1835 Gilman

Chandler Gilman (1802-1865) was on a pleasure tour when he wrote this account in a series of letters home.


Detroit, Aug. 28.

At last we have come to a pause, and I have time to think and feel a little; I have as yet only seen. Our progress has been so rapid, and our tour has presented us from day to day with such a variety of interesting objects of observation, that my mind has been in a constant hurry and confusion; now I can "stop and think," a very valuable privilege in all journeys - that of life included. . . .

But I must return from this digression, and give you a sketch of our doings at Detroit.

We found the place quite in an uproar with the prospect of a war with Ohio. Judge - , to whom I had letters, is very warm on the subject, has evidently studied and understands it thoroughly. He stated the claims of Michigan very clearly, and, Ohioan as I am, I will admit he made out a very strong case for the Territory. We had on board the Thomas Jefferson yesterday, a very tonguey Yankee lawyer, who resides at Toledo, and was very full of the subject. He, like all the Toledo people, was very warm in favour of the claim of Ohio. Thus we have had an opportunity to hear, viva voce, both sides of the agrument; and, after hearing them, I cannot doubt that "much may be said on both sides of the question." Much will doubtless be said, much written on the subject, but no fighting; it is not in the spirit of either party; they will talk loud and long, and if any thing seems likely to be gained by it, bluster abundantly; but no fighting. "Villanous saltpetre" will not be called in as arbiter. Valour there may be, I will not deny it; indeed, it were little better than treason to do so; but it is a most prudent and self-preserving valour.

In the meantime, the preparations are made here with an earnestness which is quite amusing, and the authorities lead and the people follow in measures to "preserve the integrity of Michigan," "assert her sovereignty and vindicate her laws," with a sobriety of countenance that is remarkable. That the authorities often laugh in their sleeves I have no doubt. How the deuce they contrive to keep a serious face when in the presence of the sovereign people is to me astonishing. We were honoured by an introduction to the Supreme Executive, whom we found, though the blast of war was blowing in his ears, not at all disposed to take King Henry's counsel and "imitate the action of the tiger." He is a very pleasant, good-humoured, and withal intelligent functionary. Whatever may be the fate of the war, one thing I consider certain - he will take it easy; he may argue, but he will not quarrel; he may possibly fight, but he will not get angry.

Aug. 29th. A most dreary and dismal day, rain, rain, rain incessantly; of course I am shut up in my little chamber. The company below are stupid, and they leave the doors open, so there is no reason why I should go down, and a very good one why I should not. Yesterday afternoon we had a delightful drive round Detroit, and for several miles above and below it. The land is generally fertile, though much of it is still under the French cultivation; and nothing can be imagined more miserable than their agriculture. The farms are laid out in a very singular manner, having only forty or fifty yards front on the river, but extending back two miles. Most of the fence here is of the old palisade fashion, formed of small round logs four to six feet long, stuck into the ground in rows close together, and connected by a single rail nailed on within six or eight inches of the top. As these logs or stakes vary a good deal in size and height, and all have the bark on, they have a very wild appearance. This sort of fence has some advantages, the most important of which formerly was its serving as a rampart against Indians.

Detroit is very beautifully situated on ground which rises regularly and very gradually from the river. The plan on which the city is built, which was drawn by Judge Woodworth, is a curiosity. It is not divided into squares nor circles, oblongs nor triangles; nor indeed after any figure known to geometry; so that it is impossible to give any one who never saw it an idea of the regularity of its irregularities.

The place is growing very fast, and the value of property increasing at an astonishing rate. A lot of ground opposite the Mansion-House, one hundred feet front and about two hundred deep, was recently sold for twelve thousand dollars; the purchaser has since been offered twenty, and expects to get twenty-five thousand for it. I counted eighteen large brick stores now being erected on Jefferson Avenue. This is a noble street, strait, wide, and extending parallel with the river from one extremity of the town to the other. The population of Detroit, though originally almost exclusively French, is now very mixed; and emigrants are pouring in by thousands. Among them there is a much larger proportion of Irish than will ever be of benefit to the Territory. The most conspicuous of the public buildings is the Roman Catholic church or cathedral. It is certainly the most grotesque building I ever saw; has five spires - a tall one at each corner in front, a small one in the centre, and two something larger at the other end. The two in front look much as Stratford steeple would if you should cut it off about the middle of the belfry, and stick it on to one of the towers of St. Thomas's church. But the whole building is vile in taste; nothing approaching to elegance, regularity, or proportion about it. There are some vestiges of the old French fort south of the town; and the Arsenal, which in these "piping times of peace" is converted into a Hardware store, is still in perfect preservation.

Half-past 9, P.M. Having just retired, after spending an evening with Mrs. D. the first lady I have had an opportunity of talking with since I left New York. What a charm there is in female society! how it refreshes and brightens up the mind! Here have I been ten days, talking exclusively with men; sometimes pleased, often informed, but quite as often bored to death with their sense or disgusted with their nonsense. Oh how delightful is the lively chat, the spirited sense, or the not less pleasing nonsense, of a clever woman! Mrs. D. is - but stay, I believe I will confine myself to the praise of the sex in general, nor dwell too long on the perfections of any particular individual; 'tis the safer ground for a married man. So, no more of Mrs. D.

Sunday, August 30th

We left Detroit in the schooner White Pigeon this day, at half-past nine A.M., with a fine leading breeze and every prospect of a quick and pleasant passage. The appearance of Detroit from the river is strikingly beautiful, particularly when seen as we saw it, the tall spires and the new buildings shining in the bright sun-beams.

From: LIFE ON THE LAKES: BEING TALES AND SKETCHES COLLECTED DURING A TRIP TO THE PICTURED ROCKS OF LAKE SUPERIOR by the author of "Legends of a Log Cabin." New York: George Dearborn: 1836. 2 volumes. 1: 49 -60.