The Pioneers of Port Huron.
A Historical Paper Prepared by Mrs. B.C. Farrand, of this City, for the Pioneer Society of Detroit.
The Port Huron Daily Times - Monday Evening, June 17, 1872
A paper prepared by request for the Pioneer Society of Detroit by Mrs. B.C. Farrand, of this city, was recently read before that Society. After a few introductory remarks the paper read as follows:
I find in my own mind an interest awakened in all that pertains to the history of the Northwest - to the adventures of the early missionaries and traders - more especially to LeCaron, Champlain and LaSalle, with whose names are associated "the great inland ocean," "The Mer Douce," of Champlain, our own beautiful Lake Huron.
I crave your indulgence for the errors you may observe and the anachronisms which your more extended research will enable you to correct.
So far as I have been able to learn, the French were the first of the Caucasian race to "behold this beautiful peninsula," or to set foot upon this portion of its soil. As early as June 6, 1686, M. Du Lhut, who had been in command of Michilimackinac, in obedience to the command of the Governor General of New France, selected the site of the present Fort Gratiot and erected thereon a fortified trading post, and gave it the name of Fort St. Joseph.
The order was given in these words, among others: "I wish you to establish a post on the Straits between Lakes Huron and Erie, I desire you to choose an advantageous place to secure the passage which may protect our savages who go to the chase, and serve them as an asylum against their enemies and ours." * * * * * * * "You will take care that each (of the 50 men) provide himself with provisions sufficient for his subsistence at the said post, where I doubt not you may trade for peltries."
Thirteen years after Fort St. Joseph was built Cadillac established a fort and named it Fort Ponchartrain, at Teuchsagrondie, on the present site of Detroit.
Had Fort St. Joseph existed seven years before it might have welcomed the adventurous voyager LaSalle, as his wooden bark - the Griffin - first specimen of American naval architecture, sailed up the rapid current of the St. Clair, the banks of which almost embrace each other. We seem to hear the report of the five arquebuses as her Griffined prow looked forth upon the opening ocean, and her keel first parted its deep blue waters, while naught but the stately pine trees wave an answering salute.
Until 1790 the Indian maintained his original proprietorship, and enjoyed this place of wondrous beauty all undisturbed (for Fort St. Joseph was abandoned after two years). His hunting grounds - the great forests - remained all unknown, their vast treasures as yet tempted not the cupidity of the white man, and the Rapids at all seasons of the year furnished an unlimited supply of all kinds of fish.
So attractive was this place that 3,000 Indians have been encamped here at one time, within the memory of those now living here; wigwam touching wigwam and extending far above the present Military street on both sides of Black River.
During the summer of 1790, just mentioned, seven Frenchmen, with their wives and families, arrived at this spot. They came up the river in canoes, and erected shanties for the purpose of forming a settlement. They brought with them no means. Enterprise and health constituted their capital. For many years they lived amicably with the Indians, who permitted them to appropriate portions of the soil for their gardens, and to fell trees with which to erect their cabins of logs.
These Indians had a tradition of a great council held at Pe-tag-wa-no (now Point Edward, in Sarnia) at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The great question was, which should they help, the Americans or the British? They had been in council six days, and could not agree, and then sent for the Great Prophet and chief of the Huron tribe, We-me-ke-uns. This chief had a grotesque appearance. Beside being very large and powerful, he had three noses - a smaller one on each side of the face. - He stepped forward into the council and said: "My Brothers - The Great Spirit tells me that we poor Indians had best keep silence, for the Ke-she-mo-co-mon (meaning the Big Knife, or the Americans) will drive us away beyond the Rocky Mountains. These beautiful forests will not be our home. It may be you and I will be gone to the happy hunting-grounds of our fathers, but these things will surely come. The Americans fight for themselves, and the English for their King. The Americans are few, but they have a great advantage; they will drive the English back over the great waters, and will fight to the last. So there is no hope for us. Remain in peace. The Great Spirit hath spoken."
This chief lived 125 years before he went to the happy hunting-grounds of his fathers. His wife preceded him four years; was 101 years of age, and left 15 children to mourn her early departure.
The names of the French settlers were Anselm Petit, Francois Lerviere, Battiste Levais, Duchien, Jarvais, Coarneais and Moreaux.
M. Jarvais erected a saw-mill on what is now known as Indian Creek, but was then called la Riviere Jarvais. Three miles up Black River was Quotsboron, the site now of Harrington's mill. Black River was then called by the more euphonious name of la Riviere Delude, although the association was no more pleasant, from the fact that a man by the name of Delude had found his grave in its dark waters.
The settlement, though called Desmond for a few years, was more frequently called la Riviere Delude, until the platting of a village in 1835 by the Hon. Daniel B. Harrington, to which he gave the present name, Port Huron.
The Indians had several acres of land under cultivation on the lowlands of Big Marsh, just above the present crossing of the Grand Trunk Railroad over Black River, up to the time of the great land speculations of 1836-1837. The second saw mill was built by M. Petit, under contract, for Park & Meldrum, of Detroit. Park & Meldrum were slaveholders, and employed slave labor. One of their employees served seven years to obtain one of their slaves for a wife; and the descendants of this woman are now living on the banks of the St. Clair River, in the county of St. Clair. It is to be hoped that this slave-wife was truly a free woman after her marriage.
