Thomas Nuttal (1786-1859) was born in England and migrated to the
United States in 1808. After many excursions to examine the flora and
fauna of America Nuttal was appointed Curator of the botanical garden of
Harvard College in 1822. He was the author of several scientific books.
[June] Saturday, 23
Huron & arrived in Detroit Tuesday 26. The upper part of the Lake
is full of small islands whose shores are covered with very white
Lime-stone pebbles. Some of the islands are solid cretaceous rocks
elevating their majestic hollow cliffs high above the water, in one of
the islands is a cavern of considerable dimensions, but containing
nothing very curious. The lake is far from being so filled with snakes
as has been related; & the story of the fatal blowing snake is but a French fiction. At the mouth of the Detroit river is the town and fort of Malden. There were a considerable number of Indians encamped here, of the Otoways & Chippeways.
The officers of the garrison are very liberal & indulgent to the
aborigines who in return know how to be grateful. The Indians were
loaded with silver ornaments The Otoways affect the wreath or turban, & some of the venerable chiefs have all the suavity & graveness of a Grand Senior.
From Malden to Detroit the river & adjacent country is nearly on
the plane in one place the river scarcely possesses a determinate
current branching into 3 different channels which have all in their turn
been more or less navigable. The soil here & at Detroit is alluvial
occasionally interspersed with adventitious masses of primitive rock,
as granite, green & black basalt, but very little pure Quartz. Springs are very rare, & there is but one in the neighbourhood of Detroit consequently they use the river water exclusively as the spring called the belle fontaine
lies 3 miles below the city. The river water is very pure, & the
stream when not too deep is of a berryl green as is all the water of the
lakes. A considerable precipitate takes place in this water on the
addition of Nitrate of Silver, but none takes places with lime-water, muriat of Barytes, tincture of galls, or oxalate of potash. Lime-water occasions a considerable precipitation in the water of Belle fontaine, a small cloud is also formed by the addition of nitrate of silver, a minute precipitation also takes place on the addition of Oxalate of potash, muriate barytes & tincture of galls from whence it appears the river water contains a little muriatic acid possibly combined with Soda, the spring-water appears to contain a portion of Lime, Sulph. acid & iron. Detroit is pleasantly situated on the Western bank of Detroit-river, & contains about 1500 inhabitants mostly French people & Catholicks,
& in full possession of all the superstitions peculiar to that
religion, Their holidays are so frequent & so strictly observed as
to rob the community of much useful labour & to involve themselves
in poverty; the Abbe Rishard their priest is a learned & intelligent observer. 3 miles from Detroit at belle fontaine are several high sand hills, which have been raised by the Indians as tumuli or burying-places & are held in veneration by them. Mr. Hervey of Detroit on digging the foundation of a house on one of these sand hills discovered the implements of an Indian chief, viz. a rude axe head of green basalt, cylindric & rounded at one end and wedged at the other, & possessed of a considerable polish. The head of a halbert of rock-crystal about 1/2 a foot long & 4 inches broad. Several spear-heads
well formed, of white hornstone together with several arrow-heads of
the same substance. The fragment of a fish-spear of bone barbed on 1
side a necklace of human toe or finger joints, & 2 pieces
of thin plate copper ore in the form of a crescent with 2 small holes in
the centre. It is probable the copper is native, & has been beat
out & cut by the Indians.
The disease of Bronchocele or Goitre is
very prevalent in Detroit & its neighbourhood, both amongst whites
& Indians The female sex is much more subject to it than the male,
& there are few white women who have not experienced more or less of
it. It is sometimes tho' rarely accompanied with fatuity I saw one
instance of this in an Indian man, a poor harmless idiot! It is more
distressing to some individuals than others. Many carry about this
disease for years without much apparent inconvenience, while others are
threatened with suffocation & death.
The situation of Detroit is elevated & airy the soil
allluminous, & the surrounding country a stagnant marsh, but the
ague is scarcely known.
