Wayne County Michigan
History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan
Written By Silas Farmer 1890
Vol I - Pt. I - Locality - Chapter I - Pg. 3-5
|Detroit: Its Names, Location, and Surroundings.— An Old City.— Remarkable Facts.— Unique
Records. — Indian Designations. — Their Meaning.— A Prophetic Name. — Later Names. — The
Word Detroit.— Corporate Titles. — Location of City. — Boundaries. — Latitude and Longitude.—
Relation to Other Cities. — Conformation of Ground. - Mrs. Jameson's Description. — Present Appearance.— Adjacent Townships and Villages.
— Hamtramck, Springwells. Grosse Pointe. Greenfield.
DETROIT: ITS NAMES, LOCATION, AND SURROUNDINGS.
America has but few cities that can properly be
called old. Detroit is one of these, and its history is unique and peculiarly interesting. Before
New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, or Boston was
settled, and long before the time of Oliver Cromwell, the Sieur de Champlain had nearly reached
our border, and the Indians had described our site.
The city was founded before Peter the Great had
built St. Petersburg.
When Cadillac came the East India Company
and the South Sea Bubble had not been heard of,
and there was not a newspaper or a post-office in
the United States. The first colony here established
was like a bit of France in the wilds of the New
World, and no city in the Eastern States, and but
one or two in the South and West, have anything in
common with our earlier life. Some of the old
records read like a page of Froissart, and visions of
mediaeval scenes and pictures of savage life are
strangely intermingled in the records of our past.
Cradled in romance, nurtured in war, and trained in
the school of conservatism, the city now glories in
her position as the most attractive and most substantial of all the cities whose traditions reach back
to the days of the "Grand Monarch." Like some
old castle on the Loire, with cresting, tile, and finial
added to the ancient towers and moss-grown battlements, so Detroit stands, a proud relic of the
past, graced and crowned with all the gifts of the
present. Even in its names, it is favored above
most cities. At different times it has been designated by no less than six distinct appellations, and
has had three different corporate names.
In the old traditions of the Algonquin Indians, it
was known by the name of Yon-do-ti-ga, or Yon-do-
ti-a, A Great Village; its first name was thus prophetic of its future. It was also called Wa-we-a-tun-ong. Circuitous Approach, on account of its
location at the bend of the river. The Wyandotte
called the site of Detroit Toghsaghrondie, or Tyschsarondia, which name, variously spelled, will be
found in the old Colonial Documents, published by
the State of New York; it has been modernized into
Teuscha Grondie, and has reference to the course of
the river. The Huron Indians called the place
Ka-ron-ta-en. The Coast of the Strait.
When first settled, the location received the name
of Fort Ponchartrain, in honor of Count Ponchartrain, the then French Colonial Minister of Marine.
As the number of inhabitants increased, and the
settlement grew into a village, it received its present
name from the word detroit, or strait. Its popular
cognomen, the City of the Straits, is thence derived.
It is an interesting fact that the name of the
oldest city in the Canadian Dominion and the first
capital of that region, the place from which Cadillac
and the first settlers came hither, is derived from the
Algonquin word quebeis or quelibec, signifying a
strait; the cities of Detroit and Quebec thus bear
names similar in origin and signification.
The early French colonists applied the name
Detroit to the settlements on both sides of the river,
calling one North Detroit, the other South Detroit.
It is also known that early French travelers designated all of the waters between Lakes Erie and
Huron as the detroit. This generalization has led
several modern authors into the error of locating
events here that really occurred on the river St.
The city's corporate names have been as follows:
By Act of January 18, 1802, it was designated as
the "Town of Detroit." By Act of October 24.
1815. it was called the "City of Detroit." On April
4. 1827. it was enacted that the corporate name
should be "The Mayor. Recorder, and Aldermen of
the City of Detroit." On February 5, 1857, he was
enacted that the name should be " City of Detroit."
The city is located near the head of the river, on
its northerly and westerly banks. The eastern
boundary is about four miles from Lake St. Clair,
and the western, nearly twenty miles from Lake
Erie. The river separates the British Province of
Ontario, formerly Upper Canada, from the State of
Michigan, County of Wayne. The city is bounded
on the north by the townships of Greenfield and
Hamtramck, on the east by Hamtramck, and on the
west by the township of Springwells. Reckoning
from the flagstaff on the City Hall tower, Detroit
lies in latitude 420 19' 50.28' north; and longitude
830 2' 47.63' west of Greenwich, England, and 5"
595' 45.83' west of Washington, D. C. Our time is
therefore 23 minutes 59.06 seconds slower than that
of Washington. Rome and Constantinople are in
nearly the same latitude, and Havana and Calcutta
are longitudinally in the same range. Upon a globe
the city appears as opposite the northwest corner of
the Chinese Empire, and on an air line, it is about
one thousand miles northeast of New Orleans, or the
Gulf of Mexico, and seven hundred miles west of
New York and the Atlantic Coast.
The older portions of the city, including all south
of Adams Avenue, are built on a succession of
ridges running parallel with the river, their general
direction being from cast to west. Counting from
the river to Adams Avenue, there were at least four
ridges. At the corner of Woodward and Jefferson
Avenues the ground is twenty-two feet above the
river. From Woodward Avenue the ground slopes
gradually away to the west until, at Second Street,
the roadway is on a level with the wharves. Another ridge is shown at Fort Street. It crossed
Woodward Avenue and extended beyond Farmer
Street. The third ridge was just south of the Grand
Circus; and the property of H. H. Leroy on the
west side of Woodward Avenue shows that the
street at that point has been graded down nearly
four feet. At High Street, and again at Fremont
Street, the rise of ground is quite noticeable. At
the Holden Road the elevation is fully fifty-two feet
above the river.
"Beautiful for situation," the city wins the praises
of all who look upon it. No one has more faithfully
portrayed its appearance, and the feelings of a visitor, than Mrs. Jameson. She says:
The day has been most intolerably hot; even on the lake there
was not a breath of air. But as the sun went down in his glory,
the breeze freshened, and the spires and lowers of the city of
Detroit were seen against the western sky.
The schooners at anchor, or dropping into the river, the little
canoes flitting across from side to side, the lofty buildings, the
enormous steamers, the noisy port and busy streets, all bathed in
the light of a sunset such as I had never seen, not even in Italy,
almost turned me giddy with excitement.
Since her visit in 1837, the city has both gained
and lost in beauty. The old pear-trees no longer
form a setting to the houses of white and red, and
the tints of gray and brown have mostly disappeared. Rarer architecture now looms amid the
trees and richer coloring greets the eye, and those
who come to see, linger to admire.
A large portion of the adjoining township of
Hamtramck is built up near the river, and iron
smelting, stove and hollow-ware manufacturing, and
other kindred industries are extensively carried on
there. Stores and shops line the main road,—an
extension of Jefferson Avenue, and many elegant
residences are located on the river-side. Belle Isle
lies in front, and opportunities for boating are unsurpassed. The new City Water Works, with receiving basins, substantial engine-houses, and other
buildings, are in the extreme eastern corner. Here
also are Linden Park, the Driving Park, and the
German Shooting Grounds, and Milwaukee Railroad
Junction. The villages of Leeville and Norris are
also within the township links. This latter suburb
is about six miles from the city. It was laid out in
August, 1873, by Colonel P. W. Norris, after whom
it is named. He purchased the grounds in 1865.
The village is located about thirty feet above the
forks of Connor's Creek, on gently undulating
ground; the soil is dry and sandy, but very fertile. Prairie Mound, once a favorite haunt of the
Indians, and one of their burial-places, is in full view
of the village.
