The Story of the Campaus

Louis Campau was the first permanent white settler in Grand Rapids. He came here in November, 1826, to trade with the Indians. He could not have dreamed that exactly a century later there would be a thriving metropolis of upwards of 165,000 souls in a community immediately surrounding the site he selected for his cabin and his store, and that those many souls would celebrate his arrival with a great festival. Being himself a merry soul, he would have enjoyed nothing so much as to be here on this centenary celebration.

Louis Campau was the Father of Grand Rapids. We shall ever lovingly refer to him as the people of New York refer to Father Knickerbocker, the people of Philadelphia to Benjamin Franklin and the people of Chicago to Father Dearborn. He represents the adventurous white man who settled himself at the outposts of civilization, there to remain to the end of his days.

As Louis Campau will always be one of the most important and interesting personages in the history of Grand Rapids, an extended account of his ancestry and career will surely be worth while.

He was a descendant of Etienne (Stephen) Campau--or Campeau, as the name originally was spelled and as some present-day members of the family spell it---who came from Picardy to Montreal, Canada, in the seventeenth century. Etienne Campau was born at the old home in France, probably La Rochelle, in 1638. He was a mason. At Montreal in 1663 he married Catherine Paulo, also a native of France. To them were born fifteen children.

Two of Etienne's sons, Michel and Jacques, went to Detroit with their families, Michel in 1707 and Jacques in 1708. Jacques was a toolsmith, but in 1734 he obtained a grant of land from the French government and became a farmer. His land was later known as Private Claim No. 18, or the Meldrum farm. Jacques was born in 1677 and in 1699 had married Cecile Catin at Montreal. They had six children.

Their eldest son, Jean Louis, born in Montreal August 26, 1702, married at Detroit in 1724 Mary Louise Robert, widow of Jean Francis Peltier. Jean Louis Campau obtained a grant of land at Detroit the same year as his father, 1734. This land was later known as Private Claim No. 733, or the Chene farm.

Of the family of Jean Louis Campau and Mary Louise Robert, Jacques, named for his grandfather, was born March 30, 1735, and married in 1761 Catherine Menard. She died in 1781 and in 1784 Jacques married Francoise Navarre, widow of George McDougall and daughter of Robert Navarre, the royal notary at Detroit. All twelve children of Jacques Campau were by his first wife, Catherine Menard.

Louis Campau, son of Jacques, born July 26, 1767, married Therese Moran in 1789. He settled at the Clinton river and was buried there May 13, 1834.

His son, the Louis Campau who became the father of Grand Rapids, was born at Detroit at 4 o'clock in the afternoon of August 11, 1791. His uncle, Joseph Campau of Detroit, took the eight-year old boy under his care and promised to bring Louis up and eventually start him in business. Louis spent only a few months in the school such as it was, where he learned the rudiments of the French language, in the meantime acting as underservant for his uncle.

The City of Detroit, situated at a strategic point on the chain of the Great Lakes, was the scene of many military struggles from the earliest days of America. The French occupied it until 1762, when the British took possession, to surrender it to the United States in 1787. The French residents of Detroit were violently anti-British, and just as strongly sympathetic with the young republic of the United States. Being of French blood and strongly American in his sympathies, Louis Campau at 21 years of age became a member of  a French-American military company which served in the War of 1812 between the United States and England. This company was attached to General William Hull's army, which rather ingloriously surrendered Detroit to the British forces. Its commander was Captain Rene de Marsac.

At the close of the War of 1812 Louis, still in his twenties, left Detroit for the Saginaw valley, as an employe of his uncle and other merchants who had goods to sell to the Indians. He acquired the dialect as well as the confidence of the Red Men. Soon he was trading on his own account. He traveled over the eastern part of Michigan, between Detroit and Saginaw, during the next half dozen years, continuing to sell goods to Indians, buying from them furs and other articles which he sold in Detroit and elsewhere at a profit. He saved enough out of his earnings to enable him to consider marriage and the establishment of a home.

Accordingly, August 11, 1818, he married at Detroit, Ann Knaggs, born in the City of the Straits September 23, 1800, the daughter of George Knaggs and Elizabeth Chene. But, as he kept up his trading activities in the small settlements and Indian villages north of Detroit, he was not able to spend much time at home with his young bride. She did not live long after their marriage, for the church records show that she was buried at Detroit, April 13, 1824. There were no children.

During the half dozen years he had been an Indian trader Louis Campau had become well known to the prominent men of eastern Michigan, by whom he was so well esteemed that in 1819 he was directed by the terrritorial governor, Lewis Cass, to build a council house upon the site of what is now Saginaw and to make all necessary arrangements for the governor and his suite when they came to negotiate a treaty with the Indians. The governor arrived September 19, 1819, and opened negotiations for the purchase of the lands of the Indians, who were to move further west. The council lasted three days, the chiefs finally yielding to the terms offered by the governor. A portion of the purchase price, in silver, was laid upon the table.

At that time the Red Men owed Louis Campau about $1,500 for goods he had sold them. At first it was suggested that he be paid at once, but there were present three other traders who objected, as they were interested in making sales to the Indians, who would now have ready cash. The principal objector was Jacob Smith. Physical strength counted most in those pioneer days, and Louis knew it. So, to use his own words: "I jumped from the platform and struck Smith two heavy blows in the face. He was smart as steel and I was not slow, but Louis Beaufait, Connor and Barney Campau got between us and stopped the fight, so I lost my money, and they cheated me out of a good fight besides."

