History of Lenawee County, Michigan - Chapter 21, Cambridge Township

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CAMBRIDGE TOWNSHIP. That part of Lenawee County which is known as the Township of Cambridge comprises Congressional Township 5, range 2 east, and contains, of course, thirty-six sections of land. It is bounded on the north by Jackson County, on the east by Franklin Township, on the south by Rome Township, and on the west by the Township of Woodstock. This Township is watered by Wolf creek and its branches, the main stream flowing in a southeasterly direction. The surface of the Township is rolling, with many picturesque lakes, giving variety to the landscape. The soil is a sandy loam, occasionally gravelly, and the Township originally consisted of oak openings, with a soil admirably suited for grain and grass. On the line between the Townships of Cambridge and Franklin is one of the most charming of the many beautiful lakes of Lenawee County, but it has been given the unpoetical cognomen, Sand Lake. It has no visible inlet or outlet, and the water supply is supposed to be afforded by subterranean springs. When first seen by white men the lake was two or three feet lower than it is today, but the cause of this phenomenon is a question for the scientist, rather than the historian. Among what may be termed the early settlers of the Township are the following: Rev. Henry Tripp, Rev. William N. Lyster, Dr. Benjamin Workman, and James King. These were in some respects remarkable men, and they exerted considerable influence upon the settlers in that portion of Lenawee County. Rev. Tripp later moved across the line into Franklin Township, and he is given appropriate mention in the chapter devoted to that division of the County.

The Rev. William N. Lyster, a clergyman of the Episcopal Church, an Irishman by birth, was in personal appearance and in his general make-up the very counterpart of the typical pioneer citizen. Delicately formed, reared in luxury and wealth, he was educated for the ministry, and could have occupied any Episcopal pulpit in the country. He was, in fact, rector of Christ church in Detroit for a time, and also at one time preached in Tecumseh. But he became fascinated with the beauty of Sand Lake and its surroundings, and having inherited, wealth, he purchased and at one time owned nearly all the land about the lake. With the culture and education fitting him for what he termed the best society in any country, he was in manners, and in all his life, simple as a child. While he could have received a large salary and occupied a prominent pulpit, he preferred the simple, unostentatious life that he led upon the banks of Sand Lake, to that of any other in the world. There was nothing rough or harsh in his organism, or in his preaching. His sermons were models of persuasive eloquence, and he sometimes wore his clerical robes, but often preached without them. His distinguishing characteristics were simplicity and self-abnegation. Lenawee County has had many noble, Christian men in the ministry, in its numerous churches and sects, but among them all it would be difficult to find the peer of Rev. William N. Lyster in all those qualities which go to make up our highest ideal of what a clergymen should be. He is given further mention on another page, in the chapter devoted to church history.

James King was an Englishman of superior education and acquirements, and it is said that he was a graduate of one of the famous universities in his native country. Falling in love with the lake, in 1835 he purchased land upon its southern border, from the -government, and built a log house upon an eminence commanding a magnificent view. He was a man of fine presence, of cultured mind and extensive learning, had mingled with the best society in his native England, and in knowledge of poetry, literature, and art, had no peer in all the region of country where he established his pioneer habitation. But in that most practical and useful of all arts and acquirements, especially for a man with a wife and children dependent upon him-the art of making a living on a farm, in a new country-he was a failure when compared with some of his neighbors who could scarce read their mother tongue. His accomplished wife, reared as she had been in luxury and wealth, knew absolutely nothing of domestic life or of its requirements, especially as the wife of a farmer without money. Spending, as she did, much of her time in her boat upon the lake, sketching its beautiful banks and hillsides, she doubtless drank in lessons which her more practical sisters, engaged in the varied duties of domestic life, would perhaps have been incapable of receiving. But, while she was feeding her soul with visions of beauty, and deriving comfort and consolation from the study of nature, the children became ragged and almost naked. The lack of practical knowledge finally compelled Mr. King to abandon his farm. It is stated that lie subsequently obtained an appointment as a professor in a Canadian college, and afterward founded the village of Kingsville, in Canada, became wealthy and enjoyed his old age in wealth and affluence. Benjamin Workmen, another of these pioneers, who seemingly was unfitted for the life he had chosen, is given mention in the chapter devoted to Literature and Journalism. The north half of Cambridge Township is somewhat rolling and very hilly in some sections, interspersed with many beautiful, clear lakes, bountifully supplied with fish of several varieties. The soil is generally a sandy and gravelly loam and well adapted to produce all kinds of grain. There is also a fair allowance of marsh lands. The whole north half is what is termed oak openings. The south half is what was called heavy timbered lands, rather level, abounding with large and stately oaks, majestic black walnuts, with what was considered by the early settlers an exhaustless supply of whitewood, sugar maple, and ash timber. From the high lands in the vicinity of the lakes, two small streams of water meander. their course until one helps to form the north branch of the River Raisin, and the other the south tributary of the same stream. The military road was surveyed and laid out by the United States government in 1825, running from Detroit to Chicago and passing through the north part of .this Township, a number of years before any white inhabitant had erected his cabin west of Tecumseh. The records of the United States land office shows that John Gilbert, of Monroe County, New York, entered the first land, 16o acres on section 4, in 1825. One of the commissioners, who assisted in the laying out of this military road, located several thousand acres of land on the line of the road, for a Rochester company, of which Mr. Gilbert was one of the managers. The second lot was purchased in the year 1829 by Isaac Powers, of Washtenaw County. The third lot was taken by Charles Blackmar, July 11, 1831.

