How’d they get here? Detroit to Ft. Howard, 1834 (part 1)

Our series of “How’d they get here?” posts is written to illustrate the nuts and bolts of how our early Mequon pioneers travelled from their original homes or ports of arrival in North America to the newly opened federal lands in Wisconsin Territory, circa 1830-1850. Today’s post looks at another trip to Ft. Howard on the steamboat Michigan, this time in the summer of 1834.

In Monday’s How’d they get here? – JMC to Ft.Howard, 1833, we looked at the likely probability that from October 16 – 30, 1833, Pvt. Jonathan M. Clark left the U.S. Army’s recruiting depot at Ft. Niagara, New York, and traveled the Great Lakes from Buffalo, New York, to his new post at Fort Howard, Green Bay, Michigan (later Wisconsin) Territory. To make that late-season journey the army chartered the new and lavishly appointed steamboat Michigan.

Great Lakes Tourism – Summer, 1834

Less than a year after that October, 1833, voyage the owners of the Michigan announced two special excursions to the “Far West” for the summer of 1834. The first of these was scheduled to leave Buffalo on Thursday, July 10, headed to “the Sault St. Marie (foot of Lake Superior), Michigan and Green Bay, touching at the ports on Lake Erie and at Detroit,” and would “embrace a distance of nearly 2000 miles, during which, passengers will have an opportunity of viewing the splendid scenery of Lakes Erie, St. Clair, Huron, Superior and Michigan, and the rivers, straits and bays connected with them.”

“Steamboat excursion to the Far West,” advertisement, Albany Argus, June 6, 1834, page 3, via Click to open larger image in new window.

The second trip would depart Buffalo on August 12th, and would take in all the sights of the July trip, and additional notable points along the south and east coasts of Lake Michigan, including Chicago, Michigan City, “St. Josephs,” and the mouth of Michigan’s Grand River. What could an 1834 tourist to the “Far West” expect on such an excursion? We have a first-hand report from the July trip, which includes an eventful stop at Jonathan M. Clark’s post at Ft. Howard.

Letter from a Young Gentleman…

Today’s first-person report appeared in several contemporary newspapers. I have transcribed the version printed in the New York city Evening Star of September 11, 1834. The original “Extract from a letter from a young gentleman…” did not have many paragraph breaks. I’ve added more paragraph breaks for clarity, and supplied headers and probable dates for each day of the journey.1 The trip began in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, July 10, 1834. The published “letter” begins:

Extract from a letter from a young gentleman to his friend here [i.e., New York City], giving a brief sketch of a trip to Mackinac, Green Bay, &c. &c.

Steam Ship Michigan, Lake Huron, July, 1834.

“I’ll not trouble you with reading, or myself writing, a minute description of this noble vessel, except so much as to say that, with two immensely powerful engines, promenade decks, enlivened with the finest music and most brilliant company, splendid cabins and state rooms, dining tables covered with the choicest wines, and every delicacy that can please the most refined taste, or gratify the appetite of the epicure, the steamship Michigan is certainly, without exception, unsurpassed, and perhaps unequalled, by any of the numerous floating palaces which grace the widely extended lakes, rivers, and seas of these United States.

Sunday, July 13, leaving Detroit

On Sunday morning we left Detroit at day-light, and, running rapidly up the river into and through Lake St. Clair, and up its forrest bordered river about 30 miles, we came alongside Captain Ward’s wharf about noon, and while our crew were engaged in taking in an additional supply of wood, our passengers attended the performance of divine service in the cabin, by the Rev. Doctor Milnor of New York, assisted by the Reverend Doctor Kemper of Connecticut. At seven o’clock, P. M., we came to, and landed some passengers at Fort Gratiot, and in a few moments afterwards emerged from this beautiful and rapid river into the transparent waters and broad bosom of Lake Huron. We ran along at the distance of some 10 to 20 miles from its western shore, which appeared to be covered with a continued forest of the heaviest timber, —dimly discovering the distant Canadian shore, lying like a cloud far away in the eastern horizon.

Monday, July 14, the islands of northern Michigan

Monday morning, nothing in sight as far as the eye could reach, but the azure sky above us, and the transparent, mirror-like surface in which it was most beautifully reflected. At noon we had crossed Thunder Bay, and were running between its islands. At about ½ past 4 P. M. we were, passing the Island of Bois Blanc at the entrance of the streights of Michilimackinack, and as we ran fearlessly into the beautifully crescent-formed harbour of Mackinac, we could discover the smallest pebbles amongst the rocks which lay at the depth of 6 to 8 fathoms, and the coolness of the clear atmosphere contrasted strongly with the insufferable heat from which we had but a day or two since escaped. Amongst the huts and canoes which lay scattered in admirable confusion in front of the town, at short intervals upon the pebbly shores, were hundreds of the feather plumed and painted Indians, and on the wharf was all the town to welcome us, for ours, you must know “were angels visits, few and far between.”

