The Farmer Takes a Wife, Children, and to the Fields in Monroe and Monroe County

Farm family, Wikimedia Commons

Farmers have imprinted their fingers, hoes, and plows on Monroe and Monroe County soil since the glaciers that covered North America gouged out the Great Lakes and the warming climate melted enough water to fill them and toss waves to shape shorelines and inland contours. Archaeologists and historians estimate that bands of Paleo-Indians numbering about 20-40 people likely crisscrossed Monroe hunting caribou and gathering plants, although they couldn’t definitively identify individual tribes until after French explorer Rene Robert Cavalier Sieur de LaSalle explored the area for New France in 1679. Sailing east to west on the Griffon, the first sailing ship on the Great Lakes, LaSalle’s explorations identified the lands that today include most of Eastern Canada, Michigan, and territory extending south to Louisiana. His reports of abundant game and souls to be saved encouraged French missionaries and fur trappers to venture into the newly discovered lands.

Native American Farmers

Wyandot Village – Fran Maedel

Taking advantage of the plentiful food and easy water transportation along the shores of Lake Erie and the banks of the River Raisin, Paleo-Indians probably used the area as a crossroads, camp site, or village centuries before LaSalle and other Europeans discovered the Great Lakes. The City of Monroe unearthed more recent proof of Native American imprints between 1999 and 2003, when it commissioned several excavations at the northwest corner of North Dixie Highway and East Elm Avenue. Archaeologists discovered artifacts that reveal that Native Americans were there between 1550-1650.

In the Eighteenth Century, Pottawatomi, Wyandot, Ottawa, and other Native American tribes survived in villages along rivers including the Detroit River and the River Raisin. The women farmed, growing corn, beans, squash, tobacco, and sunflowers for seeds and the men hunted wild game such as rabbit, deer, and wild turkeys as well as catching the abundant fish in the rivers and lakes. A Memoir on the Indians between Lake Erie and the Mississippi. Memoir on the Indians of Canada as far as the River Mississippi, with remarks on their manners and trade. 1718 described Wyandot Indian farming practices along the Detroit River and Lake Erie.

“The Hurons are also near; perhaps the eighth of a league from the French fort. This is the most industrious nation that can be seen. They scarcely ever dance, and are always at work; raise a very large amount of Indian corn, peas, beans; some grow wheat. They construct their huts entirely of bark, very strong and solid; very lofty and very long, and arched like arbors. Their fort is strongly encircled with pickets and bastions, well redoubled, and has strong gates. They are the most faithful Nation to the French, and the most expert hunters that we have. Their cabins are divided into sleeping compartments, which contain their Misirague, and are very clean.

They are the bravest of all the Nations, and possess considerable talent. They are well clad; some of them wear close overcoats (jusle au corps de capot)- The men are always hunting, summer and winter, and the women work. The soil is very fertile; Indian corn grows there to the height of ten @twelve feet; their fields are very clean, and very extensive; not the smallest weed is to be seen in them.” [1]

French Ribbon Farms

The first French settlers establishing claims along the River Raisin were direct descendants of the old French pioneers of Detroit and their French Ribbon farms and in turn, most of the old French pioneers of Detroit had left France for Canada, bringing their French traditions and customs with them. The British outlawed private grants between French settlers and Native Americans with almost no exceptions. Between 1763 and 1801, hundreds of young French habitants left Detroit and settled on the River Raisin with the goal of establishing new farms and families, negotiating with Native Americans-mainly the Potawatomi, Wyandot, Ottawa, and Chippewa tribes of the Western Lake Erie area – for deeds to tracts of land.

Dividing riverfront and lakeshore land into narrow ribbon farms provided important advantages to the farmer. Each farmer had water access and water was the main transportation. The layout placed each farmhouse at a minimum distance from one another, ensuring easy communication of news, and Indian alarms. Quick access to neighbors made dances, sledding parties, and other social gatherings easy to arrange and attend.


Monroe County Historical Society Map

Because water transportation was essential in these early times of dirt trails and dense forests, every farmer wanted to own land rights on a river or lake and under the French-Canadian system, the plots, called ribbon farms, were long and narrow.

Most of the French ribbon farms measured from one to five arpents (an arpent was 192 ½ feet) wide and extended inland from the river for one and one half to three miles. A dirt road with a ditch alongside ran between each settler’s house and a road usually stretched between the farmhouse and the shore. The ribbon farms extended into the dense forests surrounding Frenchtown, but farmers didn’t cultivate the rear parts of their lots.

French ribbon farmers grew Indian corn, wheat, and oats and farmers and their wives tended vegetable gardens, raised livestock and tended grapes for wine. Orchards with pear, apple, and cherry trees either in front of or behind the farmhouse decorated the old French farms.