An abundant supply of good well-water is easily
reached. All the streets and avenues are seventy
feet wide ; one is one hundred feet wide and extends
to Woodward Avenue. A large Orphan Asylum,
controlled by the Lutheran Church, is here located.
Near the village is the crossing and station of the
Bay City and Grand Trunk railroads.
The township of Springwells, on the southwest
boundary of Detroit, contains a noted railroad junction,originally called the Grand Trunk Junction; the
post-office name is now Detroit Junction. Connections are here made between the Michigan Central,
Grand Trunk, Detroit, Lansing & Northern, Lake
Shore & Michigan Southern, Flint & Pere Marquette,
and Detroit & Butler railroads. The car shops of
the Michigan Central Railroad, consisting of four
large and other smaller buildings, were located here
in 1873, and many railroad employes have built
homes near by. Here, also, are the extensive car
manufacturing shops of the Michigan Car Company,
—an establishment unrivalled by that of any other
car-building company in the United States. The
extensive dry docks and ship yard of John P. Clark,
the Baugh steam forge establishment, the leather
manufactory of the late Marshall Jewell, and the
large tobacco manufactory of Daniel Scotten, several
large nurseries and extensive brick-yards, the smelting works of the Detroit & Lake Superior Copper
Company, the village of Delray, the Detroit Glass
Works, Fort Wayne, St. Luke's Hospital, and Woodmere Cemetery are in this town.
The shore line of Grosse Pointe township, which
joins Hamtramck on the north, is washed by the
clear blue waters of lake St. Clair. The township
is celebrated for its cherries. It is the summer resort
of a number of Detroit families, who have erected
elegant residences and determined its future as the
most desirable and attractive suburb that Detroit,
can ever possess. A lighthouse, on what is known
as Windmill Point, marks the entrance of the river
into the lake, and is the chief landmark of the
The township of Greenfield adjoins the city on the
north. Here is the immense seed farm of D. M.
Ferry & Company, embracing three hundred acres.
Vol I - Pt. I - Locality - Chapter II - Pg. 6 - 10
The River, Islands, Wharves and Docks, Streams and Mills. —The River.— Original Scenery.—
A Natural and National Boundary. —Length, Width, Depth, Character of Bottom.—- Harbor.—
Volume of Water. — Current. — Elevation above Sea. — Condition in Winter.— Ice Supply.—Absence of Danger.— Highest and Lowest Levels.—Causes of Rise and Fall.— Temperature.— Boating
Facilities.—Excursions. — Names of Islands.— Origin of Names.— Curious Statements.—Wharves
and Docks.— The River Line.— Improvement of River Front.— Early Docks.— Length of Docks.—
Three Old Streams. — Courses and Names of Streams. — Accident on the Savoyard. — Bridges.—
Fishing at Congress Street.— Transformations.— Old Mills.— Their Location.
THE RIVER, ISLANDS, WHARVES AND DOCKS.
STREAMS AND MILLS, THE RIVER.
London has its Thames, Paris, the Seine, Rome,
the Tiber, and New York, the Hudson; but in
everything the Detroit excels them all. It is no
wonder that the first visitors came by water when
such a stream flowed by them and beckoned them
along. All the early travelers bore testimony to the
beauty of the river and the volume of its waters,
which the population of a score of the largest cities
cannot diminish or defile. Then as now islands,
like emeralds, were strung along its way, and myriads
of wild fowl then fed upon its shores; its waters
did not "dash high on a stern and rock-bound
coast," but were so still and calm and clear that
the smoke of wigwams, nestled on their banks, was
mirrored on their smooth surface. Scores of canoes
were hauled up on the river-side, while others flashed
along the current or plied to either shore. Later
on. windmills stretched their broad arms to the
breeze, and, with fish-nets hung on reels, formed the landmarks of their day.
The Detroit River is undoubtedly one of the most
remarkable in the world. It forms a natural boundary between the United States and Upper Canada,
separating the State of Michigan from the Province
of Ontario; the boundary line opposite Detroit is
about midway of the stream, and for most of the
distance nearest the Canadian shore. The United
States thus has jurisdiction over the larger portion.
It was declared to be a public highway by Act of
Congress December 31, 1819. From Windmill
Point Light, at the foot of Lake St. Clair, to Bar
Point, where the river empties into Lake Erie, the
distance is 27 miles. 1515 yards. The distances
between other established points are as follows:
From Windmill Point Light to foot of Isle La Peche,
1534 yards; from Isle La Peche to foot of Belle Isle,
3 miles, 254 yards; from Belle Isle to Woodward
Avenue, 2 miles, 347 yards; from Woodward Avenue
to head of Fighting Island, 7 miles, 780 yards; from
Fighting Island to Bois Blanc Lighthouse, n miles,
640 yards; from Bois Blanc Lighthouse to Bar
Point, 2 miles, 1480 yards.
The greatest width of the river is three miles; in
its narrowest point, opposite the city, it is a little
over half a mile wide. Its average width is one
mile. The depth varies from ten to sixty feet, with
an average of thirty-four feet. The river bottom,
for the most part, is sandy or stony. It is navigable
for vessels of the largest class, is almost entirely
free from obstructions of any sort, and offers one of
the largest and safest harbors in the world. London is the largest port, but more tonnage passes
Detroit than ever enters the Thames.
The waters of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron,
and St. Clair, of Green, Saginaw, and Georgian
Bays, also of thousands of streams that enter them,
flow into the Detroit. It is, in fact, the natural
drain or channel for the passage of waters from
eighty-two thousand square miles of lake surface,
and one hundred and twenty-five thousand square
miles of land, thus rivalling the Ohio, which is more
than forty times as long.
The current is rapid and generally uniform; the
maximum velocity is 2.44 miles per hour, the mean
velocity, 1.79 miles. It is estimated that two hundred and twelve thousand cubic feet of water pass
the city each second of time.
More fresh water is discharged through this river
than through any other in the world except the Niagara and the St. Lawrence. The incline amounts
to one and one half inches per mile, or three feet for
its entire length. The elevation above sea-level, at
a point opposite the Marine Hospital, is five hundred
and seventy-seven feet. The river is not generally
frozen over until the latter part of December or
January; but in extreme cold weather the ice is from
twelve to twenty inches thick.
Previous to 1854, persons and teams frequently
crossed over on the ice; and on February 10, 1855,
the river was so completely frozen that a little shanty
was erected in the middle, in which liquors were
The breaking of the ice by the daily trips of the Railroad Ferry Boats, since 1854. has precluded any
further crossing on foot in front of the city. Such is the rapidity of the current that the river is soon
cleared of floating ice. The gathering of ice is an extensive business, and from 50.000 to 100,000 tons
are annually stored for summer use. The water supplied to citizens amounts to 6,000,000,000 gallons yearly.
The river is usually tranquil and never dangerously rough. The water is of a bluish tinge, and in
transparency and purity is unrivalled. Like other bodies of water, the river rises and
falls, but unlike other large rivers, the variations are never so sudden or extreme as to cause any inconvenience, and buildings are erected at the water's edge without fear of damage.
In the year 1800, again in 1814-1815, and also in 1827-1828, and in 1838, the river rose from three to
six feet above its usual level, remaining so for two or three years, and then subsiding quite rapidly.
The mean annual rise is about sixteen inches during July or August. The low-water period is in
February or March. The highest recorded level was on June 2, 1838, when the water was only two
and eight tenths feet below the water table of the Water Works Engine House, One of the lowest
levels recorded was in the winter of 1819, when the water was eight and five tenths feet lower than usual.
