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

More Great Lakes Tourism – Summer, 1834

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 continues our previous post, a first-person description of 1830s frontier tourism that we called How’d they get here? Detroit to Ft. Howard, 1834 (part 1).

Picking up where we left off…

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.

Detail, Topographical map of Wisconsin Territory / compiled from the Public Surveys on file in the Surveyor General’s office … by Samuel Morrison, Elisha Dwelle [and] Joshua Hathaway, 1837. American Geographical Society Library Digital Map Collection, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Click the detail map to open a larger version in a new window. Click here for a link to the complete map at UW-M and its bibliographic information.

This map detail—showing Fort Howard, Navarino and, at the top, the southern end of Green Bay— is from the Topographical map of Wisconsin Territory, published in 1837 and the subject of a Monday: Map Day! post in December, 2020. As a reminder, this 1837 map shows all the lands officially surveyed by the federal government up to the time of publication. In 1837, the territory to the north and west of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers was still reserved for Wisconsin’s Native Americans, so the lands to the north and west of the Fox River are left (mostly) blank on this official map. But this land was not at all “empty.” The Indians, the forests, the wildlife, some of the old Métis and Anglo-American settlers—and the army—were all on the left bank of the Fox River in 1837, as they were in 1834, when the steamboat Michigan and its passengers arrived in Green Bay.

Thursday, July 17, Fort Howard

Fort Howard, circa 1855, from Marryat, Frederick, and State Historical Society Of Wisconsin. “An English officer’s description of Wisconsin in 1837.” Madison: Democrat Printing Company, State Printers, 1898. Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window.1

Thursday was an eventful day. It began with military pomp, featuring the well-drilled men of the 5th Regiment, almost certainly including Private Jonathan M. Clark. Other Michigan passengers walked or rowed in search of other sights to see:

On Thursday morning, Gen. Brady reviewed all the troops, who made a brilliant display of military evolutions, highly gratifying to those who witnessed them, and evidently meriting the approbation they received from the worthy and excellent commander-in-chief. Some of our party were, in the mean time, exploring the country in different directions in search for Indian and other curiosities. Some were sailing up the Fox river in the light bark canoe of the Menomenee Indian, and others visited the Missionary School establishment of the episcopal church, which is situated on an eminence on the banks of the Fox river, about five miles from its mouth, in a luxuriant grove of oaks, and while spreading as it does the light of education and religion amongst the mixed inhabitants of our frontiers, certainly should receive that liberal patronage which it so richly merits and requires.

Thursday evening: music, dancing, and…stuck in the mud

Our gentleman correspondent continued:

At 6 o’clock, P. M. we took up our line of march, homeward bound, accompanied by the superb band of the garrison and a large number of these gallant officers, to whom we were indebted for the utmost attention shown us during, our visit. Cotillions, waltzes, promenades &c. were the order of the day, and we had but just passed the mouth of the river when our noble vessel, in consequence of perhaps the intoxication of the music, or some other cause, found herself almost out of her element, and fast in the mud. We, soon discovered that our detention was the ground work of the pleasure of the gallant officers, and that we were literally sticking to our friends. While we were making ineffectual attempts to back out, they were effectually revelling in the fascinating smiles of those rosy lips which, a few hours before, had been sweetly smiling upon us, but now, alas! had changed the subject, and left us miserably suffering the loss of “a living smile, a breathing harmony, a bodiless enjoyment, born and dying on the blest lips which made it.”2 In about two hours, however the splendid Michigan left the soft bed on which she had been reposing, and was again proudly floating in her own waters, and at anchor, awaiting the approach of day, before which time, our military friends beat a retreat from our fair voyageurs, and sped their way, with the fine music of their band,

“O’er thee glad waters of the dark-blue sea—
Their hearts as boundless and their souls as free;”3
while the soft rays of beauty’s sparkling eyes, and the bright beams of summer’s moonlit skies, shed their soothing light to cheer them to their homes.

The officers’ prank—getting the Michigan stuck in the mud so that they could enjoy the company of the visiting ladies for a few hours more—seems to have been well-received by all. I wonder if JMC got to enjoy some of the fun, or whether this was an “officers only” event.

Friday, July 18

The activities of Friday, July 18th, are missing from the published “Letter.” I wonder if the lady and gentlemen passengers of the Michigan slept late after their full day—and night—of exploration and frivolity. In any case, it appears that the ship must have replenished its fuel and other supplies and, sometime on Friday, left the frontier post of Fort Howard and tree-lined shores of Green Bay to set sail for home.

