The One With Michigan Settlers

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.

GR_1831Woks Cited:

Thick, Matthew R. The Great Water: a Documentary History of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, 2018.

4 thoughts on “The One With Michigan Settlers

  1. The perseverance and resilience of the pioneers is almost an unimaginable feat in this day and age. It’s quite interesting how the emigrants and the Natives were both treated poorly and viewed as being on the bottom of the totem pole of the society. Despite the fact that the emigrants weren’t Native Americans, they also received prejudice like getting poor land, or being lied to about the land they would receive (that it was ready to be worked). It is heartening to note how these two lower social class groups were about to get along, work together, and trade with one another to be able to survive and thrive.

  2. Its crazy to think that people who first settled on the state of Michigan were ever thought of as poor and judged. Being given the short stick. When they were the ones making so much progress for our citizens. There is so much beatiful and healthy land in Michigan its hard to believe anyone would have started to be pushed to the side.

  3. Olivia,

    How strange to think that Michigan was ever thought of as poor, a state that one day boomed with the auto industry. It’s crazy to think that These emigrants could have used so much help from the Native American’s and that they were living harmonically, but eventually pushed them out instead. Michigan did have a lot to offer between the land and the water, but the settlers definitely did have to adapt.


  4. Good job discussing the hardships the pioneers faced. It’s difficult to imagine in this day and age packing up everything and everyone in your household and moving to a place where there is absolutely nothing. No ready land, no house, no materials…

    It’s also important to recognize that in times of hardship, marginalized groups, like the emigrants and Native Americans, tend to band together (as they should).

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