Milan, Michigan – City of Two Counties

Downtown Milan, Michigan

Located approximately 16 miles southeast of Ann Arbor and, 37 miles northwest of Toledo, and approximately 50 miles from Detroit, Milan has the distinction of existing across two counties – Monroe and Washtenaw. About 60 percent of Milan’s area is located in Washtenaw County adjacent to York Charter Township and about 40 percent of Milan is located in Monroe County adjacent to Milan Township. The city’s population is similarly split along geographical lines, with 75 percent of its population located in Washtenaw County and 25 percent of its population located in Monroe County.

Early French settlers named the area that they settled Milan Township because they were determined to use the wild grapes growing along the River Raisin to produce wine. Raisin is the French word for grape and they christened the large river flowing through Monroe and Monroe Township the River Raisin. The Saline River flowing through Milan and Milan Township is part of the River Raisin watershed, and the early settlers hoped to use the wild grapes growing along the Raisin and its tributaries to produce grapes and establish a wine making industry in the area. These French entrepreneurs named their new township Milan, after the Italian city of Milan hoping to establish a tradition similar to the Italian wine making reputation. An old community southeast of Milan that they named Grape is a symbol of the pioneer ambitions to create wine country in Monroe and Washtenaw Counties.

Building on early pioneer settlements, John Marvin, Bethuel Hack, and Harmon Allen founded the community that would become Milan in 1831. Bethuel Hack was the first postmaster, and he named the community Farmer, remarking that nearly everyone there farmed, so the logical name for the community should be Farmer. When drug store owner Henry Tolan took over as postmaster, he renamed the community Tolanville, to honor his family name. The next postmaster, David Woodard, who was appointed on April 21, 1836, established the post office in his flour mill and renamed the community Woodard’s Mills. The postmaster in Washington D.C. and probably many community residents were confused by the rapidly changing name of the community, so finally in 1836 the Washington D.C. postmaster accepted the recommendations of some of its citizens that the community would be called Milan, after Milan Township which took its name from the city of Milan, Italy.

In 1885, Milan became a village and operated as a village until its incorporation as a city in 1967.[1]

Milan’s Early Pioneers

John Marvin

Born in Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1769, John Marvin moved to Otsego County, New York, as a young man. While living in Otsego he married Mary Polly Edson about 1799, and they had their first children, Miranda, I 1800.  and he purchased 160 acres of land in Washtenaw County.  In 1831, John and his family along with other pioneers voyaged across Lake Erie to their newly acquired Michigan lands. John built a log home for his wife and small children and gradually replaced it with a frame home.

John and Polly’s son William started a store and soon other buildings dotted the woods and newly cleared fields. According to the History of Washtenaw County, in about 1834, John Marvin cast the first ballot at the first meeting of York Township at the home Noah Woolcott in Mooreville.[2]

By 1837, John and Polly Marvin had sold much of their land which some sources estimate totaled at least 280 acres of present day downtown Milan.  John Marvin died by Nov. 1838.

Although John and Polly’s daughter Caroline Marvin Tolan and her husband Henry Tolan are buried in Spaulding Cemetery, there is no definitive evidence that John and Polly are buried alongside them. Milan historian Martha Churchill examined the issue of whether John Marvin is buried in Spaulding Cemetery or Mooreville Cemetery. She stated that the Spaulding family donated the land for Spaulding Cemetery to Milan Township in 1848 and John Marvin died in 1838. She believes that since John Marvin had ties with early settlers in Mooreville, it is very likely that he is buried in Mooreville Cemetery.[3]

Henry Tolan

John and Polly’s daughter Caroline Marvin married Henry Tolan.  Born in 1817 in England, Henry immigrated to Michigan and became one of Milan’s early settlers. He built a potash factory, a drug store, and a hotel. He called the new settlement Tolanville after himself and he served as postmaster for a short time. Tolan Street is named in his memory. He and his wife Caroline are buried in Spaulding Cemetery.

Bethuel Hack

Born in Greenwich, Massachusetts on July 17,1796, he grew to young manhood and married Miss Sallie Payne in 1826. The Hacks had four children:  Emeline, Sarah, William, and James.

James B. Hack, born August 7, 1845. He enlisted in Company H of the 15th Michigan Infantry and died at Camp Monroe on March 24, 1862 of smallpox that he caught on a trip from Milan to Monroe.  He is buried in London Township Cemetery in London, Monroe County.

In 1832, Bethuel Hack and Harmon Allen sailed Lake Erie from Buffalo, New York to Detroit and then walked to Milan.  He served as Justice of the Peace and was an influential member of the Milan community.

Bethuel and his wife Sallie Paine Hack are buried in London Township Cemetery in Monroe County.[4]

Business in Milan

Milan – 1856-1857

MILAN. A Post office in the township, so called, and Monroe county, 47 miles south east from Lansing. Population of Town 1100.

List of Professions, Trades

Haywood & Smith, general store sawmill.

William Haywood, of Haywood & Smith

John McLearan, of Wilson  & McLearan Flouring Mill

John Smith of Haywood &. Smith.

Truman Wilcox, postmaster.

Wilson & McLearan, Flouring MilL

Thomas Wilson of Wilson & McLearan Flouring Mill

Click the link to see some Milan Pioneer businesses from 1883 to 1921-1922.

Milan Pioneer Businesses

74 Patents, 14 Companies, and IBM

Walter F. Stimpson

walter stimpson
Photo-Martha Churchill

Walter F. Stimpson, a Milan farm boy, advanced in his career to become one of the founders of International Business Machines (IBM) and the holder of 74 United States patents. Born on September 20,1870 on a farm west of Mooreville, Walter Stimpson filed a patent for a device lowering grain harvester wheels, in 1892. In September 1894, he filed another patent for farm equipment. Throughout his life he filed a total of 74 patents, but in his younger years he worked on his patents while completing Cleary Business School and teaching school.

In 1892, he noticed a local grocery store owner increasingly frustrated by difficult to use scales while he tried to figure prices for his merchandise. Experimenting with the blacksmith tools at his father’s farm, Walter developed the revolutionary idea for a computing scale. His innovative scales immediately caught on and he developed farm scales capable of weighing freight ranging from a wagonload of watermelons, a cow, or a load of coal. He developed scales to weigh smaller things like envelopes, postage, candy, and diamonds. He built a Stimpson factory in Milan on Plank Road at Dexter Road which later became the Ideal Foundry and he expanded his business reach by building factories in Tecumseh, Northville, and Detroit, Michigan, and Elkhart, Indiana. He founded a total of 14 companies during his business life.

Eventually one of Walter Stimpson’s Detroit companies merged with the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company dealing in cash registers and another merged with a company dealing with clocks. The Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company later changed its name to International Business Machines. For years, if Stimpson Scale customers needed parts for their scales, they consulted IBM as the successor company.

Around 1903, Walter built an Italianate brick hotel in downtown Milan, Michigan, which he called the Stimpson Hotel. Later renamed the Danube Inn, it burned down in 2011.

Hotel Stimpson- Photo, Martha Churchill

During the last years of his life, he and his wife Estelle or Stella Heyn Stimpson lived in Louisville, Kentucky.  When he died August 17, 1942 in Norton Infirmary in Louisville, he left a large, modern factory manufacturing coffee grinders, meat slicers, and scales.

Some Milan Business and Professional Pioneers

Main Street Milan, 1910- Milan Public Library

George Ellis Bassitt. Owned and operated Bassitt  Five Cents to Five Dollars Store on Main Street in Milan, beginning in 1924.  He and his wife Sadie are buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

William Arthur Bell.   He owned and operated Bell’s Standard Service in Milan during the 1960s.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

William H. Bell. He was the owner of Bell Meat Market in Milan, Michigan for 35 years. He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Charles M. Blackmer operated business in downtown Milan and owned several local properties. In 1885, he joined his father, David Blackmer,  in the undertaking business serving the Milan area, and stayed in that business until 1904.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Edd W. Blackmer.  Edd sold furniture in the store next to his father’s undertaking parlor, and then took over the undertaking business after his father, Charles W. Blackmer.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

  1. DeVere Blackmer. Milan. In 1933 he went to Clinton to become manager of a C. F. Smith Store there. In 1943 he returned to Milan to manage the Milan C. F. Smith store, left vacant by the death of his brother Webb. He retired from this store in 1958. He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Webb Blackmer, a son of Charles M. and Emily Webb Blackmer, was the oldest businessman in Milan. He owned and operated a meat market in the early 1890s, and later was part owner of the Farrington and Blackmer grocery. After Mr. Farrington died, Webb became sole owner of the store. He also managed the C.F, Smith store for 23 years.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Lovatus Allen “Bud” Butler. He served as Milan postmaster from 1947 to 1957 and then he owned and operated Butler’s Grocery until his retirement in 1967.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Dr. William R. Calhoun. He practiced dentistry in Milan for nearly fifty years. He was the oldest active business and professional man in Milan and served as a member of the common council several terms and also as Village Treasurer at various times.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.
Dr, Arthur J. Cox, DDS.  he came to Milan in 1935 and established his dental practice in the office above Miller’s Drug Store and practiced until his retirement.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Stanley E. Dennison owned and operated Dennison’s Grocery from 1934 to 1962 and he was a rail clerk for the local (Wabash) depot for more than 30 years.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Lucile Johnson DeRyke. Editor and owner of the Milan Leader.  She is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Fuller Dexter. Landlord of Commercial House which was located at 54 West Main Street in Milan.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Ray W. Frisbie. Owned and operated Frisbie’s Barber Shop in Milan for 55 years.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Dr. Isaac W. Hurd. According to Milan historian Warren Hale, Dr. Hurd came to Milan from Dansville, NY in 1837. His wife was Dorcas Carpenter Hurd. His presence in Milan was much appreciated. Up until his arrival, Milan residents had to travel to Mooreville to visit a doctor. He is buried in Spaulding Cemetery.

Nicholas Frank Klak.  During World War II he served as a guard at the Milan Prison and he was a merchant in Milan from 1946-1994. He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

George A. Koukoumtzis. Owned and operated the Campfire Restaurant in Milan.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Joel L. Marble and his wife Florence founded Marble Park Cemetery in 1896. He also was a real estate developer and businessman. In 1892, he operated a grocery store on the south side of E. Main in downtown Milan, in the “Palmer Block,” according to insurance records of the time. At one point he had a real estate business called “Eureka Realty.”

Dr. Alpheus Goodman Mesic. Practiced medicine in Milan for 43 years. His obituary noted that “ He devoted his entire life to the aid of the sick and suffering and many times drove far into the night in the times of the horse and buggy, often without the prospect of financial remuneration for his work as a doctor.”  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Frank Mortimer Miller. Operated Miller’s Drugstore in Milan for many years.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Alexander W. Robb. Blacksmith in Milan for many years.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Orville J. Rowe owned and operated Rowe Chevrolet Buick from 1952-2002.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Father Joseph S. Strzelwecz. Pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Milan and organizer of the Milan Ministerial Association.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

G.C. Van Orman. Owner of Van’s Stores in Brooklyn and Milan.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Charles H. Wilson.  Operated a grist mill in Milan along the Saline River.  He also operated a saw mill.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery

Some Milan Veterans

milan soldiers

Civil War

Ira F. Bortles. Co, H,  18th Michigan Infantry, Civil War.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

John Burnham.  Sgt. Company E, 7th Cavalry Regiment, Civil War.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Lyman Burnham.  Co. I, 15th Infantry, Civil War.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Richard Callis. Corp. Co. E, 11th Michigan Cavalry, Civil War.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

James Colf.  Pvt. Co. C., 17th Michigan Infantry. Civil War.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

George H. Culver enlisted in Company C, Seventh Michigan Cavalry at the outbreak of the Civil War where he served under Gen. Custer in Virginia and later transferred to the Fifth Cavalry and served under Gen. Stagg. At the end of the war, he answered the call to colors and fought with the regulars in the Indian campaign under Col. Bates from 1870 to 1875. He was the only surviving Civil War Veteran in Washtenaw and Monroe counties when he died on November 5, 1944. at the home of his son, Willis Culver, of 170 East Main Street, Milan. He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery.

