From Wilderness to Settlement

In 1830, Michigan seemed a paradise, while life in Scotland was hard and unrewarding; that was the perspective of our pioneering ancestors.Transportation was up to the task and the seas were finally safe to travel. Opportunity and adventure awaited.

From our objective distance, looking down on time as it unfolds, we see that in Michigan in the year 1800, there were essentially no European settlers. There weren't even many Indians in Michigan. "Michigan" was not even on maps. The land was wooded, filled with animals; it was wilderness. In 1800, there was no "mass movement," no immigration into the land soon to be called Michigan. The westward expansion of the United States had not yet arrived. Civilization was still to the east.

There were individuals, mostly missionaries and fur traders, who moved through "Michigan" in the late 1600's and throughout the 1700's, but these people preceded the "flood" of pioneers that spread across the land. Early Europeans did not come to farm or to homestead. They were passing through, coming and going.

"The period (prior to homesteading and the establishment of settlements) was a romantic period of missionary work, of fur-trading and military occupation." (Fuller, 1912)

The frontier crawled slowly across the continent, moving steadily westward, arriving at the eastern edge of Michigan in about 1815. The flood was only a trickle at this date, but there was a grand plan that would soon create a fever for land. The Michigan Territory was formed in 1806. Becoming a territory was a stage in development. It meant that Michigan was about to become a state. All that was needed was for the Indians to be removed and the land to be surveyed into salable lots. A series of government orchestrated Indian treaties removed native Americans from the land that they perceived as belonging to all creatures. The history of the Indian resistance is a story left to other researchers, but be clear that many Indians did not give up their way of life without a heroic struggle.

Banks in New England supported land capitalists who rushed in as soon as government surveyors finished carving up the landscape. These entrepreneurs were often one step ahead of the settlers. Creating a fever for land and an opportunity for profit was old hat by the time Michigan Fever broke out. The formula had already been worked out when the frontier moved through western Pennsylvania and New York.

By 1820, the Indian treaties had been signed and land surveys completed for southeastern Michigan. Land speculators platted cities and bought land. Then they aggressively advertised in the eastern United States, in Great Britain, and in Europe. The United States government was eager to establish settlers in Michigan and the governments in Europe and Great Britain fully cooperated with emigration. The flood gates opened. The trickle of pioneers that will swell into a raging flood by 1835, starts in the east and pours westward. For Michigan, the flood gates open at two ports. The primary port is Detroit. Most of the Scottish families came through that city, having arrived on the east coast of the United States, and after a journey across New York and through Lake Erie.

Because of Michigan's geographical location, many Scottish pioneers also came by way of Canada. They came through Sarnia, Ontario across the river into Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan. Others came through Windsor, Ontario, Detroit's sister city. It was cheaper to sail from England to Canada, than from Great Britain to New York, so many pioneers took this option.

There was also a "Canada Fever" (an Ontario landrush) going on at the same time as Michigan was being carved into plats and sold. There was a competion between Great Britian and the United States; it was in the best interest of both nations to populate their territories with people loyal to the home government.

If we stick pins in a map of southeastern Michigan, plotting the locations of Scottish families in 1820 (those in this study), we would see that most lived north of Detroit in Macomb County. Migration was limited by transportation, by the availability of rails or roads. As each year passed, families moved farther north and west from Detroit.

At some unknown time in the late 1820s or early 1830s, a group of Scottish families began to refer to themselves as the "Scottish Settlement." They eventually established a loose identity that included informal geographical boundaries. As the frontier moved northward from Detroit, as roads were created, there was a natural evolution to the settlement. It started in Macomb County, primarily but not exclusively in Bruce Township. The pioneers in Macomb came in the late 1820's and early 1830's; these were the families that established what was to become the Scottish Settlement.

When I began researching the Scottish Settlement, it seemed clear that Almont Township, in Lapeer County was the heart of the community, and that the pioneers were mostly from Ayrshire County in Scotland. I had to modify that view when I discovered the Berlin Township group in St. Clair County; these settlers were mostly from Glasgow. There was overlap between the Almont and Berlin communities; for example, the Hamiltons, Cochranes, Reids and others had family ties in both places.

Then, one day while researching documents in Macomb County, I found letters written by the Gray family. Here was a Scottish family with no representation in either Almont or Berlin. Then I found the Resides and McKays, Crawfords, and Taylors, another pocket of Scottish pioneers. As the research continued I found again that the families had intermarried either in Scotland or in Michigan. There was a clear bond that linked the communities in Almont, Berlin and Bruce Townships.