On our arrival a grand salute was fired in honor of Gen. Brady, one of our passengers, from the fort which is situated on a high bluff or elevation overlooking the town, and commanding the harbor and streights. It has a very commanding appearance as you approach, and although on a small scale, the resemblance was sufficiently similar to induce us to give it the appellation of little Quebec. —There being no very suitable accommodations in the town for so many strangers, we held a levee on board our floating castle, and passed the evening delightfully in dancing and various other amusements.

Tuesday, July 15, Mackinac and Lake Michigan

On Tuesday, after partaking of a sumptuous breakfast on the exquisitely delicious white fish, which are here taken in their greatest perfection, we accompanied the General to review the troops on the beautiful plain in the rear of the fortifications, and inspected with him the barracks, which were the perfection of regularity and neatness. —In the course of the morning we overrun the Island in every direction, exploring the scull cave, visiting the natural arch, and pyramid or sugarloaf rock; enjoying the scenery and almost unlimited prospect from old fort Holmes on the very summit of the Island, and circumnavigating it in the light bark canoes, each propelled by the paddles of ten of the natives with lightning like rapidity to the romantic music of the boat song, which inspires them.

Leaving this enchanting spot, we run up the straits into Lake Michigan, and pursued our course amongst its romantic and beautiful Islands, on the chrystal shores of which were seen, as we passed the birch bark hut and canoe of the native sons of the forest, with which they are covered; where they still enjoy their original privileges of hunting, fishing and sleeping, unmolested by any, and indifferent to all. The voyage up this lake from Mackinac is not easily described. It must be made in “propria persona,” or it can never be appreciated. The Aurora Borealis was seen in the evening flashing in the north-west and rolling its pyramids and clouds of light towards the east.

“The silvery moon unclouded holds her way,
Through skies where you could count each little star;
The fanning west-wind gently stirred the waves,”

and the soft whisper of the little groups on the shadowy decks of our gallant vessel, were heard as you passed either, in soft accents of mutual admiration, or suppressed ejaculations of enthusiastic delight, in witnessing the beauty and tranquility of the scene.

Wednesday, July 16, arrival at Green Bay

On Wednesday, as the Sun was slowly sinking to its repose in cloud of the most gorgeous and variegated colors, we arrived at the extremity of Green Bay, and about two miles up the Fox river, we landed at Navarino,2 receiving as we passed a salute from Fort Howard, on the opposite side of the river.

Need directions?

Many readers may not be familiar with some of the older place names in today’s “Letter.” Here’s the relevant portion of a map we discussed in our August 16th Monday: Map Day! – The United States of North America, 1825:

Detail of the Great Lakes area, from Finley, Anthony and David H. Vance, Map Of The United States Of North America. Philadelphia, 1825. Credit, David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries, non-commercial use permitted under Creative Commons license. See Monday: Map Day! – The United States of North America, 1825 for more information.

Be sure to click the image to open the map in a new window, then zoom in. You’ll find pretty much all of the places mentioned in today’s “Letter,” including old army forts and many of the islands in the Great Lakes. Also, note that on this 1825 map, the civilian town across the river from Ft. Howard is labeled “Green Bay Settlement.” The town would be re-named Navarino some years later.

And if you’re looking for the town of Milwaukee, it didn’t exist in 1825. In less than a decade it would be established at the mouth of this map’s “Melwakee” River.

Coming up…

Next time, part two of our 1834 Great Lakes cruise, including activities in which Jonathan Clark was a likely participant.



  1. The “Steamboat excursion to the Far West,” advertisement, Albany Argus, June 6, 1834, page 3, indicates the trip was to depart Buffalo on Thursday, July 10, I have calculated and added the other dates based on this assumed start date.

    I’ve also left the original spellings as they were published in 1834. I’m not sure which odd spellings are original to the author, and which are typesetter’s errors. It doesn’t really matter; I think the author’s meaning is clear.

  2. The Fox River meanders north-northeast from Lake Winnebago until it empties into Lake Michigan’s Green Bay. Fort Howard occupied the territory on the north/west side of the Fox River where it meets the bay. The little civilian town of Navarino was on the other, south/east side of the river, across from the fort. Both sites are now within the boundaries of the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

2 thoughts on “How’d they get here? Detroit to Ft. Howard, 1834 (part 1)

  1. Pingback: How’d they get here? Detroit to Ft. Howard, 1834 (part 2) | Clark House Historian

  2. Pingback: Autumn in “the West” – 1841 | Clark House Historian

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