A succession of wet seasons, or winters of heavy
snows, causes it to rise, and the reverse occurs in
dry seasons. The most marked effect is produced
by winds; the river is perceptibly lowered when a
southwest wind strikes it, and the water is driven
into Lake St. Clair and blown down into Lake Erie.
In March, 1873, a strong wind of this kind lowered
the river some five feet below its mean level. A
northeast wind will reverse the above conditions
and cause it to rise proportionately.
The temperature of the water varies from 330
Fahrenheit for the winter months to 73° for the summer season. The variation between the surface and
the bottom is about 3'.
The breadth, general safety, and smoothness of
the river make it specially inviting for boating and
yachting, and in later years many persons have
availed themselves of the facilities afforded. Several noteworthy regattas have been held here, and
boatmen all concede that no finer location can be
found for a trial of skill. During the summer season, excursions up and down the river, and to different islands, are of almost hourly occurrence.
The islands vary in size from one to several thousand acres. Two of them arc located above, and
twenty below the city. Beginning at the head of
the river, the first is Isle La Peche, or Isle of the
Fishes, also called, Peach Island. It is
situated on the Canadian side of the river, and was,
during the summer months, the home of Pontiac.
Belle Isle, the City Park, is described in the article
on Parks. Beginning at a point six miles below the
city are the islands known as Fighting, Mud, Grassy,
Grass, Mama-Juda, Grosse, Turkey, Stoney, Slocum's. Humbug, Fox, Elba, Calf, Snake, Hickory,
Sugar, Bois Blanc, Horse, Cherry, and Tawa, or
Celeron. Fighting Island, also called in 1796. Great
Turkey Island, was originally occupied by the Wyandotts, and in 1858 it was sold by the Canadian Government for their benefit- In 1810 Indian entrenchments were plainly visible on the northeast end of
the island, and from these warlike appearances the
island took its name.
An old French memoir of the date of 1717 says:
Two leagues from Fort Detroit is an island called Isle aux Dindes. It is so called because Turkeys are always to be found there.
It contains only very little timber, only prairie. Four or five years
ago, a man named Le Tonnerre, principal Chief of the Foxes, and
two of the same tribe, were killed there by the Hurons, settled at
Detroit. The two Foxes who were with Le Tonnerre were devoured by wild beasts, crows, or other vermin; but the body of Le
Tonnerre was still uninjured a year afterward, not an animal having touched him.
Grosse, or Great Island, is the largest in the river. The French memoir just quoted says:
It is very fine and fertile and extensive, being, as is estimated,
from six to seven leagues in circumference. There is an extraordinary quantity of apple trees on this island, and those who have
seen the apples on the ground say that they arc more than half a
foot deep; the apple trees are planted as if methodically, and the
apples are as large as small pippins. Abundance of excellent millstones are found on this island; all around it are very fine prairies.
It was a long time doubtful whether Detroit should not be founded there. The cause of the hesitation was the apprehension that the timber might some day fail.
At one time, the locating of Fort Wayne on this island was seriously considered, and on some
accounts it would have been an extremely favorable
situation. The banks rise abruptly from the water in many places to fully twenty feet in height. In
1776 Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton gave William Macomb leave to occupy the island, and on July 5,
1793, Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe gave his family permission to continue.
Several citizens of Detroit have elegant residences here, and there are many fine farms and homes. The Canada Southern Railroad extends to the
island, connecting by ferry with the Canada shore.
Mama-Juda Island contains twenty-nine acres,
and is named from an did squaw, who, prior to 1807,
used to camp there year after year, during the fishing season. She finally died on the island.
Slocura's island of about two hundred acres, is owned by G. B. Slocum.
Humbug Island, of some forty acres, just below,
is also owned by Mr. Slocum. It is not inappropriately named, for it is rather a part of the main,
land than an island.
Elba Island, in 1817, was thickly covered with trees.
Bois Blanc, or White wood Island, on the Canadian side of the river, was occupied by the Huron
Indians in 1742, and contained a village regularly
laid out and inhabited by several hundred people.
Father Pothier was in charge of a mission among
them, but in 1747 they became estranged from the
French and he returned to Detroit. The following
year the difficulties were settled, and a Huron Mission was established at Sandwich under charge of
Fathers Pothier and De la Richardie.
In 1796. when the British yielded up Detroit, they
erected a blockhouse on this island, but as the
United States protested that it did not belong to
them, they for the time yielded the point, and soon
after erected a fort at Maiden.
In 1813. during the fight which preceded Perry's
victory, Tecumseh and his Indians were here
encamped- When the patriots were in possession
in 1838, they denuded it of the trees in order to get
better range for their cannon.
Celeron Island, of seventy acres, is so named
after Sieur de Celeron, once Commandant of Detroit.
WHARVES AND DOCKS.
By the building of wharves and docks, and the
extension of the shore by "made land" the river is
continually encroached upon. At the foot of Woodward Avenue, it once came up seventy-seven feet
north of the north line of Atwater Street; and
between Woodward Avenue and Wayne Street it
covered half the space occupied by the blocks
between Atwater and Woodbridge Streets. At
Cass Street it covered a part of what is now Jefferson Avenue. On T. Smith's map of the town as it
was in 1796 are shown two wharves called respectively Merchants' and Public or King's Wharf.
One of the earliest records concerning the wharves
recounts the voting of a tax, on "July 26, 1804, of
twenty-eight pounds eight shillings New York currency for repairing wharf." The wharf repaired was
probably that formerly known as King's Wharf, still
in use in 1823.
In 1819 permission was granted to H. Berthelet to
build a wharf at the foot of Randolph Street.
Wharves were also built, about this time, by Mr.
Hudson and Mr. Roby. As the city grew, an increasing amount of rubbish and refuse was deposited on
the low grounds at the river's edge. This created
an almost constant nuisance, and from time to time
efforts were made to correct the evil. On July 3,
1820. a tax of five hundred days labor was voted to
be spent "on the border of the river." In 1826 the
permanent improvement of the river front was begun
by the depositing, along the margin, of earth from
the embankment of Fort Shelby. During the
following years up to 1834, the work was continued
at an expense of over $10,000.
One of the improvements of 1827 was known as
the Steam Mill Wharf. The City Council voted to
give the perpetual use of sixty feet in width on
Woodward Avenue, from At water Street to the
channel of the river, to a Steam Mill Company, for
the erection of a mill, provided it was built within
two years; the City also expended $3,000 in tilling in
and building a dock for the site of the mill, which
was never erected. Since that time the work has
gone on until good and substantial docks, nearly five
miles in length, now line the river along the city
STREAMS AND MILLS.
Within the present city limits three different
streams once flowed on their winding way, buoying
up the light canoe, or turning the mills of the French
The courses of these streams, in their relation to
present street lines, in so far as old deeds, maps and
observations furnish data for judgment, are indicated
on the accompanying map.
The Savoyard Creek, branch of the Huron, or
Xavier River, as it is variously called, had its rise in
a willow swamp on the Guoin Farm, near where
Riopelle Street now crosses Congress. In 1821 the
south bank of the stream was one hundred and
ninety-one feet north of the south side of Larned
Street; meandering westward, it reached Woodward
Avenue at Congress Street, and here a wide bridge
spanned the stream. At other places, single planks
enabled pedestrians to cross. In 1822 I.. E. Dolson,
then a boy of nine years, was jumping on one of
these foot bridges on Congress Street, just east of
Griswold, when the plank broke, letting him fall into
the water, which was about eight feet deep. Becoming entangled in the reeds and rushes which
were plentiful at the bottom, he barely escaped
The stream, in early times, was much used in going to and from the river; and boy-anglers found
successful fishing at the corner of Woodward Avenue and Congress Street. Its outlet was at a point
on the Jones Farm close to the Cass line, about
where Fourth Street intersects Woodbridge Street.
