History ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 10-26-1976


The paper which follows is a systematic study of the cultural and economic history of a portion of southeast Michigan during the critical phase of the first American period of development. Although a great many published and unpublished sources have addressed them­selves to various aspects of this area during its territorial and early statehood years, there has been curiously little attention directed toward Michigan on a regional basis, or upon attempts to synthesize the many different facets of its physical and social his­tory into a single work. The area of land sales has been especially neglected. It is anticipated that the present discourse will be the first of several to examine the trends and characteristics of settlement within the midwestern United States.

The present. study examines some of the great changes which took place after the great peninsula's tardy entry into the federal political structure. The first thirteen or so years after the crea­tion of the Territory of Michigan in 1805 saw little interest expressed in the new area's progress, and it was not until a handful of pioneers anticipated the great land rush brought about by the opening of the Erie Canal that white habitation and development began in the interior. From that point until the dawn of the Civil War, changes took place which would distinguish it until the end of the nineteenth century. By 1860, statehood had been achieved and much of the wilderness of forest and swamp was transformed into active farmland. The single ­family economic units and the ad hoc political system of the early period were beginning to evolve into more complex interrelationships, and the scramble of the towns and villages for population growth and economic advantage began to give way to a more sedate expansion of the area's potentialities. Because the area of study was almost completely agricultural in nature, it is necessary to scrutinize its topographical systems and soil structure in some detail; under such conditions, the factors of geography and geology rank high in importance.

Before 1860, Michigan's pivotal area was clearly the south­eastern region. Not only were the southeasternmost counties the scene of the first white settlement beyond the Detroit straits, but they assumed a totally different socioeconomic base from that of the older area, one which in time would characterize much of the state as a whole. Surplus agriculture from family farms was to supersede in importance the fur trading and garrison culture of the earlier period, and the middle class Protestants which flocked in after 1820 soon overwhelmed the French Catholic, and the British, social struc­tures. Once the unfavorable landforms of the southeastern region were overcome, the way lay open for the inevitable occupation and settlement of the remainder of the territory.

Six contiguous counties which make up the southern and eastern corner of the modern state have been selected as the area of study. Two of these border upon Lake Erie and the Detroit River. Although their waterfront portions were settled were being hesitantly explored. early, the agricul­tural development of their swampy hinterlands lagged until the Civil War years. The four remaining counties were largely made up of forested wilderness; after a route to them was established, they soon yielded to agrarian usage. Of the four, one has been given special attention. Lenawee county was the first to be scouted, sur­veyed, and to receive significant population before the first major land rush in 1825. It thus led the way in economic growth and in the formation of social institutions at the time when the others were being hesitantly explored. Similarly, it was the first interior county to organize itself politically, down to the township level. As such, it maintained administrative hegemony over much of the rest of the territory throughout the pioneer era. During this time, the various aspects of its social and economic institutions were typical of those of the other pioneer counties of the southeastern region.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

George Winston Smith

Second Committee Member

William M. Dabney

Third Committee Member

Ferenc Morton Szasz

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