Lost in Translation

Indians Black River Pic

Fort Gratiot, Michigan, the outlet of Lake Huron, adjacent to Auminchaw reservation.  From Castlenau, Vues et Souvenirs du L’Amerique du Nord, pl. 18, fig. 4.

Belief is a beautiful armor
But makes for the heaviest sword
Like punching underwater
You never can hit who you’re trying for
Some need the exhibition
And some have to know they tried
It’s the chemical weapon
For the war that’s raging on inside
– John Mayer, 2006, Belief


Beliefs, Values, Morals & The Great Leap Forwards

Our beliefs form from our experiences, what we see, hear, read, and think about.  They are assumptions or thoughts we associate with who we are and how we perceive others to be.  They help shape and form our opinions and attitudes about what we perceive to be “good” or “bad”.   Values come from our beliefs.  They are the things we think are important.  Whether it’s honesty, education, loyalty, money, faithfulness, etc.

Morals are based upon a group of beliefs and values we are taught.  They are the rules or values society judges to be “good” or “bad”.  They have a social value and are the root of social acceptance.  They can be motivation for leading what society determines to be a good life.  They often influence a legal system and acceptable societal behavior.

Our beliefs and values can be strengthened or change over time as we encounter evidence or experiences that challenge previously held views.  A change in the moralistic code of society derives from conflict that sets our morals against an experience or situation that begins to change our mode of thinking.  Unfortunately, the winds of moralistic change can blow for a long time before they realign, as the number of victims set in its path grows.

In performing genealogical research, it is often hard to find documentation to tell the personal history of females.  This is in large part due to the fact women were once subject to laws that did not afford them the same rights as men and thus, in many instances, they became hidden members of society.  For Indian women, documentation is even more scarce, making proof of their existence even harder to uncover.  Two of these women are represented here.  One is of fiction, the other was Francis Harsen, an Indian woman, the wife of Jacob Harsen, II, who once called Harsen’s Island her home.

Indian Women Wild Rice

Ojibwa women harvesting wild rice, circa 1850.  By Seth Eastman.  The American Museum of Natural History

A Squaw Wife

Before the white man stepped foot on Michigan soil, Indian women of the Great Lakes area had a unique understanding of the wilderness and waterways they lived in.  They were hardworking and dedicated to their tribe and families serving as active participants in their society.  They bore the responsibility of childrearing, farming and sugar making.  The men of their tribes hunted and fished.  Because of their upbringing and skill sets for survival on the frontier, Indian squaws were considered prized assets to the male fur trader community.  It was common for these men to pursue them and take them as wives in order to reap the benefits of having both a sexual companion and free labor.  In its early days when Michigan was a remote wilderness, Catholic Priests and Protestant Ministers travelled the area.  Therefore, they were not always present to perform marriage ceremonies.  In lieu of a traditional marriage ceremony, a tribal ceremony known as a “country marriage” took place from the early 1750s until around 1820.  The British Canadians, who controlled the Great Lakes Region, called this form of marriage, “a la facon du pays” meaning “in the way of the country.”  While common place, this form of marriage was considered illegitimate by white society in civilized British Canada.

In many instances, Indian women married to fur traders were treated like slaves.  They bore Metis children and raised them, farmed land to grow crops to trade as supplemental income for their husbands and remained loyal to their husbands despite the hardships of frontier living.  In the fur trading business, there was a hierarchy to the portage areas where trading took place.  Most traders started out working in the poorer areas.  If they achieved financial success for a trading company in a poorer area, they were promoted and transferred to work in a higher profit territory around the Great Lakes, Illinois and Ohio.  Some Indian wives were sold to other fur traders before their ambitious husbands made way for new territory, but many were abandoned.  It was highly common for a fur trader at the beginning of his career to marry an Indian woman, profit from her hard work for his trade, abandon her, return to civilized white society after he had established himself, and marry a white woman of his choice or one he was contractually bound to marry.

As the saying goes “Facts often bleed into fiction.”   The story below titled “A Squaw Wife – A Story of Early Days on the St. Clair River” was written by an author known only as “B”.  It was posted in the Port Huron Daily Times on February 16, 1895 and serves as a valuable representation of a “country marriage” and the realities Indian women in the Great Lakes Region faced at the end of the 18th century, beginning of the 19th century.  The stain of its practice, and its shameful hush in society are exhibited by the fact the author did not disclose his identify, even in 1895, almost a century after this type of ceremony was no longer performed.  Ironically, the last name of one of the main characters in the story is Moraux, which translates to “morals” in English.

A Squaw Wife – A Story of Early Days on the St. Clair River by B. – Port Huron Daily Times

“They were long in coming,” said Battiste Levias, as he came to the store door and looked anxiously down the river.  “Unless the Indians below are troublesome, or an accident has befallen them, they ought to be here soon.”

It was near the closing of the last century.  The bright sun of an August afternoon was shedding its warmth on the beautiful St. Clair River, just below where the sparkling waters of Lake Huron, then known to the early voyagers as “Mere Duce” of Champlain, glistened in the sun.  The pine forest, which skirted its western bank, at the spot where once the tri-color of France had waved proudly from the stockade of old Fort St. Joseph, cast a shadow on the water, and a deeper one in the background as it receded from the river towards the unbroken and impenetrable wilderness, which extended back, no one knew where.

Here and there, scattered through the edge of the forest, could be seen the log cabins of the early French traders, with their small patches of garden surrounding the rude habitations.  Just above, near the old stockade of the abandoned fort, was located the store, where the traders and Indians came and exchanged their pelts for the goods and trinkets of the agent.

In front of the store a number of sturdy traders and trappers sat discussing prospects and wondering between drinks of rum why the voyagers long past due, had not returned from their annual journey to Montreal, bringing stores and ammunition for the coming winter and letters and messages from loved ones left behind.

Off to the left under a mammoth oak, were grouped a dozen or more swarthy, stern looking Chippewa Indians to all appearances totally oblivious to their surroundings.  In the center of the group quietly smoking sat their head chief and prophet, “Wemenns,” and by his side his beautiful and gifted daughter “Wanoma,” who was idolized by her stern old father, worshipped by her people and courted and loved by the whites for her intelligence and kindness of heart.

To her the settlers owed a special debt of gratitude.  Once the haughty old chief had threatened war on the whites for some fancied wrong but owing to her intercessions and good offices an understanding was arrived at and a massacre averted.  For this she was at all times a welcome visitor at the post, and the ties of friendship between her people and the whites were more closely cemented.  At this time Wanoma was about 17 years old, tall and perfectly formed, with fine teeth, black sparkling eyes, and long glossy hair falling to her waist.  Her features were finer than those usually found among the people of her race, and their blending and expression was such that she seemed to be entirely out of place among such rude environments.  Her demeanor was proud and haughty.  Full of pride of her race and ancestry, she had no ambition other than to rule a queen over her people and command the respect of the whites.

More than one rash young Frenchman had found to their sorrow that Wanoma was not to be trifled with:  for when they talked of love her eyes flashed defiance and scorn and they were quickly told to go back to their own people and choose a mate whom the priest would force them to love and keep.  As for her, she would not consent to be a white man’s slave, only to be deserted when he returned to his home beyond the great river.  When she gave up her freedom her heart would go where love sent it, to some worthy brave of her father’s nation.  And so it was at the time this story opens.

It is while this scene is being enacted in front of the post that a rifle shot is heard, a moment later followed by a volley, which echoes and re-echoes over the waters.  In a moment all is excitement.  Even the stolid Indians evince an interest.  Soon every man reports to Commandant Battiste Levais gun in hand ready for any emergency.

At that moment a flotilla of four large canoes moves grandly around the bend and propelled by glistening paddies come swiftly toward the anchorage.  A moment later, amid shouts of welcome, the canoes grate upon the pebbly shore and the hardy voyagers are welcomed back.  Kneeling on the sand they give thanks to Him, who has watched over them on the long journey, and brought them safely through peril back to their friends.

Willing hands quickly unload the boats and take the supplies to the storehouse.  All were members of the post except one, who was evidently a stranger.  He was a young man of about twenty, tall and strongly built, handsome and courtly.  But his bearing and dress showed that he was out of his proper sphere among such rough companions.  Casting a wondering glance at the strange surroundings, he sauntered leisurely up the path which led to the post.  On his way he noticed the group of Indians and stopping for a moment his attention was directed to Wanoma.  Through force of habit he lifted his “chapan” from his head and bowed with courtly grace.  Their eyes met for a moment.  Out of his shone admiration and wonder.  From her black orbs flashed anger and defiance.  He then turned toward the post, strongly impressed with the beauty of this wildflower of the forest and wondering if they would meet again.

“I hate him!” she said as he vanished from her sight and turning to the chief said, “Let us return to our tepee.”  Without a word they all arose from the ground and went to their village on the bank of the “Riviere Delude” (Black).

When Paul Moraux (for that was the name of the stranger) presented a letter to the agent informing him that the bearer was the son of the president of the fur company, he was warmly greeted and informed that he would be made as comfortable as the rough surroundings of a frontier post would allow.  The letter stated that he was to remain one year at least and a year longer if he so desired.  He was to have the freedom of the post privileged to go and come and be to all intents and purposes his own master.

Thus firmly installed in his new home under such favorable auspices, it was not long before Paul became a prime favorite with the attaches of the past, and a familiar figure to the Indians.  Every day something new and strange happened that made him more and more in love with his new life.  Reared and educated in the strictest seclusions of a Catholic college, the freedom of the wilderness was a revelation to him.

Every day he found himself thinking of the Indian girl.  In conversation with Battiste he had been told who she was and was gratified to learn that her home was at a village on the opposite bank of the Riviere Delude, only a mile distant.  Every day he had hoped to see her and each day he had been doomed to disappointment.

At last after waiting a week, he concluded to visit the village, hoping that he might see her.  Fortunately for him the day chosen was the one on which the annual games of the Indians took place.  Crossing the river in company with several of the young men belonging to the post, he arrived at the village just as the festivities were about to open.  In front of the chief’s tepee was a large plat of ground, flanked on all sides by Indian spectators.  The games were the usual ones practiced by all the Indian tribes.  There was running, jumping and wrestling, and the victor received for his reward a beaded crown, which was placed on his head at the termination of the contest by the daughter of the chief.

For two years in succession, young Waposse, a stalwart brave, had easily defeated all comers.  If he could win this time his ambition would be satisfied, for under the rules any contestant winning three times in succession could ask any favor of the chief and it would be granted.

Waposse had long loved Wanoma, although the affection was in no way reciprocated and he had decided if he won this last contest to ask the chief for his daughter’s hand in marriage.  Waposse seemed more than usually jubilant, for the contests were likely to go to him by default; as none of the young braves dared to meet so formidable an opponent, whose fame as an athlete had spread through all the tribes of the lake region.

Wanoma, who disliked the vain Waposse, mistrusted by certain insinuations that he should win she would be compelled to marry him.  When he appeared for the final contest, his triumphant bearing and insinuating glances intensified her fears.  Casting an apprehensive glance around the circle as if in search of someone to save her from her fate, her eyes met Paul’s who, having been apprised of the conditions of the contest seemed intuitively to divine her meaning.

Just as the young brave was about to be declared the victor, the ranks opened and the fair-haired stranger entered the arena.  In a moment all was excitement.  With a scowl of rage and disappointment Waposse refused to contest with the white stranger.  At the suggestion of Wanoma the chief decided that Waposse must meet all comers.  Then the young gladiators faced each other.  In appearance the Indian seemed the more powerful of the two.  In the running bout the Indian won after a close finish, but when the jump occurred Paul won.  Now came the final struggle.  The wrestle was to decide the contest.  When the white stranger stripped to the waist for the last struggle a cry of admiration went around the circle.  He stood like a young giant conscious of his power, and calmly watching his opponent.  At last, with a rush, the Indian bore down upon him, they clinched, and after a terrific struggle which worked the spectators up to a high state of excitement, the Indian was thrown heavily to the ground, where he lay breathless and unable to rise.  Paul assisted him to his feet and then walked calmly to the tepee of the chief, where he was proclaimed the victor.

Wanoma brought the crown and with a glad smile placed it upon Paul’s head, and addressing him in broken French said, “Wanoma hated you up to this moment, now she has changed her mind.”

The next few hours were pleasant ones to Paul.  Physical prowess had gained for him the admiration of the Indians and the regard and gratitude of Wanoma.  The following afternoon Wanoma visited the post and asked for Paul.  On being informed that he was over in the bay shooting waterfowl she launched her birch bark canoe and crossed the river in search of him.

Paul’s boat was hidden in the rushes of the bay, where its occupant was patiently waiting for a shot, when the rushes suddenly parted and Wanoma’s canoe shot up alongside his own.  She looked paler than usual and the hand that held the paddle trembled.  After a pleasant greeting, Paul noticed her changed appearance and asked her the cause of it.

“The white stranger is in danger,” she replied and “I have come to warn him.”

“In what way?” Paul asked.

“Waposse is angry at the white chief because he robbed him of his prize”, she answered with down cast eyes, “and swear to kill him.  Wanoma fears that he will keep his word.”

“Would Wanoma care if he did?” asked Paul.

“Yes!” she replied.  “The first time you looked at me I hated you because I thought you like the rest, and the cry of the black swan rung in my ears.  If he had killed you then I would have been glad. Now…..”

“Have no fear, Wanoma; Paul can care for himself.”

When they returned at dusk they talked and acted like lovers.  The time sped on and nearly every day found Paul and Wanoma together, sometimes propelling their canoe up the rapids into the lake, but oftener sitting under the shade of the pines and talking and acting as lovers are wont to do.  Occasionally a shadow would steal over the face of Wanoma, as if danger threatened her, but would as quickly disappear under the spell of Paul’s impassioned wooing.  One night, while sitting by the river watching the reflection of the stars in the water, Paul asked Wanoma to be his wife.  The first thought that flashed through her mind was of the women of her tribe who had married traders, only to be deserted, and she answered:  “No, it is better to love like this.  I would hate and kill the man who would abandon me after a few moons of happiness.”

“But I am different from the others, Wanoma.  I will love you always,” he said.

“If you did not I would hate you, I hate you now!” she said, as the old shadow crept over her face and the cry of the swan again echoed in her ears.

“But I will be true to you Wanoma.”

“Then swear! Swear you will be true to me all your life Paul Moraux and I will be your slave forever; but break your word and I will kill you with my own hand!”

“I swear it!” he said as he looked unflinchingly into her flashing eyes; but while he took the oath, which he knew he could not keep, he shuddered, and his thoughts drifted far away to his home.

The old chief readily gave his consent to the marriage for he could deny Wanoma nothing that her heart desired.

She wanted the marriage postponed until the periodical visit of the Jesuit Father, but Paul protested against the delay and again the shadow crossed her face.  However, she at last consented to the Indian service, which was fixed for the following day.

Simple and primitive was the marriage ceremony.  After the mutual promise had been given publicly and the present to the chief had sealed the compact, the Indian bride turned her piercing eye of the groom and with a look that startled him with its intensity said:  “Paul, this marriage is the binding before your God as the service of your priest.  Break your oath and you die by the hand of the Indian wife who loves you.”

To his dying day he never forgot that moment, never forgot that look of mingled love and hate.  He knew that she could keep her word.  The newly wedded pair received the rough, though hearty congratulations of their friends and retired to a cabin prepared for them near the post, where they spent the honeymoon.  She was as happy as the modern bride and his cup was full and overflowing.  A year passed and nothing happened to disturb their love dream.  Paul had mastered all the details of frontier life and occupied his time in hunting and trapping, while she was content to bask in the sunshine of his love and minister his wants.

Occasionally his mind would revert to his home far distant, for he knew that some day he would have to abandon his frontier life and return to the restraints of civilization.  One day, a little stranger came to gladden their hearts and brighten their home.  It was a baby girl.

Indian Woman with Child

Ojibwa Woman and Child.  Published by E.C. Biddle, Philadelphia, 1837.  The collection of C.J. Hambleton

During the next year things moved on in their usual channel, broken occasionally by the visit of traders from Detroit and Point St. Ignace.  But as time passed on Wanoma began to notice a change in Paul.  He no longer seemed the bright, happy fellow that he had been in the past.  He seemed to be brooding over something, in spite of his efforts to appear natural.  One day she found him weeping with their child in his arms.  Again she heard the cry of the swan in the bay across the river, and again the old shadow crossed her face.  This time she could not dismiss the premonition of coming danger.  The shadow failed to pass away; the death song of the swan still rang in her ears – her savage nature asserted itself and again she would be forced to say, “I hate him!”  Then her mood would change and her love for him would soften her heart.

At last the annual expedition set out for Montreal.  Paul waited in trepidation for its return, knowing the crisis in his life had come, that he would be obliged to decide his future.  He knew that according to agreement, he should have returned to his home, with that expedition.  As he had not, he expected to receive on its return a preemptory order to return home at once.

After a weary week of mental suffering and anxiety to Paul, the expedition returned, bringing him two letters; one from his father and the other a dainty perfumed one directed in a fine, delicate hand.  He knew too well who had sent it.  Opening his father’s letter his worst fears were realized.  He was ordered to return home at once, in language that could not be misunderstood.  From the tone of the letter Paul was satisfied that his father had received an inkling of the event which had taken place at the post and when his parent threatened to disinherit and disown him if he disobeyed the paternal mandate, he was satisfied that some member of the expedition had divulged his secret.

The hour he so much dreaded had come.  He must return and pick up the threads of civilized life where he dropped them two years before which meant marry the girl he was engaged to at that time by a family arrangement and live a life of luxury and ease; or cast his lot with his Indian wife, a disinherited son, obliged to eke out his own existence at a wild and savage frontier post.

What was he to do?

If he disobeyed his father, he would have to sever every tie that bound him to his people.  He could not take his wife and child with him, for that would bring down ridicule upon himself and disgrace to his family.  His pride was too strong for that.  Much as he disliked to own it, there seemed but one thing for him to do.  He must break away from the tenderest associations it is ever given to man to experience – the attachment of a husband for a wife and child that he loves.  For he did love them with all the passionate ardor of youth, in spite of the peculiar conditions surrounding them.

At last, after deliberating, for hours, he reluctantly decided to return to his home.  But he hadn’t the heart to tell Wanoma the truth; so he told her that he must leave her for a time to visit his home, but that he would soon return to her.  Wanoma received the news with the stoicism peculiar to her race, but made no comment.  If she doubted him she failed to show it.

When he left her to go to the store to select his escort and make preparations for his departure on the morrow, her face darkened for she realized that he was about to desert her.  She resolved to keep her word, “I hate him!” she muttered between her set teeth, “he is false like the others.”

Paul returned early, glad to spend his last hours with his squaw wife and child.  She returned his caresses quietly and by her actions failed to show that she mistrusted him.  Toward morning, while Paul was quietly sleeping, she stealthily arose from the couch and procuring his hunting knife and crept to the side of the bed.

“I hate him!” she said as she raised the knife and was about to plunge it into his heart.

At that moment his lips moved and he called her by name.  The knife dropped from her hand and falling on her knees by his side she said, “I am here Paul, what do you want?”

“I want you to believe me when I promise to return to you.”

“Wanoma believes her husband,” she said, as she threw her arms about his neck.  The next day she bade him a fond adieu and wished him “God speed” on his journey to his people.  Orders had been left to have Wanoma supplied from the store with everything she needed to make her comfortable.

