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West to Far Michigan

Settling the Lower Peninsula, 1815-1860

Kenneth E. Lewis

Publication Year: 2001

West to Far Michigan is a study of the lower peninsula's occupation by agriculturalists, whose presence forever transformed the land and helped to create the modern state of Michigan. This is not simply a history of Michigan, but rather a work that focuses on why the state developed as it did. Although Michigan is seen today as an industrial state whose history is couched in terms of the fur trade and the international rivalry for the Great Lakes, agricultural settlement shaped its expansion. Using a model of agricultural colonization derived from comparative studies, Lewis examines the settlement process in Michigan between 1815 and 1860. This period marked the opening of Michigan to immigrants, saw the rise of commercial agriculture, and witnessed Michigan's integration into the larger national economy.
     Employing numerous primary sources, West to Far Michigan traces changes and patterns of settlement crucial to documenting the large-scale development of southern Michigan as a region. Diaries, letters, memoirs, gazetteers, and legal documents serve to transform the more abstract elements of economic and social change into more human terms. Through the experiences of the early Agriculturists process, we can gain insight into how their triumphs played out in communities within the region to produce small-scale elements that comprise the fabric of the larger cultural landscape.

Published by: Michigan State University Press


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pp. vii-x

List of Figures

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pp. xi-xiv

List of Tables

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pp. xv


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pp. xvi-xviii

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pp. xix-xx

I undertook this study of agricultural colonization in southern Michigan because the story of this process, so critical to understanding the region's history, had not been adequately told. Although many factors influenced the course of Michigan's past, the spread of agricultural settlement and the changes it introduced during the first half ...

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1. Frontier Studies and Approach to Michigan's Past

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pp. 1-12

Traveling across the southern portion of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, one encounters a largely rural landscape. Farms and small- to medium-sized towns lie scattered over a gently rolling to occasionally hilly countryside intersected by meandering rivers leading to the shores of surrounding lakes. Only where recent urban and suburban ...

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2. Michigan Before 1815: Prelude to American Settlement

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pp. 13-30

The year 1815 marked a watershed in Michigan's history, as it brought to a close the War of 1812 and the British threat to American immigration in the Old Northwest. These events precipitated a rapid transition of the region's economy from the specialized fur trade with native peoples for natural resources to the production ...

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3. The Environmental Context of Colonization

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pp. 31-70

Nineteenth-century observers created an image of Michigan that was based on their interpretation of climate, soils, topography, vegetation, and other factors. They did not draw upon a common source, but rather upon contemporary values and interests that attached great importance to some environmental attributes ...

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4. The Impact of Perception on Settlement

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pp. 71-80

The arrangement of overland routes leading into Michigan's interior encouraged the movement of settlement from the eastern lakeshore westward and northward parallel to the major stream drainages leading toward Lake Michigan and Saginaw Bay. Although expansion generally followed this pattern, perceptions of the environment ...

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5. The Transfer of Land

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pp. 81-102

The order in which lands were occupied affected the movement of immigration and shaped the patterning of settlement in Lower Michigan. American agriculturists acquired land in a two-phase process. The U.S. government first negotiated treaties to gain legal possession of lands inhabited by Native peoples and then transferred control ...

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6. The Settlers' Acquisition of Land

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pp. 103-126

Antebellum American land policy remained consistent with Jeffersonian ideals that favored establishing individual yeoman farmers as producers of commercial agricultural commodities on lands transferred directly to them. Successful settlement, however, required sufficient funds to buy and establish a farm on undeveloped land, ...

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7. Strategies for Settlement

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pp. 127-152

Those who immigrated to Michigan came voluntarily to the new country; but their choice to do so entailed more than simply making a decision to relocate. Although most perceived that the benefits of resettlement would justify the cost of movement, immigration was an expensive and disruptive experience, and one not lightly undertaken ...

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8. Michigan's Frontier Economy in 1845

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pp. 153-178

Antebellum American economic expansion stimulated the growth of Michigan's frontier economy. As the Northeast emerged as a national center of commercial and industrial activity in the new nation, its commercial centers sought access to wider resources, and incorporated more geographically dispersed areas into a national system ...

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9. Population Expansion, Transportation, and Settlement Pattering on the Michigan Frontier, 1845-1860

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pp. 179-216

By the mid-1840s, the distribution, interconnectedness, and function of Michigan's settlements constituted a cultural landscape that marked the culmination of the region's frontier development and formed the basis for its growth as a commercial region. This settlement patterning exhibited broad characteristics common to agricultural ...

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10. Long-Distance Transportation and External Trade

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pp. 217-234

By the fourth decade of the nineteenth century, agricultural settlement had spread over much of southern Michigan, and farmers raised a range of staple crops for a largely internal market. Although most immigrants hoped to increase production and participate in wider trade, their efforts were thwarted by the lack of access ...

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11. The Restructuring of Michigan Agriculture

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pp. 235-268

Successful commercial agriculture in the West depended upon the production of farm commodities for which there was demand sufficient to justify the costs of specialization. The transformation of the national economy, particularly the rise of urban markets in the East, brought about a geographical reorganization ...

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12. The Organization of Production and Marketing

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pp. 269-282

Michigan's transition to a commercial economy hinged upon the introduction of external capital and financial expertise. These were provided by eastern capitalists who saw investment in the West as a way to promote national growth and expand business opportunities, from which they expected to profit. The westward flow ...

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13. The Consolidation of Settlement and Transportation

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pp. 283-300

During the 1850s the insulation of Michigan's frontier economy dissolved as improvements in transportation technology and changes in marketing allowed pioneer producers to participate in larger national markets. This mid-century transformation was evidenced by dramatically changing patterns of transportation and settlement. ...

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14. The Landscape of Settlement in Southern Michigan in 1860

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pp. 301-310

The structure of Michigan's settlement in 1860 was shaped by the development of long-distance trade linking its producers with external markets. Because the success of this commerce depended on keeping transportation costs down, distance became an increasingly important factor in the placement of settlements important in trade. ...

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15. Epilogue

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pp. 311-312

The settlement patterning of Michigan's 1860 landscape represented the state's adaptation to the needs of an emerging commercial economy. The emerging structure of production and transportation, largely in place by the beginning of the Civil War, accommodated the new demands brought by more extensive involvement in national trade. ...


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pp. 313-328


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pp. 329-442


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pp. 443-500


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pp. 500-514

E-ISBN-13: 9780870139345
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870135514

Page Count: 500
Publication Year: 2001