Click here for the remainder of a partial list of Milan veterans, ranging from the Civil War to Vietnam.    Some Milan Veterans

More Modern Milan

modern milan

Like countless pioneering small towns, Milan inherited the architectural tastes of its founders, including two story turn of the twentieth century homes, and about 21 percent of houses built between 1940 and 1959.  Houses closer to downtown still feature barns that once sheltered horses and carriages, but in the current century shelter horseless carriages, although a scattering of working farms complete with cows and horses dot the landscape. Milan’s Downtown earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places with tis mix of Italianate and other architectural styles. Milan’s historical museum is the Hack House, built in 1888.

As in many other communities, the energy and business acumen of Henry Ford helped shape Milan’s economy from that of a small village to a thriving city. In 1935, Henry Ford purchased a two-story grist mill which is now the Community House in Milan.  He used a former lumber mill garage as a base to build an engine coil manufacturing plant near the present parking lot between the police station and city hall. He had planned to operate his factory using hydraulic power, and he dredged and dammed Ford Lake to produce that power. Gradually, he discovered that water power could not operate the factory and turned instead to steam engines using coal for power. The former Ford Power plant is now part of Milan’s current City Hall. Henry Ford owned a soybean processing plant next to the present day public works building.

For years, much of Milan’s tax base came from the Visteon/Ford Motor Company facility, but as the village grew into a city, it utilized its pioneer businesses as well as developing new ones. Even though it is located in London Township, the Milan Drag Way is famous regionally for its auto racing. In 1945, the Schultz family founded an automobile dealership which is currently a family owned business operated by a third generation of Schultzs.

An unrelated Schultz family has owned and operated the Schultz Bottled Gas Company, the oldest continuously operated family retail business in Milan, dating from 1939 to the present.

Located on Wabash Street, the Milan State Savings Bank founded in 1911 is the ancestor of the Chase Bank. It has been operating continuously under various names on the same site since 1911.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has operated the Federal Correctional Institution, Milan and its adjoining Federal Detention Center housing pretrial and holdover facilities for inmates since 1933 when it was activated as the Federal Detention Farm. The low security prison has 59 buildings situated on 332 acres and is located 45 miles southwest of Downtown Detroit, 15 miles south of Ann Arbor, and 30 miles north of Toledo, Ohio. The mission statement of Milan Prison has lived through various incarnations, including serving as a correctional facility for women.

On July 8, 1938, Anthony Chebatoris was hanged at the prison, convicted of the murder of Henry Porter, a truck driver from Bay City.  During a bank robbery, Anthony Chebatoris mistakenly took Henry Porter for a police officer and shot him. After his hanging, the only federal execution in Michigan, officials transported his body to Stevens Funeral Home in Milan.  He is buried in Marble Park Cemetery under a gravestone that simply notes: “Tony Chebatoris, 1900-1938.”

In 1934, Helen Gillis, the wife of infamous bank robber Baby Face Nelson was sentenced to a year and a day at the Woman’s Federal Reformatory in Milan, for aiding her husband in his criminal activities. Evelyn Frechette, the girlfriend of John Dillinger, served two years at Milan for violating the Federal Harboring Law.  She was released in 1936.

The 2010 Federal Census lists the population of Milan, Michigan as 5,836 inhabitants. The city’s official website lists some of the reasons why Milan boosters believe their city will continue to grow and flourish. “In Milan, you’ll find shops, restaurants, and services. We have affordable housing, and many wonderful community events, including parades, car shows, movies, and concerts in the park and an extremely energetic and vital Senior Community Center. Moreover, Milan boasts 200 acres of beautifully maintained parks to wander through and play.”


[1] Jennifer Herman, Michigan Encyclopedia, 1999. p. 400.

[2] Charles C. Chapman, History of Washtenaw County, p. 1413.

[3] Martha Churchill, Find A Grave, John Marvin

[4] History of Monroe County, Michigan, Talcott E. Wing, p. 47


Part III: Steamships and Captain Henry Smith Stop Permanently at Monroe, Michigan

Lake Erie.  Robert N. Dennis Collection stereoscopic views.

Part I

Part II

The 1830s brought significant changes to Great Lakes vessels and in the lives of Captain Henry Smith and his family. In the late 1830’s and early 1840’s, steamboats established routes between the Maumee River and many Lake Erie ports, including Buffalo, Cleveland, Sandusky, and Monroe. Eventually they expanded beyond Detroit to ports on the upper lakes like Chicago and Milwaukee. Geographically blessed by its location along the River Raisin and Lake Erie’s shore, Monroe and the River Raisin mirrored maritime potential.

Rising from its source in Hillsdale County, Michigan, the River Raisin flows for about 125 miles easterly through lush countryside, furnishing ready water power for mills and transportation for the small towns and villages dotting its banks. The Raisin had contributed to the growth of Monroe, situated about three and a half miles from its mouth, by attracting farmers, fishermen, tradesmen, and others who depended on water access.  Many of its nearly 3,000 inhabitants depended on the Raisin and nearby Lake Erie for their livelihoods.[1]

Monroe grew into a bustling port and the citizens of Monroe grew accustomed to steam engine whistles and the hustle bustle of unloading, transporting, and delivering cargoes from other lake ports. Some of the captains of the growing list of great lakes steamers chose Monroe as their home port and several of the new lake steamships were either built at Monroe or owned and financed by Monroe entrepreneurs. Monroe played an important part in firmly establishing steam boat traffic and prosperity on Lake Erie and Captain Smith played a pivotal role in building safe harbors for both the new and old lake vessels.


A Few Steamers Stopping at Monroe, 1830s, 1840s

DeWitt Clinton. Stolham Wing from Monroe and Carlos Colton owners. Captains Brown and Ludlow commanded her.

Griffith. William V. Studdiford owned her and Captain Roby was master.

James Wolcott. Governeur Morris and Selah Dustin commanded her.

General Macomb. Captains Choate and Atwood commanded her.

Arrow. Captain A.D. Perkins and Ira Davis commanded her.

General Brady. Captain Burtis, master.

Indian Chief. J.J. Godfroy

John Owen. Ira Davis, captain.

John Hollister. Selah Dustin, captain.

Captain Smith, La Plaisance Bay and Monroe Harbor Engineer

monroe piers 

The increased steamboat and other vessel traffic on Lake Erie increased the importance of plentiful and safe harbors for them to anchor to load and unload their freight and passengers. The Army recognized Captain Smith as a skilled engineer as well as a brave soldier, and sent him to Monroe to facilitate the building of the vital waterworks on La Plaisance Bay. After several years of living in Army posts scattered across the country, Captain Henry and Elvira Smith and their three children, Winfield, Harriette, and Elvira Pamelia arrived in Monroe in late 1832. Four more children: Katherine Lydia, Evaline, Josephine, and William would be born in Monroe.[2]

La Plaisance Bay is located about two miles south of the entrance to Monroe harbor and its location presented an engineering and commercial problem for Lake Erie shipping. Broad but shallow at a maximum depth of ten feet, La Plaisance Bay is surrounded by Lake Erie and a mile-wide marsh. Monroe is located on the banks of the River Raisin which connects with La Plaisance Bay near its head, but extensive shoals separate the navigable waters of the River Raisin and La Plaisance Bay which is connected to Monroe by a four-mile-long railroad. Captain Maurice of the United States Army Corps of Engineers recommended building a harbor of refuge complete with a breakwater of stone filled cribs. By September 1828, 1,050 linear feet of breakwater had been completed. Captain Maurice recommended that the breakwater connect La Plaisance Bay with the River Raisin using parallel piers and dredging.

By 1830, workers had completed a 1,290 feet breakwater costing $6,261.85. The breakwater protected vessels that drew from eight to nine feet of water, but the engineer in charge pointed out that ordinary vessels navigating the lake still could not connect with the River Raisin and La Plaisance Bay. The engineer presented a plan and estimates of its costs to connect the bay and river, but on October 4, 1831, a violent windstorm destroyed almost all of the 1828 breakwater, and the engineer in charge instead asked for $7,841 for the necessary repairs.

On July 3, 1832, the federal government appropriated $8,000 for the repairs and in September 1832, Captain Henry Smith of the United States Army, successor of Captain Maurice, arrived in Monroe to supervise the repair and the harbor. After carefully examining the damages, Captain Smith concluded that during the fall and winter of 1831, all but 200 feet of the breakwater had been washed away. The weather had destroyed the contracted part of the breakwater, leaving just a few stones to mark where it had been.

Captain Smith proposed a different harbor approach, and in November 1834, he submitted a plan to the chief engineer for straightening the River Raisin and connecting it to Lake Erie by digging a canal, and avoiding a shallow channel in the river.  In his report to the engineer, Captain Smith stressed the vital importance of a direct connection between the lake and river and he proposed to directly connect the lake and the River Raisin by cutting a canal about 4,000 feet long and 1,000 feet wide through the peninsula called “River Raisin Point” from the river directly north of House Island to Lake Erie.  He purposed protecting the entrance to Lake Erie with parallel piers measuring 726 feet long and 20 feet wide and descending to a depth of 10 feet. At the point the canal crossed Sandy Creek, Captain Smith proposed to close the south side and to turn the creek into the canal. He estimated that the cost of the project minus the dredging machine to be $55,885. Work on the canal began in May, 1835, with Captain Smith in charge.

Talcott Wing explored the building of the Monroe Harbor in his History of Monroe County, Michigan, noting that “the improvement of this harbor was commenced in 1827 at La Plaisance Bay, abandoned there in 1835, and begun in that year on the present harbor. The policy of the General Government in regard to internal improvements was changed four years after the work was commenced, and with the exception of the appropriations in 1844 and 1852, which were devoted to repairs and dredging, no further funds were available until the year 1866.”[3]

Captain Smith oversaw the work on La Plaisance Bay and spearheaded the construction of a solid foundation for Monroe Harbor and its gradual completion and growth. He resigned from the Army on November 13, 1836 and settled permanently in Monroe. From 1836 to 1840, Captain Smith was the Civil Engineer Superintendent of U.S. Harbor Improvements in Ohio and Michigan, which included all government harbors on Lake Erie.

In his annual report for 1837, Captain Smith, General Superintendent of Public Works for Lake Erie, described conditions of some of the harbors on Lake Erie. “Until the commencement of the system of improvement of the lake harbors by the Government of the United States, the immense extent of country occupying the south shore of Lake Erie, or dependent on it for commercial facilities, was a wilderness. The navigation of the lake was attended with the utmost delay, difficulty and danger. The mouths of several streams emptying themselves into the lake were uniformly obstructed by sand and vegetable matter, creating stagnant bodies of water, which overflowed the lowlands for miles, generating an atmosphere which rendered the country nearly uninhabitable from disease, at the same time that the streams themselves were entirely in accessible as a refuge for vessels, and in all respects an evil rather than a benefit to the surrounding country.