Weeks passed.  One day Wanoma found the dainty letter Paul had neglected to take with him.  Woman like she wondered what it contained but being unable to read she could not satisfy her curiosity.  On the day that Father Dupray, the Jesuit priest, arrived on one of his periodical visits to the post, she called to him and asked him to read the letter to her.  Not having been informed of her marriage, and thinking it only a whim of the Indian girl, he read the letter aloud.  It was from Paul’s affiance wife.

“Where did you get his letter?” the good priest asked.

“From my husband.”

“Where is he now?”

“Gone, back to his people with a lie on his lips,” she answered as she arose and coolly walked away.

“God pity her!” remarked the good Jesuit father as she disappeared from view.  From that moment there was a change in Wanoma.  She no longer appeared bright and cheerful.  Her visits to the store became less frequent, and when she did come she had nothing to say to anyone.  The men believed with her that Paul never intended to return, and in their rough way they pitied her.  They had seen the same thing happen before, but the others were only common women of the tribe, and they did not seem to mind it.  With Wanoma it was different.  She was proud, and had loved Paul with all the passionate feeling of her Indian nature.  But after all, she was only a squaw, a common chattel to be thrown aside at will.

Months passed.  The autumn and winter had gone and summer reigned again.  The intervals between Wanomn’s visits to the store had been continually lengthening and the agent had noticed that she appeared ill.  At length her visits stopped abruptly.

One day the child came toddling into the store, and going up to Father Dupray pointed her finger in the direction of her home.  He divined her meaning and picking her up in his arms strode away toward the cabin.  When he arrived he found Wanoma in bed suffering with fever and unable to rise.  “Wanoma wants to ask the good father a question,” she said, as he approached the couch.

“What is it, my child?” he asked as he placed his soft hand on her burning temples.  “Do you believe that Paul will come back to me?  Tell me what you think,” and her dark eyes seemed to pierce his soul.

“I hope – I believe so,” he replied, but the lie nearly choked him.

“I heard the swan calling all the night – it is a sign of death.  If Paul were dead would you know it?”

He did not answer.

After a moment she asked:  “Do wives and husbands meet in the white man’s heaven?”

“Yes, Wanoma.”

“Then I can tell him I hate him.” and a pleased look illuminated her dark features.

“But do you hate him, Wanoma?”

“Wouldn’t a white wife hate him if he deserted her?” she asked.

“Not if she were a Christian.”

“What business would he have with a Christian?” she asked bitterly.

The priest felt the force of her question and made no reply.

“Wanoma, do you want to see your husband again?” the priest asked as he cast an anxious look toward her?

“Yes, father,” she answered.

“Then you must love him.  It is wicked to hate.  There is a happier world with love, and if you hate him you will never meet again.”

“I will try,” she replied and her dark features softened.

Day and night the good priest was at the bed side of the sick girl, ministering to her wants and giving her that consolation which no one but priests of the church known how to impart.  He felt that death was near, and his only hope was that before the dread summons came he would be able to bring her within the pale of the church.  He did not believe that Paul ever intended to return, and sometimes he almost hated him himself.

At last the crisis came.  Clustered about the bed side were the priest and a few attendants, and near the door stood the stern old chief, the father, giving no sign of the torture which racked his soul.

With a feeble voice Wanoma asked to see her child.  The little girl was placed in her arms, and after caressing her a moment she turned to the priest and said, “Keep her until her father comes.”

“He is coming now I can hear his voice!” she said as she half raised herself in the bed and appeared to be listening to a distant sound.  “Her mind wanders,” said the priest.

At last she turned to the holy father and with the light of a new born hope shining from her eyes said:  “If he comes too late, Father, tell him that I loved him to the last, and died believing him true to me.”  She then passed into a peaceful sleep.

But what of Paul?


Indian Women Fur Trading

Indians Bringing Beaver Skins to Fleet, Source Unknown


Frances Harsen, An Indian Woman

While society in the Great Lakes Region accepted “country marriage” practices as an excuse for the abandonment of Indian women, it was the rule of law moving into the 19th century which allowed for the mistreatment of Indian women to continue as their “oaths and evidence” were scarcely accepted by the courts.  The court system was not an even playing field for Indians against the white man due to their inability to speak or write English, ignorance of the law and timidity.  All these inabilities made it impossible for Indians to protect their rights as citizens.  According to Andrew J. Blackbird, widowed Indian women were a prime target for fraud and easy prey for the white man to steal their dowered lands.  These women were easily talked into signing papers with the understanding the white man would take care of their lands or sell them off for their benefit only to be left with nothing and no recourse while society turned a blind eye.

This was the case for Frances Harsen.  Frances was an Indian woman married to Jacob Harsen, II.  They lived together in the early to mid-1800s on Harsen’s Island where Frances was known as “Fanny”, “Queenie”, or “Aunty”.  It was said she was a “beautiful Indian princess.”  Family genealogies and local folklore describe Jacob and Fanny as childless having raised and adopted Jacob’s brother’s son, Jacob Harsen, III, after his mother died giving birth to him.  Upon Jacob’s death, it is said Fanny simply went back to her people.

I do not know what Indian tribe Fanny came from or where she disappeared to after the death of her husband.  What I do know is that she was victim of the white man’s court and the Harsen family in the 1840s, and she did not receive her dower lands as a result.  Fanny did not just mysteriously disappear from Harsen’s Island.  She was more than likely a victim of fraud and forced out by the family she appeared to have given her labor, life and love to.  With no home and resources to sustain herself, Fanny was ousted from Harsen’s Island.  What is openly stated as fact is Jacob Harsen, III was the rightful heir to his uncle’s estate and lands on Harsen’s Island.  However, this is a blatant misrepresentation of what really happened.

Jacob Harsen, II

From 1820 to the year of his death in 1843, Jacob Harsen, II, lived and worked as a farmer on Harsen’s Island trading Indian goods, wheat and guns, to the Indians on Walpole Island.  He was employed as a fur trader by the American Fur Company, and performed carpentry work for Sir William Selkirk at his infamous Baldoon community in Canada,

During his time working for the Chicago branch of the American Fur Company from 1823-1834, Jacob was assigned a license at the portage located on the Kanakee River in Illinois, by the U.S. government.  He worked here in partnership with his cousin, David Laughton.  David Laughton was the son of John Laughton, who had managed a trading post on Stromness Island, nka Dickinson Island, back in the late 1700s before the British pulled out of Detroit.

Indian Women - American Fur Company Buildings

American Fur Company Buildings at Fond du Lac, head of Lake Superior.   From McKenny, Tour to the Lakes.

In 1825, Jacob Harsen is mentioned in the American Fur Company’s correspondence as having the best sales record doing $571.57 of business that year.  Laughton is mentioned as having the second highest sales record of $245.60.   As the boys became notable traders in Illinois, David and his brother, Barney, purchased land and operated a tavern in Riverside, Illinois.  David and Barney are well noted as early pioneers in the local histories of early Chicago.  They are described as Scotch half-breeds who traded with the Potawatomi Indians on the Kankakee River.  David ended up marrying a Potawatomi woman known as Waish-kee-shaw from this area.

No documentation exists as to when Jacob Harsen married Fanny or what tribe she was from.  However, we can assume their marriage date took place before 1829 during his fur trading years with the American Fur Company.  We can also assume she was more than likely from Walpole Island.  Proof of the assumption of the timeframe of their marriage and her tribe include these facts:

  1. Jacob Harsen, III was born on November 25, 1829, and family history states his mother died in childbirth leaving him to be raised by Jacob and Fanny;
  2. Michigan census records for 1830 show Jacob and Fanny living together on Harsen’s Island;
  3. A memoir written by Mrs. Nancy Brakeman describes an Indian Medicine Dance and Feast given by the Indians of Walpole Island for the benefit of Mrs. Jacob Harsen in the summer of 1832;
  4. A Port Huron Times Herald newspaper article dated January 13, 1933, which discusses the Harsen family states, “Jacob II married a beautiful Indian queen known as “Aunty” who raised Jacob III. She was a picturesque and loved figure in the St. Clair River District and stories are told of how she used to make trips on the Great Lakes with Captain John H. Stewart……Many times in those early days the old Harsen homestead would be surrounded by Indians when dawn came who were waiting for their queen who would council with them and help them in their tradings with the white man.”

In 1826, David and Jacob formed a fur trading partnership and authored a document designating the other as their lawful heir.  Upon David’s death in 1834, the document the two men authored would have devastating effects on David’s wife and children.  Apparently, David had a Last Will and Testament that left his estate to his wife and children.  However, the partnership document presented to the Cook County Probate Court by Jacob Harsen ended up being recognized as the official Last Will and Testament by the court, and the Laughton heirs were disinherited.  Jacob was given all of David’s land in Illinois and a piece of property he owned on Stromness Island in Michigan.  Jacob sold the land to a Detroit merchant, David Cooper, who ironically ended up being appointed as the administrator of his estate in 1843.  Jacob held on to the property on Stromness Island, as it was listed on the real property inventory of his estate.

Jacob Harsen Estate Page 1

Jacob Harsen Estate File, Michigan Probate Records Calendar 1, p. 105 – Ancestry.com

The Jacob Harsen II Estate

Jacob Harsen, II died without a will on October 31, 1843, making no provision for Fanny’s care.  The mere fact that Jacob would institute a partnership agreement with his cousin, David Laughton, to protect his assets, yet not draft a Will to protect his wife after his death, blatantly shows his disregard for Fanny and his esteem for money.  Probate proceedings to open his estate took place on November 3, 1843 in the St. Clair County Probate Court in St. Clair, Michigan.  In the initial probate documents, Jacob’s heirs are listed as Frances Harsen, his widow, two brothers, William and Frances Harsen, and distant relatives.  The Petition for Administration was brought by David Cooper, a Detroit merchant, who was the largest creditor of the estate.  Under Michigan law, creditors could make a petition to administer an estate in the event no next of kin opted to serve.

Chapter Two of the Administration and Distribution of the Estates of Intestates of the Revised Statutes of the State of Michigan of 1837, Section 4, First and Second reads, “Section 4. Administration of the estate of an intestate shall be granted to someone or more of the persons hereinafter mentioned; and they shall be respectively entitled thereto, in the following order, to wit:

First.  His widow, or next of kin, or both, as the judge may think fit and if they do not voluntarily either take or renounce the administration, they shall, if resident within the county, be cited by the judge for that purpose.

Second.  If the persons so entitled to administration are incompetent, or evidently unsuitable for the discharge of the trust, or if they neglect, without sufficient cause, for thirty days after the death of the intestate, to take administration of his estate, the judge of probate shall commit it to one or more of the principal creditors, if there by any competent and willing to undertake the trust.”

A hearing was set for December 4th, 1843, on the petition, and notice was ordered to be sent to Jacob’s next of kin, Fanny, William, and Francis on November 3, 1843.  The notice in part stated, “Whereas it has been represented to our Judge of Probate…..that Jacob Harsen late of said county has died intestate leaving goods, chattels, rights and credits within this state; and whereas David Cooper of the City of Detroit hath made application for Letters of Administration on the Estate of said deceased; you and each of you are hereby commanded and required to be and appear before our Judge of Probate to see fit to take upon yourself or some one of you, the Administration of the estate of said Jacob Harsen, deceased and if you refuse to show cause if any of you have as to why David Cooper should not be appointed Administrator of the same in pursuance of the notice in that case made and provide.”

Fanny, Francis and William Harsen did not appear before the court for the hearing on December 4th.  The Judge ordered another notice and re-set the hearing on the petition for December 18, 1843.  At the hearing, an influential friend of the Harsen family, John K. Smith, a former probate judge and Justice of the Peace for St. Clair County, appeared alongside David Cooper with written testimony to the court of William and Francis Harsen’s wish not to be appointed Administrator.  It read, “Judge Cox, Dear Sir:  I was not a little surprised when Mr. Charles Kimball told me last Saturday that you had not received the notice that you issued to the heirs of Jacob Harsen, deceased.  William Harsen and Frances Harsen signed the notice therein relinquishing their claims to administer for said estate and requested the Mr. David Cooper should be appointed administrator of the estate of the said Jacob Harsen, deceased and I immediately enclosed it in a letter directed to your house and handed it to the steward of the steamboat directing him to see that it was left at Palmer (St. Clair) and I know no more about it.  Mr. Cooper expected that you would grant letters of administration on the 4th of November (I believe) and that a warrant of appraisal would be immediately granted and requested me to attend after certain fat cattle and hogs were appraised to dispose of them and I could only do that after the appraisal.”  John K. Smith signed the letter with a sworn statement which read, “I John K. Smith, do hereby certify on oath that after the decease of Jacob Harsen and David Cooper making application for letters of administration, I heard William Harsen and Frances Harsen say that they did not want anything to do with the estate of Jacob Harsen, deceased and they requested that Mr. David Cooper should be appointed said administrator.”

Judge Cox appointed David Cooper as the administrator that day.  However, there is no documentation from the hearing that mentions what Fanny Harsen wished or wanted, and there is no evidence of her signature or mark on a statement saying she relinquished any of her rights to administer.  No one at the hearing even mentioned her name.  The only concern was for the two white heirs of the estate.  Fanny must have been deemed incompetent to act due to her inability to read and write English, but there is no evidence in the estate file concerning her inability to serve or her incompetency.  It is obvious right from the start no one in the Harsen family was advocating for Fanny’s rights.  These early court filings also prove Jacob P. Harsen III was not considered an adopted son of Jacob and Fanny Harsen under the law.  If he had been, he would have been listed as a rightful heir alongside Fanny, William and Frances.  It was in fact his father, William, who was one of the initial heirs.

The Inventory

An inventory of the real and personal property of the estate was filed on January 20, 1844.  The total appraised value of the estate was $4,872.64.  Today, the estate property would be valued at roughly $169,000.  The real property was described as follows:

  1. The homestead of said deceased situated on Harsen’s Island in the Township of Clay, in the County of St. Clair, the same being Section 5 on Harsen’s Island, 640 acres valued at $2,500.
  2. Three hundred acres on the Northeast side of William Harsen’s farm on Harsen’s Island in said Township of Clay, as deeded by James Harsen, Robert Little, and John B. Laughton to the said deceased valued at $500.
  3. 280 acres of land on Stromness Island in the Township of Clay, aforesaid known as the David Laughton lot bounded on the east by the Middle Channel, on the south by the farm claimed by L. Davenport and others, on the North by the farm occupied by David Seuter valued at $200.
  4. One certain village lot situated in the Village of Newport County of St. Clair and State of Michigan, the same that was deeded to Jacob Harsen by Robert R. McNiffe valued at $50.

The appraisers for the estate were John K. Smith, Charles Kimball, and Nathan D. Smith.

The Distribution Scenarios

Under the Revised Statutes of the State of Michigan of 1838, the heirs of the Jacob Harsen estate were presented with these scenarios of the estate distribution:

  1. Real property – Because Jacob Harsen had no children, his real property would have passed to his brothers and sisters in equal shares. In the event any of his siblings were deceased, their shares would then be divided between the children of the deceased siblings.  Jacob had six siblings: four brothers, William, Francis, James and Bernardus and two sisters, Sarah and Catherine.  At the time of Jacob’s death, his only living siblings were William and Francis.  Therefore, the shares of real property of the estate could have been distributed equally into six shares.  William and Francis each receiving a one-sixth share and leaving the remaining four-sixths to subdivide between the children of the deceased siblings.
  2. Dower – Under the statutes outlining the distribution of real property, widows are not mentioned. Instead, the rights of widows to real property distribution of an estate are discussed under that statutes pertaining to dower rights.  Under the law of dower, Fanny Harsen was entitled to receive one-third of all the real estate of the estate.   However, in order for Fanny to receive a one-third share, she would have had to bring a separate matter before the court asking for a warrant of dower to be issued to the county commissioners to set off her one-third share by metes and bounds.  If she did this, the real property of the estate would have been split between her and Jacob P.  She would receive one-third and Jacob P. would receive two-thirds.  In addition, Fanny was entitled to live at the homestead for one year after the estate was opened rent free and receive reasonable sustenance from the estate for food and living expenses for the first six months.
  3. Personal property – Under the laws concerning the distribution of personal property, Fanny was entitled to live at the homestead for one year rent free and receive reasonable sustenance from the estate for food and living expenses for the first six months.  At the closing of the estate, after all the debts of the estate were paid, Fanny and Jacob P. were entitled to split the remaining personal property equally.

The Plotting of Heirs

Indian Women - Jacob P. Harsen

Jacob P. Harsen – Obituary Picture – Port Huron Times Herald, July 1912

On July 13, 1844, Fanny received and signed for food and 2 oxen totaling $200.00.  The probate records describe this transaction as a part of her dower.  Being that July 13, 1844, would have been seven months from the date of the opening of the estate, Fanny’s right to receive reasonable sustenance would have expired, and here we see evidence of the estate starting to charge her for her food and living expenses.   The fact the estate charged her as part of her dower and not as part of her share of the residue of the personal property she was entitled to receive is questionable.

The Harsen family were well versed in the value of real property.  If the heirs to the real property decided to split the property into six shares and then subdivide the shares of each deceased sibling between their children, they had to of known this subdividion would have brought down the value of the property enormously.  Armed with this knowledge, at some point early on, the members of the Harsen family entitled to inherit must have all agreed to relinquish their right to the real property and settled on allowing the youngest of them, Jacob P. Harsen, III, then 15 years old, to become the only Harsen heir to Jacob’s estate to preserve the value of the property.  Having Jacob P. be declared the only lawful heir of the estate was a wise choice.  Because of his youth, Jacob P. could be easily controlled, and the distribution of the estate assets could be decided by his guardian.  Because the largest and most valuable piece of real property in the estate, Jacob’s homestead and farm, butted up against the Stewart property, it would be easy for family members to work the farm, split the profits, and get paid for their labor out of the personal property assets of the estate as long as the estate stayed open. To carry out their plot the family chose William Harsen, Jr.  He was the best choice, because he had access to the estate funds, having been chosen by David Cooper early on to act as his agent to handle his duties as administrator because he did not live locally.  David lived and worked in Detroit.     Also, William lived at the homestead with Fanny and Jacob P.  He had a close relationship with both and had the best chance of exerting his influence on them.

William Harsen, Jr. proved over and over through the pages of the estate file he was untrustworthy and of a deceitful character.  John K. Smith didn’t fall far behind him.  In one instance, William accepted payment with interest from the Department of Indian Affairs in Canada for $74.05 while he was acting as agent for David Cooper.  The payment was for log chains and guns Jacob had sold to the Indians of Walpole Island before his death in June of 1843.  William received the payment on September 14, 1846.  To receive the payment, he had to swear an oath he had witnessed the transaction between the Indians, and Jacob Harsen and John K. Smith backed him up by swearing he had knowledge of the transaction.  The receipt of this payment was never recorded on any of the estate accountings.  He and Mr. Smith must have just pocketed the money.

Almost three years after the estate was opened on September 14, 1846, Jacob P. came before the court and asked to have William Harsen, Jr. appointed his guardian.  Jacob P. stated in his petition, “The undersigned a minor over the age of 14 years, possessed of the right of certain goods, chattels, rights and credits, respectfully asks that William Harsen, Jr., his brother may be appointed his legal guardian, to take of his property and effects and to see to his education and maintenance.”