From his early youth Louis Campau had been intimately acquainted with Sophie, the daughter of the Captain Rene de Marsac who was commander of the military company in which the young Louis had fought during the War of 1812. Sophie was a distant relative of Louis. His period of mourning after the death of his first wife being over, he courted and won the consent of the seventeen-year-old girl to their marriage, which accordingly took place at Detroit August 9, 1825. As the couple were cousins of the fourth degree, a special dispensation had to be procured from the vicar general of the Catholic Church before the ceremony could be performed. Sophie was born at Detroit, September 25, 1807. Her mother's maiden name was Eulalie Gouin.

After his second marriage the roving Louis determined to fix upon a permanent place of abode. He had sold out his business at Saginaw in 1823, to his brother Antoine, and gone southwestward to the Shiawassee river, near the site of the present city of Owosso, where he had established a trading post. As other fur traders in those days must have penetrated still further westward, he undoubtedly heard about the populous Indian villages at the rapids of Grand river, where he decided to settle. Some accounts say he came here as agent for Mr. Brewster of Detroit, an extensive fur dealer, to establish a business in opposition to that of the American Fur company.

Before he came to Grand Rapids Louis Campau secured a license as a trader from the superintendent of Indian affairs. He was obliged to give bond that he would carry out scrupulously the instructions given on his license, which may be briefly summarized thus:
He could trade only at the place at which he was licensed---that is, Grand Rapids.
He was to treat the Indians fairly and in a friendly manner.
He was not to attend any Indian councils, nor to send them any talk or speech accompanied by wampum.
He was forbidden to bring any spirituous liquors into the Indian territory or to give, sell or dispose of any such liquors to the Indians. This provision of the license was considered so important and so necessary that any trader who violated it might have his goods seized by the Indians for their own use, and the trader was required to tell the Indians that they had such privilege.

In the late summer of 1826 Louis Campau started westward from the Shiawassee, arriving at the rapids in November, with two companions.

The founder and his two assistants spent their first winter at one of the Indian villages on the west side of the river. He established cordial relations with the Red Men, and they were pleased when he told them he had come to set up a trading post and proposed to stay. In the spring of 1827 he prepared a piece of land at the foot of Huron street. On this he erected two log cabins, one for a dwelling, the other for trading purposes. He also built a small blacksmith shop. All were of partially hewn timbers, and for six years they were the only habitable structures on the east side of the Grand. Later he built a hen house, and still later a milk house over a spring at the foot of modern Pearl street. And soon he was provided with a pole boat, to aid him in reaching his outposts. He called this boat the "Young Napoleon."

His trading activities had caused him to leave at their home in Detroit his bride of less than a year. But after a few months he returned to Detroit for her, and the two started on the long journey through the wilderness, to the humble abode he had constructed near the east bank of Grand river. As Mrs. Campau spoke only the French language, she could have had no very satisfactory communication with the very few other white women here who, of course, conversed in English. In 1832 she induced her sister, Emily, to visit her, and Emily remained, as she soon after became the wife of Toussaint Campau, Louis' brother, whom came here to trade in 1828. Another brother, Antoine, came in 1833 and did some trading. In May, 1835, Antoine moved his family from Detroit, in a covered wagon. He built a store at Pearl and Monroe and a small dwelling on Monroe avenue, just above Market. In 1845 he moved to his farm of 120 acres on South Division street, a part of which is the present Antoine Campau park. George, a third brother of Louis, came last.

For half a dozen years the French language was used in Grand Rapids as much as the English. Louis Campau, however, conversed in English, and he also knew the Indian dialects. Joel Guild, writing from here in 1833, told his relatives down east that Louis was the only person in the settlement who could speak English. And Harriet Burton, a daughter of Joel Guild, writing her reminiscences years afterwards, quotes Louis as saying he did not "talk Yankee" very well in those early days.

The government surveyors reached Grand river in 1831. John Mullett surveyed Section 30, Town 7 North, Range 11 West; and Lucius Lyon surveyed Town 7 North, Range 12 West, part of the site of the present city of Grand Rapids.

Soon after the survey was completed Louis Campau purchased from the government the tract of land bounded by Michigan street on the north, Fulton street on the south, Division avenue on the east and the river on the west. Uncle Louis entered this tract at the land office, which was then at White Pigeon, September 20, 1831. The tract contained 72 acres and he bought it for $1.25 an acre, or $90 in all. The government receipt for this sum is preserved and a reproduction of it may be found in this history. Uncle Louis was then known as "Louis Campau, Junior," his father having borne the same name, and at times used "Fils," the French equivalent of "Junior."

Lucius Lyon, who had surveyed the lands hereabouts for the government, had realized the probability that a settlement was sure to be made at the rapids of Grand river, and he planned on purchasing the very lands Louis Campau had entered. But, to use a modern expression, Uncle Louis "beat him to it." Being defeated in his original plan, he did the next best thing----he bought from Mr. Campau the northern portion of the tract, June 12, 1832. The Lyon purchase included the tract beginning at the river, about midway between Pearl and Lyon streets, running thence east to Division avenue, thence north to Michigan street and westward to the river.

The Indians called Uncle Louis "Wagoosh," or "The Fox," a nickname eminently fitting his character, as was amply demonstrated by this and many succeeding land deals which caused much embitterment in the community for half a century and is referred to later in this history.

