Extracted from
History of St. Clair County, Michigan
by A.T. Andreas

History of Michigan

Chapter IV

NATIONAL POLICIES.

[42] The Great French Scheme. - Soon after the discovery of the mouth of the Mississippi by La Salle, in 1682, the government of France began to encourage the policy of establishing a line of trading posts and missionary stations extending through the West from Canada to Louisiana, and this policy was maintained, with partial success, for about seventy-five years.

The river St. Joseph, of Lake Michigan, was called "the river Miamis" in 1679, in which year La Salle built a small fort on its bank, near the lake shore. The principal station of the mission for instruction of the Miamis was established on the borders of this river. The first French post within the territory of the Miamis was at the mouth of the river Miamis, on an eminence naturally fortified on two sides by the river, and on one side by a deep ditch made by a fall of water. It was of triangular form. The missionary, Hennepin, gives a good description of it, as he was one of the company who built it in 1679. Says he: "We felled the trees that were on the top of the hill, and having cleared the same from bushes for about two musket shot, we began to build a redoubt of eighty feet long and forty feet broad, with great square pieces of timber laid one upon another, and prepared a great number of stakes of about twenty-five feet long to drive into the ground, to make our fort more inaccessible on the river side. We employed the whole month of November about that work, which was very hard, though we had no other food but the bears' flesh our savage killed. These beasts are very common in that place, because of the great quantity of grapes we find there; but their flesh being too fat and luscious, our men began to be weary of it, and desired leave to go a-hunting to kill some wild goats. M. La Salle denied them that liberty, which caused some murmurs among them, and it was but unwillingly that they continued their work. This, together with the approach of Winter and the apprehension that M. La Salle had that his vessel (the Griffin) was lost, made him very melancholy, though he concealed it as much as he could. We made a cabin wherein we performed divine service every Sunday, and Father Gabriel and I, who preached alternately, took care to take such texts as were suitable to our present circumstances and fit to [43] inspire us with courage, concord and brotherly love...The fort was at last perfected and called Fort Miamis."

In 1765, the Miamis nation, or confederacy, was composed of four tribes, whose total number of warriors was estimated at only 1,050 men. Of these, about 250 were Twight-wess or Miamis proper, 300 Weas or Ouiate-nons, 300 Piankeshaws and 200 Schockeys, and at this time the principal villages of the Twightwess were situated about the head of the Maumee River, at and near the place where Fort Wayne now is. The larger Wea villages were near the banks of the Wabash River, in the vicinity of the Ouiatenon; and the Shockeys and Piankeshaws dwelt on the banks of the Vermillion and on the borders of the Wabash, between Vincennes and Ouiatenon. Branches of the Pottawatomie, Shawnee, Delaware and Kickapoo tribes were permitted at different times to enter within the boundaries of the Miamis and reside for a while.

The wars in which France and England were engaged from 1688 to 1697, retarded the growth of the colonies of those nations in North America, and the efforts made by France to connect Canada and the Gulf of Mexico by a chain of trading-posts and colonies naturally excited the jealousy of England and gradually laid the foundation for a struggle at arms. After several stations were established elsewhere in the West, trading-posts were started at the Miami villages, which stood at the head of the Maumee, at the Wea villages about Ouiatenon, on the Wabash, and at the Piankeshaw villages about the present site of Vincennes. It is probable that before the close of the year 1719, temporary trading-posts were erected at the sites of Fort Wayne, Ouiatenon and Vincennes. The points were probably often visited by French fur traders prior to 1700. In the meanwhile, the English people in this country commenced also to establish military posts west of the Alleghanies, and thus matters went on until they naturally culminated in a general war, which, being waged by the French and Indians combined on one side, was called "the French and Indian war." This war was terminated in 1763 by a treaty at Paris, by which France ceded to Great Britain all of North America east of the Mississippi except New Orleans and the island on which it is situated; and, indeed, France had the preceding Autumn, by a secret convention, ceded to Spain all the country west of that river.

In 1762, after Canada and its dependencies had been surrendered to the English, Pontiac and his partisans secretly organized a powerful confederacy in order to crush at one blow all English power in the West. This great scheme was skillfully projected and cautiously matured. The principal act in the programme was to gain admittance into the fort at Detroit, on pretense of a friendly visit, with shortened muskets concealed under their blankets, and, on a given signal, suddenly break forth upon the garrison; but an inadvertent remark of an Indian woman led to a [44] discovery of the plot, which was consequently averted. Pontiac and his warriors afterward made many attacks upon the English, some of which were successful, but the Indians were finally defeated in the general war.

BRITISH POLICY.

In 1765 the total number of French families within the limits of the Northwestern Territory did not probably exceed 600. These were in settlements about Detroit, along the river Wabash and the neighborhood of Fort Chartres on the Mississippi. Of these families, about eighty or ninety resided at Post Vincennes, fourteen at Fort Ouiatenon, on the Wabash, and nine or ten at the confluence of the St. Mary and St. Joseph rivers, together with a few on St. Clair lake and river.

