After distinguishing some rumors about how Michigan was uninhabitable, Michigan decided to follow suite with the rest of the country. New settlers flowing down the Erie Canal from the East coast caused a shift in Michigan’s demographics. With a population on the upswing, new parts of the Mitten were being explored and claimed by eager settlers. Michigan pioneers were “…ambitious, but poor…” and wanted to make it in America in a pursuit to find an American Dream through growth in the country (Coffinberry 57).
Getting to Michigan was quite the journey for many settlers and was often harder then they expected. The inclement weather was matched well against the early technologies of their steam boats, for “the waves rolled mountains high, and then they all wished themselves in the harbor” (Whitehead 61). The harrowing journey continued as emigrants beds caught on fire and you could hear “women, and children crying…” from the explosion of tar coming from the furnaces (Whitehead 61). Despite the pioneers hard journey the remain hopeful for the land they were promised. Many emigrants were lied to saying that the three acres of land they were promised was cleared and ready to work but in reality it wasn’t and many feared they would not make it through the winter (Whitehead 62).
Hard times fell on many settlers, after being lied to about their land they found the winter months to be hard, a whole new issue arose, commerce. After travel expenses and getting food many travelers were left with nothing some “just 50 cents in money left” to last an entire family (Whitehead 62). After recognizing how little banks there were many found that “money is scarce” but even worse “there is but little money in circulation” (Dibble 60). Despite the lack of money and the harsh winters, the East Coast emigrants were used to the cold and managed to survive. Many fended for themselves and found that there were “numerous lakes swarming with fish, and the forest filled with game of all kinds” (Whitehead 60).
Despite being “pioneers” this land was already inhabited and had families surviving by fishing and hunting and were very mystified by their new neighbors, the Native Americans. These curious neighbors were in awe of their white counterparts, “they were very curios about the things they saw in the house. Everything was new to them, of course, but they never did us any harm..” (Dewey 63). They even wished their neighbors “Happy New Year, Happy New Year” and they even “brought berries and baskets” (Dewey 64). In Flint the emigrants and the Natives lived harmonically on shared land. It was not just Flint, however, that had a good relationship with the Natives. Other emigrants were trading with them, some left their rifles for security on brass kettles, the even traded for “Whiteman’s fire water to make Indian feel good” (Nowlin 65). However, cultures were exchanged, like finding an Indian burial ground (Dawson 60). Like the Natives, emigrants faced prejudices like getting poor land (Dibble 59-60). This established a culture of second class citizens for emigrants and Natives were slowly but surely getting edged out of society.
Emigrants faced many challenges ranging from monstrous waves, tar fires, poverty, and harsh winters but they prevailed. Michigan pioneers survived and persevered by adapting to the land by learning to cultivate poor land, fish, and hunt and even could help thy neighbor, whether they be white or a Native. These settlers survival and success in uncharted waters and land made it possible for Michigan to gain statehood and become the twenty-sixth state of The United States.
Thick, Matthew R. The Great Water: a Documentary History of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, 2018.