St. Clair County, Michigan
Mr. Thompson's School
A speech given by Thomas Palmer in 1907 for St. Clair's Pioneer Days. I hope you enjoy reading it and I hope it will be a great help to others on the website. The topic is not so much the school itself, but the kids he went to school with and what became of them, the townspeople, businesses and happenings of the 1840's. The punctuation is unique as is some of the spelling. I only changed one word which was an obvious misprint, the word Height. I love bringing these goodies to light. Suzy
Mr. Thompson’s School
at St. Clair in 1842
The winter of 1842 was one of unusual severity and long duration. It was heralded by dire portents, such as myriads of squirrels swimming rivers, bears coming out into the open and various other signs which men construed as a promise of what afterwards took place. Snow fell the first of November and remained on the ground all winter, so that men went to town meeting in April on runners. Nearly all of the fodder of the country was exhausted long before spring, and farmers had to cut down trees that the cattle might eke out a living by browsing. Quail came into the barnyards in great number and as hunger had driven them there, man took compassion and never shot them. Hay went up to $20 a ton.
Just before I arrived at St. Clair, three bears had taken refuge under the Presbyterian meeting house, a neat wooden structure with a spire of the old fashioned kind and they were either killed or captured.
Mr. Thompson’s school was started at the village of Palmer, the name of which was afterwards changed to St. Clair. The school or academy was built by Mr. Thompson upon the rise just above the town. The site was a very beautiful one. The front of the house faced the rising sun and the view of the placid river for three miles was very attractive.
Mr. Thompson was a minister of the Presbyterian faith. He first started a manual labor school at Ann Arbor in 1832 and the intervening time between that and the time I arrived at his academy in 1842 was spent, I suppose, in different parts of Michigan, until he was established as a minister at St. Clair. He was of New England parentage. His family emigrated to the Western Reserve, Ohio, about 1807, Mr. Thompson being at that time seven years old. His wife’s father, and by the way, his wife’s name was Thompson, was also one of the large donors to the college then established at Hudson. He came of a long line of New England ancestry, as did his wife, who emigrated to Ohio about 1800. It was a legend of the family that Mr. Hudson, whose name was given to the town, was a descendant of the celebrated Hendrick Hudson of Half Moon fame, who was put out in an open boat on Hudson’s Bay and forever lost sight of. If this is correct, it would indicate that there was a little Dutch blood in the Hudson family. But be this as it may, it has nothing to do with the incidents herein narrated.
Mr. O. C. Thompson graduated in the first class which received its diplomas at the Western Reserve College. He was a genial, kindly man and although reared in the Presbyterian faith, he never had the intense regard for dogmas, which characterized many of that church and with each successive year, he grew more tolerant, genial and companionable. He did not think it was a crime to enjoy one’s self or to let the boys enjoy themselves as long as they did it decently and in order. He was a cultivated man and was known and respected all along the river side from Algonac to Port Huron. He was the first man who brought a spring buggy into St. Clair, where it could be used on a very few roads, save those which ran along the river bank. He used to make exchanges of pulpits on horseback and I have often seen him returning from an exchange on the back of "Bob," a little sorrel, docktailed pony, carrying an umbrella to protect himself from the rain.
In opening the school, I think he was not so much inspired by a love of profit, as by a desire to have a little more society, which he gathered around him in his pupils and from those families who were attracted by the academy. Its influence on the whole river side was felt and is felt to the present day.
I think I was there very near the opening, and for three years, barring vacations, spent most of my time at the school. Mr. Thompson was an excellent teacher and was well grounded in English and in the classics. He was a little rusty on his Greek and Latin at first, but he had a class of two in the latter branch, comprising Miss Orra Smith and myself to which afterward were joined Mr. Sanborn and Mr. Quay, a relative, I believe of Senator Quay of Pennsylvania. Mr. Sanborn was of the Cummings Sanborn family, who came to Port Huron before Jas. Wm. Sanborn and was in no way connected with the latter family.
Mr. Quay was a journeyman printer and of course quite a rover. He appeared in St. Clair the first winter I was there and took work in the office of The St. Clair Banner, edited by Mr. John N. Ingersoll. I never saw him but once after I left St. Clair, and then he called upon me at Ann Arbor, out of money and almost out of clothes. He told me that he had been one of a filibustering party that had landed in Cuba; that he was taken prisoner with the rest of his party, all of whom were shot, save himself, and he escaped by the aid of a friendly Free Mason. He was a very kind hearted man. I talked with Senator Quay about him and he said he thought that there had been a member of his family who had strayed off to the west some years before, but he had lost sight of him. It was 45 years after I saw Quay, of St. Clair, that I talked with the senator about him. His resemblance to the senator was very great.
