Fighting for his Country in Monroe: Lt. Frederick Rolette and his American Adversaries

Lt. Frederick Rolette of the Provincial Marine fought in pivotal War of 1812 battles on the Canadian side.



When the United States declared war on Great Britain on June 19, 1812, the British immediately seized control of Lake Erie. They already enjoyed the benefit of the Provincial Marine’s small core of war ships and generations of occupation and influence in the Great Lakes. It took several days for word of the war to reach Fort Amherstburg. When Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas St. George of the 63rd Regiment received the news, he acted promptly. On July 2, 1812, the American schooner Cuyahoga sailed up the Detroit River loaded with supplies and a military band. A contingent of sick soldiers belonging to Brigadier-General William Hull’s North Western Army followed in a smaller boat. Even though St. George knew that Great Britain and America were at war, the Americans did not.

As the Cuyahoga passed Fort Amherstburg, Lieutenant Frederick Rolette of the Provincial Marine rowed out to the ship backed by a polyglot force of soldiers, sailors and Native Americans. The surprised Americans put up only token resistance and after he fired his pistol in the air to get the Cuyahoga to heave-to, Lt. Rolette captured the Cuyahoga, although the smaller boat carrying the sick soldiers passed on unmolested to Detroit. Lt. Rolette rejoiced to discover that the Cuyahoga carried Hull’s papers outlining various plans for a campaign against Fort Amherstburg.[1]

Thomas Vercheres de Boucherville described the capture of the Cuyahoga on July 2, 1812:

At two o’clock in the afternoon a small vessel appeared sailing lightly from the open lake into the mouth of the river but the wind was unfavorable and her speed lessened somewhat. With the aid of a glass it was easily discovered that she carried the American flag and it seemed probable that her captain was unaware of the knowledge we had, that war had been declared.

Finding myself by chance in the ship yard where the Queen Charlotte was under construction, I came upon Lieutenant Frederic Rolette in the act of launching a boat manned by a dozen sailors, all well-armed with sabers and pickaxes, and I hastened to ask him where he was going with that array .”To make a capture,” he replied, as he ordered his men to row in all haste in the direction of the vessel which was slowly but steadily making her way up the river, all unconscious of the fate awaiting her.

“I asked some Indians who were standing around if they would follow that boat. They expressed their readiness for the venture and we hurriedly entered one of their canoes, our sole weapons being three guns loaded with duck shot and two tomahawks. Rolette’s boat reached the vessel’s side a few minutes ahead of us and the men boarded her without meeting any resistance.

Either the crew was unaware that war had been declared or they were uncertain of the relations between the two countries. The next instant I came up with my Indians and to leap aboard required only a moment. My friend then ran up the British flag and ordered the American Band to play “God Save the King.” I should have stated that this vessel carried all the musical instruments of Hull’s army besides much of the personal baggage of his men. This was the first prize of the war and it was taken by a young French Canadian.[2]

Lieutenant Rolette fought bravely in War of 1812 battles that often drove him onto dangerous shoals, and his pistol shot at the taking of the Cuyahoga may have been the starting shot of the war. Besides the Cuyahoga, Lt. Rolette also captured over a dozen other ships during the war, including boats and bateaux.

The capture of the Cuyahoga was not the last time that the Americans would encounter Provincial Marine Lieutenant Frederic Rolette. Lieutenant Rolette entered the Royal Navy as a young boy, was wounded at the Battle of the Nile in 1799, and also fought at Trafalgar in 1805. He took a commission as a second lieutenant in the Provincial Marine in October 1807, and commanded the Brig General Hunter until the Royal Navy arrived at Fort Malden in 1813. He also played an important role in the defense of the River Canard in July 1812 and at the capture of Detroit in August 1812. He commanded a Marine contingent during the Battle of Frenchtown in January 1813, where he once again was badly wounded.


Lieutenant Rolette Helps Capture Detroit

They refused to surrender
They chose to stand their ground
We opened then our guns
And gave them fire all around.

The Yankee boys began to fear
And their blood to run cold
To see us marching forward
So courageous and bold.

Their general sent a flag of truce
For quarter then they call:
“Hold your hand, brave British boys,
I fear you’ll slay us all.”

“Our town is at your command
Our garrison likewise.”
They brought their arms and grounded them
Right down before our eyes.

From the 1812 campfire ballad, “Come All ye Bold Canadians”

Lieutenant Rolette was present at the capture of Detroit in August 1812. On July 5, 1812, General Hull and his army arrived in Detroit and by July 12, 1812, General Hull and his forces had crossed the Detroit River between Detroit and Sandwich above Fort Amherstburg in an invasion of Upper Canada. General Hull issued a proclamation assuring Canadians that “I come to protect and not to injure you.”[3]

The American Army was twice the size of the British detachment so when the Essex Militia stationed in Sandwich met them at a bridge over the River Canard on July 16, 1812, the Americans pushed back the British. The British withdrew to Amherstburg, but General Hull worried about his supply lines and lack of heavy artillery to batter Fort Amherstburg, so he did not follow up his victory. The Americans set up camp at Francois Baby’s farm on the Detroit River and General Hull issued a proclamation that convinced about 500 Canadian Militiamen to desert. The Americans followed the British towards Amherstburg, but Canadian ships anchored near the mouth of the River Canard and British troops and Indians stopped the Americans from advancing to Amherstburg. General Hull wanted to use his large guns against Fort Malden at Amherstburg, so he delayed the attack for two weeks while the guns were being readied.

