Emily Mason (1815-1909) was Stevens T. Mason's oldest sister. The
family moved to Detroit in 1830 when her father was appointed Secretary
of the Territory of Michigan. Her brother, Stevens T., was appointed to
the position, age 19, when her father resigned in 1831. Emily was her
brother's official hostess when he was elected Governor. Mason was the
author of several books in her later life.
the autumn of 1830 my father was appointed secretary of the territory
of Michigan, General Cass being the governor. The following year, July
12, 1831, my brother, Stevens Thomson Mason, was appointed in my
father's place. General Cass being called to the cabinet of General
Jackson as secretary of war, in August of the same year, my brother was
thus left the acting governor of the territory, though not then
twenty-one years of age. A stranger to the people of Michigan, a
Virginian, educated in Transylvania university of Lexington, Kentucky,
the appointment was naturally viewed as an outrage by the inhabitants of
Detroit. A public meeting was called to appoint a committee to be sent
to the president and remonstrate with him upon having placed a youth,
under age, in so important a position. Governor Mason appeared at this
meeting, and in reply to the speeches against his appointment, made an
address "showing such ability, good sense and coolness," (says a
historian of the time) "that he won the hearts and the sympathy of all
present, a position he maintained with the people of Michigan all his
short and brilliant career."
In September of the same year, General George B. Porter of
Pennsylvania, was appointed governor of the territory, but Governor
Mason was the acting governor until June, 1832.
During this interval, in 1831, occurred the Black Hawk war.
This chief, Black Hawk, having refused to move to the reservation of
land west of the Mississippi which the general government provided for
him, Michigan was called upon for volunteer troops to enforce his
departure. Thus the "boy governor," as he was called, had the
opportunity to show that belligerent spirit which, at a later period,
gained for him with General Jackson, the name of "Young Hotspur." Black
Hawk, a prisoner, was escorted by Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, U.S.A., to
Jefferson barracks and afterwards to Fortress Monroe.
In 1833, Governor Mason was confirmed by the senate,
secretary of the territory, and in 1834, when Governor Porter died, he
assumed again the duties of the territory till the following year , when
he was elected the first governor of the State, November 3, 1835.
In arranging the boundary line with the adjoining State of
Ohio, a dispute occurred over 470 square miles claimed by both sides.
This resulted, in 1835, in what was called the Toledo war. Governor
Mason with 1,200 men, marched upon Toledo and broke up the court there,
and in the fray no lives were lost. But the Michiganders were obliged to
give up the disputed territory, or the State would not have been
admitted into the union. And besides this, the general government was
then distributing the public lands, and advised the surrender of the
claim upon Ohio in order to give Michigan her quota of these lands. . . .
It was in consequence of this "Hotspur" achievement, that
John T. Horner of Virginia was appointed to take Governor Mason's place.
But the people refused to receive Mr. Horner, and were unwilling that
he should even land on their shores. He took refuge in a neighboring
town from whence Governor Mason escorted him to the steamer which bore
him away. There were many funny caricatures exhibited of the unlucky
"Johnnie Horner, who fled to a corner, and ate no Christmas pie." My
brother was disposed from office for one month, and then elected
governor of the State by a majority of 8,000 over the opposition
We found Detroit a charming residence. The French element,
which still remains, gave a refinement, gaiety and simplicity which few
western towns could boast. It was, besides, a military post, which
secured us excellent army society, and plenty of nice beaux. The town
was a long straggling street, along the beautiful, broad river. General
Cass's house, though made of logs, was large and commodious, well
furnished, and adorned with Indian portraits, and curiosities of great
interest. The Mansion House, the only hotel, had for hosts the genial
old couple, Colonel and Mrs. Mack of Cincinnati, who made us all feel
honored guests. Here were held the balls, which, in the simple style of
the period, commenced a seven o'clock and ended at midnight. To these we
went sensibly dressed in woolen gowns, made high in the throat and with
long sleeves. Schools were rare as were churches, and such was the
unanimity of feeling, that though Protestants, we went to St. Ann's, the
French Catholic cathedral, and from the priests we had lessons in music
and French. For a time we had some Belgian sisters, who taught a
convent school, but Father Kundig, a Swiss, who became famous for his
charities, and Father Bondrel, a very elegant Frenchman, were teachers
for those who craved accomplishments.
What charming recollections of those days of simple
pleasures crowd upon me! Good Father Kundig made for us a theatre in the
basement of the cathedral, where we acted Hannah Moore's and Miss
Edgeworth's plays, to admiring audiences of parents and friends. My
sister Kate, as Mrs. Bustle in "Old Pog," and Josie Desnoyer as
"William," in hat and cravat of her father's ( a world too wide, the
hat) and his brass buttoned coat, the tails of which reached the floor,
produced peals of laughter. My youngest sister, about ten years old,
with gilt paper crown and sceptre and long white gown, was Canute the
Great, bidding the waters retreat. Seized with stage fright, after the
first scene, she refused to return to the "boards," when Father Kundig
gravely announced "indisposition" on the part of King Canute, and prayed
the audience to excuse his further appearance. Between the acts Father
Kundig played the piano, and was candle snuffer, prompter,
scene-shifter, - everything - with unfailing interest and good humor.