I was happy with this notion that the Scottish Settlement was a loosely affiliated collection of related families from three townships in Michigan who had known each other in Scotland. This kept me going for several years when I discovered another pocket of families in Metamora Township in Lapeer County; new surnames appeared, French, Park, a collection of Wallaces, and Mairs. Then I found the Crawfords in Armada and realized that this Township held another group of related Scots. Further investigation revealed a familiar pattern: across township and county lines, they all knew each other; often they had intermarried in Scotland, and in Michigan the children continued to marry within the Scottish community. The Berlin, Almont, Bruce, Armada, and Metamora communities were inner- connected.

My latest mental image is that of a river of Scots flowing from the west in two streams, one across Canada to Michigan, the other across the eastern United States to Michigan. Once the rivers emptied into Michigan, they formed a delta. The pioneers fanned outward through the wilderness settling in pockets, near one another. As the children grew to adulthood and left the homesteads, they spread further outward and the delta expanded. Scottish youth married each other in Michigan just as they had done in Scotland, especially during the early years of the settlement. So a rich network evolved that linked all the pockets together into a coherent entity that became know as the Scottish Settlement. The major glue that defines our settlement from others is that our pioneers came from an area that includes northern Ayrshire and Glasgow.

The Time line
(There is an "arrival time line" in the section that describes individual families)

The date for the beginning of the Scottish Settlement is documented in historic records for Macomb and Lapeer Counties. There is a Lapeer County Historical Society marker at the Scottish Presbyterian Cemetery, on Scotch Settlement Road in Almont, that bears the inscription "First permanent settlement in Lapeer County . . . 1828". Unfortunately, no one alive remembers why this date was selected. Scotsmen were in Macomb County in the 1820's, and the name "Scotch Settlement" may have been used in the 1820's there. In Lapeer County in 1828, in Almont, there were only a few English settlers (Deneen, Thorington, Allen families). The first of the Scottish families did not start arriving in Almont until 1833 (Ellis, 1978)."Allen" in it's Scottish derivation is "Allan". It is possible that the pioneering "Allens" (father and son) who cut the first road through the wilderness into what would become Almont Township, were Scottish. However, because of the English spelling and because we know that the Scottish Allan's in Berlin Township did not arrive until 1842, the Almont Allens were probably American pioneers of English descent.

After 1870, many of the children of the pioneers drifted beyond the settlement and the pioneers themselves began to pass away. I arbitrarily picked the cut off date for the settlement at 1870, although there are good reasons for selecting that date. Technological revolutions emerged in the late 1800's that altered society so dramatically it was clear that a new era had begun.

Between 1870 and 1900 for example, the telephone, photograph, and electricity came into commercial use- the days of the pioneer ended.

It is a sobering experience to realize what happened in the world between 1830 and 1870. Two events stand out. During this forty year span, the United States went from 24 to 48 states- the country spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The California Gold Rush came and went. This was the age of the pioneer, the homesteader in America. Secondly, a moral consciousness, a cultural conscience, emerged in the later half of the 1800's. Slavery was under relentless attack by abolitionists. Concurrently, women's rights were debated and demanded. The moral battle over slavery raged in America for thirty years and climaxed with a bloody civil war (1861 to 1865). These two events, the evolution of a social consciousness (the Civil War and women's rights), along with the framing of our national borders from sea to sea, established the American identity as one indivisible nation with high ideals and a deep respect for the rights of all individuals. We forged our pioneering character from 1830 to 1870.

All through this time period (1830 to 1870) the United States was at constant war with Indian nations. The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 26, 1830. The Removal Act provided for the government to negotiate removal treaties with the various tribes. The government's goal was to move the Indians from east of the Mississippi River to reservations in the west. This was steadily accomplished as settlers pressed westward, but not all the Indians were willing to be colonized. Many Native Americans did not give up their lands without a prolonged bloody fight.

"In reviewing the Indian situation, let us remember that long before the white man pushed his way into this territory, the red man was here. To the red man, this land, like the water and the air, was all free. To them, the white man, the usurper, was pushing them further back. The study of their retreat is pathetic. The Indians loved this valley up in the thumb, and it was with great reluctance that they gave it up." (Bowman, 1970)