General Hull Struggles to Supply His Army


The British were not yet strong enough to push the Americans off Canadian soil, so they focused their military efforts against Hull’s supply lines. Groups of British regulars, Canadian Militia and Indians fanned out from Fort Amherstburg, jeopardizing American communication and supply lines on the west bank of the Detroit River. They attacked two key American supply lines and in early August 1812, Captain Henry Brush led an American relief column from the River Raisin in Monroe to Detroit, bringing in cattle and other supplies to General Hull’s Army. Captain Brush sent a messenger to General Hull who was encamped at the Canadian town of Sandwich, near present day Windsor, Ontario. The message advised him that Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and some of his warriors had crossed the Detroit River and advanced to the vicinity of Brownstown, and that British regulars were probably escorting and advising him.[4]

The American casualties in the Battle of Brownstown included 18 men killed, 12 wounded and 70 men missing. The Indians lost one chief. The skirmish outside of Brownstown did not turn the tide of the war, but it did reveal that the American supply line to Ohio was not secure and convinced General Hull that the British and Indian forces outnumbered him, a conviction that would ultimately lead to the surrender of Detroit to the British.[5]

Adam Muir and Tecumseh at Monguagon

For days after the Battle of Brownstown, the British forces stayed in place, anticipating another American force that had not materialized. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas St. George had sent in reinforcements so that now the British numbered nearly four hundred, but days of inactivity and depleted rations had caused Adam Muir to order his force back into their boats and return to Fort Malden. Suddenly, Tecumseh galloped up and told Muir about another detachment of Americans approaching. Tecumseh planned another ambush, this time close to the Indian village of Monguagon. The odds seemed to be in favor of the 600 American soldiers, including an artillery unit which would be pitted against Muir’s 400 British militiamen and Tecumseh’s Indian soldiers.[6]

On August 8, another American force marched toward Monroe on a mission to reach Hull’s supply train at River Raisin and escort it to Detroit. Near Monguagon, American Scouts ran into the British and Indian force of about 400 men, led by Captain Adam Muir and Tecumseh. The British and Indians blocked the road south and Lieutenant Colonel James Miller quickly mustered his Americans. In a running battle, the Americans drove the British and Indians back through Monguagon until the British retreated across the Detroit River in canoes and rowboats.

During the following week, Major General Isaac Brock, acting Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada docked at Amherstburg with reinforcements. The deserting militiamen returned and Tecumseh and Brock designed a plan to attack Detroit. The British reoccupied Sandwich and started to shell Detroit. On August 16, they crossed the Detroit River and the British and Militia fanned out to the southwest of Detroit and Tecumseh’s native warriors scattered into the woods west and north of Detroit. Their combined strength- approximately 2,000 strong-almost matched the strength of Hull’s remaining forces. A thoroughly demoralized Hull surrendered Detroit on August 16, 1812.

Hull’s surrender gave the British several unanticipated advantages. The British confiscated cannons, muskets and supplies stored at Detroit to equip and feed the Canadian Militia and their Indian Allies. The lack of an American Army reduced the threat to Fort Amherstburg and southwest Upper Canada and paved the way for the British and Canadians to occupy Michigan territory. Now that Brock had secured his flank, he could shift his forces away from the Detroit River region to the Niagara Frontier. Colonel Henry Procter of the 41st Regiment inherited Brock’s command and a military conundrum: how to hold Detroit and Michigan territory with very limited forces – the very same question that Hull had pondered.

Captain Brush asked General Hull to send him troops from Detroit to protect his supply column and on August 4, 1812, Major Thomas Van Horne, commander, and 200 Ohio militia marched south down the road they had just cut through the Black Swamp to bring supplies to Detroit. As Major Van Horne and his men crossed Brownstown Creek, three miles north of the village, Tecumseh and 24 of his Indian combatants ambushed one of the supply columns. Amidst the confusion of crackling rifles, flitting shadows and revolving battle lines the Americans began to retreat. The Indians chased the Americans as far as the Ecorse River before they melted into the woods and the Americans returned to Detroit.

The American casualties in the Battle of Brownstown included 18 men killed, 12 wounded and 70 men missing. The Indians lost one chief. The skirmish outside of Brownstown did not turn the tide of the war, but it did reveal that the American supply line to Ohio was not secure and convinced General Hull that the British and Indian forces outnumbered him, a conviction that would ultimately lead to the surrender of Detroit to the British.[7]

For days after the Battle of Brownstown, the British forces stayed in place, anticipating another American force that had not materialized. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas St. George had sent in reinforcements so that now the British numbered nearly four hundred, but days of inactivity and depleted rations had caused Adam Muir to order his force back into their boats and return to Fort Malden. Suddenly, Tecumseh galloped up and told Muir about another detachment of Americans coming. Tecumseh planned another ambush, this time close to the Indian village of Monguagon. The odds seemed to be in favor of the 600 American soldiers, including an artillery unit which would be pitted against Muir’s 400 British militiamen and Tecumseh’s Indian soldiers.

On August 8, another American force marched toward Monroe on a mission to reach Hull’s supply train at River Raisin and escort it to Detroit. Near Monguagon, American Scouts ran into the British and Indian force of about 400 men, led by Captain Adam Muir and Tecumseh. The British and Indians blocked the road south and Lieutenant Colonel James Miller quickly mustered his Americans. In a running battle, the Americans drove the British and Indians back through Monguagon until the British retreated across the Detroit River in canoes and rowboats.

General Hull Surrenders Detroit

General William Hull

During the following week, Major General Isaac Brock, acting Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada docked at Amherstburg with reinforcements. The deserting militiamen returned and Tecumseh and Brock designed a plan to attack Detroit. The British reoccupied Sandwich and started to shell Detroit. On August 16, they crossed the Detroit River and the British and Militia fanned out to the southwest of Detroit and Tecumseh’s native warriors scattered into the woods west and north of Detroit. Their combined strength- approximately 2,000 strong-almost matched the strength of Hull’s remaining forces. A thoroughly demoralized Hull surrendered Detroit on August 16, 1812.

Hull’s surrender gave the British several unanticipated advantages. The British confiscated cannons, muskets and supplies stored at Detroit to equip and feed the Canadian Militia and their Indian Allies. The lack of an American Army reduced the threat to Fort Amherstburg and southwest Upper Canada and paved the way for the British and Canadians to occupy Michigan territory. Now that Brock had secured his flank, he could shift his forces away from the Detroit River region to the Niagara Frontier. Colonel Henry Procter of the 41st Regiment inherited Brock’s command and a military conundrum: how to hold Detroit and Michigan territory with very limited forces – the very same question that Hull had pondered.


Battles of the River Raisin


The muffled drums sad roll  has beat,

The soldier’s last tattoo!

No more on life’s parade shall meet

that brave and fearless few;

On fame’s eternal camping ground,

Their silent tears are spread

And Glory guards with solemn round

the bivouac of the dead.”