When the cholera appeared in Detroit, this good priest
distinguished himself in another field; he was at every bed-side, in
every house, carrying in his arms the sick and dying to his improvised
hospital. Everyone was interested in his orphans - the children
committed to his care by dying parents, at this time. And when, later,
he took charge of the county poorhouse, he made that dirty, miserable
place blossom like the rose. We frequently drove there to take clothing
and dainties to his sick poor, and obliged our beaux to buy the bouquets
intended for us from his garden. On one occasion, when a fine New York
beau ordered a bouquet for the ball to which he was to escort me, the
"Poor House Cart" drove to his hotel with a nosegay of sun-flowers,
holly-hocks and marigolds which filled a washtub. The good priest
thought the larger the bouquet, the more desirable. Our home beaux found
it a capital joke.
For his orphans and his poor, Father Kundig was allowed but
sixteen cents a day for food and clothing, and five and sixty of these
poor were ill in bed. Later, they gave him twenty-two cents, but in
spite of this increase of means for his little colony, he fell into
debt. And though my brother urged the legislature to relieve this public
benefactor by an appropriation of $3,000, he was finally obliged to
sell all his little property, his dear books, and the very guitar which
he had brought from his Swiss home. Peace to this good and valiant man,
who has long gone to his reward. He was indeed "blessing and blest."
This little tribute has drawn me a long way from my
narrative, but he merits it at my hands, to whom he was so kind a
friend, and with whom he was so patient a teacher.
With this terrible cholera we lost many of our friends, and
among others, our dear old "Granny Peg," my mother's faithful nurse, a
Guinea negro who could never be converted to Christianity. She died in
my arms, and I went out into the night to find the "death cart" which
passed the streets day and night, calling "Bring out the dead!" One
evening a charming young man from Boston sat with us on the door-step,
sipping a mint julep (thought to be a preventive of the disease). He was
well, gay, at parting; by the morning he was dead.
About 1832 the Missess Farrand opened a school in Detroit,
where I made friends with Isabella Cass, Valeria and Louis Campbell,
Jane Dyson and others. These with the Sibley and Trowbridge families,
the Desnoyers, Campaus and others, through a period of over fifty years,
have continued our friends. Judge Wilkins and his beautiful wife, and
Judge and Mrs. Norvell came later, and were great additions to our
circle. Mrs. Norvell was my best friend and confidant in my mother's
absences. She was as good as she was beautiful, and her husband was a
senator of whom the country might well be proud.
When I was about seventeen, my father, wishing to give us
greater advantages, and to wean me from gaieties I loved "not wisely,
but too well," took my sister Kate and myself to the famous boarding
school of Mrs. Emma Willard in Troy, New York. Here we were very happy,
and were to have remained two years under the guardianship of Mrs.
Willard, and her admirable and excellent sister, Mrs. Lincoln Phelps,
but my mother's health failed suddenly, after the death of my young
sister Theodosia, and I was compelled to return in the dead of winter.
My father took my mother a long journey to Mexico, where
private business required his presence. I was thus left mistress of my
brother's house, to entertain his guests, and my own. Adieu to studies
and books! Ostensibly I had Latin and French and music, and the fine
library of my father left me to draw from, but little time had I from
politics and pleasure. All the distinguished persons who came to Detroit
were entertained by the governor, and among others I remember Harriet
Martineau, with her formidable ear trumpet and of whom we young people
stood very much in awe.
My brother was elected a second term, and there was a time
of great excitement, the opposing candidate, Mr. Trowbridge, being as
popular as was my brother. To this day there exists a picture
representing this "election day." The meeting of the processions of the
rival candidates with "Tom Mason" in the front, and many well known
characters of both parties recognizable in the painting. In all this I
took a most active part, being my brother's most devoted sympathizer in
all his studies and ambitions. I was the sole confidant of a proposed
duel, which, happily never "came off;" and he was the faithful guardian
of all my love affairs, and my best adviser. He had little time, and
never much inclination for affairs of the heart, though so handsome, gay
and agreeable as to be much admired by the ladies. He was a great
student. After the day's work in his office, he came home to study till
two o'clock in the morning. And he denied himself the pleasures of the
table lest they should dull his brain, and make him less capable of
taking in the weighty matters of law, in which he hoped to win
distinction. .. . .
From: CHAPTERS FROM THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN OCTOGENARIAN (MISS EMILY V. MASON), 1830-1850. Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections 35 (1907): 248 - 252.
Dalligan, Alice C. Emily Virginia Mason and Her Sisters. Detroit Historical Society Bulletin 26 (May/June 1970): 4 - 19.