Prior to May, 1826, there was a jog in Woodbridge
Street at this point, and an old bridge which crossed
the creek, not being in line with the street, was removed by order of the Common Council, and a new
one of stone was built in proper line. A channel,
walled with wood, was also constructed from the
bridge to the river. On December 4, 1826, a certificate was issued to De Garmo Jones for $422.31 for
constructing said bridge and channel.
In course of time, and increasingly as the years
went on, the people living near the border of this
stream used it as a drain, and after Fort Shelby was
demolished, the bottom and sides, for some distance, were planked with lumber from that fortification. It then became practically an open sewer;
and, as such, lost all its primeval charms, and grew
so offensive and malodorous that in 1836 the city
was compelled, at a great expense, to convert it into
a deep and covered sewer by enclosing it in stone.
A "grand sewer" it became, and still fulfills its mission. The creek is said to have been named Savoyard from the fact that one of the earliest settlers on
its banks came from Savoy.
The stream more recently known as May's Creek,
after Judge May, was formerly called Cabacier's
Creek, from Joseph Cabacie, or Cabacicr, who lived
here in 1780. It was designated in 1747 as Campau's River. It is claimed that Jacques Peltier
erected the first grist-mill on the stream, just north
of what is now Fort Street, and near the railroad
crossing. The stream supplied water sufficient to
run the mill six or eight months of the year.
Parent's Creek, or Bloody Hun, is the real historic
Stream. It was first named, presumably, after
Joseph Parent, a gunsmith, whose name appears in
St, Ann's records on May 21, 1707. Only a few
years ago the entire course of the stream could be
traced; now nearly half its length is tilled in, and
its channel will soon be entirely obliterated.
The name was changed to Bloody Run after the
defeat and slaughter of Captain Dalyell and his
company by the Indians, on July 31, 1763.
On John Farmer's map of Michigan for 1830, a mill is marked on this stream, just south of what is
now Jefferson Avenue. There was also, at one time, a mill where the stream crossed the Gratiot Road.
Knagg's Creek was just outside the present western limits of the city, and the course of the stream can still be traced. Near its terminus, on the Bela
Hubbard Farm in Springwells, was located the old Knagg's Windmill, built in 1810. It was in use till about 1840, and was torn down in 1853 or 1854.
Windmill Point (on Bela Hubbard Farm) and the River in 1838
Vol I - Pt. I - Chapter III - Pg. 11 - 16
Almost all of the land in the city and vicinity is
available for gardening and farming, producing
good crops with but little fertilizing.
In boring for a well on Fort Street, near Shelby,
in 1829, the following strata were successively
reached: alluvial earth, ten feet; yellow and blue
clay, with veins of quicksand, one hundred and
fifteen feet; sand and pebbles, two feet; geodiferous
limestone, sixty feet; lias limestone, sixty-live feet.
A small stratum of carbonate of lime was then
reached, and then more lias limestone.
- Good Soil. — Different Strata. — Cadillac's Description.—Vast Prairies.—Rows of Trees, —
Fruits.—Wild Animals.— Game Birds.— Large Buffaloes.—
Native Woods. — Swans and Ducks. — An Indian's Illustration. — Serene Skies.— A Desirable
Place.—Weaving Buffalo Wool. — Numerous Wolves.—Wolf Scalps.— Pigeon Roosls.— Bear Visitors.—
Migratory Game.— Song Birds.— Flowers.— Berries. — Wild Honey. —Maple Sugar.—
Enormous Production. — Indian Mococks.— De Peyster's "Sugar Makers." — Early Harvests.—
Indian Farmers.—Scarcity of Provisions. — Help from Montreal.— Bougainville's Description,—
Importance of Detroit. — A Thousand Bushels of Wheat Burned. — A Famine Imminent.— Two
Dead Bodies on the Beach. —Continued Scarcity.—Clouds of Ducks.—Sportsmen Drowned. —Supplies
from the King's Stores.—Acreage under Cultivation.— Apples and Cider.— Pears and Poems.-
Timn's False Report. — Enormous Vegetables. — First Wagon-load of Flour. —Exporting Flour.—
Tobacco to Baltimore.— Remarkable Fruits.— First Agricultural Society.— Fish and Fisheries.—
Schoolcraft's Eulogy.—The State Fish Hatchery.
Three miles from the river, and a few rods south
of where the railroad crosses Woodward Avenue,
is a broad belt of land, of a lower level, which proves,
with drainage, both rich and fertile.
In addition to the animals named, other early accounts till of elk, moose, wolves, bears, rabbits,
otters, lynxes, wildcats, beavers, and muskrats; and
say they were very numerous in the vicinity of Detroit. So numerous and large, indeed, were the
wild bisons, that the making of garments from their
wool was seriously considered.
Between 1820 and 1830 the howling of the wolves
was frequently heard in the edge of the town,
bounties of three and four dollars were paid by the
county for killing them; and no small share of the
taxes was devoted to paying for wolf scalps.
In 1824. and also in other years, myriads of wild
pigeons made their roosts in the forests of the
county. They were so numerous that hundreds
could easily be killed with a walking stick.
As late as the fall of 1834 deer were abundant
within a morning's walk, and black bears would occasionally perambulate the streets. Wild turkeys
and quails were numerous up to about 1850 and
frequently stray ones came into the city, and innumerable flocks of ducks and geese, in their annual
migrations, swept over the town, often flying so low
that their notes could easily be heard.
The surrounding woods and meadows have always
been enlivened with the songs of meadow-larks.
robins, brown thrushes, and bobolinks; and year by
year bright- plumaged humming birds flit about the
It was not alone the gaily-feathered birds that
made the place a pleasant one. In the forests were
wild honeysuckles, and the eglantine, or Michigan
rose. Snow-berries and fleurs-de-lis were scattered
here and there, and the perfume of locust blossoms
often filled the air, while river and streams were
bordered with the white and blue of the pond-lily
and the sweet flag. Strawberries, whortleberries,
cranberries, and raspberries were indigenous, and
melons, beans, and other vegetables were cultivated
by the Indians before the whites arrived. In addition to those named by Cadillac, the forest included
trees of beech, birch, hickory, maple, elm, butternut, cedar, basswood, and coniferous trees of various
In the way of sweets, the wildberries stored up
honey in the trees. The maples also contributed
their store of sweetness. In 1819 one hundred and
fifty thousand pounds of maple sugar were produced
in Michigan, and in September, 1825, one merchant
advertised forty thousand pounds for sale. Charlevoix says the Indians did not know how to make
sugar out of the maple sap until the French missionaries came. Prior to that time, they made only
syrup. They soon became experts, and a "sugar
bush," to them, was better than a farm.
Maple sugar was used almost exclusively until
recent years. Loaf sugar was the only other kind
kept for sale, and was used only on state occasions.
The maple sugar was brought in by the Indians in
mococks, which held all the way from four ounces
to fifty pounds. One of the smaller mococks was
a toothsome prize for children in days gone by.
and was appreciated far more highly than the
French bon-bons of to-day.
As to cereals, old records show a good harvest in
1703, and abundant supplies for a garrison of one
hundred and fifty men. Up to about 1706 almost
the only grain grown was Indian corn. Cadillac
then procured eight tons of French wheat and other
grain from Quebec. After this there was a good
supply of wheat, which, then as now, was sown in
both spring and fall.
The Hurons and Ottawas were excellent farmers
and raised large quantities of corn. In 1714 twenty-
four hundred bushels were sent from Detroit. Agriculture was, however, greatly neglected, and the conditions on which grants of land were made tended
to discourage any intelligent efforts at farming.
