Cessions of Indian Lands & Settlement of Livingston County

By Ellis Franklin

Treaty of Greenville — Treaty of Detroit and Cession of Lands, including the present County of Livingston — Treaty of Springwells — Treaty of Saginaw — Settlement of the County — Low Estimate of the Value of Michigan Lands by Travelers and Surveyors — Slow Progress of Settlement in consequence — Correction of the Mistaken Opinion — Settlement of the Territory now Livingston County — Unusual Advantages Enjoyed by Settlers here — Friendliness of their Indian Neighbors — Regard of the Early Settlers for Education and Religious Worship

Cessions of Lands by Indians

The United States government, from the time of its formation, has recognized the possessory rights of the Indian tribes in the soil; and the principle has been established that these rights can only be acquired by the government, or with its consent, and can only be alienated from the native Indians by their own voluntary act, done in public and open council, where the tribes are represented by their chiefs and head men, and the government by its accredited agent or commissioner. This principle has always been acted on; and this method observed, by the government in its treaties with Indians for the acquisition of their possessory rights in the public domain.

Treaty of Greenville in 1795

The first Indian treaty by which the aboriginal title to lands now within the State of Michigan was extinguished was made on the third of August, 1795, at Greenville, Ohio, by General Anthony Wayne, on behalf of the United States, with representatives of the Wyandots, Shawanese, Ottawas, Chippewas, Pottawattamies, and several other tribes. By the terms of that treaty the Indians ceded to the United States government ”the post of Detroit, and all the lands to the north, the west, and the south of it, of which the Indian title has been extinguished by gifts or grants to the French or English governments, and so much more land to be annexed to the district of Detroit as shall be comprehended between the river Rosine (Raisin) on the south, Lake St. Clair on the north, and a line, the general course whereof shall be six miles distant from the west end of Lake Erie and Detroit River. Several other large tracts were also ceded by the treaty; among these being “the post of Michilimackinac, all the island, and lands on the mainland adjacent,” and the island of Bois Blanc, — mentioned as being an extra and voluntary gift of the Chippewa nation. Also among the lands ceded by this treaty was “one piece of land six miles square at the mouth or Chikago River emptying into the southwest end of, Lake Michigan.” It was expressly stipulated in the treaty that, in consideration of the peace then and there established, and of the relinquishments made by the Indians, as well as to manifest the liberality of the United States as the means of making the peace strong and perpetual, “the United States relinquish their claims to all other Indian lands northward of the river Ohio, eastward of the Mississippi, and westward and southward of the great lakes and the waters uniting them, [1]In its relinquishment of these lands, however, the government excepted the post of Vincennes, on the Wabash, the post of Fort Mariac, towards the mouth of the Ohio, and lands at other places, … Continue reading according to the boundary line agreed on between the United States and the King of Great Britain in the peace made between them in the year 1783.” And it was declared that “the Indian tribes who have a right to those lands are quietly to enjoy them, hunting, planting, and dwelling thereon so long as they please, without any molestation from the United States; but when those tribes, or any of them, shall be disposed to sell their lands, or any part of them, they are to be sold only to the United States; and until such sale the United States will protect the said Indian tribes in the quiet enjoyment of their lands against all citizens of the United States, and against all other white persons who intrude upon the same; and if any citizen of the United States, or any other white person or persons, shall presume to settle upon the lands now relinquished by the United States, such citizen or other person shall be out of the protection of the United States, and the Indian tribe on whose land such settlement shall be made may drive off the settler, or punish him in such manner as they shall think fit; and because such settlements, made without the consent of the United States, will be injurious to them as well as to the Indians, the United States shall be at liberty to break them up, and remove and punish the settlers as they shall think proper, and so to effect the protection of the Indian lands herein before stipulated.” The Indians were also allowed, under the treaty, to have the privilege of hunting, and fishing over all the ceded territory during their good behavior.

Treaties of Detroit (1807), of Springwells (1815), and Saginaw (1819)