It is almost unnecessary to say that the judicious improvements made under the Acts of Congress have entirely changed all this, and many millions of acres of land of the most fertile description, embracing the western portion of the State of New York, the northern part of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois and the whole of Michigan, owe their present settlement and improvement in a very great degree to this cause. The mouths of the Huron, Black river, Cuyahoga, Grand river, Ashtabula and Conneaut (across the sand), and of the Raisin, in Michigan, were opened and kept open by piers and other improvements. Beacon lighthouses have been erected, and these streams, as well as other works at the east end of the lake, now afford secure harbors, accessible at all times to vessels navigating the lakes.

These works, originally but experiments, were built of perishable material. Unless this work is made permanent, the elements will speedily render useless all that has been found of such vast benefit to the commerce of the West. This has been done at Buffalo heretofore, and is fairly commenced at Cleveland. By using the old work as a foundation, permanent works may be erected at comparatively small cost, sufficient to delay the action of the elements for ages; but I beg leave to urge again that the commencement should not be delayed a moment.”[4]

Captain Smith served as Civil Engineer Superintendent of U.S. Harbor Improvements in Ohio and Michigan from 1836 until 1840.[5]

Building a Home and Life in Monroe, Michigan

Elm Avenue, Monroe, Michigan

 After he moved to Monroe, Captain Smith built a Greek Revival home at 62 East Elm Street. While living in Monroe the Smiths had four more children:  William Henry, Evaline, Katherine, and Josephine.

Sometime after 1833, Judge Jabez Foster came to Monroe to live with his daughter Elvira and her family at the mansion on Elm Avenue that Major Smith built. He died in Monroe on December 10, 1847, five months after the death of his son in law, Major Henry Smith. Judge Foster is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Monroe.

Over the next decade, besides building a house and caring for his family, Captain Smith continued his military career and ventured into local and state politics.[6]

At War in Michigan

The Toledo War – 1835-1836 and the Patriot War, 1837-1838

Toledo is a northwestern Ohio city situated at the western end of Lake Erie close to the Michigan border. In 1833, pioneers established Toledo on the west bank of the Maumee River and it was incorporated as part of Monroe County, Michigan Territory. Both states claimed ownership of the Toledo Strip, an area that included Toledo. Ohio governor Robert Lucas and Michigan governor Stevens T. Mason called out militias to bolster their claims, sparking the 1835-1836 “Toledo War.”

When Michigan Territory applied for statehood in 1835, it attempted to include the Toledo strip in its boundaries, and the Ohio Congressional delegation stalled Michigan’s admission to the United States. Congress proposed a compromise where Michigan would relinquish its claim to the Toledo Strip in exchange for statehood and more than three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula. In December 1836, Michigan accepted the compromise and the Toledo War issues were resolved. In 1837, Toledo was incorporated into Ohio.

 Captain Smith participated in the battlefield part of the Toledo War, serving as inspector under General Joseph Brown, whose forces were estimated to be between 800 and 1,200 men. Captain Smith and General Brown were previous comrades at arms. General Brown had commanded the Michigan forces in the Black Hawk War and “he had acquitted himself to the entire satisfaction of the territorial and national authorities. As commander of the Toledo expedition, he performed his duties equally well and secured all that was desired of the expedition, which was to prevent the Executive of Ohio from trampling upon the rights of the people of Michigan. It is suggested that General Brown’s “moderation and good sense helped prevent possible bloodshed.”  His aide, Captain Smith possessed the same moderation and good sense.[7]

Michigan became a state, on January 26, 1837, and by the end of the year Captain Smith fought in another war. the Patriot War, a short conflict between mostly Irish insurgents from upper Canada and American citizens who had moved to Canada or sympathized with the Patriots from across the border and the Canadian and British governments. The Patriots believed that Canada should be free from Great Britain, but most Canadians and British were satisfied with the status quo.

Plotting to detach the peninsula between Michigan and the Niagara border from Canada and annex it to the United States, the Patriots organized into secret groups known as Hunters Lodges and they chose Fort Gratiot or Port Huron, Mount Clemens, Detroit, and Gibraltar as their headquarters. In the final weeks of December 1837, a group of Patriots crossed the Detroit River into Canada, landing a short distance above Windsor. They marched to Windsor and fought “The Battle of ‘Windsor.” Many men on both sides of the issue were killed or wounded and The Patriots scattered into the woods.

The Patriots also plotted to capture the United States Arsenal at Dearborn and confiscate the arms stored at the arsenal. A Michigan Militia company guarded the arsenal and thwarted the Patriot plan. The Battle of Windsor effectively ended the Patriot War, although skirmishes continued throughout 1838.

According to Monroe historian John McClellan Bulkley, Michigan Governor Stevens T. Mason appointed Colonel Henry Smith, a retired officer of the United States Army, to organize a company of volunteers in Monroe County which joined an existing regiment of about 500 men. Colonel Smith and company marched to Gibraltar which served as the headquarters of the Patriot forces to be ready for the next episode in the Patriot War. After several weeks of occupying Gibraltar, the Colonel and his men were discharged. When the Patriot War ended, Lucius Knapp and Walton W. Murphy presided over a public meeting and adopted a resolution.

The resolution said, “Resolved, that the thanks of the Monroe volunteers called out by Colonel Henry Smith, upon the requisition of Governor Stevens T. Mason to preserve the neutrality of the government between the United States and Great Britain, be presented to Colonel Henry Smith for his generous treatment of the volunteers, while on duty at Gibralter.”[8]

He served as major general in the Michigan Militia from 1841-1846.

At Peace in Michigan

As well as representing Michigan in war, Henry Smith, lieutenant, captain, colonel, major general, also excelled in peacetime pursuits. In 1837, the Michigan State Historical Society elected him as a member and his fellow citizens elected him as a Democratic member of the Michigan House of Representatives in 1837 and again in 1840.  In 1838, he served as Disbursing Agent in the Indian Department. In 1846, he was Monroe’s mayor.[9]

Fighting in the Mexican War


War between the United States and Mexico broke out in 1846, and when Henry Smith offered his services to the United States Army, President James Knox Polk appointed him as quartermaster with the rank of major in the early spring of 1847.  Major Smith helped organize and transport Michigan troops to fight in the War. On May 10, 1847, he left for Mexico to join General Winfield Scott’s Army, arriving in Vera Cruz in late June.

His son Winfield Smith described Major Smith’s journey from Monroe to join General Scott’s Army. Winfield and his brother William accompanied their father on a steamer to Toledo and then to Cincinnati where they joined two companies of Wisconsin troops. After a few days in Cincinnati, Major Smith received orders to go to New Orleans and then to Vera Cruz to join General Scott’s Army.

Major Smith said goodbye to his wife Elvira, as well as his two sons at the canal wharf in Cincinnati, because she had found out about his orders back in Monroe and hurried to join him in Cincinnati to say goodbye. The Smiths were aware of the devastating effects of yellow fever which swept through Ver Cruz and Major Smith in his son Winfield’s words “deemed the probability to be great that he would not survive the season’s exposure, going from the north in the height of summer.”[10]

As well as being an excellent soldier, public servant, and family man, Major Smith proved to be an accurate prophet. Arriving in Vera Cruz in the last part of June, Major Smith worked from the hour of his arrival. The officer before him had died of Yellow Fever, and the combination of heat, overwork, and living in the midst of the disease also proved fatal to Major Smith. He died on July 24, 1847 at age 48, two weeks after his arrival in Vera Cruz. After he died, three officers were assigned to perform the duties that he managed by himself.  His family brought Major Smith home to Monroe and buried him in Woodland Cemetery.

Less than a month after Major Smith’s death, his younger brother Joseph Rowe Smith, Sr., also a graduate of West Point, sustained a severe wound in the left arm at the Battle of Churubasco on August 20, 1847.  He continued his military career and became a brigadier general during the Civil War.  Henry Winfield Smith, the son of Brigadier General Joseph Roe Smith, Sr. and his wife Juliet, served as Assistant Adjutant General during the Civil War and was appointed a Lieutenant in the 3rd Cavalry. Both of the General Smiths are buried in the family plot in Woodland Cemetery, Monroe.[11]

Joseph Sr. and Juliet’s son Joseph Rowe Smith, Jr. graduated from the University of Michigan in 1848 and he earned an A.B. and a M.A. and a degree in medicine from the University of Buffalo. In 1854 he joined the Army, serving as a surgeon in the Civil War. Captured by Confederate troops while working at an army hospital in May 1861, Smith, Jr. was later released. Eventually he was promoted to Surgeon General and Medical Director of the U.S. Army in 1865. He is buried in St. James the Less Episcopal Churchyard in Philadelphia.

Tiffany Windows at Trinity in Monroe

In 1868, General Joseph Smith, Jr., along with the family of his deceased brother, Major Henry Smith, donated the original Tiffany Windows located in the Nave of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Monroe.
majorhenrysmithelvira smithjosephrowesmith




[1] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan. 168-170- History of Monroe County, Michigan  

[2]  Winfield Smith died in London on November 8, 1899. Elvira Parmelia Smith Goodale died on November 13, 1878, and she is buried in Brookside Cemetery, Watertown, New York. Katherine Lydia died as a young child and she is buried in Woodland Cemetery, Monroe. Henry’s brother Joseph Rowe Smith, Sr. also enjoyed a distinguished military career and he is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Monroe. Joseph’s son Henry Smith oversaw the arrest and imprisonment of the conspirators in the Abraham Lincoln assassination.

[3] Talcott Wing in his History of Monroe County Michigan traces the story of the proposed harbors at La Plaisance Bay and on the River Raisin north of House Island including the costs and construction sagas of each of them. p, 187.

[4] J.B. Mansfield, History of the Great Lakes, Volume I (Chicago:  J.H. Beers & Co.), 1899.

[5] Congressional Edition, Volume 338, U.S. Government Priting Office, 1839, p. 200 

U.S. Government Printing Office, 1839Senate documents, 3rd Session of the 25th Congress

[6]  Cullum’s Register

[7] The Toledo War, W.V. Way, 1869.;  Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, Vol 37 p. 360

[8] John Mclellan Bulkley History of Monroe County, Michigan: a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principal interests. (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1913) p. 166

[9] Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, Vol 37 p. 360

[10] Talcott E. Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan (New York, Munsell & Company Publishers, 1890) p, 298.

[11] Tomaszewski, Elisa. “Monroe Countians also answered call for war with Mexico”, Monroe Evening News, May 8, 1994; “Unveiling Ceremonies of Smith Memorial Windows at Trinity Episcopal Church”, The Record Commercial, September 22, 1910.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” A Christmas Carol and a Prayer for Peace


A Merry Christmas Moment

by Kathy Warnes

Noel and Gloria Regney wrote “Do You Hear What I hear?” a timeless Christmas prayer for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the Cold War

In October 1962, musician Noel Regney walked through the streets of Manhattan, the weight of despair in his heart reflected on the unsmiling faces of the people that he passed on the street. A war of words and maneuvers called the Cold War held the world in an icy grip, with the United States and the Soviet Union the principal combatants.

During these last two weeks in October 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union were heating the Cold War to the nuclear boiling point in a confrontation over the Soviet Union installing missiles capable of striking most of the continental United States in Cuba, just 90 miles away. History labeled this confrontation the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Noel Regney Feels the Weight of Despair and the Lightness of Hope

Said the night wind to the little lamb,/Do you see what I see/Way up in the sky little lamb,/Do you see what I see/A star, a star, dancing in the night/With a tail as big as a kite,/With a tail as big as a kite.” 
Noel Regney felt terrified for his family, his country, and for the survival of the human race. He had fought in World War II and had experienced the fear and terror of war and death first hand.  Now he worried that the secure life he had built for himself and his family in the United States teetered on nuclear brinkmanship.

He tried to think about something else. Christmas, the time of peace on earth and good will, hovered just a few months away and a record producer had asked him to write a Christmas song. He later recalled that he thought he would never write a Christmas song because Christmas had become so commercial.