In 1747, owing chiefly to the number of Indians
who gathered here and consumed the supplies, provisions were very scarce, and M. de Longueuil was
compelled to apply to Montreal for help. On September 22 a convoy of provisions arrived under command of
M. de Celeron, escorted by one hundred
and fifty men, including merchants and servants.
Their coming saved the settlers from starvation.
Notwithstanding various discouragements, wheat
was raised in considerable quantities. On September 9, 1763. the barn of Mr. Keaume, containing
about one thousand bushels of wheat, was burned.
In 1768 there were five hundred and fourteen and a
half acres of land under cultivation, and ninety-seven
hundred and eighty-nine French bushels of corn produced; but in 1770 food was so scarce that a famine
Ten years later the inhabitants were again in
trouble for want of certain kinds of provisions. On
March 10, 1780, Colonel De Peyster wrote to Colonel
Bolton at Niagara, saying: "The distress of the inhabitants here is very great for want of bread, not an
ounce of flour or a grain of corn to be purchased.
Many will be at a loss for grain to put in the ground;
the fall wheat, however, has a good appearance from
having had a quantity of snow." In the same letter
he said, "I am sorry to inform you sir, that Lieutenant Bunbury and Mr. Godfrey, the conductor, are
drowned by the overturning of a canoe. The ducks
flying in clouds past the fort, the gentlemen, forgetting
they had been desired not to go in canoes, too eager
of sport, have lost their lives."
This accident occurred the day before he wrote.
On March 12, 1780, he wrote to Lieutenant -Governor Sinclair, saying: "Everything here is in the
greatest tranquility except the cry for bread, the
inhabitants being so much in want that without the
assistance of the King's stores, many must starve."
The same year, however, twelve thousand and
eighty-three acres of land were reported as under
From a very early period the pear, apple, and
cherry trees were prominent features in the scenery
of Detroit. Our orchards have produced many
noted varieties of fruit, among which the Snow-Apple is particularly famous. In 1796 a large apple
called Pomme Caille, deep red from skin to core,
was noted for its flavor. Cider was largely made
and freely used a century ago. In 1818 our exports
of fish and cider were valued at sixty thousand dollars. Immense pear trees, a hundred feet and more
in height, with trunks from one to three feet thick,
with large, thick limbs and heavy foliage, were at
once the pride and pest of their owners; for then,
as now, boys and pears affiliated. Almost every
farmer had from one to half a dozen of these
trees, which produced from thirty to fifty bushels
The seeds or young trees from which they were
grown were probably brought from France. None
of the early travelers mention their existence, and
although they were once numerous they have largely
The interior of the State was for many years
deemed almost useless for agricultural purposes.
On November 30, 1815. Edward Tiffin, Surveyor-
General at Chillicothe, wrote to General Meigs.
Commissioner of the Land Office at Washington,
that in the whole of Michigan Territory there was
"not one acre in a hundred, if there would be in a
thousand, that would in any case admit of cultivation. It is all swampy and sandy." On December
11 he again wrote: "Subsequent accounts confirm
the statements, and make the country out worse, if
possible, than I had represented it to be."
Detroit and the private claims near by were represented as being somewhat better,-without so many
swamps and lakes, but the region as a whole was
said to be extremely sterile and barren. Such representations must have been founded on unpardonable
ignorance or knavery. No State in the Union has a
larger proportion of excellent farming lands. The
wheat crop in 1886 amounted to twenty-six million
bushels, and the productions of our gardens, fields,
and orchards are unexcelled.
In 1821 H. Berthelet raised a pumpkin that was
six feet eight inches in circumference, and after it
had been picked three weeks it weighed one hundred and seventy-four pounds and twelve ounces.
The previous year, two seeds planted at Grosse
Pointe produced thirteen hundred and fourteen
pounds of pumpkins.
As early as 1823 watermelons weighing from
thirty-six to forty-four pounds were frequently seen,
and beets weighing eighteen pounds and watermelons weighing forty pounds were common.
Soon Detroit had bread to eat and flour to sell. In 1827 she made
her first export of flour to the amount of two hundred barrels. About this same time, in 1828. site
began to contribute what some would call one of the
luxuries of life to other places, "sending coals to
Newcastle" in the shape of one hundred hogsheads
of Michigan tobacco shipped to Baltimore, besides
packages to other places.
In 1827 a pear, weighing thirty ounces, was grown
by Judge Sibley; it was seven and a half inches
long and fourteen and a half inches in circumference.
On November 13, 1833. Mr. Moon exhibited a
beet two feet and six inches lung and two feet and
live inches in circumference. It weighed seventeen
pounds without the top. In June. 1848, a strawberry nearly three inches in diameter was grown by
Horace Hallock; and in 1834, in the garden of John
Farmer, on Monroe Avenue, one tree produced plums
measuring nearly six inches in circumference, and
the peach trees were heavily laden with peaches as
large as any ever seen in this market. A garden
near by produced a potato of such immense size
that it furnished a full supply of that edible for four
meals to a family of two. A quince tree in the same
garden produced quinces one of which weighed
nearly three pounds.
Notwithstanding the productiveness of the soil,
provisions, in early days, were very dear. The
reason is given in the Detroit Gazette of January,
1819; it says: "There are families owning from
one hundred to two hundred acres of land in the
vicinity of the city who are in the constant habit of
buying their bread at the baker's and vegetables of
their more enterprising neighbors."
In 1837 so much interest was taken in the raising
of fruits and grain that a meeting was held on April
24 at the City Hall to organize an Agricultural and
Horticultural Society. Colonel McKinstry acted as
chairman and H. G. Hubbard as secretary. An
organization was effected which continued in existence for several years. It was succeeded by the
Detroit Horticultural Society, whose annual exhibitions were highly appreciated.
In ancient days, as now, whitefish, sturgeon, pickerel, pike, perch, black bass, catfish, sunfish, and
bullheads were plentiful. Large numbers of fish from the half-pound perch to the one-hundred-and-
twenty-pound sturgeon — are caught yearly. Who
that has lived here sit long does not remember the
large reels that twenty years or more ago were so
often seen along the river-bank, with the fishers'
nets hung upon them?
In 1815 whitefish were worth only $3.00 per barrel. and boat loads were sold for fifty cents per hundred.
In 1822 there were taken at Hog Island twelve
hundred barrels, then worth from four to five dollars
per barrel. On the grounds they were sold at from
four to eight shillings per hundred. In 1823 the
catch was not so large, and they sold at from two to
three dollars per hundred. In the early part of the
week ending October 23, 1824, at the fishery on
Grosse Isle, twenty-five and thirty thousand whitefish were caught in a single day. In 1825 they were
worth six and seven dollars per barrel, and thousands
of barrels were shipped to Ohio and New York.
In 1827 they were so numerous that fifteen thousand were taken with a single seine, in five hauls.
The catch in Detroit River from 1836 to 1840
averaged about thirty-five hundred barrels per year,
worth eight dollars per barrel. In 1880 there were
caught twelve thousand half-barrels, worth
four dollars and seventy-five cents each.