The colonial policy of the British Government opposed any measures which might strengthen settlements in the interior of this country, lest they become self-supporting and independent of the mother country; hence the early and rapid settlement of the Northwestern Territory was still further retarded by short-sighted selfishness of England. That fatal policy consisted mainly in holding the lands in the hands of the government and not allowing it to be subdivided and sold to settlers. But in spite of all her efforts in this direction, she constantly made just such efforts as provoked the American people to rebel, and to rebel successfully, which was within fifteen years after the perfect close of the French and Indian war.

AMERICAN POLICY.

Thomas Jefferson, the shrewd statesman and wise Governor of Virginia, saw from the first that actual occupation of Western lands was the only way to keep them out of the hands of foreigners and Indians. Therefore, directly after the conquest of Vincennes by Clark he engaged a scientific corps to proceed under an escort to the Mississippi, and ascertain by celestial observations the point on that river intersected by latitude 36 deg. 31 min., the southern limit of the State, and to measure its distance to the Ohio. To Gen. Clark was entrusted the conduct of the military operations in that quarter. He was instructed to select a strong position near that point and establish there a fort and garrison; thence to extend his conquest northward to the lakes, erecting forts at different points, which might serve as monuments of actual possession, besides affording protection to the portion of the country. Fort "Jefferson" was erected and garrisoned on the Mississippi a few miles above the southern limit.

The result of these operations was the addition to the chartered limits of Virginia, of that immense region known as the "Northwestern Territory." the simple fact that such and such forts were established by the Americans in this vast region convinced the British Commissioners that we had entitled ourselves to the land. But where are those "monuments" of our power now?

ORDINANCE OF 1787.

[45] This ordinance has a marvelous and interesting history. Considerable controversy has been indulged in as to who is entitled to the credit for framing it. This belongs undoubtedly, to Nathan Dane; and to Rufus King and Timothy Pickering belong the credit for suggesting the proviso contained in it against slavery, and also for aids to religion and knowledge, and for assuring forever the common use, without charge, of the great national highways of the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence and their tributaries to all the citizens of the United States. To Thomas Jefferson is also due much credit, as some features of this ordinance were embraced in his ordinance of 1784. But the part taken by each in the long, laborious and eventful struggle which had so glorious a consummation in the ordinance, consecrating forever, by one imprescriptible and unchangeable monument, the very heart of our country to freedom, knowledge and union, will forever honor the names of those illustrious statesmen.

Jefferson had vainly tried to secure a system of government for the Northwestern Territory. He was an emancipationist and favored the exclusion of slavery from the Territory, but the South voted him down every time he proposed a measure of this nature. In 1787, as late as July 10, an organizing act without the anti-slavery clause was pending. This concession to the South was expected to carry it. Congress was in session in New York. On July 5, Rev. Manasseh Cutler of Massachusetts, came into New York to lobby on the Northwestern Territory. Everything seemed to fall into his hands. Events were ripe. The state of the public credit, the growing of Southern prejudice, the basis of his mission, his personal character, all combined to complete one of those sudden and marvelous revolutions of public sentiment that once in five or ten centuries are seen to sweep over a country like the breath of the Almighty.

Cutler was a graduate of Yale. He had studied and taken degrees in the three learned professions, medicine, law, and divinity. He had published a scientific examination of the plants of New England. As a scientist in America, his name stood second only to Franklin. He was a courtly gentleman of the old style, a man of commanding presence and inviting face. The Southern members said they had never seen such a gentleman in the North. He came, representing a Massachusetts company that desired to purchase a tract of land, now included in Ohio for the purpose of planting a colony. It was a speculation. Government money was worth eighteen cents on the dollar. This company had collected enough to purchase 1,500,000 acres of land. Other speculators in New York made Dr. Cutler their agent, which enabled him to represent a demand for 5,500,000 acres. As this would reduce the national debt, it presented a good opportunity to do something.

[46] Massachusetts then owned the territory of Maine, which she was crowding on the market. She was opposed to opening the Northwestern region. This fired the zeal of Virginia. The South caught the inspiration, and all exalted Dr. Cutler. The entire South rallied around him. Massachusetts could not vote against him, because many of the constituents of her members were interested personally in the Western speculation. Thus Cutler making friends in the South, and doubtless using all the arts of the lobby, was enabled to command the situation. True to deeper convictions, he dictated one of the most compact and finished documents of wise statesmenship that has ever adorned any human law book.

He borrowed from Jefferson the term "Articles of Compact," which preceding the federal constitution, rose into the most sacred character. He then followed very closely the constitution of Massachusetts, adopted three years before. Its most prominent points were:

1. The exclusion of slavery from the territory forever.

2. Provision for public schools, giving one township for a seminary and every section numbered 16 in each township; that is, on thirty-sixth of all the land for public schools.

