Clinton Township

Clinton Township

The History of Clinton Township

On July 22, 1782 David Zeisberger and his followers founded the first settlement in Clinton Township. He described the site of "New Gnadenhutten" in his diary, "founded on this side of the river a fine place to lay out a town on a height ... between the river and the height, there are many springs with many separate little brooks that flow into the river and have exceedingly good water. The land on the site of the town is so sandy ... the lowlands are very rich with heavy timber. We chose this place before all others for our town site ... heavily laden boats can go even to the fork, a half-mile higher up ... and canoes can go much further. We are glad and thankful to have found such a good and healthy a spot for a town site nothing was lacking. We found traces that long ago an Indian town must have stood on this place."

It was in October 1781 that the British commandant at Detroit, Major DePeyster sent for the missionaries at Schoebrun (Ohio) to answer the charges against them of being sympathetic to the American cause. After much questioning they were vindicated. In July, 1782 DePeyster provided the Moravian Missionaries with provisions and obtained a parcel of land on the Huron River from the Chippewa Indians for use until the war between England and the colonies was over. (the Indians and French had called this river, the "Nottawasippe". The English called it the Huron of St. Clair. Now it is called the Clinton River in honor of the former governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton.

David Zeisberger and his followers founded the first settlement in Clinton Township. He described the site of "New Gnadenhutten" in his diary on, [July] 21, [1782]: "In the evening, we came to the place appointed for use to settle in, and encamped, but were welcomed by mosquitoes and so badly treated that we had little rest, although we made a fire round about us, so that the air was filled with smoke and steam. Thus far we have found no place satisfactory to use, for all the land we have seen is too low, swampy, and exposed to overflow, though we landed several times and examined several places. Besides we did not dare to settle within a distance of eight miles from the lake, for the land both sides of the river belongs to some Detroit merchants. We examined the 22d, [July, 1782] further up the creek, and found on the south side of the river a fine place to lay out a town on a height, not inferior to that at Schonbrunn [Ohio] and it has the same slope, according to the compass, and the course of the river, which Schonbrunn had."

Tuesday, [July] 23 [1782]: "We found many traces that a long time ago an Indian town must have stood on this place, for we saw many holes in the ground, which were now indeed filled up, but quite recognizable, in which Indians have even now the custom of keeping their corn and other property."

Zeisberger also mentions the arrival of "Brother Conner" on Tuesday, March 25, 1783, "to build himself [and his family] a house." Conner was the only white man ever allowed to live with the Moravians and seems to have taken up residence simultaneously with William Tucker. Zeisberger describes Tucker on May 2, 1783, as "a white man, our neighbor, who settled several weeks ago on this river below us."

There was little food for either the Moravians or Chippewas, who resented having to share their hunting grounds and especially with Christianized Indians. The settlement at Detroit was also in severe want during the spring and summer of 1784, and the people had to live mainly on weeds, which they cooked. The problems with the wolves increased and many cattle were lost. The only animals taken in hunting were raccoons. This famine, which had been preceded by three years of hunger, did not end until the bountiful harvest of September 1784.

Despite the harvest, the Chippewas continued to voice their discontent that the Moravians were living on their lands. After much consideration, the Moravians determined to remove in the spring of 1785, although they were afraid that they must always live as pilgrims if New Gnadenhutten could not remain a permanent settlement. The black belt of war was passed among the Indian nations during the summer of 1785, and the Moravians decided to remain at New Gnadenhutten a while longer. A map made by David Zeisberger shows 29 cabins and a large meeting house or chapel at the Moravian Settlement.

On March 4, 1786, three years after the end of the Revolutionary War (when the English should have left Detroit), Major Ancrum, the new English commander at Detroit, and John Askins, a loyal English merchant, "each of whom had a grant from the king of 2,000 acres, [and] wished to have it taken up here for them" bought the Moravian settlement. New Gnadenhutten had been much admired for several years by surprised visitors, mostly from Detroit.

The Moravians left New Gnadenhutten on Thursday 20 [April, 1786]: "After we had early, for the last time, assembled in our chapel, we loaded our canoes, and all went away together in the afternoon. None of us remained behind, save Conner's family, who himself knew not whither to go, nor what to do."

The Chippewas did not agitate for the removal of the Conner family. Certainly the entire family had a special knowledge of Indian customs and dialects. Richard Conner, who was born about 1718 in Maryland, was 68 years old when the Moravians departed. His wife, Margaret, had been captured by Indians at the age of four. Conner had bought her freedom and then made her his wife, no doubt considering her suitability to the life he led as a trader and interpreter among the Indians. As part of the bargain, according to tradition, the Conners were obliged to give their first-born child, James, to the Indians. Several years later they were able to redeem him. Their son, Henry, was later highly respected and influential among the Indians. Their daughter, Susanna, may have been the first child of English-speaking parents to be born in Macomb County. In 1807, she married Elisha Harrington, who had settled in the neighborhood the year before. Richard Conner lived at the Moravian site until his death April 17, 1808.

During the War of 1812 the British, seeking revenge, offered the Indians $5 per American scalp. The settlers sought safety in the fort at Detroit. Upon their return to the Moravian site, they found burnt buildings and much desolation. Elisha Harrington, after serving in the War of 1812, with his wife built a large house near the Moravian site. Displays of the house can be seen in the Moravian Hall Museum. Chief Justice Christian Clemens appointed Elisha associate judge around 1819. Elisha and Susan lived in the house until their deaths in 1847 and 1848

By 1818 the Moravian Settlement was now known as the Village of Frederick (at first it was called Casino) and contained twenty families. Its main streets were Livingston, Shelby and Harrington. There was a hotel, several mills, a blacksmith, and a cooper (barrel maker) In 1843 Frederick was a busier place than even High Banks (later called Mount Clemens). The area was a private claim given to the heirs of Richard and James Conner. James, William, John and Henry gave their interest to Susannah and Elisha. After the peace of 1815, the Indians never made war again upon the settlers.

The Moravian Site also had a small clearing and burial spot and even today Indians will visit the area to honor their ancestors. In 1818 Macomb County was created a court system was formed for the Michigan Territory.

In 1827 the Clinton Township was much larger than today and encompassed what later became Warren and Erin Townships. In 1837 Michigan became a state. Clinton Township was named for the Clinton River when it was renamed at the first meeting of the state legislature. The Erie Canal was completed in 1825. Now it was possible to ship goods and people from the east coast to any place on the Great Lakes. Transportation was difficult in southern Michigan due to the wide expanse of marshland. A canal across Michigan seemed to be a logical endeavor, due to the success of the Erie Canal. On April 12, 1827 the Clinton River Navigation Company was formed and planed to build a canal from Frederick to Lake Michigan, utilizing the waters of the Clinton and Kalamazoo Rivers. Public Act #27 declared 500,000 acres of land was to be sold to provide funds to build locks on the Clinton River at the Village of Frederick. The Canal was completed from Frederick to the Village of Rochester. By 1850 it was abandoned as a result of increased dependence on rail transportation.

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Updated: 11th December, 2018 11:49 AM.