The importance of fish as an article of food
induced the establishment, in 1873. of a State Fish
Commission. The first fish hatchery in the State
was successfully operated in the winter of 1873-1874,
by N. W. Clark, -about one million five hundred
thousand young fish being produced. On April 14,
1874, five thousand young whitefish were deposited
in Yerkes Lake, Plymouth Township. On March
13, 1875, three hundred and sixteen thousand young
fish were deposited in the Detroit River. On
August 3, 1876, the Commission resolved to establish a hatchery at Detroit. A cheap frame building,
twenty by fifty feet, was erected at Number 475
At water Street, near Dequindre; with the apparatus,
it cost $1,300. It was completed September 25,
1876 and fully equipped by November 1. Between
November 1 and 12, 1876, four hundred and five
female fish were stripped on the fishing grounds and
ten million eggs procured; nearly twice as many
male fish were also striped, and the hatchery was
set in operation. In recent years large fish are kept
in the hatchery, and eggs obtained more easily,
The first eggs hatched out on March 1, 1877. Up
to 1887 nearly one hundred millions of fish had
been produced. In the spring of 1887, forty-five
millions were hatched out. and many of them were
deposited in the Detroit River. When from eight
to fifteen days old. The young fry are shipped to such
places as the superintendent may designate. In 1883
a new building for the hatchery was erected on the
northeast corner of Lafayette Street and Joseph
In the winter months, and especially in March or
April when the fish are hatching, the institution is well worth a visit.
Vol I - Pt. I - Chapter IV - Pg. 17 - 23
Cadillac's Grant.-French Farms or Private Claims
The city of Detroit, as now laid out, includes not
only the ancient town, but several adjoining farms,
and some public land never owned by private persons until granted by the United States. It is possible that the French occupied the site of Detroit
several years before the founding of the city by Cadillac, but if so, the previous occupation, whether
temperary or continuous, involved no personal rights.
In the more settled portions of New France, grants
were made of seigneuries giving the seigneur entire
control of large estates, which were generally par-
celed out to purchasers, or. if retained by the seig-
neur, were cultivated by his own |>eoplc, or farmed
out to ordinary lessees on such terms ns the parties
The terms on which lands might be sold by him
were not left to his own option, but were fixed by
the Coutume de Paris or by special decrees of the
king. When an ofliccr was allowed to build a fort
in a new place, he was frequently made proprietor of
the fort and certain adjacent lands, which he could
lease or sell.
Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit, is said to have- them granted a domain of fifteen
arpents square. The arpent, however, was not a
uniform measure. The United States standard fixes
it at 192.24 feet. A woodland arpent is a little more
than a square acre; but arpents and acres are often
used as interchangeable terms. Mr. C. Jouett, the
Indian agent at Detroit in 1803. so used them. He
said that Cadillac's grant was fifteen acres square, or
two hundred and twenty-live acres in all. If that
were true, it would now be bounded on the cast by
the farm known as the Brush Farm, west by the
Cass Farm, in front by the Detroit River, and in the
rear by Grand River Street. As usually regarded, it
reached to the present line of Adams Avenue.
Original documents, copies of which are on file in
Quebec, show that he claimed all of the land on both
sides of the Detroit, from Lake Erie to Lake Huron;
and it is not probable that he would have made this
claim if previously there had been granted to him a
domain of only fifteen arpents square. He churned
the entire strait because of the great expense he incurred in establishing the first colony, because of
the general benefits accruing to New France from
the pence he secured with the Iroquois, and also for
the reason that the establishment of the fort at Detroit prevented the English from reaching the western Indians.
In pursuance of his chum, he made a concession
to his eldest son of a tract of Land on the river, beginning at the entrance into Lake Krie, with a frontage of six leagues, and extending five leagues back
from the river. This concession included Grosse Isle and all the adjacent islands.
In support of his demand for all the lands on the
strait, Cadillac said that he had established French
or Indians here and there along the whole course of
the river. There can be doubt that he was granted
power by the king to dispose of land on the river,
for there is abundant evidence to that effect in a
letter from Pontchartrain, dated June 14, 1704. and
also in the decrees of June 14, 17, and 19, 1706.
Under these decrees he made two grants, now included in the city, and known as Claims No. 12
and No. 90, or the Guion and Witherell Farms.
The grant to Francois Fafard de Lorme embraced
what is now known as Private Claim 12 and part of
13. It was made March 10, 1707, and covered a
strip of land four hundred feet wide by four thousand feet long, or nearly thirty-two acres. De Lorme
was to have the privilege of trading, hunting, and
fishing, but was not to kill hares, rabbits, partridges,
or pheasants. He was to pay annually, on March
20, live livres as seigneurial dues or rental, and ten
livres for the right to trade. He was to commence
improvements in three months, and was to plant, or
help plant, annually, a Maypole before the door of
the seigneur. He also bound himself to have his
grain ground at the public mill, and to pay toll, at
the rate of eight livres for each minot, —a measure
of one bushel. He could not sell or give his land
as security without consent; and in case of sale.
Cadillac was to have the first right to purchase. He
was also to furnish timber for vessels and fortifications when desired; and further promised not to
work as a blacksmith, cutler, armorer, or brewer,
without special permit. He might import goods,
but could employ no clerks unless they lived in Detroit; and he was not to sell liquor to Indians.
Other conditions, common to grants in this period,
were that the grantees should pay, on St. Martin's
Day, a certain number of fowls, so many dozen eggs,
or a definite number of measures of grain for each
front arpent occupied; and in addition to having
their grain ground in the seigneur's mill, they were
obliged to have their bread baked in his ovens.
At Detroit the boundaries of these farms, or claims,
were defined by ditches. The Private Claim now
known as No. 90 was granted by Cadillac to Jacob
de Marsac Jouira, dit Desroches on the same day
that the grant was made to De Lorme. He also
made two other grants of the same size.— one to
M. St. Aubin and the other to the widow Beausseron. Cadillac also granted to Michel Campau a
piece of land fifty-three feet long upon St. Anionie
Street, and seventeen feet on St. Ann Street, within
the stockade, for which he was to pay an annual
rent of five livres and five sous. For a right to
trade, ten livres additional were charged. The
rents were payable on March 20, in furs or silver
money when there shall be any. Keep up fences
and build habitation within a year. No transfer
could be made without the consent of Cadillac, and
with every transfer a fee was to be paid him. In
case the grantees neglected or did not wish to plant
the Maypole, they were required to pay three livres
in silver or peltries.
Cadillac also granted a lot inside the fort to M.
Malette. Other lands within and without the pickets were granted by him to Messrs. Langlois, Trudcau, Magnau. Des Rivieres, De Ruisscau. Compared Dufresne, Hubert, Lacroix. and Monier.
In 1708 M. d'Aigremont officially reported that he
caused the lands at Fort Pontchartrain to be measured, and found that there were three hundred and
fifty acres improved, of which La Mothe had one
hundred and fifty-seven acres, and the French in-
habitants forty-six acres; that sixty-three inhabitants possessed lots inside the fort, and twenty-nine
of them farms outside. M. d'Aigremont arrived
at Detroit July 15, 1708, and remained nineteen days.
The records of St. Ann's Church, under date of July
29, 1708, note his presence under the following name
and title: " Francois Clarcehault, Esq., Sieur d'Aigremont. Navy Commissary in Canada, sub-delegate
of the Surveyor, and King's Deputy for surveying
the Military Posts in Canada."
In 1710 Cadillac was appointed Governor of Louisiana. In the summer of 1711 he was relieved of
the command at Detroit, and on his departure his
property was placed in the care of Pierre Hoy,
After he left, there were so few immigrants, and
the settlers were so much discouraged, that no
grants were made for many years. It appears evident that while Cadillac was in Louisiana his interests at Detroit received but little attention. Settlers, however, began to murmur at the demands
made upon them under the concessions he had
granted, and in April, 1716, the king revoked all
grants made by Cadillac on the ground that they
were not given in ordinary- form, and that too much
was exacted of the occupants. This decree, however, was accompanied with a provision which left
the settlers in possession as before. The next year
Cadillac returned to France, and in 1719 or 1720 the
king directed that he be put in possession of the
lands which he had cleared at Detroit, together with
the rights that he had in connection with lands he
had conceded to others. He was also to be put in
possession of the buildings, furniture, and cattle
which he left when he went to Louisiana, together
with the increase of the live stock. His other claims
he was to bring before, an officer for adjudication,
and a patent was to be granted to him for the lands
within two years.