Frances Harsen Probate File Page 1

Guardianship File for Frances Harsen, Calendar 1, p. 148, Michigan Probate Records – Ancestry.com

Right after Jacob P. filed for guardianship, Fanny started to have problems with William Harsen, Jr.  According to Fanny’s own account, William had forcefully taken all the personal property she had received from the estate in 1844 valued at two hundred dollars.  Henry Gill came to Fanny’s defense and filed a guardianship proceeding on December 2, 1846 to help Fanny get her property back.  Henry also wanted the court to investigate why the estate remained open.  He asked for a hearing on the matter and requested David Cooper appear and offer an accounting of the assets and reasoning for the delay in closing the estate and making distribution to the heirs.  In his pleading, Henry Gill stated, “That by order of your honorable court heretofore made there has been duly set off to your petitioner certain personal chattels of the value of two hundred dollars.  That said property is now in the custody of William Harsen, Jr., who has taken forcible possession thereof and deprived your petitioner of the use and increase thereof.  That your petitioner is an Indian woman incapable of speaking English and entirely incapable of regaining or maintaining possession of her property or her rights.  I respectfully present that William Harsen, Jr. agent of David Cooper administrator of the goods, chattels, and estate of Jacob Harsen having the property aforesaid in charge is careless, unprovidant, and neglectful of the best interests of said estate and is disposing of and squandering the said property and that I truly believe that all of the creditors of the estate have been fully satisfied.  I therefore respectfully pray that a day may be appointed by your honorable court for settling up said estate and that a citation issued to notify said David Cooper of the time and place of holding said court.”

Reading over the estate file accounts for the years 1843 to 1846, William Harsen, Jr. made payments to members of his family for the upkeep and maintenance of Jacob’s homestead and farm, yet he noted very few entries of income from the farm.  The accountings show true signs of a Harsen family plot to reap benefit from the estate assets for as long as they possibly could.  This behavior and the fact that William would take possession of the only assets Fanny held are true signs of the mistreatment she received by him and some members of the Harsen family.

Less than 14 days after the filing of her petition for guardianship and the appointment of Henry Gill as her guardian, Fanny faced pressure from William and members of the Harsen family to recant her petition. Somehow, they must have convinced Fanny she had caused great harm to David Cooper by filing her petition and that Henry Gill’s help was a ploy to take her money.  So, an intimidated Fanny sit with an interpreter and dictated a letter to David Cooper to show him she had not meant to cause him any harm.  All the while William knew David Cooper was not in harm’s way, he was.  Acting as David’s agent, an investigation into the assets of the estate might get him or his fellow family members in trouble.  William and the Harsen family also had to have known that if Fanny had help from Henry Gill, she might learn about her rights of dower and exercise them.  Fanny never signed the dictated letter with her mark.  It reads, “The widow Harsen and William Harsen, Jr. are here with Mr. Henry Robertson (an interpreter) and they or at least the widow requests me to write you.  The widow says that some time since a trifling difficulty rose between her and William which was made known to Henry Gill, that Gill then requested her to go with him to the county seat and see the Judge of Probate, that Gill told her it would cost only one dollar.  That she has since learned that Gill caused the Judge of Probate to appoint him her guardian to take charge of her property and that Gill has caused you to be cited to appear before him and give an account of your administration all of which she says is contrary to her wishes or expectations.  That she has always been perfectly satisfied with you and your management of the estate.  She says she hopes you will continue as such administrator and not give it up in consequence of this affair and that she does not want to make any complaint or assistance and that she told Gill so today.  That she never intended to make any complaint to anyone against you.  The difficulty above mentioned between the widow and William she says is all settled.  Mrs. Harsen says that she only expected a letter to be written to you and expresses much regret that you should be put to any unnecessary trouble and does not wish you to come up any sooner on account of the citation from Judge Cox.”  Witnesses to the letter include William Harsen Jr., Henry Robertson and John K. Smith.

William Harsen, Jr. and some of his family members further pushed the issue to revoke the guardianship.  This time they worked to convince Fanny she was not incompetent, and she could manage her own affairs.  They appealed to her pride, preyed on her ignorance of the law, and her inability to read and understand English.  They pressured her into believing that Henry Gill would take all her assets and she would have no rights to exercise any control over them.  When in fact it was these men who did not want Fanny to exercise control over her assets.  They were the ones who wanted to exercise control, not Henry Gill.  On December 28, 1846, ten people signed a letter addressed to Judge Cox that read, “Honored Sir, we the undersigned are of the opinion that it is not in the interests of the widow, Frances Harsen, nor for the interests of those concerned in the just settlements of the estate of Jacob Harsen, deceased to have Henry Gill, Guardian to the said widow, Frances Harsen.  We are of the opinion that the widow’s case has been misrepresented to your Honor.  We know her to be perfectly sound and capable of managing her own interest.”  This letter was signed by several members and close friends of the Harsen family, including, Aura P. Stewart, John Stewart, William Harsen, Jr., John K. Smith, and Harvey Stewart.

William and his family members continued to push Fanny and she finally gave in to the pressure.  On February 8th, 1847, she filed a letter to Judge Cox asking the court to remove Henry Gill as her agent or guardian that was signed by her mark.  Henry Gill was not so easy to scare away.  He saw what William was doing to Fanny.  In an attempt to try to get Fanny to talk to him, he sent her a letter on March 3, 1847, telling her that he would be glad to resign his guardianship if she would meet with him so he could formally give her back her personal property in his possession and document the occasion for the court.  In response he received a letter on March 4, 1847, from John K. Smith on Fanny’s behalf telling him that Fanny did not wish to do or say anything regarding the settlement of his expenses for bringing the guardianship until Mr. Cooper comes up from Detroit.  He further represented, “She has nothing that she can call her own.  All is in the hands of the administration.  William Harsen, Jr. says that he does not know that you have resigned your guardianship, therefore he does not consider himself bound to pay you.”

By receipt of this letter Henry Gill surmised that William was purposefully keeping Fanny away from him.  Not willing to play games with William, Henry Gill held steady and continued to advocate for Fanny’s rights.  He went to court on March 6, 1847 and filed a pleading in which he explained how he had tried to meet with Fanny to return her property and discuss his resignation as her guardian.  He further discussed the fact that Fanny had stated to John K. Smith she had no property to call her own and as such he felt compelled despite Fanny’s request to have him step down to continue to act in her best interests until the matter of resignation was resolved.  In his desire to honestly help Fanny, he asked the court to set a hearing to warrant her rights of dower and asked for the court to order the county commissioners to set out her one-third share of the property by metes and bounds.  He also requested that William Harsen, Jr. pay Fanny her share of the money he recently received from selling off a portion of the sheep which were personal property of the estate in which Fanny had an interest.

The court set a hearing for April 5, 1847 to set off Fanny’s dower.  William Harsen continued to pressure Fanny to have Henry Gill removed as her guardian.  He hired attorneys John McNeil and M.E. Armes of Port Huron to represent her.  These attorneys sought to remove Henry Gill as guardian by presenting the argument that Fanny was in no way incompetent or incapacitated, she was of sound mind, she was not a minor, and therefore she was not subject to the appointment of a guardian under the law.  They asked the court to rescind, revoke, and vacate the appointment of Henry Gill as her guardian.  The pleading detailing this argument was filed with the court on March 31, 1847.  David Cooper filed a pleading on the same day asking the court to bring all parties into court and allow Fanny Harsen to have the opportunity to make a formal protest against Henry Gill continuing to act as her guardian.  These filings compelled the court to re-set the hearing on Fanny’s dower to May 3, 1847.

At the hearing on May 3, 1847, after all evidence was produced, the same court who had previously declared Fanny incompetent due to her inability to read or write English ordered Henry Gill to to discharge his guardianship of Fanny.  The court reversed its prior decision and found Fanny was of sound mind and competent to handle her own personal and financial affairs.  There is no mention by the court in the proceedings that day of the courts prior order or of her inability to read or write English being a factor in declaring her incompetent.  The court did not advocate on her behalf at all. The judge did not take the time to explain her rights of dower or even ask if she wished to continue to pursue her claim on the matter.  All the court did was discharge Henry Gill as guardian and close the matter.

The estate was finally wrapped up and closed on October 11, 1847, five months after Henry Gill stepped down as Fanny’s guardian.  After David Cooper was paid for his services as administrator, Fanny and Jacob P. each received $456.00 in personal property.  There is no evidence of the distribution of the real property in the probate file, but we know Fanny never received her one-third share of the real estate.  There is no mention of Fanny having inherited any real property of the Harsen homestead in local history.  The only person mentioned as having been the legal heir of Jacob’s homestead is Jacob P.

Clay Map 1897

Clay Township Map 1897 – Ancestry.com

Fanny is not listed on the 1850 census living in Clay Township either.  William Harsen, Jr. is listed as living on the homestead property.  Jacob P. is listed as living on Stromness Island with Asa Dickinson.  Where did Fanny Harsen go?  Through the neglect of her husband in his failure to leave a will that would have taken care of her for the rest of her life and the ill treatment she received from the members of his family, no one knows.  And quite frankly, nobody cared to know.  Fanny was truly a victim of hate, bigotry and greed.  A beautiful Indian woman forever lost in translation.

Belief for Change

As John Mayer’s states in his song, Belief:

Belief is a beautiful armor

But makes for the heaviest sword.

The “heaviest sword” in Fanny Harsen’s story was society’s belief that she was less than human, a savage, not worthy of the same treatment of a white man or woman.  These beliefs led Fanny Harsen’s own family to treat her disgracefully, strip her of her rights, and abandon her.  What is truly remarkable about her story is these beliefs still exist in our society today.  While they may not be beliefs held by the bulk of society, as in her time, there are still members of our society that hold these beliefs to be true.  We now call them racists and bigots.  Even 200 years later, the war to defeat these mindsets and dispel these beliefs rages on.  Change is a choice that only you can make.  As Billy Bragg once wrote, “You can be active with the activists or sleeping with the sleepers, while we’re waiting for the great leap forwards,”   I suggest you wake up, throw down your swords, and choose wisely.


A Squaw Wife: The Story of the Early Days on the St. Clair River (1895, Feb. 16). The Port Huron Daily Times.

Algonac-Clay Historical Society, (no date).  Detmeter, Stephan C., Jacob Harsen and the Early Settlement of Harsen’s Island (photocopied article).

Ancestry.com (2019).  1830 United States Federal Census, Clay, St. Clair County, Michigan, 1830 United States Federal Census [database].

Ancestry.com (2019).  1840 United States Federal Census, Clay, St. Clair County, Michigan, 1840 United States Federal Census [database].

Ancestry.com (2019).  1850 United States Federal Census, Clay, St. Clair County, Michigan, 1850 United States Federal Census [database].

Ancestry.com (2019).  1860 United States Federal Census, Clay, St. Clair County, Michigan, 1860 United States Federal Census [database].

Ancestry.com (2019).  Estate of Jacob Harsen, Calendar I, p. 105, Michigan Wills and Probate Records 1784-1980 [database].

Ancestry.com (2019).  Guardianship of Frances Harsen, An Indian Woman, Calendar I, p. 148, Michigan Wills and Probate Records 1784-1980 [database].

Ancestry.com (2019).  Guardianship of Jacob Harsen, minor, Calendar I, p. 142, Michigan Wills and Probate Records 1784-1980 [database].

Berger, Bethany (1997).  After Pocahontas:  Indian Women and the Law, 1830-1934, University of Connecticut School of Law.

Bilek, Jr., Edward T. (1967).  The Old Chicago Portage, 1673-1836. National Park Service, Park History.  https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/chpo/chicago_portage.pdf

Blackbird, Andrew, J. (1887).  History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan. Ypsilanti Auxiliary of the Women’s National Indian Association; Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Blackbird, Andrew, J. (1900).  The Indian Problem, From the Indians Standpoint, Harbor Springs, Michigan.

Bob’s Genealogy Filing Cabinet website (2010-2018).  Dower and Curtesy.  https://genfiles.com/articles/dower-and-curtesy/

Burton, Clarence, M. (Ed.), (1922).  The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1702-1922 Volume 2, p. 1457, David Cooper, The S.J. Clark Publishing Company, Detroit-Chicago.  https://books.google.com/books?id=5ZQUAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Collins, Newell, E. (no date).  The Story of Harsen’s Island and the Old Johnson House, self-published pamphlet, Algonac, Michigan.

Death of Jacob Harsen:  The Old Gentleman Passes Peacefully Away Sunday Evening (1912, July).  The Port Huron Times.  Resource found at the St. Clair County Library, Michigan Room, Port Huron, Michigan

Donnaway, Laura (2018).  Women’s Rights Before the Civil War.  Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois.  http://people.loyno.edu/~history/journal/1984-5/donnaway.htm

Encyclopedia Letter H., Early Chicago (2019), https://earlychicago.com/encyclopedia_letter_h/

Encyclopedia Letter L., Early Chicago (2019), https://earlychicago.com/encyclopedia_letter_l/

Encyclopedia of Chicago website (2018).  Potawatomis.  http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1001.html

Find A Grave, (2013).  Jacob Peter Harsen.  https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/108838094/jacob-peter-harsen

Find A Grave, (2009).  Nancy Brown Brakeman.  https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/37048350/nancy-brakeman

Peterson, Jacqueline Louise (1981).  The People In Between:  Indian-White Marriage and the Genesis of a Metis Society and Culture in the Great Lakes Region, 1680-1830.  University of Illinois, Chicago.

Fuller, Spencer, S. (1936).  Riverside: Then and Now. Riverside News; Riverside, Illinois.  https://archive.org/details/riversidethennow00full/page/34

Genealogy.com (2019).  Vicki Lynn- Rosemount User Tree, Descendants of John Little, Generation No. 2.  https://www.genealogy.com/ftm/l/y/n/Vicky-Lynn-Rosemount/GENE1-0002.html

Haeger, John (1966).  Fur Trade Society in Chicago, Milwaukee and Green Bay: A Study of the Transitional Period of the American Fur Trade 1815-1838, Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois.  https://ecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3134&context=luc_theses

Heritage Canada website (2019).  Receipt of Jacob Harsen from The Chiefs of Walpole Island (1843 & 1846).  Department of Indian Affairs Western Superintendency Records C-9638, p. 82.  http://heritage.canadiana.ca/search/?q0.0=c-9638

Jenks, William L. (1912).  “Indian Medicine Dance and Feast”, Nancy Brakeman, St. Clair County, Michigan:  Its History and Its People, Vol. 1, Lewis Publishing Company.  http://www.us-data.org/mi/stclair/history/rem-brakeman-nancy.txt

Kozlow, Robert, D., (2012).  American Fur Company Records, Chicago Historical Society.  http://chsmedia.org/media/fa/fa/M-A/AfurC.htm)

Lyntwn, Victor, P., Ph.D. (2008).  Traditional Ecological Knowledge Study:  Walpole Island First National and the St. Clair River Corridor.  Final Report for Walpole Island First Nation.

McDonnell, Michael A., (2015).  Masters of Empire:  Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America, Hill and Wang; New York.

Michigan State Historical Society (1912). “Old Baldoon” Jane M. Kinny, Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, Volume 38; Lansing, Michigan https://books.google.com/books?id=diIzAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA78&lpg=PA78&dq=survey+of+dover+from+lake+michigan+and+selkirk&source=bl&ots=8cKLOf3qnC&sig=ACfU3U2bVtEML0GBdswZxjankVOwqyKukg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjn9trHoeLjAhUSna0KHasEB2wQ6AEwGXoECAwQAQ#v=onepage&q=survey%20of%20dover%20from%20lake%20michigan%20and%20selkirk&f=false

Sultzman, Lee (1998).  Potawatomi History.  http://www.tolatsga.org/pota.html

Susan B. Anthony House website (2018).  May, Samuel, J., The Rights and Conditions of Women.  https://susanbanthonyhouse.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Samuel-May-1846.pdf

Tanner, Helen Hornbeck (Ed.), (1987).  Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History, University of Oklahoma Press; Norman and London.  Published for The Newberry Library.

Tavers, Karen, J. (2015).  Seeing with Two Eyes:  Colonial Policy, The Huron Tract Treaty and Changes in the Land of Lambton County, 1780-1867.  York University, Toronto, Ontario.

“The Fur Trade at Chicago, 1775-1816.”  Chicago Portage Ledger 7, no. 2 (May-Aug 2006).

“The Kankakee and Iroquois Rivers.”  Chicago Portage Ledger 8, no. 2 (May-Aug 2007).

The Revised Statutes of the State of Michigan (1838). John S. Bagg, Printer to the State; Detroit.

WikiTree (2019).  Henry Gill, Sr. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Gill-5170

Women’s International Center (2018).  Women’s History in America.  http://www.wic.org/misc/history.htm

McMorran and Davidson: Seventh & Lapeer

Active Lounge Front

Source:  708 Lapeer Avenue, Port Huron, Michigan, point2homes.com

Last weekend I was browsing the internet looking at commercial real estate properties in the Port Huron area.  I came across an advertisement for the sale of the property at 708 Lapeer Avenue.  This property tugs at my heart because I know it was built in 1891 by Henry McMorran and Wilbur F. Davidson.  Two capitalists who have captivated my attention for the past few years.  Having researched the life of Henry McMorran for almost four years, I feel a kinship with him and this building.  When it popped up in my search, I felt the need to share what I have learned about this building over the years.

By 1891, the City of Port Huron had experienced an increase to its population by 2,800 over a period of 15 months with the city issuing over 187 building permits for new home construction.  The city also had knowledge of 50 homes built that year without a permit.  A city report detailed new commercial buildings under construction.  Included are the following buildings detailed in that reporting:  The McMorran & Davidson building, Grace Episcopal Church, E.F. Percival’s new brick block, Robert Walsh’s depot, Commercial Bank, the White Building, Goulden’s and Davidson’s block, Charles Baer’s building, and a new fire engine house.  City Revenue from building permits that year totaled over $300,000.

As Port Huron was booming with new residents and businesses, space became scarce in the business districts located downtown on Huron Avenue, Military Street, and along Water Street stretching east to the St. Clair River and west to 6th Street.  A solution for this problem was found by clearing out and selling land located west on Water Street past 6th Street to stretch the business district.  In anticipation of the expansion, the City Railway Company made application to the City of Port Huron in 1890 for the construction of a street railway line running from Third & Water Street to 7th Street and Lapeer Avenue to Sixteenth Street.

Off to a Bright Start

Wilbur Davidson

Source:  A Half Century of Electric Service in Port Huron 1884-1934, The Detroit Edison Company, Google Books

Before McMorran and Davidson formed a real estate partnership in 1890, they were partners in the electric business together.  It can be said both men held a curiosity for new inventions and ideas.  This shared trait is what initially brought them together.