Mr. Thompson, I imagine, had to study pretty hard to keep ahead of his class in Latin, for Miss Smith was a very bright woman and was always prompt in recitation—to say nothing of the balance of the class. We read portions of Virgil after going through the Latin reader and some of the other Latin authors. We also took up Greek in the second year. Added to this was Algebra and the ordinary English branches. The school was comprised of many bright children and young ladies and gentlemen, some of whom I enumerate further on.
I started from Detroit on the 17th of November, 1842, on the little steamer, "Erie," the fastest and most attractive of the small lake steamers of the day. We had to break through the ice nearly all the way on Lake St. Clair, but were landed, although late, safely at our port. The Erie went on the Port Huron and returned the next day, and having the same experience with the ice as she had the day before, was sunk at the mouth of the Clinton River. All the passengers got ashore safely on the ice.
At that time there was a village called Bellevedere at the mouth of the Clinton River, built by Col. Conger, who was afterward a member of Congress from Mt. Clemens. I say Mt. Clemens to distinguish him from Omar D. Conger, of Port Huron. He was a pleasant, hospitable man and had a large house, where he entertained the passengers for several days. They had a violinist among their number and the week passed very pleasantly at his hospitable mansion.
Why the stranded ones put in so much time at Bellevedere is a mystery to me, unless it was from the attractiveness of the festivities or the fact that the snow was pretty deep to walk to Detroit, a distance of 24 miles.
The assistants at the academy were Mr. Sanborn, of Port Huron, a man who, if now living would be about 88 years old. He was studying for the ministry, but I never heard of him again. Then there was Miss Grosvenor, a teacher from Mt. Clemens, who afterward married and died there; then, too, there was Miss Alexander, who married a Mr. Jones, a brother-in-law of Captain Phillips. She is dead also. The great favorite among the teachers was Miss Falster from New York City. She was one of the most attractive women, I have ever known. Though I was but 12 years old, when I met her, her image is imprinted on my memory as clean cut as if I had seen her but yesterday. Without possessing any particular claim to beauty, she had an attractiveness of manner and an art in dress that made her the idol of the school. It was a curious case, in which all the boys were ready to fight for her and all the girls ready to behave themselves and work for her. She married Dr. Whaley and went to California, where she died, leaving one daughter. I would like to see the daughter, if for no other reason, than that she is the child of her mother.
Among the pupils were Miss Northrup, daughter of General Northrup, of Port Huron. She was a beautiful girl and married Capt. Montgomery of the U. S. army, but I believe she has since died. General Northrop was a great singer and always had his tuning fork with him. He was a fine looking man with gray hair and wore a swallow tail coat with brass buttons. At times he would come to the academy, when we would have some very good music, if the discords didn’t put the general out.
Kate Cross, of Belle River, where her father kept a tavern, was quite an attractive girl. I never knew what became of her.
Hester Ogden, a fine looking girl, was the daughter of Mr. Ogden, of Pine River, who had a mill up on the turnpike. Hester boarded in town. She married Timothy Jerome. Her daughter married Elisha Winder of Detroit and is now living in California. I think she also had a son who is interested in a line of steamers on the Pacific Coast.
Mary Jane Hogue, whose father had a farm, lived on Yankee street, as it was called.
Then there was Stephen Fenton, who was a young man, strong and well developed to whom I became much attached. I remember going home with him, a distance of 11 miles, one Friday night. It was in sugar making season, when maple sugar was made by almost every family who could get access to the trees. To me it was a great novelty to see a sugar orchard and the crude spouts inserted in the trees, sometimes being nothing more than a chip, down which the sap ran into the troughs, the contents of which were carried to a large potash kettle, holding it seems to me, two or three barrels, under which fires of beech and maple wood were burning. I remember seeing at Mr. Fenton’s a young man of about my own age—mature 14—at a prayer meeting. He was so fluent and earnest, that the ladies in talking him over afterward, concluded that he must be very gifted, but I never knew whether he turned out to be a St. Francis Xavier, a Henry Ward Beecher or an Ellery Channing.
Although money was a very scarce article in those days, I remember a bet made between Stephen Fenton and Jas. Clark, that he, Fenton would stop Clark’s pony in full career, within a rod with Clark in the saddle, by throwing his arms around him. Clark went back 20 rods and came down on his pony like a Knight of Old, with lance in rest—only he had no lance—and Fenton, throwing both arms around the pony’s neck, stopped him and won the bet.
