First Settlers and Land Owners of Oakland County, Michigan
Great Set-back To Settlement—Oakland County's First Settlers —The Mack Colony Of Pontiac—"uncle Ben" Woodworth— —First Surveys—Locations Under The "two Dollar" Act— The "ten Shilling" Act—Great Event For The Pioneer Land Owner—Town Of Pontiac Settled—Orion And Oxford—Royal Oak And Troy—Avon And White Lakf.—Springfield And GroveLand—Farmington And West Bloomfield—Waterford And InDependence—Brandon, Southfield And Bloomfield.
Any general history will inform the reader as to the nature of the civil or judicial jurisdiction which was theoretically exercised over the territory now recognized as Oakland county, but humanly speaking we have no vital interest in the subject until men, women and children commenced to appear and form households in the new country.
This happened about two years after the state surveys commenced in southern Michigan, the pioneers in the Oakland county movement being James Graham, his son Alexander, Christopher Hartsough and John Hersey.
They located in the township now known as Avon on the 17th day of March, 1817, and brought their families with them.
Great Set-back To Settlement
It took so many years to counteract the report made by the surveyor general in relation to the military, or southern Michigan lands, that a somewhat extended review of the attending circumstances seems germane to the subject.
On the 6th of May, 1812, congress passed an act requiring that two million acres of land should be surveyed in the then territory of Louisiana; a like quantity in the territory of Illinois, as well as in the territory of Michigan—in all, six million acres, to be set apart for the soldiers of America in the war of 1812.
The lands were surveyed and appropriated, under this law, in Louisiana and Illinois, but the surveyors reported that there were no lands fit for cultivation.
The principal meridian and the base line for the Michigan surveys were established in 1815.
The surveyor general's report which so long retarded immigration to southern Michigan and Oakland county was as follows:
"The country on the Indian boundary line from the mouth of the Great Auglaize river and running thence for about fifty miles is (with some few exceptions) low, wet land, with a very thick growth of underbrush, intermixed with very bad marshes, but generally very heavily timbered with beech, cottonwood, oak, etc.; thence continuing north and extending from the Indian boundary eastward, the number and extent of the swamps increase, with the addition of numbers of lakes, from twenty chains to two and three miles across.
"Many of the lakes have extensive marshes adjoining their marshes, sometimes thickly covered with a species of pine called tamarack, and other places covered with a coarse, high grass, and uniformly covered from six inches to three feet (and more at times) with water.
The margins of these lakes are not the only places where swamps are found, for they are interspersed throughout the whole country, and filled with water, as above stated, and varying in extent.
"The intermediate space between these swamps and lakes—which is probably near one-half the country—is, with very few exceptions, a poor, barren, sandy land, on which scarcely any vegetation grows, except very small, scrubby oaks.
In many places that part which may be called dry land is composed of little, short sand-hills, forming a kind of deep basins, the bottom of many of which are composed of marsh similar to the above described.
The streams are generally narrow and very deep compared with their width, the shores and bottoms of which are (with very few exceptions) swampy beyond description; and it is with the utmost difficulty that a place can be found over which horses can be conveyed in safety.
"A circumstance peculiar to that country is exhibited in many of the marshes, by their being thinly covered with a sward of grass, by walking on which evinces the existence of water, or a very thin mud immediately under the covering which sinks from six to eighteen inches under the pressure of the foot at every step, and at the same time rises before and behind the person passing over it.
The margins of many of the lakes and streams are in a similar situation, and in many places are literally afloat.
On approaching the eastern part of the Military lands towards the private claims on the straits and lake, the country does not contain so many swamps and lakes, but the extreme sterility and barrenness of the soil continues the same.
"Taking the country altogether so far as it has been explored, and to all appearances, together with information received concerning the balance, is so bad there would not be more than one acre out of a hundred, if there would be one out of a thousand, that would in any case admit of cultivation."
The effect of this report upon congress was that so much of the act of 1812 as related to Michigan was repealed by an act of April 29, 1816, which also located 1,500,000 acres of additional land in Illinois and 500,000 acres in Missouri, in lieu of the original 2,000,000 allotted to Michigan.