Then on his way home, Noel saw two mothers taking their babies for a walk in their strollers. He watched the two babies looking at each other and smiling and his mood lifted from despair to hope. Noel’s mind turned to poetry and babies and lambs. By the time he arrived home, he had composed the lyrics of Do You Hear What I Hear? in his head.

Noel and Gloria Shayne Regney Compose Do You Hear What I Hear? Together

“Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy, /“Do you hear what I hear? / Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy, /Do you hear what I hear? /a song, a song, high above the tree/with a voice as big as the sea.” 
As soon as Noel Regney arrived home, he jotted down the lyrics that he had written in his head and he asked his wife Gloria to write the music to match his words. The Regneys usually collaborated using the exact opposite method – Gloria would write the words and Noel would write the music. This time they switched roles.

Gloria Regney later said, “Noel wrote a beautiful song and I wrote the music. We couldn’t sing it through; it broke us up. We cried. Our little song broke us up. You must realize there was a threat of nuclear war at the time.”

Noel Regney Experienced War First Hand

“Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, /“Do you know what I know? /In your palace warm, mighty king, /Do you know what I know? /A Child, a Child shivers in the cold—/Let us bring him silver and gold.”

Noel Regney seemed destined for a brilliant music career in his native France. He studied at Strasbourg Conservatory and at the Conservatorie National de Paris. Then Hitler’s Nazi troops invaded France and the Germans forcibly drafted Noel Regney into the Army. While in the German Army, Noel joined the French underground. He collected information and warned French resistance fighters of upcoming attacks from the Germans and he still wore the German Army uniform while he carried out his missions.

One mission in particular haunted Noel Regney. The French underground assigned him to lead a group of German soldiers into a trap so that French fighters could catch them in a crossfire. The memory of dead German soldiers falling to the ground haunted Noel. The French fighters suffered only minor injuries, and although Noel , too, was shot he sustained minor injuries. Shortly after the raid, Noel deserted the German army and lived with the French underground until the war ended.

After the war ended, Noel worked as the musical director of the Indochinese Service of Radio France from 1948 to 1950.. After that he became musical director at Lido, a popular Paris nightclub. In 1951, Noel Regney left France for a world tour as musical director for the French singer Lucienne Boyer.

Noel Regney Moves to Manhattan and Marries a Musician

Said the king to the people everywhere,/“Listen to what I say!/Pray for peace, people, everywhere,/Listen to what I say!/The Child, The Child sleeping in the night/He will bring us goodness and light,/He will bring us goodness and light.”
In 1952, Noel Regney immigrated to the United States and moved to Manhattan. As well as writing serious musical compositions he composed, arranged and conducted music for many early TV shows and wrote commercial jingles for radio.

One day he walked into the dining room of a Manhattan hotel and saw a beautiful woman playing popular music on the piano. He introduced himself and in a month he and Gloria Shayne were married. Their daughter Gabrielle Regney describes her mother as “an extraordinary pianist and composer who has perfect pitch.”

Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Regney composed music together and separately. The songs they composed together include Rain, Rain, Go Away, recorded by Bobby Vinton, but Do You Hear What Hear? is their Christmas classic masterpiece.

Some of Gloria’s popular songs include Goodbye Cruel World, and The Men in My Little Girl’s Life, and Almost There. In 1963 Noel composed Dominique, made world famous by the Singing Nun and in 1971, he wrote Slovenly Peter, a concert suite derived from a German folktale. In 1974, he wrote a five part cantata called I Believe in Life. Gloria and Noel divorced in 1973. Noel Regney died in 2002 and Gloria Shayne Regney Baker died in 2008.

Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Robert Goulet, Susan Boyle, and Andy Williams are just a few of the artists that have recorded the more than 120 versions of Do You Hear What I Hear? in musical styles from jazz to reggae. Bing Crosby’s version in 1963 sold more than a million copies.

According to his obituary, Noel Regney favored the Robert Goulet version of the song.

“I am amazed that people can think they know the song- and not know it is a prayer for peace, but we are so bombarded by sound and our attention spans are so short that we now listen only to catchy beginnings,” he said in a 1985 interview.

“Listen to what I say, pray for peace people everywhere.”


Fox, Margalit “Gloria Shayne Baker, Composer and Lyricist Dies at 84. The New York Times. March 11, 2008

Martin, Douglas. Noel Regney, Songwriter Known for ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ Dead at 80.  The New York Times, December 1, 2011.

A Merry Christmas Moment: The Little Drummer Boy

Katherine K. Davis – The Little Drummer Boy “Almost Wrote Itself”

Ice sculpture of the Little Drummer Boy, England.

by Kathy Warnes

Katherine K. Davis wrote the Little Drummer Boy in 1941, and since then he has drummed his timeless message into the hearts of people everywhere.

There are different versions of the story of Katherine Kennicott Davis’s creation of the Little Drummer Boy. One version of the story says that Katherine freely translated a Czech carol called The Carol of the Drum, in 1941.  Another version of the story has it that she arranged the Little Drummer Boy with Harry Simone, Jack Halloran, and Henry Onorati and another version of the story says that she wrote the song herself while “trying to take a nap.”

The bibliography of her musical career indicates that Katherine K. Davis wrote and arranged The Little Drummer Boy in 1941, but she produced a lifetime of music before she wrote the Little Drummer Boy.

Katherine Kennicott Davis Composed Her First Musical Composition at Age 15

Come, they told me/pa rum pum pum pum/A new born King to see/pa rum pum pum pum/ Our finest gifts we bring/pa rum pum pum pum/To lay before the King/pa rum pum pum pum/rum pum pum pum/rum pum pum pum/So to honor Him/pa rum pum pum pum/When we come.”

Katherine Kennicott Davis was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on June 25, 1892, and she
graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1910. When she was just 15, Katherine wrote her first musical composition called “Shadow March.” She studied music at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and she won the Billings Prize for composition there in 1914. After she graduated, Katherine stayed on at Wellesley and taught music theory and piano as an assistant in the Music Department. She also studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and traveled to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger.

After she returned from Paris, Katherine Kennicott Davis taught music at the Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts, and at the Shady Hill School for Girls in Philadelphia. She wrote many of her more than 600 compositions for the choirs at her school. She was a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and Stetson University in DeLand, Florida awarded her an honorary doctorate.

Katherine Kennicott Davis Writes “Let All Things Now Living”

Katherine told colleagues that in the 1920 she had found the traditional Welsh folk tune, the Ash Grove in the Book of National Songs. She wrote the harmonization and a descant for the tune and published them in 1939, with her text under the name of John Cowley, one of her pseudonyms.  She called her new song Let All Things Now Living, and it became a favorite Thanksgiving hymn of many church choirs and congregations.

Katherine Kennicott Davis Writes The Little Drummer Boy

little drummer boy

“Little Baby pa rum pump pum pum/ I am a poor boy too pa rum pump pum pum/ I have no gift to bring pa rum pump pum pum/That’s fit to give our King pa rum pump pump pum, pa rum rum pump pum pum pum pum pum/Shall I play for you pa rum pump pump pum/On my drum.”

The Little Drummer Boy is the story of a poor boy who couldn’t afford a gift for the newborn Christ Child, so he played his drum at the manger with Mary’s approval. The baby smiled, delighted with the Little Drummer Boy’s skillful playing.

The story of the Little Drummer Boy resembles a twelfth century legend that Anatole France retold as Le Jongleur de Notre Dame or Our Lady’s Juggler. The French legend said that a juggler juggled in front of a statue of Mary and the statue, depending on the version of the story, either smiled at him or threw him a rose. In 1902, Jules Massenet adapted the story into an opera and in 1984, in the television film The Juggler of Notre Dame the statue both smiled at the juggler and threw him a rose.

In 1955, shortly before they retired, the Trapp Family singers recorded the Carol of the Drum. This song resembles the Little Drummer Boy both in music and lyrics. The only difference is the line “The ox and lamb kept time.” In The Carol of the Drum, the line is the “The ox and ass kept time.”

Henry Onorati Arranges His Version of The Carol of the Drum

Mary nodded/pa rum pum pum pum/The ox and lamb kept time/pa rum pum pum pum/I played my drum for Him/pa rum pum pum pum/

In 1957, Henry Onorati re-arranged The Carol of the Drum for the Jack Halloran Singers to record on Dot Records, but Dot didn’t release the record in time for Christmas. In 1958, Henry Onorati introduced his friend Harry Simeone to the Carol of the Drum. Harry Simeone was a conductor and arranger from Newark, New Jersey, who had worked on several Bing Crosby movies and worked as conductor for a television show called The Firestone Hour from 19521959.

Harry Simeone re-arranged the song and re-titled it The Little Drummer Boy. He recorded it with the Harry Simeone Chorale on the album Sing We Now of Christmas. Harry Simeone and Henry Onorati were given joint credit with Katherine K. Davis for the song even though they had only arranged it. This was Harry Simeone’s first album with a chorus and it was released at Christmas time every year from 1958-1962. It became a holiday classic.

The Little Drummer Boy Becomes a Beloved Holiday Carol

“I played my best for Him/pa rum pum pum pum/rum pum pum/ pum/rum pum pum pum”

Since the 1950s, The Little Drummer Boy has appeared in over 200 versions in seven languages in all kinds of music genres. In 1964 Marlene Dietrich recorded a German version of the Little Drummer Boy.

The Beverly Sisters and Michael Flanders recorded hit versions of The Little Drummer Boy in 1959, and in 1972, the Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Guards had a hit version of the carol.

Bing Crosby and David Bowie recorded the most popular version of the Little Drummer Boy as a duet with Peace On Earth for Bing Crosby’s Television Christmas special in 1977. The duet version was written after David Bowie admitted he hated the song that he was scheduled to sing. Bing Crosby performed The Little Drummer Boy while David Bowie sang the new song Peace on Earth. The duet eventually became a classic.

In 2008, BBC disc jockey Terry Wogan and singer Aled Jones recorded a new version of the Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy duet for a charity album released to help Children In Need. Issued as a single, it climbed to a UK Top hit for them.

Katherine Kennicott Davis Writes a Lifetime of Music

Then he smiled at me pa rum pum pum pum/Me and my drum.”

Katherine Kennicott Davis continued writing music until she fell ill in the winter of 1979-1980. On April 20, 1980, she died at the age of 87 in Littleton, Massachusetts. Her musical legacy included operas, choruses, children’s operettas, cantatas, piano and organ pieces and songs like Let All Things Now Living, and The Little Drummer Boy. She left all of the royalties and proceeds from her musical compositions to Wellesley College’s Music Program.

Katherine K. Davis once quipped that The Little Drummer Boy “had been done to death on radio and TV,” but musicians all over the world continue to sing and record her song.

Stevie Wonder’s version of The Little Drummer Boy.

Bowie, David and Crosby, Bing. Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy. CD

Keats, Ezra Jack. The Little Drummer Boy.

DVD Vienna Boy’s Choir. The Little Drummer Boy. CD

Captain Henry Smith: Part II. Steamships, Cholera, and Career

 Part II.

Captain Henry Smith:  Steamships, Cholera, and Career


i112b_1 (1)
Captain Henry Smith

Ships and harbors played an important part in Captain Henry Smith’s life. A steamboat carried him and his bride to his post at Fort Howard in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and his career growth kept pace with the growth of the Great Lakes shipping industry. Schooner’s and steamboats carried Major General Smith to his last battle in the Mexican War.

