The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter IV
The First White Settler at Flint

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton



The distinction of being the first white settler on the site of Flint properly belongs to Jacob Smith, a man closely associated with the Indians of Flint and Genesee county throughout a long life. He was descended from a German family, but was born in the French city of Quebec. From early boyhood he was intimately connected with the English, the French and the Indians, and naturally he grew up able to speak their languages fluently. He became a resident of Detroit and after the War of 1812 engaged in trading with the Indians in the region which includes Genesee county. After Cass's treaty with the Indians in 1819 at Saginaw, he made the Grand Traverse of the flint his permanent trading post. By making himself one with his Indian friends, and by his habits of fair dealing, he inspired their confidence and his sound judgment and sagacity were their unfailing resource in time of need. This bond of friendship between Smith and the Indian chiefs of the region was strongly cemented as time passed, until his relations with them were those of a brother. Down to a very late day the remnants of these once powerful tribes cherished his memory with sincere affection.

The conditions at the site of Flint were most favorable for Smith's purpose. The Indian trail leading from Detroit to Saginaw crossed the Flint river just above the bridge on Saginaw street, where there was a fording place, long known to the early French traders as the Grand Traverse, or, "great crossing." Here, on the site of the first Baptist church in Flint, Jacob Smith built a log trading post in 1819, where he lived until his death in 1825. Without doubt this log house was the first building erected for a white man's occupancy in the county of Genesee.

There can be no question that Smith's principal object in locating at this place was to take possession of the reservations which he had caused to be granted in the treaty of Saginaw, and to hole them for himself and children. It seems to be quite generally believed among those who have not examined into the facts, that smith was entirely engrossed in the Indian trade and made no agricultural improvements at all. But there ae papers to show that a part of his lands were cleared and cultivated by him, or under his direction. One of these papers is a sealed instrument which is self-explanatory, and of which the following is a copy:

Whereas, I, David E. W. Corbin, have this day canceled and given up to jacob smith a certain lease for a section of land on Flint river, in the county of Oakland, dated the 21st day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty-one (1821), as by reference to said lease will more fully appear, and whereas the said Jacob Smith hath heretofore commenced a certain suit on a book account against me before John McDonald, Esq., a justice of the peace in and for the county of Wayne. Now, therefore, in consideration of the said Jacob Smith having discontinued said suit, and having given me a general release of all debts and demands whatsoever, I do hereby give, grant, sell, and convey into the said Jacob Smith all my right, title, interest, and claim whatsoever to all the wheat, corn, potatoes, barley, peas, beans, and oats, and all other crops whatsoever, now growing on said section of land, or elsewhere in the county of Oakland, and likewise all other property of every kind and description which I now own in the county of Oakland. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal, this fifth day of August, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty-two.

Witness: George A. Gage. David E. W. Corbin. (Seal)

From this it clearly appears that a part of the reservation had been cleared and tht crops were growing upon it at least as early as 1822; that in 1822 it was occupied as a farm by Mr. Corbin under lease from Jacob Smith, and that Mr. Corbin, who for some reason was unable to meet his payments, relinquished the lease to Mr. Smith in that year. That the farm, after being given up by Mr. Corbin, was carried on by Mr. Smith until his death, seems clear from another paper, which is as follows:

Detroit, April 4, 1825.

To all whom it may concern: Mr. George Lyons is hereby authorized to take possession, in the name of Metawanene, or Albert J. Smith, a minor, of the house and farm, situated on Flint river, lately occupied by Jacob Smith, deceased, until some further definite arrangement. The horses, cattle, hogs, one wagon, three plows, and four sets of harness belong to me, and Mr. Lyon is hereby authorized to receive them in my name from any person now at the farm.

(Signed) John Garland.

P. S.--all other property on the premises belong to the estate of Jacob Smith. It is my wish that an inventory be taken of them by Mr. Lyons and Mr. E. Campau, and left with Mr. Campau.

Mr. Smith's death, at the age of forty-five years, was the first death of a white person which occurred within the present limits of Genesee county. It left a name which runs through all of the litigation over title to the lands now occupied by the city of Flint and which dragged its slow length along down even to the time of the Civil War, retarding the development of the north side of the river and causing family and neighborhood heart-burnings for many a year.

Mr. Corbin, to whom reference is made in Smith's papers, had been a soldier in the War of 1812, and died at Green Bay, Wisconsin. Mr. E. Campau (Francois Edouard Campau) was a half-breed, who owned reservation No. 7. There he lived in a cabin built by himself, and was frequently employed by Mr. Smith. On June 12, 1825, he obtained a patent for this land and, as he removed from it soon afterwards permanently, it is probably that the motive of his residence was to help him to get the patent; in that case he could hardly be classed as a settler. George Lyons lived on the Flint river five year, but exactly where is not known. Neither can the exact date of his resident be given; probably he lived near the Grand Traverse at the time of Smith's death.


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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