November 13, 1832, five months after he had sold the north half of his holdings to Lucius Lyon, Uncle Louis deeded the south half to his brother, Toussaint. The latter then platted this land into blocks, lots and streets. This plat, which was filed November 7, 1833, with the register of deeds of Kalamazoo county, of which Kent county was then a part, is recorded as "Plat of the Village of Grand Rapids." Its boundaries were as follows:
Beginning at the river, east on Fulton street to Division avenue, north on Division avenue to a point about midway between Pearl and Lyon streets; thence west to the river.

Nine lots in this plat were sold to the pioneers by Toussaint Campau before December 5, 1834, when Toussaint deeded the lands in this original "Village of Grand Rapids," with the exception of the nine lots, back to Uncle Louis. In the meantime, however, Toussaint had married Emily de Marsac, sister of Louis' wife, and she, of course, signed this deed, which forty years later became the subject of much controversy, Emily claiming she was a minor at the time she affixed her signature to the document.

There was another land transaction between the Campau brothers in the same year, 1834. On July 26 Uncle Louis brought from Toussaint the 40 acres bounded by Jefferson avenue on the west, 200 feet east of Prospect avenue on the east, Fulton street on the north and Cherry street on the south. Toussaint had purchased these lands from the government December 2, 1833. They were in those years well outside the village.

April 25, 1835, Uncle Louis, finding such a ready sale for his lots, bought from Samuel Dexter sixteen acres east of Division avenue. This tract he platted, and June 6, 1835, he filed the plat of this addition to the Village of Grand Rapids with the register of deeds at Kalamazoo. With this addition, the village then had the following boundaries:

From the river east on Fulton street to the head of Monroe avenue; thence north to a point half way across Fulton street park; thence east to about 75 feet east of Ransom avenue; thence north to about 25 feet north of Fountain street; thence west to Division avenue; thence north to about midway between Pearl and Lyon streets; thence west to the river. This tract is usually considered that of the original village of Grand Rapids.

As the addition took in the north half of Fulton street park, or the old Public square, which previously had been selected by the state as the site for the Kent county court house, it caused years of strife among the old residents and at sessions of the county, township, village and city governing bodies, as well as much litigation.

The profits from the sale of his lots and from his trade with the Indians soon made Uncle Louis fairly wealthy. John Ball said in later years that about 1837 Louis Campau was worth $100,000, a considerable fortune for those times. But it is doubtful whether the fortune ever attained that total. Mr. Ball's estimate was made in the "boom" times of the village when lots were selling for high prices. At any rate, Uncle Louis had considerable money and he used it not only in good living but also in building and in various enterprises.

He erected the Eagle Tavern, the first real hostelry in the village; the "yellow store" and a dwelling for his brother, Toussaint, on Monroe above Ottawa avenue. In 1834 he erected for himself a residence on the site of the Widdicomb block, at Monroe avenue and Market (then known as Waterloo street). He had the first real garden in the village. Before 1834 he improved a piece of land extending from Monroe and Ottawa avenues to the Eagle hotel and thence to the river bank. This was a vegetable and flower garden, with shrubbery, trees and some fruits scattered through it. The most attractive portion was that devoted to flowers, and it was visited frequently by whites and Indians. The latter used to land from their canoes and go up through the garden to Uncle Louis' house. An old canoe answered for a propagating bed.

Uncle Louis gave all the early colonist a hearty reception, providing them shelter in his log house if they required it. He was always generous, never counting the cost of favors to friends and acquaintances. He loved to enjoy himself, and he wanted others to flavor the hardships of pioneer life with such pleasures as the community might afford. He was, in fact, too liberal, and some of the money he amassed went to persons less honest and less generous than himself. He, as his brothers, was of fine presence, courteous and warm-hearted. When his brother Toussaint married Emily de Marsac in the Catholic chapel on the west side in 1834, he provided the entertainment, to which he invited every resident of the settlement.

As he took an active interest in all the affairs of the settlement, he was honored with public office after the village had been incorporated. At the election May 1, 1838, the highest number of votes, 141, was cast for him for trustee. And when the People's bank was organized about the same time he was chosen for its president. However, those were the days of "wildcat" banking, and the institution never really got a start.

When George W. Pattison established the Grand River Times here in 1837, Uncle Louis encouraged the enterprise by subscribing for 500 copies for a year, paying $1,000 cash in advance. The first copy of the newspaper, printed on silk, was presented to him.

In 1837-38 Louis Campau built the first Catholic Church here, at Division and Monroe avenues. The Catholics held meetings in it for some time, but Uncle Louis would never deed it to the bishop.

The old fur trader, grown suddenly wealthy, was too liberal. The lots and lands he still owned decreased tremendously in selling price when the "wildcat" boom burst. Just when he was hardest pressed for ready money his brother Toussaint, whom he had set up in business and for the purchase of whose goods he had gone surety, failed. On September 6, 1839, Uncle Louis was force to make an assignment. His brother, Antoine, Charles I. Walker and George Martin were the assignees, and to them he turned over a large portion of his property, for the benefit of his creditors. However, he excepted the Catholic church at Monroe and Division avenues, which he deeded to his mother, Mme. Therese Campau, along with the tract of land he owned east of Jefferson avenue and south of Fulton street. The deeds to his mother were executed on the very day he made his assignment. Mme. Campau probably had some to reside here before 1839, as her husband, Louis Campau, Senior, had died in May, 1834. Three of her sons, Louis, Antoine and Toussaint, were at that time residents of Grand Rapids.

