Bygones of Monroe:
Monroe, Mich., Dec. 3, 1833
The drive from Detroit hither is dull enough at this season of the year. The road leads through almost a dead level, and the muddy streams creep over the flat soil, as if they had gormandized upon its rich vegetation till grown too lazy for locomotion. Among others, the Huron river, from which, seeing that it rises in one of the brightest and most beautiful lakes in the peninsula, better things might be expected, waddles on to the lakes, as little excited by the flocks of ducks which frolic on its bosom, as an alderman after dinner by the flies that disport upon his jerkin. Occasionally, indeed, some bright little rill will ripple across the road, and shirk over its yellow pebbles on its way to the big lake, with much the same air that the millstreams of Long Island dance over the level ground while hurrying to the sea; but a wet prairie soon intervenes, and the innocent rivulet, like a child that is snubbed, becomes at once silent and sulky. But though some parts of Wayne County are thus unattractive, I am told that other sections contain much arable land of excellent quality consisting of sand loam and some clay with heavy timber, and occasionally fine bottoms along the streams. The population is about eight thousand. (Detroit)
The village of Monroe, in the county of the same name, from which I now write, is situated on the banks of the River Raisin, and about two miles from the entrance into Lake Erie. It was incorporated two years since, and comprises a part of the old site of Frenchtown, celebrated, as you remember, in the annals of the last war. The place is said to be regularly laid out; but the must business part of it -and it is the fussiest little town in the world - looks as if the buildings had all been tossed from the other side of the river, and left to settle just where they might fall. If the place continues to increase as rapidly, however, as it has during the last year - the population having doubled in that time, the inhabitants can afford to burn down the river side of the village, and arrange it to more advantage. There are about one hundred and fifty buildings, of which twenty or thirty are stone; some of them are wholesale establishments, and make a very handsome display of fancy goods. There are also two grist mills immediately in the town, a woolen factory, an iron foundry, several saw mills, a chair factory, a tannery, etc. And yet, notwithstanding the supply of water-power affords every facility for the use of machinery, the demand for manual labor is very great, and mechanics of every kind may here, as in Detroit, find constant employment. Indeed, I am told that the demand for mechanics, in every part of Michigan is excessive; and as for laborers, I have seen them repeatedly advertised for, by written notices on tavern doors and elsewhere. The emigrants to the territory, I find, are generally people of very respectable class, who have both the disposition and means to employ the services of others around them.
The "Bank of the River Raisin" is established at this place, with a capital of 100,000 dollars; and though in its infancy, is said to be doing a very flourishing business. The notes are among the handsomest specimens of bank-note engraving I have seen. There is also a land-office established here, at which the sales of public lands since last April amount to upwards of 22,000 dollars; the sales at Detroit and White Pigeon together a little exceeded this sum. Major Gersham T. Bulkley was after this, Commissioner, and the late Hon. I.P. Christiancy was his clerk. The government price of land (100 dollars for eighty acres), being the sum in every part of the territory, this will give you some idea of the emigration into the peninsula.
I must not forget to mention, that with a population of only sixteen hundred souls, five denominations are represented in their respective clergymen at Monroe; and that three of these, the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Presbyterian, have each a neat church of their own. I ought to add that a newspaper, with a good circulation is printed here. (Probably the Monroe Advocate.)
The advantageous position of Monroe, situated as it is at the head of Lake Erie, induced the government to make an appropriation for improving the harbour, which, except that of Maumee, is the only one at this part of the lake. The lamented Major Maurice, of the Engineer Corps (who, you may remember, fell down and instantly expired in the act of shaking hands with General Gratiot, at Washington last winter.) and whom the inhabitants of this place speak of with the tenderest remembrance-made minute surveys of the harbour and of the different channels of the river; and the bill which has been at various times introduced into Congress for their improvement was based again on his reports. A bill was passed at the last session of Congress, appropriating 8,000 dollars for rebuilding the pier at the mouth of the river, and also appropriating the sum of 20,000 dollars for a road from LaPlaisance bay, through which the Raisin debauches into Lake Erie, to intersect the Chicago road, which traverses the whole peninsula at a point about forty miles from here; an improvement which will open a new market to southern and western Michigan, and contribute of course much to the prosperity of Monroe. A bill was also passed by both houses, appropriating 15,000 dollars for a canal connecting the waters of Lake Erie and the River Raisin, by a cut across the bar at the mouth of the latter. The moneys appropriated for the pier and road have already been mostly expended, and those public works are now nearly completed, under the active and efficient superintendence of Capt Henry Smith, of the Engineer Corps. When all these improvements are completed, Monroe must have come in for a large share of the immense trade and commerce which must flow through the three outlets of eastern Michigan. The mouth of the Maumee can hardly compete with it on account of the extreme unhealthiness of that swampy region; but I am inclined to think that the enterprising inhabitants of this town not only rivaling, but outstripping, the ancient city of the straits on the onward road to prosperity. Detroit, like every other point selected by the French on the western waters of our country, is as commanding a position, whether for war or trade, as could be chosen.