I had a very pleasant time at Fenton’s and came back Monday morning to school. Going and coming—about 11 miles each way—we rode and tied, a technical term which many of you may not understand. One would ride a horse for two or three miles, while the other trudged behind. The one riding would get off, tie the horse and go on afoot. The one behind would come up to where the horse was tied, get on his back and passing the other, ride two or three miles, tie the horse, and leave him for his companion. In that way, the horse got a rest and each one would walk but half the distance and ride the other half. It was a favorite method of travel, where people had only one horse and it expedited things very much, for if the horse went seven miles an hour, and the boy or man three, the average rate of progress for both would be about five miles an hour.
Julius, Henry and Fanny Granger were children of a former sheriff of the county, who lived "up on the turnpike" as they called it. Julius and Henry grew up to be fine men, but in the last fifty years, I have lost sight of them. Fanny Granger married Mr. Edward Kanter, of Detroit, a highly respected citizen and left two sons, now occupying good positions in that city.
Henry Carlton lived on Yankee street, north of the town, in the farthest of the Carlton houses. If I remember aright, there were three families of Carltons—Israel, George and Henry. They were all well to do farmers, good citizens and forehanded as the saying went. They were a credit to the community in which they lived. Among the children, were George, son of George; Deming and his sister Persis, children of Israel and Henry above mentioned. I do not know how many of the children are now living. I have heard of but one death, that of Deming, who was a great friend of mine.
Across the road from the academy lived Deacon Beardslee, who had a daughter, Maria, and a son Henry. I boarded at the Deacon's home a part of the time, while going to school and I had Henry for a roommate. He had a trick of whispering in bed after we retired, and to make him stop, I would give hive some awful thumps. He would yell out and rouse the whole family. The Deacon would come to the bottom of the stairs and call out sternly: "Boys, what’s the matter up there?" "Thomas is punching me," Henry would reply. But Henry persisted in whispering until I got to a point, where I determined to get rid of him. I raised both my feet to the middle of his back and landed him on the floor. This ended our partnership in bed. This would seem very serious, if you did not take into consideration the fact that one boy was eleven and the other but thirteen.
The Beardslee farm was later bought by a Mr. Loomis, a quiet, retiring man who spent most of his time in Europe. I saw him in Paris in 1874, and I never knew more of him than that. The Beardslee’s moved to Cleveland and later to Minnesota. They were very good people.
Alice Thompson was a child two or three years old and very pretty at the time I entered the Thompson home. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, Alice and an elder daughter, Miss Maggie, a very superior woman and one whom it is my pleasure to still call my friend.
David and Nancy Jerome lived in the village and were children of a former partner of my father’s and one of the early pioneers of St. Clair. David was a tall sinewy lad of my own age and we were always very warm friends. He afterwards went to California, came back, went into the employ of E. B. Ward, then went into business at Saginaw. He was elected Governor of Michigan and later was commissioner among the Indians. He died about 12 years ago. He was an upright, able man and stood well in the community in which he lived.
Nancy was a pretty, agreeable girl, much liked by her companions. She married a Mr. Goodeson and I think she lives in Detroit now, where her daughter is married to a Mr. Frank Andrus, a lawyer of good standing.
There was Mary Jane Fay, a pretty, delicate girl, who with her mother and grandmother, lived next to the academy. They came from Kentucky at an early date. She married a Mr. Hodson and is living in Detroit at the present time.
Ann, Bert and Sarah Chamberlain and Mary Baldwin were all inmates of Dr. Harmon Chamberlain’s family. Ann married Chas. Prince, of Elm Hall, and Bert married Sarah Davis.
Willard and Elizabeth Smith comprised the Smith family.
Mary and James McLean were Scotch people from Canada. They lived at Marcus A. Miles’ as did David Jerome.
Sally Ostrander, adjudged the prettiest girl in the county married John Cannan.
And the name of Sally Ostrander brings back to me one of the gala nights of my life. Sally lived with Col. and Mrs. S. B. Brown, who kept the Steamboat Exchange, with whom she was a great favorite, and they decided to give a party in her honor. All the boys and girls were invited and all those whose parents did not object to dancing were in attendance. There was a splendid ball-room on the third story of the hotel, which was brilliantly lighted with lard lamps and tallow candles. We danced until 10 o’clock, when we were invited down to the table in the great dining-room and bountifully served with doughnuts and cider. Since that time, I have dined with princes and in palaces, with ambassadors and with presidents and in three quarters of the globe, but never have I tasted dishes which equalled the repast at Sally Ostrander’s party and no party has remained so vividly in my memory as that held at the Steamboat Exchange almost 65 years ago.Perkins Cady who lived up on the hill, married Daniel Fallansbee’s daughter. He left a good record and died at St. Clair.