In the early 1800s when Henry Smith was still a civilian, most Americans avoided the county’s scarce, scrappy roads and traveled and moved their baggage and freight along the many rivers crisscrossing the country. To make the river transportation even more efficient and far reaching, the United States Government instituted an ambitious canal building program to penetrate to the heart of the country and connect it with major river and ocean ports.

Shortly after Lt. Smith graduated from West Point and began to serve his military tours in various New York posts, contractors began building the Erie Canal which would provide a link from Lake Erie to the Hudson River and New York City. Built between 1817 and 1825, the Erie Canal connected people and markets from the far northern shores of the Great Lakes with New York and ocean commerce. The Erie Canal carried consumer goods from New York to growing communities and created a thriving economy for New York.

erie canal

Between 1820 and 1830, Captain Henry Smith’s military and maritime world traveled in parallel directions while the steamship industry on the Great Lakes grew. Captain Smith experienced the steamship world often.

The Detroit Gazette reported on a steamboat trip that Captain Smith’s future commander took with his wife.  On August 12, 1817, Major General Winfield Scott and Lady arrived in Buffalo. The next day they passed the Niagara and after viewing the area of British and American combat in 1814, they were embarked on the steam boat Ontario, bound for Sackets Harbor. The St. Clair was the first schooner built in St. Clair County, Michigan. and on June 22, 1926, she was the first vessel to pass from the Great Lakes to the ocean traveling on the Erie Canal. [1]

The Detroit Gazette of August 29, 1826, reported that the schooner St. Clair, Captain Ward, arrived in Detroit a week ago, with a cargo consisting of goods, groceries, crockery, pitch, salt. and other merchandise. Captain Ward has brought his cargo through the Erie Canal as an experiment to see if he could make profitable trips to New York. Despite the fact that boxes and barrels were marked “C. Ward, River St. Clair, Ohio,” Captain Ward decided that trips to New York would be profitable and he would continue to make them.[2]

Despite the success of the St. Clair, lake steamship builders lagged at least a decade behind the builders of canal and river boats.  According to The History of the Great Lakes, in 1820 there were four steamers on the Great Lakes, while 71 plied the Western rivers and 52 traveled the Atlantic Coast. Between 1820 and 1830, busy shipbuilders constructed eight steamers on the Great Lakes. In 1822 the Superior was launched at Buffalo, New York and in 1823 the Martha Ogden at Sacket’s Harbor. During 1825 and 1826, Buffalo again led the launchings with the Pioneer in 1825 and the Henry Clay and the Niagara in 1826.  The Enterprise made her maiden voyage from Cleveland in 1826 and the William Penn from Erie, Pennsylvania also in 1826. The steamer Sheldon Thompson built at Huron, Ohio, came out in 1830 featuring three masts, the first to be so rigged on the Great Lakes.[3]

The Erie Weekly Gazette of May 7, 1829, noted that the William Penn, built in 1826, had added a promenade deck for cabin passengers to enjoy in fair weather and for protection in foul weather. The Gazette called the promenade deck a great improvement to the William Penn.[4]

The Buffalo Emporium of August 19, 1826, added additional compliments when it noted that the steamer William Penn, Captain J.F. Wright, had recently arrived in the harbor and that it was a vessel of “beautiful model.”  The article noted that the William Penn carried a bust of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, on her stem. The citizens of Buffalo were invited to a recreational sail aboard the William Penn and many citizens accepted the invitation and they were pleased with the William Penn, the voyage, and the urbanity and manners of Captain Wight.[5]

The new Great Lakes steamers, especially the Henry Clay, Superior, and Sheldon Thompson played increasingly important roles in carrying troops and supplies from the East to the outpost forts in the North West. The Buffalo Emporium reported that on May 6, 1826, that a large crowd of citizens and strangers watched and cheered the launching of the new steam boat Henry Clay. The Henry Clay was the fifth steamboat launched on Lake Erie, four of them launched during the present season.[6]

The Henry Clay and its companion steamboat, Superior, were especially instrumental in transporting passengers, troops, and supplies from the east to the outpost forts at Mackinac Island, Sault Ste. Marie, and Green Bay. In June 1827, Thomas L. McKenney, of the Indian Department of the United States Government, traveled with Michigan Governor Lewis Cass and other officials aboard the Henry Clay to Fond du Lac with the goal of negotiating a treaty with the North-Western Tribes of Indians.

After arriving safely in Fond du Lac, Agent McKenney wrote on June 16, 1827, that his voyage from Buffalo had taken 37 hours to travel a distance of 337 miles, minus the time lost in stopping at various Lake Erie ports like Grand River, Cleveland, and Sandusky. He noted that the Henry Clay and Superior were nearly unsurpassed in size, beauty, and style. Agent McKenney and his party made their return voyage safely on the Henry Clay.[7]

On another trip from Green Bay, the Henry Clay carried General Winfield Scott and General Hugh Brady and other American officials along with other passengers. The Detroit Gazette reported that both steamship and passengers arrived safely in Detroit.[8]

In October 1828, the Henry Clay transported two hundred troops bound the northern posts including Green Bay, arrived in Detroit. The next morning the Henry Clay departed for Green Bay and on her return delivered another contingent of troops to Fort Gratiot.[9]

In early June 1830, the Erie Gazette reported that the Milan, Ohio, Free Press announced the launching of a new steamship, the Sheldon Thompson, built at Huron, Ohio. The number of spectators at the launching was estimated to be about 2,000 people and the Erie Gazette editor’s account noted that “the tavern keeper would be able to exhibit a very handsome reckoning of the loaves and fishes consumed on the occasion.” [10]

Two years later, the Cleveland Herald reported a significant improved to the Sheldon Thompson. The Cleveland engine shop of P.B. Andrews replaced the original inefficient engine with a new low-pressure engine of double the power of the old one. Her hurricane deck had been extended entirely over her main deck, which according to the Herald, “with her internal arrangements cannot fail to make her second to no boat on Lake Erie.”[11]

Captain Smith Travels Along with Steamboats on the Great Lakes

Captain Smith’s career progressed against the backdrop of the growth of steamship travel on the Great Lakes. His son Winfield wrote in a biography of his father that in 1828, the Army transferred Captain Smith east to Madison Barracks in Watertown, New York, where his daughter Harriette was born in 1829. In 1831, the Army again transferred Captain Smith, this time to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where his second daughter Elvira Pamelia was born that same year.  In 1832, the Army ordered Captain Smith back to Watertown, New York. He and his family used steamboats to travel much of their journeys to his assigned posts, including Jefferson Barracks.[12]

jefferson barracks
Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri

Brigadier General Henry Atkinson, commanding officer of the sixth infantry regiment, and Major General John Jacob Brown, Commanding General of the Army, were involved in establishing Jefferson Barracks on the banks of the Mississippi River about ten miles south of St. Louis. Captain Lewis served under Brigadier General Henry Atkinson in the Black Hawk War of 1832, the first war that the soldiers stationed at Jefferson Barracks were called on to fight. They were deployed to push Black Hawk and his band who had left their village to plant corn in their former lands in Illinois back to their village in what is modern day Iowa.

Black Hawk

Captain Smith fought in the final battle of the Black Hawk War, the Battle of Bad Axe which took place near present day Victory, Wisconsin, on August 1 and 2, 1832.  As Black Hawk and his companions flew a flag of truce and attempted to cross the Mississippi River, American soldiers aboard a river steamboat fired on them with cannons and rifles. Hundreds of Black Hawk’s band were killed and the Eastern Sioux, who were U.S. government allies in 1832, killed those who managed to swim across the river. Survivors rejoined the Sauk and Fox tribes who had stayed in Iowa. United States soldiers captured Chief Black Hawk and brought him back to Jefferson Barracks. [13]

The United States government also used Great Lakes steamboats in the Black Hawk War. In his memoirs, Captain Augustus Walker, master of the Sheldon Thompson, recorded his experience with four Great Lakes steamboats in the Black Hawk War. He wrote that in 1832, the United States Government chartered four steamboats to transport troops, provisions, and war munitions to Chicago. The steamboats were the Henry Clay with Captain Walter Norton; the William Penn, Captain John F. Wight; the Sheldon Thompson, Captain Augustus Walker; and the Superior, Captain William T. Pease.

The government paid $5,500 to each steamer for their services as well as money for board of the officers belonging to the regiments.  On July 2, 1832, the Henry Clay and Sheldon Thompson sailed from Buffalo, New York, carrying officers, troops, and their equipment to Chicago. A few days later, the William Penn and the Superior began their voyage from Buffalo, carrying mostly provisions and stores for the Army.

Then not halfway through their voyage, the Henry Clay and Sheldon Thompson encountered a sudden and deadly halt to their voyage – not a fierce Lake Erie storm, but Asiatic cholera. The Henry Clay arrived at Detroit a few hours earlier than the Sheldon Thompson and while she lay at the dock two people on board died from cholera. Detroit authorities insisted that the Henry Clay leave the dock which she did, anchoring near the foot of Hog (now Belle) Island, about two miles above Detroit.

Captain Walker of the Sheldon Thompson reported that thus far no signs of cholera had appeared on his vessel, so after a short stop at the wharf to take on fuel and stores he steamed down the Detroit River and lay anchor alongside the Henry Clay. He wrote that at this point General Winfield Scott, commander of the expedition, came on board the Sheldon Thompson from the Henry Clay. General Scott brought his staff and a number of volunteer officers and cadets, numbering about 40 people with him, including General North and Colonel Cummings. A company of about 50 soldiers, Colonel Twiggs commander, also came aboard the Sheldon Thompson from the Henry Clay.

The Sheldon Thompson left the Henry Clay anchored at Hog Island and continued to Fort Gratiot at the head of the St. Clair River. At Fort Gratiot, the Sheldon Thompson landed Colonel Twiggs and his 50 soldiers and their baggage and continued on to Mackinaw Island.  Captain Walker wrote that the Henry Clay and Superior were forced to remain at Fort Gratiot because of the Asiatic Cholera. The Captain described the devastating effects of the disease on the crew of the Henry Clay, with many of them leaping off the ship as soon as it docked and fleeing into the woods, streets, and under the river banks “where most of them died unwept and alone.”[14]

Captain Walker wrote that no cases of cholera occurred on board the Sheldon Thompson until it passed the Manitou Islands in Lake Michigan, although they left three sick soldiers and two of the ship’s crew on Mackinaw Island, giving money to agent Michael Dowsman to defray their expenses. About 30 hours before they reached Chicago, a person on board the Thompson died and orderly sergeant named Davis and a few privates prepared his body and committed him to Lake Michigan.

In the next few hours, 12 other men including Sergeant Davis, age 40, died and were given a Lake Michigan burial. General Scott and his officers were devastated by the death of Sergeant Davis who had been in the Army 16 years and had earned the respect and affection of his fellow soldiers. Captain Walker wrote that General Scott ordered all mattresses and bedding belonging to the Sheldon Thompson except those for the crew, be taken for the sick and the General paid for new bedding. He said that the General’s action was a deed of mercy to the sufferers, and a favor to him in supplying necessary fresh bedding after cholera voyage.

After more than six days making the passage, the Sheldon Thompson anchored outside of Chicago on July 8, 1832. The crew immediately lowered the yawl boat and landed General Scott and several of his volunteer officers who had accompanied him on his expedition against the hostile tribes who with Black Hawk, had committed atrocities against the white settlers. Captain Walker noted that Black Hawk and his allies were “not without some provocation,” but their actions compelled many settlers to flee to the fort at Chicago. During the four days the Sheldon Thompson remained at Chicago, 54 people died of cholera, making a total of 88 for the Sheldon Thompson crew and passengers and refugees in Chicago.

