The Berlin Township Community

St Clair County, Michigan

One group of Scottish Settlement pioneers clustered around the Swedenborgian New Church in Berlin Township, St. Clair County. It seemed important, as I gathered research data for this book, that a few words be said about Berlin Township, when it was formed, and where it got the name "Berlin". Many German communities named their settlement towns "Berlin" or New Berlin," just as the Scottish named their communities "Bruce" or "New Glasgow". So, it seemed reasonable to ask whether German immigrants clustered together in this region of the thumb and named their community Berlin.

A survey of the census and a look at plat maps for Berlin Township quickly reveals no evidence of a German community. On the contrary, the land was pioneered primarily by New Englanders of English descent, along with Scottish members of the Swedenborgian New Church. A call to the Berlin Township offices gave the date for organization of the township, March 22, 1839. However, they had no record explaining how the name "Berlin" was chosen. Calls to the local history Librarian at the Port Huron Library and queries sent to the Archives of Michigan also revealed no reason for the name "Berlin". In the reference book "St. Clair County, Michigan, its History and its People" is found this statement:

"Berlin Township was created from the township of Clyde by an act of March 22, 1839. It was subsequently reduced by the township of Lynn, set off in 1850, and of Mussey Township in 1855. The origin of its name is unknown." (Jenks, 1912)
Clyde Township also had Scottish pioneers, as this quote from Wikipedia asserts:

"The township is named for the River Clyde in Scotland. In 1825, a Scotsman, Robert Smart, with the backing of Detroit interests, built a mill on the Black River. Smart named the place "Clyde Mills" after the river where he had lived as a boy. Clyde Township was organized in March 1836 and took its name from the settlement. When first organized, Clyde Township encompassed the area of what are now 20 townships." (Wikipedia, 2011)

The naming of Berlin Township seems forever lost to history; we are left with whatever intelligent speculations we can conger. The first thought that arises is that there must have been a prominent person living in the 1830s with the surname "Berlin" who distinguished themselves enough to be honored. This person could have been a public official in Michigan or the United States, or a community member. A search of the early history books for St. Clair County, Lapeer, and Macomb Counties, however, provides no hint of anyone with the Berlin surname- living at the appropriate time in history.

Another consideration turned up while I was researching the history of the New Church in North America, piecing together how a unique church like the Swedenborgian Society found its way from Glasgow, Scotland to St. Clair County, Michigan. A series of puzzle pieces began to fall into place, providing a possible explanation for calling the township Berlin. The New Church in Canada started in Kitchener, Ontario, before the New Church in Berlin Township was established. Before changing its name to Kitchener, the town was called Berlin!

"The first known receivers of the Doctrines of the New Church in Canada, were Mr. John Harbin, his wife, and her sister (Mrs. Wheeler), who in 1830 left Salisbury, England, for Montreal, Canada. Mr. Harbin then being 37 years of age. He had been a local preacher among the Methodists in England; but receiving the Doctrines of the New Church, had, in 1827, been baptized by the Reverend (Thomas) Goyder, and soon after originated the New Church Society in Salisbury (England).
"In February, 1854, Mr. and Mrs. Harbin, sister and children, removed to Berlin; and with the few others then living there, constituted the first organic Society of the New Church in the Dominion of Canada." (Field, 1879)

There were New Church Society members in Berlin, Ontario prior to the arrival of Reverend Harbin. That is the reason he and his family eventually settled there and established the first organized New Church in Canada.

The size of the Swedenborgian Society in North America in the early 1800s was very small. The congregations in both Ontario and Michigan probably had fewer than one hundred members and only a few of these were leaders. Furthermore, the societies in both places were served by the same ministers, Reverent George Field in particular ranged from Toronto to Chicago, Kitchener (Berlin) to Detroit; his territory was vast and his energy apparently endless.

The New Church Society in England and Scotland was also very small. The conclusion is easily reached that these people knew each other and that national boundaries did not deter their communication. The pioneers in what was to become Berlin Township in St. Clair County most assuredly knew who their brethren were in Ontario.

When a small group left Scotland in 1841, bound for North America, we assume that they had the names and addresses of fellow worshipers who were spread along their travel route. It is my suggestion that after meeting their fellow church members in Berlin, Ontario, staying with them for several days probably, they took the name Berlin and transplanted it in their new homeland, giving continuity to the spread of New Church Doctrine from Ontario to Michigan. It was a show of brotherhood with their fellow believers.

This suggestion gains some support from the knowledge that the Hamiltons landed in Montreal, Canada in 1841 and then went overland through Ontario on their way to Michigan. It may very well have been the Hamiltons who were responsible for the name “Berlin Township” (just speculation, of course!).

We don't know if other families were with the Hamiltons on their journey across Ontario. And it may be that others from the Scottish Settlement also stopped in Berlin, Ontario during their passage through Canada, at times differing from the Hamiltons. Perhaps further research will provide more insights.

As nice as this connection seems to be, the dates do not comfortably line up. The township was named in 1839 and the Hamiltons did not arrive until 1841. If the speculation has any hope of support, it means that there was someone else in St. Clair County who followed the New Church doctrines and who made a connection with the Canadian group in Berlin, Ontario.

The Scottish Settlement was concentrated in and around six townships: Berlin, in St. Clair County; Bruce and Armada in Macomb County; and Almont and Metamora in Lapeer County. The speculation that members of the New Church Scottish named Berlin Township gains credence when we look into Macomb County and see that they also named the Township of Bruce.

The 1840 federal census for Berlin Township

The 1850 federal census for Berlin Township

The 1860 federal census for Berlin Township

The 1870 federal census for Berlin Township

Almont Society Summer School Church booklet

The Pioneer Families in Berlin Township

The Allan Family

The Cameron Family

The Dodge Family

The Hamilton Family

The Marshall Family

The McArthur Family

The Morton Family

The Reid Family

The Robb Family

The Robertson Family

The Rutherford Family

The Wallace Family