Land Speculators

As the population in the east grew and as officers in the army were promised land in lieu of cash payments by the government, the demand for land increased. These pressures started the beginning of treaty making with the Indigenous People. These federal treaties and policies displaced most Native Americans, opening up land to the government. Once open, surveyors divided land into sections and townships for easy sale.

Land Offices

Michigan was a public-domain state which means that once the government owned the land, in order to sell the land, it had to be surveyed and then granted or sold. Land Offices were created by the government to be responsible for the sale of public land. Many of those coming to the Michigan Territory made their way to the federal land office in Detroit after arriving in Michigan.

At first land sales in the Michigan Territory were slow. To encourage land sales, the Land Law of 1800 reduced the required minimum number of acres to purchase to 320 acres at the cost of $2.00 per acre. In 1804, the required minimum number of acres was reduced to 160 acres. By 1832, the required minimum number of acres was 40 acres. This, along with the opening of the Erie Canal, made Michigan a popular destination.

Land Patents

Land patents served as the property title giving property rights to public land. The document that described the first sale of a piece of land from the government was called a land patent. When the land was sold or mortgaged by private owners, the document was then called a deed.

Land Patent for Rose Township Early Settler Benjamin Hicks

Patent Map of First Landowners in Rose Township

This patent map shows the names of the first people obtaining land patents in Rose Township. Some of these people were land speculators and others were the early first pioneers.

Land Speculators

Much of the land purchasing activity by 1836 was generated by speculators, not by those who intended to settle in the territory. Many of these speculators were known men in public life who had caught the land speculation fever. Speculators bought a sizable amount of available land with the hope of economic opportunity. They bought parcels individually as well as part of various land companies.

Several major land speculators from the east bought numerous parcels in Michigan including in Rose Township. Though most never settled in the township, several did end up settling in nearby townships or spent enough time in the state to exercise influence. Many of the major speculators knew each other and had intertwined business dealings.

Major Land Speculators with Original Land Patents in Rose Township

Daniel Webster (1782 – 1852)

Rose Township Land Patent (Sections 33 & 34)

Daniel Webster (source), accessed 1/15/2021

Daniel Webster earned fame for his staunch support of a strong federal government, work to preserve the union, and his skills as an orator. He learned his oratory skills as a young child entertaining guests with reading and recitations at his family’s tavern. He was a prominent lawyer before the United States Supreme Court and politician serving as a congressman and senator representing New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He served as the Secretary of State under presidents Harrison, Tyler, and Fillmore.

Webster's interest in the west was political as well as personal and financial. He caught the land speculation fever that affected many men in public life. Webster invested heavily in Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan, including in Rose Township. He is reported to have ended up in extreme debt from land speculation along with living beyond his means and gambling. He is said to have relied on friends for financial assistance. It appears Phineas Davis was buying (and paying for) land for Webster. Phineas Davis was another known land speculator who also purchased land in the township.

Phineas Davis, Jr. (1801-1850)

Rose Township Land Patent (Section 34)

Phineas Davis, Jr. was a town clerk in Massachusetts and nephew to John Davis, a long-time, well- known Massachusetts politician. Phineas Davis, Jr. was the son of Phineas and Martha (Eager) Davis who ran a successful leather business. After marrying Abigail F. Thayer, he settled in Detroit where Davis became involved in a variety of business ventures one of which was a dry goods store. He was a partner in “The Hydraulic Company” which was formed in 1829 to supply water to the city of Detroit. The company was unable to meet the needs of city residents and the city bought the company in 1836.

Another venture was the “Gibraltar and Flat Rock Company”. Davis along with another Michigan land speculator Benjamin B. Kercheval formed this company in 1838 with the intent of building a canal between Gibraltar on the Detroit River and Flat Rock on the Huron River and eventually to extend it to Ypsilanti. Plans included building piers, warehouses and other improvements. The canal was never completed or used.