Uncle Louis had turned over to his assignees more than enough property to pay his debts, but it took four years to settle all accounts. November 28, 1843, the assignees, having paid the creditors in full, deeded back to Uncle Louis what was left of his downtown property.

Mme. Therese Campau had possession of the old Catholic church until December, 1841, when she sold it to the Congregationalists. John Ball, who drew the deed for this transfer fo property, in his reminiscences declares Madame Campau insisted that the iron cross which surmounted the spire should not be included in the sale. Mr. Ball wrote:

"Mr. James Ballard was present and urged not to have the cross excepted in the deed, saying that he could worship under the cross. But she would not consent. When they wanted to take it down, men were sent up to remove it. They built a staging and tried to lift it out of the timber in which it stood. When they found they could not, they sawed it off. Owing to a defect in their arrangements it fell to the ground, and in falling carried with it one of the men, a Mr. Post, who, of course, was instantly killed."

The iron cross now stands in St. Andrew's cemetery, near the graves of Uncle Louis and his wife.

Despite his financial reverses, Louis Campau was not without means, and he continued living on what was considered a "grand" scale in those days. In the fall of 1838 he moved into his famous mansion on the hill, at the southwest corner of Fulton street and Gay avenue. This house had been constructed in the summer of 1838 of timbers cut out and framed in the previous winter by Henry H. Ives, near the sawmill Mr. Ives was then erecting for William H. Withey some miles up the river on the west side. John Ball, who lived  in the house next east---now, much remodeled, the residence of Mr. and Mrs. John Quaintance, 458 East Fulton street---says in his Autobiography that when the house was completed Mr. Bostwick "sold it with five acres to Mr. Louis Campau in exchange for 60 acres on part of which is Wenham's addition, 350 acres of wild lands in Allegan county and some village lots. A Mr. David Briswell worked on the Campau house for Mr. Bostwick, who turned out to him in payment O'Flynn's mortgage on my lot."

The deed from Mr. Bostwick to Uncle Louis, to the five acres on which the mansion stood---313 feet of land between Fulton and Washington streets---was not executed until September 6, 1839. That was the date on which Louis Campau had made an assignment of part of his property for the benefit of his creditors. And, again, on that same date Uncle Louis deeded the mansion and five acres to his mother, Mme. Therese Campau, in whose name it stood on the records until April 13, 1849, several years after the son had been discharged from bankruptcy.

Deed or no deed, Uncle Louis took possession of this mansion in 1838 and lived in it until 1862. He spent considerable money furnishing it and entertained in a lavish manner. Everybody was welcome, not the least his many Indian friends, who often remained there until late in the night and then slept on the porch or in his spacious yard. He had horses and a famous cutter, which he brought out on the occasion of the first snowfall and drove around the village.

On top of this mansion was a cupola, or lookout. Uncle Louis called in Loren M. Page, one of the early painters, decorators and paper hangers. Taking Mr. Page up to the cupola, Uncle Louis said to him, "I am pretty rich. I'm going to paper this room with money, and here's the money."

He produced a large stack of unsigned bills of the old People's bank and hundreds of worthless notes of defunct wildcat banks which he had accumulated in the evil days of the several years previously. With these bills and notes Mr. Page papered the room. They were there many years after the founder of Grand Rapids had moved out and the house temporarily was untenanted, and during the '70s the youngsters of the city wandered into the cupola and helped themselves to what they called "money." In fact, some of the wildcat currency was there until the house was torn down.

Some time after he had begun to live on the hill Uncle Louis made renewed claims to the north half of Fulton Street park, on account of his purchase of land from Samuel Dexter in 1835. His claim was rather unwarranted, but it rested as a cloud on the title of the property. Finally, at the city election of July 8, 1852, a vote was taken on the question of contesting or purchasing his claim on the old Public square. The result of the election was: 62 for contesting, 52 for purchase at $750, and 24 for purchase at $300 or contest if that offer was not accepted. As the vote was not decisive, efforts were made to compromise. In December of the same year the city paid Uncle Louis $500 and he executed a quit claim deed to the municipality.

In 1852 Uncle Louis joined with some other property owners in forming Campau's second addition to Grand Rapids. This included his land holdings east of Jefferson avenue and south of Fulton street, and gave him a number of lots to sell. Still careless of expense, he went on living as if money did not matter to him, doing some business and, when hard pressed, selling a lot or two. But by and by he could no longer bear the expense of maintaining an extravagant household and he sold the mansion and the grounds surrounding it to Mrs. Margaret R. McDonnell, wife of William H. McDonnell. The deed of transfer is dated April 4, 1863, and the property was subject to four mortgages.

He and his wife then took a house at Ellsworth avenue and Almy street, where the freight depot of the Pennsylvania railroad is located. The records show that lot 1 in block 9 of Ellsworth's addition was purchased by Mrs. Sophie Campau May 14, 1863, for $2,200, but just before her death Mrs. Campau deeded this lot to Uncle Louis.

The founder of Grand Rapids was known to everybody in the city in the later years of his life, as in the pioneer days. Being somewhat lame, as the result of an accident in his youth, he could be recognized at a distance as he ambled along, with the use of a heavy cane. He always had time to converse with friends and acquaintances. He was fond of children, and it is related that some of our now most respected gray-haired citizens played "hookey" and went in groups to hear him tell his ever-fascinating tales about the Indians and the pioneer days.

