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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 2. Disagreeable Music


IT was night, in the Spring of 1834, when we arrived at Detroit, and we made our way to the "United States Hotel" which stood near where the old post office was and where the "Mariner's Church" now stands, on Woodbridge street. [The Mariners' Church still stands at the northwest corner of Woodbridge Street and Woodward Avenue. It was erected in 9849 from bequests made several years earlier by two pious sisters, Miss Charlotte Ann Taylor and Mrs. Julia Ann Anderson. Detroit has been for generations a center of resort for lake sailors, whose homeless and frequently destitute condition the two founders of the Church sought to alleviate. Today, the church is the central city mission of the Protestant Episcopal denomination, and as such it continues to minister extensively to destitute men of whatever calling or home port. The lower story of the Church has always been devoted to business use, and from its completion in 1849 until 1860 it housed the U. S. Post Office. The United States Hotel was on the south side of Woodbridge Street, between Shelby and Griswold. It burned down in the autumn of 1848. A short distance away, at the southeast corner of Jefferson Avenue and Wayne Street, stood the ancient Forsyth Tavern, the boyhood home of John Kinzie of early Chicago fame (Mrs. Forsyth was Kinzie's mother). Kinzie became its owner in 1798, and although the old building burned in 1805, in the fire which destroyed the entire city, a new structure was erected on its site, which once more became Kinzie's home, during the interval between the destruction of Fort Dearborn in 1816: and the erection of its successor in 1816.]

The next morning I was up early and went to view the city. I wished to know if it was really a city. If it looked like Utica or Buffalo.

I went up Jefferson Avenue; found some brick buildings, barber poles, wooden clocks, or large watches, big hats and boots, a brass ball, &c., &c.

I returned to the Hotel, satisfied that Detroit was actually a city, for the things I had seen were, in my mind, sufficient to make it one. [Detroit is the oldest city west of the Alleghenies, and from its founding by Cadillac in 1701 it has always been an administrative and commercial center of importance. At the time of the Revolution the Detroit River settlement contained nearly 400 families and a total population of about 2,000. The warfare attending the birth of the United States proved disastrous for Detroit, and for half century following 1775 there was no increase in population; in 1820 the city proper had a population of 1,442, and in 1828, of 1,517. From this time forward its growth was rapid. By 1834, when young Nowlin pronounced it a metropolis, the population had increased to 5,000, and a decade later (1845) to 13,000. Most of the early development of the city clustered along Jefferson Avenue and between this thoroughfare and the river.] After I assured myself that there was a city, so far from New York, I was quite contented and took my breakfast. Then, with our guns on our shoulders, father and I started to see our brand-new farm at Dearborn. First we went up Woodward Avenue to where the new City Hall now stands, it was then only a common, dotted by small wooden buildings.

Thence we took the Chicago road which brought us to Dearbornville. From there the timber had been cut for a road one mile south. On this road father did his first road work in Michigan and here afterwards I helped to move the logs out. The road- master, Mr. Smith, was not willing to allow full time, for my work; however I put in part time. Little did I think that here, one mile from Dearbornville, father would, afterwards, buy a farm, build a large brick house, and end his days, in peace and plenty.

From this point, one mile south of the little village, we were one mile from father's chosen eighty, but had to follow an Indian trail two miles, which led us to Mr. J. Pardee's. [Joseph Pardee was of English and early Connecticut descent, one of his ancestors having been master of the Hopkins Grammar School, the predecessor of Vale University. The Michigan pioneer was born at Stamford, Conn., Feb. 24, 1778, and he died near Dearborn in] His place joined father's on the 1859. In early manhood (about i8oi) he purchased a farm two miles from Peekskill, N. V. DitEculties over payments on government contracts were encountered by Pardee, and in 1833 he found his way to Detroit and settled on the farm south of Dearborn (eastern part of Section 33) of which our author writes. A public highway called Pardee Road preserves his memory, and several of his descendants still reside in Dearborn and vicinity.]

west. We crossed Pardee's place, eights' rods, which brought us to our's. I dug up some of the earth, found it black and rich, and sure enough no stones in the way. Late in the afternoon I started back to mother, to tell her that father had engaged a Mr. Thompson (who kept tavern in a log house, half a mile east of Dearbornville) and team, and would come after her in the morning. When I reached the Chicago road again, it seemed anything but inviting. I could just see a streak ahead four or five miles, with the trees standing thick and dark either side. [12 The Chicago Road, which Nowlin followed to Dearborn in 1834, is the Northwest's most notable highway. Anciently the Indian trail from the south end of Lake Michigan to the Detroit River, with the third decade of the nineteenth century it became the principal thoroughfare over which emigrants from the East thronged westward toward—and beyond—Lake Michigan. Over it ran the first stage coach which ever entered Chicago, in September, 1833. By 1837, the Western Stage Company was advertising a daily stage from Detroit to Chicago "through in four and a half days." Today, U. S. Highway 112 follows the approximate route of the Chicago Road of a century ago; and over it hourly streams an almost constant procession of cars, private, passenger bus, and trucks. To accommodate this traffic, from Detroit as far as Ypsilanti a "superhighway," 204 feet wide, has been constructed.]

