1826 McKenney

Thomas L. McKenney (1758-1859) was the Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs when he made this trip. He met Governor Cass and together they proceeded west for an Indian council and treaty neogiations.

Detroit, Michigan territory, Friday, June 16, 1826.

My Dear...

Thomas L. McKenneyI arrived at this place this morning at ten o'clock, after an agreeable passage from Buffaloe of thirty-seven hours, exclusive of the time lost in stopping at Grand river, Cleveland, Sandusky, &c., to put out and take in passengers - distance about three hundred and thirty miles. Nothing could be more smooth and beautiful than Lake Erie during the entire voyage. Scarcely a ripple was seen from the moment upon any part of it surface, which, however, was undulating. It was the calm of the face of the lake, but not a levelling of the roll of the wave, which, I believe, is rarely witnessed. The captain assured me he had seldom had so smooth a passage.. . . .

From Buffaloe to Presque Isle, a distance of about ninety miles, the lands are moderately high, rolling, rich, and beautiful, and appear to be pretty well settled along this entire route. I make this remark here, because I think them more beautiful and inviting than the lands on any other section along the southern shore of the lake. The northern shore I did not see. And now a word about the magnitude of Lake Erie. I knew its length, that it is somewhere about 300 miles; and sixty broad, and they say two hundred feet deep; and that its surface is five hundred and sixty-five feet above the tide-water at Albany; and yet I confess I had no more correct conception of the lake as it appeared to me, than if I had never had the slightest acquaintance with its dimensions. All my previous conceptions of a lake fell so far short of its actual vastness, and ocean-like appearance, as to be wholly absorbed in the view of it. The general impression we all have of a lake is, that it some limited, pond-like collection of waters; and although we have some knowledge of its extent, we do not embrace, in our thoughts about it, the one-tenth part of its vastness. I never was more confounded in my life; and could but wonder what my opinion of lakes will be, after I shall have seen, and navigated Huron and Superior. Lake Erie, though considerably smaller than either, is a vast sea, and often more stormy, and even dangerous, than the ocean itself.

It is hardly possible for any thing to exceed in beauty the river Detroit, and its shores, and islands. The associations, also, which rise out of the view of such places, as Amherstburg and Malden, Fighting island, and Spring Wells, and the old Huron church, are full of interest. I need not dwell upon them, they are connected, the most of them, at least, with the late war. The British schooner, the Wellington, was lying at Malden, full of British soldiers, destined, we were informed, to Drummond's island; and at Amherstburg a centinel was on guard - but the appearance of the place would lead very naturally to the inquiry, what is he guarding? There appeared to be little there that any body would be at much pains to take away. The shores on the British side are bolder than those on the American, but look as they must have looked half a century ago. There appears to be nothing going on in the way of improvement, either in lands or buildings; but a new face is put on things on the American side, save where, here and there, an old French family lingers, and wherever that is, the picture of inactivity and barrenness is visible, just as if reflected from the Canada shores.

The city of Detroit lies on the left of the strait as you ascend the river, and has a fine appearance. This is heightened by the position of some fine buildings, and by nothing more than the Catholic church with its five steeples. The city is long and narrow, and is built upon the bank of the river, or strait; and upon its first and second elevations. I should judge the line of buildings, lengthwise of the city, would measure nearly a mile, but these are scattered. If you had ever been at Chestertown, on the Eastern shore of Maryland, I would refer you to it as seen from Primrose's point, as an almost likeness of Detroit, except that Detroit lacks that beautiful elevation, north, on which Washington college stands.

The most commanding, and in all respects, the best looking building, is that which is owned and occupied by Major Biddle. It was built, I believe, by the unfortunate Hull. I may give you, after I look around me, a little better conception of Detroit. It has been a theatre of wars, and especially distinguished, you know, both in earlier and later times. The two most prominent periods of its history, are, the siege of Pontiac, the famous Indian chief, in 1763, and the destruction of the garrison at what is called to this day, "the bloody bridge;" and its remains yet

"Tell ye where the dead

Made the earth wet, and turned th' unwilling waters red;"

and its surrender in 1812, by General Hull. I may, perhaps, write you touching both these events.

On arriving, I was met at the wharf by the Governor's secretary, Major Forsyth, with the Governor's compliments, and an invitation to take up my quarters with him. Whilst I appreciated the kindness of the offer, I was led to decline it, feeling as I do the need of rest, and of that kind which might not comport so well with the regulations of a private family. Soon after I had got into quarters, the Governor called in person, and repeated the request, which I again declined - but an invitation to dinner was accepted.

At two o'clock I paid my respects, for the first time, in his own house, to a man, for whom, for fourteen years, I have cherished a feeling of sincerest attachment, and whose talents will yet be availed of by the nation, and in some department of the general government. This is my prediction - mark it. I found him in his house, all that he had ever appeared to be out of it, and even more interesting. In his domestic relations, he is sustained by a wife whose manners have blended in them the captivating union of a fine intelligence, and the best feelings of the heart; and these are sustained by a suavity that passes over the ordinary and colder formalities of mere civility, and provides for herself at once, a lodgment, not merely in one's respect, but in the heart. An interesting and intelligent daughter, just from boarding-school, three younger, and one son, compose the members of this family. I had to pleasure to meet here Mrs. and Col. W -l. Of the Colonel, you know all that history has preserved - and that is enough; because it is all honourable. Of his lady, I must be permitted to express, to you, my high opinion of her intelligence, and accomplished manners.

I am invited to spend the evening at Major Biddle's, and the hour having arrived, I must bid you good evening. Say to all, I am well.