The treaty by which the entire southeastern part of Michigan (including all of the present county of Livingston) was ceded to the United States government was made and concluded at Detroit on the 17th of November, 1807, “by William Hull, Governor of the Territory of Michigan, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and sole commissioner of the United States to conclude and sign a treaty or treaties with the several nations of Indians northwest of the river Ohio, on the one part, and the sachems, chiefs, and warriors of the Ottaway, Chippeway, Wyandotte, and Pottawattamie nations of Indians on the other part.” The territory here ceded by the Indians, in consideration of goods and money paid and to be paid to them by the United States, was described in the treaty as “beginning at the mouth of the Miami River of the Lakes, [meaning – the Maumee], and running thence up the middle thereof to the mouth of the great Auglaize River; thence running due north until it intersects a parallel of latitude to be drawn from the outlet of Lake Huron, which forms the river Sinclair; thence running northeast on the course that may be found will lead in a direct line to White Rock, in Lake Huron; thence due east until it intersects the boundary line between the United States and Upper Canada, in said lake; then southwardly, following the said boundary line down said lake, through the river Sinclair, Lake St. Clair, and the river Detroit into Lake Erie, to a point due east of the aforesaid Miami (Maumee) River; thence west to the place of beginning.” For this cession, the government stipulated to pay (in money, goods, agricultural implements, or domestic animals, at the discretion of the superintendent of Indian affairs) the sum of three thousand three hundred and thirty-three dollars, and thirty-three cents each to the Ottawa and Chippewa tribes, and one-half that amount each to the Pottawattamies and Wyandots, with a perpetual annuity of two thousand dollars to each of the first-mentioned tribes, and one-half that sum to each of the others; all to be paid at Detroit. And it was further declared in the treaty, that “the United States, to manifest their liberality and disposition to encourage the said Indians in agriculture, further stipulate to furnish the said Indians with two blacksmiths; one to reside with the Chippewas at Saginaw, and the other with the Ottawas at the Miami, during the term of ten years; said blacksmiths are to do such work for the said nations as shall be most useful to them.”

The second line mentioned in the description of the tract here ceded–that is, the line running due north from the mouth of the Auglaize River, and a prolongation of it to the Straits of Mackinaw was afterwards adopted by the United States surveyors as the principal meridian line of the lower peninsula of Michigan. The territory ceded by the Indians at the treaty of Detroit embraced all of Michigan lying east of that line as far north as the centre of the present county of Shiawassee, and extending from thence in a north eastwardly direction to the shore of Lake Huron, at a point a little above the northern boundary of the county of Sanilac. Within this ceded territory the Indians reserved several tracts for their own uses (none of them, however, being within the limits of Livingston County), and they were also to have the privilege of hunting and fishing, under the same conditions as stipulated in the treaty of Greenville.

At the treaty of Saginaw, made and concluded on the twenty-fourth of September, 1819, by General Lewis Cass, Indian Commissioner, supported by a large retinue of officials, and guarded by a battalion of the Third United States Infantry, on one part, and by one hundred and fourteen Chippewa and Ottawa chiefs, accompanied by some thousands of the people of their nations, on the other, an immense tract of country, north of the previous cessions; and extending west from the principal meridian to near the village of Kalamazoo, and thence northward to Thunder Bay River, was ceded to the United States; but this had no reference to the territory now included in Livingston County, for in this, the Indian title had been wholly extinguished by the cession made at Detroit in 1807.

Low Estimate of the Value of Michigan Lands

The Chippewa, Ottawa, and Pottawattamie nations, by the offensive alliance which they made with the British in the war, of 1812-15, and their general conduct through that struggle, were considered to have justly forfeited the lands reserved to them. Nevertheless, the government magnanimously determined not to enforce the forfeiture, but to adopt a conciliatory and friendly policy towards them; and in September, 1815, General William H. Harrison, General McArthur, and John Graham, Esq., on the part of the government, held a council with them at Springwells, near Detroit, where, on the eighth of that month, a treaty was concluded, by which it was agreed that “the United States give peace to the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Pottawattamie tribes. They also agree to restore to the said Chippewa, Ottawa, and Pottawattamie tribes all the possessions, rights, and privileges which they enjoyed or were entitled to in the year 1811, prior to the commencement of the late war with Great Britain, and the said tribes upon their part agree to place themselves under the protection of the United States, and of no other power whatsoever.” And, at the same time, the treaty made at Greenville in 1795, and subsequent treaties between these tribes and the United States, were confirmed and ratified.