 French Pear Trees

John McClelland Bulkley

In his History of Monroe County, John McClelland Bulkley traced some legend and fact surrounding the graceful old French pear trees. He recorded one of the legends handed down about the old pear trees, noting that the Jesuit fathers who were the first arrivals in the Monroe County region of New France, planted orchards of apples and pears along the rich and fruitful lands. Along the River Raisin they planted the trees in groups of twelve, symbolizing the twelve apostles of Jesus. As they planted the pear trees, the Jesuits set one tree out of each dozen apart from the others so that the betrayer, Judas, might be forever separated from the faithful. Bulkley wonders if succeeding generations of French farmers planted their orchard pear trees in the same formation to preserve and pass down the Jesuit message. As the years went by, time and circumstances thinned the rows of apostle trees, and at times, the Judas tree grew closely enough to join the others.

When the people of Monroe first saw the pear trees on the farm of Robert Navarre, there were ten of them standing in a stalwart row. Eventually storms of weather and life thinned their ranks to five. Time again intervened and the farm of Robert Navarre merged into the growing city of Monroe. Now one dignified tree stood on a city lot in the third ward between the tracks of the Michigan Central Railway and the Detroit and Toledo Shore Line – Grand Trunk- Railroad. Historian Bulkley credited George W. Bruckner, an old resident, with providing him with the illustration of the French pear trees growing in 1796.[2]

French Ribbon Farmers

A majority of the Frenchtown settlers were farmers and many others were fur traders, dealing with Native Americans in Ohio and Indiana. Traders themselves lived in the Indian villages over the winter and in the early spring exchanged goods for furs and skins that were eventually shipped to Detroit and Montreal. Others supported traders and Indians with blacksmithing and silverwork and others worked transporting trade goods, and furs and skins by boat and pack horse.

In 1802, a Frenchtown tax list numbered 152 heads-of-family owning property in the River Raisin region, with a population estimated at about 628 people with a majority having French names. About nine percent of families were Scots-Irish, Welsh, German, or British or other non-French nationalities.

French ribbon farmers lived on their ribbon farms and cultivated the soil. A few of them could be called large farmers, but usually they cultivated less ground than their American counterparts and were less interested in accumulating wealth. In his History of Monroe County, Michigan, Talcott Wing writes that until around 1830, the French farmers had no markets to sell their surplus crops, so for many years they grew only enough to feed their families. They didn’t see the wisdom of owning land or farming to be wealthy. Most were devout Catholics, close to their church, and kind people, good neighbors and faithful friends. Few of them had book education, but there were many intelligent, strong thinkers among them. They were men of sound judgment who lived up to their reputations for integrity and upright living.[3]

Settling a distance from the British in Detroit enabled the French habitants to preserve their culture, religion, and traditions despite British control. British soldiers and civilians didn’t settle in places without British forts, and as long as the French habitants kept the Native Americans, content they could survive culturally intact.

Several French ribbon farmers led the way in the founding of Monroe and Monroe County. Jean Baptiste Romain dit Sanscrainte was the first to secure land in the River Raisin area. In 1780, Joseph Porlier Benalque or Benac established a claim. In 1784, Francois-Marie Navarre dit Heutreau and his brother Robert Navarre dit Tonton secured land and in 1785, Francois-Marie Navarre dit Tchigoy, commonly considered Monroe’s founding father, secured a claim.

Jean Baptiste Romain dit Sanscrainte

During the Eighteenth Century and Nineteenth Centuries, French settlers carved out about 442 new farms along the rivers, streams, and shore of Lake Erie from Lake St. Clair, north of Detroit, south to Otter Creek, ten miles south of the River Raisin. In 1779, Jean Baptiste Romain dit Sanscrainte led the way in securing land in the River Raisin area. According to his descendant Michael E. Van Wasshnova , a member of the Monroe County Historical Society, John Baptiste Romain dit Sanscrainte III (dit means also known as in English) accompanied his father to New France on a trip seeking favorable places to establish missions. His father, Jean Baptiste II, had Jesuit connections and helped found mission at Black Rock, Fort Meigs, Maumee, Huron – now Windsor- and St. Lawrence which is present day Toledo. As a young man on an adventurous trip, John Baptiste met many Native Americans from different tribes and built the foundation to be an Indian interpreter and trader, learning and appreciating the customs of different tribes.

On October 13, 1778, John Baptiste married Margaret Solo-Soleau and in 1779 he negotiated an agreement with several Detroit River region tribes to purchase thousands of acres of land along the River Raisin, now part of the City of Monroe.

John Baptiste II participated in important historical events that shaped the Detroit River region and America as well. He and at least four other French-Canadians from the Detroit and River Raisin region fought for the British and their Indian allies in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794. General Anthony Wayne’s Northwestern Army defeated the British and their allies, and their victory ended the Indian desire to fight for the British because they felt the British had not helped them at all.

