1822 Brunson

This is the same Alfred Brunson who's account of Detroit in 1813 appears previously.

On reaching home, I made arrangements for moving to Detroit. A land voyage was out of the question. There was no steam-boat then on Lake Erie, which I must cross, and go up one hundred and sixty miles. The only chance was to catch some small craft on its upward trip. I soon found one of twenty-three tons, going to the Detroit River on a fishing voyage, it being the season for taking the white fish. She belonged to Ashtabula, was schooner rigged, with a fore-topsail. Thirty-two souls were on board, including my family, which now numbered seven. We had no ballast or loading, except for a few barrels of salt, some provisions, and a lot of empty barrels. I could not ship my horse, for fear of foul weather at that season, October, and had to sell him.

On our upward course, off from Cleveland, and near the middle of the lake, and nearly out of sight of land, while sailing under a pleasant breeze, we were struck by a squall, which endangered all on board. The crew and fishermen passengers were on the quarter-deck, in high glee, drinking whiskey, singing songs, and telling yarns, and did not see the cloud coming up from the west, and nearly dead ahead.

At this critical moment I happened to go on deck for something, and looking up saw the black cloud over the foretop mast-head, and seeing at once the danger we were in, sung out to the captain, inquiring if it was not time to take in sail. He on looking up said, "Yes, I think it is;" and he and another one ran up the shrouds like squirrels, to furl the foretop-sail. But hearing the roar of the wind coming down to him, he sung out, "Let run every rag of sail." I was near the mainmast and let the mainsail run as it would, and fall in and out of the water, and the other sails were also let run in the same way, and they had hardly got down before the gale struck us. In two minutes more, if the sails had been up, the vessel must have been capsized, and all on board must have perished.. . .

That night, taking the land breeze again, we sailed, and the next day reached Detroit.

I had written to the steward and leader to procure me a house. But as our people never had had a married preacher there, he dared not do more than to inquire where one could be had. I had to do the renting, and pay for it myself.

As soon as I landed, I went to the leader and steward, and found him at dinner, and being invited, ate with him. He then invited me to bring my family to his house, while we procured a home for ourselves and moved up the goods. This was accomplished about sundown. But though all things were in heaps, and nothing in place, my wife proposed to get some supper, saying that neither she nor the children had eaten a bit since breakfast, on the vessel.

I supposed, of course, that dinner had been set before them while I was moving. On hearing this, I thought if this was a specimen of the treatment I was to receive, I must fare hard, indeed, and my heart sunk within me. Never before nor since was I so completely overcome. It was so unexpected, that before I had time to rally, I had, in the language of Scripture, "no more spirit in me."

My wife saw this in my sunken countenance, and though she felt bad, and hungry enough to weep, she thought it would not do for both of us to be down at the same time, so she rallied and cheered me up, saying, "Never mind; we'll soon get something to eat, and get along somehow; and things may be more favorable hereafter." As my bad feelings were more on her and the children's account than my own, it relieved me greatly to see her thus cheerful. If I had been the only sufferer, I should have held up in as much cheerfulness as possible; but to see loved ones thus suffer, and that too in accompanying me in the ministry, was what so deeply affected me.

Our goods were just thrown into the house, and nothing yet in place. We had carried some provisions with us, and had procured some wood, and soon had a fire and supper; and then, being weary, worshiped God, spread our beds on the floor, and lay down to rest.

The cold reception my family met with, soon leaked out. The steward himself being out with me did not know that my family had no dinner. His wife was not a Methodist, and had not the interest she had in us before the year was out; and not feeling well, she neglected the courtesies due to strangers, and especially the family of her husband's minister. But a thousand apologies and regrets were afterward made, not only by the good brother himself, but by his wife, and by others, several of whom would have fed me and my family if they had known the state of the case.

Why I was sent to Detroit, with such a family, a place so far out of the world, and with so little prospect of a support, was always a mystery. There were but fourteen members in the city, and but one hundred and thirty on the whole circuit, which covered the entire settled portion of the Territory and the Maumee settlement in Ohio. . . .

The house I rented had been occupied by the Indian blacksmith, his shop answering for a stable. My wife had feared that she would be afraid of the Indians, and especially when I should not be at home. But she soon got bravely over it. The Indians not knowing of the death of their blacksmith, came to the shop to get work done. But finding no smith, they came to the house, or to the door, to inquire for him, when my wife by the best signs she could make, informed them of his death. Upon this they would step back in apparent deep distress, and sit on the wood-pile before the door, at a loss to know what to do. She, seeing their distress, and that they showed no disposition to molest her or the children, soon felt her sympathies for them roused up, and gave them food. This they received with so much apparent gratitude, that she soon became attached to them, and they reciprocated her feelings, and made presents of brooms, baskets, and bowls, wrought out of ash knots, one of which I yet have, fifty years after receiving it.. . .

In the course of this year I saw the operation of the "Under-ground Railroad." At Judge Lee's, at Monroe, I saw an old negro and his wife, older, indeed, from hard and cruel usage than from years. They were wending their way to the land of freedom below Malden, or Amherstburg, in Canada. He said he "was forty-five years old last corn-planting time," but his wrinkled face and gray hairs indicated over sixty.