Theodore O’Hara

The Bivouac of the Dead

The Americans did not allow Hull’s surrender to demoralize them. They built a second North Western Army with William Henry Harrison, Governor of Indiana Territory, in command. Governor Harrison planned a winter campaign to regain lost territory and to attack the British at Amherstburg, hoping that ice on the Detroit River would encase the British vessels and serve as a bridge for his 4,000- man army. General Harrison and the British commander, General Procter, and their forces clashed at the Battle of Frenchtown on January 22, 1813. Although the battle was hard fought with heavy losses on both sides, especially of Kentucky volunteers, Procter and his troops prevailed. The next day the Indians massacred wounded American prisoners, creating enough American outrage to ensure their inevitable defeat. A detachment of the Provincial Marine, numbering 28 men of all ranks and acting as artillerymen actively participated in the Battle of Frenchtown. They suffered over 50 percent casualties with one man killed and sixteen wounded.[8]

A story in Michigan Pioneer Collections tells the reaction of an old Indian living in Frenchtown to the Kentucky troops. He had previously fought in the battles between the Indians and the Ohio troops under General Edward Tupper and soldiers from the same unit came to fight at Frenchtown. He exclaimed, “Huh, Mericans come. Suppose Ohio men come. We give them another chase.”

He walked to his cabin door, smoking, apparently unconcerned and looked at the troops forming the battle lines.  Then he looked again. “Kentuck, by God!”  He picked up his gun and fled into the woods.[9]

The Battle of Lake Erie


Sunset at the Amherstburg Navy Yard by Peter Rindlisbacher. After their defeat in the Battle of Lake Erie, the British moved their new Upper Lakes naval base to Penetanguishene on Lake Huron.

The British had to control Lake Erie to win the War of 1812, and they faced a severe supply problem in maintaining this control. The region around Lake Erie and the Detroit River did not produce enough crops and livestock to feed General Procter’s troops, the British sailors on Lake Erie or the multitude of Tecumseh’s warriors and their families gathered at Amherstburg. The British maintained their control of Lake Erie from June 1812 until July 1813, when the American fleet that Commodore Perry was building at Presque Isle became a deciding factor in the War.

In the spring of 1813, the Provincial Marine proved itself once again as an effective transport service when it carried General Henry Procter’s force of Regulars and Militia across Lake Erie to besiege the American base of Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, Ohio. Over 500 Regulars embarked on the Queen Charlotte, General Hunter, Chippewa, Mary, Nancy and Miamis, and 462 Essex Militia were loaded onto numerous bateaux. The Marine also shipped large stores and large caliber cannons to bombard the fort. The operation and one later in July did not defeat the Americans, but the officers and men of the Provincial Marine were an important part of the campaign.

On September 10, 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry led a fleet of nine American ships to defeat a squadron of six British warships at the Battle of Lake Erie in Put-in-Bay, Ohio. This was the first unqualified defeat of a British naval squadron in American history.

Lt. Rolette recovered sufficiently enough to take part in the Battle of Lake Erie and took over command of the Lady Prevost when the Royal Navy Commander Lieutenant Edward Buchan was incapacitated.  Severely wounded in the Battle of Lake Erie, Lt. Rolette spent the rest of the war in an American prisoner of war camp.

A Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship Named in Lt. Rolette’s Honor


At the end of the war, Lt. Rolette returned to Quebec City and his fellow citizens gave him a hero’s welcome and a fifty-guinea sword of honor in recognition of his meritorious service to his county. Never completely recovering from his many battle wounds, 46-year-old Lt Rolette died on March 17, 1831. He is buried in Saint Charles Cemetery in Quebec City.

In 2015, the Canadian national defense minister Jason Kenney announced that an Arctic Offshore Patrol ship was named in honor of Lt. Rolette in recognition of his service to his country. Jeff Watson, parliamentary secretary to the minister of transport and member of parliament from Essex, Ontario made a parallel announcement in Windsor, Ontario.

According to his naval biography, there is no known image or painting of Lieutenant Rolette, but the Canadian government named an Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship in his honor



[1] Milo Milton Quaife, editor. War on the Detroit: The Chronicles of Thomas Vercheres de Boucherville and the Capitulation by an Ohio Volunteer (Chicago: The Lakeside Press, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Co., Christmas 1940) p. 77-78.

[2] . A biography of Frederick Rolette is included in the biographies on the River Raisin Battlefield Website.

[3] James J. Talman, Basic Documents in Canadian History (Toronto: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1959)p. 78.

[4] The Battle at Brownstown: American and British accounts, Columbian Centinel, September 12, 1812. Parks Canada Teacher Resources Centre: file://A:\americanindians_1812_htm

[5] Ibid.

[6] Alec R. Gilpin, The Territory of Michigan, 1805-1837 (Michigan State University Press, 1970)p. 13-32.

[7] Alec R. Gilpin, The Territory of Michigan, 1805-1837 (Michigan State University Press, 1970)p. 13-32.

[8] The American Invasion of Canada:  The War of 1812’s First Year. Pierre Berton.

[9] Michigan Pioneer Collections, 1907. “The River Raisin Massacre and Dedication of Monuments,” 1907, p. 210.

Sandy Antal. A Wampum1998. Denied.  Carelton University Press, 1998.

Alec R. Gilpin, The Territory of Michigan, 1805-1837 .Michigan State University Press, 1970

John R. Elting, Amateurs, To Arms! A Military History of the War of 1812. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1991.

Donald R. Hickey. Don’t Give Up the Ship! Myths of the War of 1812. University of Illinois Press, 2006.

Ralph Naveaux. Invaded on all Sides. The River Raisin National Battlefield Park Visitor Center.

Michigan Pioneer Collections, 1907. “The River Raisin Massacre and Dedication of Monuments,” 1907, p. 200-238.

The War of 1812 Website, Bob Garcia Paper.

Ontario History, Volumes 9-12 by the Ontario Historical Society.

“We Lay There Doing Nothing”: John Jackson’s Recollection of the War of 1812 Edited by Jeff L. Patrick.  Indiana Magazine of History.

George and Jacob Countryman: Two Dundee Soldiers on the Sultana


A Kentucky pond, an Alabama Railroad trestle, and four exploding steamship boilers impacted the lives of several Monroe County men as violently as the Civil War they had helped to fight and win and the Southern prison camps they had survived.