The first settler in the Township was Mr. Blackmar, he having erected his house in 1829, fifteen miles from the nearest settlement. Charles Blackmar was born in Massachusetts, Dec. 25, 1784, and upon, coming to Lenawee County chose as his future home a tract of land on sections 6 and 7, in Cambridge Township. He built a log tavern in 1829, and at that time it was the only house between Tecumseh and Jonesville, nearly midway of the "forty-mile woods," so called in those days, between the above-named villages. He was very poor when he came, and lived under a white oak tree for several days. In fact, he commenced "keeping hotel" under this tree the first night after his arrival, and he had several guests, as some travelers came along and were glad of the accommodations, offered. After a few days Mr. Blackmar rolled up a temporary log house, which he lived in and kept hotel for about five years, and he was one of the most popular landlords in the country. In 1834 he commenced the erection of a frame house, but that summer a traveler came along and stopped with him, dying within a few days of cholera, which he contracted in Detroit. Mr. Blackmar nursed him during his brief sickness, and shortly after the stranger's death he, too, was attacked with the dread scourge, and died Aug. 22, 1834. His death caused general mourning throughout the entire settlement, and even the, Indians, with whom he was very friendly, wept like children at the loss of their old friend, The Indians had great respect for him. On one occasion, a petty Pottawatamie chief, Me-ta-aw, came to his house intoxicated and wanted whiskey, undertaking to help himself to it, when Mr. Blackmar threw him out of the house, striking him somewhat severely several times. He gathered himself up and ran away, whooping his loudest. In a few days he returned, sober, and begged for peace and friendship, saying, "I boss Injun, you boss che-mo-ka-man" (white man). Old Baw-Beese was the chief of the Pottawattamies, and often called and ordered his meals, wanting to pay "two shilling like white man." The frame hotel building was finished by Mr. Blackmar's family, and was kept as a hotel for several years. The second public improvement made in the Township was the La Plaisance Bay military road from Monroe, intersecting the Chicago turnpike in Cambridge, and it was laid out in 1832. In 1835-6 the woodman's axe was heard on all sides, with the crash of the falling trees, in place of the howl of the wolf and the bear. The cheerful log house, with its ample fire-place, was erected, roads were opened, clearings were made, corn, potatoes and wheat were planted, and with a little cultivation yielded bountifully. Thus prosperity, with the true and generous hospitality which prevails in all new settlements, united the good citizens in the bonds of friendship and good will to all. The first school house was erected in the east part of the Township, in 1835, on lands where the Springville school house now stands. There was school taught in the west part of the Township in the winter of 1836. Children came a distance of four miles to learn to read and spell. The first practicing physician was Dr. A. N. Moulton who settled in the west part of the Township in 1834. In the fall of 1835 a number of citizens met in council at the inn of Abram Butterfield to give a name to the Township. Among those present were Abram Butterfield, Isaac Powers, William Blackmar, Nathaniel S. Wheeler, Joseph Achins, John Pawson, Paul Geddes, John Stephenson, and John Smith, who have the honor of giving Cambridge its name, which was unanimously ratified by the company present, and afterward by the Territorial legislature. Nathaniel S. Wheeler was born in Amenia, Dutchess County, New York, Sept: 5, 1808. His father, Thomas Wheeler, was born in the same place, Jan. 31, 1783. He owned a farm in Dutchess County and lived there until 1829, when he moved to Seneca County and lived there four years, immigrating to Michigan in 1833. He took tip land in Cambridge and Franklin Townships, arriving here with his family by Indian trail at four o'clock on the afternoon of Sept. 21. His land was known and described as follows : The east half of the east half of section 24, and the east half of the northeast quarter of section 25, in Cambridge; also one-half of the west fraction of section 18, and the west fractional half of section 19, in Franklin. He lived to see the entire farm cleared, fenced, and improved, with large and sufficient barns, sheds, etc., with a very commodious and elegantly finished stone house, located on as beautiful a building spot as can be found. He died Jan. 25, 1871. Nathaniel S. Wheeler was reared a farmer, and all the education he ever received was at a common district school. He remained at home with his father and did his full share of all the work in clearing up and subduing the 500 acres of land his father purchased in this County. He held the plow to "break tip" over three hundred acres of it. In fact, he owned an undivided one-half of the entire property, and in company with his father always worked the farm for the very best results. The land proved to be very productive, although somewhat stony and hilly, but Nathaniel made it a most desirable farm. In 1859 he took a deed of the land, and in 1869 he sold the entire tract to Galusha Case, of Ohio, for $17,000. In the fall of 1870 he purchased the old "Hagaman farm," it being the northwest quarter of section 34, of Adrian, adjoining the Adrian city limits, and there he resided the remainder of his life.