Thomas Edison may have invented the incandescent light, but it was Wilbur F. Davidson who brought electricity to the City of Port Huron.  Davidson was born in Adrian, Michigan in 1852.  He worked as a clerk in a general store after high school in Howell and Flint, Michigan.  He came to Port Huron around 1882, where he purchased a dry goods store in the Opera House Block.  Davidson held a fascination with the new electric industry, and he paid close attention to Thomas Edison’s new incandescent lamp. He read everything he could on electric lighting and the dynamos that powered it.  In October 1882, after Thomas Edison’s success in New York City with his “Jumbo” dynamo at Pearl Street Station, Davidson got it in his head he wanted to light his store to promote his new business.   In the fall of 1883, he installed a small electric lighting plant in his store.  He ran this promotional advertisement in The Port Huron Daily Times, November 19, 1883:

“W.F. Davidson and Co., the Opera House dry goods dealers are about to introduce the Edison electric light in their store and invite the public to call and buy something as a souvenir of the first electric light in Port Huron.”


Source:  A Half Century of Electric Service in Port Huron 1884-1934, The Detroit Edison Company, Google Books

Davidson’s trial run was a success.  Having demonstrated the promotional value of electric light he attracted the attention of Henry McMorran and Charles F. Harrington.  Together, they formed the Excelsior Electric Light Company on March 1, 1884.  During its testing phase, the company installed its power plant in the McMorran Milling Company, and the rest is history.  A new friendship and close business association between Wilbur and Henry had begun.  Together they would create many manufacturing businesses that ran on electrical energy.

McMorran & Davidson

McMorran and Davidson formed a real estate partnership called McMorran & Davidson around 1890.  Their first purchase was the property on the corner of 7th and Lapeer that was known as the Charles Stewart property.  The Stewart property held five rental houses on the land.  After McMorran and Davidson made their purchase, they tore down the rental houses in anticipation of building a new brick building on the site.  Construction was complete by September 1891.  This commercial property became known as the McMorran & Davidson building.  Their intention was to lease out the building space to business tenants, but over time McMorran & Davidson began using the building to also house some of the businesses they created together.

This period of McMorran’s life can definitely be called “his experimental phase”.  He and Davidson took many chances together manufacturing various types of clothing.  Some of them got off to a strong start, had a small run, and eventually failed.  Others were successful and sold off to other business owners.  Only one of their businesses deviated from clothing manufacturing during the years 1891 to 1910; their endeavor to manufacture a horseless carriage.  I was not able to determine in my research why their attempt to manufacture gas-powered vehicles never got off the ground.  They advertised they had a patent for the engine.  It is my understanding only one sample was ever built.  If anyone has further information on the horseless carriage, I would love to hear from you.

McMorran and Davidson Building (1891-1910): A Brief Glimpse of Businesses

1891 – Pabst Brewing Company of Milwaukee and Joseph O’Hearn’s saloon.  These two businesses are identified as the first businesses to occupy the McMorran & Davidson building.  The first floor of the building had ornate fixtures and the saloon is described as being the finest place in town.  The third floor was set up as a boarding house and the quarters were rented out by the Foresters of the city.

1892 – Dental Office of Lucy K. Waterloo, lady dentist.  It was no surprise to see this business taking up space in Henry McMorran’s building.  Henry was very supportive of working women.  He employed many women during his business career.  Henry was also supportive of a woman having an education.  He strongly encouraged his daughters to pursue one.  His purchased a house in Ann Arbor for his family to live in while David and Emma attended college at the University of Michigan.  Clara attended and graduated from Miss Steven’s School in Germantown, Pennsylvania, a college prep educational institution.

The Russell Manufacturing Company.  This company manufactured spiral armlets covered with silk and cotton, corset lacing, fish lines, chalk lines, cotton and silk braids of all kinds.  It employed two men and 15 women.  This company was encouraged to come to Port Huron by R.C. Mudge, a business partner of McMorran and Davidson in the R.C. Mudge Paper Clothing Company later known as the Port Huron Paper Clothing Company.

A drug store owned and operated by George Williamson leased space in the building.

1894 – Eskimo Tanning Company.  This company originated out of a patent for processing tanning hides.  O.E. Harrington came to Port Huron and asked McMorran and Davidson to review the patent.  McMorran and Davidson determined the process expanded upon the current practice used to tan hides and furs.  They invested in the business.  The company manufactured robes, gloves and mittens and employed 25 men.

1895 – Port Huron Fibre Garment Company.  This company was owned and operated by McMorran and Davidson.  It was a re-organization of a prior business owned by Henry that he had started in 1891 with Edward Lovely called the Opaline Fibre Works.  It was  burned out by fire in 1893.  It made paper collars, sleeves, and cuffs for ladies clothing, which were of fashion at the time.  When it re-organized it was owned and operated by McMorran and Davidson.  In 1897, McMorran & Davidson re-organized this company again into the Standard Fibre Novelty Company.  They moved it from 7th and Lapeer to Military Street.

Standard Novelty Company

Source:  Youtube, Port Huron, Past & Present by Bob Davis, Part 143

1899 – The Standard Novelty Company.  This company was organized by McMorran and Davidson to manufacture mechanic’s clothing.  It was a huge success and employed over 60 workers.  The business expanded to manufacture a metal polish and cleaning product called Polishine.  The patent to this product and the business was sold in 1902 to a gentleman by the name of B.J. McCormick who manufactured a line of his own polishes.

Horseless Carriage Ad

Source:  Horseless Carriage Ad (1899, July 26).  Detroit Free Press.

In 1899 the Standard Novelty Company manufactured a model gasoline powered motor carriage known as a horseless carriage.  They advertised this carriage for sale in the Detroit Free Press in July of 1899.  It was said the carriage could be regulated to run five, ten, or twenty miles an hour.  Once again Davidson had something sensational to promote.  He and McMorran placed a sample vehicle in the McMorran & Davidson building on exhibition and demonstrated its driving ability on August 21, 1899, when it was driven though the streets of Port Huron for everyone to see.  It must have caused quite a stir and made a lasting impression.   Wilbur Davidson has been attributed to building the first auto that ever appeared on the streets of Port Huron.  However, he was not alone in this endeavor.  Henry McMorran was by his side, and together they manufactured the first auto to ever appear on the streets of Port Huron.

While the Standard Novelty Company advertised the sale of its horseless carriage in the Detroit Free Press and promoted it on the streets of Port Huron, I have found no documented evidence showing McMorran and Davidson built more than one vehicle.  A few years back, I was doing some research at the St. Clair County Register of Deeds office.  One of the clerks told me a story his grandfather used to tell him about Emma McMorran driving a motorized carriage around Port Huron before motor vehicles frequented the streets.  A year later when I was researching the Standard Novelty Company, I recalled that story about Emma McMorran.

Lauth Hotel Bob Davis Photo

Source:  Youtube, Port Huron, Past & Present by Bob Davis, Part 142

1901– The Lauth Hotel.  This hotel was not located in the McMorran & Davidson building.  But one cannot talk about the corner of 7th and Lapeer without a small discussion about the Lauth Hotel across the street.  This hotel was owned and operated by Chris Lauth.  He bought the property on the corner of Lapeer and Water Street in 1889.  Construction began in November 1900, and the hotel was open for business on June 15, 1901.  Were you aware that at one point Mr. Lauth actually contemplated building a drug store on that property instead of a hotel?  Thank goodness he did not go through with that plan.  What a unique hotel he built!

I do not know what year the above picture of the 7th and Lapeer area was taken.  I love this picture because it captures a streetcar and a horse and buggy.  Can you imagine living in a place where a horse drawn carriage and an electric railway car are your modes of transportation?

If you want to go back in time and experience the history of this area of Port Huron, I strongly recommend taking the time to watch Bob Davis’ historical videos No. 142 and No. 143.   Bob is an inspiration.  The work he has done and continues to do in his historical video series, Port Huron, Past & Present, is amazing.  He has a true gift for presentation and his videos offer a unique storytelling about the history of Port Huron.  Check him out when you have time.

1901 – The Flint Pantaloon Company.  This company originated in Flint, Michigan in 1896.  The original owners were Oren Stone and David Traxler.  In 1901, this company was purchased by McMorran and Davidson.  They manufactured pants out of the McMorran & Davidson building.  A storefront on Military Street, also owned by McMorran and Davidson, by the name of The Boston Store sold the pants.

Oren Stone and David Traxler

Source:  Stone Flint Woolen Mills, Flint, Michigan (Stone, Atwood & Co)

Flint Pantaloon Company Pic Sanborn Map

Source:  Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan, November 1903

1907 – The Standard Novelty Company closed up shop in 1906.  In 1907 McMorran and Davidson leased the third floor to Larned, Carter & Co.  This company came from Detroit and made overalls.  In some old photographs and postcards of the building you can notice etched letters displayed on the windows that read “Larned, Carter & Co.”

Philpott Company Snippet

Phil Pott Building

Source:  The Port Huron Times Herald, Tuesday June 11, 1910

1910 – The J.G. Philpot company started out as a small liquor business that operated a small space in the McMorran and Davidson building in 1893.  By 1910, it had expanded to a liquor and mail order business and it operated on every floor of the building.  The storefront on the ground floor was described as being the most elaborately furnished business in the city, resembling a bank with “heavy counters” and “fancy brass lattice work.”

The Ties that Bind

Wilbur Davidson died in 1913 and Henry passed in 1929.  Henry left one-half of his interest in the building to his daughters through a Trust Agreement.  I assume Wilbur’s spouse, Margaretta, inherited his one-half interest and it eventually passed to their children upon her death.

Fire and Building

Source:  Port Huron Times Herald, September 5, 1958

In 1958, when the building was damaged by fire it was owned by Mrs. A.E. West and Mrs. Arthur B. Davidson.  Mrs. West told local news reporters at the time:

“There hasn’t been a soul living in the building for a year and a half…..in fact the two upper floors have been locked.  The building used to be known as the McMorran-Davidson Building and was built around 1880.  Henry McMorran and Wilbur F. Davidson were the original owners.  It was during World War II that Mr. Wilbur Davidson, (Mr. Davidson’s grandson) purchased the McMorran interest in the building.  My sister in law and I inherited the building in 1956.”  (Source:  The Port Huron Times Herald, September 5, 1958.)

Wilbur Davidson Grandson

Source:  The Port Huron Times Herald, July 24, 1984.

McMorran and Davidson were a perfect match.  Their close business association grew into a close friendship.  Their families became close and that bond continued between their children and Mr. Davidson’s grandchildren.  Emma McMorran and Davidson’s grandson, Wilbur, kept the bond the two men had.  He served as her personal attorney and acted as the Registered Agent, Secretary, and after Andrew Murphy’s death, Trustee of the Henry McMorran Memorial Foundation.  Obviously, Emma trusted him.  I like to believe the close association between Emma and Wilbur would have made Henry and Wilbur happy.

Side View of the Active Lounge

Source:  708 Lapeer Avenue, Port Huron, Michigan, point2homes.com

When I drive past the corner of 7th and Lapeer, I see only a portion of what was left of a grand three-story building.  The front windows have been slightly altered, the corner triangular piece and a section located on the 7th Street side of the building is gone.  The windows on the side bricked over.  But a portion of the 2nd floor is still standing, and for that I am grateful.   When I see what is left of that old building, I am reminded of Henry and Wilbur and that makes me smile.


708 Lapeer Avenue, Port Huron, Michigan [images], point2homes.com

A Half Century of Electric Service in Port Huron 1884-1934; The Detroit Edison Company. Retrieved from: Google Books

A Hot Fire: The Opaline Fibre Works and Several Other Buildings Burned (1893, August 11). The Port Huron Daily Times.

A New Industry (1892, April 4). The Port Huron Daily Times.

A New Industry Will be Established in Port Huron at Once: Standard Novelty Company to Make Mechanic’s Clothing; From Forty to Fifty People Will be Employed (1899, July 11). The Port Huron Daily Times.

A New Industry Which Will Give Employment to Twenty-Five Men: Henry McMorran and W.F. Davidson and Projectors; All Kinds of Hides Will be Bought and Tanned (1894, November 13). The Port Huron Daily Times.

A Port Huron “Auto”: Standard Novelty Co. Will Build Horseless Carriages; A Sample Here (1899, August 21). The Port Huron Daily Times.

Appointment of Resident Agent (1951). Articles of Incorporation of the Henry McMorran Memorial Foundation.

Bob Davis, Port Huron, Past & Present, Part 142 & 143, Youtube.

Chris Lauth Hotel Will be an Ornament to the Town (1900, October 13). The Port Huron Daily Times.

City News: Chris Lauth is Removing the Little Frame Building at the Intersection of Water Street and Lapeer Avenue to One of the Lots on Eighth Street (1900, September 28). The Port Huron Daily Times.

City News: The Work of Laying Brick on Chris Lauth’s New Hotel Has Begun (1900, November 9). The Port Huron Daily Times.

Detroit Edison Benefit (1984, July 24). The Port Huron Times Herald.

Downtown Building Burns: Flames Sweep 3-Story Unit at 7th & Lapeer; Salvation Army Store Ruined; Other Concerns Hit (1958, September 5) [image & quote]. The Port Huron Times Herald.

Estate of Henry McMorran (1935), Docket No.s 60090, 66106. Memorandum Opinion. U.S. Tax Court, BTA Memorandum Decisions; Prentice-Hall Inc., New York.

Flint Pantaloon Company (1896) [image]. Headlight Flashes Along the Grand Trunk Railway System, Flint, Michigan, Volume II, No. 12; Flint, Michigan. Retrieved from: Google Books

Flint Pantaloon Company. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan, November 1903 [image]. Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4114pm.g041591903/?sp=14&r=0.315,0.348,0.434,0.148,0

Headed to Port Huron (1889, August 26). The Port Huron Daily Times.

Historic House Recalls Past: Beauty of 1890 Restored (1976, July 4). The Port Huron Times Herald Bicentennial Edition.

Horseless Carriage Ad (1899, July 26) [image]. Detroit Free Press.

Largest Wholesale Liquor Store and Mail Order House in Michigan: The J.G. Philpott Company Occupies Every Floor of McMorran & Davidson Building; Product Shipped to Every Portion of the State (1910, July 21). The Port Huron Times Herald.

Last Will and Testament of Emma McMorran, February 10, 1956 & Codicil to the Last Will and Testament of Emma McMorran, September 10, 1959.

Lauth’s Hotel Will be Ready for Occupancy on June 15th (1901, May 4). The Port Huron Daily Times.

Lauth Hotel Ad Open for Business (1901, July 6). The Port Huron Daily Times.

May Move to Port Huron: The Busy and Prosperous Flint Pantaloon Company (1902, January 13). The Port Huron Daily Times.

New Hotel: Chris Lauth Will Build One at the Junction of Lapeer Avenue and Water Street (1900, September 18). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline –Chris Lauth (1889, April 22). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline –Charles R. Stewart property (1889, December 14). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – City Railway Company Application (1890, July 10). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – Contract Awarded to build McMorran & Davidson Building (1891, August 24). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – McMorran & Davidson Building Permit (1891, September 15). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – Pabst Brewing Co. of Milwaulkee to occupy McMorran & Davidson Building (1891, September 29). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – Foresters of the city to occupy lodge rooms at McMorran & Davidson Building (1891, October 13). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – Lady Dentist McMorran & Davidson Building (1892, March 26). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – Drug Store in McMorran & Davidson Building, George Williamson (1892, August 30). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – Emma McMorran Enrolled at the University of Michigan for 1893-1894 School Year (1894, May 4). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – Clara McMorran Returns Home from School in Germantown, Pennsylvania (1894, December 22). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – Port Huron Fibre Garment Company fibre fabric in great demand (1895, March 28). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – Port Huron Fibre Garment Company Fire in McMorran & Davidson Building damages to Joseph O’Hearn saloon (1895, April 24). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – McMorran Family and Davidson Family Vacation in Florida (1897, March 9). The Port Huron Daily Times.

No Headline – B.J. McCormick Buys Standard Novelty Company Stock and Business (1902, December 11). The Port Huron Daily Times.

Out of Business: Flint Pantaloon Company Will Soon be a Thing of the Past (1906, December 12). The Port Huron Times Herald.

Residential Listing for Mrs. Emma McMorran (1888). Ann Arbor Directory, R.L. Polk & Co.; Ann Arbor, Michigan.

R.L. Polk & Co. (1897) – Standard Fibre Novelty Company Listing. Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1897, Volume XIII; Detroit, Michigan

Standard Novelty Company Polishine Ad (1900, March 20 and March 30). The Port Huron Daily Times.

State of Michigan Bureau of Labor (1896) – Listing for Port Huron Fibre Garment Company. Joint Documents for the State of Michigan for the year 1895 in four volumes. Volume I containing the 13th Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics, Lansing; Robert Smith & Co. (State Printers and Binders). Retrieved from Google Books.

Stone Flint Woolen Mills, Flint, Michigan (Stone, Atwood & Co) [image]. Retrieved from:

The Building Record (1891, November 13). The Port Huron Daily Times.

The Last Dash: Boston Store Closed Today for Final Preparations: How New Industry Was Brought to Port Huron (1907, May 17). The Port Huron Times Herald.

Wilbur F. Davidson Well Known Citizen and Capitalist Dies: His End Comes After Protracted Illness: Installed First Electric Lighting Plant in Port Huron: Also Built the First Auto Which Ever Appeared in this City: Had Been Prominent in Banking and Commercial Circles (1913, June 18). The Port Huron Times Herald.

A Christmas Feeling

A few ideas for a Christmas blog have been gnawing at me for the past few weeks, but with the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparation, writing time has been limited.  Today, I took my son to see the new “Grinch” movie.  I guess you could say the “green” guy swelled my heart three sizes, causing those Christmas thoughts to meander around in my head again.   Which led to the creation of this blog post, despite the fact I am under a time crunch today.  I guess some things they just got to come out of you one way or another.

When it comes to Christmas, my favorite part has always been the feelings of nostalgia I get when I listen to Christmas music, watch Christmas movies, or read Christmas stories.  I can’t quite put into words what those feelings do exactly, but in a roundabout way they make me feel incredible happy sad.  For those selective hours, minutes or days, all is right in the world as I daydream of times past and loved ones no longer with me, as I savor and take comfort in the present.   Who is it that coined the expression, “You can never go home again?”  While that might be true on a lot of levels, it does not apply at Christmas time.  For during the Christmas season, nostalgia reigns supreme, and children young and old experience what I like to call “The Christmas Feeling.”

“The Christmas Feeling” comes for me automatically when I hear Linus’ speech on what Christmas is all about

or I think about my favorite, frazzled Christmas mouse.

Twas the Night Before Christmas

That little mouse has stuck with me since I was a kid.  I was 5 years old in 1974 when the cartoon aired.  The fact that I can still remember this song from it sort of bewilders me.

But there are other times, “The Christmas Feeling” just creeps up and surprises me.

A few years back, I read an article published by The Washington Post in December of 1909 on Henry McMorran centered around his young grandson, Henry Gordon McMorran, Christmas and Santa Claus.  The fact that little Henry got to share an encounter with two politically famous men of the time, let alone ask them their opinion on Santa Claus, simply delights me.  But what truly appeals to me is the child’s perspective, the innocence of it all, and the “Christmas Feeling” I get when I read the article from 1909.  It took me back to my own childhood and my memories of Santa Claus.

Today it was the sentiment expressed in the eyes of the Grinch when he gave his faithful pup a small Christmas gift.  That sentiment  caused tears to stream down my cheeks without warning.  There was just a certain something I experienced that made me feel grateful and thankful for my life and the love that has surrounded me.  A picture of my beloved mom with her crazy hair sticking out every which way on a Christmas morning of my youth flashed in my mind.  I felt the hugs of my grandfather.  I tasted the popcorn balls and homemade punch my grandmother used to make.  I experienced the laughter I shared with my cousins over many Christmas dinners at the kiddie table and the great debates that ensued over which page we were going to color in my grandmother’s Christmas coloring book.