Father and Son Soldiers

The sights, smells, and sounds of home marched with Monroe County soldiers as their footsteps slowed over checkerboard fields and they turned for one last wave at family figures silhouetted in doorways. The smells of home- pigpen, hay mow, lilac bushes, blacksmith forges, bread baking, mingled into a home fire bouquet. The sounds of home, voices of mothers, fathers, sweethearts, were soon drowned out by marching feet, drills, battles, and the cries of the wounded and dying.

George A. Countryman and his son Jacob H. Countryman, of Dundee, Michigan carried the sights, smells, and sounds of home as solidly as their knapsacks from Michigan to Kentucky and Alabama battlefields and the mists over the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers near Cahaba Prison in Alabama. They    both served in Company H of the 18th Michigan Infantry, Jacob enlisting on August 5, 1862, and his father George enlisting as a musician on August 10, 1862. George left his wife Margaret Gordon Countryman and their children including his daughter Margaret Theresa Countryman (Spaulding) tending the home hearth back in Dundee. According to the newspaper account of his death, Jacob eventually had a wife and two children, but records show that he enlisted at 18 years old as a single man. [1]

In the last weeks of September 1862, George and Jacob Countryman and a number of their comrades in the 18th Michigan Infantry were determined to defeat the Confederate Rebels in Kentucky and go home to their families. They found themselves facing equally determined Confederate soldiers in skirmishes at Athens and Sulphur Creek Trestle in Alabama and at Snow’s Pond in Kentucky.

Captured in Kentucky and Alabama


The Snow’s Pond skirmish, one of only two to take place between Union and Confederate soldiers in Boone County, Kentucky, erupted on September 25, 1862, when Confederates General Kirby-Smith and Colonel Basil Duke with the backing of John Hunt Morgan’s Second Kentucky Cavalry followed their orders to slow the Union forces as they moved South.

Union General Henry M. Judah and his Union soldiers advanced into Kentucky, occupying positions between Florence and Falmouth and camping around Snow’s Pond. On September 25, 1862, Colonel Basil Duke’s Confederate soldiers raided the Union camps in Walton and a little North of Snow’s Pond, capturing about 65 Union prisoners.

In a letter dated September 25, 1862, Brigadier General Quincy A. Gillmore reported what happened near Snow’s Pond Kentucky to his fellow Brigadier General A.J. Smith who commanded the U.S. forces near Covington, Kentucky. General Gillmore reported an attack on Union lines at 11 o’clock that morning by over 500 rebel cavalry with one field piece. The Confederates attacked pickets, capturing several small posts.

Fifty Union soldiers were missing.  General Gillmore wrote that “I am in hopes that some of them will make their appearance. They disappeared (as suddenly as they came up) toward Crittenden. I learned their number from parties who met them on the Crittenden road. It is doubtless the identical party that I have heard of before, numbering 508. I am gratified that more cavalry are coming, and I wish they were here now. It is next to impossible to resist these sudden dashes with infantry, and my pickets will be in constant danger of being driven in unless I have enough mounted force to scour the country for miles around. “

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Q. A. Gillmore

Brigadier-General, Commanding [2]

According to Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War, George, Joel, and Jacob Countryman were captured at the skirmish at Snow’s Pond and paroled shortly after the battle. It is certain that George Countryman rejoined his regiment because the Adjutant General’s Report states that George Countryman was taken prisoner at Athens and he is listed as one of the prisoners at Cahaba. He was exchanged on April 22, 1865 at Vicksburg, Mississippi. He survived the Sultana disaster and was treated at Washington for scalds to his head and shoulder, and he was discharged June 22, 1865, at Detroit, Michigan.  [3]

On Thursday, October 2, 1862, the Monroe Commercial reported that about 400 Rebel Cavalrymen captured 53 soldiers from 18th Michigan Infantry while the soldiers were on picket duty on the road from Covington to Louisville, Kentucky. Jacob H. Countryman of Dundee and Joel Countryman of Dundee were on the list of captured soldiers. Jacob and Joel are not listed in the Cahaba records, but it is reasonable to assume that they too rejoined their regiment and might have been at Athens. Their records state they were taken prisoner and paroled shortly after the battle and both were mustered out on June 26, 1865, at Nashville, Tennessee.[4]

Sulphur Creek Trestle-Athens


From September 23-25, 1864 Confederate and Union soldiers clashed in Limestone County Alabama, near Athens. In September 164, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest mustered his cavalry force into northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee with the goal of disrupting the supply chain of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Army in Georgia. General Bedford Forest’s soldiers advanced toward Athens on the afternoon September 23, 1864, and the two armies clashed five miles north of Athens. By evening, the Confederates controlled the town and the Union men retreated to Fort Henderson.

On the morning of September 24, 1864 with a Confederate artillery barrage as a backdrop, General Forrest convinced Union commander Colonel Wallace Campbell that his forces numbered 1,000-10,000 soldiers and that he would be wise to surrender. Colonel Campbell surrendered the fort and its garrison, but almost as soon as he surrendered Jonas Elliott and his force of approximately 350 men from the 18th Michigan and 102nd Ohio regiments arrived on the train from Decatur to reinforce him. Another battle took place, and after the Union regiments suffered over 100 casualties they surrendered to the Confederates.[5]

After his victory at Athens, General Nathan Bedford Forrest advanced about six miles north of the town along the railroad, with the goal of destroying a strategic trestle at Sulphur Creek. A force of 1,000 Union soldiers, a fort, and two blockhouses guarded the Sulphur Creek trestle.

Confederates manned their artillery and bombarded the fort at Sulphur Creek trestle on the morning of September 25th, 1864, and since the Union soldiers had built the fort below the tops of the surrounding hills the fort couldn’t withstand the bombardment. At least 200 Union soldiers, including their commander, Colonel William Hopkins Lathrop, were killed and the remaining 900 soldiers had surrendered by noon. After destroying the trestle and blockhouses, the Confederates reported no losses. They transferred the Union prisoners to prisons at Macon and Andersonville, Georgia, and Cahaba, Alabama[6]

Detained at Cahaba Prison

Cahaba Prison

In the 1850s, when Colonel Samuel M. Hill built a red brick warehouse as a part of a group of storage buildings for the Cahaba, Marion, and Greensborough Railroad, he didn’t visualize it crowded with Union prisoners. After the railroad failed in the 1850s, he abandoned the warehouse, but by the summer of 1862, Confederate authorities had visualized a prison in the warehouse. By January 1864, the Confederates were well along in their plans for a permanent prison at Cahaba.

