By Evelyn Leasher
"I Arrived at Detroit..." contains published accounts of
Detroit between 1700 and 1837. These accounts were selected and edited
with certain criteria in mind. The first criteria was that the account
be in the English language either originally or in translation. The
length of the accounts was also considered. They vary considerably from a
page or so to about 60 pages. Less than a page was usually not worth
putting in as the account was of the, "I got off the boat, I found a
hotel, I left the next day," variety which adds very little to our
understanding of the place. More than 60 pages is an arbitrary cutoff
point intended to avoid putting in complete volumes.
If it could be determined that a published account was not a
firsthand account or was fiction, it was usually left out of the
compilation. An example of a well known account left out because it was
not firsthand information is Juliette Kinzie's WauBun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest [NY:
Derby & Jackson, 1856] in which her account of Detroit is based on
what her mother-in-law told her. An example of fiction left in is
Orlando Willcox's Shoepac Recollections: A Way-Side Glimpse of American Life [NY: Bunce & Brother, 1856] which is based on the author's childhood in Detroit. The first chapter of Shoepac Recollections
is included for its picture of early Detroit and its citizens. Although
Daniel Boone did not write his autobiography, the story of his Indian
captivity, during which he was taken to Detroit and ransom for him was
refused there, is too interesting to be excluded. Most of the narratives
are by travelers but a few residents recollections are included.
There has been no attempt to collect manuscript accounts of
Detroit in these years. This would be a worthwhile project, but it is
beyond the scope of this project.
The accounts which are included have been edited to only the
person's description of Detroit and sometimes of travel to or from the
place to give an idea of the travel experience of the time. Some of
these accounts were written for a variety of audiences and I have
eliminated digressions which have nothing to do with Detroit. In all
places where I have edited out material I have inserted three dots (. .
.) to indicate this.
Early Midwestern Travel Narratives; An Annotated Bibliography, 1634-1850
by Robert Hubach [Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1961] was the
starting point for collecting these narratives. After consulting all the
books on his list which pertained to Detroit, I examined the holdings
of the Clarke Historical Library for further and later published
accounts. I also examined other bibliographies to find accounts,
especially those published after 1961. About 95% of these accounts are
in the Clarke Historical Library.
At the beginning of each narrative there is a short
introduction giving the name, dates, and brief information about the
writer. In many cases there is also a graphic of either the person or
the place at the time of their visit. At the end of each account is the
bibliographical information about the source of the account. If further
information has been discovered about the writer or the event a short
bibliography is attached. This bibliography is not exhaustive but is
included to give the reader an idea of where more information can be
found if they wish to pursue the time, the person, or the event.
An additional feature is the more complete bibliography of
travel narratives at the end of the accounts. This bibliography contains
both the accounts included and the accounts excluded from the body of
the work. This bibliography is focused exclusively on narratives which
touch on Detroit. The compiler makes no claims to completeness.
These accounts offer an interesting perspective and clearly
show how Detroit changed over the years. Obviously visitors are not
residents and they give a visitor's perspective. They get things wrong
because they did not see everything. Because of this these accounts
should not be construed as a complete history of Detroit. But if you
want to learn how Detroit was perceived by a wide variety of travelers
these account take you back in time. Military men, Indian captives,
government officials, adventurers, travel writers, and more arrived at
Detroit and left a record of their visit. None of them saw the same
place in the same way, even if they were there at the same time and
observing the same events. Their various views form a picture of Detroit
otherwise difficult to capture.