Until after the close of the last war between the United States and Great Britain, so little of actual knowledge had been gained concerning the Territory of Michigan that–with the exception of a limited region lying along the Detroit River, and contiguous to a few of the more important points on Lakes Huron, Michigan, and St. Clair–the whole of the lower peninsula might properly have been termed an unexplored and unknown country. In the first year of that war an act was passed by Congress requiring that two millions of acres of land in each of the (then) Territories of Michigan, Illinois, and Louisiana — in all six million acres should be surveyed and set apart as military tracts, out of which each soldier serving in the armies of the United States in the war with England should be entitled to receive one hundred and sixty acres of land fit for cultivation. Under the provisions of this act surveys were made; but, while engaged in the work, the surveyors seem to have formed an idea of the country here similar to that expressed by Honton, one of the early French travelers, who, having had a glimpse of some of the swampy regions bordering the lakes and rivers, recorded as his opinion of the peninsula lying between the lakes, that it was in truth “the fag-end of the world.” Much the same was the estimation in which these lands were held by the surveyor-general, as will be seen by the following extract from his report made November 13, 1815, and having reference to the Michigan surveys, viz.: “The country on the Indian boundary line from the mouth of the Great Auglaize River [that is, the line established by the treaty of Detroit, in 1807, and identical, or nearly so, with the principal meridian of the government surveys], and running thence for about fifty miles, is, with some few exceptions, low, wet land, with a very thick growth of underbrush, intermixed with very bad marshes, but generally very heavily timbered with beech, cottonwood, oak, etc.; thence, continuing north, and extending from the Indian boundary eastward, the number and extent of the swamps increases, with the addition of numbers of lakes from twenty chains to two and three miles across. Many of these lakes have extensive marshes adjoining their margins, sometimes thickly covered with a species of pine called tamarack, and other places covered with a coarse, high grass, and uniformly covered from six inches to three feet (and more at times) with water. The margins of these lakes are not the only places where swamps are found, for they are interspersed throughout the whole country and filled with water, as above stated, and varying in extent.

“The intermediate space between these swamps and lakes–which is probably near one-half of the country–is, with very few exceptions, a poor, barren, sandy land, on which scarcely any vegetation grows, except very small, scrubby oaks. In many places that part which may be called dry land is, composed of little, short sand-hills forming a kind of deep basins, the bottoms of many of which are composed of marsh similar to the above described. The streams are generally narrow, and very deep compared with their width, the shores and bottoms of which are, with very few exceptions, swampy beyond description; and it is with the utmost difficulty that a place can be found over which horses can be conveyed in safety.

“A circumstance peculiar to that country is exhibited in many of the marshes, by their being thinly covered with a sward of grass, by walking on which evinces the existence of water, or a very thin mud, immediately under their covering, which sinks from six to eighteen inches under the pressure of the foot at every step, and at the same time rises before and behind the person passing over it. The margins of many of the lakes and streams are in similar situation, and in many places are literally afloat. On approaching the eastern part of the military land, towards the private claims on the straits and lake, the country does not contain so many swamps and lakes, but the extreme sterility and barrenness of the soil continue the same. Taking the country altogether, so far as it has been explored, and to all appearances, together with information received concerning the balance, it is so bad that there would not be more than one acre out of a hundred, if there would be one out of a thousand, that would in any case admit of cultivation.”

Probably the above was an honest expression of opinion on the part of the surveyor-general, who, of course, based his report on the information furnished him by his subordinates who performed the work in the field; but how they could have been so deceived (if indeed they were so far deceived as to believe the disparaging statements which they made) is certainly a mystery. However it may have been brought about, the result was that Congress passed a law (April 29, 1816) repealing so much of the act of 1812 as authorized the locating of soldiers’ lands in Michigan, and, in lieu thereof, providing for the survey of one million five hundred thousand acres in Missouri; so that the brave men who had periled their lives for their country should not be wronged and insulted by the donation of lands of which, according to the surveyors’ reports, not one acre in a hundred was fit for cultivation.

The natural effect of all this was to bring the Territory of Michigan into contempt as a country unfit for agriculture; and this belief was fostered by the Indian traders, who were thoroughly acquainted with the interior country and its capabilities, but were only too willing to assist in perpetuating the delusion, in order to postpone the evil day (as they regarded it) when their lucrative business should be ruined by the advance of white immigration and settlement. And so there grew up a belief, which became well-nigh universal, that all this region, now so beautiful and productive, was a land of irreclaimable swamps and barren sand-knolls, the home of every species of malarial disease, which must forever remain unfit for culture or white occupation; and that its obvious destiny must be to continue in the possession of wild beasts and the aborigines.

There were those, however, who believed that this judgment was a false, or at least a hasty one; and chief among those who were skeptical as to the absolute worthlessness of Michigan lands was Governor Lewis Cass, who not only doubted, but resolved to test its truth, and to disprove or prove it by the evidence of his own senses; and to that end he set out from Detroit, accompanied by Hon. Austin E. Wing and two or three other friends, on a tour of observation and discovery. Through the first stage of their Northwestern journey, after leaving the town, the aspect was by no means reassuring, and as their horses sunk knee-deep in the sloughs or wallowed through the marshy places along that trail whose horrors and miseries afterwards became so well known to the pioneers, it really seemed as if the dismal tales of the surveyors and Indian traders would be more than verified. But at last, after having floundered over a distance which seemed a hundred miles, but which in reality was not more than one-eighth part of it, they emerged upon higher ground and into a more open and desirable country, which is now the southeastern part of the superb county of Oakland. From that point their journey continued easy and unobstructed towards the northwest, over a dry and rolling country, through beautiful open groves of oak, and along the margins of pure and limpid waters. One of these latter they named Wing Lake, in honor of a member of the party; another (the largest sheet of water in Oakland) they called Cass Lake; while a little farther on they named a lovely lake for Elizabeth, the governor’s wife. During their journey (which was of about a week’s duration) they penetrated more than half-way across Oakland County; and when they returned they carried back with them the knowledge and proof that Michigan was not the worthless desert which it had been represented; but, instead, a beautiful and fertile land, awaiting only the touch of the settler’s axe and plow, and ready to yield an abundant increase to reward his toil.