But most of all, in that moment, I felt the love of my children and the pride I feel for having been graced with each of them.  My Matthew John with his big smile who is all grown up now.  My Emily Violet with her big warm heart, who is finding her way in the world.  My little Miles, my ball of innocence.  His big hugs and delicious laugh that rings out like a bell.

Matt Pic 3

Matthew John


Emily Pic 1

Emily Violet

Miles Pic 1


If it were not for my Miles laughing and crying with me this fine Monday afternoon in a movie theater, this blog would not have come to be.  Our time today with the “Grinch” and my “Christmas Feeling” forever documented on this page.

Yeah, gifts are nice, but compared to the celebration of Christ’s birthday, childhood innocence, Santa Claus, the love of family and friends intermixed with Christmas nostalgia, gifts ain’t got a chance.

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night!


Wikipedia, 2018.  ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas [photograph].  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%27Twas_the_Night_Before_Christmas_(1974_TV_special)


The McMorran Dock


Image:  Henry McMorran receipt, circa 1876. Source:  John Stillson Probate File

In life we all get our start somewhere.  In most instances, that start begins with experiences and connections we share with people.  Henry McMorran’s start is no exception.  As I discussed in an earlier blog, Henry worked for W.H.B. Dowling as a clerk until his business closed in 1860.  During the Civil War period from 1861 to 1865, Henry went to work as a clerk for two men, John Stillson, who was engaged in the lumbering and mail stage business in Brockway & Port Huron, and Myron Williams, who is known for having been heavily involved in the lumbering and vessel building trade in the Marysville area with his son-in-law, Nelson Mills, starting in 1850.  In 1862, Myron sold his interest in the lumber mills to Nelson and focused entirely on his vessel business.

Henry developed a strong personal bond with Dowling, Stillson, and Williams.  By 1865, Henry was poised to open his own business, a grocery store, which he named H. McMorran & Co.  The location he chose to place this business was on Commercial Street.  The property on which it stood was owned by Williams and Dowling.   Henry’s ownership of this store is the root that grew to shape his business life.

H. McMorran & Co.

In November of 1865, Henry purchased a one-quarter interest in Lots (24), (25), (26), & (27) on the east side of Commercial Street from W.H.B. Dowling for $825.00.  At this time, the east-side of Commercial Street was in downtown Port Huron along the St. Clair River front and ran parallel with Merchant Street.

1867 - McMorran Property Where his store was

Image: 1867 Commercial Street with view of wharf where Henry operated H. McMorran & Co.  Source: Bird’s eye view of the city of Port Huron, Sarnia & Gratiot, St. Clair Co., Michigan 1867 & Point Edwards, Lambton Co., Canada West


1876 Commercial Street 24-27

Image:  Commercial Street, Henry’s Lots 24-27, 1876.  Source: Everts & Stewart

This area was best known in local circles as “The foot of Butler.”  The property included a wharf which fronted McMorran’s store.  The business started out as a wholesale and retail grocery business where Henry sold supplies to vessel owners and residents.  When Henry started his grocery business at the foot of Butler in 1865, James Moffat had already been running a ferry and tug business on Commercial Street, at the foot of Sarnia, since 1851.  By 1854, George E. Brockway was running his tug business on Commercial Street in the same location as Moffat.  At this time Brockway and Moffat started purchasing vessels together.

Henry McMorran receipt

Image:  Henry McMorran receipt, circa 1877. Source:  John Stillson Probate File

While most written accounts of Henry’s early days only speak to his operation of a grocery store, it is well documented that by 1866, Henry was also selling insurance and operating a vessel business with Myron Williams at the foot of Butler.  In 1866, Henry is listed as a claimant in two lawsuits involving claims against ship owners he had provided ship chandlery and vessel towing services for.

1866 – McMorran and Williams Tawas


Photograph: Tawas (1864), Tug, Towboat. Source:  Great Lakes Maritime Collection.  Alpena County George M. Fletcher Public Library


The first suit was filed August 16, 1866, in the United States District Court in Detroit against the Barge “Dart”.  The claim filed by Henry and Myron amounted to $35.00 for towing services performed by the tug “Tawas” for the barge “Dart” from Port Huron to Detroit on July 22, 1866.   Interestingly, the “Tawas” was a steamer built in 1864 by Myron Williams in Marysville.


Schooner Caledonia

Photograph: Schooner Caledonia, date unknown. Source: Great Lakes Vessels Index Online, Bowling Green State University

In the second suit filed December 8, 1866, Henry and Myron were again listed alongside other creditors of the schooner “Caledonia.”  In this case, their claim was for a larger sum of $1,866, plus interest for ship chandlery services, wherein Henry had provided furnishings for the schooner at Port Huron in October of 1866.  The United States District Court in Detroit ordered the schooner Caledonia to be sold at public auction in Port Huron on January 15, 1867, to pay the debts of the creditors listed in the lawsuit.

Emma and Henry

Image of Emma C. McMorran & Henry G. McMorran paintings, date unknown.  Source:  Port Huron Museum

The year 1866 is also important in Henry’s personal life.  It was on October 29th that he married the love of his life, Emma C. Williams.  Coincidentally, Emma was the daughter of Myron Williams and Mary Gallagher.  The ceremony was officiated by William H. Stein, Minister of the Gospel in Marysville.  The witnesses to his marriage were Emma’s sister, Hannah Williams, and Henry’s friend, Henry Batchelor.  Mr. Batchelor was the son of Jacob Batchelor, who was known as a lumbering business tycoon in Port Huron and later Saginaw.  It is Jacob Batchelor who left a special bequest in his Last Will & Testament to the city of Port Huron to erect a Soldiers Monument.  This monument still stands in Pine Grove Park today.

Soldiers Monument - Pine Grove Park

Soldiers Monument, Pine Grove Park, Port Huron, Michigan (circa 1905).  Source:  Detroit Publishing Company: Detroit Publishing Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

I read a neat piece on the Wm. Soutar Collection, from Friends, 1871-1878 owned by Lynn Secory, recently highlighted in a blog from the Port Huron Area History & Preservation Association.  One of the letters discussed in the collection was written by Henry Batchelor.  Henry McMorran is briefly mentioned in a letter as well.  Being that my research on Henry McMorran has led me to do extensive research on the Batchelor family, I was delighted to see the letters emerge.  What a contribution to Port Huron history and to those of us who research it!  I find the collection fascinating, and I thought it worthy of a mention here.

In 1868, Henry purchased his second one-quarter interest in Lots (24), (25), (26) & (27) on the east-side of Commercial Street from Myron Williams for $1,800.  This purchase made him an owner of one-half of the property on which H. McMorran & Co. stood.  As McMorran’s little grocery business at the dock grew, other businesses came to the location.  This business area eventually became known in the community as “The Dock” or “The McMorran Block.”  Other businessmen on Commercial Street included tug agent and vessel reporter Mr. Daniel Lynn, ship ticketing agent John W. Thompson, shipping freight agent J.E. Botsford, shipping and commission broker Theo R. Wright, ship broker insurance agent Erwin Carrington, and sailmaker D. Robeson.


Images: J.E. Botford & Co. Ad (1874) & Old Business In New Hands (Theo R. Wright) (1874).  Source:  The Port Huron Daily Times


Images:  D. Robeson Ad (1881) & J.W. Thompson Ad (1874).  Source:  The Port Huron Daily Times

In 1872, George E. Brockway moved his tug fleet office over McMorran’s storehouse. After Brockway moved in to the storehouse, Henry started buying vessels with Moffat and Brockway.  These vessels were used for commercial shipping and towing purposes.  One of the vessels he owned with them was the tug, George E. Brockway.

George Brockway - Tug

Sketch:  George E. Brockway (1867, Tug Towboat).  Source:  Great Lakes Maritime Collection.  Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library

This business relationship helped Henry expand his ownership of the property in the Commercial Street area as well.  In 1872, he purchased lots (18), (19), (20), and (21) on the east side of Commercial Street, south of his store, for $900.00 from George E. Brockway.  Henry’s longstanding relationship with James Moffat is an interesting one.  These two men were connected by family ties, which I will discuss in a later blog.

1876 Commercial Street Both

Image:  Commercial Street, Henry’s Lots 18-21 & Lots 24-27, 1876.  Source: Everts & Stewart

Henry soon found himself in the coal business down at the “McMorran Dock.”  He sold this fuel source to both vessels and the public.  By 1874, he was outbidding his competition and landing contracts with the city waterworks board.  It is also in 1874 when Henry purchased the remaining one-half interest in lots (24), (25), (26), and (27) from Myron for $15,000, and his business was said to be “booming.”  Henry’s purchase history of these lots over a nine-year span is representative of the value of his businesses on Commercial Street.  To think the value of his first property purchase for which he paid $850 had grown by nearly eighteen times when compared to his last purchase for $15,000.  It is no small wonder Henry was noted in the community as being one of the most prominent businessmen, having one of the largest businesses in the area.  In 1877, it was disclosed he was averaging sales of $1,000 a day, roughly $350,000 annually.  That was no small sum he was earning.  Today, his sales of $350,000 annually would equate to roughly $8,835,000 a year.

The Entrepreneur Emerges

Port Huron Savings Bank with Henry Signature

Image:  Port Huron Savings Bank receipt, circa 1884. Source: John Stillson Probate File

From 1865 to 1878, in addition to operating his businesses at the dock, Henry also became involved with other business ventures and served as a leader in the community.  He was an original stockholder involved in the organization of “The Port Huron Times” newspaper in 1869.  He served as an Alderman for the City of Port Huron in 1867 and as elected Treasurer in 1876.  In 1872, Henry became an original stockholder, trustee, and first Vice-President of the Port Huron Savings Bank.  Upon the death of Daniel B. Harrington in 1878, he became its President.  Henry started a lumber transportation business in 1873 with his brother-in-law, Nelson Mills, known as “The Mills Transportation Company.”  Henry served as Vice-President for this company.

Steamer Pawnee Mills Trans Co.

Photograph:  Steamer Pawnee, 1903.  Source:  Port Huron Daily Times

In 1874, Henry purchased the old Linabury flour mill, on the east side of Water Street.   He bought this business in partnership with Myron Williams with the intention of learning the flour mill business and moving the mill equipment to another location.

Lindbury Flour Mill Location 1876

Image:  Linabury Mill site, 1876.  Source: Everts & Stewart

In 1877, Henry would build his Farmers’ Elevator across the street from this mill on the corner of Water and Third Street.

Aug 1887 - Farmers Elevator McMorran & Co Sanborn Fire Maps

Image:  Farmers Elevator, 1887.  Source:  Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan.

True to his word, Henry did indeed move the equipment from the Linabury mill site.  In October of 1877, he opened his new mill southeast of the Linabury Mill site at the mouth of Black River stretching south all the way to Court Street along the St. Clair River.  This property included a wharf on Black River, a flouring mill, cooper shop, and a second Farmers Elevator (later known as the McMorran Elevator).

McMorran & Co 1887 Sanborn Fire Map 2

Image:  McMorran & Co., 1887.  Source:  Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan.

He called his new business, McMorran & Co. and advertised as Michigan Mills.  Years after Myron Williams death in 1884, Henry reorganized this business in 1889 with his son, David McMorran, and Charles F. Harrington, calling it the McMorran Milling Company.  Around the 1890s, Henry leased this mill to George R. Davidson for roughly five years.

McMorran & Co 1878 Ad Michigan Mills

Image:  McMorran & Co. & Michigan Mills, 1878.  Source:  The Port Huron Daily Times

Michigan Mills

Image:  Michigan Mills, 1893.  Source:  The Port Huron Daily Times

In January of 1878, just before Henry became involved in the organization of the Port Huron & Northwestern Railroad, serving as its General Manager, he disposed of his businesses on Commercial Street to William Campfield, Denis Jones, and D. Robeson.

Port Huron and Northwestern Railway receipt 3

Image:  Port Huron & Northwestern Railway letterhead, circa 1884.  Source:  John Stillson Probate File, 1878

William Campfield and Dennis Jones had worked for Henry for many years.  They took over the grocery, coal, port, and oil businesses and incorporated as W.W. Campfield & Co.  Mr. D. Robeson and his son, William Robeson, took over the ship chandlery business.  Mr. Robeson, who had been operating a sail loft in another building on Commercial Street, re-purposed part of the top floor of McMorran’s grocery to accommodate his sail loft business, and George E. Brockway continued to run his tugging business office from this location.  It has been said the top of McMorran’s grocery store held a balcony with a glass front where the river and lake could be seen for several miles and scanned for the approach of vessels.

Campfield & D McMorran

Image:  W.W. Campfield & Co. Ad, 1879 & D. McMorran & Co. Ad, 1892.  Source:  The Port Huron Daily Times

Interestingly, Henry did not sell his commercial properties on Commercial Street when he disposed of his businesses there.  In fact, Henry held ownership of this property for most of his life, earning income from the commercial rent of the location.  When his son, David McMorran, graduated from the University of Michigan in 1892, Henry approached his old employee, Dennis Jones, who was still operating as W.W. Campfield & Co. on Commercial Street.  He purchased the business back from him.  He reorganized it as D. McMorran & Co.  Dennis Jones stayed on with the new company acting as manager.

White Star Line - The Tashmoo Foot of Butler

Photograph:  The Tashmoo at Port Huron, circa 1906.  Source:  Detroit Publishing Company.  Detroit Publishing Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

Other businesses came and went over time on the Commercial Street property.  Probably the most well-known business that operated on McMorran’s property was the White Star Line ticket office and dock.  Perhaps you have seen pictures of the office or of “The Tashmoo” docking at Port Huron.  Henry finally sold this property to the White Star Line of Detroit in March of 1927, just a few years before his death in 1929.

And to Think It All Happened on Commercial Street!

It is with H. McMorran & Co. where we begin to see McMorran’s entrepreneurial nature emerge as he stretches his grocery business into a ship chandlery, insurance, coal, oil, vessel, and commercial property rental business.  It is during this time Henry starts to build his image and become a vital member in the Port Huron community.  It is in operating this business where his next business ideas take root in the railroad, grain elevator, milling, ferry, wrecking and real estate businesses.

Henry McMorran Pen Sketch 2

Image:  Henry McMorran, Capitalist, 1905.  Source:  Our Michigan Friends “As We See Em.”

This caricature of Henry was printed in Our Michigan Friends “As We See Em” by the Newspaper Cartoonists Association of Michigan in 1905.  This cartoon was applicable to him then, but what most people do not know is it was also applicable to him in 1865.  While the times dictated the title of “Capitalist”, Henry showed early on he had the makings of what we would call an “Entrepreneur” today.  His ability and interest in being involved with many business enterprises at one time and his willingness to take chances on new businesses did not start in 1905.  In fact, it all started in 1865 with H. McMorran & Co. down at “The Dock.”


An Old Business in New Hands (1874, March 7) [image].  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Barge Dart.  Legal Notice.  District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Michigan, as In Admiralty.  (1866, August 31).  Detroit Free Press.

Bird’s Eye View of the City of Port Huron, Sarnia & Gratiot, St. Clair Co., Michigan 1867 & Point Edwards, Lambton Co., Canada West (1867) [image – Commercial Street].

Business Booming Michigan Mills (1893, June 26).  The Port Huron Daily Times

Business Prospects at “The Dock.” (1874, March 10).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Caledonia:  Registry and Rig Information.  Historical Collections of the Great Lakes. Bowling Green State University: Great Lakes Vessels Online Index [photograph].  Retrieved from:  http://greatlakes.bgsu.edu/vessel/view/000969

City Officials (1875, May 4).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Coal (1874, Aug. 8).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Crampton, E.J. (1921).  History of the St. Clair River.  St. Clair Michigan: The St. Clair Republican.

  1. McMorran & Co. Ad (1892, July 19) [image]. The Port Huron Daily Times.
  2. Robeson Ad (1881, March 26) [image]. The Port Huron Daily Times.

Daily Stage (stage coaches carried the U.S. Mail)– P. Huron & Brockway by J. Stillson & Co. (January 5, 1856).  William Lee Jenks Papers, 1856-1936.  Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Call No.  851894 Aa2.

David McMorran is Home from the University (1892, March 26).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Death of Henry McMorran (1929, July 19).  The Times Herald.

Deed from W.H.B. Dowling to Henry McMorran dated November 18, 1865 & recorded December 1, 1865, Liber 20, Page 416. Conveyance of one-quarter of Lots (24), (25), (26), & (27) on the east-side of Commercial Street according to Thorn’s Plat in the Village of Port Huron (now City).  St. Clair County Register of Deeds Office.

Deed from Miron Williams & wife to Henry McMorran dated March 11, 1868, recorded April 28, 1868, Liber 28, Page 531.  Conveyance of one-quarter of Lots (24), (25), (26), & (27) on the east-side of Commercial Street according to Thorn’s Plat of said City of Port Huron.  St. Clair County Register of Deeds Office.

Deed from George E. Brockway to Myron Williams and Henry McMorran dated June 14, 1873 & recorded July 14th, 1873, Liber 47, Page 526.  To replace deed recorded February 23, 1872, Liber 37, Page 310, which contained a description error.  Conveyance of one-half of Lots (18), (19), (20), & (21) on the east-side of Commercial Street according to Thorn’s Plat of said City.  St. Clair County Register of Deeds Office.

Deed from Myron Williams & wife to Henry McMorran dated February 24, 1874, recorded February 26, 1874, Liber 49, Page 496.  Conveyance of one-half of Lots (24), (25), (26), & (27) on the east-side of Commercial Street according to Thorn’s Plat of said City.  St. Clair County Register of Deeds Office.

Deed from Henry McMorran to the White Star Line of Detroit, Michigan, a Michigan Corporation dated August 25, 1925, recorded March 7, 1927, Liber 289, Page 487.  Conveyance of Lots (24), (25), (26), & (27) on the east-side of Commercial Street in Thorn’s Plat.  St. Clair County Register of Deed’s Office.

Emma C. Williams Portrait, date unknown [image of painting].  Port Huron Museum, Port Huron, Michigan.

Everts & Stewart (1876).  Port Huron City 1, Combination atlas map of St. Clair County, Michigan: Philadelphia [image:  Commercial Street].  Retrieved from:  http://www.historicmapworks.com/Map/US/22823/Port+Huron+City+1/St.+Clair+County+1876/Michigan/

George E. Brockway (1867, Tug Towboat) [sketch].  Great Lakes Maritime Collection.  Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library.  Retrieved from:  http://greatlakeships.org/2903078/data?n=1

Henry G. McMorran Portrait, date unknown [image of painting].  Port Huron Museum, Port Huron, Michigan.