Detroit, Saturday, June 17, 1826.

My Dear...

This morning, after breakfast, while in the sitting room looking over a newspaper, the distressed female entered, about whom I have written, and after she was seated, I asked if this was her first visit to Detroit? She answered it was - adding, "and I am sorry ever to have visited it at all." "It appears, madam," said I, "to be a pleasant place; and the society I have met since my arrival is very interesting." "Yes," she said, "pleasant enough, but what of that; or what matters it how interesting the society is, to one who is destined to the woods beyond, never more to see one's family and friends?" She fetched a sigh, an turning partly round, looked out of the window, to avoid, doubtless, discovering the agitation which actually shook her. I told her, "it was a trial, and in feeling it to be one, she gave proof of those attachments which were creditable to her heart, as such feelings must be always honourable to their possessor; but, that by indulging them too far, they become a source of affliction." She said, "yes, I know it; but I cannot help it - I hope I shall recover from them." This woman is from the state of New York; and was the only one of the emigrants who looked as if the world hung loosely about them; and as if when one part of the garment did not fit well, or keep out the cold, they knew how, and where, to tuck in another.. . .

The company at Major Biddle's last night, was sufficient to satisfy me, that although I had reached the confines of our population, in this direction, I am yet in the circle of hospitable and polished life. The Major, in all that is sincere and excellent in friendship, gives proof that he has not forgotten the character which fame has attached to his name, but maintains the standing that it has acquired in so many brilliant achievements; and his lady is in all respects highly accomplished.

I spent the morning in reading, and in writing, and in feeling. I cannot get rid of thoughts of home, which would be less oppressive could I hear from there. But, as yet, I am without a line. At two, I dined with the Governor; and as you may be curious to know what kind of mansion he occupies, I will give you a sketch of it. It is not exactly in, nor entirely out of the city - I mean its settled parts; but stands by itself on the bank of the river, with the road-way from the city towards Spring Wells, between it and the precipice, or edge of the bank, down which a diagonal and rough way has been cut to the river. The house is of cedar logs, and weather boarded, one story, with a high sharp roof, out of which, and near the centre, comes a short stone chimney of enormous thickness, and on which the roof leans, being a little sunk round about it. Before the front door, which is nearly in the centre of the building, the building being some fifty feet front, is a porch that, being a little out of its perpendicular position, inclines north. Its figure is as nearly that of a square as of any other figure, with a sharp Chinese looking top, that shoots up some three feet above the eaves of the house, and seems to have in no one place the least connexion with the building. I told the Governor that my puzzle was to decide which was built first, the porch or the house. He acknowledged his inability to decide the question, but added, "the house itself is anterior to the time of Pontiac's war, there being on it now the marks of bullets which were shot into it then." I learned afterwards that the porch had once ornamented a garden as a summer house; but had been advanced from its retirement to grace the front of the residence of the executive of the Michigan territory. A post and board fence runs between the house and the road, the house standing back from the line of it, some ten or twelve feet. Two gate ways open into the enclosure, one having been intended to admit, and the other to let you out, over a circular gravel walk that gives figure to a green plat in front of the door, and between it and the fence. One of these has been shut up, but how long don't know - So we go in and come out at the same gate.

The position occupied by this relic of antiquity, is very beautiful; not on account of the views to it, and from it, only, although these are both fine, but it is sustained on either side and in the back ground, by fertile upland meadows, and flourishing orchards and gardens, which give it a most inviting appearance; and serves to impress one with the idea of old age surrounded by health and cheerfulness. In front are the shores of Canada, with the beautiful river between, and to the right the Huron church, &c. the sound of the bell from which strikes gratefully upon the ear. Now the inside of the building.

You enter first into a room, or saloon, of some ten feet square, in which the Governor receives his business visitors; and where lie scattered about in some tolerable confusion, newspapers, and the remains of pamphlets of all sorts, whilst its sides are ornamented with Indian likenesses, and pipes, and snow shoes, and medals, and bows and arrows, &c. On your left is the door which leads into the dining apartment, back of which is another room, (in which is a fire place,) of about the same size, divided from it by a folding doors. This dining room is warmed in winter by one half of a stove, whilst the other half, passing through the partition into the saloon, keeps that comfortable.

From the right of the audience room, or saloon, you enter the drawing room; and in place of the back room, in the left division, two rooms are arranged, one of which serves for the library, and the other for a lodging room. These rooms being all well carpeted and curtained, and furnished in excellent, but plain style, present a view of comfort which forms a striking contrast to the exterior; and you are made to forget, in the midst of these interior accommodations, the odd-shapen and ancient appearance from without. There is much of the simplicity of republicanism in all this. Extrinsic appearances are to a reasonable extend disregarded; and the higher value is attached to the interior; and this is not an unfit emblem of the Governor himself. You are not to imagine, however, that this is intended to apply to his person; that is portly, and altogether governor-like, and in regard to which he is neat in his dress, and though plain, polished in his manners.

I have just been shewn the pallet on which I am destined to repose on the shores of the lakes; and the two stout Mackinac blankets that are to cover me, and between which I see a pair of nice sheets, and a pillow, together with a mosquito net; and by the side of these is a stout oil cloth. This is intended to lie beneath the pallet, by night, and between it and the ground, and as a covering for it by day; and the whole, when rolled up, for a seat in the canoe. For this preparation I am indebted to Mrs. Cass. The Governor is provided with a similar one. You see I am telling you every thing.