Martha and Laura Palmer, my cousins, were members of a family of four children, the others being Harriet and Emily. The latter were too small to attend school for the walk was over a mile and in winter, there being no path cleared, it made a trip from which most children of today would shrink.
Eugene Smith, brother of Orra, died a rich man and left three daughters. Orra, my old classmate, died unmarried. Eugene had a pony. He also had a pung, said pung being a sleigh sawed out of oak plank, sometimes shod and sometimes unshod. For a tonneau, Eugene used a dry goods box. The pony was a pacer and was said to be very fast, at any rate, as he scurried over the road, he gave one the impression of great speed. Jas. Clark, son of Captain Clark also had a pony which was known as Keenewab, and after school, at times, both boys would load up their respective sleighs with their fellow pupils and then they would race from the foot of the hill down to Smith’s residence, about where the Michigan Central Station is.
There were Theodore Caswell and his brother John, whose father kept a hotel on the south side of Pine River. Theodore Caswell was a very good declaimer and I have often wondered that he did not develop into a stump speaker. He had the fire, the vim and the voice that would have made him a shining figure among the spellbinders, if he had turned his talents in that direction.
There was Erastus Stewart, whose mother lived on a farm just below Eugene Smith’s. The Stewart farm was said to be the best on the river. It was afterward sold to Mr. Truesdale and from his hands passed into those of Mr. McGregor, I believe. How well I remember the point jutting out into the river in front of it, covered by a clump of trees and what difficulty we boys had swimming past it on account of the current.
Mark and Wm. Hopkins were sons of Samuel Hopkins, a man who endeared himself to all his old friends by sharing with them a great fortune which he inherited from his brother. He was always a leader of the choir in the Presbyterian Church.
Elizabeth McIntyre, I believe is living on the old place yet. Her brother George lives in Pennsylvania. Their home was a very pleasant one to visit. George and I were great friends and I recall Mr. McIntyre with great pleasure for, whenever we wanted a horse race on Saturday, we could always count on borrowing his horse.
And now we come to the Clark’s, where I spent more of my leisure time than at any house outside of my uncle’s or Mr. Thompson’s on the river. It was a most hospitable home. Mrs. Clark was a superior woman and Captain Clark was a gentleman of the old school. There were four daughters and a son James.
Mrs. Bristol married a Captain Bristol, of the lakes. He it was who astounded the county by giving Mr. Thompson a marriage fee of a $20 gold piece on the evening of the ceremony. I believe that it will be remembered by many of the older people today. It was a thing unheard of, for there was very little gold in St. Clair at that time.
Emiline Clark first married Mr. Woodbury and on his death, married Capt. Hart. Mary married Mr. Jenks. Nellie is still unmarried. These three I remember with great affection. James was a bright young man, two or three years older than myself, but very agreeable. He was a natural manager of men and he had the faculty of gathering them around him. One time he organized a society in the school which he called the Junta and to which was admitted only those designated by James Clark. He was a real captain in the school, but his rule was never an offensive one. He married a schoolmate, Sally Slyfield, but she died many years ago. How well I can remember the neat parlor of the Captain’s home and the spacious dining room with a table bountifully spread, over which the Captain presided. We were allowed to do pretty much as we pleased in the dining room, where there was always company sufficient to make things lively.
The two Misses Munson lived in the house on the west side of the road, just north of Pine River. Mr. Munson was a native of Santa Cruz. He was a fine looking man with three or four daughters. For many years, he was an agent for my father and was afterward in the employ of Mr. Truesdale. He died of cholera at the Biddle House in Detroit, in 49 or 50.
Isabella Munson married John Sanborn, who moved to Saginaw. Kittie Munson married Newell Barnard also of Saginaw.
There were four Donahue girls, two of whom attended school, Jane and Susan. Susan, I remember was in a competition with me for the best composition. My subject was "Resolution." I don’t recall Susan’s, but I do remember that she got the prize.
Mr. Thompson did everything in his power to keep up the interest in the school and give it reputation abroad. On one occasion, he was going to have an exhibition and he insisted on my writing a Latin Salutatory. I didn’t know what a Salutatory was, but I looked it up in the dictionary and found that it was a "Welcome." I didn’t know any more about a Latin Salutatory than a bronco, but I knew that few of those to be in attendance were any wiser, with the exception of Mr. Thompson, so I took down my Latin dictionary and produced a salutatory which, if it had been read in the days of Augustus, would have been the hit of the year and would have convulsed four or five coloseums with laughter. But it went off in good style, sounded very learned, everybody was satisfied and Mr. Thompson was gratified.
