1820 Douglass

David Bates Douglass (1790-1849) was an Assistant Professor of Natural Philosophy at West Point when he joined the Cass Expedition as Topographer or Surveyor. He had previous surveying experience with the team which had surveyed the boundary between Niagara and Detroit. This trip took 123 days in which the group traveled 4,000 miles.


David Bates DouglassMay 9 - Dined with Governor Cass, Dr. Read, and [blank in the original] of the Zanesville silver mine. Find myself arrived at Detroit in good season - as our canoes are not yet arrived and it is probable we shall not start under some 8 or 10 days - Detroit.

May 10 and 11 - Waiting the arrival of our canoes. Rode 6 miles up the river. Aspect of the country - Bloody Bridge - Pontiac. Read General Cass' "Project of the Expedition" as communicated to the Secretary of War. Weather rainy on the 11th and the wind which for some days past had been at north-east came 'round and blew briskly from southwest.

May 12 and 13 - Still raining at intervals and very chilly - wind as before. This storm is considered remarkable for Detroit which, as Dr. Wolcott informs me, has almost a continually serene and clear atmosphere. Two of the men who were detailed for the party and who were at the fort deserted to the other side - Frenchmen, and very useful to us in knowing the use of the paddle. Canoes not yet arrived - find a difficulty in getting arms for the whole party. Captain Perkins refuses to let anything go out of the public store for love or money. Finally, however, procured 4 old rifles on my certificate that they were "required for immediate public service" and "could not have been provided for in season."

May 14 - Weather a little warmer but still cloudy. Walked down to Springwells, three miles from Detroit, and gathered flowers. Found the flower, which I have called after Berard "Anemone" but which is not such, in bloom as at Black Rock, West Point, etc., and the blue violet, strawberry and a grass with a delicate little blue flower such as I have seen in New Jersey, together with sundry others which I collected. Abundance of crab apple - its fine flavour - white thorn. Springwells the highest land in this quarter, perhaps 60 feet above the water on the tops of the sandy hills which are there.

May 15 - Obtained for the first time a set of equal altitudes and these even rendered doubtful by the clouds in the afternoon. Rode with General McComb to Springwells. Fine view from that place of Detroit. Indian antiquities said to have been found here - General Mc Comb says not so. The hills which have sometimes been taken for tumuli are mere hills of sand probably raised by the wind. Encamping ground - gathered some other flowers - race ground covered at present with scrubby oaks. Do not think the soil of this part is a rich as some I have seen. The old farms, however, near the bank of the river above and below Detroit do certainly look very fine. Captain Stanton bought one of about 200 acres at 6000 dollars. It has 300 young apple trees on it from which he may now make say 100 barrels of the finest cider, a liquor for which this country is famous. His was worth 7 dollars a barrel. His fishery on the river is also worth some 3 or 4 hundred dollars and then the produce of the farm is as least worth as much, making an interest of 20 per cent on the purchase - but that was a rare case. The French population is a disadvantage generally to this place. Want some thriving Yankee farmers in the neighborhood. Mitchella growing at Springwells - mocking bird - low grounds from Springwells generally on the bank of the river to its mouth. Would not these raise good hominy?

May 16 - Accomplished a good set of equal latitudes and a set of lunar distances in the evening. Found today that one of the men contemplated for the expedition was waiter to Lieutenant Clark of the Army. As this was a very competent man for this kind of duty I called on Lieutenant Clark at the request of Governor Cass and so stated to him accordingly. He appeared unwilling to give him up and after an interval for consideration told me he should only give him up to the order of General McComb. Of course, we do not get him as it is intended to treat Lieutenant Clark with the utmost delicacy on this subject. I confess myself unable to discover any ground upon which an officer's private convenience should be held paramount to the public interest. The fact of the man's being a good waiter was Mr. Clark's only ground for refusing him and that notwithstanding that he was of the highest value to us in the performance of a national and most important enterprise. Note: Mr. Clark as an officer of the Commissary's Department is not entitled to a soldier as a waiter. Weather fine and clear - wind northeasterly as it has been blowing for some days. Night very cold and fires in our rooms all day. This, however, is said to be an uncommon spring at Detroit.

May 17 - Weather fine and clear. Wind still from the northeast. Ice was seen this morning. Obtained a few set of equal altitudes and a set of lunars by the sun. Dined with General McComb. Governor Cass had a fit of ague.

May 18 - Proposed to ride down with General McComb to Macquaga or Brown's Town but the weather being rather threatening did not do so. Wind still as before, except a small part of the afternoon when it blew from the southeast. Steamboat arrived and brought me a letter from Mrs. Douglass. Afternoon fine and clear.

May 19 - Some talk of the steamboat going up Lake Huron to carry a detachment of troops and our party but it fell through. Captain Stanton offered 1500 dollars for transporting the soldiers, say 270. Price from Buffalo here $3.50 head. Wrote my 4th letter to Mrs. Douglass in reply of hers of yesterday. Received from Judge Woodward, who boards in the house with us, an exposition of what he terms his epistemic system or system of human knowledge. He divides the circle of knowledge into classes, orders, etc., reducing the whole to a system of nomenclature by means of certain modes of termination corresponding to the different denominations. When the words in use are suitable to his purpose he uses them but if not he constructs others of Greek derivation in their stead or for the supply of deficiency. For example: the classes of human knowledge are expressed by words ending in ia, or a, the orders by others ending in gnosia, the subdivisions in logia, the subordinate branches in graphia, etc.