Henry McMorran: Sketch of the Career of the Republican Candidate for Representative in Congress (1902, October 21).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Hotchkiss, G.W. (1898).  History of the Lumber and Forest Industry of the Northwest, pp. 55-56. Chicago: George H. Hotchkiss & Co.  Retrieved from:  https://books.google.com/books?id=U5c4AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA55&lpg=PA55&dq=myron+williams+nelson+mills+two+thousand+acres&source=bl&ots=JtHoMhc3Vg&sig=UjAlcnkumk9lO2–VslalgSLLdw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwixxYfi1-LdAhUp5IMKHTRvC7wQ6AEwAnoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=myron%20williams%20nelson%20mills%20two%20thousand%20acres&f=false

History of Marysville (2018).  Retrieved from:  http://www.cityofmarysvillemi.com/about-us/museum/history-of-marysville

J.E. Botford & Co. Ad (1874).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Jenks, W.L. (1912).  St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress and Its Principal Interests, Volume 1, p. 401, Ferries.  Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co.

John Stillson: Lessee lumber business, Lewis Brockway, Owner (June 1, 1855); Mail stage carrier business in Brockway and Port Huron (January 5, 1856).  William Lee Jenks Papers, 1856-1936.  Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Call No.  851894 Aa2.

John Stillson Probate File (Feb. 25, 1878).  [images:  Henry McMorran receipt, circa 1876, Henry McMorran receipt, circa 1877, Port Huron Savings Bank receipt, circa 1884, & Port Huron & Northwestern Railway letterhead, circa 1884]. Michigan Wills and Probate Records 1784-1980; Provo, UT, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.

J.W. Thompson Jr. Ad (1874) [image].  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Marine News, Steamer Pawnee, Mills Transportation Co. (1903, July 28) [photograph].  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Marine – Port of Detroit, December 5, Vessel Sales (1872, Dec. 2), Detroit Free Press.

McMorran Milling Company.  McMorran Milling Company Minutes.  Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Call No.  852114 B.B.2

Michigan Mills (1893, July 17) [image].  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Michigan Mills McMorran & Co. Ad (1878, April 15) [image].  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Mills Transportation Company of Marysville (1873, Oct. 10), The Port Huron Daily Times.

New ferry building for Moffat and Brockway (July 8, 1854).  William Lee Jenks Papers, 1856-1936.  Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Call No.  851894 Aa2.

Notice sale of W.W. Campfield & Co and Incorporation of D. McMorran & Co. (1892, April 16).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Port Huron (1877, Sept. 9).  Detroit Free Press.

Port Huron Area History & Preservation Association (2018).  Wm. Soutar Collection, from Friends 1871-1878.  Retrieved from:  https://phahpa.org/2018/09/04/wm-soutar-collection-from-friends-1871-1878/

Port Huron Industries – Its’ Flouring Mills – What There Is and What is Needed? (1873, Oct. 21).  The Port Huron Times.

Ruger, A. & Chicago Lithographing Co., contributors (1867).  Bird’s eye view of the city of Port Huron, Sarnia & Gratiot, St. Clair Co., Michigan 1867 & Point Edwards, Lambton Co., Canada West, Chicago: Chicago Lithographing Co. [image:  Commercial Street with view of wharf].  Retrieved from:  https://www.loc.gov/item/73693443/

Sale of the Linabury Mill Property (1874, February 28).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Sanborn Map Company (Aug. 1887) [images:  Linabury Mill, Farmers Elevator & McMorran & Co]. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan.    Retrieved from the Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4114pm.g041591887/?sp=5&r=0.24,0.772,0.782,0.296,0

Savings Bank (1872, Oct. 22) The Port Huron Daily Times.

Schooner Caledonia.  Legal Notices.  District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Michigan, as In Admiralty.  (1866, December 17) & (1867, January 8).  Detroit Free Press.

Schooner Caledonia, date unknown, Great Lakes Vessels Index Online [photograph] – Bowling Green State University. Retrieved from:  http://greatlakes.bgsu.edu/vessel/view/000969

Ship Building:  List of Vessels Built on St. Clair River Now in Commission (1873, May 9).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Sketch of Henry McMorran (1910, Sept.1).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Soldiers Monument, Pine Grove Park, Port Huron, Michigan (circa 1905) [photograph].  Detroit Publishing Company: Detroit Publishing Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).  Retrieved from:  https://www.loc.gov/item/2016805319/

Tawas (1864), Tug, Towboat [photograph].  Great Lakes Maritime Collection.  Alpena County George M. Fletcher Public Library.  Retrieved from:  http://greatlakeships.org/2897909/data?n=3

Tawas (Propeller), exploded, 14 May 1874.  Maritime History of the Great Lakes.  Retrieved from:  http://images.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/48558/data?n=1

The Batchelor Will:  A General Contest Commenced by Henry Batchelor – Port Huron’s Interest in the Matter (1892, June 3).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

The Savings Bank (1878, July 16) The Port Huron Daily Times.

The Tashmoo at Port Huron (circa 1906) [photograph].  Detroit Publishing Company.  Detroit Publishing Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).  Retrieved from:  https://www.loc.gov/resource/det.4a13030/

Unveiled: An Elegant Picture of the late Jacob F. Batchelor Unveiled at Ladies Library Hall – Speeches, etc. (1892, October 13).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com, Operations Inc., 2007.  Original data:  Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for Michigan, 1862-1866; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M773, 15 rolls); Records of the Internal Revenue Service, Record Group 58; The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Henry McMorran & H. McMorran & Co. cited for tax years 1865 and 1866 through online search “Henry McMorran” in Ancestry.com U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 [database on-line].

W.W. Campfield & Co. Ad (1879, March 15) [image].  The Port Huron Daily Times.

The “Henry McMorran”


Articles of Association

The Port Huron and Northwestern Railway Company

In March of 1878, D.B. Harrington, John P. Sanborn, Henry Howard, Fred L. Wells, Charles A. Ward, William Hartsuff, James Beard, Henry McMorran, Silas S. Ballentine, Peter B. Sanborn and Charles R. Brown, came together to form the Port Huron and Northwestern Railway Company.  They formed the company to construct a railroad with a gauge of three feet that would travel in the city of Port Huron and through a portion of St. Clair, Sanilac, and Huron counties to the village of Port Austin.  Each member held 100 shares in the railroad, except D.B. Harrington; he held 110 shares.

Harrington and Wells

D. B. Harrington and Fred L. Wells

Brown and McMorran

Charles R. Brown and Henry McMorran

Hartsuff and Howard

Gen. William Hartsuff and Henry Howard

The company commissioned the Porter, Bell and Co. Locomotive Works to build a narrow-gauge steam engine capable of hauling passenger traffic and freight.  The contract was signed December 5, 1878.  It was anticipated the engine would weigh 19 thousand pounds and exhibit driving wheels 36″ in diameter and cylinders 8″ in diameter.  Excitement was felt throughout the city as all waited for delivery of the machinery.  When the new Locomotive No. 1 (2-4-0) arrived in Port Huron, it was christened the “D.B. Harrington” in honor of the original shareholder who had passed away the previous July.

DB Harrington Pic

D.B. Harrington engine, 2018

The engine only ran on the railroad for a short period.  It was sold some time after 1884.  Over the years it held many different homes, but in 1991, it found its way back home to the Port Huron Museum.  It is amazing this little engine survived all of these years.  I was very happy to read the Community Foundation, Port Huron Museum, SC4 and the Gaffney family have all joined together to restore and preserve this historical treasure.

The Road to the “Henry McMorran.”

While the D.B. Harrington was the first engine purchased by the Port Huron and Northwestern Railroad, it was not the first narrow gauge engine built by Porter, Bell and Co. Locomotive Works to catch their eye.  In fact, before the purchase of the D.B. Harrington all the eyes of Port Huron were focused on the little narrow gauge steam engine James Beard was running to haul lumber in Alcona County, Michigan.  A little engine he called the “Henry McMorran.”

James Beard and Henry McMorran were well acquainted in business.  They were both shareholders in the Port Huron and Northwestern Railroad and the Port Huron Savings Bank. However, their connection ran deeper than just business.  It is obvious a strong friendship and trust existed between the two men.  This is marked by the fact that James Beard named the beloved little steam engine that saved his business in Alcona County the “Henry McMorran.” James also named Henry to act as the fiduciary of his estate, which he did when James passed away in 1882.    I imagine their friendship as a meeting of the minds, as both men liked to have their hands in the cookie jar and shared an entrepreneurial spirit.  During their lifetimes both men would be associated with many business ventures.

In. 1842, when James was 27 years old, he and his brother, John Beard, took over the lumber mill business originally run by their father.  Because of the high demand placed on vessels to haul lumber and the inflated costs to ship it, James and John had to split the chores of the business.  One of the brothers took leave of cutting the logs, while the other oversaw hauling the logs to Detroit to be sold.  This would have proved taxing and laborious for the brothers, not to mention costly to their business.  To remedy the situation, James  moved to Detroit in 1845 to start a lumber yard.  He chose a location close to the waterfront situated down river from the old Detroit waterworks dock at Jefferson and Randolph street.  While James lived in Detroit he also started a fire company there.  This would seem a likely choice for James, as fire would have been the greatest threat to the lumber industry.

City of Detroit Areas

City of Detroit Areas, Source: Wikipedia

By 1856, the Beard brothers dissolved their business, and James partnered up with a friend he had met in Detroit, Elijah R. Haynes, and together they ran a lumber mill business in Port Huron.  According to William Lee Jenks, the men bought and operated the mill that David Whitman had built in 1853 on the St. Clair River next to the Simon Petit and A. & H. Fish mill.  At this location, their business operated off of logs that were transported down the Black River from Sanilac County.  They ran this mill until about 1863.

The next business venture for Haynes and Beard came about in 1865 in the lower northern region of Michigan in Alcona County.  The catalyst behind this grand adventure into Michigan’s wilderness had to be a reaction to high competition in the lumbering business in Port Huron at the time.  Too many mills were operating and logs were scarce, making them dependent on lumber from outside of the area.  The costs associated with transporting the lumber were high.  By constructing a saw mill in a remote location, Beard and Haynes would have access to plenty of lumber in their own backyard, which would equate to greater profits.  They built the first saw mill in Alcona Township in partnership with two other Port Huron natives, John Johnston and F. H. Vanderburg.  They went by the firm name Johnston Haynes & Co.

In the beginning, the work was tough.  Workers were scarce and hard to come by because of the remote location.  Men demanded a higher wage to come out and work in an uninhibited place.  Supplies were limited and could only be delivered by small boats to the edge of the lake shore.  Further complicating the delivery of supplies was the fact that large vessel owners who could transport the small boats necessary to approach the shore line did not think it worth their time and effort to deliver a meager volume of supplies to a small band of logging men working in this remote area.

Lumber Camp

Lumber Camp.  Source: Alcona County Historical Society

By 1871, Johnston and Vanderburg decided to get out of the lumber business in Alcona due to the hardships associated with it.  Beard and Haynes held firm in their belief their business could be successful and pushed forward.  Little by little, they made a dent in overcoming the hardships.  They brought working men to the area and set up logging camps for them to live in.  They began cutting timber along the shore of Lake Huron, and they managed to haul logs to the mill on carts using manpower along wood rails and carts pulled by horse power.  However, these forms of transportation were limiting.  Hauling logs was best completed by aid of the snow that would cover the area in the winter months (Prescott, R.E., 1934).

log jammer to load logs onto rail cars

Workers using a log jammer to load logs onto a rail cart.  Source:  Ronald J. Sortor, owner

In 1875, Elijah Haynes died.  James assumed his part of the business and took his son, F.E. Beard, into business with him as James Beard & Co.  As the timber along the shore of Lake Huron was used up, Beard & Co. had to reach back westward into the expansive pine woods to feed their saw mill.  This made transportation by cart and horsepower very time intensive, and hauls to the mill took greater lengths of time.  While logging was known to be highly profitable, these profits were heavily dependent upon transportation.  The logs had to be able to get from the woods to the mill, then from the mill to the shoreline to be transported to the consumer.  Any interruptions or delays in transportation could spell bankruptcy.

History of Lake Huron Shore - Logging Train

Alger Long Timber Train, Alcona County.  Source:  H.R. Page and Co., 1883

In 1876, Winfried Scott Gerrish, a lumberman in Clare County, Michigan, attended the World’s Fair in Philadelphia where he witnessed a locomotive that could run on a narrow-gauge track.  On his return, this new discovery led him to build a narrow-gauge track to haul the logs for his mill.  He was able to haul logs all year round, and with a speed he had not been afforded before.  While logging railroads were in existence in 1876, there were none in Clare or Alcona County.  Many in the area were skeptical until the implementation of hauling logs via a narrow-gauge railroad changed Gerrish’s fortune.  At the time Gerrish built his railroad, he was facing bankruptcy and the use of this new method of transportation quickly made him into a very rich man.

By 1876, with the use of a logging railroad in close proximity, success for a lumbering entrepreneur in the Alcona area was guaranteed.  This is well established by the fact the area drew the attention of Alger, Smith & Company, who put down a mill with a team of 600 men in the Black River area of Alcona Township.  Alger, Smith & Company specialized in long timber logging and would become the largest logging company in the world from 1876 to 1880.

rollway of timber logging railroad

Rollway of Timber on a Logging Railroad.  Source:  North County History Facebook Page

The winter of 1877-78 was a mild one.  The lack of snow caused transportation issues at the Beard mill and spelled a loss of profits for the company.  With the Alger, Smith & Company in his backyard and the winter loss under his belt, Beard followed in Gerrish’s footsteps and began cutting out and leveling road to build a narrow-gauge railroad track in May of 1878.  By July 3 of the same year, three miles of track had been completed, and his new steam engine was running on it.  He christened the narrow gauge steam engine “Henry McMorran.”  By August, four and a half miles were completed and his little logging railroad was fully operating.  On August 20, 1878, The Port Huron Daily Times reported on the Beard road as follows:  “… for about two miles the road runs through a thick cedar swamp, where nothing can be seen except the narrow opening for which the track runs and the thick branches on either side …. the road has cars all made by the Phoenix Iron Works of this city and costing $75.00 dollars each … the company have one locomotive and in hauling logs eight cars carrying 2,500 feet of logs, make up a train … we are pleased to learn that the road is likely to prove an entire success, financially and otherwise.”

On August 28, 1878, The Port Huron Daily Times ran an article about James and his railroad originally published in the Alcona County Review that gave the following details about his handsome locomotive:  “The locomotive ‘H. McMorran’ used on the road was built expressly for Messrs. Beard & Co. at the Porter, Bell and Co. Locomotive Works of Pittsburg, PA, and we do not hesitate to say that it is an excellent piece of machinery.  Its weight is 10 ton; size of cylinder 10 x 16 inches; drive wheel 36 inches in diameter.  The engineer, Benjamin Dupont, is certainly practical in his business.  He not only knows how to care for and run a locomotive, but can build one if required.  He was formerly an employee in the shop where the McMorran was built, and came with it to Alcona.”

It was at this time that James Beard decided to switch gears and leave the long timber logging to Algers, Smith and Co. and concentrate on short logging.  He felt with the advancement of such a large company entering his area, it would be a relative short time before long timber prices dropped due to mass manufacturing.  His tract of land contained pine that numbered approximately at 25 to 30 million.  He had 70 men within his employ.  He operated a general store to serve local farmers and his employees.  With the construction of his tiny railroad, James Beard had plenty of work to do, and he was content in his backwoods wilderness.

The Work of Time

As I continue to pursue my research of Henry McMorran, I am frequently reminded of those who came before me and dedicated themselves to the act of presenting historical information that offers historical accounts of events, people, and places.  Further, I am truly appreciative of those individuals and organizations that work diligently every day to preserve and provide access to historical materials.  Without these two communities, my research would not be possible today.  Historical research and preservation is truly a gift that keeps giving to the whole of society, whether we are cognizant of it or not.  What we can derive from this gift is bountiful and forever endless in what it teaches us. Those of us who seek knowledge of the past can also contribute to its teachings by passing on what we have found in our research and study, often finding new details that lead to further discovery or clarification of historical events that can enrich our history for future generations to expound upon.  This blog post serves as an example of just that.

This post is possible through the culminating efforts of Roland E. Prescott, writer and publisher of the Alcona County Herald, the Library Board of Alcona County, Michigan, Charlotte McMorran, Pamela Fox, the Port Huron Museum, William Lee Jenks, and T.J. Gaffney.  I wanted to end this blog by taking the time to pay homage to these individuals and organizations who took the time and effort to create, research and preserve the printed materials and artifacts which allow me to tell the story of the Henry G. McMorran and the D.B. Harrington narrow gauge steam engines.  My appreciation is best expressed by the words of Roland E. Prescott, who said in great wisdom, “It is of great events – physical, political, and social, that histories are written.  It is of small events and by ordinary human beings that history is made, and records compiled by historians reflect only the surface.  The facts – or versions accepted as facts – omit two most important elements necessary for their understanding:  the ‘atmosphere’ prevailing at the time, the events transpiring, and the human equation.  A frontier region is open by adventurers who are followed by settlers and permanent home builders.  Era blends into era each generation too busy with the present to record the past; and links with the earlier days are broken, unless some effort is made to preserve them in printed form.  This is the mission of these little books – to give a picture of existing conditions and to preserve the ‘atmosphere’ of the era, as described by those who lived through it or from information obtained from other authentic sources.”  Prescott’s mission resonates with me and is exactly the reason why I perform and share my work through this blog.  Without the writings of Mr. Prescott and William Lee Jenks, the research efforts of Charlotte McMorran, and the preservation efforts of Pamela Fox, the Library Board of Alcona County, Michigan, the Port Huron Museum, and T.J. Gaffney, this post would not be possible.  Thank you.


Alcona County Historical Society website (n.d.)  Lumber Camp [image].  Retrieved from:  http://www.alconahistoricalsociety.com/photos.html

Articles of Incorporation for the Port Huron and Northwestern Railway Company (1878).  Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).  Retrieved from:  https://cofs.lara.state.mi.us/corpweb/CorpSearch/CorpSearch.aspx

Austin, D. (2018).  Water Works Park Tower.  Historic Detroit.org.  Retrieved from:  http://www.historicdetroit.org/building/water-works-park-tower/

Bird, M.J. (2012).  Gerrish and his logging railroad: Part one.  Retrieved from:  https://bluelemon.me/2012/08/16/gerrish-and-his-logging-railroad-part-1/

Bunn, B. (1991, March 27).  Historic locomotive returns.  The Times Herald.

Community Foundation of St. Clair County (2018).  The D.B. Harrington [image].  Retrieved from:  http://www.stclairfoundation.org/news/more/db_harrington_moving_to_sc4 

D.B. Harrington (1878, July 8).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Death of Elijah R. Haynes (1875, April 27).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Dinsmore, R.E. (1984).  Archaeological perspectives of the lumber industry in northern lower Michigan 1865 to 1920: Master’s Thesis.  Western Michigan University ScholarWorks at WMU.  Retrieved from:  http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2498&context=masters_theses

Find A Grave (2010) [image of Charles R. Brown].  Retrieved from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54203634/charles-richards-brown 

Find A Grave (2011) [image of Gen. William Hartsuff].  Retrieved from:  https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/80234226/william-alexander-hartsuff

Fred L. Wells Died Suddenly (1904, May 16).  The Port Huron Daily Times [image of Fred L. Wells].

Fuller, G. N. (Ed.) (1924-1926).  Historic Michigan, Land of the Great Lakes: It’s life, resources, industries, people, politics, government, wars, institutions, achievements, the press, schools and churches, legendary and prehistoric lore, Volume 3.  Dayton, Ohio: National Historical Association, Inc.