The Sheldon Thompson wasn’t allowed to land at Mackinaw. Instead, the agent sent a batteau along the steamship with some provisions and the surviving crew member that he had left on the upward voyage. The Thompson took on fuel near Bois Blanc Island and while fueling Captain Walker observed the William Penn passing upward with stores and a few troops for Chicago. No new cases of cholera occurred on the trip to Detroit, and when the Thompson arrived, the captain found that the “excitement had abated,” so the authorities allowed the Thompson to land alongside the dock. When the ship arrived at Buffalo, the excitement and the disease had subsided there as well, after sweeping away a large number of soldiers and civilians. [15]

Captain Smith Addresses the Cholera Connection

In 1833, Captain Smith wrote an article about his experiences in the Black Hawk War, titled “Indian Campaign of 1832,” which appeared in the “Naval and Military Magazine” of Washington, D.C.  in 1833 and in other publications including the Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in 1909.

Captain Smith wrote that after the Battle of Bad Axe, the Army troops moved down the Mississippi River to Prairie du Chien where General Scott and his staff arrived from Chicago on August 9, 1832, A few weeks later General Eustis and his troops also arrived from Chicago and camped about four miles from the camp of General Atkinson.  Less than a week later, a few cases of cholera broke out among the soldiers and after a few days, four officers and 50 rank and file soldiers out of 300 had died. Captain Smith noted that the troops were camped in closely packed tents and cold rain and pestilence raged for several days. He wrote that the groans and screams of the sick and dying men permeated the horrific scene.

The Captain commented that the conduct of Major General Scott at Rock Island during the cholera epidemic was “worthy of the hero of Chippewa, Niagara, and Fort George.”  He said that General Scott’s example excited confidence and courage, “fearlessly exposing himself to disease and death in its most terrible form in his attentions alike to the officer and private soldier while exercising the most vigilant care in the strictest sanitary regulations.”[16]

Eventually, the Army moved the troops out of the camp and across the Mississippi River, and the cholera disappeared. The Indians signed a Treaty at Rock Island, ceding the entire territory east of the Mississippi called the “mining district” as well as a large tract on the west bank, about eight million acres in all. [17]

Winfield Smith’s Memories of Black Hawk

Henry’s son Winfield Smith recorded his first-hand memories of the Black Hawk War and Black Hawk from his vantage point of the Captain’s son at Jefferson Barracks. He wrote that Captain Smith had marched with his regiment from landing on the Mississippi at Rock Island.  across northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin to Fort Atkinson. From Fort Atkinson they marched west, pursuing Black Hawk and his allies until they overtook them near Victory, Wisconsin. The Army and Black Hawk and his allies fought the Battle of Bad Axe, and the Army drove Black Hawk’s forces back across the Mississippi River.

The American soldiers captured Black Hawk and some of his soldiers and imprisoned them at Jefferson Barracks. Winfield, about five years old at the time, remembered seeing Black Hawk and his men walking around the garrison for exercise, closely guarded by the troops. He also had a recollection of feeding the prisoners through the window of the lower room where they were imprisoned.[18]

At the end of the Black Hawk War, the Army transferred Captain Smith back to Madison Barracks in Watertown, New York, and then assigned him to Monroe, Michigan, to oversee building a harbor in La Plaisance Bay.

 (Continued in Part III)


[1] Detroit Gazette, Detroit, Michigan, September 5, 1817, page 2. St. Clair County Michigan, Its History and People.

[2] “The Schooner St. Clair.” Detroit Gazette, Detroit, Michigan. August 29, 1826, page 2.

[3] Maritime History of the Great Lakes, Chapter 23: Development of Lake Vessels

[4] Erie Weekly Gazette, May 7, 1829, page 3.

[5] Buffalo Emporium, August 19, 1826, p. 1

[6] Buffalo Emporium, May 6, 1826, page 2.

[7] Inland Seas, Fall 1996, p. 182.

[8] Detroit Gazette, August 21, 1827, page 1. Honorable George C. Bates wrote a biography of General Hugh Brady, the first commanding officer of the 22nd Regiment of Infantry, which was published in the Detroit Free Press of October 14, 1879.

[9] Army Movements. Detroit Gazette, October 16, 1828, page 2.

[10] Erie Gazette, June 3, 1830, page 1

[11] Cleveland Weekly Herald, April 12, 1832, page 2

[12] History of Monroe County, Michigan p. 336

[13] Historical Background of Chief Black Hawk, The Wisconsin Historical Society, The Black Haw War, 1832.

The steamboat was the Warrior. Joseph Throckmorton built and launched the Warrior in 1832 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and also served as its captain. The government conscripted the Warrior which Captain Throckmorton took to St. Louis and into the war zone. The Warrior played a key role in the decisive Battle of Bad Axe and after the Black Hawk War it continued to ply the Mississippi River with Captain Throckmorton.

[14]        Maritime History of the Great Lakes and an account of Captain Augustus Walker in the Buffalo Historic Society.

[15]   Captain Augustus Walker, Buffalo Historical Society.

[16]  Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Volume 10, 1909. “Indian Campaign of 1832,” by Captain Henry Smith of Atkinson’s Brigade.  Pages 150-166

[17] Black Hawk and the other captive chiefs were imprisoned at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis and in April 1833, President Andrew Jackson ordered them to be brought to Washington D.C. to impress them with American power.  Their Army captors took Black Hawk and his companions to Washington by steamboat, carriage, and railroad, and large crowds greeted them wherever they went. When they reached Washington D.C., they met with President Jackson and Secretary of War Lewis Cass and then they were imprisoned at Fortress Monroe in Norfolk, Virginia. On June 5, 1833,  Black Hawk and company took a circuitous route west, traveling mostly by steamboat. They visited large cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York where large, sometimes unfriendly crowed such as the one in Detroit who burned the prisoners in effigy, greeted them. Black Hawk died on October 3, 1838.

[18] History of Monroe County, Michigan. Talcott Wing, p. 336.

Major General Henry Smith: Warrior and Waterworks Engineer-Part I

Major General Henry Smith:  Warrior and Waterworks Engineer

Part I.


Besides his valuable contributions to United States history, General Henry Warren Smith and his family expanded the scope and impact Michigan state and Monroe history. He served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 1837-1840 and as Monroe’s mayor in 1846. He forged distinguished military and maritime careers and was a devoted husband to his wife Elvira Foster Smith and their seven children.

Henry Smith’s family historical and military tradition stretches back to when his ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. His father, Dr. Warren Smith, established himself as a merchant and a druggist in the village of Stillwater in Saratoga County, New York. Born on September 25, 1798, Henry was one of the sons of Dr. Smith and his wife Pamela Rowe Smith. He quickly absorbed the Revolutionary spirit of his hometown that had lingered in the air long after Great Britain and the United States had signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the actual fighting.  [1]

The necessity of fighting the War of 1812 to maintain United States independence from Great Britain added to the martial spirit of Henry Smith. Acting on this spirit of independence, Henry Smith entered West Point on May 28, 1813. According to some accounts, Henry graduated from West Point in 1815, while Henry’s son Winfield wrote in a biography of his father that Henry graduated from West Point in 1816. Although he was assigned to the artillery, he preferred the infantry and succeeded in securing an assignment to the 2nd Infantry.[2]

Along with Henry’s graduation came a promotion to Third Lieutenant, Artillery Corps and an assignment as Quartermaster of the garrison at Greenbush, New York. Third Lieutenant Smith remained at Greenbush from 1816-1819, and enjoyed another promotion to Second Lieutenant, 2nd Infantry on June 17, 1816, and later joining the Sixth Infantry. Henry was assigned to Quartermaster duty at Sackett’s Harbor, New York in 1819-1820 and at Plattsburg, New York from 1820-1822. He served at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, and later Fort Columbus, Governor’s Island.

Lt. Henry Smith Fights a Duel at Plattsburg

Between 1820 and 1822 while he was stationed at Plattsburg, New York, Lt. Henry Smith and some fellow officers hosted a ball and he had an unfortunate encounter with a gentleman from Montreal. Lt. Smith’s son Winfield told the story of his father’s encounter with the gentleman from Montreal in a biographical sketch of his father. Lt. Smith found it necessary to oust one of the guests for improper behavior and the guest, presumably the same gentleman from Montreal, challenged him to a duel.  Lt. Smith refused to accept the challenge because he said the challenger was not a gentleman.

However, according to Winfield Smith, his father did accept the challenge of a Canadian gentleman and a friend, who felt quite apprehensive about the duel because Lt. Smith had the reputation of being an excellent shot. After several weeks had passed the duel finally took place. The Canadian gentleman knew that taking the first shot would be his only hope of survival. He took the first shot and Lt. Smith held his fire. After his Canadian friend’s first shot passed through his fur cap, Lt Smith fired into the air. The Canadian rushed up to him, thanking him for his generosity and declaring that Lt. Smith had saved his life. They were warm friends for the rest of their lives.[3]

Army Posts and Aide-De-Camp to General Winfield Scott

Americans, French, British, and Native Americans had struggled for centuries to control the vast Great Lakes region, and after the War of 1812, the United States War Department established several forts along the Great Lakes, including Fort Howard in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Fort Brady in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to discourage British incursions from Canada. Lt. Henry Smith joined the ranks of soldiers assigned to protect the territorial integrity of the young United States. After he completed an assignment at Sackett’s Harbor in the early part of 1822, he moved on to Quartermaster duties at Fort Howard in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1822-1823, he served at Fort Brady in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and in 1823, he moved on to Fort Smith, Arkansas. In 1823, Lt. Smith received an assignment as Aide-de-Camp to Major-General Winfield Scott, a tour that would last from July 12, 1823 to April 17,1826.

As his Aide-de-Camp, Lt. Smith traveled across a large part of the United States with Major-General Scott, including Ft. Snelling, then the extreme northwestern military post, located between present day Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. General Scott, Lt. Smith, and company found travel in those days before widespread and connecting railroads to be slow and time consuming, with steamboats that could navigate the lakes and rivers the best means of traveling from one point to another.

Slow motion travel as well as his official duties enabled Lt. Smith to get to know General Scott well, and to admire and emulate him in his professional and personal life. Lt. Smith’s career and his soldierly conduct compares with contemporary standards and with those of General Scott, his mentor. According to General Scott’s biographers, Timothy Johnson, and John D. Eisenhower, General Winfield Scott in some ways lived up to his nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers,” by insisting on the European style of military pomp and ceremony in his military and civilian relationships.  In their biographies they explore the negative aspects of his personality, including his vanity and arrogance.

Biographer Timothy Johnson emphasized that historians have overlooked General Scott’s contributions to American history and the American military. Professor Johnson summarized some of General Scott’s contributions to American history and the American military by pointed out that in 1821, General Scott wrote General Regulations for the Army, the first comprehensive and systematic set of standards covering all aspects of the life of a soldier. He wrote an infantry tactical annual and periodically updated it.

Drawing on his knowledge of military history and his admiration of the European .military tradition, General Scott strived to mold the American army in its image. General Scott shaped the professionalism and tradition of the United States Army by his codification of army life and tireless advocacy of Army education and training. His dedication and devotion to the Army lasted throughout his Army career. He served as Commanding General of the United States Army for 20 years, longer than anyone else who held the office and he was also instrumental in developing the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Both of General Scott’s biographers credit him with training the generation of Union generals who successfully fought the Civil War, while citing the irony that he received little historical credit for his military accomplishments or the Union implementation of his Anaconda Plan to blockade Southern ports and advance down the Mississippi River to cut the South in two parts.