Cahaba warehouse-prison stood on the banks of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers in the east end of the city of Cahaba, Alabama. Originally planned to hold 500 prisoners, over 5,000 Union soldiers had been packed inside its high brick walls and twelve-foot-high wide plank fence between 1863 and 1865. A leaky roof covered its 15,000 square foot main building and four open windows coaxed pale sun light inside that scattered designs on the bare earthen floor. Other decrepit buildings provided little shelter from the weather.

The prison yard, measuring about 35×46 feet, served as an exercise and gathering place for prisoners and also functioned as the cook yard. Guards paced the elevated walkway that extended around the outside fence and two small cannons protruding from two portholes in the north end of the stockade wall backed up the guards.

Prisoners lived in buildings without bedding, sleeping on bare floors and trying to keep warm from the heat of one fireplace. The buildings couldn’t be centrally heated, so the Confederates allowed open fires on the floors. An artesian well, located 200 yards outside of the prison wall, provided water for the prisoners. An open trench ran from the well which was extremely polluted by sewer runoff from the town and the prison itself ran into the prison. Several prisoners later wrote that the rivers flooded often, covering the building floors to a depth of one to four feet.

.Two men ran the prison, Captain H.A.M. Henderson, a Methodist minister, and Lt. Colonel Sam Jones. Living his Christian principles, Captain Henderson treated prisoners fairly, earning a low Cahaba death rate compared to most of the other Confederate prison camps. During Captain Henderson’s tenure, Confederate authorities established a hospital at the Bell Tavern Hotel, two blocks away from the prison to combat the increasing rate of sickness. The most common illnesses were scurvy, dysentery, and chronic diarrhea. Even with a hospital, lice, rats, and dysentery caused problems for the prisoners. Access to medical supplies, firewood, and food contributed to the lower death rate of the Cahaba prisoners.

Finally, the Union prisoners at Cahaba received some joyful news. General Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. The War had ended and they were going home. They boarded a steamer called the Sultana docked in Memphis, Tennessee, most counting the hours until the Mississippi currents carried them North

William N. Goodrich Tells His Story

William N. Goodrich was born in Whiteford Township, Monroe County, Michigan, on November 21, 1842. He enlisted in Company E of the 18th Michigan Infantry on July 31, 1862. After spending some time in camp at Hillsdale, the regiment tramped through Kentucky, spending the winter at Lexington. In April-May of 1863, the soldiers boarded railroad cars to the front, but only got as far as Nashville, Tennessee. At Nashville, William said that they spent two or three days in the “Zollicoffer Building,” killing lice that were thicker than fleas on a dog. From the Zollicoffer Building the soldiers went into camp for a “long year,” until the welcome news came that they were finally being ordered to the front. He wrote in his Sultana survivor memoir that sometime in May or June 1864, they arrived at Decatur, Alabama in the night and pitched their tents just outside the city.

William reported that “ On the 23d of September it was reported that a band of “Johnnies” were tearing up the track near Athens, Ala., and a detail of about 400 men was made from our brigade and boarded a train of flat cars some time in the night. Crossing the river and waiting until daylight, we then proceeded as far as we could on the cars, then going on foot for a short distance we were suddenly fired upon by the enemy. The firing was returned by us and the enemy fled. Our orders were to go to Athens, so we went on. Getting in sight of Athens, what did we see? “Johnnies” all around us. Hundreds of them in our front and rear. We fought with them the best we could and tried to get to the fort, as our dear old stars and stripes were still flying. But alas! as we had got almost there the gates swung open and out marched our boys in blue. What could we do but surrender? It was with long faces that a flag of truce was sent to the commander that we had surrendered. Soon we were surrounded by the “Johnnies,” asking for something to eat. It seemed to me as though they were about starved, and we soon found that our captor was Gen. Forrest. When I heard this I thought my time had come, as the massacre at Fort Pillow was fresh in my memory.

We did not remain long at Athens but were hurried off to a Southern prison, Cahaba, Ala., where we were fed on corn meal for almost six months when the glad news came that we were to leave; some thought for Andersonville, others thought for home. It proved to be the latter. After riding in dirty box cars and then marching, we arrived at Big Black river on the 21st of March, 1865, and remained in camp, which was four miles from Vicksburg, for three or four weeks. Then the glad news came that we were to go North and be exchanged. We marched to Vicksburg and went on board the steamer Sultana.” [7]

The Sultana Explodes and Sinks


The facts about the sinking of the Sultana are as stark as the conditions of the Andersonville and Cahaba prison camps where the paroled Union soldiers had spent the remainder of the war. The soldiers were war casualties-sick, starved, and often tortured- before they boarded the Sultana. In fact, they crowded the decks to creaking because they were desperate to reach northern hospitals for treatment or yearning to reach homes and people they hadn’t seen for painful years. Many of the soldiers were walking skeletons, and many boarded in litters carried by faithful friends.

Michigan Poet Will Carleton graphically described the paroled Union soldiers in his poem, “The Sinking of the Sultana”:

On her decks, all bright and smiling, stood a band of haggard men,

Who had smarted, prayed, and fasted in gaunt hunger’s dreariest den;

Who had tasted war’s hard fortunes, in a hostile prison pen.[8]

The soldiers kept climbing aboard the Sultana, even when Captain J. Cass Mason announced that the ship was overloaded and he could not board another soldier. The bright and smiling haggard men were anxious to start their journey home as quickly as they could. They  ignored Captain Mason.

Captain Mason had already established a controversial career before he became captain of the Sultana. His wife, Rowena M. Dozier, belonged to a prominent St. Louis family, and his father-in-law was a prominent southern sympathizer. The Federal government confiscated Captain Mason’s steamer Rowena in February 1863 for smuggling Confederate contraband and he severed the relationship with his father-in-law, James Dozier, and all Confederates after that. He became the captain of the Belle Memphis and earned a reputation as careful riverboat pilot which lasted until the Sultana explosion. Built in Cincinnati in 1862, Captain Mason and a few investors purchased the Sultana in 1864, and put her to work transporting passengers and freight down the Mississippi River.