It was not until 1817 and 1818 that a few venturesome pioneers braved the dangers of the terrible morasses depicted in the report of the surveyor general, and demonstrated how flimsy was the basis for its misleading statements.
The visits of Major Oliver Williams and his companions, in the fall of 1818, marked the great turning point of public opinion for the better; it proved beyond question that there was a fertile and beautiful country in the interior, when once the immigrant had penetrated through the marshy belt which girdled Detroit.
Oakland County's First Settlers
Something about these men who thus sowed the seeds of civilization in Oakland county is given by Hon. T. J. Drake in one of his many historical addresses, to which all writers of the early times are so much indebted. His words are:
"In early life old Mr. Graham (James), resided near Tioga Point, on the Chemung branch of the Susquehanna river, in Pennsylvania.
About sixty years since, he moved to Oxford, in Upper Canada, in 1816 to Mt. Clemens, and on the 17th day of March, 1817, came into Oakland county to locate on a farm now occupied by Dr. William Thompson, lying on the north bank of the Clinton river. B. Graham, a young son of Mr. James Graham, was employed as one of the hands under Colonel Wampler, in surveying that town in 1816.
John Hersey was the first man that entered lands in the county of Oakland on the 29th of October, 1818.
He entered a part of section 10, in this town, on the waters of Paint creek and erected a saw mill, the first in the county.
He placed in it a run of stone which were manufactured in the county by a mechanic by the name of Wood, and made the first flour manufactured in Oakland.
By his exertions the inconveniences and hardships attendant on a new settlement were greatly relieved and immigration largely induced.
The name of John Hersey, whose long life was marked by signal industry and integrity, should be engraven on the memory of every citizen of Oakland.
Pioneers of Oakland! Long may his memory be cherished."
Mr. O. Poppleton's account in an address before the County Pioneer Society:
"It has now been sixty-seven years since the first permanent settlers located in the county of Oakland.
The first were John Hersey, James and Alexander Graham and Christopher Hartsough in the township of Avon, with their families, on March 17, 1817, who spent their first night on the plat of ground between the junction of Paint creek and Clinton river.
These families came by way of Mt. Clemens, following the course of the Clinton river, there being an impenetrable swamp between Detroit and their new home—so reported by the commission sent out by the surveyor general.
The report demonstrates how little was known of the interior of the territory and county at that time.
Sixty years ago Moses Allen entered the first lands in the county at the United States land office at Detroit on October 24, 1818, being the southwest quarter of section 32 in Orion."
The Mack Colony Of Pontiac
In 1818, the year after the Grahams settled in Avon township, Colonel Stephen Mack, agent of the Pontiac Land Company, located a small colony on the site of the future county seat.
Accompanying him were Orison Allen, William Lester and Major J. J. Todd, with their families, and they were not "planted" until in the fall of that year.
The same autumn and winter, settlements were commenced at Birmingham, Royal Oak, and other places above the Detroit and Saginaw trail, and in March, 1819, Major Oliver Williams and his brother-in-law Alpheus Williams, .settled in Waterford township.
Captain Archibald Phillips also settled in Waterford very early.
Among the first to enter land in Troy were Messrs Castle, Hunter, Hamilton and Fairbanks, in February, 1819.
"Uncle Ben" Woodworth
In town 4, north of range 11 east, now called Oakland, the first purchase was made by Benjamin Woodworth and William Russell, on the 16th of March, 1819.
They entered a part of section 33.
The history of father Russell, as he was familiarly called, is truth itself, candid and unassuming.
He was an example of sociality and benevolence, upright and just in all his ways.
Benjamin Woodworth, "Uncle Ben," as he was known by all who ever stopped at the "Steamboat Hotel" in Detroit, had a heart full of kindness and a hand ever ready to help the distressed.
He was the constant friend of Oakland county, and he never forgot or forsook her early inhabitants.
In 1824, James Coleman and James Hazard purchased; in 1825, Benedict Baldwin, Horace Lathrop, James D. Galloway, J. B. Galloway, J. Dewey, Samuel Hilton, Ezra Newman, David Hammond and Needham Hemmingway, became purchasers and were among the early settlers.