Lt. Smith’s military career and his personal conduct as a soldier display the same discipline and devotion to duty as his commanding officer, General Winfield Scott. In his personal life, Lt. Smith expressed his regard for General Scott by naming his first son Winfield, a name carried on as a family tradition.[4]

The Lieutenant Marries the Judge’s Daughter


Like her husband, Elvira Lorraine Foster was a New York native, the elder daughter of prominent Watertown Judge Jabez Foster and his wife Hannah Hungerford Foster. Elvira, born in 1804, and her sister Evelina born in 1806 survived to grow up and marry, but his two sons, both named Ambrose Sylvester, died in early childhood.

Elvira married Lt. Henry Smith in July 1826, the same year her mother Hannah died. The Columbian Centinel of August 2, 1826 noted that Lt. Lt. Henry Smith of the U.S. Army married Elvira Lorraine Foster in Watertown, New York. The newly-weds immediately departed for Lt. Smith’s post at Fort Howard in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

A little over a year later on August 26, 1827, their son Winfield was born at Fort Howard, and two years later their daughter Harriette was born in Watertown, New York. Elvira Pamelia Smith was born in 1831 in Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. Their last four children, Katherine Lydia, Evaline, Josephine, and William were born in Monroe.[5]

Newly-Weds at Fort Howard


Fort Howard from the Fox River – Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after their marriage in Watertown, New York, Henry and Elvira Smith left Sacket’s Harbor, New York, traveling to Lewiston, Buffalo, and Detroit on their way to Fort Howard at Green Bay, Wisconsin. In his biography of his father, their son Winfield said that they made the last leg of the journey by schooner and that part of the trip took them nearly three weeks before they arrived at Fort Howard. When they arrived at Fort Howard, they discovered that the barracks were being constructed and they had no comfortable accommodations. Then, according to Winfield Smith’s biography, the Fort surgeon offered them his quarters which they occupied for several weeks.

Fort Howard in Green Bay was just ten years old when Lt. Smith and his wife Elvira arrived there in August 1826. In 1816, the United States government had appropriated $219,000 for the military to build at fort on the Fox River to protect the region from Native American and British influence and incursions. Soldiers provided the labor to build the fort, which the government named Fort Howard in memory of Army General Benjamin Howard who served in Illinois, Illinois and the western territory during the War of 1812 and died before the Treaty of Ghent ended the war. The United States government considered Fort Howard more important than the new Fort Dearborn at Chicago.[6]

In 1821, Colonel Ninian Pinkney, who succeeded General Joseph Lee Smith as commander of the garrison at Fort Howard, came to Green Bay with his troops on the very first steam boat, the Walk in the Water which was a small vessel with side paddle wheels. During Colonel Pinkney’s command, the United States Government signed the first treaties to purchase land from the Winnebago and Menominee Indians in the region and the treaty negotiations took place against a backdrop of violence in the region. On August 9, 1821, a party of Indians fired on William Whistler, Captain of the Third Infantry Regiment and future commander of Fort Howard when Lt. and Mrs. Smith were there, as he and his men were crossing Lake Winnebago. Someone told him that the Indians oversaw the passage through the lake, and they required all boats to stop for their inspection. Colonel Whistler didn’t want to argue with the Indians so he ordered his men to move on to Fort Howard. He wasn’t surprised at the frequent violent incidents because Fort Howard stood in a wild, sparsely settled country. The Indians killed several Americans, including Dr. William S. Madison, surgeon of the troops at Fort Howard.[7]

On December 27, 1821, Michigan Governor Lewis Cass wrote Secretary of War John C. Calhoun from Detroit citing some Indian statistics. He said that the number of Indians in the Green Bay area totaled 1,600, broken down into 500 Menominees, 800 Winnebagoes, and 300 Chippewas, Ottawas, Potawatomies and Sacs.[8]

Although violent Indians and soldiers both caused some problems, the garrison at Fort Howard just participated in two wars in the early 1800s- the Winnebago War of 1827 and the Black Hawk War of 1832. As well as being a protective presence, Fort Howard played a more important peacetime role in the social and industrial life of Green Bay and the region.

General Hugh Brady, commander of Fort Howard in early 1826, had proven his bravery in the War of 1812 battles of Chippewa and Niagara, suffering a wound at Niagara that left him permanently lame. He thoroughly enjoyed the balls held at Fort Howard and always attended them in full military uniform with silver spurs on his boots. The most popular dances at the fort were called country dances. The men would stand on one side of the room and the ladies on the other, combining to make a total of 15 or 20 couples. They danced to songs like “Two Sisters,” “Cheat the Lady,” “Money Musk,” and “Two Dollars in My Pocket.”

When Major William Whistler assumed command of Fort Howard at the close of 1826, his large family of attractive daughters continued the dancing and other fun social functions. Major Whistler, the uncle of American artist James Whistler, had been associated with Fort Howard longer than any other officer and although he liked to dance, he imposed such strict discipline on the garrison at the fort and on the community across the Fox River that it remained imprinted in the behavior of his soldiers long after their time at Fort Howard.

The United States Inspector of Fortifications reported the condition of Fort Howard as of July 27, 1826, to the War Department. He turned in his report just before General Brady turned over the command of Fort Howard to Major Whistler and just a few weeks before Lt. Smith and his new wife Elvira arrived.

Brigadier General Brady, Commanding

Four Companies, 2nd Infantry

Company E, Captain Boynton, 2nd

Lieutenant Bloodgood, Commanding

Company F, Captain Stanniford

Company G, Captain Boardman

Brevet Major Commanding

Company H, Captain Ransom

Appearance of the Battalion Under Arms fine——with the exception of Captain Ransom’s Company H., in which are seen five or six men unfitted for frontier service, in age and apparent feebleness——they are on perhaps their fourth or fifth enlistment.

Neither arm rack nor barracks conformed to regulations. The quarters of each company badly distributed and arranged, not one like another. Mess rooms in the lower story, bunks above stairs in most cases, in same on the lower floor. Arm racks badly made and not alike. The muskets in some rooms are found on one side of the house, cartridge boxes on the other, and in almost every case in the mess instead of the sleeping rooms.

Hospital——a proper system seems to prevail throughout. Fault may be found with the building itself, which certainly does not afford as comfortable quarters as might be obtained were the present arrangements of the rooms so changed as to give more space to the wards and less to the medical director. General Brady speaks of removing the buildings which I think advisable, as he can in rebuilding it not only make a better distribution of apartments but place it sufficiently near the fort to allow the sick to reach it with convenience and to have the patients so immediately under the eye of the sentinels as to deter them from straying as they are now apt to do.  Cases in hospital chiefly of Influenza which has been epidemic for several weeks past. The sick report is however, daily diminishing and has been reduced within the last two weeks from 60 or 80 to 15.[9]

When Lt. Henry Smith and his new wife arrived at Fort Howard to take over as new Quartermaster, an assignment that also featured his promotion to captain, the newly-weds discovered that their rooms were not ready and there were no other suitable accommodations available.  Their son Winfield in his biography of his father noted that the barracks were still being built and that his parents would have fared badly but for the hospitality of the Fort’s surgeon in his “little quarters”, where they remained for several weeks.[10]

The hospitable Army Surgeon who donated his quarters might have been Dr. William Beaumont who practiced at Fort Howard during 1826 and 1827. A native of Lebanon, Connecticut, he at first taught school in New York and later moved to St. Albans, Vermont where he completed an apprenticeship with Dr. Truman Powell. The Third Medical Society of the State of Vermont in Burlington examined his medical knowledge and recommended him as a competent and safe doctor.

During the War of 1812, Dr. Beaumont served in the U.S. Army as a surgeon, and fought in the Battle of Plattsburgh, New York. After the war, he established a private practice in Plattsburgh, but by 1820 he had reenlisted in the Army and he was assigned to Fort Mackinac.

On June 6, 1822, Alexis St. Martin, a young Canadian who worked for the American Fur Company on Mackinac Island suffered a shotgun wound that injured his ribs and stomach. Although Dr. Beaumont performed skillful surgery and provided Alexis St. Martin excellent care, he predicted that the wound would be fatal.

Dr. Beaumont predicted incorrectly. Alexis St. Martin recovered, but with a permanent hole in his stomach that never completely healed. Alexis could no longer work for the American Fur Company, so the authorities threatened to send him back to Canada. Dr. Beaumont took Alexis St. Martin into his own house and supported him for several years. While caring for his patient, Dr. Beaumont also used him to make pioneering observations about human digestion by studying how he digested various foods through the hole in his stomach. Dr. Beaumont’s observations and chemical analyses of gastric juices laid the foundations for his 1833 book Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion and for the modern science of gastroenterology.

After a transfer and a two- year stint at Fort Niagara, New York and the return of Alexis St. Martin to Canada, in 1826, President John Quincy Adams promoted Dr. Beaumont to the rank of surgeon. He served at Fort Howard in 1826 and 1827, and in 1828 he was transferred to St. Louis, Missouri. Captain and Mrs. Smith remained in Fort Howard for four years, 1826-1830, before they, too, were transferred, this time to frontier duty at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. Captain Smith would fight in the Toledo War, the Patriot War, and the Black Hawk War before the Army assigned him to build civilian waterworks in Michigan and Ohio, he would fill various political offices in Michigan, and he and his wife Elvira would have six more children and build a mansion in Monroe, Michigan for all of them to enjoy.

(Continued  in Part II) 


[1] History of Saratoga County, New York. Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, 1878. History of the Villages and Towns of Saratoga County, Stillwater, Part I.   p. 349

[2] Henry is listed in the Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N. Y. ” by George Washington Cullum, published 1891, as graduating with the class of 1815. Henry’s son, Winfield cites his graduation date as 1816 in a biography of his father in the History of Monroe County by Talcott Wing. Cullum’s Register, Class of 1815.,  History of Monroe County, Michigan. Talcott Wing.

[3] Biography of Major Henry Smith, written by his son Winfield Smith.  History of Monroe County Michigan, p. 298.

[4] Timothy Johnson. Winfield Scott: The Quest for Military Glory (Modern War Studies (Lawrence Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2015.)

John D. Eisenhower. Agent of Destiny:  The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott, Norman Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999

[5] Winfield Smith died in London on November 8, 1899l Elvira Parmelia Smith Goodale died on November 13, 1878, and she is buried in Brookside Cemetery, Watertown, New York. Katherine Lydia died as a young child and she is buried in Woodland Cemetery, Monroe. Henry’s brother Joseph Rowe Smith, Sr. also enjoyed a distinguished military career and he is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Monroe. Joseph’s son Henry Smith oversaw the arrest and imprisonment of the conspirators in the Abraham Lincoln assassination.

[6] Barton L Parker, “The History and location of Fort. Howard, Green Bay Historical Bulletin (Green Bay, Wisconsin-Green Bay Historical Society, 1929, Volume 5, No. 4, Page 8, quoted from manuscript in the library of Congress, Me Arthur Papers; Preserved in the files of the War Department, Army Reports, reprinted from a copy in the Kellogg Public Library Green Bay, Wisconsin from a photostat copy in the Burton Historical Collections.

[7] “The Fur Trade in Wisconsin, 1812-1825,” (Wisconsin Historical Collections (Madison. State Historical Society, 1911) XX, 139.

[8]Ibid, p. 237.

[9] War Department, Army Files, Photostats in Burton Historical Library, Detroit; A History of Fort Howard, James Edward Kramer, Master’s Thesis, University of Arizona, 1956.

[10] Talcott E. Wing. History of Monroe County, Michigan.p. 336.

Two Monroe and Monroe County Stories from “Downriver Prohibition”

William Neidermeier and Philip Kalb Encounter Prohibition Agents

From Downriver Prohibition: Its People and Perspectives by Kathy Warnes

william neiermeirr

 Prohibition enforcement agents sometimes displayed lapses of judgement under the pressures of their jobs that called for swift, impartial decisions. Some agents were caught in a tug-of-war between state and federal courts while others floundered in the backlash and politics between enforcement agencies and public perceptions of their jobs.

