1815 Surveyor General's Office

This report by the Surveyor General's office explains one of the reasons why Detroit and Michigan did not develop as fast as the territories immediately to the south of them. This report had a direct impact on the growth of the city.

Surveyor General's Office

Chillicothe, November 30, 1815

Sir: -

The surveyors who went to survey the military land in Michigan Territory have been obliged to suspend their operations until the country shall be sufficiently frozen so as to bear man and beast. Knowing the desire of the government to have the lands surveyed as soon as practicable, and my earnest importunities to urge the work forward, they continued at work suffering incredible hardships until both men and beasts were literally worn down with extreme suffering and fatigue - the frost set in early, and the ice covered nearly the whole country, but broke through at every step, and the pack horses could not be got along with them, they were therefore obliged to submit to the climate and its attendant rigors, and desist for awhile, intending to attack them again as soon as they think it possible to proceed.

I annex a description of the country which has been sent to me and which I am informed all the surveyors concur in, it was only yesterday I received it and heard of their return - as soon as their health and strength is recruited I expect to see them all, only one of them having been here yet - in the mean time I think it my duty to give you the information, believing that it is the wish of the government that soldiers should have (as the act of congress expresses) lands fit for cultivation, and that the whole of the two millions of acres appropriated in the territory of Michigan will not contain anything like one hundredth part of that quantity, or is worth the expense of surveying it, perhaps you may think with me, that it will be proper to make this representation to the president of the United States and he may avert all further proceedings - by directing me to pay off what has been done and abandon the country - congress being in session other lands could be appropriated in lieu of them and might be surveyed as soon as those in Michigan - for when the ice is sufficiently strong to bear man and beast, a deep snow would still embarrass the surveyors. I shall therefore wait to hear you answer to this communication before I proceed any further thinking I should be unfaithful to my trust if I had lost any time in communicating the information received.

The country in the Indian boundary line from the mouth of the great Auglaize river and running thence for about 50 miles is (with some few exceptions) low wet land with a very thick growth of underbrush, intermixed with beech, cottonwoods, oak, etc., from thence continuing and extending from the Indian boundary line eastward, the number and extent of the swamps increases, with the addition of numbers of lakes from 20 chains to two and three miles across. Many of the lakes have extensive marshes adjoining their margins, sometimes thickly covered with a species of pine called "Tamirak," and other places covered with a coarse high grass, and uniformly covered from six inches to three feet (and more at times) with water. The margin of these lakes are not the only places where swamps are found, for they are interspersed throughout the whole country and filled with water as above stated, and varying in extent. The immediate space between these swamps and lakes, which is probably near one-half of the country, is, with a very few exceptions, a poor, barren, sandy loam land, on which scarcely any vegetation grows, except very small scrubby oaks. In many places that part which may be called dry land is composed of little short sand hills, forming a kind of deep basins, the bottoms of many of which are composed of marsh similar to those above described - the streams are generally narrow and very deep compared with their width; the shores and bottoms of which are (with a very few exceptions) swamp beyond description; and it is with the utmost difficulty that a place can be found over which horses can be conveyed. A circumstance peculiar to that country is exhibited in many of the marshes; by their being thinly covered with a sward of grass, by walking on which evinced the existence of water or a very thin mud immediately under that thin covering, which sinks from 6 to 18 inches from the pressure of the foot at every step, and at the same time rising before and behind the person passing over. The margins of many of the lakes and streams are in a similar situation, and in many places are literally afloat. On approaching the eastern part of the military lands towards the private claims on the strait and lake the country does not contain so many swamps and lakes, but the extreme sterility and barrenness of soil continues the same, taking the country altogether so far as has been explored and to all appearances together with the information received concerning the balance, is as bad - there would not be more than one acre out of a hundred, if there would one out a thousand that would in any case admit of cultivation.

With great respect I am your obedient servant,

Edward Tiffin.

The Hon. Josiah Meigs, Commissioner G.L. office, Washington.

From: MICHIGAN PIONEER AND HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS. 10 (1888): 61-62.