Traveling to Rose Township

In the early 1800s people from the east began moving to the Michigan Territory. As New England’s population grew with families having large numbers of children and each wanting a piece of their own land to farm, they began leaving New England for places to the west. Though many came to Michigan directly from New England, a majority of the township’s early settlers came from upper New York state.

A majority of the early settlers traveled to Rose Township from the east in horse and oxen driven wagons along Native American trails and early roads. Those traveling over land would either travel across Canada or through northern Ohio to get to the Michigan Territory. Initially, the trails they followed were narrow, single-file passageways created by the earth being trampled along paths most frequently traveled, but over time these trails became rough, rugged, rutted “roads”. Wagons did not have suspension so people preferred to walk alongside their wagons or ride a horse if they had one. Reaching the Michigan Territory was difficult.

The prairie schooner was a popular covered wagon used for traveling long distances. The name came from the canvas cover which from a distance looked like a schooner sailing ship. Ox teams were driven from the ground with the driver walking alongside them using a stick and spoken commands to guide them. Oxen are not controlled with a bridle and reins as with horses.

Black Swamp

Getting to the Michigan Territory overland from the south involved crossing through the dreaded and feared Great Black swamp. Settlers who chose to make this perilous journey across this large, mucky, and mosquito infested wetland did so at great personal expense. Some tried skirting around the swamp making the trip longer, but no less dangerous. It was an almost impossible journey at the best of times, but impassable during wet seasons. Horses were said to be up to their knees with water in the swamp.

Map of Black Swamp (source), accessed 1/13/21


Because of the difficulties in coming to the Michigan Territory by land many settlers chose to come by water instead. In general this meant taking a sailing ship across Lake Erie. This had its own problems. Winds across Lake Erie tended to blow from west to east but sailing ships with settlers were moving from east to west against the prevailing winds. This often made the journey difficult and slow. This changed by 1820 with the invention of steamboats and their use on Lake Erie. This made the journey by water safer and shorter.

There was still a problem, however. Most settlers heading to Michigan by water had to get to Buffalo, New York on Lake Erie. This meant a long trip over land. That changed with the building of the Erie Canal.

Walk in the Water - First Steamboat to operate in the Great Lakes

By Stanton, Samuel Ward (1870-1912). American Steam Vessels; 1895, page 24. Digital copy reproduced at Maritime History of the Great Lakes, Public Domain (Source) accessed 3/4/2021

Erie Canal

The completion of the Erie Canal had a direct impact on the settling of Rose Township. It connected the Great Lakes area with upper state New York and brought more people to Michigan. People could now avoid the Great Black Swamp by coming into Michigan by water instead of land. The Canal also opened up a less expensive means of transporting goods and provided easier access to more productive land in the west. The opening of the Erie Canal made Michigan the fastest growing territory in the 1830s.

Erie Canal, completed 1825 (source), accessed 12/29/20

In taking the Erie Canal, settlers would take a flatboat through the canal to Buffalo and then board a steamship to Detroit where they could acquire a wagon and a horse or oxen team for the remainder of the journey. Outfitting the new settlers became one of the most important businesses in Detroit in the early 1800s.

When the Erie Canal was first dug, it was not very large. Animals (mules and horses) walked on towpaths to pull canal boats carrying passengers and goods. (Source), accessed 12/29/20

After the first steamships came into practical use in the early 1800s, along with the completion of the Erie Canal, traveling to Michigan was faster, easier, and safer. Steamships and the Erie canal opened the door to settlement in Michigan.

Steamboat Michigan, built 1833 (Source), accessed 1/15/2021


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  •, accessed 1/8/2021, accessed 1/12/21

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