Settlement of the County

The earliest settlements in Livingston County were made in its southern and southeastern parts, they being comparatively easy of access to immigrants, who at that time came to the interior portions of the State from Detroit by way of Ann Arbor, the route by way of Royal Oak, Birmingham, and Walled Lake, in Oakland County, not being in use until a somewhat later date.

The first white person who came to make his home within the present limits of the county was Colonel Solomon Peterson, who settled on Portage Creek, in the township now Putnam, in the year 1828, his location being then included in the county of Washtenaw. Some years elapsed before the colonel had any white neighbors in this township.

Next to Putnam Green Oak was the earliest settled township, its first settlers being Stephen Lee and Benjamin Curtis, who came to make their homes there in the fall of the year 1830.

Hartland’s first settler was Colonel Samuel Mapes, from Niagara County, New York. The date of his coming to Hartland is not precisely known, but it was in either 1831 or 1832. One of his earliest neighbors in the town was Eli Lee, who came a year or two later. They had neighbors not far away, however, across the county line, in Oakland, as both settled in the east part of the township.

Hamburg received its first settler in the person of Jesse Hall, who located there with his family in October, 1831. In November of the same year Heman Lake settled in the same town, near its southeastern corner.

Elijah Marsh and Job Cranston, the first settlers in Brighton, became residents in that township in the fall of 1832. Gardner Bird settled there in the following February.

The last settled of the southern tier of townships was Unadilla, in which Eli Ruggles became the first resident, in June, 1833. He did not remain permanently, but after a time returned to Connecticut, from whence he had come to Michigan. The next settlers in Unadilla after Mr. Ruggles were James Craig, Archibald Marshall, and David Holmes (all from Connecticut), who came to this township in the fall of 1833.

In the same year, the first settlement was made in the northern tier of townships by Gilbert W. Prentiss, who built his shanty on or near the Shiawassee River, in township four, range four, now Cohoctah. He did not come, however, for the purpose of clearing and cultivating a farm as his future home, but only with the object of trading with the Indians; and it was not until the following year that a permanent settlement was made in the township by Mr. Sanford and family. Two other towns of the northern tier received their first settlers in the same year (1834), viz., John How, Sr., in Deerfield, in June, and George Cornell in the southern part of Tyrone in November. Five other settlers came to the same part of the same town in the following spring, viz., Isaac Cornell, Henry A. Cornell, Joseph M. Becker, William H. Berry, and William Dawson; and George Dibble settled on the north line of Tyrone at about the same time. All these immigrants came into the county by the route through Oakland.

In the central part of Livingston, settlements were made in 1834, by Sardis Davis, on the north line of Marion; by James Sage, George T. Sage, David Austin, and Jonathan Austin, in Howell township, in June; by John D. Pinckney, in the same township, late in the fall.

In Oceola, H. H. Graves settled in August, 1834, and Harry Neff came to the same town in the fall of that year. They were without neighbors in the township until the following June, when Thomas V. Parshall became a settler there, and two or three others came later in the season.

In Genoa, Thomas Pinckney, Pardon Barnard, and Ely Barnard (these last two being bachelors) settled in the summer of 1835. In the same season Deacon Israel Branch settled in Marion, on the Howell town line.

Settlements were made in Handy, in June, 1836, by Calvin Handy and Charles P. Bush, the former being the first arrival by a week or two.

losco was settled in the summer of the same year, by George C. Wood, Richard M. Guggins, and Asel Stow, father of the Hon. Isaac Stow, of that township.

In Conway, Julius F. Parsons, Levi Parsons, the Strong and Fay families, Timothy Wait, and Robert Coborn made settlements in 1837. Mr. Coborn, coming in by way of Shiawassee County, settled on or near the north line of the township.

The above is intended merely as a notice of the very earliest settlements, and the dates at which they were made in the different portions of the county. Detailed accounts of settlements and settlers form the most important part of the history of townships; and such accounts will be found in subsequent pages, and in their proper connection.

