moravian minister by the name of Denkey, who was a great smoker, and it was surmised that he had emptied his pipe on the chimney, which set fire to some paper and thus communicated with the powder. Denkey was not in the house at the time of the explosion, and the conjecture that he was the cause, may have been wrong. He wrote out a full statement of the accident and had it placed in my step-mother's Bible, and when a boy I read the account as he gave it, but the record is lost and I am writing from memory. At this explosion, a looking-glass of my step-mother's was blown nearly a mile, and was found in the south channel of River St. Clair; the frame and quicksilver were gone; it was put in a frame again and kept by my step-mother as a relic of the accident.
About ten years after the blowing-up of the house, causing the death of two of the members of the Harsen family, Mr. James Harsen went over to Big Bear Creek on the Canadian side to trade with the Indians. At this time, John Riley was there on a spree, and as Mr. Harsen was stooping to enter his cabin, he (Riley) fired off his rifle, the ball entered Mr. H.'s eye and passing out behind his ear. From this wound Mr. Harsen lingered in great misery for about six months, and died at his home on Harsen's Island.
The names of the steamboats commanded by my brother John were Michigan 1, and Michigan 2, owned by O. Newberry, of Detroit, and the Northern, owned in Cleveland. He also commanded a steamboat on the Chicago and St. Joseph route, the name of which I have forgotten. In 1855, he purchased an interest in the steam tug Pilot, but as his health was fast failing his physicians advised him to abandon the waters and remain quiet at home. He did as advised, remaining at home until the day of his death, which was on the 28th of May, 1855, in the fiftieth year of his age. He entered on his profession in the year 1820, and continued it for thirty-five years. He was the first seaman from St. Clair County appointed to the command of a vessel at Detroit. In two cases he risked his life to save the lives of drowning sailors and passengers. He was generous to a fault, and could shed a tear for suffering humanity. His death was sudden, as his physicians had previously told him it would be. He was at my place in the morning on business and died before reaching home, in an apoplectic fit, it being the third attack of the kind. He left a good record, which his surviving children should imitate and be proud of.
After writing the above memoirs, I visited my brother, G. G. Stewart, of Harsen's Island, and while there I asked to examine my father's papers, among which I found the appointment of Harvey Stewart as County Commissioner, in and for the County of St. Clair. The commission had the seal of the Territory, signed by Lewis Cass, Governor, and William Woodbridge, Secretary of State, and was dated the 22d day of May, 1822. Following the above appointment is the commission of Gov. Cass appointing my father Master in Chancery in and for the Territory of Michigan, and dated April 20, 1827.
Regarding myself, I have made a poor record. While many men of my day have become wealthy, and some have filled honorable stations, it has been my lot to remain poor. The exposures of my pioneer life left me subject to chronic disease at the age of forty, which have prevented me from doing continuous hard labor; yet I have assisted in clearing up three farms, one of which I had the misfortune to lose through a defective title, but afterward recovered part by purchase from the lawful owner, requiring all my earnings for five years to meet the payments. I have lamented my lack of a good education; the little I did receive was picked up two and three months at a time, the whole not exceeding one year's tuition. Had I been blest with a good education, I should have sought business less laborious, in which I am inclined to think I would have succeeded. After all, my evil Genii may have been the cause of all my mishaps. Possessing as I do a nervous temperament, I have many times kicked against the pricks; yet in the discharge of public duty and business affairs, I have endeavored to make myself reliable. I, with my deceased brother, Capt. J. H. Stewart, came to Michigan in the month of November, 1815. I have been a resident of St. Clair County sixty years, and now claim to be the oldest emigrant resident of St. Clair County. To-day there are only four persons living in the township of Clay that cast their ballots at the first election held in St. Clair County and the names of these persons are, George Harrow, Azel Abel and the writer."
In February, 1876, the following letter appeared regarding some of Mr. Stewart's statements:
Harsen's Island, February, 1876
EDITOR GAZETTE --In A. P. Stewart's recollections concerning the shooting of Francis Harsen by Robert Little, some mis-statements are made which I wish to correct. Little never refused to pay rent; no trouble arose from that cause. When the first lease had expired, Harsen came up from Detroit and leased his farm to Little for five years more. It was agreed that Little was to go to Detroit and then papers would be drawn up to this effect. Before Little went to Detroit, A. P. Stewart's father took occasion to inform Harsen that Little would attempt to hold possession of the farm if he (Harsen) leased it to him for another five years; it was thought likely, at that time, that the island would fall to the British Government, and Stewart, supposing Little to be a British subject, told Harsen that Little would claim it. Little never told Harsen that he would dispossess him, nor did he ever order him from the premises.