The more particular subject of his discourse was to explain his system as applied to botanical science in which he has adopted a natural method. It throws the science into four grand divisions or chapters: that which relates to cryptogamous plants; that which has reference to plants without a pericarp, as the grasses and siliceous plants, that which concerns the plants having a capsule; that which treats of plants having a pericarp of any form, and finally that on practical botany. Judge Woodward considers the three kingdoms as forming a perfect chain from the lowest order of inanimate to the highest of animated existences. (Miss Jones goes down in the steamboat - the girl who left her father's house and eloped with a married man. She is a great object of curiosity here.) Obtained a very fine set of 30 lunar distances. Wind as before and weather fine, warmer than at the beginning of the week. Governor Cass has another fit of ague.

May 20 - Received from Judge Woodward an explanation of the plan of Detroit which is an equilateral triangle with each angle bisected with a street running perpendicular to the opposite side thus forming six sections. Other triangles upon the same system may be added to any extent and the plan thus far is perhaps entitled to the merit of much geometric symmetry and elegance, but the judge has encumbered it with a superabundance of refinements. He throws, for example, all the public buildings into the centers of the sections. He intersects the interior of each also with a variety of alleys for the purpose of rendering each particular lot of the exterior accessible in rear. He has a veranda and a double walk in front of the houses. Those of the great streets which run north and south and east and west are 200 feet wide, the others 120. The streets in the interior of the sections are 60 and the alleys 20 feet. Areas are left at the principal intersections of the grand streets. That at the contemplated common angle of the six principal triangles where 12 streets will intersect is designed to be a Dodecahedron of about 1000 feet diameter.

There are in Detroit about 1200 inhabitants, about half French. There is building a large Catholic cathedral, 80 by 60 feet. It has two steeples and a small dome besides two turrets. Its organ was made in Ohio and is said to be a very fine one. A neat Presbyterian church is just finished, of wood. The cathedral is of the stone of Stony Island, mouth of Detroit River, with copes of Cleveland Stone. I should take the first to be white and the last blue lias. A Methodist society meet in the Council House in which the public business of the town, territory and Indian Department are transacted. There are two schools of the ordinary kind and a large Lancastrian. Had today a fine view of the town and surrounding country from the roof of General McComb's house. Never saw a finer aspect of country for a city. To the distance of a mile or thereabouts from the river up and down as far as the eye can reach, it wears all the appearance of an old country; rich looking cultivated grounds, fine orchards, beautiful green pastures, etc., and in my mind only requires a good back population of sturdy Yankee farmers to make it one of the finest of places. I think the advantage of an easy market and other eligibilities of this territory are not surely appreciated by settlers. Good mechanics are much wanted, as are most articles of household use, as market stuffs generally are high. Weather fine in afternoon, light northerly wind. . . . .

May 21 - Received some specimens from General McComb of the quarry stone from the lower end of Grosse Isle in which I recognized a new locality for sulph of strontian an [such?] as I found last summer at Moss Island. Botanized - found two species of thorn in flower - I think pypifolia and punctata. Found blue violets and the anemone of Berard, also the blue flower resembling a rocket. Weather fine and warm, wind southerly.

May 22 - Weather fine, wind brisk southerly in afternoon. Started in one of our birch canoes with 6 paddles to go to the quarry at Grosse Isle. Went down 18 miles in 2 3/4 hours. Found the quarry and procured some very fine specimens of the sulph of strontian. Botanized - found a liliaceous plant, a small flowered species of Solomon's Seal, a small white flower and one or two others as per collection. A considerable variety of apples is found wild on this Island. Growth of walnut, sugar maple, elm, etc.

May 23 - Weather somewhat hazy - wind brisk from the south, very dry and dusty at Detroit. Governor, etc. are resolved to get a batteau and proceed on tomorrow whether the canoes come or not. We can meet them and shift our baggage. Copy Colonel Gratiot's map of Green Bay and Captain Whiting's of the rivers Ouisconsin and Fox. Wrote to Mrs. Douglass. Rain in the evening.

May 24 - All bustle and packing up. Canoes arrived about 10. Got them overhauled, loaded and started by 4 in the afternoon. Most of the gentlemen of the party rode up to Grosse Point, 9 miles from Detroit accompanied by a great party of gentlemen and the families of Governor Cass and General McComb. Weather fine and wind from east-north-east. Bow in the east soon after we left town.

From: AMERICAN VOYAGEUR: THE JOURNAL OF DAVID BATES DOUGLASS edited by Sydney W. Jackman and John F. Freeman. Marquette, MI: Northern Michigan University Press, 1969: 7- 15.

See Also:

Dictionary of American Biography

Jackman, Sydney. Addenda to the Cass Expedition of 1820: Letters from Lewis Cass to David Bates Douglass. Inland Seas 1972 28 (1): 17-35.

Jackman, Sydney. David Bates Douglass' Journal. American Neptune 1964 24 (4): 280-293.