The arrangements for the expedition being generally anticipated, our company and supplies will leave here in a schooner called the Young Tiger, as soon as the wind blows fair, for Mackinac, where barges are ordered to be provided to carry them from thence to the Fond du Lac. I say as soon as the wind blows fair - for the current here being at the rate of about two miles the hour, a fair wind is required to force a vessel through it. We shall proceed as soon as our supplies are off; unless we are detained by the non-arrival of our canoe, which, however, we expect hourly. Having never seen a birch canoe, I am anxious to know in what kind of conveyance I am destined to go up the lakes.

Good night - ever yours.



Detroit, Sunday, June 18, 1826.

My Dear....

The Governor and family attend the Protestant Episcopal church; but to-day, on account of the absence of their minister, they went to the Presbyterian, where, as it was agreed last evening, I attended also. It is matter of trifling import what name designates the place in which man holds communion with his Maker, nor who leads his devotions, provided the offering be sincere, and the hearts of both speaker and hearer be rightly affected. The Deity fills every place with his presence, and

"We cannot go where universal love

Smiles not around." . . . .

The morning was wet and disagreeable. I concluded the call which it was promised would be made at my lodgings, would not therefore be made - so I went alone in search of the Presbyterian church, but had not gone a square before I met the carriage.. . .

I had not mentioned to Ben till this morning, that he must take passage in the Young Tiger - the canoe not being calculated to carry more than the voyageurs, the Governor, and myself, and the cook. He had already began to feel himself out of the world, and this intelligence including in it the idea of separation from me, made a deep, and apparently painful impression on him. He soon became reconciled, however, on learning that several persons, our secretary, Col. Edwards, and others of our party, were going up in the same vessel; and that we should meet again either at Mackinac, or the Sault de St. Marie. The wind would every now and then freshen, and blow fair, when the starting signals would be made. Indeed this had been the case for several days. I learned that Col. Wool had taken leave so often during the week, and returned again, as to make it matter of certainty in every body's opinion, that he would be back again to-day. But the wind that had baffled so long, now blew steady and stronger, and long enough for all hands to assemble, and depart. The British schooner, the Wellington, Capt. McIntosh; the schooner Commerce, and the Lady Washington, all availed themselves of the same wind, and went in company.

I am doubtful whether Ben or I felt the pain of parting most. The poor fellow had been all attention to me, and in the seasons of my indisposition, particularly so; and then the attendance at the hotel, with all the good dispositions of the landlord, to say the least of them, might be better - and here again I feel the want of his attentions. I committed him to Col. Wool and Mr. Brush.

We look, now, anxiously for our canoe, that we may follow.

Good night - ever yours.



Detroit, Monday, June 19, 1826.

My Dear....

The morning broke away finely. Soon after breakfast, Major F. called, and invited me to join him in a ride to the Governor's farm, about six miles down the river. I accepted the invitation - the ride was agreeable, as such, but the road passing through what is called Spring Wells, and over mounds, once the burial places of the Indians of this quarter, made it one of peculiar interest. Spring Wells are distant from Detroit about three miles; it was here, you know, General Brock landed when he captured Detroit. This is the incident that gives special interest to this place; for to me, the sight of the shore which received the first tread of that hostile army, could not be looked upon with indifference, and especially when the landing was but the precursor to events of the most calamitous and disheartening description - involving not only the character of the officer, and I may add, his life, to whom the defence of Detroit was intrusted, but the honour of our country, and the lives of hundreds of its citizens.

I had been early that morning in company with Colonel H---t, in praise of whose gentlemanly courtesy, it would not be possible to say too much - to visit the fort which the unfortunate Hull surrendered, when the way of the approach of the enemy was pointed out to me, as were all the places of interest in the city, and which had relation to that fatal event, even to the ground upon which our garrison was marched when they were surrendered prisoners of war.

Col. H. having been upon the spot, and familiar with the events of that day, spoke of them generally, and freely; and of the parties to them. I forbear their enumeration. The fruits were bitter - but these are no longer tasted. It is best that every thing relating to the surrender should perish. The unfortunate Hull, too, is no more. It is due to ourselves that we tread lightly on his ashes. I have never been able to get my consent to believe that he sold his command - I cannot believe that he bartered his country's honour, and the blood of its citizens, for gold! He is out of reach of censure now; and equally beyond the reach of any redeeming opinion, though it should be expressed by the nation. For one, I would be disposed to unburden his memory of the weight of suspicions so revolting; and which the previous history of his life will not justify. Yet I take no exception to the judgment of the court. It was called for. Public opinion, and perhaps justice, as the case stood, required it. Men who undertake the execution of great trusts, should know themselves better than to engage in them without a thorough consciousness that they possess the pre-requisites for their execution. Now, as to this unhappy officer, I do believe that age had unnerved him. He became suddenly, and even to himself, mysteriously, the victim of fear! For it is said, and by the person who first undeceived him in his calculations upon the Indians, the Wyandotts, I believe, by pointing them out to him on the Canada shore, whither they had gone the night before, that his face became instantly colourless, and his lips wore a purple hue, as if the circulation of the blood had been arrested, or driven in upon the heart; - and that he was violently agitated! I received this from the lips of the person who, having seen the Indians on the British shore on the morning of the attack, waited on the General to communicate the fact to him. It is said, from that moment he ceased to be himself - it was, therefore, panic! - He did not sell his command, nor was he a coward - but he was suddenly and unexpectedly met by disheartening intelligence, and prostrated by it! Still the judgment in his case was called for - lessons must be given; and it is hoped that the one given in the case of the unfortunate Hull, may act as a warning to all subsequent commanders, and lead them to examine well into their ability, and in all respects, to stand the fury and tumult of war, before they engage in conducting it. It is not every man who can ride on the whirlwind, and direct the storm.

