Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Celebrating Macomb County's 200th Anniversary

There is a lot to be said about local history: yours, mine, or anyone's. Take my hometown of Eastpointe. I've lived in this city for fifty years, aside from a few that found me in nearby Warren at the time of my marriage, and even though it's a great city to drive through to get somewhere else, it's still my hometown; it is the place where I have, for the most part, lived since Lyndon Johnson was still president, the Beatles were still a group, and man had yet to set foot on the moon.
That's kind of a long time, wouldn't you say?
And Eastpointe is in the County of Macomb.
Nothing too special there either. Except that this year of 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of Macomb County becoming a county.
Now that's kind of cool!
And all the various local historical societies are celebrating this event. The historical imagination runs wild: in the year it became a county (1818), John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were still alive, James Madison was president, and the United States Congress adopted the American flag as having thirteen red and white stripes, and one star for each state (twenty at the time) with additional stars to be added as new states entered the union.
Even cooler, eh?
Named in honor of General Alexander Macomb, a highly decorated veteran of the War of 1812, Macomb County was the third county in the Michigan territory. 
Here are a few historical bullet points about this county in which I've lived most of my life:
~ The first Europeans arrived in the area during the 17th century. They included French fur trappers (our Voyageur friends) who recognized the richness of the marshes and sought new opportunities for trade.
~ Moravian missionaries established the first organized, non-native settlement in the county in 1782 as a refuge for Christianized Indians driven out of Ohio. 
~ In the late 1790s, Christian Clemens visited the area, and in March of 1800, purchased a distillery considered the first building on the site of the future Mount Clemens. The next year he purchased 500 acres for development. This site, known as High Banks, was platted as the Village of Mount Clemens in 1818, when it was proclaimed the Macomb County Seat.
~ In the early 1800s, and at least by 1840, settlers moved into the interior of the county, carving out farms from the hardwood forests. The roots of the county villages and townships were established by this time. In addition to the original French and English, later settlers included Germans, Belgians and others who came directly from Europe.
~ And in the 1870s, mineral baths brought international fame to Mount Clemens. Many believed the waters had healing powers. Although the stream still runs beneath the city, interest in the spas died out in the early 20th century. Recently, there has been a reemergence of interest in the mineral baths now being offered at St. Joseph Hospital in Mount Clemens.

So the East Detroit Historical Society asked the members of the 21st Michigan Civil War reenacting unit if we might be willing to help them celebrate by presenting living history at the old 1872 school house, knowing that we have the means to show everyday life of the mid-19th century inhabitants of this county of Macomb.
Why, of course we would!
Won't you join us?

Imagine stopping at the red light on the busy street (9 Mile Rd) directly in front of the school house and seeing this scene... 
The Halfway School House, built in 1872 and in use from that year to 1921, when a more modern brick structure was built and this old building was relegated to becoming a warehouse until it was saved and restored by the East Detroit Historical Society 
sixty five years later.

To date, about 800 Civil War soldiers who were from Macomb County have been identified - not bad for a very rural county of the 1860s (click HERE for more info).
The plan I put in use for our celebration of the history here was to have our Civil War military outside of the building, and the 'home arts' set up inside.
Unfortunately, with this being the beautiful spring weather day that it was (that's the excuse I'll give), all but two of our military chose not to take part, which was a real shame because we could have used the numbers.
But the two men here made a valiant and successful attempt to show the public a little about Civil War life for the soldiers who came from Macomb County.
And, part of the fun for the little ones, dressing them up like a soldier:

This young man (and his watchful mother) certainly enjoyed playing soldier!

We also had a young lady who played a role in the military join us - Miss Annie Etheridge.
Annie was from Michigan, but not from Macomb County (though she was born the next county over, so she may have traveled here at one time or another).
Annie, here holding the 21st Michigan battle flag, was not in the 21st but, rather, she was a part of the 3rd Michigan initially and then the 5th Michigan to the War's end. However, lucky for us, Jillian, as a reenactor, chooses to be a part of the 21st Michigan, and in her presentation let's the visitors know Annie's actual military history.

