Skip navigation

1830 Mason

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.

Emily Virginia MasonIn 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 candidate.

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.

See Also:

Dalligan, Alice C. Emily Virginia Mason and Her Sisters. Detroit Historical Society Bulletin 26 (May/June 1970): 4 - 19.