The Civil War stirred the emotions of the old fur trader, who in his youth had fought for his country in the War of 1812. He was intensely loyal to the Union, but at times he was most impatient with the generals of the North, who found Lee and Jackson too formidable opponents, and he would repeat with unmistakable evidences of scorn, "All's quiet on the Potomac." He was intolerant of some of those denominated "copperheads," and it is said that one of this band of disloyal northerners who had aroused his wrath was knocked off the steps of the Rathbun House by the heavy cane of the old trader.

During the war days he was saddened by the death of his aged mother, Mme. Therese Campau. Not much mention of her is made by the historians, and the only record of her death is the following notice in the Daily Eagle of Wednesday, May 4, 1864:

Died--In this city, on the 4th inst., at the residence of Antoine Campau, Esq., Mrs. Therese Campau, relict of L. Campau, Sr., aged 94 years. Funeral at the Catholic church, Friday morning, at 10 o'clock.

Of the last six or seven years of Uncle Louis' life not much need be recorded. In the words of Franklin Everett, his long time friend: "He lived a life of gentlemanly independence, until within a few years of his death when, his resources failing, he lived on the bounty of his friends, who were unwilling that he should ever fell poverty, which he never did."

He lived in the house on Ellsworth avenue to the end of his days. He was grief-stricken when his wife, Sophie de Marsac Campau, died July 31, 1869, and he did not survive her long. He passed away, after a lingering illness, April 13, 1871, at nearly 80 years of age. He left no descendants, as there were no children by his second marriage, as there had been none by his first.

Before making an estimate of the life and character of Louis Campau it will be well to relate a few of the numerous stories recorded about his liberality and his happy nature, more particularly in his earlier days in Grand Rapids.

Near Uncle Louis' first house along the river there was a hen house. One night in 1833 there was a great commotion among the three or four dozen hens. Hearing the noise, some of the servants went out and closed and fastened the heavy door that protected the hens. The noise ceased. In the morning, when the hen house was opened, Uncle Louis discovered that all his chickens had disappeared and he found the cause in the presence of a snarling wolf. Uncle Louis ordered the wolf shot, had his pelt removed and dragged the carcass up the Monroe trail, where for several days the buzzards had a feast.

The next year one of the Campau cows disappeared and no trace of her was found for several days. Finally several citizens, observing a number of buzzards hovering over the cedar swamp at the bottom of the hill north of Michigan street and west of Ionia avenue, went to investigate. They found the cow mired in the quicksand of a spring in the swamp. The buzzards had been feeding on her live flesh and she was about exhausted when rescued. Her wounds were healed and for several years after that she supplied the Campau household with milk.

Uncle Louis' good nature was often imposed upon. In 1835 some easterners, whom he always called "Yankees," asked him if they could feed and leave their horses in his barn overnight. Of course he said "yes." But the men left the next day without paying for the hay and grain and besides, stole some of his harness. Soon after that some other eastern travelers asked Uncle Louis to stable their horses and sell them feed. He at first refused, citing his recent experience, but it is related: "His good nature soon got the better of all that and he sold us all the hay and grain we needed."

Nathaniel O. Sargeant, who had the contract for digging the mill race, brought a number of workmen here in 1835 to do the work. The men marched in with picks and shovels on their shoulders. At their head was Alanson Cramton, playing a bugle. Hearing the noise and seeing the marching men, Chief Noonday thought the men were enemies, coming to do mischief to his friend Uncle Louis, and he sent the latter a message offering to aid to drive away the invaders.

A correspondent of the Detroit Tribune furnished that paper serveral important incidents in the life of Uncle Louis, one of which is as follows:

Mr. Campau was always successful in his intercourse and dealings with the Indians, and rarely had trouble while he was occupying his rude log house at Grand river. He was awakened one night by feeling a hand on his person. Grasping a pistol and maintaining his firmness, he spoke to the intruder, asking what he wanted. The savage hesitated, then said he only wanted whiskey and wanted to wake up his friend.

Campau struck a light, when there stood before him an athletic son of the forest, a tomahawk in hand, and a scalping knife in his belt. Campau stepped to him, denounced him and told him that his errand was murder and robbery, and that he merited death.

"I have come," said he, "as a friend in the midst of the Indians, alone and open-handed. Your chief has promised me protection and would forgive me for taking the life of a prowling thief!"

Completely subdued by the attitude and words of the trader, the Indian begged for mercy and he was allowed to depart. But the occurrence was told to the chiefs, and the Indian was driven from the country in disgrace.

Oftentimes when a band of Indians were drunk and mad with liquor, he only preserved his life by his coolness and assumption of courage. He so completely understood the Indian character that he knew just what to do to manage them. But it was a wild and dangerous life these traders led. For in the primeval forest, with great quantities of goods such as were most coveted by the savages, these men could only depend upon their own skill and courage for safety, and their lives hung upon a precarious thread. Custom and education had taught them coolness and self-reliance.

His mansion on Fulton street hill, with the land surrounding it, passed into the hands of George W. Gay May 25, 1883, by deed from Mr. and Mrs. William H. McConnell. Mr. Gay built a new house on the site of the old, moving the Campau mansion to the rear of the premises, where for some time it was used as a stable. Finally it was torn down.

Mrs. William H. Gay, widow of George W. Gay's son, William H., now occupies the residence on the place where once stood the famous old house. Some of the lilac bushes which were the pride of Uncle Louis still bloom in the yard he once so proudly exhibited to his callers. On the west side of the residence is a bronze tablet, with an excellent relief of the Campau home at the top, and this inscription:

This tablet marks the site of the home of Louis and Sophie de Marsac Campau, 1838-1862.
Louis Campau was the founder of the City of Grand Rapids.
The local chapter D.A.R. is named after Sophie de Marsac Campau.
Erected by Mrs. William H. Gay, D.A.R., June, 1921.