Different opinions are entertained respecting the origin of
this disease; some attributing it to an unknown property in the water of
the river; others to drinking snow-water, &c. but this last
oppinion is in some measure confuted by the observation of the Abbe Molini
But they never suppose that the abundant & unhealthy miasmata
naturally arising from the swamps near the city, have any influence in
causing this disease. The water of the lakes is perhaps as pure &
generally wholesome as any body of fresh water in the world, & the
inhabitants of their banks generally speaking are as healthy or rather
more so than in any other part of America, & by no means peculiarly
afflicted with Goitre. The opinion of its arrising from exposure to the inclemency of a cold climate; "wading in snow,"
&c. is not well founded, as women in easy circumstances, are as
much if not more liable to it than the poorer ranks, who are necessarily
more exposed, & whose constitutions here are full as delicate.
Till the nature of this disease becomes better known, little
can be done toward a cure, many inert substances, & even charms
have had the credit of curing this disease, which baffles reasonable
medicine, however, as it comes without any apparent cause so it
frequently subsides gradually without the aid of any remedy. Amongst the
Different substances said to cure this [ - ] desideratum in
medicine [ - ] are pieces of sponge taken internally - A small woollen
bad filled with common salt worn about the neck & frequently wet
with vinegar; & fomentations of vinegar, or capillary substances wet
with vinegar suspended about the neck, which last has been known to
discuss this obstinate tumour in several instances.
The Huron or Wyandot village which formerly existed in Canada opposite Detroit is now no more & a settlement of white people is established on its site There are now but 4 villages of the Hurons, viz. Upper and Lower Sandusky; the 1st at the mouth of Sandusky river, & the second between 30 & 40 miles above on the river. A small village about 12 miles below Detroit called Maguaja, & another village opposite Malden called Brown's -town
from the name of their white chief, who has lived with them from a
child having been taken prisoner. They are about 300 men. I am informed
it is their opinion that they are descended from the Iroquois
or 6 confederated nations; be that as it may, their language has an
affinity to that of the six nations, it is nearly destitute of labiate
sounds, tho' not absolutely so; & extremely full of aspirations,
& consequently very laborious to the speaker. Their government is
purely elective. They are mild looking Indians, but like the Iroquois
possessed of that banefull superstition & belief in Witchcraft, to
which one of their leading old chiefs lately fell victim. Besides these
Indians there are a considerable number of Chipeways (called Sotos by the French) near Detroit. The most influencial chief among them is Ogonce who has 5 wives, & a vast number of children, he is half French they plant but little corn.
There are not many animals in the vicinity of Detroit but at
no great distance there are Wolves, bears, Wild Cats, black, &
ground squirrel, racoon, musquash, Weasel, a species of Talpa, nearly
the size of a rat, covered with a fine black soft fur the base of the
head as broad as the shoulders, so as to appear without neck, & the
nose furnished with a radiated process of red fungous flesh ft. 5-toed,
tail long, thicker at the base, the tail long thick in the middle
covered with short hair. probably Talpa Longicaudata. A small species of - Sorex
hardly as large as a mouse & of a mouse grey. The head somewhat
disproportionately large, the feet 5-toed, small, & the toes
slender, its concave ears large; it frequents habitations like mice.
& is subterraneous The tail small & very short eyes perceptibly
none. There are wild mice but no rats, the mice are large & active
& found wild in the woods in the summer season. they are pale
ferruginous on the back, whitish beneath the ears area broad &
large, & the beard long, the eyes also are large & prominent,
& the tail rather long, probably Mus sylvatica. There are no rats in this country, & rarely if ever the opossum, Considerable quantities of wild honey are collected in the woods but the bee here is certainly of European origin. The Salamandra horrida is sometimes met with in Detroit river, & the gar-fish, furnished with a long serrated process issuing from the lower jaw Esox viridis There are also cat-fish Silurus Felis, white & black bass, pike Esox Lucius, sturgeon &c. I saw no great variety of birds, there are Falco columbarius, Corvus Corax, Corvus cristatus, Picus pileatus, P. auraus, P. erythrocephaulus, P. villosuus, Gracula quiscula, Alcedo alcyon, Ardea herodias, Charadrius
vociferus, Trochilus colubris, Tetrao umbellus Tetrao Marilandus,
Columba migratoria, Turdus migratorius, T. Polyglottos, T. rufus Loxia
cardinalis, L. Curvirostra, Muscicapa Carolinensis, Lanius tyrannus,
Caprimulgus Virginiana, Oriolus pheoniceus, Ardea cinerea, Motacilla
Sialis, Hirundo purpureo, H. rustica, Anas Boschas, Anas sponsa, Emberiza erithrophthalma &c but no extraordinary birds.
