Under Three Flags
Michigan owes its name to the Indians. The name is taken from two Chippewa words, "mitchaw," meaning great, and "sagiegan," meaning lake, hence "Land of the Great Lake." Michigan has been under three flags, French, British and American, and for a very short period in 1781 the Spanish flag flew over the St. Joseph river. This whole section of the United States was a part of what was called New France, or Canada, from 1603 until it was surrendered to the British in November, 1760. After Canada was divided into two provinces in 1791, Michigan formed a part of Upper Canada. Despite the fact that by the treaty of Paris, which in 1783 established peace between the United States and England, the Northwest Territory and the trading posts of Michigan were ceded to the United States, the federal government did not get full control of Michigan until 1796. In the intervening years the Canadian governors had de facto authority, and exercised it. The British were loath to give up the profitable fur trade.
Virginia set up a claim to Michigan, which was well founded on account of its original charter, but Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York also set up claims. However, in 1787 an ordinance was passed by Congress for the government of the territory northwest of the Ohio river, which is memorable in that it excluded slavery forever from the territory and made liberal provision for the support of public schools. In 1800 the Northwest Territory was divided and the Territory of Indiana, which included Michigan, was created. January 26, 1837, Michigan practically as at present constituted was admitted as a full fledged state into the Union.
In the meantime, however, the federal government was most careful to seize no lands without due compensation to the original inhabitants. In 1807 Governor Hull made a treaty with the Chippewas, Ottawas, Pottawattomies and Wyandots by which all of lower Michigan south of a line south of Grand river was deeded to the United States. In 1821 Governor Cass and Solomon Sibley negotiated a treaty at Chicago, by the terms of which the Indians ceded to the United States the lands south of the main stream of the Grand river. There were certain reservations, among which was one that a tract one mile square was to be selected on the north side of Grand river, and within the lands not ceded, upon which the federal government was to establish a blacksmith shop with a smith in charge, provide a school teacher, give the Indians instructions in agriculture and furnish farm utensils and cattle.
The Reverend Isaac McCoy, an Indian missionary of the Baptist denomination, asked Governor Cass to give him the superintendence of the school and blacksmith shop for the Indians near the rapids. The governor appointed him, and John Sears of New York City was selected as teacher for the Ottawas and Charles C. Trowbridge was commissioned to make arrangements with the Indians for establishment of the site for a missionary station on Grand river. Mr. Sears and Mr. Trowbridge visited Grand Rapids in the fall of 1822 and selected a site, but returned immediately to Detroit. The next spring the Reverend Mr. McCoy came, crossing the Grand river near the rapids May 30, 1823. However, he found the Indians dissatisfied with the Chicago treaty and he could not carry out his plan. Late in the fall of that year, at Gun Lake, he met Chief Noonday, who came to an agreement with him. The two returned to the rapids and on December 1 Mr. McCoy selected a site for a mission, just south of what is now the intersection of Bridge street and Front avenue. The next day Mr. McCoy left for another mission on the St. Joseph river. The succeeding spring he sent a teacher, Mr. Polke, a blacksmith and two or three others to the rapids to open the mission. These visitors found the Indians still unfriendly to the project and they went away without accomplishing their object. Some time afterwards, however, Mr. Polke returned and, finding the sentiment of the Indians changed, made arrangements to carry out his plans. In September, 1825, farming utensils, tools and provisions were sent to the rapids from the St. Joseph river, by way of Lake Michigan and Grand river, while Mr. McCoy, with several companions traveled here overland. Permanent log buildings were at once erected.
The mission, however, did not prove lasting. It was given up in a few years and thus did not become the first permanent white settlement at Grand Rapids.
In March, 1836, a treaty was negotiated at Washington by which the Indians ceded to the United States the Michigan lands lying north of Grand river. One of the treaty provisions was that the federal government was to pay the Indians of Western Michigan $18,000 annually for 20 years, which payments were made in this city.
In the meantime white settlers were coming into the valley of Grand river. The first trading post in the valley had been established prior to 1809 on a clearing a mile or two below the mouth of Flat river, by Joseph LaFlamboise, a French trader in the employ of the American Fur company, who married a girl half Chippewa and half French. LaFlamboise often passed through Grand Rapids on his trips to and from Mackinaw. His widow continued the business until 1821, when she sold out to Rix Robinson. In that same year Mr. Robinson established a trading post at the mouth of the Thornapple river, as the agent of the American Fur company. He was the first permanent white settler in Kent county.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 10 December 1999