On our return from the Governor's very valuable farm, we rode upon one of the mounds to which I have referred. There appears to have been three of them, but only one retains much of its original conical figure, and this, like the other two, is fast finding its level. A principal cause of the mounds wasting away, is, the cattle go upon them to get into the cooler, fresher air, which blows upon them from the river, near the shore of which they are - to get rid of the flies. The soil being light and sandy, is kept stirred by them, and the rains wash it off. Hence the exposure of human bones from time to time, as the several layers, or strata, are reached; for they appear to have been buried at different depths, and upon one another. I picked up some ribs, a bit of an os frontis, and pieces of vertebrae, but all in a state of decay, so much so, that they crumbled at the touch. Major F. told me he had taken from the same mound a skull of enormous dimensions, and so much above the common size, as to be a matter of curiosity. This is promised to me - "if it can be found." Should I get it, you shall see it; and it will be the first skull of man or woman, whose death could not have happened short of a hundred years ago, that you will have seen. It will not answer, however, for a test of the doctrine of phrenology, because no mortal lives, now, who can tell what the character of the man was, who once wore this crown. . . .

If I get the skull, little as it may aid in building up or pulling down the theory, I shall take it with me on my return. If it shall turn out to be a perfect and well defined head, it may be admitted to the honour of being marked off into thirty-three divisions, and of being talked about by the scientific at Washington, to which honour it never would have attained, had it lain in its mound, although the requiem of the waves of the strait would have continued, and however insensible the skull must have continued to be to the dirge, it would have sorted better, perhaps, with its untenanted and death-like condition, to have remained in the mound.

Ever yours.

Detroit, Wednesday, June 21, 1826.

My Dear....

I was not in my usual spirits yesterday, and therefore did not write. I felt an unaccountable loneliness; and could by the aid of a little fancy, though surrounded by society and within its reach, and of the most agreeable and polished sort, have imagined myself on the island of Juan Fernandez, another Selkirk; and as much of a solitary as he. I believe this feeling originated in a disappointment in not having heard from home. It is high time I had a letter. I shall expect one to-morrow by the steam boat - when I shall hope to see it headed - "all's well."

I have just returned from a ride of nine miles up the river to Grosse point, where I have been for the twofold purpose of seeing the country, and the vessel, (as I hoped I should,) charged with our canoe, the delay of which, alone, detains us. From Grosse point the prospect is open to a fine view of Lake St. Clair. The road to this point is along the margin of the strait, and affords a pretty view of the land upon the one side, and the water on the other. The grounds, for the whole way, are certainly excellent, and are for the most part cut up into small farms, on which are as fine apple orchards as I have ever seen. Many of them, however, are suffered to run up into shoots and suckers, and others for the want of attention in pruning off dead limbs, to go to decay. The inhabitants on this route are principally French. They appear reconciled to let the earth rest, and the houses to go to decay around them; and the orchards to decline and die. This portion of the population, however, is declining fast; another generation or two will know them only from history, and perhaps from lands which, on comparison, will be even then found in arrears. When time shall put those fine, but neglected lands into other and more skilful hands, this beautiful country will have imparted to it that fruitfulness, and those charms which nature has done her part in conferring - but not before.

In the middle of the strait, and about two miles above the city, is a superb island. I could have wished they had called it by another name than Hog island. It is said to contain a thousand acres of prime land, but only a small portion of it is cultivated - the rest is in wood. This beautiful island, too, has been the theatre of savage barbarity. The spot, however, that attracted most of my attention, was "the bloody bridge," to which I have already referred. The remains of it are yet visible, as I have before stated. It was here that Pontiac by his skill and courage, secured for himself the title of the brave, and for this bridge that of "bloody." I believe I promised you a sketch of the siege of Detroit, during which this famous battle was fought? I would like much to disclose to you the history of those times, but this alone would require a volume. I will just review the origin, and progress, and termination of this siege - But I will be as brief as possible.

The French had held possession of Canada, and exercised an influence over the Indians of the lake country, for more than a century. The wars between them, it is true, were frequent and bloody; but these being succeeded by seasons of peace, the Indians were, meanwhile, operated upon by presents, and by the priests, and not a little by the growing power of the French, until at last the animosity of the aborigines gradually subsided, and was succeeded by attachment; or, if not by this, by a state of dependence in matters of trade which led them to wish success to the French, at least over the English. They had surveyed the French power, and had contended with it. They knew how far it was intended to operate upon them, and the limits that had been assigned to it. It was grown familiar to them; as had, also, the French traders. When, therefore, this connexion was dissolved by the ascendency of the British power, in 1760, and Montreal and its dependencies in the lake country, fell under British rule, the Indians, ignorant of the relations in which they were to stand towards this new power, and cherishing a sympathy for the French, became restless, and following their warlike propensities, were prepared to rally under the banners of a leader, and measure strength with the new power. It was under these circumstances, and at this period, that Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, a man of wonderful resource, of deep and daring device, and stratagem, and gifted, withal, with a most commanding eloquence, resolved on prostrating the British power, and securing to himself and people, freedom alike from both French and English rule. His efforts were unremitted; and throughout the vast regions of the north-west, his active spirit was felt by the numerous bands inhabiting there. His was the power that operated upon masses. But there was no sounding of the tocsin - no alarm of war was given - no motion of the wave was felt- but a breeze was heard, and a deep and silent stream was made to flow; and although it was seen by the eyes of observing Englishmen, it was taken for a stream of fertility, which was passing on, enriching and beautifying the region as it went. It was a deceitful stream! for Pontiac was busy in all directions multiplying currents, which at the concerted moment, were to be precipitated into it, and like a mountain torrent, he intended that in its course it should sweep every thing away before it.