Henry McMorran Was A Pioneer (1903, Sept. 2).  The Port Huron Daily Times [image of Henry McMorran]

H.R. Page and Co. (1883).  History of the Lake Huron Shore:  With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers.

H.R. Page and Co. (1883).  History of the Lake Huron Shore:  With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers.  Long Timber Train [image]..

James Beard (1882, April 29).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Jenks, W.L. (1912).  St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress and Its Principal Interests, Volume 1, p. 368, The Browning Mill.  Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co.

Jenks, W.L. (1912).  St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress and Its Principal Interests [image of D.B. Harrington], Volume 2.  Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co.

Locomotive ‘Henry McMorran’, (1878, July 9).  The Port Huron Daily Times

Locomotive No. 1 (1879, February 3).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Locomotive purchased (1878, December 5).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Michigan Probate Court (St. Clair County), James Beard Estate, Calendar 3, pages 1002-1056, Case No. 1049, 1882, Ancestry.com – Michigan Wills and Probate Records 1784-1980 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestr.com Operations Inc., 2015.

Mr. Beard’s railroad (1878, August 20).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

North County History Facebook Page (n.d.).  Rollway of Timber on a Logging Railroad [image].  Retrieved from:  https://www.facebook.com/northcountryhistory/photos/a.390072611170471.1073741830.201553756689025/390086217835777/?type=3&theater

Prescott, R.E. (1934).  Historical Tales of the Huron Shore Region and Rhymes.  Michigan: Alcona County Herald.

Savings bank (1872, October 22).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Sortor, R.J. (1997).  Lumber Camps in the Curtisville Area.  Log Jammer used to load logs onto a rail cart [image].  Retrieved from:  http://nvance.tripod.com/Alclumber.html

Summer Logging (1878, August 28).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Wikipedia (2017).  Alcona Township, Michigan.  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcona_Township,_Michigan

Wikipedia (2018).  Henry Howard (Michigan), [image].  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Howard_(Michigan)

Wikipedia (2018) National Register of Historic Places Listing in Detroit, [image City of Detroit Areas].  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Register_of_Historic_Places_listings_in_Detroit



Those of Us Who Try…. DO: Part II

There was more to R.C. Mudge than just making paper garments.  He enjoyed music, acting, and giving to those less fortunate than himself.  In 1889, he printed a piece of piano sheet music titled “The Paper Vest Gallop” composed by J.E. Fancher from the sulphite paper used to make his paper garments.  He gave out free copies to anyone in the Port Huron community who requested one.  At the time, the cost of a piece of sheet music was 50 cents.  Today, that would equate to $12.50.  The sheet music survives and is part of the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection at the John Hopkins Sheridan Libraries & University Museums archive.  In addition to printing off and giving out free music, Mudge was praised many times by the Port Huron community for donating paper blankets to the Port Huron Hospital and Home Association and paper vests to local mail carriers.

Paper Vest Gallop

Before R.C. Mudge started making paper garments, he performed briefly on the vaudeville stage.  He gave up acting when he and his wife, Delphine, had their daughter, Generva Delphine, who went by the name Eva.  Little Eva Mudge shared her father’s artistic inclination and love of music.

In 1890, R.C. Mudge sold his interest in the paper garment business to Henry McMorran and Wilbur Davidson.  Together, they reorganized the company under the name The Port Huron Paper Clothing Company.  The factory was moved from Butler Street to the Benedict Block on Military Street.   Sometime in 1891, Mudge left Port Huron and moved to Brooklyn, New York.  By 1893, little Eva Mudge was on her way to becoming a child actress dancing and singing her way into the hearts of New York theater goers.

In 1895, Eva Mudge made her debut on the national stage alongside Sadie Hasson, a very well-known theater actress at the time.  Sadie was best known for her theatrical partnership and marriage to actor, Joseph J. Dowling.  By the time Sadie shared the stage with Eva, she was newly divorced from Mr. Dowling and nearing the end of her acting career.  She retired in 1901 and settled in Mount Clemens, Michigan, until her death in 1937.

eva and sally 2

Eva Mudge and Sadie Hasson

hasson playbill

Advertising brochure for Nobody’s Claim, circa 1880

Eva ended up catching the eye of Buffalo Bill Cody and she was asked to play a small role in his Wild West Show.  She made instant friends with Walter E. Scott, aka Death Valley Scotty, who shot an apple off the top of her head in the show.  I estimate she traveled off and on with Buffalo Bill between the years 1894 to 1900.  I managed to find a photograph of this Woodland’s beaded deer skin jacket once owned by R.C. Mudge.  On the inside collar is a handwritten inscription that reads “Presented to R.C. Mudge, W.F. Cody, October 20, 1894.”

jacket and bill

Woodland’s Beaded Deer Skin Jacket, circa 1894 & Buffalo Bill Cody, date unknown

quick change artist photo

Eva Mudge became a popular vaudeville star in the early 1900’s with her quick change act, “The Military Maid“.    During her performance she would change into various costumes to include a nurse, sailor, a confederate solider and Stonewall Jackson.  She mesmerized audiences nationally and internationally in this role and she became known as the fastest quick change artist on vaudeville.  In her later years, when asked about the mechanics of her quick change secret, she disclosed she had two dressers who could pull a string on the back of her costume that would instantaneously make it fall off.



Eva Mudge NYPL Digital Collections

Eva Mudge, date unknown, NYPL

R.C. Mudge acted as Eva’s stage manager during her vaudeville years.  This role led him to form a talent agency in partnership with C.G. Prouty where he managed other vaudeville stars.  Mudge was also active in The White Rats and served as their acting President in 1906.  The White Rats was an actors labor organization, which began in 1900 to combat the Vaudeville Manager’s Association and the United Booking Office dominance over the profession.  At the time, these two organizations held enormous control over the wages of performers.

white rats for blog

1915 White Rats Program Cover and 1914 White Rats Union Card

At the same time that R.C. Mudge was busy managing his daughter’s career, he also held  interest in the automobile industry.  This time his tinkering mind managed to produce a flue construction patent (patent number 658.114) for steam carriages for the Locomotive Company of America.    The Locomotive Company of America started manufacturing steam carriages out of Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1900.

locomobile model circa 1900

Locomobile steam carriage model, circa 1900

locomobile model sectional view circa 1900

Locomobile steam carriage, section view, circa 1900

Mudge also showed an interest in electrical engines traveling overseas to view an electrical engine for himself.   So it is no small wonder Eva Mudge was the first woman to drive a Waverly electric car in New York and the first woman to race cars competitively.


Genevra Delphine Mudge aka Eva Mudge, circa early 1900s

Later in her acting career, Eva would make the transition to film with parts in a Louis Mayer production, The Famous Mrs. Fair (1923) and Night Song (1947).  Eva married Sanford Nelson and her daughter, Ruth Gloria Nelson, was born in 1905.


Group Theatre, c. 1938, Ruth Nelson (back row, third from left)

Ruth Nelson would go on to become an actress and an original member of the Group Theatre in New York alongside Elia Kazan.   She would star in his film The Sea of Grass (1947).  Ruth made many films for various Hollywood studios.  However, she took a long hiatus from acting when her husband director, John Cromwell, was blacklisted in 1951 by the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Ruth stood by her husband during this period turning down the opportunity to star in the stage production of Death of a Salesman.

The Mudge family certainly led a colorful life.  Originating in Detroit, they passed through Port Huron, New York City, and Hollywood each of them molding their lives by use of creative talent.  When I jumped into the world of Henry McMorran, I never imagined I would unlock such rich stories about people like the Mudge family.  Every day, I am learning the life of one touches many and personal history research is full of little twists and turns on an interconnected highway.


Among Agents and Producers (October 31, 1908).  The New York Dramatic Mirror.

Barrett, A. (2017).  11 Legendary Ladies of Motor Sports [photograph: Genevra Delphine Mudge aka Eva Mudge, circa early 1900s], Nitto Driving Lane website, Retrieved from:  https://www.drivingline.com/articles/11-legendary-ladies-of-motorsports/

Burchard Galleries (2009).  [photographs: Woodland’s Beaded Deer Skin Jacket, circa 1894 & Buffalo Bill Code, date unknown].  Retrieved from:  http://www.burchardgalleries.com/auctions/2009/oct2509/full_catalog_page6.htm

Eva Mudge (n.d.). [photograph:  NYPL] Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library.  Retrieved from:  https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47de-a33c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99 

Eva Mudge (n.d.) [photograph] IMDb.  Retrieved from:  https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0610942/

Eva Mudge, the “Military Maid”.  Performing Arts Archive.  Retrieved from:  http://www.performingartsarchive.com/Vaudeville-Acts/Vaudeville-Acts_E/Eva-Mudge/Eva-Mudge.htm

Eva Mudge Will Star (January 21, 1895).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Ian Brabner Rare Americana (2018).  [photograph: advertising brochure for Nobody’s Claim, circa 1880].  Retrieved from:  https://www.rareamericana.com/sadie-hasson/

Larsen, D. J. (2012). [photograph:  Sadie Hasson] Legendary Locals of Mount Clemens, Michigan, Legendary Locals, an imprint of Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, South Carolina.

Miss Eva Mudge (January 6, 1903).  [photograph: Clever Change Artist], The Detroit Free Press.

Stanley Motor Carriage Company (2011).  Locomobile Patents:  Flue Construction for Steam Carriages – Richard C. Mudge.  Retrieved from:  http://www.stanleymotorcarriage.com/patents/Locomobile%20Patents.htm

Miss Eva Mudge (February 6, 1900) [photograph: newspaper clipping].  The Olsburg Gazette.

Nickel Battery for the Electric Automobile (July 14, 1901).  The St. Louis Republic.

Palazzo, R. (2017).  Scotty’s Castle, Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, South Carolina.

President’s Report.  Port Huron Hospital and Home Association.  (December 19, 1889).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Seagrave, K. (1944).  Actor’s Organize:  A History of Union Formation Efforts in America 1880-1919, McFarland & Co., Inc:  Jefferson, North Carolina.

Social News.  (November 13, 1889).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

The Paper Vest Galop (August 21, 1889).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

The American Vaudeville Museum Archive (n.d.).  Sadie M. Faren and A. Harry Chick Vaudeville Collection, [1914 White Rats Union Card photograph].  Retrieved from:  http://speccoll.library.arizona.edu/collections/vaudeville/items/white-rats-actors-union-dues-card-2/

Wikipedia (2018)  Locomobile Company of America.  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locomobile_Company_of_America

Wikipedia (2018).  Locomobile Company of America.  [photographs:  Locomobile steam carriage model, circa 1900 & Locomobile stream carriage, section view, circa 1900].  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locomobile_Company_of_America

Wikipedia (2018).  Ruth Nelson, [photograph, Group Theatre].  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Nelson_(actress)

Wikipedia (2018).  White Rats of America, [1915 White Rats Program Cover photograph].  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Rats_of_America


Those of Us Who Try……DO. Part I

Sometimes an idea is sparked by a simple thought, a notion, or a gesture that stays with us.  We let it mull around in our minds for a while, keep it close, and when the time is right we put it to use in our physical world.  These kinds of ideas mass produced by all of us contribute to our personal experiences and essentially create and dictate the world we live in.  Other times, it is almost like the form of an idea runs quickly across our consciousness and is filtered out.  Gone.  Was it a missed opportunity for exploitation?  Doubtful.  I like to think that ideas that brushstroke our consciousness are in fact faulty thoughts gone astray that our mind was supposed to weed out and dispose of in the trash receptacle space of our unconscious mind.  But who knows?  All I do know is we are lucky creatures to have the intellect that we do and the physical means to share it.  When I read or hear a personal story that entails an idea that take hold, grows, and shapes our world or someone’s individual life path, I love to share it. So here we go……

I recently came across a fella by the name of R.C. Mudge who lived in Detroit in the late 1880’s.  In his youth, he loved to attend parties in the hopes of meeting a special young lady.  In the winter months, his walks to those parties were cold ones.  On one particularly cold night, he decided to put some newspaper underneath his coat for insulation.  What he found out was that it served as a good insulator.

He used the newspaper all that winter to brave the cold.  One evening it caught the attention of his friend, Edgar Wasson.  The two men got to talking about the matter, the talking sparked some ideas, and their ideas eventually led them to design and make a paper vest out of sulphite fibre.  They were so happy with their design and product they became convinced there was a market for it.

mudge vest patent

They applied to patent their design in July of 1888, and by February of 1889, their patent was approved.  At the time they filed for patent, Mudge and Wasson decided to go forward and began a manufacturing company in Detroit under the name American Co.  They hired a handyman from Canada, John C. McLaughlin, to help them and started manufacturing the garments.  Within a few months, they had produced and sold 20,000 paper vests, and the orders kept coming.  Because their supply of sulphite fibre had to come from Ohio and they lacked the capital to expand, they could not keep up with the supply to meet demand.

Sulphite Paper Works Plant No. 2

The Sulphite Fibre Works Plant No. 2, 1907

At the end of December 1889, it came to Mudge’s attention that a sulphite fibre company had opened up on the Black River in Port Huron.  The company was called The Sulphite Fibre Works.  Lacking the funds to expand and the fear of losing his business caused Mudge to make the journey to Port Huron in early May of 1889 to ask local capitalists to invest their money with him.  With a spring in his step and a dream in his pocket, Mudge met with a group of men and proposed forming a stock company with the capital to manufacture his paper clothing in Port Huron.  Some of the men he met that day included:  Henry Howard, James Goulden, H.G. Barnum, Dr. F. Lohrstorfer, O’Brien J. Atkinson, Philo Truesdeli, E.J. Spaulding, S.L. Ballentine , W.F. Davidson, and Henry McMorran.

howard and atkinson

SL Ballentine

the boys

After hearing Mudge out, the men made an initial investigation.  They decided to give Mudge and his new company a chance.  On May 25, 1889, the stock company was organized under the name R.C. Mudge Paper Clothing Company, and the necessary funds were subscribed in the amount of $75,000.  The Directors took a vote and elected the following officers:

President – W.F. Davidson
Vice-President – Philo Truesdeli
Treasurer – E.J. Spaulding
Secretary – E.M. Wasson
General Manager – R.C. Mudge.

RC Mudge Paper Clothing Company

Mudge and his business moved to Port Huron in July.  He brought John McLaughlin and Edgar Wasson with him, and once again they were in business.  Initially Mudge planned to manufacture 1,000 garments a day, but they soon had to double that figure to meet demand.  In addition to making men’s paper vests, they started producing ladies’ vest, skirts, blankets, and shoe insoles.


Aerial view of the Fair, 1889

In 1889, Mudge and Wasson sponsored a company booth at the Detroit International Exposition and Fair where they displayed their paper clothing. Their booth drew large crowds and was considered one of the popular booths.  A newspaperman summed up the whole experience in a spotlight article on the company in the Detroit Tribute: “The men’s vest cost 50 cents, the ladies’ 75 cents and other goods come at corresponding prices.  These paper garments cannot be compared with inferior woolen garments.  Wind will blow through wool.  It simply can’t get through this paper, which, besides being warm is tough, standing a pull of 98 pounds to the inch without tearing.”

By November of 1889, the company employed 110 people, 97 of them women. When the company started in July, it employed only 3 women.  To have enough space to mass produce their products, the company had expanded their operations on Butler Street into two buildings located next door.  They were looking to occupy two more buildings on the block in the next few months, and there was talk of the need to build a brick factory within the next year.  It was predicted the factory would employ approximately 500 people.


The main building of the company was powered by electric light from the Excelsior Electric Light Works.  Electricity also powered 27 Singer electric sewing machines.  Women working for the company used the machines to sew the garments together and finishing touches, such as color sateens sewn over the paper were hand sewn.  Orders were coming in from New York, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, and all parts of Michigan.  The women were paid wages of between $2.50-$6.50 a week for their work.  The highest paid employee was John McLaughlin, who acted as the head cutter.  He earned a wage of $25.00 per week.

I love the humble origin of the R.C. Mudge Paper Company, and I’m so glad I could share it with you.  But R.C. Mudge was not only an idea man.  He was also kind, handsome, generous, and talented.  My favorite characteristic about him was the generous spirit he showered upon his community.  So, it is no small wonder the Port Huron community opened their arms and embraced him. If only for a little while.

Oh, goodness, there is so much more of this story to tell and I have run out of time to tell it.  One blog on this one is just not enough.  I guess it will have to keep for another day.

Until then……if you can……take a moment…… and THINK ALL OF THE THINKS YOU CAN POSSIBLY THINK and if one good THINK stays with you…. share it, savor it, cultivate it like a garden, and try like a mad hatter to grow it.  And most importantly, remind yourself that sometimes in life all it takes is a good IDEA in your head and a DREAM in your heart to make the impossible POSSIBLE.  I am sure Mudge and McMorran would more than agree with me.

Til’ next time.



Captured image of the Excelsior Electric Light Works, (1887).  Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan, Sanborn Map Company, [Image].  Library of Congress.  Retrieved from:  https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4114pm.g041591887/?sp=5

Don, the Up North Memories Guy, (2016).  Sulphite Paper Works, circa, 1907, Plant No. 2, Port Huron, MI [Image], flickr.  Retrieved from:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/upnorthmemories/28696337560/in/photostream/

Google Patents, (n.d.).  Paper Garment No. 397,437, February 5, 1889.  Retrieved from:  https://patents.google.com/patent/US397437A/en  

Hug emoticon, (2017).  The Happydemic Blog.  Retrieved from:  http://www.thehappydemic.com.au/why-the-world-needs-hugs/

Michigan Art Company, (1904).  Men in Michigan: A Collection of the Portraits of Men Prominent in Business and Professional Life in Michigan, Michigan Art Company: Detroit.  Portraits of Wilbur F. Davidson and Henry G. McMorran [Image]

R. C. Mudge Paper Clothing Co.Garments envelope with logo, (1889), [Image], Treasurecoastamp, Ebay.  Retrieved from:  https://www.ebay.com/itm/R-C-Mudge-Paper-Clothing-Co-Garments-Port-Huron-MI-Multicolor-Cover-188-XX0142-/332558595649?autorefresh=true

The Alice T. Miner Museum Blog, (2016).  Ariel view of the Fair, circa 1889, Detroit.  Retrieved from:  https://minermuseum.blogspot.com/2016/03/forgotten-worlds-fairs-detroit-1889.html  

The Port Huron Daily Times, (1889, May 25).  A New Enterprise.

The Port Huron Daily Times, 1889, November 2). Paper Clothing.

The Port Huron Daily Times, (1889, June 27).  Paper Clothing Company.

The Port Huron Daily Times, (1901, July 9).  O’Brien J. Atkinson [Image].

The Port Huron Daily Times, (1889, September 28).  The Way it Came About.

The Times Herald, (1949, June 22).  Silas L. Ballentine [Image].

Wikpedia, (2018).  Henry Howard [Image].  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Howard_(Michigan)

Wink Wink emoticon, (2015).  Faith, Sigh & DYI Blog [Image].  Retrieved from:  https://faithsighanddiy.com/2015/04/14/artists-and-imagination/a-winking-smiling-emoticon/

Young Henry

Life is a journey

(Source:  Ready to Change Life Coaching Blog, 2014)

We have all heard the expression “Life is a Journey”. As we progress through our lives, this sentiment truly begins to morph from a mere saying into a true feeling.   During my examination of Henry McMorran’s life, this feeling of journey and the passing of time holds steady in me.  The process of putting together the pieces and parts of a person’s life from an historical perspective makes me personally reflect on my own life and serves up a large slice of inspiration pie.