M. Vaudreuil, the Governor, and Begon, the Intendant of New France, probably at the instigation
of Tonty (then in command here), and presumably
in the interest of those occupying the lands claimed
by Cadillac, offered various reasons why it would be
impolitic and impossible to carry out the directions
of the king. In connection with their protests they
stated in their memorial of November 4, 1721, that
there were then only four who had farms outside the
fort, and that thirty others had locations inside the
stockade. The king responded to these protests by
a decree, dated May 19, 1722, which conceded to
Cadillac all the land he had cleared and rights over
that which he had granted to others, except that the
dues exacted from traders were thereafter to be paid
only to the commandant of the post. He also directed that Cadillac, should have, two years from the
date of the decree in which to have his claims surveyed. No evidence can !>e found that the claims
of Cadillac were ever surveyed, ami defined in accordance with the intent of the decree. On the
contrary, Vaudreuil and Hegon, in a letter dated
October 14, 1723, said: "The lands cleared by M.
de la Mothe are not yet surveyed, neither do we
know what he has conceded, the revenues of which
must be paid to him."
It is not probable that the lands and claims uf
Cadillac were settled according to the king's decree,
and it is clearly evident that the governor-general,
intendant, and local commandants evinced a masterly
inactivity in bringing his claims to a final and just
conclusion. The proof that his claims were left in
vague and unsatisfactory shape is made almost conclusive by the following facts. In 1730, the year of
Cadillac's death, his eldest son. in a memorial to
Count Maurepas, said that his father had the promise
of the post of Detroit, with the title of seigneur.
Now, this son was with Cadillac, and old enough to
be an ensign, when his father came; and if his rights
had been definitely settled according 10 the king's decree of 1722, his son would undoubtedly have known
about it and have so stated in his memorial. This
view of the case is made still more certain by an examination of the Maichens Deed, so called. This deed
was first heard of in Detroit in 1872, when Rev. J.
C. A. Desnoyers, curate of the parish of St. Pie, in
Lower Canada, forwarded it to K. N. Lacroix, of
Detroit. It purported to be a deed for a tract of
land on the Detroit, executed on August 28, 1738,
to Bernard Maichens of Marseilles, by the widow
and heirs of Cadillac. The deed was subsequently
obtained from the same priest, on November 29,
1873, by Levi Bishop, and on pages 343 and 344 of
Volume I of the Pioneer Collections of Michigan, he
gives a translation of it. The deed conveys "All
the property generally left by the said deceased Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, and which said Madame
and her said sons, in consequence of his death, possess at Detroit, upon Lake Erie in North America,
consisting of cleared lands forty arpents in depth,
with the buildings and animal stock together in title
and enjoyment; with the right of hunting and fishing granted on the lyth of May, A. D. 1722, by the
Council of State of His Majesty, for the benefit of
said deceased; with the right of quit rents and
arrearages of such rents in stock and other movable
property which appertains thereto, and in such
quantity and consistence as belongs thereto, in said
Detroit. Including in this sale all that may belong
to said vendors in regard to said lands, fruits, farms,
leases, buildings, stock, arrearages, and rents wherever they may appear."
It will be noticed that this deed, although made in
1738, makes no allusion to any grant or decree except the one of May 19, 1722. That decree provided
that Cadillac's claims should be surveyed within two
years, evidently in order to determine their real extent and number. If such survev had been made,
and his claims clearly defined, the fact would undoubtedly have been referred to in the Maichens
Deed. The most casual examination discloses the
fact that just what was being conveyed was not
clearly known. The deed deals only in generalities,
which would not be the case if Cadillac's claims had
been fully adjusted. The statement of Mr. Bishop
that the deed "conveyed the site of Detroit, with all
rights and property thereto belonging. and that
the whole of Detroit and its appurtenances were
sold for about ten thousand dollars." was made
without a knowledge of the real facts in the case.
It was never conceded by either the king or the
council that Cadillac owned "all of Detroit and its
appurtenances." Only the lands he had cleared or
granted were to be restored to him. and there was
much uncertainty as to how much would thus be
embraced. Accompanying the deed (which was
only a duplicate) there was a letter dated Boston.
August 20, 1798. addressed to a Mr. Sicart, signed by
Mme. Gregoire, granddaughter of Cadillac, setting
forth that Maichens paid only half of the purchase
price, and left for Detroit immediately after getting
the deed; that they had since been unable to hear
from him or get any satisfaction as to the further
sum due, although the property conveyed was by
the deed mortgaged to the family of Cadillac until
paid for in full. The object of this letter was to
induce some lawyer the recover the property, and
Mme.Gregoire proposed to give one quarter of all that
might be realized from the claim. The probability
is that Maichens himself, at that early day, never
realized as much as be actually paid for whatever
came into his possession.
Only about ten years before writing the above
mentioned letter, Mme, Gregoire had obtained from
the Commonwealth of Massachusetts a grant of Mt.
Desert Island and portions of the mainland. Her
claim for that estate was based on a grant made to
Cadillac, prior to his arrival at Detroit, in evidence
of which she furnished a copy of the king's decree
describing and granting the lands. Her success in
securing this grant would undoubtedly have caused
her to make a more earnest effort to obtain the grant
at Detroit had there been like conclusive evidence
of her rights.
It is matter of record that there was much confusion
for many years concerning the lands of Detroit.
La Forest, Tonty, and Sabrevois all made grants,
but none of them had authority to do so. About
1720 Tonty compelled the inhabitants to bring their
contracts of concession to him, and he retained the
greater part of them.
The front of the French farms on the river was
occupied by the dwelling-house and garden; back of
this was generally a very valuable and beautiful
orchard; and in the rear of the orchard were wheat
and corn fields. The farms were narrow, so as to
give river fronts to as many as possible, and also to
keep the occupants close together for convenience
and safety. The depth of the farms was always intended to be forty French acres, the width varied
from two to five acres, or in other words, the farms
had a river frontage of from four hundred to nine
hundred feet, with an average depth of one and a
Within the fort the building-lots were small, and
the entire population — those holding farm lands outside as well as others—had homes inside the stockade for a great many years.
As late as 1778 the largest lots were twenty-five
by one hundred feet. It is probable that all the lots
within the pickets were permanently disposed of,
subject to fines of alienation, and to certain annual
charges, including a contribution towards keeping
the fort in repair.
While Michigan was still a part of Indiana Territory, Congress, by Act of March 26, 1804, United
States Laws, Volume II., page 2271, appointed the
Register and Receiver of the Detroit Land office as
commissioners to examine and report on all claims
under French and English grants. Under this Act
the commissioners examined a number of claims,
and rejected all except three, viz.. P. C. 16, claimed
by F. P. Matcher. P. C. 18, claimed by George Meldrum, and P. C. 90, claimed by J. M. Bcaubien.
They decided that the other claims presented to
them were not founded upon any legal grant made
by the French Government prior to the treaty of
Paris, of February 10, 1763, or upon any legal grant
made by the British subsequent to said treaty, and
prior to the treaty of peace of September 3, 1783,
between the United States and Great Britain; or
upon any resolution or Act of Congress had subsequent to said treaty of peace.
By Act of March 3. 1805 (United States Laws.