In an ironic about face, after the Battle, General Wayne recruited Jean Baptiste and several other French Canadians to gather chief from several tribes to sign the Treaty of Greenville. By signing the Treaty of Greenville, the leaders of Native American tribes including Wyandot Chiefs Tarhe, Leatherlips, and Roundhead and chiefs from the Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa, Chippewa, Potawatomi, Miami, Wea, Kickapoo, and Kaskaskia  bands ceded lands that make up most of modern Ohio, the future site of Downtown Chicago, and the Fort Detroit, Maumee Ohio and Lower Sandusky Ohio areas. The Native Americans exchanged these lands for goods such as blankets, utensils and livestock at an accumulated value of about $20,000

According to Michael E. Van Wasshnova, other records indicate that Jean Baptiste and his family were involved in the Battle of the River Raisin, with some sources saying that he fought on the British side and others that he fought with the Americans. At least three of his four sons fought with the Kentuckians and lost property.

In 1838, Jean Baptiste II died at age 84 while he was out hunting for horses and he was buried at Detroit on March 19, 1793.[4]

Joseph Porlier Benalque or Benac.

In 1780, Joseph Porlier Benalque or Benac established a claim by the River Raisin. He was born on February 9, 1730 in Montreal, Quebec Canada, the son of Claude Porlier Benalque and Angelique  Cuillerier Beaubein Benalque.  Joseph married Louise Michelle Gamelin. He was buried on November 21, 1810 in St. Antoine Cemetery in Monroe County.

Francois Marie Navarre dit Tchigoy or Francois “Franci” Navarre

Talcott Wing

In 1784, Francois-Marie Navarre dit Heutreau and his brother Robert Navarre dit Tonton secured land and in 1785, Francois-Marie Navarre dit Tchigoy, who is considered Monroe’s founding father, secured a claim.[5]

Born on October 12, 1763 in Assumption Parish in Sandwich, Ontario, Francois “Francis” Navarre was the son of Robert and Marie Louis Marsac Navarre. On November 9, 1790, he married Mary Suzor, daughter of Louis Francis Suzor and Mary Joseph LeBeau in Detroit. They had fourteen children.

Francois bought land on the River Raisin, arriving about 1780 and founding the Frenchtown settlement. Historians credit him with being the first permanent white settler on the River Raisin, and he is often called “the Father of Monroe. Nearly 100 settlers soon followed him there, building log cabins and living peacefully with the Indians for many years. He established a civil government and a court system in Frenchtown.

As another war with Great Britain loomed, the Army appointed Francois a captain and then a colonel of the militia of the River Raisin. The British captured him twice and he escaped twice in the War of 1812. When he returned to Frenchtown after the end of his service, he discovered that the settlement had been decimated during the War and he worked to help rebuild it.

Francois Navarre is buried in the Old Burial Ground in Monroe.


Settlers of all nationalities continued to buy land in Frenchtown and gradually the French population and their French Ribbon farms were replaced by new farmers and farming methods.

Monroe Lands and Farms B.T. – Before Tractors

In the early 1800s, Joseph Loranger bought several acres of land in what later would become Monroe. He bought his farm, located on the east side of Monroe Street, from Judge Augustus B. Woodward, who in turn  had bought it to fulfill a Michigan Territory requirement requiring a judge to own at least 500 acres of land. He called the farm Euphemia, until he platted his land into village lots in 1817 and the new land owners named their village Monroe.Samuel Mulhollen and Jared Egnew purchased the adjoining farm on the west of Joseph Loranger’s for six dollars an acre and Samuel built a log house on his land

Land and farm ownership in Monroe and Monroe County sometimes could be as tangled as the roots of a century old oak tree in a farm yard. On March 3, 1807, the United States Congress passed an act that restricted the rights to grants of lands occupied and partially improved before July 1, 1796. The settlements extended along both sides of the River Raisin almost continuously for eight or nine miles, and a few isolated tracts went further up and along both sides of otter Creek from near Lake Erie to  four miles into the interior and along Stony Creek. These early settlers had settled very near each other along the River Raisin and the Creek, and cleared only a small portion of the land in front along the stream. The Act of Congress restricted each claimant to the lands in front of those he improved and allowed him any amount up to 160 acres, requiring him to pay the government surveyor for surveying his tract.