Louis Campau's will, dated June 17, 1870, reads:

In the Name of God, Amen----
I, Louis Campau of the City of Grand Rapids, Kent County, State of Michigan, of the age of Seventy-eight, and being of sound mind and memory, do make, publish and declare this my last will and testament, in manner following, that is to say:

I give, devise and bequeath, to my brother Toussaint Campau and his three sons, Adolph T. Campau, Louis T. Campau and Henry Alfred T. Campau, or to the survivor or survivors of them, share and share alike, all the property (after my debts are paid), real and personal of every name and nature, and wherever situate, of which I may be possessed, or of which I may be the owner or of which I may have any interest in or to which I may be in amy manner entitled at the time of my decease; to be divided after my decease, equally between my said brother and his three sons. But should either one or any of them die before my decease, then and in that event it is my will the survivor or survivors of my said brother and three sons shall have, hold and take all of my property above granted, given, devised and bequeathed; that is to say, if only one of them shall be living at the time of my death, that one shall have all the property I may own, and if only tow or three of them shall be living at the time of my death, those two or three shall have and own all the property I may then be entitled to, in equal shares, to be divided equally between such survivors; and should all my said brother and his three sons be living at the time of my death, then all the property which I shall be the owner of shall be divided equally between them, hereby revoking all former wills by me made.

April 24, 1871, Toussaint Campau asked the probate court to appoint Julius Houseman administrator, which accordingly was done by Judge Benjamin A. Harlan.

Solomon O. Kingsbury and John R. Stewart were appointed appraisers of Uncle Louis' estate and June 17, 1871, filed the following inventory:

1 stove and pipe    $6.00
Bedding                $8.00
2 bedsteads, ($2)      $4.00
1 bureau                $5.00
1 lounge and mattress   $1.50
1 table                  $1.00
1 cane seated chair   $2.00
1 clock                  $1.75
1 carpet                 $5.00
1 lot old clothing     $5.00
Desk and table       $2.00
1 cutter                  $5.00
Lots No. 6 & No. 15, Village of Grandville, ($10)        $20.00
Lot No. 1 of Block No. 9 Ellsworth's addition to the city of Grand Rapids, Mich. valued at

Deduct encumbrance      $987.83

Total $2,512.17

Full total $2,578.42

The above encumbrances being on mortgage sales to John Butler       $409.60
Mortgage to R. E. Wood                                                                    $578.23

It thus appears that the founder of Grand Rapids did not die in poverty.

The administrator made a list of the accounts owing by Uncle Louis. Among these was a bill $116 in favor of Toussain Campau, as follows:

August 12, 1870. For services rendered as nurse, 11 1/2 weeks at $8.........$92
March 15, 1871. For three weeks' service.................................................$24

Antoine Campau, brother, presented a bill for $79, for funeral expenses. Dr. William H. DeCamp's bill was $20. Jesse Walker had a barber's bill of $5. Another was presented by Stanley & Schroeder, clothiers, for one pair pants, $8, sold to Uncle Louis September 5, 1870, and for one coat, $25, sold October 7, 1870.

The house and lot on Ellsworth avenue were sold to Tanner & Miller for $1,800.

Administrator Julius Houseman's final report showed the following credits:

By amount of inventory.............$2,578.42
Rent of house May 16 to September 18, 1871......$69.00
Cash for cutter sold over inventory......................$3.00
Cash for lot 2 Village of Grandville sold over inventory.........$1.00

From this was deducted amounts paid out including administrator's fee of $128.10, cost of printing and all expenses incurred...............$1,934.64
This left the net value of the estate at ........$716.78

In November, 1873, the estate was distributed among the heirs named in his will.

Uncle Louis was French. His temperament, his ideas of life and conduct, his very nature were different from those of the other earlier settlers---"Yankees" to him-----who came to people the valley of the Grand river. His training in youth, his days of barter with the Indians, fixed his character and, try as he would, he could not always accommodate himself to the circumstances of the newer times and to the ways of his associates. But there was much that was admirable in him, which cannot be better explained than by the fact that throughout his long career he held the love of the Red Man. Many white men have failed when given this test of sincerity, honesty and integrity.

Professor E. A. Strong, who had discriminating judgment and a keen sense of justice, lived for two years with the Campaus, in their home on Fulton street hill. He said of Uncle Louis:

"Though he was irascible, inconsistent with himself, often childishly whimsical, though he resented deeply the very system of things which he had himself been partly instrumental in bringing about and which had established about him a new state of things with which he had little sympathy, yet he was at heart a just, amiable and sincere man. His attitude toward the Indians was always fatherly though magisterial. He often gave them food and assisted them in many ways."

In a short sketch of Uncle Louis, Franklin Everett writes:

"He was a tall, fine-looking man, walking lame, from a serious injury received when a young man. He was very courteous and gentlemanly in his intercourse with others; an able counsellor in matters of business, but himself unable to practice his own lessons. He was visionary and an unwise manager of his own affairs. He was very benevolent, and the kindliness of his heart cause him to have many warm admirers and was taken advantage of by the unprincipled. He cannot be said to have been a man of brilliant qualities, yet he secured in the community a respect and veneration which it is the fortune of few to attain. he was upright in his dealings; had finely strung feelings and a gentlemanly bearing, which conciliated good-will and disarmed enmity. His name will ever be one of the household words at Grand Rapids."