The last year I was in school, Lewis and Robert Forsythe, sons of Major Forsythe; Wm. Brooks, son of Col. Edward Brooks, all of Detroit, and two or three boys from Mt. Clemens entered the school. Lewis Forsythe became paymaster in the army, served to the age limit and died two or three years ago in Washington. Robert married and died, leaving a widow and a beautiful daughter in New York.
Wm. Brooks went south, entered the Confederate army, fought through the war, achieved the rank of General and was idolized by his men. He died out west about 20 years ago.
When I was at school, they were boring for water near Vicksburg, and they struck a stratum of gas. It was the wonder of the country—but as in our day, the supply was soon exhausted.
Mr. Sexton, a tall, red haired man achieved prominence in Chicago politics as an alderman. I met him there in the fifties and have not seen him since.
I boarded for some time in the home of Mr. Whitman, whose daughters, Laura and Mahala were beautiful women. Laura married Mr. Farrand, a lawyer of Port Huron, and Mahala married True P. Tucker, a splendid-looking man. Mrs. Farrand and Mrs. Tucker are, I think, both dead. George Whitman married Miss Sarah Wheaton. I haven’t seen him since the World’s Fair at Chicago. He was a very loveable boy.
Of the four Wards, David became very rich. Zale was a fine fellow and died young. Samuel, I never met after I left school and Eber is still living in Detroit. He has missed making a fortune, but at 80 years, he is hale and hearty and respected by all who know him.
Samuel Johnson and I were roommates. He had the most equable temper and was one of the most patient and long-suffering men that I ever knew. If he hadn’t been so, I would have suffered many time. He was studious, hard-working, careful and he has had a very successful career in the ministry. He must now be 86 or 87 years old.
I was continually playing tricks on Johnson. My father let me purchase what I wanted at Mr. Kitton’s store, so knowing how much my roommate disliked the smell of matches, I went to the store and purchased a whole case as neatly put up as any of the Diamond Match Co. products of today. The room was small and when I knew that Johnson was fairly absorbed in his studies, I lighted two or three boxes. He spluttered ad choked, but his only remonstrance was a long drawn out "Why Pawmer." This was too tame, so one day I set off half a dozen boxes and went out, locking poor Johnson in. He stood it as long as he could, but finally he was compelled to take refuge on an adjacent roof. For several days, I could not locate him, but at last, in walking through a field, I happened to look up and there sat Johnson on the roof in the shade of a wide branching apple tree, hard at work and firm in the faith that there at least he had escaped my torments. I crawled up on the roof very softly, gave him a hard shove and down he went, books and all, crashing through the branches. He threw out his arms in a vain attempt to save himself, his trousers caught on the limb of the tree, and there he hung suspended in mid-air with his arms and legs, flopping wildly until the cloth gave way and he fell to the ground. He picked himself up, brushed off his clothes and all he said was "Why Pawmer." But Mr. Thompson who saw me play the trick did not let me off so easy. He grabbed me by the coat collar and asked sternly, "What do you mean by treating Johnson in such a manner." I looked up and replied "Why Johnson seems to enjoy it." Samuel Johnson was a noble man.
S. B. Brown, who kept the Steamboat Exchange, married the daughter of Benjamin Woodworth, a celebrated hotel keeper in Detroit in the early 20’s and 30’s. Benjamin was a brother of Smauel Woodworth, who achieved fame by writing the "Old Oaken Bucket." S. B. Brown was afterwards a colonel in the army, during the Civil War and later became a general. His wife was a first class landlady and a fine woman.
Below the Exchange on the river was Mr. Cox’s blacksmith shop. It seems to me that I saw more pitchforks made there than would have kept the United States supplied for 50 years. Mr. Cox married Mary Louex, whose father was captain of the old scow "Independence" owned by my father.
My uncle, George Palmer, came to Michigan about 1820. He built a little log house near where the Oakland now stands. He married Deborah Bicknell, of Ashford, the same town in Connecticut, where he was reared. For many years he worked in clearing up his farm, hardly ever having a hired man. His wife took entire charge of her house and her children. When I was there, they had a beautiful place, comprising the banks of the river, the ridge back of it, the adjacent woods and a hickory orchard. This orchard was regarded by everyone as a curiosity. It certainly was to me, for the trees did not seem to grow a bit for 30 years. They may have done better since. It is almost seventy years since I first saw them. Later my uncle built himself a large frame house between the road and the river and he died there in 1858. He was a pleasant, frugal man and amassed by industry, economy and the enhancement in value of his land a very respectable fortune. After moving into the new house, there were three children born to them, Emily, Julia and George. All became of age and two of them are now living. His wife was a very remarkable woman and did much to make the family a success. She was public spirited, a staunch supporter of Mr. Thompson and a great helper in the church of which her husband was a deacon. Her children were all well educated.