If ever a boy put in good time I did then. However, it was evening when I reached Detroit, and I had traveled more than twenty-six miles. Mother was very glad to see me, and listened with interest, to her boy's first story of Michigan. I told her that father was coming in the morning, as he had said; that Mr. Joseph Pardee said, we could stay with him while we were building. I told her I was glad we came, how nice the land was, what a fine country it would be in a few years, and, with other comforting words, said, if we lived, I would take her back in a few years, to visit her old home.

The next morning father and Mr. Thompson came, and we were soon all aboard the wagon. When we reached Mr. Pardee's his family seemed very much pleased to see us. He said: "Now we have 'Old Put' here, we'll have company."

Putnam county joined the county he came from, and he called father "Old Put" because he came from Putnam county.

Father immediately commenced cutting logs for a house. In one week he had them ready, and men came from Dearbornville to help him raise them. He then cut black ash trees, peeled off the bark to roof his house, and after having passed two weeks under Mr. Pardee's hospitable roof, we moved into a house of our own, had a farm of our own and owed no one.

Father brought his axe from York State; it weighed seven pounds; he gave me a smaller one. He laid the trees right and left until we could see the sun from ten o'clock in the morning till between one and two in the afternoon, when it mostly disappeared back of Mr. Pardee's woods.

Father found it was necessary for him to have a team, so he went to Detroit and bought a yoke of oxen; also, at the same time, a cow. He paid eighty dollars for the oxen and twenty-five for the cow. These cattle were driven in from Ohio. The cow proved to be a great help toward the support of the family for a number of years. The oxen were the first owned in the south part of the town of Dearborn. They helped to clear the logs from the piece father had cut over, and we planted late corn, potatoes and garden stuff. The corn grew very high but didn't ear well. The land was indeed very rich, but shaded too much.The next thing, after planting some seeds, was clearing a road through a black ash swale and flat lands on our west section line, running north one mile, which let us out to the point mentioned, one mile south of Dearbornville. [The highway here described was long known to the pioneers as Hardscrabble Road. It now bears the name of Monroe Boulevard, although it is still chiefly a country. highway. It runs directly south from Dearborn, the portion of it whose construction is here described being the section line between the south of Sections 27 and 28, and the north of Sections 34 and 33, Dearborn Township. Otherwise described, it runs south one mile from "Yowlin Castle," which stands at the intersection of Monroe and Madison.] We blazed the section line trees over, cleared out the old logs and brush, then felled trees lengthwise towards each other, sometimes two together, to walk on over the water; we called it our log-way. We found the country was so very wet, at times, that it was impossible to go with oxen and sled, which were our only means of conveyance, summer or winter. When we could not go in this style we were obliged to carry all that it was necessary to have taken, on our shoulders, from Dearbornville.

We had many annoyances, and mosquitoes were not the least, but they did us some good. We had no fences to keep our cattle, and the mosquitoes drove the oxen and cow up to the smoke which we kept near the house in order to keep those little pests away. The cattle soon learned, as well as we, that smoke was a very powerful repellant of those little warriors. Many times, in walking those logs and going through the woods there would be a perfect cloud of mosquitoes around me. Sometimes I would run to get away from them, then stop and look behind me and there would be a great flock for two rods back (beside those that were around me) all coming toward me as fast as their wings could bring them, and seeming only satisfied when they got to me. But they were cannibals and wanted to eat me. All sang the same song in the same old tune. I was always glad when I got out of their company into our own little clearing.

But Mr. Pardee was a little more brave; he said it was foolish to notice such small things as mosquitoes. I have seen them light on his face and run in their bills, probe in until they reached the fountain of life, suck and gormandize until they got a full supply, then leisurely fly away with their veins and bodies full of the best and most benevolent blood, to live awhile, and die from the effects of indulging too freely and taking too much of the life of another. Thus at different times I saw him let them fill themselves and go away without his seeming to notice them; whether he always treated them thus well or not, I cannot say, but I do know they were the worst of pests. Myriads of them could be found any where in the woods, that would eagerly light on man or beast and fill themselves till four times their common size, if they could get a chance. The woods were literally alive with them. No one can tell the wearisome sleepless hours they caused us at night. I have lain listening and waiting for them to light on my face or hands, and then trying to slap them by guess in the dark, sometimes killing them, and sometimes they would fly away, to come again in a few minutes. I could hear them as they came singing back. Frequently when I awoke I found them as wakeful as ever; they had been feasting while I slept. I would find bunches and blotches on me, wherever they had had a chance to light, which caused a disagreeable, burning and smarting sensation.