I inquired, "Why did you leave your master?"

"O, my master he be dead, and all we poor slaves were sold to pay his debts, and were on the way down to Orleans to be sold again."

"Have you any children?"

"Yes, massa, we have eight."

"Why did you leave them?"

"Why, when we get down the river to Orleans, and be sold, one goes one way and another another way, and we should be separated anyhow, and me and the old woman thought if we could get our liberty, though we be separated from our children, which must take place anyhow, it would be better for us, and no worse for them."

"Where did you leave them?"

"On the Ohio River. We came down from Wheeling in a flat-boat, and tied up on the Ohio side one night, and we made our escape and traveled all night to the north. We lay by days in the woods, and traveled nights till we got into the woods; then we traveled days and rested nights."

"Were you afraid of being pursued and taken back?"

"Not much. 'Cause there was eighty others in the boat, and they be afraid to leave them to follow us old folks, lest the young ones escape too. But still, for fear, we lay by of days a few times, till we reach the woods, then we travel in the daytime."

"Did you not hate to part with your children?"

"Yes; but it make no difference, for in Virginia they were no use to us. We was not allowed to have any help from them. If I asked my son to bring me a drink, when I was tired, in the field, the overseer wouldn't let him, but curse me to get my own drink, and if we had gone on with them and been sold to different masters, it would have been no better. We should not likely go all to the same plantation, and if we did it would be no better than it was in Virginia."

"How did you know who were your friends, and whom to call on to get food and lodging?"

"O, these good men's names are all known among the slaves South."

"How did you obtain this information?"

"Why, some slaves who have escaped, after a while come back privately to get their friends away, and they tell us; and when we get started, and find one good friend he tells us of others on the road, and so on."

The Judge told me that one morning, as he was walking down by the bridge to see if any negroes were about, as he was wont to do, and frequently found them stopped there by the tollgate, or waiting till morning to find him - for his name was known all the way into slavedom, he saw a young negro, about eighteen years old, crawl out from under the bridge, who showed fear of detection. As he called to him not to fear, as he was his friend, the negro approached and asked for Judge Lee. "I am Judge Lee," was the reply, when the negro's eye danced for joy, and he asked, "Please, massa, give me something to eat?"

"Yes, you follow that path under the bank up to that brick house, and go into the cellar kitchen door, and I'll be there soon."

The negro was hardly out of sight before two men rode up; one, who was hired at the Maumee, had a musket, the other had pistols. They inquired if he had seen a young negro there that morning; they knew he could not have got further than that place, for they had heard of him on the road.

"Yes," the Judge told them, "I saw one here not long since, and the last I saw of him he was going up the river, as fast as he could well travel," and off they went at full speed. The Judge then went into the house and told the negro his pursuers had come, and he had sent them up the river; and directing some food for him, told him, after eating, to go into the cellar and remain hid till he came back. In about an hour they came back cursing the Abolitionists, as some of them must have hid the fellow.

The Judge assured them that he saw the negro going up the river, and was sure he had not returned, as he had been there all the time, and he was also sure that he had not crossed the river, as that was impossible, except at the bridge.

The pursuers rode round for a while, but getting no further information of the runaway, gave up the pursuit and went back, cursing the whole fraternity of Abolitionists. In a few hours the negro was over the river and on his way to Brownstown, from whence he could cross into Malden, where he probably arrived that night.. . .

In moving to Detroit four out of five of my children took the measles and hooping-cough at the same time. My oldest had had the measles but took neither now. The second had had the measles, and his sister, older, took it from him, so that we knew he had had them, yet he took them again, having them twice. But what was singular in the case was, that in the cough usually attendant on measles, they all whooped. When the measles left them the hooping-couch left them also; and all was over in about two weeks from its first appearance. On inquiry, I was assured by physicians that two diseases could not exist in the system at the same time; that one would control and carry off the other, as in this case.

In the Winter and Spring of 1823 I had a severe attack of inflammation of the lungs and liver. Bleeding was then in vogue, and I was depleted at the rate of a quart at a time, and blistered all across my breast in proportion. I preached with a blister-plaster, ten by eight inches, on my breast, and the exercise, together with perspiration, caused it to rise and fill till it broke and discharged probably half a pint down my chest, while in the desk. The doctors told me I must desist from preaching, or never get well. But such were the circumstances of the case, that I must preach, or what little pay I got would be stopped, and I risked the danger and preached on.

One night, while preaching, I told the people that the first time I came to Detroit it was to help drive the British and Indians out of it, and now I had come to help drive the devil out, and wanted to get all the volunteers I could. Some thought I would have a harder task of it this time than in the former case. The conclusion was that the devil had a stronger hold, and had more in sympathy with him, than the British and Indians had. . . .

From: A WESTERN PIONEER: OR, INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE AND TIMES OF REV. ALFRED BRUNSON, A.M., D.D., EMBRACING A PERIOD OF SEVENTY YEARS written by himself. Cincinnati: Hitchcock and Walden, 1872. 2 volumes. 1: 262-273.