1796 Burnet


Jacob Burnet (1770-1853) was an Ohio lawyer and Senator. He settled in Cincinnati in 1796. He published Notes on the Early Settlement in 1847. It is essentially autobiographical, and is considered one of the most important historical sources for the period of transition in Ohio from a territorial government to statehood.

It had been for many years, the principal depot of the fur trade of the north west, and the residence of a large number of English and Scotch merchants, who were engaged in it, and was of course a place of great business. The greater part of the merchants engaged in the fur trade, both Scotch and English, had their domiciles at Detroit; and the nature of the trade was such as to require large amounts of capital, in order to be profitable; because the great distance, and the immense extent of country, over which their furs and peltry were collected, rendered it impossible to turn the capital employed more than once in a year, and sometimes once in two years. The business was also extremely laborious and precarious. In some seasons, their profits were enormously large; in others, they were small; and occasionally, they were subjected to heavy losses.

During a large portion of the year, they had to endure the fatigues and privations of the wilderness; and as often as they returned from those laborious excursions to their families and comfortable homes, they indulged most freely in the delicacies and luxuries of high living. Scarcely a day passed without a dinner party, given by some one of them, at which the best of wine and of other liquors, and the richest viands furnished by the country, and by commerce, were served up in great profusion, and in fine taste. Genteel strangers who visited the place, were generally invited to their houses, and their sumptuous tables; and although at this day, such a practice would be considered a breach of moral duty, as well as of good breeding, they competed with each other for the honor of drinking the most, as well as the best wine, without being intoxicated themselves, and of having at the their parties the greatest number of intoxicated guests. This revel was kept up in a greater or lesser degree, during the season they remained at home, as on offset to the privations and suffering of their excursions into the wilderness.

At one of those sumptuous dinner, given by Angus McIntosh, the bottom of every wine glass on the table had been broken off, to prevent what were called heel-taps; and during the evening, many toasts were given, which the company were required to drink in bumpers. The writer of this narrative was one of the guests, on that occasion; but being in very delicate and precarious health, was not required to comply with the rules prescribed for others; but was permitted to eat and drink, as his judgment dictated. This privilege was awarded to him most cheerfully, at all those parties, as it was known that without it, he could not have participated in their hospitality.

Soon after the town of Detroit came into the hands of the Americans, most of those merchants removed, and established themselves at Sandwich, in Upper Canada, where it was the universal custom to celebrate the birth-day of the king. The General Court of the Territory being in session at Detroit, on the 4th of June, 1800, which was the birth-day of his majesty, George III, the judges and the bar, and also the officers of the American garrison, with many of the principal citizens of Detroit, were invited to be present, and partake in the festivities of the occasion. The invitation was accepted, and about an hundred Americans joined in the festival. A spacious building, erected for a warehouse, was so arranged as to accommodate between four and five hundred persons, with seats at the tables, at the same time. The entertainment was splendid; the tables richly and abundantly supplied with every thing which appetite or taste could desire.

The loyalty of his majesty's subjects was evinced by every expedient in their power; and if a moiety of their prayers, in behalf of their royal master, had been granted, he must have lived a thousand years, and his shadow never have grown less.

During the evening, much deference was paid, by the managers, to the feelings of their American guests. Next to the King, the President of the United States was drank; and among the residue of the toasts, there were several complimentary to our country and her distinguished statesmen. By pursuing that liberal, respectful course, no bad feeling was excited; and although more wine was drank, in proportion to numbers, than the writer ever witnessed on any other occasion; yet the party, late in the night, separated in harmony and mutual good feeling. The American garrison, at Detroit, consisted of two regiments, commanded by Colonel Strong, who, in consideration of his great responsibility, and to relieve from duty as many of his officers as practicable, declined to be a guest, and remained at his post in the citadel.

At that party the court and bar became acquainted with the British officers, stationed at Fort Malden, and received a pressing invitation to visit them, and spend a night at their quarters in the garrison. At the same time, Captain Currie, of the John Adams, an armed vessel of the United States, politely offered to convey the party to Malden, and from thence to Maumee Bay. These invitations were accepted, and, as soon as the court had finished the business of the term, they and the bar sent their horses by land to the foot of the Rapids, and embarked for the British garrison. They were received by Captain McMullen, the commandant, and entertained with great hospitality. He gave them a fine supper, good wine, and excellent beds; which were seldom met with, by western travelers, in those early days of territorial improvement. In the morning, the party took leave, and returned to the vessel.

At that time, the fort was in a very unfinished state, and no material or preparation was discovered for completing it. It was said, however, by the officers, that preparations were in progress for that purpose, and that it was the intention of government to put the works in a complete state for defense, without delay. Early in the afternoon, the brig cast anchor in the Maumee Bay, and the barge was let down and manned. Having taken leave of the officers, the party took their seats, and in a few hours were landed at the foot of the Rapids. The passage was pleasant, and the misery of wading through the deep mud of the Black Swamp was escaped.

From: NOTES ON THE EARLY SETTLEMENT OF THE NORTH-WESTERN TERRITORY by Jacob Burnet. Cincinnati: Derby, Bradley & Co., 1847: 282 - 287.

See Also:

Dictionary of American Biography

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 1774-1989. Washington: GPO, 1989.