When Little was informed by friends that Harsen was coming with a force of men to oust him, he was greatly surprised. When he saw them coming he barred the doors; they demanded the premises, and Little refused to yield possession, having a lease of them for five years, as he could prove. Then they went around in front of the house and held a council, and afterward marched down to Stewart's distillery and he supplied them with whisky. At this moment one of the men, more intoxicated than the rest, approached the house and fired through the window, the bullet passing between Little's wife and daughter, who were sitting on a bed. Then little shot at the man who fired through the window, missing him; one of the shot, however, struck Francis Harsen in the fleshy part of the leg. Harsen, when hit, was walking by himself on the bank of the river. It was thought, from the position of the parties, that the shot must have glanced from the frozen ground and struck Harsen, the wounded man himself afterward coinciding in this opinion.
Sheriff Fulton came to the window and advised Little to give up the premises, saying that the men were all intoxicated and he was afraid might commit murder. Little told him if he had proper authority he might break the door down and he would not molest him or any of his party. Then Lieut. Brown came in and was showing his authority by throwing the furniture around, when Little put Brown out of doors. The case was carried to court. Afterward Harsen came to a settlement with Little, and all trouble ceased.
Harsen said himself that there would not have been any trouble had it not been for A. P. Stewart's father. Stewart was the instigator of the row. Harsen and Little were ever after friends, remaining so until death.
Robert Little was born in Maryland; his father moved to Grosse Point, Mich., and he lived there with his father until he became of age and owned a farm there. Married a Miss Tucker, of Mt. Clemens; sold his farm at that point and bought a farm at Mt. Clemens; from thence he came up and leased Harsen's farm to carry on a dairy; from thence he moved back to Mt. Clemens; lived there until his wife's death. He had a family of twelve children, of whom nine are living; the oldest is eighty-four years of age. Two sons of his were volunteers in the war of 1812, at Mt. Clemens under Col. Stockton. His daughter, Mrs. Johnson, who came so near to getting shot, is living yet. After his wife's death, he resided with his son in Wallaceburg, Ont., one of the most prominent business men of that place, where he died in 1847,aged seventy-six years. He left a large circle of friends and relatives to mourn his loss.
This statement I learned from Francis Harsen and from my father, Robert Little, as well as from other eye witnesses, who, I think, have better recollections than A. P. Stewart, of this case.
Yours respectfully, N. Little.
The following letter from Mr. Stewart formed the reply:
ALGONAC, February 26, 1876
EDITOR GAZETTE --In the last issue of your paper I find a note by which I learn that you hesitate to publish my reply to N. Little, until you see me, but for what reason I cannot easily guess. N. Little, in his reply to the account given in my memoirs of the shooting of Mr. Harsen, makes out my statement to be false; that my father was a bad man and the cause of that difficulty; he also states that the militiamen collected by Sheriff Fulton and commended by Lieut. Brown were a drunken mob. I am not willing to remain silent and allow such statements to go before the public unrebuked. Mr. John Robertson, an old gentleman residing on Belle River, is the only living man that assisted Sheriff Fulton in getting Little from the Harsen farm. Mr. Robertson's moral character is unimpeachable; he is a Christian and is respected where known. N. Little's statements have been pretty thoroughly discussed in this place since their publication, and are not believed by the respectable part of the community. I have remained quiet and let the public discuss the matter, and was much gratified when informed that the decisions were in my favor. N. Little accuses me of falsehood, and taints the reputation of my father, Sheriff Fulton, Lieut. Brown and the men under his command; and in reply, I claim the right to give a brief history of N. Little's father and grandfather, and let them stand face to face before the public. To refuse me this privilege is wronging me and the worthy persons I feel it my duty to defend. Perhaps you think my reply to N. Little too severe; severe or not, it is a matter of history recorded in the memory of the old inhabitants for the last eighty years, and so often related in my hearing when a boy, that I retained it as readily as I do the English alphabet. If you think my charge too heavy for your gun, and that it will burst in expounding, then return my article and I will seek redress elsewhere. The old rat that said caution was the parent of safety, was considered a wise old fellow, and perhaps in most cases the old rat's logic is the best; but the rat's reasoning was to save its life, not in the defense of the moral character of itself and friends. I have written enough, and shall only add that if you cannot publish my reply to N. Little, kindly publish this letter; I would like it published even if you do publish my reply. I know one or two parties who were eye witnesses to N. Little's dispossession, and as soon as I can get their statements, I shall forward them to you for publication.
Very respectfully, A. P. Stewart.
as written in 1876
Notations - May 2004
Some people believe that Isaac Graveraet mentioned in these memoirs was actually Garret Graveraet. In addition, some references to a James Harsen may have actually been referring the Jacob Harsen.
Near the end of his memoirs Aura wrote:
Regarding myself, I have made a poor record. While many men of my day have become wealthy, and some have filled honorable stations, it has been my lot to remain poor. . . . I have lamented my lack of a good education; the little I did receive was picked up two and three months at a time, the whole not exceeding one year's tuition.
You did not make a poor record. You have left for future generations a wonderful record of the early 1800's in St. Clair County. Your one year's tuition has served you well and your writings live on. Thank you Aura.