I wanted to take a moment this week to reflect on the boyhood of Henry McMorran.  There is not much information written about him as a young man, but if one looks close enough you can catch a glimpse of Henry’s youth contained within the odds and ends of what is available.  It is a view that must be pieced together but well worth the research effort.

Sperry's Department Store

(Sperry’s Department Store, Port Huron, MI, circa 1982.  Source:  Pinterest: Michigan’s Past on #Port Huron, Russell Sawyer picture – property of Port Huron Museum)

If you grew up in Port Huron and remember Sperry’s Department store, I ask you to do me a favor before you read further.  Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in Sperry’s.  How old are you?  Are you inside or outside the building?  Hold that picture in your mind and feel that memory.  How does your memory make you feel?  Now let it go and smile.  This space like many others in the Port Huron area is unique because of the memories we hold of it.  What is also unique about this space is that there are people who came before us who have memories of that space as well.

Henry had memories there.  In fact, he was born there on June 11, 1844 to Robert W. McMorran and Isabella Kewley McMorran.  Back in 1844, it was known as the corner of Huron and Butler Street, it was considered a part of the Village of Port Huron, and Henry’s home stood there instead of a department store (The Port Huron Times, 1905).  Lots of variables as to description, but the same space nonetheless.

Huron Avenue 1857

(Huron Avenue, 1857, looking north from Military Street. Source: The Russell Sawyer Collection: Property of Port Huron Museum)

As a boy, Henry attended the Crawford school.  Some of his schoolmates included:  H.W. Stevens, John Atkinson, William Campfield, Watson Beach, George W. Howe, Bernard O’Rourke, and Henry Kingsley (The Port Huron Times, 1895).  The Crawford School was taught by Alexander Crawford, and children came from all over the area to attend.  Mr. Crawford taught his school in the Old Brown school house from 1844 until 1858.  William Lee Jenks describes Alexander Crawford as “a stern disciplinarian, but possessed of the faculty of instilling a desire to learn, he attracted pupils to his school, and impressed them strongly.” (Jenks, W.L., 1912).

Bernard O’Rourke, who attended the school with Henry in 1855, remembers “Our family lived in the Township of Kimball, St. Clair County at that time and good schools in those days were wanting.  My father took the opportunity of sending me to Port Huron to attend school.  Mr. Crawford was a teacher that thoroughly understood his business and was what you might call a first-class teacher in those days.  I remember well a rod of correction he kept by his desk for certain purposes.  It consisted of a round piece of rattan about thirty inches long and one half an inch in diameter.  I think some of the old school boys remember it also.”  I think Jenks was right, Mr. Crawford did leave a strong impression on his students.  Bernard’s recollection perfectly paraphrases a childlike version of Jenks’ description of Mr. Crawford (The Port Huron Times, 1895).

In 1855, the schoolhouse was located in an area of property at Huron Avenue and Broad Street.  By 1859, this area became a park and by 1895 it was serving as the location of the county court house and jail.  Today, Broad Street is known as McMorran Boulevard, and the McMorran Auditorium and Arena stand on this property (The Port Huron Daily Times, 1895).  The school would have been conveniently located for young McMorran to walk to as it was just a block north of his home.

1859 Map Snip

(Snippets – Business locations of A.E. Noble, M.D. and W.H.B. Dowling Grocery. Source: Library of Congress – 1859 Map of the Counties of Macomb and St. Clair, Michigan)

Robert McMorran, Henry’s father died in 1855.  This tragic event ended his education and Henry went to work to provide for his family at the age of 11 in a jewelry store doing odd chores for a few years.  It is my approximated guess that Henry worked for Alonzo E. Noble in his jewelry store.

McMorran Bosford

(Henry McMorran and Frederick Botsford, circa 1860 (Source: Port Huron Museum)

After his time at the jewelry store, Henry went to work as a cash boy at the age of 13 for W.H.B. Dowling in his general store.  He earned $10.00 a month for his labor.  What follows is a newspaper article that showcases a recollected exchange between W.H.B. Dowling and a young Henry at 13 and at 15.

“About six months afterward, he called the boy and said to him, ‘Henry, I want you to go down stars [stairs] and check off some new goods that have just arrived.  Mark the regular percentage on it for profit.’ Henry went downstairs, and, never having received any instruction in arithmetic, concluded to look up [at] Mr. Dowling.  ‘I guess I’ll have to quit Mr. Dowling’, he announced.  The good merchant was amazed.  ‘Quit’, he exclaimed.  ‘What for?’ ‘Well’, explained Henry, ‘I’m not very good at figures and that job you gave me is too much.’ ‘Now is the time to learn,’ remarked Mr. Dowling.  ‘Go ahead and do as I told you.’  Henry then took a friendly clerk into his confidence and soon learned to figure the percentages and went ahead; afterward reporting his success to Mr. Dowling.  When McMorran was 15 years of age Mr. Dowling said to him: ‘Henry, my bookkeeper has left me.  I want you to take charge of my books.’  ‘I don’t know a thing about bookkeeping Mr. Dowling,’ he replied.  ‘You had better get somebody else.  I’ll mix the books all up.’  Mr. Dowling insisted and Henry took charge of the books and remained in that position until Mr. Dowling went out of business in 1860.”  (The Times Herald, 1902).

Thank goodness Henry had such a good role model and mentor in Mr. Dowling.  As we all know, his efforts would not be wasted on the boy!  I have to admit I could not help but chuckle when I first read the examples of Henry’s boyhood presented here.  I love the fact that I get to see Henry when he is most vulnerable and full of the self-doubt of youth.  If I have learned anything through this process, I will have to say it is this……….

Life is indeed a journey to which we as individual’s never quite experience in the same way or manner as those who come after us.  The imprint we will leave on this planet is happening as we live, it forms our own unique timeline whether we know it or not, and it is discoverable long after we are gone for someone else to pick up and enjoy.

As a researcher, I can view Henry’s life journey as a whole and draw inferences about it that he could not and would not ever have been able to draw while he lived.  I can view his life through a lens that enriches and adds value to that journey and to my own as well.  I can recollect my own memories of spaces such as Sperry’s Department Store and McMorran Auditorium.  I can draw comfort from him knowing he had recollections of the same spaces that I do and that such a successful man experienced self-doubt within his life too.  A connection forms from these realizations.  It screams to me that I am not alone.  We have all traveled the same path at one point or another.

McMorran Arena

(McMorran Auditorium and Arena, n.d.  Source:  Blue Water Wave)

When Henry attended the Crawford School, he would not have had the ability of anticipating that one day an auditorium and arena would stand on the same site where he attended school.  Not only would this auditorium and arena stand in this place where I imagine he played and messed around with his friends as young boys do, but it would bear HIS NAME. It would serve as a tribute to all his successes as a businessman, his dedication to the progression of the City of Port Huron, his contribution to the United States, the State of Michigan, and the St. Clair County region as a congressman, and most important of all, it would be built and dedicated by his two daughters, Emma and Clara, because of their memories of his dedication to his family as a loving and devoted father.  Chew on that for a moment!


(Connection and Community Source.  Leadership Summaries Blog, 2012)

When you live in a small town commonalities are born among the people who live there that revolve around people, places, and things.  I think one of the most wonderful aspects of small town living is talking to someone and not having to explain a certain area or place.  They just know it as you do.  You can see it in their eyes they get exactly what you are talking about.  It is there within that moment a connection is made.  A connection that binds us as a community. It makes me feel amazing that I have memories of the same space that I know a man born 173 years ago has memories of too (perhaps you feel the same).  While time may change spaces, it cannot change memories.  Sometimes, we have to find them, but they remain.  To me, that sort of amazing feeling exemplifies the power of history.

BY THE WAY, when I think of Sperry’s, I always recall how much I loved to ride the elevator while my grandmother shopped.  So, my memory is easily depicted in this photograph:


Lula Petty, Sperry’s Elevator Operator. Source: Pinterest

Anyone else in the community share a similar memory?


Blue Water Wave website (n.d.).  McMorran Arena Blog [Image].  Retrieved from:  http://bwwave.com/mcmorran-arena/

Hernandez, J. G. (2012).  We are all in this together.  Leadership Summaries Blog.  [Image – Connection and Community] Retrieved from:  http://jesusgilhernandez.com/2012/12/31/we-are-all-in-this-together/

Library of Congress website ( n.d.).  Map of the counties of Macomb and St. Clair, Michigan.  Philadelphia : Geil, Harley & Siverd, 1859, N.Y. : R. Pearsall Smith, Map Manufacturer [Image].  Retrieved from:  http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g4113m.la000344

Michigan’s Past on #Port Huron (1982).  Pinterest.  Sperry’s and JCPenney in Downtown Port Huron [Image: The Russel Sawyer Collection – property of Port Huron Museum].  Retrieved from:  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/98868154297609257/

Sperry’s Department Store in Port Huron, Michigan.  Pinterest.  Lula Petty, Sperry’s Elevator Operator, [Image].  Retrieved from:  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/472315079651497104/?lp=true

Port Huron Museum.  McMorran-Murphy Collection (74.1.125).  [Image – Henry McMorran and Frederick Botsford, circa 1860].

The Port Huron Daily Times.  Congressman Henry McMorran (July 15, 1905).

The Port Huron Daily Times.  Henry McMorran:  Sketch of the Career of the Republican Candidate for Representation in Congress (October 21, 1902).

The Port Huron Daily Times.  In the Old Days:  A Letter to the Editor from Bernard O’Rourke (April 4, 1895).

The Port Huron Daily Times.  Olden Times: When Alex Crawford Taught the Village School (March 29, 1895).

Rootsweb Ancestry website (2008).  Port Huron in Pictures and Collections: The Russell Sawyer Collection [Image – Huron Avenue 1857 Looking North on Military Street].  Retrieved from:  http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~miporthu/index_PHPictures.htm

ThyroidCancerSurvivor (2014).  Life is a Journey, Ready to Change Life Coaching Blog.  Retrieved from:  https://thyroidcancersurvivor.wordpress.com/tag/ready-to-change-life-coaching/

Jenks, W.L. (1912).  St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress and Its Principal Interests, Volume 1, p. 339, Dr. Alonzo E. Noble.  Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co.  Retrieved from:  https://books.google.com/books?id=SkEVAAAAYAAJ

Jenks, W.L. (1912).  St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People:  A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress and Its Principal Interests, Volume 1, p. 273, Alexander Crawford.  Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co.  Retrieved from:  https://books.google.com/books?id=SkEVAAAAYAAJ

Jenks, W.L. (1836-1936).  William Lee Jenks papers. Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan (call no.  851594 Aa2).

McMorran’s “Digs” in Washington

Henry G. McMorran served as the US Congressional Representative for the 7th Congressional District of Michigan from 1903-1913 (United States, Congress, n.d.).  While in Washington, he and his family frequently took up residence at The Portland located in the Thomas Circle neighborhood. (The Port Huron Daily Times, 1909 & Detroit Free Press, 1912).

The Portland, circa 1924 (Source: DeFerrari, J., 2016, Streets of Washington Blog)

Built in 1879, it was designed by German architect, Adolf Cluss, and it was originally called The Portland Flats (Williams, P.K., 2001).  In later years, it was known as The Portland Hotel.  It was the first luxury apartment building in Washington, D.C. (District of Columbia, 2009).  It was built by Edward Weston, a retired banker and designed by Adolf Cluss.   Weston’s intent was to build an apartment building for the middle and upper class modeled after the popular “French Flats” in Paris.  This new architectural style was taking root in the United States after receiving noted attention and success in New York.  (National Republican, 1881).  Rutherford Stuyvesant was the man who brought this new housing design to New York.  It is said Stuyvesant visited Paris and admired the apartment buildings so much he decided to elicit the help of French designer Richard Morris Hunt to design the new building for him.  The Stuyvesant was finished in 1869, and the units were rented before it even opened its doors in 1870.  Up until Stuyvesant built The Stuyvesant in New York, some middle-class residents lived in row houses.  However, row houses were not a popular choice due to the stigmatism associated with working class tenement housing and poor design.  The new one-floor plan of the Stuyvesant eliminated the large number of stairs residents of row houses had to climb and created a comfortable space for them to live in. (Gray, Christopher, 2013).

00005v (1)

The Stuyvesant Apartment (Source: Library of Congress)

It was the mass appeal of “French Flat” living in New York that attracted Weston’s attention.  Weston and others interested in the real estate market in Washington D.C. believed this new form of housing could be the answer for those who temporarily took up winter residence in the area (National Republican, 1881).  They were right.  In 1912, twenty years after the Portland was built, Michigan Senators and US Representatives were taking up winter lodging there, including Senator Townsend of Jackson and Representative McMorran of Port Huron (Detroit Free Press, 1912)

A Sketch of The Portland and Thomas Circle, circa 1885 (Source: DeFerrari, J., 2016, Streets of Washington Blog)

The Portland was situated on the corner of 14th Street and Vermont on the southside of the Thomas Circle (Boese, K., 2009).  The neighborhood McMorran called home while in Washington was conceived as part of the L’Enfant Plan, an urban development plan, created in 1791 by Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant for President George Washington.  (Wikipedia, L’Enfant Plan, 2017).  It is marked by a circle in which stands an equestrian statute of Civil War General George Henry Thomas that was commissioned by John Quincy Adams Ward in 1879 (Wikipedia, Thomas Circle, 2017).  According to District of Columbia’s Department of Transportation, circles were used in the L’Enfant Plan to provide a strategic defensive boundary north of the White House (District of Columbia Department of Transportation, n.d.).

1905 Thomas Circle

View of Thomas Circle from The Portland 1905 (Source: Library of Congress)

According to the 1906 Digest of Appropriations for Support of the Government of the United States, there were appropriations specified to pay day watchmen throughout the city.  One of the areas where a watchman was designated was in Thomas Circle neighborhood (United States, 1906).  So, Henry McMorran would have come home after a long day’s work at the Capital in his private horse drawn carriage driven by a coachman over a pair of “Wilkes” steeds he owned and kept in the city for private use to the Portland Flats, a well watched area in town. (The Daily Herald, 1904).  He would have had the luxury of dining with his wife and family in one of the two communal dining halls located into the apartment building.  Or he could have taken the building elevator up to his private apartment suite that most likely included a parlor, dining room, three chambers, servant room, kitchen, pantry, and bathroom.  He would have appreciated a white-walled parlor, carved walnut dining room, and large, glass windows with inside shutters, a small elevator that could be used to send up any necessities he would require, an ash tub made with an iron door to send down his garbage to which a janitor was responsible for its disposal, electric bells throughout the apartment and a speaking tube to communicate his desires to the porter who was located in the basement (Our French Flat, National Republican, 1881).  His “digs” are not too shabby for a small-town boy from Port Huron, Michigan, who started from humble beginnings.


Boese, K. (2009).  Then and Now the Portland Flats. Greater Greater Washington website.  Retrieved from:  https://ggwash.org/view/1732/then-and-now-the-portland-flats

DeFerrari, J. (2016).  History of the Portland Flats on Thomas Circle, Streets of Washington Blog.  [Photograph – The Portland, circa 1924 and Photograph – A Sketch of the Portland and Thomas Circle, circa 1885] Retrieved from:  https://networks.h-net.org/node/28441/discussions/107613/history-portland-flats-thomas-circle-1880-1962 and http://www.streetsofwashington.com/2016/01/the-portland-washingtons-first-luxury.htmlhttp://www.streetsofwashington.com/2016/01/the-portland-washingtons-first-luxury.html

Detroit Free Press.  “Michiganders in Washington.” (December 8, 1912).

District of Columbia (2009).  District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites.  Retrieved from:  https://planning.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/op/publication/attachments/Inventory%202009%200%20Alpha%20Version%2003%2011.pdf

Gray, Christopher.  “Apartment Buildings: The Lastest in French Ideas.” (July 11, 2013).  Retrieved from:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/realestate/apartment-buildings-the-latest-in-french-ideas.html?hp&_r=1&

National Republican.  Our Real Estate, The Condition of the Market:  An Interesting Interview with Several Prominent Dealers, New Features in Architecture, Washington as a Winter Residence,  An Active Spring Predicted (January 8, 1881).

National Republican.  Our French Flat (March 18, 1881).

The Daily Herald.  Brown City Banner Editor Accompanies the Michigan Newspapermen to Washington (Feburary 9, 1904).

Wikipedia (2017).  L’Enfant Plan.  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27Enfant_Plan

Wikipedia (2017).  Thomas Circle.  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Circle

Williams, Paul, K. (2001).  The Neighborhoods of Logan, Scott, and Thomas Circles.  Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.

Library of Congress.  [Photograph – Thomas Circle from The Portland, 1905 and Sketch -The Stuyvesant Apartment].  Retrieved from:  https://www.loc.gov/item/2013646913/ and https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.ny0432.sheet/?q=stuyvesant+apartments+&sp=6


Mary L. Botsford in her own words.


As far back as I can recall, I have always been captivated by stories about real people.  As an adult, I naturally gravitated towards genealogy.  Over the course of the past year, I’ve ventured into personal history writing.  What I found to be true in my quest to understand my family history is that we all have a personal history to tell.  preservation-of-records

The proof of our existence can be found in the documentation we generate and keep.  Personal history is about more then sharing history just to share it.  It includes an individual’s thoughts and experiences along their life’s journey.  Personal source materials can include, but are not limited to, photographs, newspaper stories, letters, business records, vital records, tax filings, real estate records, estate planning documents, journals, blog posts, social media posts, etc.  The list could go on and on depending on the person. These resources are like puzzle pieces that come together and breathe life into people and families from the past.  Of course, personal records should be preserved over time to capture a personal history.  But in the case where personal papers are not preserved, there is always hope for personal history writers to find documented resources of personal value in public or private record depositories. I wanted to share this post with you to highlight the value of personal record preservation.

For the past year I have been researching Henry G. McMorran.  Henry G. McMorran, as most people know, was a pioneer of Port Huron, Michigan.  In my research, I have stumbled upon other pioneers and their family members who have attracted my attention.  One of these inhenry-mcmorran-pic-pujo-committeedividuals is Mary L. Botsford.  I do not profess to be an expert on Mary  and I can’t tell you that much about her.  What I can tell you is she was married to John Botsford aka J.E. Botsford.  The Botsfords lived on Military Street in Port Huron close to Henry McMorran around the years 1892-1895.   That is all the information I have put together on Mary’s background so far.  The first time Mary showed up in my research was in a newspaper article.  Two observations came to mind when I read the article.  I wondered why John Botsford wasn’t the one quoted as to the reason behind his family’s move to Chicago and I was struck by Mary’s forthright manner of speech.  I thought to myself, “Mary certainly doesn’t beat around the bush.”  The second time Mary came into my life was via deposition testimony regarding a lawsuit her husband and McMorran were involved in as plaintiffs to the action.



I won’t go into the case in this posting, but I do want to share with you a powerful affirmation that was again confirmed for me this past month.  Words are life.  It’s as simple as that.  So write them, speak them, share them, and preserve them.  “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”  John 6:63.  And last, but not least, a big shout out to Mary for showing up, captivating my attention, and tickling my heart over a hundred years after your testimony. Bravo!