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1821 Ellis

Albert G. Ellis (1800 - ) from New York became a surveyor, mostly in the Green Bay area f Wisconsin. He also edited a newspaper in Green Bay.

In the month of June, 1821, I left Oneida county, N.Y., destined for Michigan and Green Bay - in the then little known, and far off, Northwest. . . .

The new steam-boat "Walk-in-the-water," built by capitalists from Albany, and after the North River models, commanded by captain Rogers, lay at the wharf at Black Rock. We took passage in her for Detroit. She was furnished with what the engineer called a "powerful low pressure engine"; but she could not, with all her power, stem the rapids, and go out into the Lake, but had to be towed out by nine yoke of oxen going along the beach, at the end of a line of six hundred feet, which was cast off as soon as the steamer got out of the rapids and into the Lake. This boat had great length, with but little breadth, was very slender, and proved unseaworthy, having broken in two, the next fall, in a storm on Lake Erie- the lives of the passengers being saved by beaching her just below Dunkirk. She, however, took us safely to Detroit - in fact, made the tour of the Lakes, to Mackinaw, the Sault, and Green Bay, and returning, during the calms of summer, to the great delight of the master and crew, only to prove an entire failure the first rough weather.

There was not a good harbor on the south shore of the Lake, except Sandusky. At Erie, Ashtabula, and Cleveland, bars had formed across the mouths of the streams, and goods had to be lightened off. We reached Detroit at the end of the third day. The town was not as large as it is now. It was built on a single street, parallel with the River, and something over half a mile in length. There was one brick house, that of Gen. Macomb, a rather respectable structure, but the General had left it, under orders from the War Department, for another part of the country. There was besides this house of General Macomb, a small brick market-house, quite new - the pride of the city; a tavern of wood, of moderate pretensions; a Council house of poles set on end, and the joints filled with lime mortar. There were besides, some hundred or less of small houses and shops; and last, but not least, Governor Cass' dwelling, a square structure of logs, lathed and plastered inside and out, quite out of town, down the River bank, at least three-fourth of a mile.

The population of Detroit was mixed, the French Canadians prevailing. There were many half-breeds, and it being the season of the year when the Indians usually came in from their wintering grounds, the wild Chippewas seemed to be in undisputed possession. They did not appear over select in their language or manners; still they were quite inoffensive to the whites, especially the French traders, to whose every order and command they rendered most instant obedience. No police existed or was necessary.

Woodward kept the principal hotel, which was well patronized. It was at Woodward's that I observed the wall ornamented with a large map of Michigan, laying down nearly the whole interior of the Territory, (on authority said to have been derived from the War Department,) as a swamp.

The Court was in session - held at the afore-mentioned Council-house, made of poles set on end. The whole building may have been fifty feet in length, twenty-four in width, and ten to the roof in height. Curious to witness the dispensation of justice in those ends of the earth, I ventured into the august presence. The whole Court consisted of his Honor, Judge Witherell, three lawyers, and as many suitors; juries not yet having traveled so far towards sunset. One of the counsel, a Mr. Biddle, was discussing some obscure question, involving title to land; the Court seemed in much perplexity; the opposing counsel only made darkness more visible. The lawyers at length paused for the decision from the bench. It was in the afternoon of one of the hottest days in June; the court-room seemed in a broil - the Judge being the chief victim. He wiped the perspiration from his naked poll with no seeming relief; at length rising with much dignity, he proceeded, not to a decision of the case, but deliberately to the door of the Council-room, and without explanation of any kind, marched into the street, and thence to the wharf at the River, and sitting down, with his feet over the water, having on neither at nor coat, amused himself for an hour or more throwing sticks and pebbles at the fishes. Having at length apparently cooled his head, and quieted his nerves, he rose, and with the same deliberation observed in his egress, returned to the court-room and resumed his seat. The suitors and counsel, being probably accustomed to his moods, had all quietly maintained their places during recess, and were ready for a resumption of the case. The Judge, as if nothing unusual had happened, proceeded to give his decision, which, if it did not please both parties, it satisfied them, as immediate acquiescence followed. I learned that with all his eccentricities, he failed not of securing the confidence of the people, both of the bar and the suitors.

Though a majority of the inhabitants of Detroit were of the plebeian order, Canadian and mixed blood prevailing, yet there was not wanting a good proportion of well-educated, intelligent, cultivated people, who would have graced almost any society; for open, free-hearted manners to strangers, and genuine hospitality, they were an honor to our common humanity.

Detroit River presented most creditable improvements along its banks; the farms being occupied on the old French plan of one of three arpents in width, and extending eighty arpents deep - the houses were generally but a few rods apart on the River bank; and there was a halo of antiquity in their appearance. Cultivation was thorough in a few cereals, and most of the vegetables; orchards of apple and pear trees invariably occupied the front - the trees indicating a growth of a hundred years. Every point on the River bank was garnished with a huge wind-mill - water-mills being unknown at that time in this part of the globe.. . .

While at Detroit, I had contracted what was then known as the "Lake fever," - a severe sickness, under which I languished for three weeks; but now convalescing, was considered able to continue the trip.

From: FIFTY-FOUR YEAR'S RECOLLECTIONS OF MEN AND EVENTS IN WISCONSIN by Gen. Albert G. Ellis. Report and Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for the Years 1873, 1875 and 1876. Vol. VII. Madison, WI: E.B. Bolens, 1876: 210-213.