Just above the George Palmer farm on the river, a steam saw mill was built by my father in the early ‘30’s. After many changes, it was sold by my father to Wesley Truesdale. In that old mill, a man by the name of Handy had gotten up a water wheel, which he thought would be effective and efficient in sawing logs. It failed to work and some thousands of dollars were lost in the experiment. It would appear that any one with common sense would have foretold its failure by looking at the slow current of the river. After this came a rotary engine, the construction of which I but faintly comprehended. At last came the shaft turned by a steam engine.
Mr. Truesdale was a remarkable man. He might have died a millionaire, if he hadn’t been just ahead of the game all the time. He made many trades and he made money, but he died poor. For many years, he was the Great Mogul of the town. Everything went as Mr. Truesdale said, but extravagant methods finally impoverished him. There was much comment about him before and after he died, but my father always said that Wesley Truesdale, in all his transactions with him, had been an honest man and a gentleman. He married a Miss Hunt, of Detroit, who was very well connected. They had but one child who died in infancy. Mrs. Truesdale is now living in Washington or was very recently.
Mr. Kitton was an Englishman, very spruce and positive. He kept a little store in one corner of the St. Clair Exchange, during the time that I was there. He brought a very beautiful bride to St. Clair just before I left. John D. Chamberlain was a clerk for Mr. Kitton and later kept a drug store on his own account.
Dr. Bell, a high liver and a very agreeable man, lived in a house upon the bank and was a gentleman of leisure. He was supported by a pension from abroad. At least such was the report. Next came Wm. Barron, who kept a store upon the river bank and lived in a nicely painted white house across the road. It was a great lounging place for the sociable people of the town and was very attractive to me, because the boys were admitted to share in the conversation. Above Mr. Barron’s store, in the second story was Wm. Kirk, a tailor. He had a son Charles, who became a sailor. My father told me that I could have Mr. Kirk make me a suit of clothes. Kirk was slow, but after punching him up for several weeks, the suit was finally sent home. But, when I put it on, I was the living image of the boy of whom his mother said, when he had on a certain suit, that she "couldn’t tell whether he was going to school or coming home." Needless to say, I never wore the clothes.
John N. Ingersoll, a very bright, genial man, published the St. Clair Banner and had his offices at his home. He never got through plagueing me during all our acquaintance, because the morning after I got there, I went into his office and ordered the "Daily Banner" left at my Uncle George’s. That "Daily Banner" struck him as being peculiarly funny, when he thought what hard work it was to get paper enough to print a weekly Banner much less a "Daily." Ingersoll had keen sense of humor and while not a strictly temperate man, he could make a very good temperance speech. I remember one that he made to a large audience at the Academy. The people had come in from all the country around and he gave them a speech full of information, wit and humor. Later he went to Detroit, published a paper for a time in that city and from there went to Owosso. He was always a warm friend of mine and took great interest in my campaign for the nomination for Governor in 1880, when I was defeated at Jackson by my old friend and schoolmate, David Jerome.
Wm. L. Bancroft and a Mr. Robinson were assistants in Mr. Ingersoll’s office. Mr. Bancroft was a bright man and achieved prominence in politics, being appointed Assistant Postmaster General under General Don M. Dickinson. Mr. Robinson died during my school days at St. Clair.
Titus Palmer, an uncle of mine, kept a small store on the north bank of Pine River, near its confluence with the St. Clair. He married Miss Mary Cady and brought up two children, Friend and Mary. Mary attended Mr. Thompson’s school and is now living in St. Clair. Titus Palmer was a quiet, law abiding citizen, given to much reading. In his early days, he was very litigious, but I never heard that he prospered at it.
Dr. Chamberlain was one of the standbys of St. Clair. He was a fine man. He married a Mrs. Partridge by whom he had three children, Ann, Bert and Sarah. She had had four children by her first husband, Joseph, Benjamin, Maria and Timothy. I know nothing of the after life of Joseph, but Benjamin went to the war, where he made a good record. The last time I heard of him, he was in Bay City. Timothy was a fine fellow, made quite a fortune in the dry goods business in Detroit, but I have heard that he afterward lost it in the wooden pipe business. He married a Miss Barnum, of Detroit, and was always highly respected there and elsewhere.