Annie Etheridge was one of only two women to receive the Kearney Cross for her bravery in service, and she was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame 
in 2010.
(Other members of that exclusive club include Sara Emma Edmonds, Gilda Radner, Sojourner Truth, Aretha Franklin, Candice Miller, Diana Ross, and a whole slew of other women - some well-known, some not-so-well-known)

Vickie set up a smaller display of her United States Christian Commission. 
The U.S. Christian Commission was an organization that furnished supplies, medical services, and religious literature to Union troops during the Civil War. It combined religious support with social services and recreational activities. It supplied chaplains and social workers and collaborated with the U.S. Sanitary Commission in providing medical services.  

Andy the "eggman" spoke of his life on his chicken farm.
During our reenactments, he really does walk around the camps to sell eggs to reenactors.

I also brought a few of my farming tools such as the scythe you see me holding and the wood rake my son has, along with a few other implements like a flail and sickle.

On the inside - - - - - - 
- - - - we had mostly the 'home arts' - showing the life of most Macomb County women of the period.
Yes, I am very proud of our civilians and how everyday life is presented in varying ways, including a woman who was assigned as the primary lighthouse keeper when her husband left for military service.
Anastasia “Eliza” Truckey served as lighthouse keeper of the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse in Marquette, Michigan, while her husband was away for war. Nelson Truckey left Eliza and their four children for three years to fight with the 27th Michigan Infantry during the Civil War. During that time, Eliza kept the light burning without an assistant to help her.
Anastasia “Eliza” Truckey served as lighthouse keeper on the left, and Laura Smith Haviland, the Quaker abolitionist on the right.
Our friend in the middle? Why, that's Mrs. Cook, sometimes laundress and sometimes sketch artist.
Laura Smith Haviland was a pioneer social activist who devoted her life to others. In 1837 she co-founded, with her husband Charles, the Raisin Institute, which was one of the first schools in the United States to admit black students. Laura Haviland was very involved in an anti-slavery movement, serving as Superintendent and Stationmaster on the Underground Railroad in Michigan. 
After the Civil War, she became an officer in the Freedman’s Aid Society, assisting in the relocation and adjustment of former slaves in Kansas. 
Mrs. Haviland also worked for the temperance movement.

Home arts was represented as well...
That's my wife on the left, and 21st Michigan member Sue on the right, and both had their wheels a-goin.' There was also knitting, crocheting, and sewing.

Since Patty learned to spin nearly a decade ago, it has become her passion. I remember during our dating days when I would ask her if she was interested in spinning wool into yarn. "Why would I do that when I can go to the store and buy whatever I need."
She sings a different tune today.

And next to my wife we continue the home arts part of the tour - - - 

Larissa, who you see here, presents period farm life with me at historical societies, schools, libraries, reenactments, and anywhere else we are asked. And I have to laugh because the set up you see here is pretty much what we bring to those presentations - they are part of my personal collection of (mostly) replicas. She calls my home a "prop shop of history." 

By the mid-19th century, oil lamps had made inroads to home-lighting, though candles were still pretty prominent, especially in the more rural areas.
Here you see both - - - 

I see a chamber pot, candle mold with candles, an oil lamp (an antique from the 1880s), a butter paddle, a butter churn, and an ice cream maker.

Kristen had her antique jewelry display available for all to see, and the women found the older styles fascinating.

The interested family in the picture above with Kristen just happened by and saw this man:

And seeing our 16th President was enough to entice them to stop in for the history lesson of a lifetime.
Mr. Lincoln's formal education was limited, by the way, and for him it was a privilege to be able to attend such a school similar to the Halfway School House. 

President Abraham Lincoln never actually traveled to Macomb County (or even to Michigan, from what I understand), but he wanted to make sure he was part of our celebration here in 2018!
And he certainly was!

Of course, it helps to have the finest Abraham Lincoln interpreter in the country as part of our reenacting unit! And Mr. Priebe is second to...um...to only the actual President Lincoln!

"I wonder of the changes this county may see in
future times, Mrs. Fleishman."
"Things we cannot even dream of,
I am sure, Mrs. Assenmacher!"

My son, Robbie, enjoys playing period music on his fife.
He's pretty darn good at it, too!

Robbie and Jillian: good friends in a great hobby~
Rob kind of has the Jack White in Cold Mountain look going on here, don't you think?

For a variety of reasons, we didn't get nearly as many visitors as we would have liked to, but all of us living historians who participated certainly enjoyed our time together after the long, cold winter separation, for we are all good friends whether we dress in period or modern clothing.
It was a fine start to what promises to be a wonderful reenacting season.

Until next time, see you in time.

~   ~   ~

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