The Monroeites are, however, a driving people in their own way. They are now building a steamboat of the largest class, which will cost not less than 45,000 dollars, to ply directly between here and Buffalo; and this morning I saw launched a beautiful schooner, for the lake navigation. It was the first launch that had ever taken place at Monroe, and the occasion caused a general turn-out of the inhabitants, who hurried to the spot, a mile or two off, upon horses of every variety of appearance. There was the bull-necked French pony and his scraggy-looking Indian cousin, the sleek spongy-looking Ohio horse, and the clean-limbed quickly gathering Kentuckian, and galloping between, the swift but shuffling Illinois pacer and the high actioned tight looking New York trotter. Every one rode as if for a wager; and when we drew our reins, the talk upon horse-flesh superseding almost the interest of the schooner, showed that the Monroeites, like Cataline and Purdy, deserved to be celebrated for their judgment in these matters. A very good and full band of amateur musicians, composed of respectable private individuals of the village came at last upon the ground, and changed the subject to the name of the new vessel, which several wished to alter before launching, from the hackneyed one of Diana to the more characteristic sound of Tecumseh, the spot being so celebrated in the memoirs of that great chief. "You know Tecumseh then, sir?" said I to an old gentleman, who, I was informed, had been a field-officer during the late war, and engaged in several battles. "I did, sir; and he was as thorough a gentleman and as high-toned an officer as any in the British service." The chief, you know, actually held his commission as a general officer immediately from the King of Britain. "What do you then, sir, think of his massacre upon this spot?" I rejoined. "The barbarity of that act, sir, was only in accordance with the Indian ideas of warfare. The disgrace of it attaches entirely to the English officer (Proctor) who permitted, perhaps sanctioned, the atrocity." The old officer's blood seemed to kindle anew as he dwelt upon that horrible slaughter of a force which had capitulated on honorable terms with a full reliance on the foe for protection. I asked him about the sick and wounded, who were burnt up in the hospital, or shot to death as they ran shrieking through the flames. "I saw their bones," he replied, "when the ruins where still recent. I came on with the corps of Kentuckians which advanced soon after into this country and subsequently so eagerly avenged their countrymen at the battle of Moravian Towns. I walked to the spot where the wounded met their fate, with several others. The man who after that date killed Tecumseh, was one of the number. We looked into the pit, and could see the charred bones and dismembered limbs, and sometimes half burned bodies, plainly below. The men muttered the deepest curses. Col. J. spoke not a word, but the tears rained from his eyes; and turning away he exclaimed, "There lies the best blood in Kentucky, poured out like water." I have given as nearly as I can the very works of the veteran colonel in describing this sad spectacle.
Of the seven hundred young men who gave up their lives here, the most were students at law, young physicians, and the sons of opulent farmers-in short, the very flower of Kentucky. The event threw the whole state into mourning.
Speaking of the troops who were concerned in the early operations of these regions, I have heard a number of interesting accounts from different persons of the formation of the several corps. One of these, though I may very probably, in trying to recall the particulars, confound them with the incidents of another, I will venture to repeat a graduate of William's College, Massachusetts, who had been recently admitted to the bar, was riding through the state of Kentucky, perhaps with the design of finding some favorable point at which to fix his abode and commence the practice of his profession, when he was accosted near a village by a mounted traveller, who mentioning that he was a planter of the country, invited the young advocate, with all the freedom of western hospitality, to dine at his house the following day. The invitation was accepted; and the eastern gentleman, arriving at the mansion of the unknown host, found a large party collected, the majority of whom were well acquainted with each other, while many were strangers like himself, and invited apparently in the same manner. The dinner, however, was got through socially enough; and by the time the glass began to circulate freely, all felt that easy confidence in the fellowship and good feeling of each other which is the soul of good society. The host, then rising, described briefly the state of the north western frontier, and produced a commission from his pocket to raise a corps and march at once thither. They enlisted to a man; their entertainer provided them on the spot with the necessary stores and munitions; and the band of volunteers started in a few hours on their march to the border.