The results of this Congressional Act shaped future land transactions. The first consequence of the Act was that each landowner would have to take a narrow tract to get any substantial amount of land, making up the amount by extending a larger or smaller distance back from the river of stream. This made each tract a narrow, ribbon like piece of land fronting on the stream. The second consequence was the fact that the claimant had to pay the government surveyor for surveying his claim. This reality meant that since most of the settlers saw no reason to extend their tracts further back from the front than would be convenient to work as a farm and include enough woodland in the rear for firewood and timber, most of them refused to pay the extra cost of surveying out the large tract of 160 acres that each claimant was entitled to possess. In most cases, the acreage would have been extended from three to five miles to make up the quantity, and not more than one in ten of them of people making claims would agree to make their tracts longer than about two miles.  Many of the tracts of land were only one mile. Occasionally, a person making a claim would extend his claim four or more miles deep to include nearly 160 of the acres that the law allowed, but this usually happened in one out of twenty claims. [6]

Talcott Wing notes in the History of Monroe County that generally people who claimed land next to each other would make claims of the same depth of about two miles so that the rear of their claims would be a straight line. At times another claimant would refuse to expand his claim more than a mile which made the rear of the claims jagged and unequal. Years later when the United States Government surveyed the public lands, they found a large number of claims extending the same distance back and bounded by a straight line, but the Government didn’t notice that some of the claims extended back about half the distance and the land in the rear of the short claims had mistakenly been left unsurveyed and counted as part of the claim in front. The original people making claims knew that the rear lands were not included in their grants, but their descendants did not always realize the lands were not included. Many of them believed that the rear lands were a part of the front claims that they had inherited, and acting on good faith beliefs, they sold, mortgaged, and leased the rear lands as part of the front grants.

There were several thousand acres of these lands, and some of them were the best lands in the county. Between 1850-1854, honorable Charles Noble was surveyor-general in Michigan and he spearheaded a complete survey of these lands, returning the survey to the general land office in Washington.

The disposition of these lands continued to be confusing and controversial until the Michigan Supreme Court decided the case of Walcott Lawrence and Christopher Bruckner. Walcott Lawrence who later became a judge, bought some land in Raisinville, about nine miles above Monroe on the north side of the River Raisin. The majority of the land turned out to be within the bounds of a prior patent, or claim, which Christopher Bruckner had purchased. After long litigation, in 1847 the Michigan State Supreme Court decided in Bruckner vs. Lawrence, 1 Doug. 19, that “no grant or conveyance of lands, or interest therein, shall be void for the reason that at the time of the execution thereof such lands shall be in the actual possession of another claiming adversely.”[7]

All similar cases were settled or decided on the basis of this decision.

Farm Living – Will Carleton and Reminiscences

In Colonial America, 90 percent of people earned their living from agriculture, most farms were focused on providing subsistence living for their owners, and most towns were created by and served as shipping points for agricultural commodities. The expanding frontier and population opened up vast amounts of new farms and after 1840, industrialization and urbanization opened up profitable domestic markets to match the lucrative domestic and foreign markets for Southern cotton. In 1850, the number of farms in the United States were estimated at 1.4 million. By 1880, the number had grown to 4.0 million, and by 1910, 6.4 million. After 1910, the number of American farms began to decline, dropping to 5.6 million in 1950 and 2.2 million in 2008.[8]

In his poem called Out O’ The Fire, Carleton, Michigan poet and author of Farm Ballads and other farm reminiscences, Will Carleton, described some of the realities and continuity of farm life for Nineteenth Century Michigan farmers in Monroe County and across America.

Up from the East we had traveled, with all of our household wares, Where we had long been workin’ a piece of land on shares; But how a fellow’s to prosper without the rise of the land, For just two-thirds of nothin’, I never could understand.

Up from the East we had traveled, me and my folks alone, And quick we went to workin’ a piece of land of our own ; Small was our backwoods quarters, and things looked mighty cheap; But everything we put in there, we put in there to keep. So, with workin’ and savin’, we managed to get along; Managed to make a livin’, and feel consid’able strong

The poem narrates how a fire destroys the hard work of years, but ends by expressing the joy and relief that her parents feel when they discover that their beloved daughter Katherine has escaped the burning of their homestead by eloping with her boyfriend. Although her father had previously disapproved of Tom, Katherine’s choice of husband, the fire and her survival leaves the family still making “a livin” and feeling “consid’able strong.” The narrator of the poem is telling the story to Katherine and Tom’s child, his grandchild.[9]

Making a “livin’” often was a harsh and unrelenting reality for Monroe and Monroe County farmers and they had to be “consid’able strong.”  In the Nineteenth Century, the possibility of giant agricultural business farms gleamed like distant mountains, and farmers of that era worked to make their farms self-supporting and self-sufficient. At the dawn of the Twentieth Century, almost half of America’s population lived on farms, but by the year 2,000 the figure had dropped to one percent of the population living on farms. Farming was treadmill work, with few machines to lighten the weight of chores and no electricity to scatter the darkness. Most farms were family farms, supporting the family and sometimes providing extra income from the sale of surplus crops.

Farm chores didn’t begin at dawn and they didn’t end after sunset-they were an around the clock reality for the farmer and his family. An unspoken and occasionally spoken gender line divided farm work. Men and boys performed most of the outdoor chores, farming the fields and caring for the livestock. They built the house and barns, constructed and maintained fences, and took care of other maintenance chores. Women worked both indoors and outdoors. They managed dairy and poultry operations, made soap and candles, and produced cloth from cotton and wool for the clothes that the family wore. Outside of the farmhouse, farm wives and daughters usually planted, tended, and harvested the kitchen garden, helped care for livestock, and assisted their husbands with chores.