John Pawson was born in Denton, Yorkshire, England, Jan. 2, 1806. He lived with his parents and followed farming until he was twenty-two years old, when his sister and her husband, Thomas Burkby, were coming to America, and John decided to come also. In March, 1828, they sailed from Hull in the ship Westmoreland, and landed at Quebec after a rough voyage of seven weeks and four days. They immediately went to Ogdensburg, N. Y., where John found employment with Dr. J. W. Smith, and remained with him until the spring of 1831, when he came to Michigan. In the fall of 1830, his mother, two brothers, and two sisters, came to this country, and they all came to Michigan with John in 1831, he purchasing forty acres of land at Springville, in Cambridge Township. He resided there until 1840, when he traded with his brother, Samuel, for a farm on section 18, in Franklin, where he resided the remainder of his life. When he first settled here he was not much encouraged with the country. There were very few settlers, teams and schools were scarce, wheat was nearly half smut, and the bread was nearly black. Millers at that time had no "smut machines." Poią was very high and very poor, wolves were very plentiful and hungry, while Indians were numerous, familiar, and continually begging. John got very homesick, and had it not been for his mother and sisters he would probably have returned to Ogdensburg. One of the settlers, who was quite a wag, heard of his despondency and called on him one day, telling him to come over to his cabin and "look over his girls," having three bouncing daughters. Mr. Pawson got over his "sickness" after a year or two, when several new settlers came in and more were coming every day, and things began to liven up and look prosperous. There were only three or four settlers in Cambridge when he first settled here, and he assisted in all the first improvements. The first Township meeting was held at the house of Abram Butterfield, April 4, 1836. Isaac Powers was elected supervisor and justice of the peace; Paul Geddes, justice of the peace and Township clerk; Harlow C. Smith, justice of the peace and assessor; A. N. Moulton, justice of the peace, and Dr. James Geddes, constable and collector. There were twenty-six voters, and very unanimous they were. In 1836 Abram Butterfield was appointed postmaster, and the first post office was immediately opened. The first mail route through this Township was on the Chicago road, in 1831. The first mail route over the La Plaisance Bay road was established in January, 1835, through Cambridge. The first store building was erected by Hart & Mosher, in 1836, and it was well filled with groceries, dry goods, and hardware. In 1836 a saw mill was built on the far-famed Wolf creek, which, in speculative times, was reported in eastern cities as navigable for the largest class of steamboats from Lake Erie to the lakes in Cambridge. City lots bordering on the stream sold for fabulous prices, and wild-cat money was circulated in uncut reams. The first grist mill was built in 1837. The first resident ministers of the Gospel were Elder Tripp, Rev. John Stephenson, Elder John Smith, and Rev. William N. Lyster. The last named as is stated elsewhere, selected his home on the high and beautiful banks of Sand Lake, and here, amid the towering oaks, he built his house. A few rods from his residence, on a large and majestic tree, was an eagle's nest, where the Indian tradition said they had raised their young for zoo seasons. Looking from the window out on the lake, one could see in their season large flocks of ducks, and hundreds of wild geese, intermingled with the low-set and solitary loons, and with the graceful and admired swans. In the depths of these waters were untold numbers of fish of many varieties. This venerable pioneer rector of the forest held services in this Township for over thirty years, and when the first church was built, in 1855, he furnished one-third of the money toward its completion. Peter Onsted was another of the early settlers of Cambridge Township. He was a native of Sussex County, New Jersey, and was born March io, 18o8. He continued in his native state until twenty-two years old, then went to Yates County, New York, and six years later, in the spring of 1836, came to this Township and settled on section 33, near the site of the present village of Onsted.. He had already visited Michigan and selected his location, after which he