Mrs. Miles was also a daughter of Mrs. Chamberlain by Mr. Partridge. She was a fine woman, very hospitable and her home was a very pleasant one in which to visit. The last time I met her was in Washington, where she was with her daughter.
Samuel F. Hopkins was a good man and one held in the highest respect. As a man once remarked to me, "Money did not change him. He was a nice man when he was poor and the acquisition of a large fortune, didn’t hurt him a bit." It is a great pity that his example couldn’t be followed in this respect by lots of other people, but after all, I suppose, that is a matter of original constitution. He has left a fragrant memory, wherever he was known. His son, Mark, and I were friends at school and we have been friends ever since.
Tom Jordan was a colored boy, who lived with Mr. Cady on the hill. He was a great favorite with the boys who were always pleased to have him in their games.
One incident in my life would indicate that I was no mean sprinter in those days. My father arrived at my Uncle George’s at night and sent down word to me at Capt. Clark’s that he was going to Andrew Palmer’s on Pine River, seven miles away the next morning. I started early, expecting to ride with him, but when I arrived at my Uncle George’s, I found that my father had gone. I started out on foot, traveled the seven miles, only to find that father had gone up beyond Ogden’s mills on the side road. While I was eating my dinner at Andrew Palmer’s, I suddenly spied my father coming down the hill and turning into the road to St. Clair. I dropped my knife and fork and started through the snow, making a short cut and expecting to head him off at the bend of the road. But the river barred my progress and I had to start for home with my dinner unfinished. I took the road, half running, half walking, half crying, until I reached my Uncle George’s, a distance in all of 14 miles on a well beaten snow road. And any one who has traveled such a road with cow hide boots, in which you slip back two steps for every three you take, can understand what I suffered that day. But although it was a sad ending for a day which was to have been all joy, it, with many other like experiences have probably made it possible for me to be with you today, some 65 years after.
Moses Carlton and I were great friends and although I have not seen him in 60 years, I still remember him with warm affection.
A pioneer speech, without a bear story would hardly fit the bill, so I am going to give you a true story at the risk of bringing down on my head a controversy with the "nature writers."
After I had left Mr. Thompson’s home, a bear, to my everlasting regret, knowing that I had departed, came to the house one night, went down cellar through the old fashioned outside cellar doors, upset the pork barrel, turned over the cake jars, ate up the cake, together with the sausages and two pumpkin pies. Then he left, but after that Mr. Thompson barred his cellar doors against other raiders.
Some days later, Mr. Thompson made an exchange of pulpits with another minister, who stayed at the Thompson home. He was told the story of the marauding bear and expressed himself as being very eager to make his acquaintance, in fact it was the one thing that would afford him the greatest pleasure. That night the bear returned. Hearing a noise and fearing that the cattle were in the garden, Mrs. Thompson arose and went to a half glass door that opened out onto a veranda and there she saw a great, big, black bear, just outside the door, which she found ajar. She hurried, closed and locked it and then on turning round, she saw the bear, standing on his hind legs, with paws against the window panes looking in at herself and the children. Mrs. Thompson called the minister who was upstairs and who had expressed so much eagerness to meet the bear, but she called in vain, the reverend gentleman did not respond. Bears in the woods and bears on ones doorstep were two different things and he declined a closer acquaintance.
Finding that he could not get in, the bear went round to the back of the house and disappeared. In the morning, when Mrs. Thompson took an inventory, she found that he had broken the door, opening into a lean to, had eaten up a lot of honey, drank up all the milk he could find and had decamped. I am sorry to say that the bear was caught and killed some days later and he weighed between three and four hundred pounds.
Just what the valiant reverend gentleman thought of the bear, I cannot say, nor what excuses he offered to Mrs. Thompson for not coming down stairs.
A good story is a good story, wherever its birthplace and from the topography of St. Clair, I have always believed that its scene was laid there.
Once upon a time, a man gave a friend a calf. The friend took great care of it, curried and fed it. The calf grew apace and finally when it was two years old, the man thought it time for it to go to work. He borrowed a yoke from a neighbor, put one bow on the steer and the other on himself, calling the steer "Star" and himself "Bright," and started out to train his pet. After two or three days, Star became very tractable and the young man prided himself on having one of the finest animals in the county. One day, he came to the brow of a hill and "Star" looking down on the low lands, beyond the Steamboat Exchange, saw a lot of cattle. Star was lonesome and off he started to get acquainted with his new found friends. He started off at a pretty good gait, with Bright doing his best to keep up. The closer Star got to the cattle, the faster he ran and Bright was almost done out. As the pair got down to General Brown’s Steamboat Exchange, they were in full gallop, Star as fresh as a daisy and Bright sadly winded. As they passed the hotel, Bright shouted in desperation to the bystanders, "Oh, stop us, stop us, we are running away." Just what happened next, no man hath said.