Volume II., page 343). they were authorized to examine and report on claims actually possessed and
improved on July 1, 1796, the official date on
which the Territory passed from the British into the
possession of the American Government.
They were also to examine into claims based on
all grounds whatever; and persons were to have till
November 1, 1805, to file their claims, which were
to be surveyed at the expense of the Government.
Before the commissioners had forwarded their first
report to Congress Detroit was destroyed by the fire
of June 11, 1805. Under the provisions of the law
of 1805 in connection with the law of 1804, the commissioners subsequently reported on six classes of
titles, viz., 1. Grants by French governors confirmed
by the King of France. 2. Grants by French governors not continued by the king. 3. Occupancies
by |K-rmission of French commandants without grant,
and perhaps without evidence of the permission, but
with long and undisturbed possession. 4. Occupancies under French possession, without any permission, but with undisturbed possession. 5. Similar titles, together with purchases from Indians
under British rule. 6. Occupancy and possession
under American Government, and purchases from
Indians. They sent three reports to the Secretary
of the Treasury, one dated December I, another
December 16, 1805, and the third March 6, 1806.
They again reported in favor of the three claims approved under the first law. and also in favor of P. C.
15, claimed by Phillis Peltier, and P. C. 38, claimed
by the heirs of Antoine Morass. These five claims
they reported ;is valid so far jus original title was concerned, but it was not claimed that the chain of title
since the original grant was complete. The sixth
claim confirmed by the commissioners was that of
Charles and Nicholas Guoin, and embraced what is
now known as P. C. 12 and 13. It was claimed in
one parcel, and was confirmed in separate tracts.
They also rejected claims for many other tracts
based on ownership and occupation.
The American State Papers state that the commissioners found only six titles that had been confirmed
by the king. This is undoubtedly an error, caused
by including the two grants of Cadillac with the four
grants that were actually confirmed by the king.
The State Papers also say that eight claims were confirmed, which error is apparently caused by counting
the two grants of Cadillac twice.
On March 3, 1807 (United States Laws, Volume
II., page 437), Congress confirmed the six tracts already alluded to, and also all tracts reported upon
by the commissioners which were occupied, improved, and settled upon prior to and on July 1,
1796, and that had continued to be occupied up to
the date of the Act. of Law of April 25. 1808
(United States Laws. Volume II., page 502) claimants were allowed until January 1, 1809. to the their
By the Act of 1807, the claims were to be surveyed under the direction of the surveyor-general.
All certificates issued by the commissioners were required to be entered at the land office at Detroit before January 1, 1809. The claims confirmed under
this last Act included nearly all the original private
claims in Wayne County, not excepting the inevitable six French grants, which were again confirmed
as held by possession. The claims were surveyed
by Aaron Greek, and his map is referred to on page
158. Volume V. of the American State Papers in
connection with the Abraham Cook Claim. His
manuscript map was afterwards engraved.
On April 23, 1812 (United States Laws, Volume
11. Congress confirmed the claims as surveyed by Aaron Grcely under direction of the surveyor-general, making his survey authority even
where it did not correspond with the description of
the claims as confirmed by the commissioners.
There is abundant evidence that in making his surveys he frequently gave extra measure by adding
the length of his "Jacob's staff" from one to three
times. Tradition says a bottle of wine or brandy
had something to do with this proceeding.
Other surveyors, among them Joseph Fletcher and
John Fletcher, were afterwards employed in surveying
the rear concessions.
The patents for the lands confirmed reached Detroit just before or during the War of 1812. and were
seized or destroyed by the British.
In addition to grants of lands fronting on the river,
the commandants at Detroit are said to have made
grants known as "second." "rear." or back concessions, whereby the depth of the farms was extended
to eight arpents. Many persons claimed of the
Commissioners of Claims a similar duplication of
their farms upon the plea that the lands claimed had
always been used for obtaining wood, and that the
Government would have granted these rear concessions at any time if asked. On September 1, 1807,
the commissioners retried to Congress, recommending that as the arable land fronting on the
river was exhausted, and mostly without wood for
fires, lands in the rear be added as asked for.
By Law of April 23, 1812, it was provided that
additional lands might be granted for farms that had
been confirmed only forty arpents in length, and
claims for the additional land were to be filed before
December 1, 1812, but no farm was to be over eighty
arpents in depth.
By Act of March 3, 1817 (United States Laws,
Volume III., page 3901. the time for the filing of
claims for back concessions, under Act of 1812, was
extended to December 1, 1818. On May 11, 1820
(United States Laws, Volume III., page 572), Congress revived the powers of the commissioners, and
authorized them to decide on claims presented under
Act of 1817, and they were to report on or before
October 1, 1821. This Act was construed as reviving all the powers possessed by commissioners under
former Acts; and several original claims, confirmed
under Act of 1820, are contained in Report or Book
Number 4. in Volume V.. page 146, of American
State Papers, entitled. A Report of Absolute
Claims." The last Act pertaining to the hearing
and deciding upon claims by commissioners was
passed on February 21, 1823 (United States Laws.
Volume III., page 724). It provided that the Act
of 1820 should be in force until November 1, 1823,
and that the final report of the commissioners should
The laid before Congress and the Secretary of the
Treasury. The Act also confirmed claims reported
on under Act of 1820, as reported by the Secretary
of the Treas. The numbers of the claims in
Wayne County, filed under the several Acts, range
from 1 to 734. Many of the numbers between these
two extremes are for claims in other parts of the
then Territory of Michigan. The total number of
claims confirmed in Wayne County was only two hundred and sixty-eight.
Rear concessions were granted for about one hundred claims. The number of acres granted originally to claims ranged from less than one half an acre
to six hundred and forty acres, and the rear concessions covered from three acres to three hundred acres.
Judging by the testimony given before the commissioners, there must have been a very general, and
apparently a concerted, effort among many claimants
to swear through each other's claims. The commissioners themselves reported that the records of
the earlier Hoards had lx*en so mutilated that it was
impossible fully to understand them. The unravelling of the history of the claims is made difficult also
by the fact that the different Hoards designated the
same books by different numbers. Volume I. is
sometimes called I., sometimes II., and then appears as number III. These errors were appropriately supplemented by the careless transcribing and
transposing of the names of claimants, surveyors,
and clerks, -the same names being spelled in several
ways. As late as 1823, at least thirteen original
claims were confirmed by Commissioners of Claims
that had been left unconfirmed by the first commissioner. To these claims they gave new numbers.
In the list of claims' most of them are designated
by the new numbers. The only other tract in Wayne
County, aside from the Ten Thousand Acre Tract,
bearing a specific name or number, and separately
surveyed, is the Ship Yard or University Trait on the
Rouge. It is called Ship Yard Tract because, during
the British Occupation, and also under American rule
in the War of 1812, vessels were there built and
fitted out. It was selected at an early date as part
of the lands devoted to the University, and thus
came to be eddied also the University Tract. The
first commissioners were George Hoffman, Register,
and Frederick Bates, Receiver of the Land Office.
On April 16, 1806. Peter Audrain succeeded Hoffman, and on April 4, 1807, James Abbott succeded Bates. Under Act of 1807. the Secretary
of Territory, Stanley Griswold, was added to the
Commission. On March 18,1808. Reuben Attwater
succeeded Griswold, and up to October, 1814,
the Commission consisted of Audrain, Attwater,
and Abbott. In 1814 William Woodbridge succeeded Attwater. In 1819 Jonathan Kearsley succeeded Abbott. In 1821 Fl. B. Brevoort succeeded
Audrain, and he, in 1823, was succeeded by John
Biddle. The last commissioners were Woodbridge.
Kearsley, and Biddle.