Most of the earliest explorers of Oakland county came in by way of Mount Clemens and the Clinton river, the year 1819 being one of the busiest of the very early period.
The pioneers followed close on the heels of the government surveyors. Among the latter who saw the country in the pioneer times of which we write were Colonel Joseph Wampler and Captain Henry Parke, and to the latter the author is indebted for an interesting picture which will be presented later.
Virtually, the dates of land entries fix the dates of settlement, as most of those who entered land did so for the purpose of founding homes and not to hold it for "speculation."
Mr. O. Poppleton has made the most complete synopsis of those who located the first lands in the different townships, and his list is often published without giving him due credit.
It was first given in his address before the Oakland County Pioneer Society February 20, 1889.
From the date of Pontiac's abandoning the siege of Detroit, in 1764, to the time of ordering the survey of the county by the surveyor general, in 1815, I find in my researches but little authoritative historical interest," he says.
"But in my investigations of the early surveys in the state and county I find it replete with interest.
From the old records I learn that the first surveys in the territory of which we find any public record were made by Aaron Greely of 'Private Land Claims' on St. Clair, Detroit and Rouge rivers in the winter of 1809 and from July to November, 1810.
The first surveys upon the meridian line were made by Benjamin Hough in the fall of 1815, from the north line of town 3 west, in Jackson county, south to the Ohio state line.
The first surveys on the base line were east of town 5 east, in Livington county, to Lake St. Clair, by Alexander Holmes, in 1815.
The earliest subdivisions of townships are given in the order as surveyed, viz.: In March, 1817, town 1 north, range 10 east, Southfield; in April, 1818, towns 1 and 2 north, range 1 1 east, Royal Oak and Troy, by Joseph Wampler; in May, 1817, town 1 north, range 9 east, Farmington, by Samuel Carpenter.
Locations Under The "two Dollar" Act
Entries under the "credit" system or the "two dollar act" were made in the townships of the county as follows: Waterford, Independence, Southfield, Bloomfield, Pontiac, Orion, Troy, Avon, Oakland and Royal Oak, commencing October 24, 1818, by Moses Allen in Orion, of the southwest quarter, section 32, the first location of land in the county.
The second location was made by John Hersey of the southeast quarter, section 10, in Avon, November 10, 1818.
The third was made by Joseph Watson of the District of Columbia, of the east one-half and northwest quarter of section 35, in Pontiac, November 30, 1818.
Stephen Mack, who has had credit for the first entry in the township, did not locate until September 19, 1818, nineteen days after that made by Joseph Watson.
The fourth location was made by John Montieth of the southwest quarter of section 3, in Southfield, December 15, 1818.
The fifth was made by Austin E. Wing, of the northeast one-quarter of section 29, in Bloomfield, December 23, 1818.
Mr. Wing was afterwards elected a delegate in congress from the territory to the Nineteenth, Twentieth and Twenty-Second congresses.
Mr. Wing accompanied General Cass on one of his explorations through Oakland, Genesee and Saginaw counties.
Passing through Bloomfield they camped on the banks of Wing lake, which now bears his name and where he located the land mentioned.
The sixth location was by Archibald Phillips, of the east one-half and southwest one-quarter of section 29, in Independence, February 6, 1819.
The seventh was by William Thurber, of the northwest quarter of section 6, Royal Oak, February 4, 1819.
The eighth was by John Hamilton, J. W. Hunter, Lemuel Castle and Joseph Fairbanks, of the northwest quarter of section 19, in Troy, February 12, 1819.
The ninth was by Ephraim Williams, of the north one-half of section 13 in Waterford, February 18, 1819, bordering on the banks of Silver lake, being the homestead of Major Oliver Williams, father of Ephraim S., Gardner D., Alfred, Alpheus, Benjamin O., James, Mrs. Stephens, Mrs. Mary Hodges and Mrs. Harriet Walker.
The tenth was by Benjamin Woodworth and William Russell, on section 33, in Oakland, February 18, 1819.
Numerous other locations were made in the ten townships under the "credit" or "two dollar act" until July, 1820, when the law passed by congress reducing the price to $1.25 per acre, advance payment, took effect.
The "ten Shilling" Act
The first entry made under this act in the county -was by Davis Stanard, July 3, 1820, of the northeast quarter of section 4, in Bloomfield.