Almost as soon as children learned to walk, they had chores to do around the farm. Young boys joined their fathers working in the fields and girls worked alongside their mothers doing household chores learning the skills they would use in their own homes. Farmers and their wives often produced large families because children were considered assets that increased the cost efficiency of their farms. Farmers set up their adult children on adjoining farms, allowing them to combine their farming efforts and assure built in caregivers in their old age.

Monroe and Monroe County Farmers Created Life Stories and Crops

Monroe, Monroe County, and farmers across America led lives of rugged individualism, weather watching, practicality, and dreams of money making crops and sunlit futures for their children. Some farmers worked themselves into prosperous farms while others hoe scraped or subsisted.

James F. Cronenwett, farmer, was born on August 29, 1923, in Ash Township. On September 9, 1945, he married Linda Smith at the Carleton Evangelical Church and they had five children. In 191, James and Linda founded the Carleton Farm Supply Implement Company and incorporated their business with their son Keith in 1976. James died on January 31, 2015 and he is buried in Carleton Cemetery.

George Willis Fox. Born November 20, 1920, in Whiteford, Michigan, to Clifford and Gertrude Fox,  George Willis Fox served with the United States Army from 1942-1945. In 1946, he married LaVerne Kinsey. George was a Farm Drainage Contractor for his entire career, retiring in 1985. He served on the Fair Board for years. He is buried in Bedford Memorial Cemetery, Temperance.

Charles Kramer. Charles Kramer was born on April 19, 1846, in Germany, the son of Johann Georg Kramer and Agnes Fischer. He immigrated to America in 1854 and he met and married Matilda Rothdow in Ohio about 1870. They had six children together. The Kramers were farmers and they owned a general farm in Ash Township in Monroe. Charles and Matilda is buried in St. Patrick Cemetery #2, Carleton.

William Leibold, Sr. William Leibold was born in Romerz, Germany in 1861, and immigrated to the United States in October 1880, traveling directly to Michigan. A family story goes that William reached Maybe from Germany, he didn’t speak English. As he stopped off the train in front of a hotel, a crowd was raising a pole for presidential candidate James Garfield. The crowd cheered and William believed that people were cheering to welcome him to Maybee!

On January 22, 1884 William married his former schoolmate Amanda Maul at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Monroe and they had ten children. They moved to a farm that their sons John and Anthony  Leibold later owned.  Anthony was a lifelong farmer.

William Leibold helped to build St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, and he was a church member as well as serving as the caretaker of St. Joseph’s cemetery. He prided himself on remembering everyone buried in the cemetery, knowing when they died and where they were buried. William died on May 7, 1946 at age 84 and he  is buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Maybee.

Edwin J. Miller, born in Exeter Township on July 11, 1906, worked as a self-employed farmer in Exeter Township for most of his life. In 1937, he married Viola Masson. He was a member of Monroe County Farm Bureau and a volunteer fireman and he retired in 1972. He died on January 10, 1995, and he is buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, Maybee.

Diantha Jones Smith. Diantha Jones was one of ten children born to Nathaniel and Diantha Jones on February 4, 1832 in Victory, New York. On January 24, 1852, she married Henry Smith in Victory, New York and they had nine children. They moved to a farm in Monroe County which today is designated as a Centennial Farm, a distinction meaning that the farm has been owned and operated by the same family for 100 years. Henry served in the Civil War, Company H, 18th Regiment, Michigan Infantry. He enrolled in September 1864 when he was 34, and he was discharged honorably in Nashville, Tennessee on June 26, 1865 for disability because of a loss of hearing. Diantha and Henry are buried in Azalia Cemetery, Azalia

Gilbert C. Steinman was born on the Steinman Centennial farm in Maybee on March 23, 1933. He attended St. Joseph Grade School and in 1951 he graduated from Dundee High School. He attended Michigan State College and became an Air Force Reserve member. After he was drafted into the United States Army, and was stationed in El Paso, Texas. He still owned the Steinman Centennial farm in Maybee when he died suddenly at age 80 on January 23, 2014. A lifelong member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Maybee, he is buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, Maybee.

 Jerome J. “Uncle Jerome” Verhille. The Monroe Evening News highlighted the life of Jerome J. Verhille on December 13, 2010. He was born in LaSalle, Michigan on May 21, 1920, to Maurice and Bertha Verhille. He obtained his education from St. Mary’s Catholic School Hall of the Divine Child in Monroe, and he graduated from Monroe High School in 1938. As a youth, Jerome worked with his father and he was a self-employed farmer and dairy farmer most of his life and farmed the same farm on Geierman Road that his father and brother farmed for approximately 45 years. He retired in 1985. After his retirement, he loved to garden and he shared his produce with family and friends. Many of his friends and family called him “Uncle Jerome”.