Saturday, July 19, return to Mackinac

Early on Saturday morning we arrived again at Mackinac, took in a large quantity of wood and another full supply of white fish for our breakfasts, with the celebrated Mackinac trout for our dinners, which are very large, weighing from 20 to 35 pounds.4 They look very like the salmon, and, in point of richness and flavor, are equal to them in every respect. We saw several white fish 13 or 14 inches in length taken from them, which, in addition to their living in the very cold and transparent waters of lakes Superior and Huron, probably accounts for their surpassing excellence. At 10 o’clock on Saturday we left the wharf and our good friends at Mackinac, wishing them all prosperity and happiness in that abode of health and hospitality.

Sunday, July 20, crossing Saginaw Bay

On Sunday we meet a very heavy southerly wind, against which, however, the powerful Michigan dashed impetuously onwards, and when crossing Saginaw Bay, we met two fleets of 15 or 20 light birch bark canoes full of Indians, each one with its little white square-sail set, scudding before the wind, and skipping over the white crest of the foaming waves—

“Swift as the flash, which mocks the sight,
They seem’d like birds on airy flight”— 5

Which was as novel as it was singularly and deeply interesting.

So ends our “Extract from a letter from a young gentleman,” as published in New York, New York, Evening Star, September 11, 1834. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into frontier life, and tourism.

Another handy map

Not sure about your Great Lakes geography knowledge? Here’s the relevant portion of a map we discussed in our August 16th Monday: Map Day! – The United States of North America, 1825. 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 our “Letter,” including Fort Howard, Navarino, other old army forts and many of the islands in the Great Lakes.

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.

Note that on this colorful 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.

Coming up…

I’m working on a series of posts about Jonathan and Mary (Turck) Clark’s oldest child, Caroline (Clark) Woodward. She led an amazing life, and I have a lot to share with you, including a very special recent find.

Also, I’ve still got all kinds of “How’d they get there?” stories and images waiting for space, and some fun Random Bits of History, too. Stay tuned!



  1. Considering how important Ft. Howard was to the history of what became the Wisconsin Territory, there is a surprising lack of images (drawings, prints, or photos) of the fort in its heyday. Although this daguerreotype is “old” (circa 1855), it shows the fort at the end of its career. The fort was built in 1816, in response to the War of 1812. It was an integral part of the federal government’s westward expansion—and suppression and removal of Native Americans—for the next 25 years. For a nice overview of Fort Howard’s history, see this post at Michigan Tech’s “Military History of the Great Lakes” site.

    Fort Howard was garrisoned by Jonathan Clark’s 5th regiment from 1828 to 1841. In 1841 the troops were withdrawn in response to the Seminole War in Florida, and the fort was officially abandoned in 1852. (Which makes the date of this photo suspect, I think. If the fort was officially abandoned in 1852, why is the boat in the foreground manned by what appear to be federal troops? Perhaps they are sailors? Any readers with knowledge of 1850s federal military uniforms out there? Let me know what you think.)

  2. The quote is from Act 1, scene 1 of Byron’s dramatic poem Manfred.

  3. Byron, Corsair, Canto i. Stanza 1.

  4. Those are some seriously large Lake Trout.

  5. The author of this couplet is unknown. The words appear as a popular or traditional song text in collections of the era, such as Hadaway’s Select Songster (1840) where it is attributed as Sung by Mrs. Seguin in the Opera of Cinderella.

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

  1. Reed – Interestingly there was a Ft Howard Paper Co. based in Green Bay many years ago. Now I know where they took their name.  Doug


    • Right! They had those stainless steel dispensers for the folded, brown, non-absorbent paper towels of our youth. And the company logo looked like an old, log-construction, army fort blockhouse.

      Of course, it’s no surprise that the Ft Howard/Green Bay area would be home to a paper mill or two. Forest products are still a big part of the state economy, about $18 billion per year (pre-pandemic); though business has been hit hard by the corona virus, and a declining need for newsprint and magazine paper.



  2. Another outstanding story, Reed. Traveling via steamboat on the Great Lakes during inclimate weather must have been harrowing. Just this week we had 12-14 foot waves on Lake Michigan. I wonder, during your research if you have run across a family by the last name of French? They would have been making their way across the Great Lake States eventually settling into Wisconsin and Illinois about this same time.


    • Hi Eric!

      Glad you liked the post. Yes, steamboat travel was popular, but filled with risks. If the occasional fire or exploding boiler didn’t get you, the crazy and unpredictable Great Lakes weather might. I have some Random Bits of History items about just these sorts of events. I will probably post some later this week or next.

      I haven’t run into a “French” surname yet. I’ll keep an eye out just in case…



  3. Pingback: Monday: Map Day! – Ft. Howard & Green Bay, 1827 | Clark House Historian

  4. Pingback: RBOH – “How’d they get here?” edition… | Clark House Historian

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