The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter I
Steam Transportation on Land & Water

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton



Immigration to Michigan was much helped at this time by the beginning of steam transportation on the Great lakes. The day of the steamboat was dawning. In the same year with the first land sales at Detroit, "Walk-in-the-Water," named after a Wyandot chief, made her first appearance (1818) and was hailed as a harbinger of a new era. In 1819 she made a trip to Mackinac Island, a voyage if not so famous as that of the "Griffin' more than a hundred years before, was yet one looked upon generally with much curiosity, and associated in the Eastern newspapers with reference to the "Argosy' and the search of for the golden fleece. She ran with some regularity between Buffalo and Detroit, until she went ashore in a storm on Lake Eire in 1821. A number of boats quickly succeeded her, and by the end of the territorial period a thousand passengers daily were landing from lake steams at the port of Detroit.

Contributory to the strength of this immigration to Michigan was the Erie Canal. In 1825 this great "ditch" opened an all-water route from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic seaboard. Combined with the steamboats on the lake the canal gave cheap and easy transportation for settlers and their merchandise from the great commercial metropolis of the Union to the doors of the new territory.

This fresh impetus to immigration made a demand for roads to the interior. At the close of the War of 1812 there were no good roads anywhere in the territory. While the was had taught the need of roads to connect Detroit with the Ohio valley and with Chicago, it was now seen that immigration would also be greatly helped by a road around the west end of Lake Erie. Cass appealed to the general government for aid and his call was liberally responded to. Congress provided for the construction of a road from Detroit to Chicago to Fort Gratiot, and to Saginaw bay. A road was also projected from Detroit tot he mouth of Grand river. Before the close of the territorial period, these roads were well advanced.

With better roads, a bountiful soil and an increasing population, little centers of interior settlement began to crystalize. Villages sprang up at Pontiac, Romeo, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Tecumseh, Adrian, Jackson, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, White Pigeon, St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, Flint and Saginaw. All of these settlements were on important roads and rivers of Michigan.

In 1830 the population of Michigan was 31,639. In the four years following it had more then doubled, reaching 87,273. From then to the end of the decade it went forward by leaps and bounds, mounting in 1840 to 212,267. The prime secret of this great immigration was the improved means of transportation,. In the words of one historian:

"Michigan as well as the other Western states owe in fact their unexampled growth more to mechanical philosophy acting on internal improvement, than to any other cause. What stupendous consequences does American mechanical philosophy, the characterizing feature of the present age, exhibit throughout the country? The railroad, the canal, the steamboat, the thousand modes and powers by which machinery is propelled, how vastly has it augmented the sum of human strength and human happiness. What glorious prospects does it open before us? It has bound together the wealth of the north and the south, the east and the west, the ocean and the lakes, as a sheaf of wheat; and urged forward the progress of improvement in mighty strides. Pouring its millions into the wilderness; it has set forth, not serfs, but hardy, practical, enterprising men, the founders of empires, who have finished the work of erecting states before the wolf and the panther have fled from their dens. Bestriding the lakes and the streams which discharge their waters through the Mississippi, it has studded them with hundreds of floating palaces, to conquer winds, waves and tides. On a single day it lives almost a century. More powerful than Xerxes when he threw manacles into the Hellespont, it has claimed the current of rivers by the dam, the millrace and the water wheel, and made them its slave. It has almost nullified space, by enabling us to rush across its surface like the wind, and prolonged time, by the speed with which we can accomplish our ends. It can do the work of innumerable armies and navies in war and in peace. It has constructed railroads across the mountains and, in the sublime language of another, 'the backs of the Alleghenies have bowed down like camels'."

Under the administration of Governor Cass, a steady advance was made in local and territorial self-government. Cass was a democrat, in the broadest sense of the word, believing thoroughly in the rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. Even at the expense of curtailing his own powers, he consistently advocated a larger measure of government by the people. The population had so increased by 1819 that Michigan was allowed a delegate in Congress. William Woodbridge, the first delegate, was succeeded by Solomon Sibley and he, in turn by the beloved Father Richard. Under the influence of Cass, Michigan advanced a step in popular government by the transfer of legislative power from the governor and judges to the governor and a council of nine, to be selected from eighteen chosen by the people. In 1827 the people were given exclusive power to choose the councilmen.

Governor Cass was firm believer in popular education. "Of all purposes," he declared, "to which a revenue derived from the people can be applied under a government emanating from the people, there is none more interesting in itself, nor more important in its effects, then the maintenance of a public and general course of moral and mental discipline. Many republics have preceded us in the progress of human society; but they have disappeared, leaving behind them little besides the history of their follies and dissensions to serve as a warning to their successors in the career of self-government. Unless the foundation of such governments is laid in the virtue and intelligence of the community, they must be swept away by the first commotion to which political circumstances may give birth. Whenever education is diffused among the people generally, they will appreciate the value of free institutions; and as they have the power, so must they have the will to maintain them. It appears to me that a plan may be devised which will not press too heavily upon the means of the country, and which will insure a competent portion of education to all youth in the territory." These views seem commonplace enough today, but at the time they were uttered, they were on the frontier of educational thinking. Under his influence legislation was secured to enforce these practical propositions.

One of Cass's strongest supporters in educating the people was Father Richard, who, in 1809, brought to Michigan from Baltimore the first printing press used west of the Alleghenies. One of the first things published was the "Cass code," as it was popularly called, a sort of abstract of the laws then in force in the territory. In 1817 was founded the Detroit Gazette, and the day of the newspaper in Michigan had dawned. Other papers followed, in Ann Arbor, Monroe and Pontiac.

Throughout his administration Governor Cass sought by every means in his power to strength the foundation of Michigan's prosperity. He found it weak from the throes of war and left it strong. His was a solid and discriminating judgment, of which the young commonwealth stood more in need. Discreet, sagacious, prudent, politic, he sought always the good of Michigan. A soldier, educator, and statesman, he gave freely the best that was in him. A contemporary has said: "It can be affirmed safely that the present prosperity of Michigan is now more indebted to Governor Cass than to any other man, living or dead." The verdict of the passing years is reflected in the language of Judge Cooley, in his "Michigan," in which he says, "Permanent American settlement may be said to have begun with him, and it was a great and lasting boon to Michigan when it was given a governor at once so able, so patriotic, so attentive to his duties, and so worthy in his public and private life of respect and esteem."


History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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