The second was by Joel Weelman, July 3, 1820, of the one-half southeast quarter of section 33, in Avon.
Colonel Stanard was a popular hotel keeper in those early days of pioneer life and dispensed to the traveling public with a liberal hand choice venison, fresh fish, Ohio hog and Kentucky Bourbon, and later in life imbibed too freely himself for weak eyes.
When remonstrated with by his attending physician for so doing and told that he must stop drinking any stimulant or lose his eyes, he replied:
"Then good-bye, eyes."
There are a few pioneers here today who knew the Colonel well, and no doubt have partaken of his good cheer, not omitting old bourbon.
At the opening of the land offices in Michigan, the public lands were offered at auction, and such as were not sold were subject to sale to individuals at two dollars an acre, one-fourth to be paid down, the remainder in one, two and three years with interest.
And all the lands which were entered previous to the 3d day of July. 1820. were purchased under this act.
Great Event For The Pioneer Land Owner
At the risk of repetition, here and there, we add facts along this line compiled by Judge Drake, as follows:
On the 23d of April, 1820, congress passed an act authorizing the sale of public lands at $1.25 an acre, payments in full at the time of the purchase.
This was the great event in the history of Michigan, and indeed of the whole western country. It put an end to that system of vassalage under which the purchasers of public lands had labored.
The purchaser became at once the absolute owner of the soil. Every act of improvement was made to benefit him or his children.
There was a feeling of certainty in his labors, and in his possessions which was more than wealth.
If death overtook the pioneer in his first efforts, the agony of parting from his wife and children was half removed.
When he turned upon them the last living gaze and beheld their little forms gathering around his dying bed, he was consoled with the thought that the land on which he had toiled was theirs.
No exacting landlord could claim it as forfeited for payments deferred.
From the passing of that act, the growth and prosperity of Michigan became a certainty, and the increase of population was surprising.
Town Of Pontiac Settled
Ezra Baldwin, Job Smith, John W. Hunter, David Johnson, Oliver Levi Willetts, Joseph Fairbanks, William Morris, Lemuel Castle, Joseph Torry, Daniel Ferguson, Ziba Swan, John Hamilton, Amaza Bagley, Almy and Asa Castle were among the first settlers in town 3 north, range 10 east, called Pontiac.
The first entry of lands was made by Col. Stephen Mack for the Pontiac Company. On the 6th day of November, 1818, he entered section 29, and the northeast quarter of section 33, soon after the north half and the southwest quarter of 28, and finally the southeast quarter of 20, on which the company laid out the village in 1818.
On the south side of the river and on the west side of the Saginaw road, was the great Indian camping ground, where all the Indians used to stop on their way to and from Detroit.
In town 2 north, range 11 east, called Troy, the first lands were purchased by Castle, Hunter, Hamilton and Fairbanks.
On the 12th of February, 1819, they bought a part of section 19.
On the 22d of October, 1819, Ezra Baldwin entered a part of section 18; Michael Kemp on the 25th of November, 1819, a part of section 3, and on the 7th of December, 1819, Michael Beech a part of section 8.
In the years 1820, 1821 and 1822, John Prindle, George Abbey, Joshua Davis, Ebenezer Belding, S. V. R. Trowbridge, Jesse Perrin, P. J. Perrin, Luther Fletcher, Aaron Webster, Stillman Bates, William Wellman, A. W. Wellman, Silas Glazier, Guy Phelps, Johnson Niles, John Waldron, Edward Downer, Ira Jennings, Humphrey Adams and S. Sprague, became purchasers, and were among the early settlers.
The second lot, which was entered under the "ten shilling act" was by Joel Wellman, in Troy, a part of section 3.
The gentle sloping surface of the country—the majestic growth of timber, the dark, rich soil, attracted many settlers to that town, and the whole was settled with unrivalled rapidity.
And now the nicely painted houses, and well cultivated farms show how accurately the pioneer judged, and how well the earth has repaid him for his labor.