I might say very much more, but I think this paper is long enough. I should like to recall other names that impressed themselves upon me, while at St. Clair; I might speak of Scott who lived at the foot of the hill, a kind and quiet man; of little Ben Hammond, the shoemaker; of Falkenbury, the lawyer; of Samuel Woodruff, the cabinet maker; of Little Bartlett, who used to sell the boys pop near the river; of Little Bickford, the little plowman with one leg shorter than the other, whose stentorian voice could be heard for miles as he drove his oxen on a Spring morning; of Deacon Cady; of Thos. Barber who was the first man I ever saw with his hair cut pompadour; of Harmon Judson; of Amasa Rust, one of the best of men who amassed a fortune and died at Saginaw, leaving many friends and an honorable name; of Marcus A. Miles, who was the County Clerk and a man of prominence in the town; of the two Barrons, one very tall and slim, the other short and stout; of Mr. Reuban Moore, who lived at the head of Yankee Street, and whom I often saw driving to church on Sunday; of Mr. Ben Cox, the surveyor; of Mr. Bowman, who could take a ten penny nail between his teeth and twist it in two, but my time is limited.
As I look down the vista of 65 years, the old town stands out on the background of the past, just as it appeared, when I left it. I have passed through it at long intervals, changes have taken place but I ignore them all.
In imagination, I look down the wide street, skirting the river. I can designate the houses, painted and unpainted, their height and size and I can recognize their occupants. I can see the verdant fields, the cattle grazing in the pasture, the oxen ploughing, the horses with loaded wagons, the men lounging or intent upon their business; I can see the migrating pigeons, swooping down from their roosts in the North with the noise as of a great wind, making the morning dark by their numbers and the air resonant with the whirr of their wings. I can see the little white Presbyterian meeting house, of a Sunday morning, where the townspeople, saints and sinners, gathered in their best array to hear Mr. Thompson expound the Bible. He particularly favored the Old Testament, Kings, Leviticus, Isaiah and Jeremiah, and I wonder now, how so good a man could worship the God of Wrath therein portrayed. I can see Mr. Samuel Hopkins, leading the choir, composed of volunteers, each of whom tried to get ahead of the others, although there was time enough for all—but, oh, such time and Mr. Hopkins, patient and persistent through it all.
I can remember those who fell asleep on the first quarter of the sermon, not through fault of the pastor, but because they had worked hard all the week; and the boys who played tricks throughout the services, not because they were bad or irreverent, but because they were so full of this life and the future life was so remote.
Again I see my schoolmates and call their names. They are grouped in the schoolroom or are playing outside.
I see the steamers on the river with emigrants, going up and southerners going to Saratoga by way of the Mississippi, Chicago, and the lakes, brass bands on their decks, playing patriotic or sentimental tunes, whose cadences were softened by the intervening distance, as they floated on the water. Again I see the white winged schooners with bellying sails before the wind, others beating up or down the river and others at anchor or drifting with the tide. I see deer swimming the stream, pursued and captured by men in boats.
Again I am in the Academy or on the playgrounds with my schoolmates or walking on the streets, saluting everyone and saluted by all, for they were all my friends. If I ever entertained an enmity in the school or town or, if I incurred one, I was not aware of it. To me, not an eye has grown dimmer among the young, not a wrinkle has deepened on the faces of the elderly and as these things flit through my mind, there comes to me the lines,
And conversely, as I think of the lines, the scenes above recited come back to me, set in the frame work of the forest and the river.
The scene has not changed in the last two-thirds of a century to me. Changes have taken place in the town, but they do not disturb the picture in my memory. Two-thirds of those whom I knew have passed on to that bourne from whence no traveler returns, but to me, they still move about, fresh and unchanged, in eternal youth or the gravity of age. No clouds mar the landscape; no bitterness taints my recollections. The river flows as tranquilly as ever; the skies are the same as of yore. Men may come and men may go, as they have come and gone, the town may disappear, its very site may be blotted out and forgotten; factories and palaces may displace the old structures; wealth and poverty may be contrasted in its streets; the sylvan quiet of the olden time may be supplanted by crowds intent only on selfish greed, but it will remain to me as in my school days. The friends of my youth and the scenes of my boyhood will remain fresh in my memory, like some old painting, carefully guarded at the shrine of a saint.
Transcribed and submitted by Suzanne Wesbrook Frantz
This page was last updated Saturday, April 01, 2006