Formation of Rose Township

The Land Ordinance of 1785 set up a standardization system for how land, including the Michigan Territory, would be divided up in the undeveloped west. Under this ordinance, a township was considered a surveying unit and was defined as a six mile by six mile square divided into 36 one square mile sections. Even after Oakland County was geographically divided into townships, many townships were connected governmentally and were not yet self-governing. Many of the lesser populated townships were a part of larger more populated areas. In 1825 congress passed a law giving the Territorial Governor and Legislative Council authority to divide the territory into politically independent townships.

Evolution of Townships in Oakland County (source), accessed 1/22/2021

Initially, what would become Rose Township was a part of Pontiac Township. Later, in 1834 Rose and White Lake “Townships” became a part of Highland Township at the time Highland petitioned the Governor and Legislative Council of the Michigan Territory to become independent and self-governing.

On March 11, 1837 an act of legislation creating Rose Township was approved. The act reads:

Once Rose Township was officially created, the first government was formed when township officials were elected at the first Township meeting held in David Gage’s tavern on April 3, 1837.

First Government Officials of Rose Township - 1837

Early Township Positions

Some of the early positions exist today in township government, but others are now obsolete or are no longer performed at the township level.

  • Supervisor - responsible for overseeing the running of the township, deciding issues of public safety, enforcement, levying taxes and setting budgets

  • Clerk - performs administrative tasks including maintaining records, issuing licenses and permits, supervising elections, and publishing and posting legal notices

  • Justices of the Peace - hears minor civil matters and petty criminal cases, conducts preliminary hearings, issues warrants for search and arrest, deals with traffic offenses, holds inquests, and performs marriages.

  • Assessors - collects information about properties in order to estimate their value

  • Highway Commissioner - in charge of building and maintaining roads

  • Collector - collects taxes

  • Constable - The position of contable was carried over from its British counterpart who acted as local law enforcement. The duties of constable varied from township to township even within the same state. Many constables held the duty of local peacekeeper or acted as local law enforcement officers and/or served summons and subpoenas. In more recent times, the position of constable has been phased out from township governments.

  • Poor-master - validates those who applied for relief and issues funds to those in need

The poor-master was sometimes a dangerous job as those who were rejected for aid sometimes held grudges and retaliated as described in the following newspaper articles.

Pontiac Commercial, 3 October 1876

Isabella County Enterprise, 9 August 1901

  • Path-master - Dirt roads were in need of constant repair. Each year property owners were assessed the amount of hours they would need to work in order to pay off the taxes for road repair that year. The path-master recorded the hours worked against the land owner’s name. Road work included filling in bad ruts, building bridges over streams, and other general road maintenance.

Pontiac Bill Poster (1882), 15 September 1886

Leelanau Enterprise, 21 April 1892

The Officials of the First Government of Rose Township

John A. Wendell and his sons Joseph Wendell and Everett Wendell, played a significant role in Rose Township’s first government. They were all original land patent owners in the township and over time continued to influence its growth and development.

John A. Wendell (1788-1858) owned land in sections 22 and 27 in Rose Township. John A. Wendell served as township supervisor from 1837-1842 and again in 1842 and 1844. He was also a Justice of the Peace and poor master. He served as the first postmaster from 1837 until his death in 1858. In that year his son Evertt took over as postmaster. John A. Wendell was a farmer, carpenter, and had been a teamster (in charge of bringing supplies) in the War of 1812. He is buried in Rose Center Cemetery.

Joseph C. Wendell (1810-1877), son of John A. Wendell, owned 3 parcels of land in section 22 in Rose Township. He was assessor in the first year of government and later served as supervisor from 1853-1857 and in 1860 and again from 1873-1877. He also served as highway commissioner. He is buried in Rose Center Cemetery.

Everett Wendell (1818-1888) owned land in section 26 in Rose Township. He was tax collector and constable. Later, after his father's death, he took over as postmaster. In the 1840s he was running the Buckhorn Tavern (which had replaced the Gage Tavern). He is buried in Rose Center Cemetery.

Like the Wendells, Pardon Hicks, Henry Phelps, and Abraham Wortman also owned original land patents in Rose Township. Stephen Hovey was an original land patent owner of a small parcel in Highland Township, but did not own land in Rose Township. Jonathan Bennett was not an original land patent owner in Rose Township, but he lived on the land of his half sister Charity Miller who was an original land patent owner. David Gage did not own land in Rose Township, but ran the tavern where the first meeting of elected township government officials was held.