Murdered Mail Carrier

On December 21,1926, William Neidermeier, a 56-year-old Monroe County mail carrier, and a friend went duck hunting on the Huron River. Detroit River Prohibition Agent Jack Henway and a partner were out on patrol searching for rumrunners when they spotted William and his friend in their boat. The agents also noticed a pickle keg in the boat and surmised that it contained bootleg liquor. The Prohibition agents ordered the two duck hunters in the boat to halt, and when they didn’t halt quickly enough, Agent Henway shot and wounded William Neidermeier, who died at Wyandotte Hospital. He is buried in Woodmere Cemetery in Monroe, Michigan.

Accounts in local and state newspapers across the country spotlighted the tensions between Prohibition agents and ordinary people and the tug-of-war between local, state, and federal Prohibition enforcers. Monroe County Prosecutor Edward Gordon announced in December of 1926 that the arraignment of the two Prohibition officers who had been charged with fatally assaulting William Neidermeier and his friend had been postponed indefinitely.[i]

The postponement of the trail spurred lawmakers into action. State Congressman Robert Clancy of Detroit (Democrat) actively agitated to bring about the prosecution of Federal Prohibition Agent Jack Henway who was convicted of the murder of William Neidermeier. At the trial, Agent Henway, a former member of the Detroit River Patrol, testified that he had mistaken William Neidermeier for a rumrunner and a pickle keg he and his partner used for a seat in their boat as a container for bootleg liquor.  Congressman Clancy also demanded a federal investigation into the case.[ii]

The Cedar Valley (Iowa) Daily Times reported that the death of William Neidermeier prompted Michigan Congressional Representative Clarence J. McLeod (Republican) into investigating the practices of national Prohibition enforcement machinery under Assistant Secretary Lincoln C. Andrews. Representative McLeod charged that the Prohibition enforcement policies of ruthlessness had reached their peak in the murder of William Neidermeier and that these policies violated the Constitutional rights of citizens. He said that many ordinary citizens had been searched or arrested without warrant by the border patrolmen and innocent people had been arrested and beaten.[iii]

Less than two years after the murder of William Neidermeier, a story in the Sheboygan Press reported that Michigan Governor Fred Green had denied a pardon to Prohibition Agent Jack Henway. Commenting on what he considered the determined efforts of Prohibition agencies to win parole for Agent Henway who was out on parole, Governor Green issued a statement declaring that “I have no sympathy for officers who shoot first and find out about it afterwards. I have great and abiding respect for human life, and I cannot understand how officers can shoot without exhausting all other reasonable means of stopping a person. Just because somebody doesn’t jump at an officer’s command is no just reason for the officer to start shooting. There is too much of this deplorable practice going on.”[iv]

Governor Green emphasized that the trial testimony showed that Neidermeier, the mail carrier, and another friend were in a boat duck hunting on the Huron river. Searching for rumrunners, Agent Henway and his partner commanded the men to halt, and when they didn’t comply quickly enough, Agent Henway shot and fatally wounded William Neidermeir. The suspected pickle keg of liquor turned out to be used as a seat for one of the hunters.

The Sheboygan Press editorialized that “within the last few years there has been a total disregard for human life on the part of these federal agents and when we ascertain the caliber of some of them we are prone to ask if they have not in some instances, been law violators themselves and too ready with the gun. It is peculiar that of all parts of the government which Uncle Sam operates this is the only one where discredit has resulted. The governor is right when he says that every means must be exhausted before taking a human life. Here was an instance in Michigan where an innocent party was shot down in cold blood and now certain government instances are trying to free the guilty person. Such a step would bring further discredit upon a federal department that has outraged state laws.”[v]

Philip Kalb – Shoot Out in Monroe County and Ricochets in Portsmouth, Ohio


A fatal shooting that took place on January 13, 1924, two years before the William Neidermeier murder, exposed the undercurrents of tension between Prohibition enforcement agencies. That January day, Federal Prohibition Agent Frank W. Rickey and four other federal agents, and four members of the state police raided the farm of Samuel Kalb near Lambertville in Monroe County, Michigan. During the raid, Samuel’s son Philip, 22, was shot and killed.

The local justice decided that Philip Kalb had been murdered and there was reasonable proof that Agent Rickey had shot him. He was held to appear in Monroe County Circuit Court and when he appeared before Judge Jesse Root on April 14, 1924, Agent Rickey and stood mute. The Court entered a plea of not guilty and Agent Rickey was released under a $10,000 bond. The prosecuting attorney was prepared to file information and bring the case to trial.

In a swiftly executed move, the United States Attorney Delos G. Smith issued a writ of certiorari upon Judge Jesse H. Root of Monroe County to have the case removed to the Federal Court at Detroit, arguing that Agent Rickey was an officer of the government engaged in performance of duty. Clayton Golden, Prosecuting Attorney for Monroe County moved to quash the Writ, contending that the federal court was without jurisdiction and that the order for removal was made before information had been filed. He lost the argument, the writ was granted, and the trial moved to Federal Court in Detroit.[vi]

On July 15, jury selection began in the Federal Court to try Agent Rickey for murder. The Federal government offered the defense that Philip Kalb was killed before the Prohibition agents raided the farm when occupants of the Kalb home supposedly beat off hijackers in a spirited gun battled over their still.[vii]

At the trial, Philip’s father Samuel testified that when he told Agent Rickey that he should not have shot his son, Agent Rickey picked up an axe and told him if he said another word he would knock him down. Two other witnesses, Abe Berman and Isaac Susman, who were present at the farmhouse during the raid, said that Agent Rickey shot Philip Kalb without warning and threatened them when they asked him why he had shot Philip. On cross examination, Isaac Susman contradicted his testimony about the shooting in several details.

On July 17, Samuel Kalb testified for the prosecution, contradicting some of his previous testimony, and admitting on the witness stand that he had lied about the equipment for making illegal whiskey on his farm. He had previously testified that he had no knowledge of any stills, mash, or whiskey on his farm, but when Judge Charles C. Simons questioned him, he hesitatingly admitted the stills and liquor found belonged to him.[viii]

The prosecution charged that Agent Rickey shot Philip Kalb, but the defense claimed that hijackers shot him before the Prohibition agents arrived. Several members of the Prohibition Party, officers, and state police who raided the farm testified for the defense that it would have been impossible for Agent Rickey to have shot Philip Kalb.[ix]

In less than a week later, on July 23, 1924, after deliberating for a short time, the jury acquitted Agent F.W. Rickey of the murder of Philip Kalb. Judge A.Z. Blair defended Agent Rickey, who lived in Portsmouth, Ohio, but had worked the Detroit sector as a dry officer for over a year. He was well known in Toledo, Monroe, and Detroit. His family accompanied him to Detroit for his trial.

Judge A.Z. Blair of Ohio had reached the height of his argument to the jury which would decide the fate of Frank Rickey, Federal Prohibition Agent, charged with murder when the listening silence in Judge Charles Simon’s court was shattered by the screams of a woman. Turning, they saw Mrs. Fannie Kalb, mother of 22-year-old Philip Kalb who Agent Rickey was charged with having killed, shaking her fist under Rickey’s nose. “You killed my boy!” she screamed. “You killed my boy!”

Officers of the court quickly ushered Mrs. Kalb into the corridor. A moment later a commotion broke out in the spectator’s area behind the rail and Sam Kalb, the boy’s father, leaped to his feet shouting, “He killed my son!  I ought to kill him!”

For a moment, chaos ruled the courtroom. Judge Simons shouted, “Arrest that man!” Twice Samuel Kalb started for the door. Court officials headed him off and led him to a cell in the marshal’s office. He was charged with contempt of court.

Judge Blair, forgetting that he was in Michigan where capital punishment was not sanctioned, instead of his native Ohio, had mentioned the electric chair just before the outbreak. Agent Rickey had been on trial for a week on an indictment charging that he had shot and killed Philip Kalb during a raid on the Kalb farmhouse near Monroe, Michigan last January.

Arguing for the defense, Judge Blair told the jury that doctors and others testified that Philip Kalb was shot in the back and this testimony was undisputed. The state’s witnesses who testified that they saw the murder said that Philip Kalb and Agent Rickey were facing each other at short range when the shot was fired. Attacking the credibility of the state’s witnesses, Judge Blair stressed that most of them lied on the stand, a statement that the prosecution didn’t challenge. Judge Blair added that Sam Kalb admitted at one point that he had lied.

The defense advanced two theories in arguing Agent Rickey’s innocence. One theory said that Philip Kalb was killed in a battle with hijackers the night before the raid by the dry agents. The other was that Philip Kalb was shot, probably by accident, by his brother Paul.

Clayton C. Golden, prosecutor of Monroe County, briefly addressed the jury. He argued that the hijacker’s theory was impossible, but declined to comment on the theory regarding Paul Kalb. He contented himself with telling the jurors that they were competent to judge the evidence. Prosecutor Golden’s brevity contrasted with Judge Blair’s arguments which lasted for about two hours and a half. Fred L. Eaton, Assistant District Attorney, also argued on behalf of Agent Rickey, took half an hour.

Throughout the trial, Agent Rickey appeared unperturbed and confident of the outcome. [x]

Less than a month later, on August 15, 1924, Isaac Susman and Abe Burman who had testified for Samuel Kalb that they had observed Agent Rickey shoot his son Philip, were arraigned before United States Commissioner J. Stanley Hurd, on charges of perjury. The two men stood mute and their examination was set for September 25. In the meantime, they were freed under $2,000 bonds each. Thomas Wilcox, agent of the Department of Justice, charged in his warrant against the two men that they testified “they did not see a liquor still on the Kalb farm, and that they were there at the time of the raid to purchase horses.”[xi]


[i]  Neidermeier is spelled Neidermeier or Niedermeier on census and other documents as well as in the newspaper accounts. “State Briefs, “Benton Harbor News- Palladium, December 30, 1927, p. 13.

[ii] “Agent Mistook Man for Rumrunner.” Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, New Jersey, May 14, 1927, p. 20. Ironically, Congressman Robert Clancy had his own troubles with the legal system. He served as United States customs appraiser for Michigan from 1917-1922, and during Prohibition he, the mayor of Detroit, and the Wayne County sheriff were arrested while drinking alcohol.

[iii] ” Duck Hunter Killed by Dry Agent. Plan for Thorough Probe.” Cedar Valley Daily Times (Iowa), December 23, 1926, p. 1.

[iv] “Respect for Human Life. “Sheboygan Press, May 26, 1928, p. 20.

[v] “Respect for Human Life. “Sheboygan Press, May 26, 1928, p. 20.

[vi] Rickey Case Transferred to Detroit.” Portsmouth Daily Times, April 15, 1924, p.2

[vii] “Government Aids Dry Raid Slayer, Defends Prohibition Agent Accused in Detroit. Keeps Case in Federal Court.” Indianapolis Star. July 16, 1924, p.19; “Three Men Testify He Fired Fatal Shot in Raid. Escanaba Daily Press, July 16, 1924, p. 1

[viii] “Kalb Admits Owning Stills on His Farm. “Toledo News Bee, July 18, 1924, p.1

[ix] “Father Refutes Murder Testimony.” Indianapolis Star, July 18, 1924, p. 23.

[x] “Was Charged With Murder, Defended by Judge A.Z. Blair.  Portsmouth Daily Times, July 23, 1924, p.9.

[xi] “Susman and Burman Arraigned.” Battle Creek Enquirer, August 15, 1924, p. 1