And again Professor Everett says:

"The only school education he had simply enabled him to read the French language, and to write. His defective education he regretted, but in after years he made little effort to remedy it. As to scholarship, he was simply an illiterate man."

The obituaries in the Grand Rapids newspapers may be taken as representing the public's estimate of Uncle Louis. The Daily Morning Democrat of Friday, April 14, 1871, published the following under the caption: "Obituary---Louis Campau":

"It is with profound regret that we announce to our readers the demise of Louis Campau, the first white man who settled in the wilderness thirty-eight years ago, where now stands the city of Grand Rapids.

His advantages for receiving an education were limited, yet he early treasured  up a fund of practical knowledge that carried him through successfully in nearly every enterprise in which he engaged. In the fall of 1814 he went to Saginaw in the capacity of Indian trader, and came here in 1826 to follow the same pursuit. He came to this city in the capacity of agent for a Mr. Brewster, of Detroit, an extensive fur dealer, and with a clear head and honest purpose conducted his business with satisfaction and profit to himself and employer. He had no trouble with the Indians but found them peaceable and friendly.

He took a lively interest in all public improvements, and erected the first hotel opened in this place. By judicious management he became wealthy, but, through the treachery of supposed friends in late years, was greatly reduced in this world's goods, and died quite poor.

Mr. Campau was esteemed and loved by all our citizens for the many sterling qualities that ennobled him. He was the ever willing friend of the poor and oppressed, and his deeds of charity will be remembered long after his remains shall have returned to dust.

In religion Mr. Campau was an earnest Catholic, having united with that church at an early age. He built the first Catholic church in this city, and was ever one of its most steadfast supporters. During his illness he never lost faith in God, and welcomed rather than feared death. His life was well spent, and his career shines forth brilliantly, and should be emulated by all young men.

Mr. Campau leaves no family, his wife having preceded him across the dark river some two years since. Three brothers, who reside in this city, are his only surviving relatives.

In the death of Mr. Campau our city loses one of the most worthy and honored citizens; the circle in which he moved a kind and faithful friend; his relatives a loving and steadfast brother, and the whole state one of its brightest ornaments. He died at the age of 79 years and eight months, passing away peacefully to reward in Heaven. Peace to his ashes."

In its next issue, Saturday, April 15, 1871, the Democrat published "the following information in regard to the life of the late Louis Campau, kindly furnished by an old resident of the city":

"Mr. Campau, the founder of this city, died on the 13th inst., at 8 o'clock p.m., after a long and lingering illness. He came on Grand river, at this point, in the fall of 1826, built a log house and commenced trade among the Indians in opposition to the American Fur company, which created quite an opposition to them. Mr. Campau had his outposts at Muskegon, Manistee, Kalamazoo, Flat river, Thornapple river, and with his strong will, determination and perseverance, although mostly without capital, he kept up an opposition that finally drove the American Fur company from the field of operation. Mr. Campau continued in this trade until it was run out by the Indians scattering over the state.

Mr. Campau was a persevering, wilful-minded man, kind, charitable and fearless. Many narratives might be related of his early life, that would be interesting to his many friends. Mr. Campau leaves a large circle of relatives, being connected with the oldest and most respected of early citizens of this state, who will sadly mourn his loss with his numerous friends and acquaintances."

The Friday, April 14, 1871, issue of the Grand Rapids Daily Eagle is missing in the files at the Public Library. This contained a lengthy obituary of Uncle Louis which,  unfortunately, cannot be included in this history. But in its issue of Saturday, April 15, 1871, the Eagle contained the following under the heading, "Funeral Obsequies":

"The funeral services over the remains of the late "Uncle" Louis Campau will be held from the residence of Antoine Campau, No. 256 South Division street, tomorrow, Sunday. The hour of the funeral will be announced by the Sunday morning papers. All who knew the old pioneer truly, will wear his memory in their hearts; while such as enjoyed his friendship will gratefully remember his unostentatious kindness and numerous acts of disinterested regard. As in life he was faithful to his friends, so in death will the generous deeds of "Uncle Louis" keep forever his memory green.

Later---As we go to press we learn that the funeral will be held at the house at 2 o'clock, and from St. Andrew's church at 2:30 o'clock."

The following resolutions were adopted by the common council of Grand Rapids at its regular session April 15, 1871:

"The mayor announced the death of Louis Campau, whereupon Ald. Ives offered the following preamble and resolution, which were unanimously adopted.

Whereas, The decease of Louis Campau has been announced to this council; and
Whereas, Mr. Campau may properly be regarded as the founder of this city, and has been identified with its growth and fortunes for a period of nearly forty years, from the date of the establishment of an Indian trading post at this point on Grand river to the present time; and
Whereas, Mr. Campau was the original owner, by pre-emption, of a large portion of the territory now embraced in our city limits, and dedicated liberally there from to the public in the first plat for city purposes recorded in this county; and
Whereas, He has thus become, as well as by his other acts as a citizen, an important part of our city's history to this time;
Resolved, That as evidence of our esteem for the departed, of our admiration for the noble qualities of his character and the numerous instances of his beneficent conduct, we will preserve in the archives of our city this testimonial to the enterprise, public services and private virtues of Louis Campau.
Resolved, That the clerk of this city is hereby instructed, for the purposes aforesaid, to place this preamble and these resolutions on the records of this council, and to furnish to the family of the deceased and to the newspapers of this city a copy hereof.
Resolved, As a further mark of respect, that this council attend the funeral of the deceased in a body."