These unsuccessful ventures left Davis in financial trouble. By the early 1840s he had moved to Pontiac where he ran a store for several years. This business ultimately was not successful. Phineas Davis’s final adventure was in search of gold in California where he ended up drowning. He died there in 1850.

Oakland Gazette, 22 May 1844

John Davis - (1787 – 1854)

Rose Township Land Patent (Sections 11 & 12)

John Davis (source), accessed 1/15/2021

John Davis was a lawyer, businessman and long-time politician from Massachusetts. He served in both houses in the United States Congress and did three non-consecutive years as Governor of Massachusetts. He was known for his integrity and was called “Honest John”.

During the early years of his political career John Davis was on good terms with Daniel Webster, who was highly influential in party politics both at the state and national levels, and to whom he looked up. Later a political rift developed between Davis and Webster.

John Davis never settled in Michigan, but he did come to Michigan to visit his nephew Phineas Davis who was also a land speculator.

Oakland Gazette, 11 June 1845

Benjamin B. Kercheval (1793 - 1855)

Rose Township Land Patent (Section 9 & 27)

Benjamin Kercheval (source), accessed 1/15/2021

Benjamin Berry Kercheval, who had been born in Virginia and served as an officer in the War of 1812, became acquainted with Lewis Cass who persuaded him to relocate to Detroit. Kercheval became a well-known merchant and politician. He held a number of offices in the Michigan Territory and later in the state such as the position of Indian agent in Detroit, delegate from Wayne County, and senator. His signature was on a number of treaties with the Native Americans. It was not uncommon for some of the same people involved with treaty making to also be major land speculators. Additionally Kercheval was a trader in Chicago, director of the Detroit to St. Joseph Railroad Company and a trustee of the Detroit Savings Bank.

Kercheval established and was president of the Gibraltar and Flat Rock Company, a town site and canal development company that he formed with Phineas Davis. An Act of 1838 incorporated the “Gibraltar and Flat Rock Company” for the purpose of improving the waterfronts at Gibraltar and Flat Rock. Their hope was to build a canal to connect Lake Erie with Lake Michigan. Phineas Davis, another land speculator, was secretary for this company. This business ultimately failed.

Kercheval Avenue which travels through Detroit and the Grosse Pointe area was named in his honor.

Henry R. Schoolcraft - (1793 - 1864)

Rose Township Land Patent (Section 26)

Henry R. Schoolcraft (source), accessed 1/16/2021

Henry R. Schoolcraft was both a geographer and geologist who spent a lot of time in Michigan and became very influential in the state. He held a variety of political positions. He was the Superintendent of Indian Affairs and was involved in negotiating various treaties and agreements with local tribes. He served in the Michigan Territory legislature. He was a member of the first Board of Regents for the University of Michigan and was one of the founders of the Michigan Historical Society.

While working in the Lake Superior region of Michigan, Schoolcraft met and married a woman with maternal Ojibwe heritage. From her he learned the Ojibwe language and customs and legends. He became known for his Native American studies. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used Schoolcraft as a resource for his poem “Hiawatha.” Because of his knowledge of languages, Schoolcraft combined words and sounds from Native American languages with Latin and Arabic creating “faux” Native American names. Schoolcraft named Kalkaska, Leelanau, Lenawee, Oscoda and Tuscola to name a few. Schoolcraft has a number of places named in his honor including Schoolcraft County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Lesser Known Land Speculators with Original Land Patents in Rose Township

Some land speculators were small business investors who bought what they could for investment with the hope of making money off the excitement of westward movement. Wealthier individuals would sometimes employ land agents to travel west and purchase land for them.