It was in the month of November of the year 1760, that Major Gladwin was detached by General Amherst, the commander-in-chief, and then at Montreal, with a thousand men, to take possession of Detroit. Owing to the advanced state of the season they penetrated no further than Niagara - but wintered there, and employed the early part of the following spring and summer in preparing boats and fitting out the expedition. In September following they arrived at Detroit, when the post was formally surrendered by the French, and taken possession of by the English. In the following month Major Rogers, with his rangers, who had accompanied Major Gladwin to Detroit, took possession in like manner of Michillimackinac.

The first object that engaged Major Gladwin's attention, was to secure the friendship of the Indians, to do which he held treaties with them at Saginac, the river Raisin, and at Brownstown. He thought he had realized this object. In the spring of 1762, every thing appearing quiet, the British Fur Company commenced the prosecution of the Indian trade; and in the month of June a party set out to open this traffic, protected by a company of rangers. They left Michillimackinac in bark canoes, destined for the Grand Portage. Here a post was established, which being defended by a stockade work, the rangers separated from the trading party, and came on to Detroit, where they arrived in October. Every circumstance justified the English in concluding that the Indians were satisfied with this new state of things. Nor were any signs of dissatisfaction manifested until the spring of 1763. It was at that period the commissioners were appointed to explore the southern shores of Lakes Michigan and Huron; and to confirm the apparently friendly dispositions of the Indians; and, where it was necessary, to treat with them for such portions of lands as might be considered important for military posts. On arriving at the south-west point of Lake Michigan, the party was met by numerous bands of Indians, who discovered signs of unfriendliness; so much so, that the commissioners concluded it best to abandon the enterprize. They did so, and returned to Detroit, when Major Gladwin deemed it expedient to send confidential persons among the Indians of the river Huron, to ascertain, if possible, their disposition towards the English, and whether those indications of hostility, as manifested on Lake Michigan, were general. Such was the report of those agents, so adroitly did the Indians cover their deep laid plans, that Major Gladwin concluded, all was safe; and that no feelings other than those of the most friendly sort, animated them. But he was a vigilant officer, and as such lost no time in putting his command in the best possible situation for defence in any emergency. At the same time, acting under the influence of the report of the commissioners as to the aspect of things in regard to the Indians of Lake Michigan, he kept scouts constantly in motion, that in the event of a movement being made, he might have the earliest information.

Every thing was calm. Peace, and the prospect of a long continuance of it, except the excitement at Lake Michigan, (and that was not sustained by the Indians in other quarters) seemed certain - when at this moment of stillness, and when not a note of the war drum was heard, a scout returned bring the information that a large body of Indians were in Lake St. Clair, in canoes, coming in the direction of Detroit, whilst numerous traces of them were discovered coming in from almost all directions, towards the strait. In the month of August, Pontiac appeared in the neighbourhood, followed by about three thousand Indians, who in a few days after, and in the most friendly manner, put up their lodges, (poles covered with rush mats,) around the village and the fort, and began, as was their custom, to play at their several games of ball, &c. In the midst of these amusements, Pontiac proposed to treat with Major Gladwin. This wily chief had already captured Michillimackinac - but no tidings of this had yet reached Major Gladwin. That capture was made by stratagem; and stratagem was resorted to for the capture of Detroit. He obtained the interview - and told Major Gladwin, that he and his people desired to take their new father, the king of England, by the hand; and requested a council. It was granted, and the third day after the interview was set apart for the meeting. Major Gladwin, although impressed with the sincerity of Pontiac, was nevertheless guarded in his intercourse with him; and to prevent surprise, it was made a standing order, that not more than six Indians should enter the fort at any one time, except the squaws, and these were permitted to come and go as they pleased, and especially as they made moccasins and other things for the soldiers. It was also the understanding, that the council should be held in the fort; and that not more than thirty-six chiefs should be present.

The day before the council was to have been held, a squaw who had received of Major Gladwin an elk skin, out of which to make him moccasins, returned with the moccasins and the remainder of the skin. The Major was so much pleased with her skill as to request her to take the skin and make another pair like those she had made for him, for a friend. She received the skin, but instead of leaving the fort, loitered about within it until the hour arrived when an officer, whose duty it was, went round the fort to clear it of strangers. On coming to this squaw, she manifested a reluctance to go out. At last, she handed the skin to Major Gladwin, to whom the officer had conducted her, and then said she was willing to go. There was something so peculiar in her manner, as to induce Major Gladwin to insist on knowing why she would not take the skin with her, when she answered - "because I can never bring it back again." This answer increased the anxiety of the Major, and he urged her to tell him why she could never bring it back. At last, and after exacting a promise that she was willing to disclose should remain a secret, she said - "Pontiac has formed a plot. He is to meet you in council to-morrow with thirty-six chiefs. Each of these chiefs will come with his gun, but it will be cut short and hid under his blanket. He is to give a signal. It will be this. In the course of his speech, and at the moment he draws out the belt of wampum, those short guns will be fired - you and your officers are to be shot - then they are to rush to the gate and let in the warriors." The skin was taken by the Major, who thanked her for her information, when the squaw left the fort.