Uncle Louis' wife, Sophie de Marsac Campau, was the first white woman to settle permanently in Grand Rapids. In her youth she is described as being "dainty and cultured." Coming here as a young bride, nearly all her first associates being a few traders and mechanics, in a wilderness peopled by Indians, she endured the hardships of frontier life with a cheerfulness, grace and dignity that charmed all with whom she came in contact. Happily, a short time before she arrived to establish her home in the wilderness, the Reverend Leonard Slater had brought his bride to the Baptist Mission on the west side of the river. Between these white women, the only ones here for a number of months, with the possible exception of Miss Potts, a school teacher at the Baptist Mission, grew up a beautiful friendship. This is from Mrs. Campau's own account of those days:
"I speak no English, Mrs. Slater speaks no French, but we just sit and look at each other and we make signs so we partly understand, and we are happy."

To relieve her terrible loneliness she induced her sister Emily to come here in 1832, as has been heretofore related.

As her husband, Mrs. Campau was hospitable and generous to the first eastern settlers, who began to come in 1833, and was highly esteemed by them, as she was by all with whom she was associated in later years. One of these associates describes her as of strong character but gentle and deeply religious, wielding a great influence over all who came within her presence.

The obituaries published by the daily newspapers when Uncle Louis' devoted wife passed away should be included here. The Morning Democrat of August 1, 1869, said:

"We have the mournful duty of chronicling the death of Mrs. Campau. She was the daughter of Rene de Marsac of Detroit, one of the most respectable of the old French families of that city. In 1827, about two years after her marriage to Mr. Campau, she came with him to reside here; a place then only an Indian trading-post, and where on English family only was living---that of the Rev. L. Slater, the Baptist missionary. It has since been her home; and her virtues and excellencies as a woman have been manifested in clear and continuous lustre to the people, who have successively made our population until now. She passes from the scenes of life, loved by all, into the happy future of which her faith assured her.

The sympathy of all will be given to the aged pioneer, who now mourns such irreparable loss. through all the vicissitudes of his life, she was a companion to cheer and strengthen his hand, and now leads the way to a world exempt from affliction and grief."

The Morning Democrat of August 3 announced that the funeral services would be held that day
"at the residence, corner Almy and Ellsworth streets, at half past 8 a.m., at St. Andrew's church at 9 o'clock."

The Morning Democrat of August 4, 1869, under the caption, "In the Cold Ground," published the following:

"Very solemn and impressive funeral services were held over the remains of the late Mrs. Sophie Campau at St. Andrew's church yesterday. The attendance was large, embracing many of our oldest and most esteemed citizens, and the services by Rev. Father Pulcher were deeply interesting. Another of the good women and Christian pioneers of the Valley has passed away."

And on the same day the Democrat, under the heading, "Buried," said:

"Yesterday Mrs. Louis Campau, the loved and honored wife of the old pioneer of our Valley City was buried in the grave. She was followed to her last resting place by most of the old residents of the city, who knew here many virtues---her love, her goodness and charity for all. But she is gone. If God saw fit to make us all as good, as kind and as charitable as she was, this would surely not be a sinful world. The grass will grow above her grave; rude hands perhaps may deface the spot where she lies in eternal rest; but to those who knew her, the memory of her Christian charities will be ever green. They know that if there ever lived a true Christian on this earth, that her name is written in the book of eternal life; and that in her home above will ever live her memory on perpetual records. Peace to the ashes of the good and just."

The Grand Rapids Daily Eagle, the afternoon newspaper, chronicled the death of Mrs. Campau July 31, 1869, under the heading, "Passing Away." It said:

"Our citizens, and especially the earlier residents here will be pained to learn of death of Mrs. Sophie, wife of "Uncle" Louis Campau, which occurred this morning, after a very long and painful illness. It is an event not unexpected to those who knew of her severe affliction, indeed it has for many months been looked for almost momentarily, yet will strike sadness to the hearts of relations and long-time friends, who will miss her, as few others would be missed. Especially to "Uncle Louis," now verging upon four score years, is her departure a blow that will almost make him feel isolated in the world. They were married in 1825, in Detroit, came to this place in longest partnerships and the tenderest ties are severed."

On August 3, 1869, the Daily Eagle had the following account of the funeral:

"The funeral of Mrs. Sophie Campau, wife of Louis Campau, was held at St. Andrew's church at 9 o'clock this morning, the ceremonies being conducted by Rev. Father Pulcher. There was a large attendance of the old residents of the city who were acquainted with the deceased during her life time. The occasion was one of deep solemnity, and the congregation were led to realize that in the death of this aged and estimable lady, another link connecting the early history of this favored city with the present time was forever severed and destroyed. One by one the pioneers of civilization pass away, and in a few years no person will exist whose eyes have beheld, where now the city stands, the tangled forest and the Indian's wigwam."

The stone that marks the grave of Uncle Louis in St. Andrew's cemetery bears this inscription:

                                          LOUIS CAMPAU
                                           August 11, 1791
                                         Died April 13, 1871:
                         The founder of the original village in 1826,
                                      Now city of Grand Rapids.

And on the tombstone at the grave of Sophie de Marsac Campau is this inscription:

                                    Here reposes the body
                                         of my dear wife.
                                    SOPHIE L. CAMPAU,
                                           July 31, 1869
                                           61 Yrs. 10 Ms.


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
 Created: 10 December 1999