William Thompson (1785 - 1871)

Rose Township Land Patent (Sections 18 & 19)

William Thompson was an attorney and land agent from Seneca County New York. He purchased land for wealthy businessmen and politicians from the Albany New York area. One of his clients was Benjamin Knower, financier of the Erie Canal. Another client was Thomas W. Olcott, a prominent citizen and respected president of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank in Albany. In 1836 he traveled west to purchase land. Thompson ended up purchasing over 7,700 acres in Michigan between Oakland, Shiawassee, Genesee, and Livingston counties with over 480 acres in Rose Township. Adjacent to his acreage in Rose Township, he also had acreage just across the township line in Tyrone Township in Livingston County

1872 map showing Thompson land in Rose Township and Tyrone Township

It was not common for land agents to have land patents in their own name as in Thompson’s case, but perhaps he purchased and sold the land himself and then gave the profits to his clients. For a reason not known, Thompson did not sell all of the land he purchased in Rose Township or perhaps he was unable to sell it. On the 1857 and 1872 historic maps, he is shown still owning land in Rose.

William Thompon’s father John Thompson (1745-1823) was a U.S. congressman, farmer, delegate to the New York State national convention, and he served in the American Revolution.

After the death of his wife Mary Hawkins Thompson (1790-1841), it appears William Thomspon moved to Tyrone Township, Livingston County, Michigan to live with his son William and his family. On the 1860 census William Thomson is living with his son Edwin and his family in Port Huron, Michigan. By 1870, at the age of 86 William Thompson was living in Tyrone Township with his son and grandchildren. He died the next year and was buried in his former home in Ovid in Seneca County New York.

John J. Dickson (1807 - 1874)

Rose Township Land Patent (Sections 29, 32 & 33)

John J. Dickson (source)

John J. Dickson, M. D., was a physician for 45 years in Rose of Wayne County, New York. Additionally he was elected to the Legislature, served as Justice of the Peace, and was Inspector of Common Schools and Superintendent of Schools.

Dixon owned 520 acres in Rose Township and also purchased 240 acres in Gratiot County, Michigan. Additionally he either purchased or was given other land in Kalamazoo County, Michigan which had been granted by Scrip Warrant to Captain Samuel Garlick who had served in the War of 1812. Dickson knew Samuel Garlick from his hometown of Rose, New York. It does not appear Dickson ever lived in Michigan. He was found in the census for 1850, 1860, and 1870 living in Rose in Wayne County, New York. It took him a number of years to sell off his land, but by 1857, he had sold all of his land in Rose Township.

Original Land Patent Map showing Land of John J. Dickson in Rose Township

1857 Map - Rose Township former John J. Dickson Land

Interestingly, Dickson sold some of his land to S. Skidmore who was also from Rose, Wayne County, New York who became a prominent resident in Rose Township Michigan.

Thomas H. Perkins (1764-1854)

Rose Township Land Patent (Sections 28 & 33)

Thomas H. Perkins

Thomas Handasyd Perkins was a businessman and wealthy Boston merchant who traveled around the world. Perkins was a slave trader in Haiti, traded American furs with China, and was a smuggler of Turkish opium into China. He made a number of philanthropic contributions including having helped to form Massachusetts General Hospital. He had 160 acres in Rose Township located next to land owned by John J. Dickson.

Hawkins Brothers

Henry “Hawk” Hawkins (1790-1845), Van Rensselaer Hawkins (1796-1847)

Rose Township Land Patent (Sections 30)

Only Henry Hawkins name appears on the original Patent Map of first landowners, but Van Rensselaer Hawkins is also listed on the actual federal land patent. Henry and Van Rensselaer Hawkins owned several thousand acres in a number of Michigan counties including 160 acres in Rose Township.

The Hawkins brothers were from a large and prominent family in western New York. Both brothers were active members of their community. Henry Hawkins was a member of the New York State Assembly and senator. He helped to establish the first library in their community. Van Rensselaer Hawkins served as a township supervisor and postmaster.

Henry and Van Rensselaer Hawkins formed Hawkins & Company. One of their business interests included the purchase and sale of lands in New York State and in Michigan. Other business interests included the leasing of commercial properties, the formation of a bank, and building of the Attica and Buffalo Railroad.


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