Avon And White Lake
In town 3, north range 11 east, now called Avon, the first lands were entered on the 29th of October, 1818. In 1819, A. E. Wing, T. C. Sheldon, Solomon Sibley, James Abbott, Daniel LeRoy, Alexander Graham, William Williams, J. Baldwin, D. Bronson, J. Myers, Ira Roberts, Nathaniel Baldwin, George Postal, William Thompson, John Miller and Isaac Willetts entered land; in 1821, Cyrus A. Chipman and Frederick A. Sprague; in 1822, Champlin Green, Gad Norton, William Burbank, and Smith Weeks.
It was in this town that the seeds of civilization were first planted in the county of Oakland, as has previously been narrated at some length.
In town 3, north of range 8 east, now called White Lake, the first entry was made by Harley Olmstead, of Monroe county, New York, on the 7th day of October, 1830; he entered a part of section 36. In 1832 Joseph Voorheis and Jesse Seeley purchased.
Thomas Garner, John Garner, C. C. Wyckoff and John Rhodes also bought land and were among the early settlers in that town.
"In 1829," says Judge Drake, "while searching for the headwaters of the Shiawassee river, I traveled over the most of the town, visited the shores of that beautiful sheet of water from which the town derives its name, and the charming plain on which now stands the village of White Lake, then clothed in the gorgeous dye of autumnal flowers, presented one of the most magnificent views of uncultivated landscape."
Springfield And Groveland
In town 4, north of range 8 east, now called Springfield, on the 19th of July, 1830, Daniel LeRoy made the first entry.
He purchased on section 19, including the Petit Lafountain or Little Springs.
This place had a wide renown.
It was the resting place of the trader and trapper, of the red man as well as the white man when on his journey to and from Saginaw and other places in the northern wilderness.
Immediately after the LeRoy purchase the place was occupied by Asahel Fuller. In 1833 Giles Bishop, O. Powell, John M. Calkins and Jonah Gross purchased.
In town 5, north of range 8 east, now called Groveland, on the 3d day of September, 1829, William Roberts, then of the county of Oakland, made the first purchase.
On the 29th of May, 1830, John Underbill, E. W. Fairchild and M. W. Richards bought land.
In 1830 Henry W. Horton purchased at a point then known as Pleasant Valley, and in 1831, Franklin Herrick, Alexander Galloway and Constant Southworth became land owners.
Mr. Southwortfi settled on a famous spot on the old Saginaw trail known in those days as the Big Springs.
Those who have taken the trouble to descend from the roadside to the spring of water will bear testimony to its great beauty.
It was ever held in great veneration by the Indians, and they seldom passed it without refreshing themselves.
Those who have looked into that crystal fountain and beheld the sparkling water as it came bubbling up from the secret chambers of the earth, will not wonder that the redman saw in the aqueous mirror the Chemanito, or Great Spirit.
Farmington And West Bloom Field
In town 1, north of range 9 east, now called Farmington, Eastman Colby, of Monroe county, New York, made the first entry; on the 12th of October, 1822, he entered a part of section 14.
In January, 1823, Arthur Power purchased. In the same year G. W. Collins, William B. Cogshall, Peleg S. Utley, Benjamin Wixom, Timothy Allen, Leland Green, Abraham Aldrich made purchases and among them were the first settlers in that town.
In town 2, north of range 9 east, now called West Bloomfield, James Harrington, of Cayuga county, New York, made the first purchase on the 15th of May, 1823, entering the entire section 36.
The same year Rufus R. Robinson, Erastus Durkee, John Huff, Benjamin Irish, Edward Ellerby, Benjamin Leonard and William Annett purchased, and John Huff bought a tract on the south side of Pine lake and erected the first house in that part of the town.
William Annett purchased a part of section 22, his wife died at an early day, the old gentleman lived on the farm and cultivated it until his death. It was long afterward owned by his only child, Mrs. Hartwell Green.
Waterford And Independence
In town 3, north of range 9 east, now called Waterford, Major Oliver Williams, called by the Indians, Togee, settled on the west bank of Silver lake, in 1819, on section 13. His brother-in-law, Alpheus Williams and Captain Archibald Phillips, settled early at the crossing on the Clinton river, where the village of Waterford now stands and erected there a sawmill as early as 1824.
