Early Settlers -- The Catholic Mission -- Dispute Between Mr. Campau and Father Barrigau -- The Dark Days of Kent -- Increase of Emigration -- The First Marriage -- The First Town Meeting -- Re-establishment of the Catholic Mission -- Rev. Father Vozoisky
The tide of emigration had now fairly set in, and in a few years Grand Rapids became quite a village.
Mr. E. Turner and Mr. Ira Jones came in 1833, and also, during the same year, Mr. Jonathan F. Chubb, with his family. Mr. Chuff located and cultivated a farm between Grand Rapids and Grandville, but after devoting only a few years to this work he sold his farm, moved into the city and opened an agricultural store on Canal street. He died several years ago, and his son A. L. Chubb, succeeds him in active business life.
It was at this period that the Catholic mission already spoken of, was established. The Baptist mission was then in full operation among the Ottawas under Kewaykushquom, therefore the Rev. Father Barrigan chose Noonday’s village for the site of his mission house. This priest began his labors in 1833, and in the latter part of the same year erected a small frame building on the outskirts of this village. Mr. Louis Campau wanted the building on the east side of the river and eventually carried his point, and engaged a man named Barney Burton to move it across the river on the ice. Rev. Father Barrigan did not suit the singular, and to some extent, impracticable notions of Mr. Campau, and soon left to consequence. Thus the catholic mission died out for the time.
During this period, when Mr. Campau and Mr. Barrigan were disagreeing over certain religious matters, which resulted in breaking up the Catholic school, the children on the east side of the river were taken across to Rev. Mr. Slater’s mission school in a birch-bark canoe returning by the same means in the evening.
These were dark days in the history of Grand Rapids. Only a few pioneers, not to exceed thirty, then struggled for an existence here. Most of them had come for the purpose of trading with the Indians, and took but little interest in the improvement of the place; while, on the other hand, there were a few enterprising, farsighted Americans among them, who, foreseeing the future greatness of the site, began to clear away the forests with a view to erecting a permanent home. These persons, no doubt, appeared somewhat enthusiastic in the eyes of the French traders, who have never been able to see anything in the future of Michigan until it has been fully accomplished; but some of these persons still live to feel and realize vastly more than these “enthusiastic pioneers” ever hoped for.
One day, during the winter of 1834-5, an American who had purchased a small lot remarked to Mr. Campau that he believed Grand Rapids, then the obscure hamlet of Kent, would, in less than twenty years, become a flourishing city. The good old pioneer and father of the city responded with a sneer, for at this time he could see nothing in Grand Rapids beyond the fur trade. But even this patriarch has lived to feel the power and see the matchless results of American enterprise. He has lived to see his forest trading post converted into a great manufacturing and commercial mart. He sought a home in the forest, but lived to see that home surrounded by a populous city, and died in the midst of civilization.
In 1834 the tide of emigration rolled along with steady progress. Among the most notable who came were Richard Godfroy, Robert Barrs, Louis Morau and Lovell Moore. This year is notable for one single event – the first marriage in Grand Rapids. The happy pair were Harriet Guild and Barney Burton. The courtship was conducted here beside the old-fashioned fire-place, in the little house of Mr. Joel Guild, which stood where the City National Bank now stands. Barney was a hard working fellow, steady, honest and genial, and many a long evening did he entertain Harriet with curious pictures of their future home and happiness. She listened with increasing interest, perhaps forgetting that the hour was growing late; for in those days getting married was almost always prefaced by a hearty courtship – a courtship not of afternoon calls, in which the aspirant for matrimonial blessings is entertained with piano music, but a courtship extending into the solemn stillness of the night, when, by the dim firelight, which revealed the honest faces of only two at every flare, the vows were made - vows seldom broken. Such was Barney Burton’s courtship. Returning from the woods, after a hard day’s work of “saw-logging”, he would carefully lay aside his buck-skin moccasins, and, putting on his “Sunday clothes,” he would skip over the Uncle Joel’s where he always found the true-hearted Harriet to welcome him. Such pastimes, I fancy, caused Barney to forget his weariness, and to think only of happier days to come.
It was also in 1834 that the first town meeting was held, and this, too, was held at Mr. Guild’s residence, which was, at this period, the principal frame building in the settlement of Kent. There were only nine voters. The township was organized on the 4th of April in this year. There does not appear to have been any defined limits to the organization, but it is supposed to have embraced all the settlements within the present county of Kent. The division now known as the Township of Grand Rapids, received its name in 1842.