Uncle Jerome died at age 90, on December 11, 2010. He was a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Maybee and he is buried in St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, Maybee.

Monroe Farmer’s Wives Worked  Out Lives and Life Stories

Farmer’s wives were as diverse as the weather on their farms.  Some of them thrived on the work and responsibility and necessary partnership with their husbands. Others led subdued and barren existences with no hope of escape from the societal and financial constrictions of their times and lives.

Mary Ann Chapman Burnap

Photo Credit Darrell Brown

The Monroe Record -Commercial reported on October 12, 1911, that Mrs. Mary Ann Burnap , 87, had died in the Carleton home of her son, Dr. Potter. She was born in Vermont, but came to Monroe County with her parents while wolves still howled around the settler’s log houses and it took two weeks to travel by ox teams.

In his memoir of his childhood, Mary Ann’s son Elmer recalled their life on their Monroe homestead farm, recording that they lived on a farm in Ash Township, Section Twenty Five, Monroe County State of Michigan. The farm was located a little over a mile up the stream of Swan Creek from the village of Newport. The creek ran through Royal Potter’s farm and the south bank of the creek lay immediately by the house. They lived four miles from Lake Erie, making for good fishing. Elmer noted that his father Royal L. Potter and his mother Mary Ann, lived “happily and contented, enjoying each other’s companionship” without any dissention but ruled by love and affection. He said his mother was an “earnest, every day practical Christian woman.”

Royal Potter fought in Company F of the 24th Michigan Infantry in the Civil War, was captured and died in Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Mary Ann was left alone with Elmer, and half and adopted sisters to support. Royal left his son Elmer land that had been his father’s and left the rest to Mary Ann which tax records show that Mary Ann managed well.

Mary Ann’s granddaughter Eva Potter Woodward who lived with her from 1907-1911 wrote several poems about her, including this one:

Keen Sight

by Eva Woodward

My Grandma wore her spectacles

And she could always see

When someone had a problem

Or were sad as they could be.

I asked her how she always saw

As she could always do

Those things to help somebody then

To lift their burdens too.

And she replied with a small smile

That it was a way she had

To see thro all her busy life

Which things are good or bad.

And so I’d like some spectacles

So I’ll have a better view

When I can help some other folk

To choose the right way too.[10]

Mary Ann outlived four husbands:  Jeremiah Decker Peters, Royal Laroy Potter, Job Burnap and Richard Gilmore and  she left several children, grandchildren and great grandchildren as well as a legacy of successful farming and surviving the hardships of country life. She is buried in Potter Cemetery, Monroe County.

Lynn and Dorothy Kathryn Myers Albring

Dorothy Kathryn Myers was born on May 25, 1932, in Temperance, Michigan and lived there all of her life. She went to Bedford High School where she met her husband Lynn Albring, graduating in 1951. She and Lynn were married on June 28, 1952 and they owned and operated Albring Farms and Greenhouses in Temperance for 58 years.  She and Lynn are buried in Bedford Memorial Cemetery in Temperance.

 “I am not a practical woman”

An anonymous farm wife wrote a memoir at the turn of the Twentieth Century, graphically describing the life of a farm woman. [11] She begins her story by noting that “everybody knows that the farmer’s wife must of a necessity be a very practical woman, if she would be a successful one. I am not a practical woman and consequently have been accounted a failure by practical friends and especially by my husband, who is wholly practical. This is her account of how she spent a spring day in May:

May Day!

Any bright morning in the latter part of May I am out of bed at four o’clock; next, after I have dressed and combed my hair, I start a fire in the kitchen stove, and while the stove is getting hot I go to my flower garden and gather a choice, half-blown rose and a spray of bride’s wreath, and arrange them in my hair, and sweep the floors and then cook breakfast.While the other members of the family are eating breakfast I strain away the morning’s milk (for my husband milks the cows while I get breakfast), and fill my husband’s dinner pail, for he will go to work on our other farm for the day.

By this time it is half-past five o’clock, my husband is gone to his work, and the stock loudly pleading to be turned into the pastures. The younger cattle, a half-dozen steers, are left in the pasture at night, and I now drive the two cows, a half-quarter mile and turn them in with the others, come back, and then there’s a horse in the barn that be­longs in a field where there is no water, which I take to a spring quite a distance from the barn; bring it back and turn it into a field with the sheep, a dozen in number, which are housed at night. The young calves are then turned out into the warm sunshine, and the stock hogs, which are kept in a pen, are clamoring for feed, and I carry a pailful of swill to them, and hasten to the house and turn out the chickens and put out feed and water for them, and it is, perhaps, 6.30 A..M.

