The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter IV
Settlement of Flint Before 1837

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton




Flint was the first prominent center of settlement planted beyond Pontiac on the old Saginaw Indian trail, and the second settlement planted beyond that cordon of tangled forest and dread morass surrounding Detroit, which was popularly supposed to be the vestibule of a vast uninhabited wilderness whose lands were barren and where nothing but wild beasts, migratory birds and venomous reptiles were ever destined to find an abode. Only a little time before, the great interior of the lower peninsula of Michigan was an unexplored and unknown country. The story has already been told how, after the War of 18112, the United States surveyor-general, Edward Tiffin, declared to the national government that "the intermediate space between these swamps and lakes--which is probably near one-half of the country--is, with very few exceptions, a poor, barren, sandy land, on which scarcely any vegetation grows except very small, scrubby oaks," and concluded with his opinion that "there would not be more than one acre out of a hundred, if there would be one out of a hundred, that would in any case admit of cultivation." Thanks to Lewis Cass, governor of Michigan territory, and others whom he was able to influence, this judgment was soon proved to be false. In 1818 he set out from Detroit, accompanied by Hon. Austin E. wing, and two or three other friends, on a tour of observation and discovery. Through the first stage of their northwestern journey after leaving Detroit the aspect was by no means reassuring. At times their horses sand knee-deep in the sloughs or wallowed through the marshy places along the trail. It really seemed as if the dismal tales of the surveyors and Indian traders would prove true. At last, after floundering over a distance which seemed a hundred miles, but which in reality was little over a dozen, they came to higher ground and more open country, which is now the southeastern part of the county of Oakland. From that point they continued their journey with comparative east northwestward over a dry rolling country through beautiful open groves of oak and along the margins of pure and limpid waters. During their journey, which lasted about a week, they penetrated nearly to the southern boundary of Genesee. When they returned they carried back with them the knowledge and proof that Michigan was not a worthless desert, as represented, but a beautiful and fertile land awaiting only the touch of the settler's axe and plow to yield an abundant increase to reward his toil.

The broad Indian trail taken by the party of explorers, which ran from Detroit to Saginaw, and along which for many years the northern tribes of Indians came down in large numbers to barter their furs for supplies and to receive their annuities from the English and United States governments, crossed the Flint river at a point called by the French traders the Grand Traverse, and it was a favorite resting place and camping ground for them and the neighboring tribes, as game and fish were there especially abundant. It is owing to this circumstance that Flint became a center of settlement.

Its name, however, is not so easily accounted for. According to some, the Chippewa Indians called the region now occupied by the city Mus-cu-ta-wa-ningh, or "open plain, burned over," and the stream which flows through it Pe-won-nuk-ening , or "river of the flint." Just why they should have named the river so is unexplainable, for, though its bed is rocky, there is nothing about it suggestive of flint. Judge Albert Miller, who worked for John Todd in the early thirties, records in the "Michigan Historical Collections" the name of the settlement as Pe-won-a-go-seeba. William R. McCormick, who as a boy lived with his parents at this site in 1832, gives the name of the settlement as Sco-ta-wa-ing, "burnt opening,' and that of the river as Pe-won-a-go-wing-see-ba, or "flint stones in the river." It is clear that whichever name in the Indian language was correct for the river it meant "flint," in some form. Col. E. H. Thomson concludes the matter by saying: "After wrestling for several years with these Chippewa jawbreakers, the early settlers ended the struggle by called both river and settlement, "Flint," and Flint they are.


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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