The experience of pioneers in all new countries is of necessity largely made up of privation and often of actual suffering; these varying in degree according to the character, location, and capabilities of the region in which they settle, and to various contingent circumstances. And this universal rule held good with the early settlers of Livingston County. Nearly all of them were farmers, or the sons of farmers, and most of them had left good and comfortable surroundings in the old and highly cultivated State of New York, ambitious and eager to resume their calling on the virgin lands of Michigan, where they hoped in time to make as good homes as those in which their earlier years bad been passed, and to become owners of firms as well cultivated, and far more extensive than they could have hoped to possess in the East. Their wives–in most instances the daughters of well to do or wealthy parents–cheerfully left their early associations and the civilization of the old State, and came, sometimes as newly-made brides, braving the then formidable perils of Lake Erie, and the worse horrors of the land-passage west of Detroit, to perform their part as pioneer women in the wilderness of Livingston County; but many a one of these, has felt her heart fail and her eyes grow dim with tears as she sat within the single, ill-lighted room of her floorless and mud-chinked log cabin, and mentally contrasted it with the commodious farm-house, or, may be, the home of ease and elegance which she had left. And at night, when the silence of the hours was only broken by the wolf-howl, which had not yet become familiar to her ears, she thought of cheery visits by friends and neighbors, of sleighing, of social gatherings, and of the many comforts, and delights which she had known in that far-away land of her youth, which she might, perhaps, never see again.

The isolation of the settlers was almost complete during the first few years. So widely apart were they, that neighborship really did not exist in Livingston until, after 1836. By the great influx of settlers in that year the population of the county was more than quintupled, and after that time social intercourse to some extent became possible, and was highly appreciated, especially by the female part of the community, on whom the deprivation had borne most heavily. The men endured it better, not only because differently constituted by nature, but because they were compelled occasionally to intermit the severe labor on their lands to make trips to Ann Arbor, or Salem, or Detroit to procure a few necessaries of life, which they purchased at exorbitant prices, and often brought back to their cabins on their own strong shoulders. These trips were no less laborious than the work of clearing and grubbing, but they served to break an almost insupportable monotony, and to renew hope and courage by contact with their fellow-men. The journeys to mill were also, to most of the settlers, very long and tedious, and to many of them, involved an absence of two or three days. But this inconvenience, too, was greatly ameliorated, after 1836, by the erection of additional mills at more accessible points.

But although the settlers in Livingston County were called on to endure–and did endure heroically–many hardships and privations which are inseparable from the life of the pioneer in any new country, they were yet exempt from many others which fall upon those who make the first settlements in less favored regions. One of the principal reasons which the early inhabitants of Livingston had for gratitude in this particular was their immunity from all danger of Indian barbarity. In the old settlements of Pennsylvania, New England, Eastern New York, and Michigan in the earlier times, the pioneer never slept free from danger of attack and massacre; he never left his home with-out the consciousness that his cabin might be burned and his family butchered or carried into captivity before his return; and he never worked in his clearing but with his rifle in reach. But here the first comers braved no such danger. The settler might build his cabin in any spot, however isolated, miles away from neighbors or any possible assistance, and yet sleep in peace at night and work unarmed in his fields by day, without fear of harm from the hands of the red man, for the spirit of the Chippewa and the Pottawattamie was cowed, their ancient ferocity gone, and they kept the promise to live in peace with the pale-face.

There were, as has before been mentioned, a large number of Indians in Livingston County when the first settlers came in, and for a number of years afterwards. They roamed through the county in all directions, principally on the trails and along the borders of the lakes and streams, and were frequent callers at the dwellings of the pioneers. Settlers, and particularly settlers’ wives, for a time after their arrival were often somewhat alarmed at the sudden appearance of a dark-faced crowd around their cabin, and the fearful stories of Wyoming and Cherry Valley would flash to their minds and blanch their cheeks; but the hearty and good-humored laugh, in which the Indian always indulged on perceiving that his presence inspired fear, would dispel the alarm, and after a short time an Indian was hardly more dreaded than a grazing deer. Mr. William C. Rumsey, now of Howell, relates his first meeting with Indians in the summer of 1833 at his farm, on Green Oak Plains, as follows: “In the winter of 1832-33, while making my home at Ann Arbor, it being the winter after the Black Hawk war, I heard a good many Indian stories, which were well calculated to startle a newcomer. I did not have the privilege of seeing one until the month of June, 1833, while peaceably at work on my place alone,–the nearest house a half-mile distant, and the next two miles off. The first thing I knew was a couple of Indians came up behind me and saluted me. Looking up and beholding some three hundred or more men, women, and children soon surrounding me, I thought my time had come. Concealing my fright as much as possible, all I could understand of their talk was ‘whisky.’ I shook my head to all their talk. After examining my jug near by, and satisfying themselves that it contained no whisky, they left me and went on their way, some of them laughing, I suppose, at my fright. They came upon me so suddenly and unexpectedly that I was not prepared for that kind of a show. I left soon after for my boarding-place, giving my nervous system time to recuperate.”

