Skip navigation

1837 Smith

Joshua Toulmin Smith [1816-1869] was an Englishman. He and his new wife, Martha, came to Detroit in part because of what Harriet Martineau had written about it. In his Introduction to this Journal Streeter notes:"The removal from an environment of culture and refinement where they enjoyed the conveniences of civilization to the frontier with its primitive mode of life was a great change." It was a change they did not like and they left in 1838. Some of this journal was written by Martha Smith.

On 7th took our places by steamer ship "Columbus" for Detroit: during voyage coasted along shore all the way - rather different to what we had been told in New York viz. that there were no ports along the Lake - Lake Erie a fine lake - the two days of our voyage very fine - Reached Detroit about 4 o'clock on Monday morning the 9th. Here then at length we are in the "Far West" as it called - 750 miles W. of N. York. 4,000 off dear Old England. . . .

Detroit - Our first impressions of this place were favourable. Our first day was beautifully bright & clear and we walked the round with much unction and real pleasure, after escaping the horrors of a high pressure Steam Engine, than which conveyance we could obtain no other to sail up Lake Erie. I felt much surprise when I was shown the Governor's house, a building good enough but much inferior to several others in the same street, and equally so when told that tho' possessing more real power than the King of England his income was not more than 2,000 dollars per ann - So much for feeling bred up in the Old country - This man by name Mason unfortunately for us just now at N. York so that for present Doctor Follen's letter must repose quietly in Toulmin's pocket - We are at the American Hotel a good house but where we find fewer comforts (at least in accordance with our English notion) than any place we have hitherto visited -

Saturday night Oct 14th A memorable night - The first of our drinking tea in our own private abode, followed by the divertisement of scanning & adding up sundry bills for necessary furniture & paid during the course of the day - a snug little parlor & bed room with a good handsome dark closet & magnificent lumber room form our abode for which we are to pay 7 dollars per month rent 14 additional dollars for attendance!!

O! how we did enjoy this evening our tea, for we could take our own time, talk over sundry matters & not feel obliged to scald our throats least we should be the last at table - it is just two months since we sat at our own family fire side - I once thought I should never live to be tired of roaming but four months constant changing has begun to work a change in my feelings on that point -

Marketing in a strange town & country is by no means an enviable employment - Some people we found very civil & one amused us much by telling Toulmin when he went to enquire why certain articles which had been ordered had not been sent, "that he'd have nothing to do with him." We are going to sleep under a comforter until our Blankets make their appearance, which are at present at N. York & as feather pillows are too dear for our purse at present a deer-hair bolster is to supply their place until we have eaten enough fowls to fill our pillows - I must not omit one grand proof of the splendeur of our apartments - In the two sash windows there are only 48 panes of glass!!

Saturday night Oct 21st Only half a dollar wanting in the balance of accounts relating to the expediture of $475!! And this me thinks the first weeks settlement of our house keeping &c &c - is very satisfactory and highly creditable to two such spend thrifts as myself and my husband!

Another item in our account book, & which is equally satisfactory is, that from the different situations & conditions countries we have traversed in our progress westward the stock in hand with which we left Old England has actually increased 25 per cent or a quarter of the original sum!!!! this profit added to the sum of interesting information and pleasure we have enjoyed during the last four months, makes a total gain of which few people would be ashamed and which we think is well worth going through the matrimonial ceremony to obtain -

Here it comes! "Hurra Hurra" and one runs to the window with true English expectations, to feast our eyes upon a crowd, numberless & noisy with flags & banners waving in the air; all we have for our pains is, first, a long waggon some 20 feet from prow to stern drawn by 4 clumsily harnessed horses, and all bespattered with mud; in this are seated a dozen drummers & trumpeters, who with infinite skill so contrive to agitate the airy medium that it is quite impossible to distinguish any sequence of tones, at all in accordance with any known melody. Then follows a political emblem the execution of which is well worthy the rude attempts of an infant state, a huge canoe or badly shapen boat mounted upon wheels, whereof the sailors perform their characters by diving and rowing the surrounding atmosphere with wooden oars; this is succeeded by a stage whereof the horses are adorned with trumpery flags about a foot square, and the sides & seats with fine concretions of Mother earth - at the tail of this succeeds another vehicle equally ingenious, for the accommodation of Tory voters whose zeal is either asleep or questionable. These with two other common carts drawn by ghostes of horses & their owners in their everyday brown coat, followed & surrounded by about 30 or 40 ragmuffin looking men and boys all of which look as tho' they had escaped from some prison, formed the procession which supported Governor Mason in the election of Oct. 1837. O I forget two brilliant marshals whose prancing horses did their best to appear grand in a drapery of blue & gold -

Novr 6th & 7th were the days of election of Gov'r deputy & members of senate & assembly of the State of Michigan. This was a set contest between the two parties Whigs & Democrats - Most despicable exhibition each party made in procession - very little excitement but I am most astonished & disgusted at the abominable mode in which the elections are conducted. The parties avow openly that they have had recourse to any & every means to carry the election. I have been told by one party that they themselves have sent 70 Irishmen to one spot by ship with order to perjure themselves & vote for their party, & if when they got to their destination they refused they were not to be landed. After waiting there they were to be shipped to some other point & to vote there - By the same party I was told that when the Marshal had been sent by Mason to canvass for him they sent some ahead of him to tell the people he was come to assist them - The tricks &c are truly iniquitous. Coventry in her worst days was vergin purity in comparison. This is vote by ballot - Hurra for liberty & vote by Ballot!!!!

From: JOURNAL IN AMERICA 1837-1838 by Joshua Toulmin Smith. Edited with Introduction and Notes by Floyd Benjamin Streeter. Metuchen, NJ: Charles F. Heartman, 1925: 18 - 22.

See Also:

Hamblett, Barbara Knapp. The Circus on Campus Martius. Michigan History 1986 70 (6): 40-44.