The name of the noble host was not mentioned; but the eastern adventurer, who was elected a lieutenant upon the spot, and soon after became a captain, was said to have been better known as colonel, governor and lastly-Mr. Secretary Cass.
I regret now that I did not inquire into and note down the names and other particulars of a relation so striking; but you have the narrative as it was told in my hearing, minus the admirable manner of the relation. But I am forgetting the Diana - that burst of music tells that she begins to move on her ways-calmly now she slides; and now, as that bottle of champaign foams over her bow, her motion increases almost to the velocity of a gallope. What a sensation does eh make among the waves, and how do they coquet with her on every side. She bobs about till she seems as unstable as themselves. But now the sober skipper, like a good husband, takes possession of her virgin charms, and placing himself at once at the helm, the unmeaning waters cease their flirting and sustain her above them without daring to influence her course.
Monroe, Michigan, Dec. 1883
The ride to these dock yards is rather pleasant; but I have seen handsomer rivers than the Raisin. The banks for several miles around the village have been almost denuded of trees; and the limestone channel lets off so much of the stream through its crevices, that, like a tankard of liquor passed around according to custom at a western inn, it is half drunk up before it gets to its real owner, the lake. It would delight an eastern farmer to see the magnificent pear trees, which, tall as the trees of the forests, and of the growth of a century, extend through orchards for miles along the stream. Here, too, are apple trees, to the excellence of whose fruit I can testify, that were brought by the French to this country in 1781. The grape vines, also, from which the river takes its name, constitute a beautiful feature in the level landscape, as they hang in rich festoons along the banks of the streams, and climb wherever it is wooded to the tops of the loftiest elms.
There is now an application and great interest making a company for the purpose of improving the navigation of the River Raisin and the Saline by a lock and dam navigation-an improvement which it is aid can be made at sleight expense. The river, flowing gently in its channel, with banks of equal elevation, seems ready to receive and bear upon its bosom the rich products of the country on its borders. By constructing a tow-path, the expense of which will not be heavy, an excellent canal can be easily made.
The subject of canals and railroads awakens at this moment the keenest interest in Michigan; and, after the route of the projected grand communication between Lakes Erie and Michigan, through the peninsula, shall be determined upon by the general government, I have no doubt vantageous outlays of private capital upon similar works will be made at other points. Of the plans talked of as best worthy the attention of the government, that of a grand railroad from Chicago to Detroit, with a lateral one perhaps to Monroe, seems to be considered as the least chimerical; though there are not a few who advocate a canal immediately across the peninsula, in a direct line from the mouth of the Maumee to Lake Michigan; and still a greater number who urge the construction of one from the mouth of the Raisin to that of the St. Joseph's, on the opposite side of the peninsula'a route which would pass through a country acknowledged, I believe, to be the most fertile to Michigan. But another project still remains, as feasible, or perhaps more so, than either of these. It is to connect the Washterrong or Grand River-a noble stream, which waters half the territory, and is navigable nearly two hundred and forty miles in bateaux-with the Huron, a fine stream, which, after rising within a few miles of the sources of the Washtenong, empties in Lake Erie, on the opposite side of the peninsula. You can hardly form an idea of the relative importance and feasibility of these projects, without more knowledge of the territory of Michigan than is common at the east, where the people generally know about as much of it as they do of Timbuctoo. I have already been so fortunate in my opportunities of talking with well informed people here, that I might venture at once to give you a general view of the country, but I prefer that you should gather whatever information I have to give from my own actual observations made along the road. With regard to scenery, I do not think, from what I have yet seen, I can promise you much; but for agriculture and mineral resources, and for manufacturing and commercial advantages, I think I can produce some data, which, if they do not astonish our good people at home in regard to Michigan, will at least account for the emigrants pouring into the territory as they do, and believing it to be the garden of the Union. You must, however, pick up your information, as I shall, by jogging along quietly with me through the country, and observing matters and things just as they come beneath our eyes. Tomorrow I start for the interior. H.S.