The earliest settlers of Michigan faced hard times as they made their way to the state. When someone decided to leave their home and travel to this state, they needed to be tough and resilient. Upon entering the state back in the 1850’s, travelers were met by towering trees and not much more. Where the trees were missing, the area was likely covered in swampland. Michigan’s very name is associated with the terms “fever and chills.” (Rubenstein and Ziewacz, 70). So why would anyone want to come to Michigan?
People came to Michigan hoping to settle the land. They were hard working and industrious. They were reformists that were interested in education. Many believed in ending slavery. They were afraid that slave labor would open Michigan up to ownership by the very rich who would use their slaves to farm and mine the land. It wasn’t so much that they were supporting abolition, they just believed in hard work and not just the few owning land, as was the norm in southern states. They were thrifty and religious people. Early settlers were drawn to Michigan since they knew with hard work; they could make a life for themselves. Once the land was cleared, they could farm and hunt and fish, and with faith, they would survive. Some settlers were drawn to Michigan for the copper and iron mining found in the Upper Peninsula.
The earliest settlers faced many hardships. Hard winters meant little food, especially if settlers arrived in late fall or winter. Careful planning and help from neighbors were necessary to survive the first few months after arriving. Once crops were grown, settlers often dealt with low crop yield due to insect infestations. The newcomers also had to deal with Indians that lived on the land. Most meant no harm to the settlers, yet others would walk into a house and demand food and drink and this could prove frightening. This helped to encourage some settlers to be prejudiced against the Indians and to want them to leave the area where the settlers made their homes. This is evident many years later in the Burt Lake incident in which an entire Indian village was burnt to the ground and the Indian residents were run off the land. Prejudice was also evident in the ways that the early settlers of Michigan dealt with the African Americans that lived among them. While blacks were allowed to live in the state and were even helped by the efforts of the Underground Railroad, they still were not considered equal. When a state convention was called in 1849, the vote for black suffrage was defeated by a margin of nearly 3 to 1. Most whites agreed with a Detroit delegate to the convention who stated that blacks should be kept separate from whites and “kept in their present sphere” (Rubenstein and Ziewacz, 83), Prejudice also existed between the Catholics and Mormons and is evident in the events on Beaver Island, which ended in the murder of the Mormon leader, James Jesse Strang, and the aftermath of his followers being driven from the island. Michigan politics were affected by prejudice also. The short- lived Know-Nothing party was against Catholics and feared new immigrants.
These prejudices affected our society in many ways. Fighting over slavery, and disagreements within the Democratic Party helped to form the Republican Party. We still see separation of races today. Many communities are predominantly one race, and often, areas that are mostly African American have higher unemployment, poorer schools and crumbling infrastructure.
Michigan’s early settlers helped to shape our state in many ways. Without the hard work and driving force of these people, weaker individuals may have turned around and went back home. By having a never quit attitude, our state has one of the most extensive road systems in the country. With perseverance, the settlers created the farmlands, planted the crops, built the towns, mined the mines, built canals and locks, and literally constructed the states infrastructure from the ground up. Without the dedication of our states ancestors, the auto industry may have had its start somewhere else. When voters were dissatisfied with the current state of politics, they didn’t just sit around and complain; they created the Republican Party, which is one of the major political groups in our country. Michigan’s earliest settlers had a huge impact on our history and culture. Without their grit and tenacity our state would not be the same.
Thick, Matthew “The Great Water” Chapter 5
Rubenstein and Blackwell; ‘Michigan; A History of the Great Lakes State Chapters 5-6’