Pardon Hicks owned land in section 35 in the southeast portion of Rose Township. He served as a Justice of the Peace, assessor, and as highway commissioner in the township’s first year. In 1840 he moved to the settlement of White Lake where he worked as a blacksmith. In 1850 he moved to Fentonville (Fenton) and continued working as a blacksmith. He died there in 1855 and is buried there.

Henry Phelps owned land in the northern part of Rose Township in sections 4 and 7. He served as township clerk and as a Justice of the Peace. Henry Phelps came to Rose Township with his father Joel Phelps who was a revolutionary war soldier. Joel Phelps was 80 years old when he came to the township and he died one year after arriving. Joel Phelps is one of only 34 revolutionary war soldiers buried in Oakland County and is buried in Rose Center Cemetery. Soon after the death of his father, Henry Phelps moved to Milford where his brother Aaron had a sawmill and distillery. Henry Phelps did not stay there long and soon moved to Michigan Centre in Jackson county where he tried to run his own distillery business. His business failed. In 1844 he was arrested for stealing horses. At that time stealing horses was a serious crime as horses were a valuable commodity since they were needed for farming and transportation. He was sentenced to 5 years in the newly opened Michigan State Prison in Jackson, Michigan. In 1858, Phelps drowned in the Huron River and is buried in Dexter.

The Farms on which the First Elected Officials Lived were along the First Roads

Abraham Wortman owned several parcels of land in Rose Township located in sections 1, 5, 9, 13, and 24. He and his wife lived on one parcel in the township and their children James Wortman, who had been a soldier in the War of 1812, and daughter Margaret and her husband Horace Ballard lived on other parcels. On the 1840 census, Abraham Worthman and his wife Ann are listed as being in their 70’s making him the oldest elected official of the first Rose government. After his wife died, at the age of 81, Abraham Wortman married 54 year old Catherine VanEvery. He died a few years later. It is unclear as to where he is buried.

Stephen Hovey was an original land patent owner of a small parcel in section 7 of Highland Township. He did not own land in Rose Township but was elected as a constable. Not much is known about Stephen Hovey or of his connection to the township.

Jonathan Bennett lived on land in section 21 in Rose Township, however he was not an original land patent owner. He lived on land owned by his half sister Charity Miller who was an original land patent owner. Jonathan Bennett was elected as a Justice of the Peace. On the 1840 census, Bennett is shown living in Rose Township with his wife Mary and 7 children. By 1850, the Bennetts had moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. According to family history Jonathan, his wife and their son Theodore all died there in September of 1850. No cause of death is mentioned. Following their deaths, the oldest son John along with the other children returned to live in Rose Township.

David Gage did not own land in Rose Township, but his brother Myra Gage was an original land patent owner in section 22. David Gage was elected to the position of path master. Gage ran what is believed to be the first tavern in the township and it is where the first township meeting took place on April 3, 1837. By October of 1837, the Gage Tavern became a post office when the government officially awarded a post office to the township. Soon after it became a stage coach stop as mail began to be carried by stage coaches.

A bit of mystery surrounds the elected officials William J. Lane and Eber Weed as little to nothing is known about them or of their connection to the township. William J. Lane was elected as a constable. Eber Weed was elected as poor master. Neither William J. Lane nor Eber Weed were original land patent owners in the township. Lane does not appear on the 1840 census for Rose Township nor are there other records mentioning him. The only Eber Weed found living near Rose Township was in the 1840 census which listed him as living in Fentonville (Fenton) with his wife and small child. Weed died in 1850 and is buried in Fenton. After Weed’s death, his wife is shown running a small hotel in Fentonville in the 1850 census. This was likely the business Eber Weed was running prior to his death.

Several of the first township officials in 1837 were elected to multiple positions. Perhaps they had trouble filling positions with the township only having a population of 202 people which included women and children. This could be a possible reason some of the positions were filled by people who lived outside of the township or perhaps relationships with the newly formed Rose Township government extended beyond its borders.

One year and 3 months after the first meeting of the first of the elected officials in Rose Township, the Pontiac Courier published the following article which provides a flavor of the “politics” at the time.


  •, accessed 1/19/2021

  •, accessed 1/19/2021

  • History of Oakland County Michigan 1877. L.H. Everts & Co. pg. 261.

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