As in their interview with Mr. Rumsey, so the Natives were always on the lookout for and anxious to obtain whisky; and they would always become intoxicated when they were able to procure it in sufficient quantities. But it is the testimony of an old settler, that even when under the influence of the poison, “they were less to be dreaded than the same number of whites in the same condition.”

Besides being inoffensive and friendly, the Indians were really useful to the settlers in a small way, by furnishing them with articles of food and utility. They brought game, fish, honey, sugar, beeswax, dressed deer-skins, baskets, and some other articles, and were always desirous to sell these, or to barter for other commodities. Fine saddles of venison, or wild turkeys, were sometimes sold by them for two cents per pound, at a time when pork was worth twenty-five dollars a barrel in Detroit, and flour brought twelve dollars per barrel. An instance is mentioned where a turkey of twenty-five pounds weight was given by an Indian in exchange for a quart of whisky costing twenty-five cents per gallon; and a bushel of berries for the same equivalent. Any article possessed by an Indian could be purchased from him for a small amount of whisky; but the idea is not intended to be conveyed that the settlers, or many of them, practiced that kind of barter for the sake of profit to themselves. Other articles than whisky were desired by the Indians, such as flour, meal, and salt. The first two of these, however, were too scarce (previous to the harvest of 1838) to be bartered by the settlers, who found it extremely difficult to obtain them in sufficient quantities for their own necessities. Deer-skins, nicely dressed by the Indian method, were plenty among them, and were freely bartered or sold to the whites. “I have seen,” says Mr. Isaac Stow, 49 whole suits of clothing made from Indian-tanned buckskin worn by white men, and pants made of this material were very common.” The price of a good dressed deer-skin was three or four shillings if purchased, and a corresponding amount of other articles (according to the ideas of the Indian owner) in barter. A large proportion of the early male settlers wore articles of clothing made from these skins. But it was principally in the furnishing of game and fish as articles of food that the Indian trade was most advantageous to the people, and it is said that supplies from this source, have often been received with gratitude by families who were temporarily destitute of other provisions.

The abundance of fish and game in this county in the early, years of its settlement is spoken of as having been almost marvelous. Mr. Daniel Case, of Howell mentioned that he saw twenty-two deer in one day, while looking for land with James Sage, and hundreds of wild turkeys were often seen in a day’s travel. The Hon. Ralph Fowler says he has seen from his own door eight or ten deer browsing in the timber near by (but he also says lynxes and bears were more plenty than was desirable, and that in the first season of his residence here he killed one hundred and twenty-five massasaugers). The Hon. Isaac Stow, of losco, says, “Wild game was abundant, and contributed largely to the supplies of the early pioneer, especially the deer and wild turkey; the former being so common that, though they furnished the red man with food and clothing, they might almost daily be seen leisurely feeding or gamboling in the forests.” Mrs. C. W. Burwell, of Genoa, in her pioneer reminiscence; of that town, said, “The winter (1836-37) was very mild, with only snow enough to be pleasant, as were many of the succeeding winters. The deer were very numerous, would come almost to the door, and if we went only a little distance from the house we were almost sure to see two or more of the graceful creatures. Once, and once only, we were surrounded by wolves; we did not seek for nor admire them as we did the deer. Game of all kinds was very plenty, also fish in great abundance in our numerous lakes; a great help and luxury to new-comers.”

To be located in a region thus teeming with Nature’s gifts was an advantage seldom enjoyed by settlers in new countries. Besides the partial supplies of game and fish furnished by their friendly Indian neighbors, the settlers themselves (most of whom were adepts with the rifle and fishing-gear) could easily gain from the forests and streams sufficient store of food at least to keep the wolf of hunger away from their cabins; and many did supplement their slender supplies in this manner during the period of scarcity and ruinous prices of food which preceded the abundant harvest of 1838. Notwithstanding these resources, however, actual suffering for lack of food did occur among the settlers in Livingston in those years, as appears from the following extract from an address of the Hon. W. A. Clark, before the Pioneer Society, in 1876. He said, “Families, to my knowledge, in 1837-38 lived for days, through necessity, on boiled acorns, with fish cooked and eaten without salt or fat of any kind. Provisions were then often held at fabulous prices; beef, pork, and flour had to be brought from Detroit, at a cost of from one to two dollars per hundred, to Brighton, forty miles. It, was not so very high, either, for the round trip, with an energetic teamster and an enterprising team, usually took three to four days, if not longer.” But even when mentioning the straits to which some families were brought for food in those trying times. Mr. Clark also shows that fish was a principal article of their scanty diet, and that without this aid, furnished from the prolific waters of Livingston, their fare must have been still more meagre.