With the Civil War ended, the U.S. government made the repatriation of Union prisoners of war from the South a priority. Captain Mason saw his chance to make a profit and he readily agreed to carry Union soldiers from Southern prisons for five dollars per person and ten dollars per officer. The Sultana had a capacity to carry about 300 passengers with an additional 85 crew members.

The Sultana left the Memphis dock loaded with nearly 2,300 passengers, most of them soldiers. Although Captain Mason decried the overloading of the Sultana, he embarked with the crowded steamship determined to keep to his schedule. Several officers and crew members urged him not to continue the voyage, but when he did they stayed aboard. Some knew about the poor condition of the Sultana’s boilers, one of them even repaired with a temporary patch. When the Sultana reached a point about seven miles upriver from Memphis, the boilers exploded at about 2 o’clock on the morning of Thursday, April 27, 1865. The center sections of the steamship exploded, bursting into flames scalding soldiers and civilians alike, and throwing many of them into the water.

Accounts differ as to the number of Sultana casualties. Some accounts say that 1,500 people died, others claim 1,700 people died; others, 1,800. At least 600 of victims drowned.  Captain Mason, estimated to be just 35 years old, and most of his crew perished. Survivors said that they saw Captain Mason on deck desperately trying to save passengers struggling in the water by throwing them pillows and other buoyant items that would carry them above the strong current.

Casualties and Controveries

For a time, several historic events submerged the magnitude of the sinking of the Sultana in the Mississippi River just above Memphis, Tennessee on April 27, 1865 as deeply as the ship sank into Mississippi waters. General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate Army at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865, ending the Civil War. John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, creating chaos and a manhunt for Booth and his cohorts which ended with Booth’s capture and execution on April 26, 1865.  The Sultana blew up the next day, when people were still reeling from the events of the days before the latest tragedy.

The same controversy and uncertainty swirled around the casualty figures and the reasons for the demise of the Sultana and the deaths of so many Union soldiers and civilians. On May 19, 1865, Commissary General of Prisoners Brigadier General William Hoffman after investigating the sinking of the Sultana reported that 1,238 soldiers, passengers, and crew died. The Bureau of Military Justice set the death toll at 1,100. In 1880, the 51st Congress and the War Department, Pensions and Records Department estimated the Sultana losses to be 1,259. The United States Customs Service put the casualty figure at 1,547. [9]

Soldiers aboard the Sultana and others on shore spoke darkly of coal torpedoes, Confederate sabotage, and soulless wealthy men sacrificing the Sultana for a profit. The Federal Government held hearings about the Sultana and determined that Confederate sabotage did not sink the Sultana and its officers were not responsible either. They concluded that the combination of low water levels and water rising and falling between the four boilers and the faulty temporary patch to a leaky boiler caused them to explode. The report also stated that the ship’s quarter master Reuben Hatch, motivated by greed and politics, allowed the Sultana to be loaded beyond its normal capacity.

William Goodrich Continues His Story

“We were a jolly crowd, but our joy was of short duration. Everything went along smoothly until we were about eight miles above Memphis, when the explosion took place by which so many lives were lost. As for myself I had no thoughts of dying just then, so I looked around among the wreck and found a box, carried it to the side of the boat and waited until the coast was clear; then threw it overboard and jumped in after it. It seemed to me as though I was going down to the bottom, but such was not the case.

Soon coming to the surface of the water I seized the box and started down the river for shore, or any place where I could get out of the water. After floating and swimming about four miles I landed safely on a small willow tree. Soon after getting nicely fixed on the branches, making myself as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, a man by the name of Williams, of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry, came floating along and caught hold of a log that was fast to the tree. After watching him a few minutes I descended from my perch and helped him upon the log, held him there for two hours, and was rewarded by seeing him come to life again, as he was as near dead as any one I have seen who was not dead.

Early in the morning of the 27th of April boats were seen coming up the river searching for the victims of the disaster. Some of the poor fellows were hanging to the trees, some were on logs, and some were found in almost every conceivable place. At about eight o’clock I was picked up, taken on board a steamer and about twelve o’clock landed at Memphis. Remaining there four days, I again started for the north, this time with fear, thinking that we might meet with the same catastrophe, but we landed safely at Cairo, Ill., there boarded the train for “Camp Chase,” Ohio. Arriving there I remained two weeks and then was sent to my native State, where I was discharged from the service.” [10]

William N. Goodrich moved to Menominee, Michigan, after the war and worked as a mail carrier. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery, Menomonee, Michigan.

A Few Fellow Prisoners of George Countryman Captured at Athens and aboard the Sultana from Monroe County

  • Jasper P. Decker. Enlisted at Whiteford, Michigan, in Company L, 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics. Killed. He is buried in West Adrian Cemetery, Lenawee County, Michigan.
  • Charles DeLand. Whiteford. Co. K, 18th Survived the Sultana.
  • Miles Frink. Milan Co. H, 18th He died in the Sultana Explosion.
  • George C. Haight, age 44. Drummer in Co. D, 7th, Michigan Infantry. Buried in London Township Cemetery, London, Monroe County, Michigan. He survived the Sultana.
  • Daniel Monroe. C. K, 18th Michigan Infantry. Survived the Sultana.
  • Thomas Hinds. Whiteford. Co. K, 18th Killed in Sultana Explosion. He is buried in Association Cemetery, Sylvania, Lucas County, Ohio.
  • Alexander Hoy. Ash, Monroe County. Co. K, 18th Michigan Infantry. He survived the Sultana explosion. He is buried in Mt. Elliott Cemetery, Detroit.
  • Lemuel Lattin. Frenchtown, Monroe County. Company K, 18th He survived the Sultana explosion.
  • Andrew J. McEldowney. Monroe. Company K, 18th Michigan Infantry. Killed in Sultana explosion.
  • Anthony R. Metta. Monroe. Co. K, 18th Michigan Infantry. Killed in Sultana Explosion.
  • Harrison D. Plank. Dundee. Co. H, 18th Killed in Sultana explosion. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.
  • Alexander Poupard. Frenchtown, Monroe County. Co. K, 18th Michigan Infantry. He survived the explosion of the Sultana.
  • Samuel Poupard. Frenchtown. Monroe. Co. K., 18th Michigan Infantry. He survived the Sultana. He died in 1880 and is buried in Saint Joseph Cemetery, Monroe, Michigan.
  • Jacob L. Slick. Lambertville. Co. A., 18th Michigan Infantry. He survived the Sultana. He died on June 4, 1908 and he is buried in Lambertville Cemetery.
  • Samuel K. Shettleroe. Vienna, Monroe County. Co. K, 18th Michigan Infantry. Survived the Sultana.
  • Isodore Shettleroe. Erie, Monroe County. Co. K, 18th Michigan Infantry. Survived the Sultana. He is buried in Los Angeles National Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
  • John Shettleroe. Erie, Monroe County. Co. K, 18th Michigan Infantry. Survived the Sultana.
  • David L. Snyder. Dundee. Co. H., 18th Killed in Sultana Explosion.
  • George Stump. Erie, Michigan. Co. K, 18th Michigan Infantry. Survived the Sultana explosion. He moved to Toledo, Ohio and died on April 7, 1908. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Toledo, Ohio.
  • Vincent Sulier. Whiteford. Co. K, 18th Survived the Sultana. Buried in Lakeview Cemetery, Gray Eagle, Minnesota.
  • Abram Wiechard. Bedford, Monroe County. Co. K. 18th Michigan Infantry. Survived the Sultana.
  • Nelson D. Wright. Exeter, Monroe County. K. 18th Michigan Infantry. Survived the Sultana.