David Mayo purchased on the 25th of September, 1821; Captain Chesley Blake, Harvey Durfee and Austin Durfee in 1822; Harvey Seeley, John S. Porter, Samuel Hungerford, W. M. Tappan, Thaddeus Alvord, Charles Johnston and Joseph Voorheis, in 1823.
In town 4, north of range 9 east, now called Independence, Alpheus Williams made the first purchase on the 10th of October, 1823.
The point was well known to the Indians, and by them called Saepee. In 1819, Major Joseph Todd, William Lester and Orrison Allen, were residents in the village; in the same year Calvin Hotchkiss and Jeremiah Allen entered lands, and Judah Church in 1820.
In 1821 Abner Davis, Eastman Colby, Alexander Galloway, Rufus Clark, Enoch Hotchkiss and James Harrington purchased; and these men, with G. W. Butson, John Edson, Joshua S. Terry, Joseph Harris, Stephen Reeves and Capt. Joseph Bancroft, were among the early settlers of the town of Pontiac.
Orion And Oxford
In town 4 north, range 10 east, now called Orion, Judah Church and John Wetmore made the first purchase; on the 18th of October, 1819, they purchased a lot on section 19, being the first choice, in what was known as the Big Pinery. In 1824, Moses Munson, Powell Carpenter, Jesse Decker, Phillip Bigler, Jonathan Pinckney and Simeon Simmons purchased.
Alexander McVean, David Bagg, John McElvery and Daniel McVean, were among the early settlers.
In town 5 north, range 10 east, called Oxford, the first purchase was made by Elbridge G. Deming, on the 28th of January 1823.
But few inhabitants settled in this town until 1833, when Joseph Rossman, Fitz Rossman, John Shippy, John Wellman and S. Axford purchased. Daniel Applegate, Jeremiah Hunt, Jutish Bixley and Messrs. Van Wagoners were among the early settlers.
The plains about the village of Oxford were passed over by those seeking for farms for many years; and places less valuable were settled in the far off forests, under the supposition that those were valueless for agricultural purposes.
Thus one of the best portions of the county remained uncultivated till a late period.
Royal Oak And Troy
In town 1 north, range 11 east, called Royal Oak, L. Luther and D. McKinstry made the first entry; on the 6th of July, 1820, they entered a part of section 33.
In 1821, Henry Stephens, Alexander Campbell, Diodate Hubbard, Abraham Noyes, J. Goddard, Hezekiah Gridly, James Lockwood and David Williams, and they, together with Henry O. Bronson, Daniel Burrows, Mr. Chase, Mr. Morse and that eccentric old lady, Mrs. Chappel, well known by the soubriquet of Mother Handsome, were among the first settlers.
In 1826, John W. Beardsley purchased on the Chesse-bau plains, where he resided for many years afterward.
Henry T. Sanderson purchased in 1833. In 1831 Melvin Dorr, and Butler Holcomb bought lands, about where stands the village of Clarkston, and erected there, on the east branch of the Clinton river, a sawmill.
Brandon, Southfield And Bloomfield
In town 5, north range 9 east, called Brandon, Elijah B. Clark, Asa Owen and Jesse Decker made the first purchase on the 30th of June, 1831, and entered a part of section 25.
In 1833, John Perry, Alexander G. Huff and Mary Quick purchased, and in 1835, G. M. Giddings, Henry Forbes and Daniel Hunt entered lands.
But few entries were made in this town before 1836.
In town 1 north, range 10 east, first organized as Ossewa, but now called Southfield, the first entry of lands were made by John Wetmore in May, 1821.
In the same year Peter Dennoyer and John Monteith purchased, and in 1822 Harry Brownson, Samuel Shattuck and Eli Curtis. Dillucena Stoughton, Elijah Bullock, Edward Cook, Philo Reed, John Davis, William Lee, were among the early settlers of the town.
In town 2 north, range 10 east, called Bloomfield, the first entry of lands was made on the 28th of January, 1819, by Benjamin H. Pierce.
March 16, 1829, Peter Dennoyer entered a lot, and on the 3d day of July, 1820, Col. David Stannard entered a part of section 4.
The Stannard entry was the first made in Michigan under what was called the "ten shilling" act.