Frequently some one of us would get up and make a smudge in the room to quiet them; we did it by making a little fire of small chips and dirt, or by burning some sugar on coals, but this would only keep them still for a short time. These vexatious, gory-minded, musical-winged, bold denizens of the shady forest, were more eager to hold their carniverous feasts at twilight or in the night than any other time. In cloudy weather they were very troublesome as all the first settlers know. We had them many years, until the country was cleared and the land ditched; then, with the forest, they nearly disappeared.

As I have said our oxen were the first in our part of the town. Mr. Pardee had no team. Father sold him half of our oxen. They used them alternately, each one two weeks, during the summer. For some rea- son, Mr. Pardee failed to pay the forts' dol- lars and when winter came father had to take the oxen back and winter them. [Present-day descendants question the accuracy of this statement, and remember their ancestor as a man of strict financial probity.] The winter was very open, and much pleasanter than any we had ever seen. The cattle lived on what we called "French-bogs" which grew all through the woods on the low land and were green all winter.

We found wild animals and game very numerous. Sometimes the deer came where father had cut down trees, and browsed the tops. Occasionally, in the morning, after a little snow, their tracks would be as thick as sheep-tracks in a yard, almost up to the house. The wolves, also, were very common; we could often hear them at night, first at one point, then answers from another and another direction, until the woods rang with their unearthly yells.

One morning I saw a place by a log where a deer had lain, and noticed a large quantity of hair all around on the snow; then I found tracks where two wolves came from the west, jumped over the log, and caught the deer in his bed. He got away, but he must have had bare spots on his back.

One evening a Mr. Bruin called at our house and stood erect at our north window. The children thought him one of us, as father, mother and I were away, and they ran out to meet us, but discovered instead a large black bear. When they ran out, Mr. Bruin, a little less dignified, dropped on all fours, and walked leisurely off about ten rods; then raised again, jumped over a brush fence, and disappeared in the woods.

Next morning we looked for his tracks and, sure enough, there were the tracks of a large bear within four feet of the window. He had apparently stood and looked into the house.

The first Indian who troubled us was one by the name of John Williams. He was a large, powerful man, and certainly, very ugly. He used to pass our house and take our road to Dearbornville after fire-water, get a little drunk, and on his way back stop at John Blare's. Mr. Blare then lived at the end of our new road. Here the Indian would tell what great things he had done. One day when he stopped, Mrs. Blare and her brother-in-law, Asa, were there. He took a seat, took his knife from his belt, stuck it into the floor, then told Asa to pick it up and hand it to him; he repeated this action several times, and Asa obeyed him every time. He, seeing that the white man was afraid, said: "I have taken off the scalps of six damned Yankees with this knife and me take off one more."

When father heard this, with other things he had said, he thought he was the intended victim. We were all very much frightened. Whenever father was out mother was uneasy until his return, and he feared that the Indian, who always carried his rifle, might lay in ambush, and shoot him when he was at work.

One day he came along, as usual, from Dearbornville and passed our house. Father saw him, came in, took his rifle down from the hooks and told mother he believed he would shoot first. Mother would not hear a word to it and after living a year or two longer, in mortal fear of him, he died a natural death. We learned afterward that Joseph Pardee was the man he had intended to kill. He said, "Pardee had cut a bee-tree that belonged to Indian."

According to his previous calculation, on our arrival, father bought, in mother's name, eighty acres more, constituting the south-west quarter of section thirty-four, town two, south of range ten, east; bounded on the south by the south line of the town of Dearborn. A creek, we called the north branch of the River Ecorse, ran through it, going east. It was nearly parallel with, and forty-two rods from, the town line. When he entered it he took a duplicate; later his deed came, and it was signed by Andrew Jackson, a man whom father admired very much. Mother's deed came still later, signed by Martin Van Buren.

This land was very flat, and I thought, very beautiful. No waste land on it, all day bottom, except about two acres, a sand ridge, resembling the side of a sugar loaf. [This sand ridge seems to have disappeared from the local landscape, and a grandson of Joseph Pardee, who is familiar with the locality from childhood, is unable to identify it. In recent years subdividers have done much to modify the local scene, and the ridge alluded to may have been utilized to fill in some lower spot in the vicinity.] This was near the centre of the place, and on it we finally built, as we found it very unpleasant living on clayey land in wet weather. This land was all heavy timbered —beech, hard maple, basswood, oak, hickory and some white-wood—on both sides of the creek; farther back, it was, mostly, ash and elm.


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