The production of the vegetable kingdom in the neighbourhood of Detroit differ little from the West of Pensylvania. Neither the Persimmon, nor Magnolia acuminata are here. I have not seen this last since I left Grand river L. Erie, neither have I seen the Buckeye, Aesculus flava, since I left Sandusky Bay. The principal trees here are, Quercus nigra, Q. rubra, Q. tinctoria, Q. phellos, Q. Castanea, Juglans Alba, J. Nigra, Lyriodendron tulipifera, Platanus occidentalis, P****** grandidentata, Populus angulata (called Liard by the French, it has also the trivial name of Cottonwood,
the ament after florescence lengthens out into a pendulous racema of
ovati-conic follicles each of which become somewhat larger than a pea,
& the seeds have abundance of cottony pappus, from whence originates
the above name. This same plant, I believe has also received a new name in the Botanic Garden of Charleston
from the circumstance of its somewhat moniliform racema of
seed-vessels, it is believed to be a distinct new species, but probably
further investigation will identify it to be the above. On this rout I 1st saw it on Detroit river, how far this tree extends North McKenzies
journal will shew. Its leaves are cordatodeltoid, accuminate, sinuate
or hooked serrate with a cartilaginous border & diverging diffracted
nerves the petiole is ancipital with vertical edges. Its habit is
principally on the alluvion banks of rivers, & next to the Platanus it is the largest tree on the great Western waters. The other trees of this country are, Fraxinus epiptera, F. platycarpa, Fagus sylvestris, Betula papyrifera
which is extensively used by the Indians for constructing canoes about
which they display considerable ingenuity & skill. These boats are
much used by the fur-traders being very light of carriage across the
numerous portages of the N. West & Lake countries & also
admirably adapted for navigating the shallowest streams. Here is also Pyrus
coronaria, Tilia Laxiflora, T. Canadensis, Prunus Hiemalis, Cretaegus
crus galli, C. punctata, C. tomentosa, Rubus occidentalis R. saxatilis. of herbaceous & shrubby plants there are Fragaria Canadensis Geum rivale, G. Canadense, G. geniculatum, Agrimonia paraviflora of Ait., Lythrum, Spiraea salicifolia, Narthecium glutinosum, Prosperpinaca ********, Cypripedium Canadense, Cymbedium pulchellum, Arethusa ophioglossoides, a new linear leav'd Lysimachia, Lobelia Cardinalis very sparingly L. Siphilitica, L. Kalmii, L. Claytoniana, Datura stramonium, Hiosciamus nigra, Ribes nigra, R. cynosbati, the asperifoliate plant which I met with at Painsville Ohio & which I take to be the Batchsia or Batcia of Michaux Galega Virgini, Asclepias tuberosa, A. Syriaca, A longifolia, A. verticilata, A. purpur*a [sens] A. amoena, Aposcynum
cannabinum; a fine new species of Rosa, producing its flowers in
corymbs, & is introduced into the gardens of Detroit for the beauty
& vast numbers of its flowers. I shall hereafter distinguish it R.
****** on the margin of Detroit River grows a fine new Thlaspi, with
small greenish yellow flowers, succeeded by very large roundish
obcordate, flat, & broad margined silicles, which are sinuately
emarginate, leaves I think obovate & distantly toothed the whole
plant lucid & fleshy, Thlaspi *****. With it grows Cakile Aegyptiaca!? fl. violet. of aquatics there are Pontideria cordata, Nymphaea odorata, N. alba, & another with yellow flowers which might be called ******** as it has but 3 petals & 3 calyx leaves in other respects it scarcely differs from N. advena, Callitriche aquatica, Valisneria americana, scape spiral, Chara hispida, Potomogeton perfoliatum, & a species with leaves linear lanceolate alternate, sessile, 3 nerved, Elodea, &c.
On July 29th, I left Detroit for Michilimakinak in a birch bark canoe accompanied by the surveyor of the territory.
From: NUTTAL'S TRAVELS INTO THE OLD NORTHWEST; AN UNPUBLISHED 1810 DIARY edited by Jeannette E. Graustein. Chronica Botanica. 1950-51. 14: 57-64.
Early Western Travels 13:11-18.