At the breaking out of the War of 1812 disturbances seemed to threaten the settlers. The Indians were not as friendly as heretofore, and in the summer of 1813, during the holding of an Indian council, the settlers were warned by a squaw, to whom some unusual kindness had been shown, that their death or capture had been determined upon, and that they should at once remove. Accordingly the next morning they started for Detroit in boats. On their route they met Mr. King one of the settlers on the Canada side, on his return from a trip down the river, and told him of the troubles and fears at la Riviere Delude. He was unable to appreciate the situation, and said he had few fears and should proceed home and take the risk. The next day he was killed, and also a man with him by the name of Rodd. Their wives and children were taken as captives to the head of Lake Huron. Some of the children of King are now living in the vicinity of Saginaw, and the widow of Rodd is the same Old Mother Rodd who was so well known in this locality, and who died a year since, aged 115 years. A son of hers now resides on the Indian reservation opposite this place.
King was an Englishman, Rodd a half-breed. Of the Indians engaged in this massacre were "Old Salt," "Black Foot," "Wapoose" the medicine man, and "Old Wawenash," the old Chippewa chief who died in Sarnia only a few years ago. Wawenash shot King.
After the close of the war the settlers returned to their homes and Fort Gratoit was built, the settlers assisting. The fort was garrisoned by a company under command of Col. McNeill, Maj. Burbank and Capt. Whistler.
A reinforcement of French settlers arrived in 1815: Mr. Peter Brandemoor, M. Causley, M. Duprey, and the two brothers Burnham, so that there began to be the appearance of a settled community, and a good deal of confidence and security experienced.
In 1819 Mr. Jeremiah Harrington, the father of Mr. Daniel B. Harrington, arrived from the State of New York and "found the place used mostly by the Indians as a hunting ground and fishery."
In 1820 the county of St. Clair was organized and its records for several years thereafter placed in a cigar box for safety.
In 1828 the houses for the Indians on the Sarnia side were built, just as they now are, by the British government. A contract for some of the building materials was taken by Mr. Jonathan Burtch of this place, the shingles were furnished from the American side of the river.
The first village plat was made by Mr. Edward Petit, son of one of the original settlers, and was named Peru. Twelve acres were platted on what is now known as "the Flats."
No church edifice existed for many years, either Protestant or Catholic. - Early Protestant religious services were conducted by Dr. Norman Nash, then on his way to the Green Bay Mission. He preached at Fort Gratiot and baptized several children.
Occasionally a Catholic Priest made a visit here and administered baptism. - Old Father Bada was the first who visited this place. Pere Richard came as far as Cottrellville.
The records of the town and of St. Clair county, as well as those of Fort Gratiot are easily accessible, and as they embrace a period of little more than 50 years are not very volumninous.
As a means of acquainting you more perfectly with the early days of this region, and also of rescuing from oblivion awaiting them, unless speedily saved, I have recorded some incidents in the life of a native of this city, who, so far as we can learn, was the first white child born within the limits of what is now known as Port Huron.
was born February 7, 1813, in a log-house built by his father, near the foot of the present Court street, Port Huron.
He was the oldest and now only living son of Anselm Petit. His mother was Angelique Campau, daughter of Simon Campau and Angelique Bourdon, from Quebec. Mrs. Campau, the grandmother, was one of 14 children, seven sons and seven daughters. She died at the house of Lebby Campau, in Detroit, aged 96 years.
A daughter married on McDougal, who kept slaves - two of them, named Jo and Callette, may be remembered by persons now living in Detroit. Callette, after the death of her mistress, went to live with Lebby Campau, at whose house she died.
When Mr. Petit was but a few months old the family was obliged to flee for safety to Detroit, where they remained till the close of the war (1812), when they returned home, and his father assisted in building Fort Gratiot.
About the year 1821 Mr. John S. Hudson and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Hart, and Miss Osmer opened a missionary school at the fort for the benefit of the Indians and any that chose to attend. The first year they met with poor success, the Indians wholly refusing to receive instruction, believing or fearing that the missionaries wished to enslave them. But after getting an interpreter named Javerodd the school numbered some 50 or 60, and was continued three years, until the missionaries were removed to Mackinaw. Thirty of the Indians followed them thither, thus proving their attachment to these self-denying, good people.
At this school Mr. Petit took his first and only lessons, which were learned in a box of sand. Each pupil was provided with a sharpened stick and formed letters in the sand after a copy placed upon the wall. After the inspection of the teacher the work was rubbed out and another trial made.
What a change have these 50 years witnessed.
The chief amusements of Mr. P's boyhood were those of the Indian - hunting and fishing.
The Indians were very numerous, and from them he learned their language. - French being the language of his parents, and English settlers coming in, he learned simultaneously the French, Indian and English languages, all three of which he now speaks with fluency, - and on this account, as well as his enterprising spirit, he was well calculated to trade for the fur companies, and in that trade he was employed almost from boyhood.