After the harvest of 1838 all this was changed, and whereas, before that time, wheat had sold at two dollars per bushel, with flour, of course, in proportion, and other provisions at an equally exorbitant rate, after that time wheat was so abundant that it sometimes sold at less than three shillings. [2]Mr. Ralph Fowler, in speaking of times in Livingston County in 1844-45, says at that time be hauled his wheat to Detroit, and there sold it at forty-four cents a bushel, receiving his pay in bills of … Continue reading Thenceforth, scarcity was unknown; and the opposite condition–that of too great abundance — was complained of by many as a calamity. And it was such, in so far as the exceedingly low prices prevented farmers from realizing a money profit from their agriculture. But the calamity of seeing their granaries bursting with stores of unsalable bread-stuffs was a light one to the settlers compared with that of seeing their families in danger of suffering for lack of provisions.

It was an advantage of no little importance possessed by the early settlers in Livingston over pioneers in many other and less favored regions, that they found here a country ready for immediate use in the processes of agriculture. Instead of a dense and unbroken forest, extending over all the county, they found a large proportion of the lands, to consist of beautiful oak-openings, occasionally interspersed with old Indian fields. In most of these the soil was comparatively easily worked, and friable, and crops could be put in here with a very small proportion of the delay and laborious preparation which is necessary to bring heavily timbered lands into fit condition for cultivation.

Another and a very decided advantage was found in the unsightly marshes, which had been so contemptuously mentioned by the government surveyors. On these marshes there grew a heavy burden of tall coarse grasses, which, in the absence of timothy, clover, or other cultivated fodder, furnished very good food for cattle. Plain grass was also found in abundance in the openings (probably brought in by the annual fires kindled there by the Indians during many previous years), and this was equally good and nutritious. The existence of these, enabled the settlers here (Who were nearly all men of sufficient means to purchase stock) to bring cattle with them at the time of their settlement, without fear that the animals would die for lack of subsistence during the first or succeeding winters. Many of the first settlers in Livingston did so bring cattle with them, and they derived great benefit from being able to do so, as well as from the ease and facility with which they were able to start their crops in the openings, thus avoiding much of the usual preliminary work of clearing, hand labor without the aid of teams, weary waiting until lands are made ready, seeds planted, and harvests finally secured,–a period in which the pioneer in general, experiences more of hardship and suffering than he is ever again called on to endure.

Taken as a whole, with all attending circumstances, the settlement and development of Livingston County was accomplished with less, of privation than usually occurs in the settlement of an equal extent of territory. The pioneers here unquestionably saw much of hardship and something of suffering, but more than one of those who still remain have said to the writer of this, that those pioneering days were, with all their deprivations, the pleasantest days of their lives; and there is little doubt that of all the present survivors, by far the greater portion will say at least, that they enjoyed life quite as well in their log cabins of forty years ago as they do now in their well-appointed farm-houses, or in the town residences to which some of them have retired. Referring to this, Judge Josiah Turner — himself a pioneer of Livingston–has expressed himself before the Pioneer Association of the county as follows:

“No matter what our fortunes, in life may have been; no matter that we cleared up broad acres; no matter that we have pulled down our log houses, and filled our larger barns; no matter what wealth or fortune may have given, us; no matter what honors our fellow-citizens may have showered upon us, there never has arisen on us so serene a day as that wherein we labored here in the wilderness. Let me, appeal to the consciousness of every old settler. How is it now that the forests are cleared ? How is it that your children are grown up and you yourselves are able to live without labor in well-settled districts where you have all the appliances and refinements of life within your reach? Has your modern pump in your kitchen brought you more delight than your ‘old oaken bucket,’ or your spring, a mile away? Is the roar, of the grist-mill near, your door any sweeter than the silence of a journey of ten, twenty, or thirty miles to mill ? Does the face of a neighbor doctor look more cheery to you than it did when you could only see it by traversing townships? Is the quiet more satisfactory at evening, with your ‘white kine’ glimmering in the open field, than when you could count the wild deer lying in your door-yard? Experience answers all these questions, No!”