This is just a partial list of Monroe and Monroe County soldiers. Soldiers from other Michigan counties and from other states including Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Kentucky complete the roll of soldiers on the Sultana who were lost or saved.  [11]

George and Jacob Countryman Come Home to Dundee

The 1870 United States Federal Census records that George Countryman, age 50, occupation farmer, lived in Dundee, Michigan, with his wife Margaret Countryman, 45. Their children Jacob, 25; Louisa, 23; Rosa, 11, and Cora, 8, lived with them. Their daughter Margaret born in 1852, had married Sylvanus Spaulding, Jr. in 1869.

Jacob Countryman lived at home with his parents and sisters for about seven years after he and his father returned from fighting for the Union. Marriage records show that he married Mary A. Taylor on December 14, 1872, and established his own home.

Life in Civil War camps and in Civil War prisons often snarled soldiers in the nets of alcohol and willing women and they sometimes took their habits with them into civilian life. The existence and effects of Post traumatic stress syndrome had not yet appeared on the medical horizon. Many of the returning soldiers didn’t not live happily ever after lives because their bodies had been weakened by sickness and their long imprisonments. Perhaps this is what happened to Jacob Countryman.[12]

An obituary in the archives of the Old Mill Museum in Dundee, Michigan, reveals the last chapter of Jacob Countryman’s story.

Jake Countryman Killed by the Lake Shore Passenger Train.
“Jake Countryman was killed last evening by the Lake Shore train!” was the startling intelligence conveyed about town early Saturday morning last. Jake left town at about 8 o’clock that evening in his usually intoxicated condition, for his home about two miles southeast of the village. Reaching the railroad crossing of Monroe road, just east of village limits, he probably sat down beside the track for a rest, and either fell asleep or was too drunk to realize the approach of the train. He was struck upon the head and hurled several feet from the track. He was quite generally known hereabouts by his habits of dissipation, has lived here from boyhood, and was a soldier in the 18th Mich. Infantry. Leaves a wife and we believe two children, also parents. His funeral occurred Sunday.

Jacob and his father George are buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee, Michigan.

The Sultana Survives

Remnants of the Sultana survived its victims. In 1982, Memphis attorney Jerry O. Potter led a local archaeological expedition with the goal of finding the Sultana wreckage. About four miles from Memphis, Tennessee, he and his workers discovered what they believed to be the wreckage of the Sultana, when they unearthed blackened wooden deck planks and timbers about 32 feet under a soybean field on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River. It seems fitting that the news of their discovery appears in the Blount County Dailey Times with an April dateline. [13]


A Few Books about the Sultana Disaster

Chester D. Berry. Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors. University of Tennessee Press, 2005.

William O. Bryant. Cahaba Prison and the Sultana Disaster. University of Alabama Press, 1990.

Jerry O. Potter. The Sultana Tragedy:  America’s Greatest Maritime Disaster. Pelican Publishing, 1992.

Gene Eric Salecker. Disaster on the Mississippi:  The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865. Naval Institute Press, 1996.


[1] A newspaper story recorded the death of Jacob Countryman on May 1, 1886. He survived Civil War battles and a Confederate POW camp, but was struck by a Lakeshore Train near his home in Dundee.  He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee, and his obituary is on file at the Old Mill Museum in Dundee.

George Countryman is listed as a Sultana Survivor in:  Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, Reverend Chester D. Berry.

Another Countryman, Joel Countryman, is listed in U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles as living in Dundee, Michigan, and enlisting in Company H, 18th Michigan Infantry, at age 19.  He was a prisoner of war, and survived to be mustered out on June 26, 1865 at Nashville, Tennessee.

George Countryman is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

[2] The Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 1 of 2 (Classic Reprint) Paperback – July 11, 2012

[3]   Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War, 1861-1865. Volume 18, 1th Infantry, p. 26.

[4] Monroe Commercial, Thursday, October 2, 1862, p. 3, Column 1

[5]  The Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle

[6] Alabama Historical Marker  – Sulphur Creek Trestle  

[7]  Loss of the Sultana:  Reminisces of the Survivors.  Reverend Chester D. Berry.

[8] The Loss of the Sultana, A War Ballad.  Will Carleton. The Hillsdale Standard, Hillsdale Michigan, January 6, 1869.

[9]  Gene Salecker. Disaster on the Mississippi, the Sultana explosion April 27, 1865. Annapolis, Md:  Naval Institute Press, 1996.

[10] Loss of the Sultana:  Reminisces of the Survivors.  Reverend Chester D. Berry.

[11] Soldiers on the Sultana

[12] The Civil War, Sex, and Soldiers

[13] Blount County Daily Times

Monroe and Monroe County News Briefs – 1847-1923


Hillsdale Whig Standard, Tuesday, March 2, 1847

The Southern Railroad is buried in a snowbank between this place (Hillsdale) and Monroe. We have had no cars since Thursday last and are admonished not to expect them until more moderate weather brings us “aid and comfort” by clearing the track.  We shall probably have a mail when we get it and not much before. A larger body of snow is now upon the ground than previously during the season.  P.S. Since the above was in type, the cars have arrived. The train left Monroe on Friday morning last and arrived here last evening at 6 o’clock. No mail from the East since Saturday.

