Thursday, September 17, 2015

MICHIGAN PIONEER #1: Alanson Thomas

THOMAS FAMILY CONNECTIONS:  Connecticut to Michigan @ 1800

Aaron to Alanson to 3GGM Deiadamia THOMAS (1812-1877), wife of Titus DORT, Jr. (1806-1879)

BACKGROUNDAlanson Thomas was the great-great-great grandson of Great Migration British immigrants (including Matthias Button  and George Geer) and the son of Aaron, Jr. (1754-1825) whose family had been early settlers of New London, Connecticut, originally of Massachusetts.  Aaron Jr., an American Revolutionary War veteran who served in the Continental Army in 1776, had a brother Joel who moved west following post-war treaties, suggesting a term of military service that qualified him for a land bounty in the Michigan Territory.  Aaron, Jr. followed him about (or before) the year 1800 with his wife and children, of whom sons Aaron III and Alanson were born in Windham County, Vermont. The birth of a third son, Joel, places the family in Detroit by the year 1800 when Alanson was 12. 

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the portion of the Northwest Territory now known as Michigan was still part of Indiana Territory.  At that time it was a hotbed of disputed land claims instigated by the the British and the Native American tribes they encouraged to resist U.S. western expansion.  It was wilderness territory where early landholdings -including the Thomas'- began to emerge as narrow ribbons along the Rouge River down to its capital, Detroit.

At the onset of the War of 1812, Alanson Thomas was listed as one of the early settlers along the northern banks of the Rouge River along with Aaron and Uncle Joel.  It is believed that both he and his brother Aaron III served in military defense of their Michigan properties during that time.  Since Alanson's daughter -and my third great-grandmother- was born in May of 1812 in Champaign County, Ohio, it seems reasonable to assume that Alanson relocated his wife, Polly, and young family out of harm's way until the hostilities of war settled down.  But even after the war, ceded Indian lands continued to create dissatisfaction for Native Americans who resented being pushed out of a territory they once claimed.  According to Farmer's History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan (1890): 
"After the peace of 1815 the Pottawattomie Indians were disaffected and
troublesome, Whether from any specific grievance or from their natural
habits of lawlessness, they frequently committed little depredations on the
sparse settlers along the river Rouge, west of Detroit. They manifested no
desire to engage in open hostilities, but were indifferent to the rights of the
whites, where they conflicted with their own wants or caprices. Tonguish [Tonquish]
was their chief and also their leader in these acts of lawlessness. In his
relations with the whites he was arrogant and imperious. Followed by his
band he entered the houses of settlers and demanded of the occupants such
articles as his need or caprice indicated, and by intimidation secured his
plunder. He generally planned to execute these little forays at such times
as the men were supposed to be absent from home. At such times his object
could be gained without danger to himself by simply over-awing the women.
When the men were at home the Indians frequently came off second best."

ALANSON'S STORY:  (from the same source)
Tonquish's "mark"
"Alanson Thomas lived in a log house on the north side of the river Rouge, about two miles below where the village of Dearborn now stands. His house stood on the brow of the hill. He was one day fixing up some shelves
in his house for his wife’s convenience, when he heard the voice of a man behind him. He turned round and was confronted by the form of Chief
Tonguish, who was ordering his (Thomas’s) wife to hand him something
which he coveted. Thomas demanded, “ What are you doing here?” The
chief sprang at him to seize his person. As quick as thought he met the
brawny fist of Thomas, which landed him senseless the other side of the
room. He then went to him, took him by the hair, raised his head up and
kicked him under each ear, and then threw him out the back door down
the hill. Looking up he saw a band of Tonguish’s Indians standing by
who had witnessed the discomfiture of their chief. One of them, a young
man—son of the chief, looked at Thomas, scowled, shook his head and said,
“Bime-by you be dead.” “ Well, dead or alive,” said Thomas, “I’ll venture
to give you a flogging! ” So he picked up a green withe that had been pro-
cured for fixing his fence, and proceeded to chastise the young man severely.
He jumped up and down and yelled; but he gave the war whoop in vain,
for none of his companions came to his rescue. Thomas’s determined man-
ner over-awed them, and they passively looked on. Instead of serious
trouble, which Thomas anticipated as a result of his treatment, the Indians
were after that afraid of him and avoided him whenever they could."
Location: Wayne Road at Fountain (south of Ann Arbor Trail)
Westland, Wayne Co., Michigan

Source: History of Detroit and Michigan, Silas Farmer 1890 - Part XIII Biographical Pg. 1330-1340

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

MICHIGAN FEVER: Five Family Stories

Tandem Fit Surculus Arbor
A shoot at length becomes a tree”

Michigan Territory in 1822
Michigan was carved out of the larger Northwest Territory in 1805 but did not gain full statehood until 1837 after a boundary dispute with Ohio.  In exchange for a narrow ribbon of land on the northern Ohio border, the 'Toledo Strip,' Michigan gained the entire Upper Peninsula and became the twenty-sixth state in the Union.*   

In the 1620's and '30's many of our British-born ancestors joined in the first Great Migration to the Americas.  Two hundred years later, members of those founding families were again branching out westward, pushing the frontier back along the Great Lakes in the quest for land in the Michigan Territory.  It was a new era of growth for that vast region of dense forests and poor roads as native land treaties opened the way for safer settlement and travel was improved with major (yet still primitive) roadways linking regional hubs such as Detroit and Chicago.  The Erie Canal, opened in 1825, provided a valuable water route that spurred further growth to the region.  Michigan was, for the most part, still wilderness as our ancestral families set up pioneer homesteads in a region that radiated out from its heart, Detroit.  In the decade between 1820-1830, Michigan's population had more than tripled to 31,639 (of which the 'town' of Detroit numbered only 2,222 in 1830).

This was the start of "Michigan Fever" as the territory's population jumped to over 212,000 between 1830-1840.  The majority of the pioneers to this region came from New York and New England.  And this is where our Michigan-transplanted family 'shoots' began to take root as newly emerging communities cropped up between Detroit and Grand Rapids.

In the next series of posts, we will explore the lives and legacy of five families from that era -and even earlier- that provided 'a shoot that, at length, became our Michigan family tree'.  These are the families of my great-great grandparents:  

Andrew Jackson Dort and his wife, Lydia Secord Winsor.  
The surnames below no longer appear in our contemporary family tree simply because they 'died out' as the maiden names of female ancestors, the last being my great-grandmother Mae Louise Dort.  The stories behind these names, however, should not be lost to our future generations since it was through each family that most of our early Michigan roots were formed. 
Michigan Territory 1805-1837
#2:  DORT

*Titus Dort (father of Andrew Jackson Dort) served as a Wayne County delegate for the First Convention of Assent of the Territory of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Sept. 26-30, 1836.