As I have already said, the first township meeting was held in the house of Joel Guild, and the number of electors was nine. The officers elected were: Rix Robinson, Supervisor; E. Turner, Clerk; Joel Guild and Barney Burton, Assessors; Ira Jones, Collector. At the time of the organization and for several years thereafter, the taxes were collected by the Collector, and paid over to the Supervisor and disbursed by him. The first Treasurer was elected in 1839, and the first entry upon his books was as follows: “May 14th, 1839 .- Received of E. W. Davis, Supervisor, eight dollars on the Grand River Bank; three dollars on the Ypsilanti Bank; one dollar and twenty-five cents on the Pontiac Bank, and sixty two cents in specie.” The amount of taxes that had been collected the year previous was $174. This includes all the taxes collected in 1838 in the whole county of Kent. From this statement the rapid growth of the city and county is apparent to all.
Among the settlers of 1834 were Ezekiel Davis. Lewis Reed, Ezra Reed, Porter Reed, David S. Leavitt, and Robert M. Barr. Among those who followed in 1835-6-7 were James McGrath, George Young, Robert Thompson, John F. Godfroy, James Nelson, and a host of others, who have since made comfortable homes for themselves in or around the city of Grand Rapids.
In the fall of 1834 Mr. Louis Campau commenced a large frame building, which, to this day, exists as the upper two stories of a part of the Rathbun House, and in the following year there was a general movement of settlers from various parts of northwestern Michigan and from Detroit to Grand Rapids. Among these were Edward Guild and Darius Winsor, from Ionia; Hon. Lucius Lyon, Jefferson Morrison, Antoine Campau, James Lyman, A. Hosford Smith, D. Turner, W.C. Godfroy, Dr. Wilson, Dr. Charles Shepard, and Julius C. Abel. Dr. Wilson was the first doctor in Kent. He was furnished with a medicine case and a set of instruments by Louis Campau, and commenced practicing in Grand Rapids in the fall of 1835, when the total white population of the village was not more than fifty.
Julius C. Abel was the pioneer lawyer, and soon became rich out of the misunderstandings and legal conflicts of the inhabitants. James Lyman and Jefferson Morrison put up stores and commenced trading. These improvements or additions to the little town were valuable aids, for, at this period, commerce seems to have got a legitimate foothold in the place.
In the same year Mr. N.O. Sargeant, purchased an interest with Lucius Lyon in the Kent Plat, and came on with a large number of workman for the purpose of digging a mill-race. Judge Almy and wife came at the same time.
The entrance of Mr. Sargeant’s expedition was indeed an exciting event in the little town of Kent. The workmen came into the place with their shovels and picks on their shoulders, marching in double file, to the inspiriting notes of a bugle in the hands of one of their number. The chief of the Ottawa village beheld the demonstration with amazement and immediately dispatched one of his deputies to Mr. Campau, with offers of assistance to help me drive the invaders, as he regarded them, from the town. The chief was so far excited by this entry of pioneers that he assembled his warriors in council so as to be ready for action as soon as the deputy returned from Mr. Campau. The reader will scarcely be able to imagine the chagrin of these disappointed Indians when the deputy returned and announced Mr. Campau’s reply in the following words “Those are our friends and brethren who have come to labor with us, let us welcome them!”
Among the prominent arrivals in 1835 was the Rev. Father Vizoisky, who was for seventeen years, pastor of the Catholic flock in Grand Rapids. This good man was a native of Hungary, and received his education at the Catholic institutions of learning in Austria under the patronage of the Hungarian Chancery. He came to the United States in 1831. By the appointment of the Bishop of Detroit he officiated three years in St. Clair county, and in 1835, he removed to the Grand River Mission which hade been broken up in the manner already described. Among the other settlers of 1835, I will also mention Lyman and Horace Gray, Andrew Robbins, Martin Ryerson.
The Rev. Father Vizoisiky’s ministry in Grand Rapids was marked by unsurpassed devotion, and the most gratifying success. No road was rough enough and no weather inclement enough to keep him from the post of duty. To the poor he brought relief; to the sick consolation; and to the dying the absalvatory promises of his office. He died January 2d 1852, at the age of sixty years; having lived to see a handsome stone church edifice erected on Monroe St. two years previous to his death, and filled with a numerous and prosperous congregation.Document Source: Tuttle, Charles R., History of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids: Tuttle & Cooney, 1874.