He well remembers the visits of old Father Bada at his father's house, and in 1828 at St. Ann's Church, in Detroit, he received the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church from the hands of Pere Richard.
During that year, and at only 15 years of age, he engaged in the Indian trade and spent the winter on the Canadian side, near the Sauble. He took supplies of shot, powder, calicoes and blue broadcloth, one and three-fourth yards of which was called a blanket. The Indians gave for them maple sugar and fur: - otter, beaver, mink, martin and bear skins. Of the early visits of the Steamer Superior he has a distinct recollection. About four times a year she was accustomed to visit this place for wood, dry pine being deemed the only wood suitable for steamboats. A Mr. Hatch had a contract to supply the wood.
The captain of the boat charged all who went on board to visit her one shilling each. "Our whole family," say Mr. Petit, "visited the boat, and going on board stood in mute admiration of the most beautiful thing we had ever seen. - We thought we were in Heaven."
When in the Indian trade, in the employ of Gurdon and Ephraim Williams, then of the fur company, Mr. P. had a post on the Cass River, at a place called Skop-ti-qua-nou, meaning a very short bend in the river shaped like a horseshoe. The Indians on that river were numerous and unusually intelligent. The traders had plenty to eat, and plenty to do looking them up and bartering with them.
Special interest had been awakened by the failure of all the traders to find an encampment of five or six families of Indians who had been gone all winter, and must necessarially have great quantities of furs or skins, as they were called. - Party after party went out and returned, not having found them. The head of this camp was Tawas, a cunning old fellow, one of whose sons had blue eyes.
Young Petit resolved to secure this prize if perseverence would accomplish it, and started out with provisions on his back for a week, together with articles for barter. He took with him as guide an Indian with one arm. The other arm had been sacrificed to the revenge of the Indians, who had shot him because he had murdered his own wife at la Riviere Delude.
The two started off and passed over to Sebewaing, then following round the lake came down to the place now known as White Rock, where they encamped, after making for themselves a lodge of bark. Before morning a drenching rain set in, and with nothing to cheer, and only one loaf of bread remaining, they set forth renewing their search, which was rewarded after a tramp of five miles. Tawas and his families were found preparing to make sugar. They had brass kettles of all sizes which had been given them by the British government. They had selected this spot on account of its facilities for fishing. When found they were almost in a starving condition, having no food at all except moose tallow scraps. Petit divided with them his only loaf, and in return shared their hospitality in the shape of scraps of moose tallow for several days. He purchased during this time 500 martin skins at $1 each, which were readily sold at $2. Only the finest of the furs could they take away. The coarse ones were left for later traders; and returning to camp rejoicing, his wages were quadrupled by his employers.
Another winter, while in the Indian trade, he was three months with only one man for company, on the Canada side of the lake. Getting short of provisions, he sent the man 40 miles, to Goderich, for food. The snow fell during his absence, and was so deep that return was impossible. The bread and crackers gave out, and he had nothing left but whole corn, without any salt. After some days an old Indian came in from the hunting-grounds on the Thames, bringing on his back a basket he had made from elm bark, filled with honey, found on his way in a tree. After that, to use his own expression, they "lived first-rate on corn and honey." As soon as the sun came out so as to melt the snow and form a crust the mad who had been sent for food returned on snow shoes, and soon four Frenchmen came out, bringing relief to the starving trader.
It was in this vicinity, on the Sauble, about 40 miles from Sarnia, that he observed the ruins of an ancient house.
Pacing the size he found it to have been 40 by 24 feet on the ground. On the middle of the south or gable-end was a chimney eighteen feet high, in excellent preservation, built of stone with an open fire-place. The fire-place had sunk below the surface. This ruin had a garden surrounding it 10 or 12 rods wide, by 20 long, marked by ditches and alleys. And most remarkable of all, even wonderful, inside the walls of the house a splendid oak had grown to be three feet in diameter and 60 feet high without a limb, and perfectly straight. It seemed to be a second growth, and must have been 150 years in reaching the proportions observed. On inquiry of an aged Saguenay chief*, 84 years old, he stated that a white man built the house at the time of his great-great-great-great-grandfather lived, and that white people lived then in all the country round, that they were not Frenchmen, and that everything, no matter how great or small value, was sold for a peminick, meaning dollar.
Who could these generous white men of the north have been?
After so varied an experience in border and Indian life, Mr. Petit, scarcely past middle-age, resides in the place of his birth, blessed with ample means, the fruit of his own industry and well-directed enterprise.
He is a zealous member of the Congregational Church, and lives to enjoy the luxury of doing good, and to help build up those institutions of benevolence and Christianity which, in so short a period of time, have changed the wilderness, where only the swarthy Indian roamed, to the city whose school-houses and churches guard and develop the intellectual, moral and religious culture of its thousands.
For the facts and incidents of the foregoing sketch of early French settlers of Port Huron I am largely indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Petit, and their only daughter, Mrs. Lourne Petit Smith.
The Griffin was named from the griffon, upon her figure head.