The gates of the fort were now barred, and the usual watch set. In the night a yell was heard! It was new in character - it was answered down the lines of Pontiac's encampment. A feeling of apprehension ran through the garrison. The fires were ordered to be extinguished, and the garrison to repair to its posts. Every thing was silent! But the yell was not repeated, nor was the garrison attacked. Similar precaution was observed after day-break. Only one half the garrison was permitted, at once, to set down to breakfast. The hour - about ten o'clock, arrived, when Pontiac and his chiefs were to meet in council. Meanwhile, Major Gladwin drew out his men and faced them inwards round the council house. Pontiac, with his thirty-six chiefs, arrived, and close after them came a large body of his warriors - bu when the number stipulated had entered, the gates were shut. Pontiac eyed this array of the garrison, and on arriving at the council house, demanded of Major Gladwin what it meant? - and asked if it was not a new way to hold council with men under arms. He went so far as to require that they should be sent to their quarters. This, of course, was not regarded. The council opened - and the moment arrived when the belt was to be drawn from the pouch that contained it, and which was to be the signal for the attack; but on reaching that part of his address, this ceremony was omitted. Pontiac's chiefs looked at each other confounded, not knowing why their chief had faltered; and Major Gladwin, at the moment stepping up, tore away the blanket from one of them, and disclosing the short gun, charged Pontiac with treachery, and a base design to murder him and his garrison, and ordered him out of the fort.

Other accounts state that Pontiac, on seeing the soldiery thus drawn up, and the guns pointed, and lighted matches lying beside them, did not enter the fort. It was, however, certain, that the fort was immediately attacked, and that the assailants were desperate in their efforts to carry it. It was now that Pontiac's genius discovered its fruitfulness; and his bravery was made manifest. At one time, (and this mode of attack was often renewed,) attempts were made to cut away the pickets and force an opening into the fort; at another, a cart was filled with combustible materials, fired, and run up against the pickets; at another, he conceived the design of setting fire to the church, the church being near the fort, by means of an arrow and lighted spunk; but on being warned by the priest, that God would frown on this act, abandoned it. A constant firing, meanwhile, was kept up by the assailants upon the fort; and which the fort returned from ten brass four-pounders, and with small arms - but from the fire of the pieces, the Indians were in a great measure secured by the nature of the ground - their range embracing but few of those who were attacking the pickets, and only those who were at the furtherest remove from them, and upon the outskirts.

This mode of assault was weakened at last by a resolute movement of Major Gladwin, who ordered, when the Indians should attack the pickets again, that the soldiers within should aid in cutting down that part of them which might be assailed. This was accordingly done. The Indians seeing the opening made, rushed to it, but were met at the moment by a discharge of artillery that had been placed opposite the opening, and driven back with great slaughter. Night coming on, the Indians drew off. But for eight days the attack was renewed, and with considerable slaughter on both sides. The garrison now felt itself in extreme peril. It had been for some time sustained on half rations. But now, in addition to the growing scarcity of provisions, it was reduced to three rounds of ammunition a man! Great anxiety was felt for the arrival of a vessel known to be in the river with supplies. Pontiac penetrated the perilous condition of the garrison, and to cut off its expected supplies, headed a detachment of his warriors and went down the river to intercept them. The detachment descended the river on the Canada side, and met the vessel at Fighting island, and after a bloody fight, boarded her. Capt. Goulding, who commanded her, resolving to sell the prize and his own life at the dearest possible rate, gave orders to fire the magazine. Some Frenchmen on board hearing the orders, immediately interpreted them to the Indians, who precipitately left her, when a breeze sprung up and run the vessel to the fort, before which she anchored. The Indians now retired from before the fort. A short time after, Pontiac sent in a flag, and requested that two officers might be sent to him, with whom he might hold council. The commanding officer refused to comply. On this refusal being made known to Pontiac, he said - "Go again. You know me to be faithful to my word. Tell the commander that no injury shall happen to his officers. Pledge yourself for me, body for body, for their safe return." Major Gladwin still declined; when Major Campbell, who was not then in command, and Mr. or Captain McDougall, volunteered to go out and meet Pontiac. They found him encamped at the house of Meloche. The ceremony of a council having been gone through with, Pontiac declared them to be prisoners, hoping by this act, it is supposed, to procure the surrender of the fort. The prisoners were treated well, in all respects. Soon after this, Pontiac intercepted and captured several barges, and subjected the boatmen to the ordeal of running the gauntlet. Many of them were killed in this severe punishment, by the squaws. Nothing, meanwhile, transpired at the fort. The Indians and the garrison, however, kept mutual watch upon each other; and now and then a solitary shot was fired, as if to remind the parties that peace was not concluded. Capt. McDougall made his escape, and got safe to the fort; but Major Campbell, owing to his age and imperfect sight, declined to make a similar effort. Major Gladwin, finding his barges intercepted and captured, sent the Beaver, a small schooner that had arrived since the capture of Michillimackinac, to Niagara, for a reinforcement. Her passage was prosperous. She returned in three days, bringing three hundred men. At twelve o'clock of the night succeeding their arrival, these troops, headed by an officer whose name is not known, marched out of the fort to attack Pontiac in his camp, which was near Parent's creek. He took with him two guides, Messrs. Chapeton, and St. Martin. But though the movement was made in the night, Pontiac's vigilance was awake. He knew of it; and arranging his warriors behind a picket fence, on the upper bank of Parent's creek, he waited the arrival of the troops, who came by the way of the old river road, and at the moment the column was fairly on the bridge, his orders were given, and a thousand Indians poured their destructive fires into it. The detachment was crippled - and fell back; but being hotly pressed, was nearly annihilated - few escaping, some say only seventeen, to the fort, to tell of story of the bloody rencontre, or the fate of their unfortunate companions. This was just as day broke, on the morning of the 9th of August, 1763. The commanding officer was among the slain, and his head was chopped off and stuck on a post of a fence. A Mr. St. Aubin, on visiting the battle-ground on that morning, saw upon the bridge alone, from eighty to one hundred dead bodies! The passage over it was stopped up by them! Pontiac, on the day after the battle, sent for some Canadians who lived near, and pointing to the dead bodies on the bridge, and to the batteaux in the creek, said - "Take these dead dogs - put them in those boats of mine, and convey them to the fort." The order was obeyed, so far as a removal of the bodies were embraced in it, but they were buried in the cellar of Mr. Sterling's house. Pontiac, aware that a reinforcement had been brought by means of the Beaver, harangued his followers, and told them they could not expect to reduce the fort whilst that vessel was permitted to exist. Means for her destruction were immediately sought. Barns were pulled down, and faggots prepared, and large rafts - these were set afloat, and fired. The vessel was often in the most imminent hazard. Seeing this, Major Gladwin ordered her down the strait to Niagara. The Indians followed in their canoes, and by close and desperate fighting, often so near as to be scorched by the fire from the guns of the schooner, killed all her crew except three; and these were saved by the timely arrival of two or three barges which Major Gladwin had sent to support the schooner.