3. A provision prohibiting the adoption of any constitution or the enactment of any law that should nullify pre-existing contracts. Be it forever remembered that this compact declared that "religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall always be encouraged." Dr. Cutler planted himself on this platform and would not yield. Giving his unqualified declaration that it was that or nothing, he took his horse and buggy and started for the constitutional convention at Philadelphia. On July 13, 1787, the bill was put upon its passage, and was unanimously adopted.

Thus the great States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, a vast empire, were consecrated to freedom, intelligence and morality. Thus the great heart of the nation was prepared to save the union of States, for it was this act that was the salvation of the Republic and the destruction of slavery. Soon the South saw their great blunder and tried to have the compact repealed. In 1803 Congress referred it to a committee, of which John Randolph was chairman. He reported that this ordinance was a compact, and opposed repeal. Thus it stood, a rock in the way of the on-rushing sea of slavery.

The "Northwestern Territory" included, of course, what is now the State of Indiana, and October 5, 1787, Major General Arthur St. Clair was elected by Congress, Governor of this territory. Upon commencing the duties of his office he was instructed to ascertain the real temper of the Indians, and do all in his power to remove the causes for controversy between them and the United States, and to [47] effect the extinguishment of Indian titles to all the land possible. The Governor took up quarters in the new settlement of Marietta, Ohio, where he immediately began the organization of the government of the territory. The first session of the General Court of the new territory was held at that place in 1788, the judges being Samuel H. Parsons, James M. Varnum and John C. Symmes, but under the ordinance, Gov. St. Clair was president of the court. After the first session, and after the necessary laws for government were adopted, Gov. St. Clair, accompanied by the judges, visited Kaskaskia for the purpose of organizing a civil government there. Full instructions had been sent to Maj. Hamtramck, commandant at Vincennes, to ascertain the exact feeling and temper of the Indian tribes of the Wabash. The instructions were accompanied by speeches to each of the tribes. A Frenchman, named Antoine Gamelin, was dispatched with these messages April 5, 1790, who visited nearly all the tribes of the Wabash, St. Joseph, and St. Mary's Rivers, but was coldly received, most of the chiefs being dissatisfied with the policy of the Americans toward them, and prejudiced through English misrepresentation. Full accounts of his adventures among the tribes, reached Gov. St. Clair at Kaskaskia, in June, 1790. Being satisfied that there was no prospect of effecting a general peace with the Indians of Indiana, he resolved to visit Gen. Harmar, at his headquarters at Fort Washington, and consult with him on the means of carrying on an expedition against the hostile Indians; but before leaving he intrusted Winthrop Sargent, the secretary of the Territory, with the execution of the resolutions of Congress regarding the lands and settlers on the Wabash. He directed that officer to proceed to Vincennes, lay out a county there, establish the militia and appoint the necessary civil and military officers. Accordingly Mr. Sargent went to Vincennes and organized Camp Knox, appointed the officers, and notified the inhabitants to present their claims to lands. In establishing these claims the settlers found great difficulty, and concerning this matter the secretary in his report to the president wrote as follows:

Although the lands and lots which were awarded to the inhabitants appeared from very good oral testimony to belong to those persons to whom they were awarded, either by original grants, purchase or inheritance, yet there was scarcely one case in twenty where the title was complete, owing to the desultory manner in which public business had been transacted, and some other unfortunate causes. The original concessions by the French and British commandants were generally made upon a small scrap of paper, which it has been customary to lodge in the notary's office, who has seldom kept any book of record, but committed the most important land concerns to loose sheets, which in process of time have come into possession of persons that have fraudulently destroyed them; or unacquainted with their consequence, innocently lost or trifled them away. By French usage they are [48] considered family inheritances, and often descend to women and children. In one instance, during the government of St. Agne, a royal notary ran off with all the public papers in his possession, as by a certificate produced to me. And I am very sorry further to observe that in the office of Mr. Le Grande, which continued from 1777 to 1787, and where should have been the vouchers for important land transactions, the records have been so falsified, and there is such gross fraud and forgery as to invalidate all evidence and information which might be otherwise acquired from his papers.

Mr. Sargent says there were about 150 French families at Vincennes in 1790. The heads of all the families had been at one time vested with certain titles to a portion of the soil; and while the secretary was busy in straightening out those claims, he received a petition signed by eighty Americans, asking for the confirmation of grants of land ceded by the Court, organized by Col. John Todd, under the authority of Virginia. With reference to this cause, Congress, March 3, 1691, empowered the territorial governor, in cases where land had been actually improved and cultivated under a supposed grant for the same, to confirm to the persons who made such improvements the lands supposed to have been granted, not, however, exceeding the quantity of 1,100 acres to any one person.