Regard of the Settlers for Education and Religious Worship

Among the earliest settlers of the county were found persons from every division of the British Isles, and from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Canada; but more than three-fourths of all were from the State of New York, and there were also a few from the more eastern States. The New York and New England immigrants brought with them (as it was natural they should) the advanced ideas of the favored communities from which they came upon the subjects of education and religious observance. After they bad secured for their families shelter, and the means of present subsistence, they allowed very little time to elapse before they also provided for the education of their children; though as the means at their command were limited, so, of course, the methods were far more rude, and the results obtained were more meagre, than those of the present day; but, though the schools were often taught in the cramped cabin of the settler and seldom in any edifice more pretentious than the single-roomed log school-house, reared in a day by the combined labor of a few earnest heads of families, yet in these rude institutions of learning there have been laid the foundations of many an honorable and useful career. “I think I may affirm,” says Judge Turner, “that the county has from the earliest times felt the deepest practical interest in schools, and this feeling has not been without its results. We have furnished a president for one of the first colleges in the land, as also the head of another educational institution of no small reputation.”

The case was the same among these pioneers from New York and New England with regard to religious observance. They recognized it as being among the necessaries of life equally with food, raiment, and shelter; and so, as soon as they had secured these in the most primitive form, (and frequently, indeed, before they had secured them at all), they set about the finding or creating of opportunities for divine worship, and neglected no chance of attending religious services whenever held at an accessible point, even if many miles distant. Livingston County was a missionary field at a very early day, and ministers of different denominations came here to preach to the settlers years before any church edifices were built, and before the formation of church organizations. Among the early pioneer preachers in the county were the Rev. Jonathan Post and Elder Ansel Clark (Baptists), the former of whom came here from Allegany County, New York, as early as, or before, 1835, and the latter of whom was here about the same time. He was ordained an elder by an ecclesiastical council, held “at the school-house near Samuel G. Hathaway’s,” in Solon, New York, October 13, 1830. Several Presbyterian ministers preached at different places through the county as early as the time of its organization, or earlier. One of these was the Rev. Mr. Kanouse, who came from Lodi Plains, in Washtenaw County, and preached at several places in Livingston, but principally in the southern part. Another was the Rev. William Page, of Ann Arbor (who afterwards came to live in Oceola township) and another, the Rev. Isaac W. Ruggles, of Oakland County, who preached a few times in the east part of Livingston. The Rev. Father Kelly (Catholic), from Northfield, held services in the southeast part of Livingston nearly as early as any preacher was here, and it has been said that the old church building of that denomination was the first erected in the county.

The preachers of the Methodist denomination were among the earliest laborers in this field. Of these, perhaps the Rev. Moses Gleason, who preached in Green Oak in 1831, was the earliest; but next to him probably the Revs. John Cosart, Elijah Crane, and Washington Jackson were as early as any. Mr. Jackson labored very faithfully in the north part of the county, particularly in the formation of classes and establishing worship where none had been held before. Joseph Atwood, who was made an elder in the Methodist Church by Bishop Elijah Hedding, at Palmyra, New York, June 11, 1826, was an early laborer here; and Elder John Sayre preached in the West part of the county in 1836 as did also the Rev. Mr. Breckinridge. Of the few early preachers here named, there was probably none more widely known through the county than the Rev. John Cosart, who was set apart for the office of elder in the Methodist Church by Bishop Enoch George, at Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania, June 17, 1827.

In Livingston County at that day–as elsewhere among new settlements–the opportunity of religious worship was always gladly embraced, regardless of denominational differences; and whether a preacher was of the Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, or other Christian form of belief, his services were always welcomed by the pioneers, who fully appreciated the value of the church privileges 25. they had left behind when they emigrated from their old homes in the East.

In the above brief mention it is not intended to do more than to give the names of a few out of the many early preachers of the county, and to glance at the first rude but earnest attempts of the settlers at religious and educational advancement. These subjects will be resumed, and a full account of churches and schools will be given in the separate histories of the several townships of the county.


Ellis, Franklin, and Everts & Abbott. History of Livingston County, Michigan. With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Everts & Abbott, 1880.


1In its relinquishment of these lands, however, the government excepted the post of Vincennes, on the Wabash, the post of Fort Mariac, towards the mouth of the Ohio, and lands at other places, actually in the occupation of French or other white settlers, to which the Indian title had before been extinguished.
2Mr. Ralph Fowler, in speaking of times in Livingston County in 1844-45, says at that time be hauled his wheat to Detroit, and there sold it at forty-four cents a bushel, receiving his pay in bills of the St. Clair Bank, which failed before he left the city, and he sold the money at fifty percent of its face. “You could not,” says Mr. Fowler, “sell the best fat cow in town for five dollars in money.” People became discouraged at the very abundance, and some returned to their old homes in New York State, though probably most of them came back to Michigan afterwards.

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