The fort yet resisted the attack of the Indians - when they became restless, and expressed their desire to take the fort at once, or to abandon the effort. Another attack was made - when an Ottowa chief, who was fighting in company with his brother by the side of Pontiac, was shot. His brother immediately retired, sought Major Campbell, whom he met walking out near his place of confinement, having had enlargement given to him by Pontiac, and striking his tomahawk into his head, laid him dead at his feet! The murderer, knowing of Pontiac's pledge, and that his vengeance would follow the act, fled to Saginaw, and from thence to Michillimackinac. Pontiac, on learning the fate of his captive, sent warriors in all directions after the murderer, but he could not be found. The death of Major Campbell gave Pontiac great concern, who was often heard to express his sorrow on account of it.

Soon after this, the Indians departed and went to their several hunting grounds. In the following spring peace was concluded - Pontiac having meanwhile sent a peace-belt to all the bands, and one to Major Gladwin.

This spirited and bloody investment led to extensive preparations on the part of the English, which resulted in a movement by General Bradstreet, in the summer of 1764, at the head of three thousand men, to raise the siege of Detroit. Meanwhile, a corresponding movement was making at Pittsburg - from whence the forces of that quarter were to penetrate the western wilderness and form a junction at Detroit, with General Bradstreet.

Pontiac, it may be presumed, was apprised of these movements, and hence, no doubt, his proffer of peace, which was concluded before the arrival of General Bradstreet. This celebrated chief and warrior survived this peace not more than two years. He went to Illinois. Carver relates, that he was followed by an Indian who attended him as a spy; and who, on hearing him express himself in council, in terms of hostility to the English, plunged his knife into his heart, and killed him on the spot. By others, it is stated, that he was killed by an Indian who fell in love with his wife. . . .

It has just occurred to me as not unworthy of remark, that when the English succeeded the French in the occupancy of those regions, a warrior arose to oppose them in the person of Pontiac; and (although not so immediately after the change,) when the Americans succeeded the English, another, equally distinguished, and following out the same plan, ( a combination of all the tribes east of the Alleghany mountains,) arose to oppose the Americans, in the person of Tecmthe or Tecumseh, as he is usually called. It is possible that some chief, equally politic and daring, and gifted with like powers of eloquence, and capacity for command, may have headed the tribes, against the French. Their wars, we know, were desperate, and often bloody.

There seem, then, to have been three periods, (assuming the first, which it is not unreasonable to do,) in each of which a great chief arose among the Indians, to lead his people against the encroachments of the three successive powers that at far distant periods invaded their country. I might speculate some here, but I am invited to spend the evening at Col. H ----'s; the Governor and family, I learn, are to be there, and in general, the beauty and fashion of the city. The hour has arrived, of which you, no doubt, will be glad - as but for this, I might wear out your patience in speculations on the thought, that great events never fail to produce the corresponding genius and power to direct them.

Good night - ever yours.

P.S. Eleven o'clock. Just returned from the party, and highly gratified with the company in general; but charmed with the polite and polished attentions of Mrs. H. and the Colonel. They are both esteemed to be ornaments of Detroit, and I do not wonder at it.



Detroit, Thursday, June 22, 1826.

My Dear...

It is concluded that we are to leave here to-morrow. Our canoe not having arrived, we have chartered the schooner Ghent. The want of wind, or having too much of it, from a wrong quarter, can alone delay us.

Having some calls to make, and some attentions to bestow upon certain little matters, which must be looked after preparatory to our departure, I shall have to be brief in whatever things I may have to remark upon in regard to this city. As for its appearance, I must depend on giving you a better conception of that, upon a drawing, if I can obtain one.* [*Could not command a satisfactory one.] If not, you must make the most of the slight references which I have already made to it. I have said, I believe, that the city occupies the first and second elevations from the river. It shows now one main street, Jefferson street, I believe it is called, and which is long and pretty well built upon. The street on the first step from the river, is also well built upon; and back of Jefferson street, are others, partially set out with houses, as are the cross streets, of which there are some three or four. Back of the whole, and some four hundred yards from Jefferson street, is the state house, a fine building just put up; and between it and the western end of the city, is the fort, which was surrendered in 1812, by General Hull. The old fort, which is so called, and against which Pontiac made his attacks, was only a picket-fort, and on the water's edge. This is regular built, upon commanding ground, and was very formidable. This fort, and the grounds belonging to it, and the buildings, except the public store house, arsenal, and the necessary grounds for them, and which is at present time in charge of a most worthy and meritorious gentleman, and one of the relics of the revolution, I mean Col. P----'s, have been presented to the corporation of the city of Detroit, by the Congress of the United States; and are worth to it some hundred thousand dollars. It is to be hoped that whatever disposition may be made of these grounds, it will never be permitted that the mounds of the fort lose any of their figure or loftiness, or an inch of the ditches be filled up.