Hillsdale Whig Standard, August 17, 1847

We regret to find in the Vera Cruz correspondence of the N.O. Evening Mercury of the date July 23 in relation to the health of Major Smith of Monroe in this state: “Our esteemed new quartermaster Major Smith has been ill four or five days back, and down to last night was convalescing from a slight attack of diarrhea and fever. This morning he had relapsed and lies in a critical state, indeed some apprehensions are felt for his recovery.”

Brooklyn Eagle, June 14, 1858

Mrs. Villette of La Salle was buried recently in the Catholic burying ground at Monroe, Michigan.  She was 112 years old at the time of her death. She made her will in the latter part of the last century and what is the most singular, she had outlived all the persons to whom she had bequeathed her property.

Hillsdale Standard, June 5, 1866

A female horse thief was arrested at Raisinville, Monroe County, last week. She was discovered sleeping in a haystack in a backfield where she had two stolen horses taken from Napoleon, Ohio, where she was taken. The woman had stolen them from her former husband from whom she had procured a divorce. The same man had $200 and a gold watch stolen from his home a few days ago. The watch was found with this woman when she was arrested.

Hillsdale Standard, January 14, 1868

10:30 a.m. Sunday School training not a substitute for home instruction. Reverend Henry Safford, Rector of Trinity Church, Monroe.

Hillsdale Standard, September 15, 1868

Charles Wing, son of Talcott E. Wing of Monroe while hunting a few days since, accidentally discharged his gun, the charge passing through his left arm, rendering amputation necessary.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 24, 1875

The First National Bank of Monroe, Michigan was robbed last night. The loss is supposed to be about $10,000.  There is no clue to the robbers.

St. Joseph Herald, February 25, 1876

holly wayne monroe

Sixty piles, each 67 feet long, have been brought for the purpose of making a trestle across a small lake a few miles from that place, to be used as a crossing by the Holly, Wayne, and Monroe Railroad.

St. Joseph Traveler Herald, April 4, 1885

Brunson of the Committee on Peach trees reported that the Monroe Nursery offered peach trees at $40 per thousand.

Bessemer Herald, June 6, 1896

Mr. James Perdue, residing at Monroe, Michigan, was severely afflicted with rheumatism, but received prompt relief from pain by using Chamberlain’s Pain Balm. He says, “At times my back would ache so badly that I could hardly raise up. If I had not gotten relief I would not be here to write these few lines. Chamberlain’s Pain Balm has done me a great deal of good and I feel very thankful for it.”

Bessemer Herald, June 11, 1898

The fiftieth annual convention of the Monroe County Sunday School Association was held in Ida.

Forty of Dundee’s most prominent young men have organized a Light Guard Company. Dr. J,B, Haynes is president.

Wakefield Advocate, November 28, 1914

Monroe.  Walter Knapp, a local contractor had a narrow escape from serious injury when his automobile struck a buggy driven by two Allore lads two miles west of here. Knapp was pinned beneath the machine while the two lads were thrown in the ditch.

Monroe: Toledo News Bee, June 4, 1921

Rites for Soldier

Monroe. Body of Walter Keehn, 23 of Monroe, who died in France from injuries received during the World War, was brought here on Friday to the home of his parents.  Services will be held on Sunday.

World War I
Company B, 338th Infantry

Walter was the son of George and Lena Weber Keehn. He was 27 years old. He lost his life as a soldier serving in the Argonne Drive, death resulting from wounds received in that battle.

Walter enlisted at Camp Custer, Battle Creek, on May 27, 1918, and left with the 85th Division, and in France, transferred to Company B, 338th Infantry. His body arrived in Detroit and was met at the depot by a delegation from the Carl Payson Post, American Legion, and was escorted back to Monroe. Pallbearers were Frank Maurer, Albert Kronback, Russell Weid, Herman Fogg, Robert Mahr, and William Rouselo. Monroe paid their final respect and honored a young soldier who gave his life for our freedom. He was mourned by his loving parents, four brothers, Fred, Frank, Harold, Norman; and four sisters, Margaret, Alice, Harriet and Helen.

Walter was laid to rest at Trinity Lutheran Cemetery, Monroe, Michigan. .Full military honors were given, taps were sounded by Francis Cicotte, and a volley was fired over the grave by a firing squad of eight men from the American Legion. It was one of the largest funerals ever held in Monroe, Mi. In the procession was the Monroe Cornet Band, members of Carl Payson Post, American Legion, and over a hundred automobiles followed the young soldier from the funeral services held at Trinity Lutheran Church, to his final resting place, three years after his death. The streets were lined with people, their heads bowed and hands over their hearts, as the procession passed through the streets of Monroe.

Toledo-News Bee, January 6, 1923 p. 7

Legion Offers its services as Patrol to Find Monroe Firebug

Insurance Dealers Rushed by Owners; Probers Arrive Daily

Monroe, Michigan. January 6, 1923

Oliver J. Golden, Commander of Carl F. Payson Post No 60 of the American Legion, here, has offered to James H. Gilmore of Monroe the services of the post with a view to apprehending the firebug who has been terrorizing this vicinity for more than a month. Members of the post are heartily in accord with the mayor in his effort to bring to punishment the parties guilty of the fire epidemic in Monroe.  Golden intimated that a patrol could be established about the city, if found feasible. The post numbers about 350 active members here.

Seek More Protection

Owing to the volume of business transacted on Thursday afternoon, the Exchange Club was unable to discuss any active campaign against the firebug.  0ny persons are asking for additional insurance according to a member of a local insurance company. The loss to this company from fires the last six months entailed approximately $50,000. From another company it was ascertained that it did a larger volume of business than before the fire epidemic struck Monroe.

Victims are Grouped

All of the ten buildings believed to have been set afire since December 3 are located along the River Raisin, within a block on either side of the stream. The river runs through the heart of the city.

There are about 30 insurance writers in this city. Thus far no clue has been secured. Nearly every day new officers visit the city, and after remaining for some time, depart quietly.


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