I have not eaten breakfast yet, but that can wait; I make the beds next and straighten things up in the living room, for I dislike to have the early morning caller find my house topsy-turvy. When this is done I go to the kitchen, which also serves as a dining-room, and uncover the table, and take a mouthful of food occasionally as I pass to and fro at my work until my appetite is appeased.

By the time the work is done in the kitchen it is about 7.15 A. M., and the cool morning hours have flown, and no hoeing done in the garden yet, and the children’s toilet has to be attended to and churning has to be done.

Finally the children are washed and churning done, and it is eight o’clock, and the sun getting hot, but no matter, weeds die quickly when cut down in the heat of the day, and I use the hoe to a good advantage until the din­ner hour, which is 11.30 A. M. We come in, and I comb my hair, and put fresh flowers in it, and eat a cold dinner, put out feed and water for the chickens; set a hen, perhaps, sweep the floors again; sit down and rest, and read a few moments, and it is nearly one 0′ clock, and I sweep the door yard while I am waiting for the clock to strike the hour.

Harvesting wheat, I make and sow a flower bed, dig around some shrubbery, and go back to the garden to hoe until time to do the chores at night, but ere long some hogs come up to the back gate, through the wheat field, and when I go to see what is wrong I find that the cows have torn the fence down, and they, too, are in the wheat field.

With much difficulty I get them back into their own domain and repair the fence. I hoe in the garden till four o’clock; then I go into the house and get supper, and prepare some­thing for the dinner pail to-morrow; when supper is all ready it is set aside, and I pull a few hundred plants of tomato, sweet potato or cabbage for transplanting, set them in a cool, moist place where they will not wilt, and I then go after the horse, water him, and put him in the barn; call the sheep and house them, and go after the cows and milk them, feed the hogs, put down hay for three horses, and put oats and corn in their troughs, and set those plants and come in and fasten up the chickens, and it is dark.

By this time it is 8 o’clock P. M.; my husband has come home, and we are eating supper; when we are through eating I make the beds ready, and the children and their father go to bed, and I wash the dishes and get things in shape to get breakfast quickly next morning.It is now about 9 o’clock P. M., and after a short prayer I retire for the night.”[12]

Farm Children of Farmers and their Wives

Farm children had serious life decisions to make as America changed in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries from a mostly rural, agricultural country into an urbanized industrial nation. In 1790, only about one out of every twenty Americans lived in cities, but by 1870 one out of four lived in cities.  By 1920, one out of every two Americans lived in cities and by the 1960s, two  out of every three Americans lived in cities and in the 2000s, four out of every five Americans lived in cities. Many farm children succumbed to the economic and quality of life lure of the cities. Others attempted to combine farm and city life, while others remained on the farm for their livelihoods.

Mary Ann Chapman Burnap’s son Dr. Elmer Jeremy Potter wrote an extensive memoir describing the shifts in the weather and circumstantial winds of farm life. [13]

In the month of March [1899] our house hold goods, a span of fine horses, a lumber wagon, a surrey and five harnesses were loaded in cars, and we left Holgate for our new home on the farm near Newport Mich., my family having gone a few days earlier, making visits among old acquaintances. Then began our new work, starting with nothing, it required quite an outlay for farm stock and machinery. For five years we were farmers in every sense of the term. In the spring of 1904 we left the farm and moved to Carleton, a new and comfortable house was built, which we occupied in July. In Sept. 1904 I again opened a jewelry store.

In the spring of 1905 I took up the study of optics in the South Bend, Ind. College of Optics, passing the required examination, received my diploma as Dr. of Optics. This trade brought a fairly good profit and well compensated for time and money spent on the same. A great many improvements, inventions, and enterprises have been made and erected during my time of recollection. The old horse cars have been relegated to the oblivion of almost forgetfulness to be superseded by the rapid moving electric car. The telephone that is in many country homes is another great convenience.

The automobile, a wonder of the age has taken the place of thousands of horses and carriages both in city and rural districts, and here I would add, my first ride on one was beside of our congressman, Chas. E. Townsend on the 26th day of October 1908. The Flying machine, and wireless telegraphy are almost incredible achievement. The making of the finest of sugar from beets another great enterprise, which furnished labor to thousands. The machinery and appliances in these institutions is a marvelous sight.

I go back in memory to the days of my boyhood home and look over the country where cow paths were, and there are now fine graded and graveled public highways. Fine farm residences have taken the place of the log cabins. The wolves, lynx, fox and deer have left the country. Wild turkey and the chattering squirrel as other wild game is almost unknown by the boys of 1908. Even the farmer has his daily paper, that forty years ago was so expensive that very few if any were bought, and with this it is delivered to his door daily by the rural mail carriers paid by the government.