I have seen a plot of this city. I wish for the sake of its designer, towards whom, personally, I entertain the kindest feelings, that it had never been conceived by him. It looks pretty on paper, but is fanciful; and resembles one of those octagonal spider webs which you have seen in a dewy morning, with a centre, you know, and lines leading out to the points round the circumference, and fastened to spires of grass. The citizens of Detroit would do well, in my opinion, and their posterity would thank them for it, were they to reduce the net-work of that plan to something more practical and regular.

I will only add in regard to this city, that its position on the strait is very beautiful; that its population is about two thousand five hundred; and that its location is highly favourable for commerce. The steam boats Superior and Henry Clay, are surpassed by few, if any, either in size, or beauty of model, or in the style in which they are built and furnished. But there is business for more; and three or four, it is believed, are now in a state of forwardness, to run also between Buffaloe and Detroit. I should infer from what I have seen, that they all may do a profitable business.

There are in Detroit a court house of brick, (for the county of Wayne) eighty-eight by sixty feet; a jail, a stone building, eighty-eight by forty-four feet; an Indian council house, also of stone, fifty by twenty-seven feet; an academy, fifty by twenty-four feet; a bank, of brick, only thirty by twenty-five feet; the arsenal, a fine building of stone, seventy by thirty-four feet, and a public store house, one hundred and four feet by thirty-four. There is also the Roman Catholic church with its five steeples, one hundred and sixteen by sixty feet, upon which, it is said, thirty thousand dollars have been expended; and for its completion twenty thousand more will be required. The Presbyterian church, a handsome wooden building seventy feet by forty, and a Methodist church of brick, fifty by thirty-six feet. There are also two printing offices, a land office, a custom house, and post office. The mail arrives three times a week over land, and about twice a week by the steam boats; and there are some thirty stores, some of them fine.

Detroit is destined, and at no distant day, to be a flourishing city. It is an old place, in name, having been settled some hundred years ago by the French; but it is a city of but yesterday, in all that relates to its present improvement and appearnance. The French never went beyond the improvements which are embraced by a few log houses, built on confined and narrow streets, and a picket fort; and their leavings were some twenty years ago, I believe, all, or nearly all, consumed by fire. A gentleman is boarding here in the same house with me, who built the first house in what is now the compact part of the city, after the fire. It stands nearly opposite the place where stood a gateway of the old picket fort, and on the main street.

The press of emigration into the Michigan territory, of Detroit is the capital, is proof of the high estimate which is taken of the quality of the lands. In point of sales, I believe the exhibit of the books of the land office here, will show it to be the first.

Among the number of calls made by me to-day, was one to Mr. Woodbridge, the secretary of the territory, and there I had the gratification to see, for the first time, his wife's father, Judge Trumbull, author, you know, of McFingal. This old veteran in satire and song, is now in his seventy-sixth year. He has the most perfect use of his faculties; walks with ease and spirit, and sees to read without the aid of spectacles, and hears pretty well. His conversation is sprightly and interesting. Like all men of his age, to him the past looks the greenest; and he loves to refresh both his spirit and his eyes by re-viewing it. To me, nothing is more agreeable than the conversation of a sensible old man, especially if he goes back to the past, which all persons advanced in age are apt to do.

The Judge must have been, when young, very handsome. He retains yet the traces of early and uncommon beauty, in both the form and expression of his face. His eye yet has its sparkle. To look at it, you would be certain it had been given to flashing out wit - and the the spirit which animates it, once held close and happy communion with the muses.

How few, and scattering, are those relics of revolutionary times! - How venerable are they! - A few years more, and they will have all sunk into the grave - but their memory can never die.

I have just returned from the Governor's, where I have spent the evening, and most agreeably, notwithstanding a most furious gust of wind and rain, accompanied by vivid and frequent flashes of lightning, and the most appalling thunder. The elements appeared to have united to produce the wildest disorder and uproar, and to change the very aspect which, on such occasions, they usually wear. A most remarkable cloud, dark and gloomy, but coloured in places by a yellow tinge, and which reached from horizon to horizon, came traversely over the strait, and the city, widening in its course, and blackening, till the heavens were shrouded, when the fury of the storm was poured forth! Great fears are entertained for the steam boat, the Superior, which was expected up about an hour before the gust arose, but has not yet arrived.

I have this moment heard the signal gun announcing the arrival of the Superior. She is several hours out of her usual time; no doubt, in consequence of the gust.

This is my last letter from Detroit, but I shall note our progress up the lakes, and you shall have, in a journal form, whatever may occur; and this I will forward to you from time to time, as opportunity may offer. . . .

From: SKETCHES OF A TOUR TO THE LAKES, OF THE CHARACTER AND CUSTOMS OF THE CHIPPEWAY INDIANS, AND OF THE INCIDENTS CONNECTED WITH THE TREATY OF FOND DU LAC by Thomas L.McKenny. Barre, MA: Imprint Society, 1972: 84-118.

See Also:

Dictionary of American Biography.

Viola, Herman J. Thomas L. McKenney, Architect of America's Early Indian Policy: 1816-1830. Chicago: Sage, 1974.