returned to New York and made his preparations for removal. He first located 16o acres, but added to his real estate from time to time until he finally had a farm of 515 acres, of which he cleared and improved 14o acres, and put up a large frame house with barns and sheds. He was among the earliest settlers, when Indian trails and blazed trees were the only guides to the traveler through the wilderness. At times no provisions could be had for any amount of money, and many newcomers suffered from hunger as well as discouragement. The market at Adrian involved a two days journey, and from twenty to twenty-five bushels of wheat was a full load for a yoke of oxen over the terrible roads and the hills which were almost impassable. Mr. Onsted left Cambridge Township in the spring of 1871, and removed to the city of Adrian, where he resided the remainder of his life. Late in the fall of 1836 Mrs. Onsted, in passing through the woods, a mile from any house, met a large panther who disputed the right of way. Her courage and bravery drove the varmint up a tree, where he was left to howl in solitude. A short time afterward a large bear got into a yard -where there was a hog, and his jaws were immediately fastened to the porker's neck. The squealing was tremendous, and Mrs. Onsted, with undaunted courage, ran with the first ready weapon, a pitchfork, and plunged it deep into the side of the bear. The hog was left staggering, the bloody trail of the bear was followed, and bruin shot. His weight was over 300 pounds. In the summer of 1838 a family named Loveland, living on section 18, in a small cabin covered with bark, went into a partly finished building near by for protection during a heavy shower. They were there but a few minutes when lightning struck the building, and Mr. Loveland and two daughters were killed. The wife and one girl were not hurt. In 1838 Sylvester Walker opened a hotel at Cambridge Junction. This house sustained a well earned reputation among the traveling community as being one of the best west of Detroit. The -passengers of two stages dined at this house daily. Oftentimes there would be from ten to twenty wagons and carriages waiting their turn for accommodations. About the period of 1840 it was the boast of farmers to have luxuriant fields of grain, a good pair of oxen, and occasionally a horse, and most every farmer kept a dog. And they also took pride in one other thing-in rearing the largest and best families of children. It is said that one family in the west part of the Township were not blessed with children, but usually kept from ten to sixteen dogs. The late Francis A. Dewey, from whose writings considerable of the information of this chapter has been obtained, is authority for the statement that in the month of June, 1828, about the third team that had ever passed over the Chicago military road was that with the family of Ebenezer Jones. In looking for a western home they had come as far as Wolf Lake, where they camped over night. They were of course delighted with the beautiful waters of the lake and the rich alluvial soil; also the fine scenery. They unloaded the wagon, erected their tent, and left their horses to roam around and rest. Here they intended to make a farm plantation, with a pleasant home, twelve miles from the nearest house. On the second day a large company of Indians encamped on the opposite side of the lake, and two of them rode on ponies around where Mr. Jones was. They seemed to act as though they did not like those white intruders, and made some warlike demonstrations. Mrs. Jones was much frightened, their wagon was again loaded, the tent was done up, and they left the admired lakes, also the Indian war-path. Mr. Jones afterward erected his home on the banks of the St. Joseph River. Thus this Township lost the first white inhabitant, and the western river gained the first white citizen and improvement between Allen's Prairie and Tecumseh, viz: the now flourishing village of Jonesville. Upon the building of the Michigan & Ohio railroad (now a branch of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern) through the Township, a thriving village sprang up on section 28, taking the name of its founder, Onsted. The village is beautifully located and is the center of a fine farming region.

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published by The Western Historical Society in 1909.

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