Dr. Elmer Jeremy Potter,  1851-1911, is buried in Carleton Cemetery

Lightning Strikes Twice – Literally and Figuratively

Statistics say that farming is the third most dangerous occupation in the United States.[14] The lives of Monroe County and Monroe farmers and their families are interwoven with stories of falling tree fatalities, kerosene stove and lamp explosions, and machinery accidents. Farmers had to constantly battle nature in the form of weather and its effect on crops and conditions for growing them. Benjamin H. “Ben” Mack and his family experienced one of nature’s most powerful weather productions– lightning.

William Mack  and his wife Catherine Goodnough Mack owned and operated a farm on the Blue Bush Road in Raisinville.  They had three sons:  Benjamin, Frank, and Edward. As well as the uncertainties of farming, the Macks had to deal with family health problems. In 1913, Catherine fell ill and her son Benjamin endured a serious operation at the Blind Babies Home. He was the last patient in the hospital and shortly after Detroit Doctor Manton and Monroe Dr. Southworth discharged him to complete his recovery at home, his father William became gravely ill. William died in early June, 1914.

His wife Catherine, still recovering from her illness, rallied and resolved to press on with life and the farm.  On Thursday, June 18, 1914, her two oldest sons, Frank, 30,married with a pregnant wife and three children, and her son Benjamin, 21, were holding a fence bee on the homestead farm and several neighboring farmers were helping them. Everyone worked steadily until a thunder storm rumbled over the fields. Frank and Ben Mack and Frank’s ten-year-old son and the dog drove their team of horses under a nearby tree for shelter from the storm, and waited for the storm to end. Two of the Mack’s neighbors sheltered under a nearby tree, not more than ten feet away. They called for Frank’s son to run over and get into their buggy with them and the boy had just left his father and uncle and climbed into the buggy when a lightning bolt flashed over their heads. Frank and Ben, the dog, and the team of horses were killed instantly. Neither the Macks nor the team were scarred and the wagon remained intact. The lightning bolt didn’t strike the tree.

A neighbor, Mr. Weisbecker couldn’t see them, so as soon as the rain slackened, he went to find them. He discovered them in a huddle under the tree.

Funeral services were held at St. Joseph’s Church at Maybee and the young men were buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, Maybee. The Monroe Democrat of Friday, June 26, 1914, said that Catherine Mack was grief stricken and prostrated since the lightning strike had “wiped out all the male help of the farm in less than a fortnight and a half.”


[1] Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of new York: procured in Holland, England and France. John Romeyn Brodhead, Esq. Albany:  Weed an Company printers,1885. P. 887.

[2] History of Monroe County, Michigan: a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principal interests. John McClelland Bulkley. Chicago:  Lewis Publishing Company, 1913, P 42.

[3] History of Monroe County, Michigan. Talcott Wing. New York:  Munsell & Company, 1890. P. 40.

[4] Michael E. Van Wasshnova is a member of the Monroe County Historical Society. Ypsilant Gleanings, Ypsilanti Historical Society.

[5] Dates and other circumstances indicate that Francois Navarre was one of the founding fathers of Monroe along with Jean Baptiste Romain dit Sanscrainte, and Joseph Porlier Benalque or Benac,

[6] History of Monroe County, Michigan. Talcott Wing. New York:  Munsell & Company, 1890. P. 46.

[7] 10823. Conveyance of Lands Adversely Possessed. Sec. 7. No grant or conveyance of lands, or interest therein, shall be void for the reason that at the time of the execution thereof such lands shall be in the actual possession of another claiming adversely. How. 5657.— C. L. ’97, 8961. 4 Scam. (111.) 67, 21 Wend. 98. Prior to the taking effect of this section, Mar. 2, 1847, an owner might release his claims to, but could not convey lands in the adverse possession of another: Godfroy v. Disbrow, Wal. Ch. 260; Bruckner’s Lessee v. Lawrence, 1 Doug. 19; Hubbard v. Smith, 2 M. 207. But the grantee could sue in the grantor’s name to recover the land: Stockton v. Williams, 1 Doug. 546. See Crane v. Seeder, 21 M. 82.  Howell’s Annotated Statutes of the State of Michigan including the Acts of the Second Extra Session of 1912 with Notes and Digests of the Supreme Court Decisions Relating Thereto by Andrew Howell, Second Edition. Compiled and Annotated by Colin P. Campbell of the Grand Rapids Bar.

[8] US Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2010 (2010) Table 80

[9] Out O’ The Fire, from Farm Ballads by Will Carleton. New York: Harper, 1899.

[10] Mary Ann Chapman Burnap

[11] Her eyewitness account of a typical day in her life appears in Holt, Hamilton, The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans as Told by Themselves (1906).

[12] “Farm Wife, 1900. Eyewitness to History. (2007)

[13] Memoir of Dr. Elmer Jeremy Potter

[14]  “NIOSH- Agriculture”. United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Archived from the original on 9 October 2007.

A Few Future Articles and Stories

Centennial Farms

George Lang, the Carleton Map Maker


James Monroe

Elizabeth Monroe

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