Pioneers Experience

(Major Todd was one of the very first settlers at Pontiac, and his account of pioneer life is graphic and valuable. He was still living at an advanced age in 1877.)

Major J. J. Todd was born in Palmyra, Wayne county, New York, July 13, 1799. He was one of the very earliest pioneers of Oakland County, and came to Michigan in the fall of 1818, the journey from New York to Detroit occupying twenty-eight days. The day he reached Detroit he left for Mount Clemens, where he chopped wood for a few days at twenty-five cents per cord. He then moved two miles farther up the Clinton river, and went to work for a Mr. Herrington, splitting rails at one dollar per hundred. Shortly after he dug a cellar for a Mr. Underhill, twelve feet square and six feet deep, for which he received the sum of ten dollars. This was about the middle of December, and it began to snow, and continued until there were some ten or twelve inches on the ground. Soon after, in company with his father, Orison Allen, and a Mr. Thornton, he went on a prospecting tour towards the country now comprising Oakland County. Each man carried a supply of provisions, a blanket, and an axe, and two of the party took along their rifles. The first night they encamped where the village of Romeo subsequently grew up. We give the major's subsequent experience nearly in his own language:

"We cleared away the snow and built a fire. Then we found a hollow basswood tree and cut it down and chopped off two logs, seven feet long, and split them open; and each one of us took his half log and placed it by the fire, and, wrapping our blankets around us, we lay down in the hollow inside and had a good night's sleep. Next day we came to where Pontiac now is, where we camped the second night."
It would appear that the party were well pleased with the location, for the major continues:  "We returned the next day to Mount Clemens, and concluded that Pontiac would be our future home. We then went to work to accumulate the necessary means to enable us to carry out our intentions.

"On the 14th day of January, 1819, we again started for Pontiac with two ox-teams, cutting our way through. We came about half-way the first day and got to Pontiac the second day, being the 16th day of January, 1819.

"There were four families in our band: my father's, Orison Allen's, Wm. Lester's, and Mr. Thornton's. We commenced immediately the erection of a log house for each family, and I hewed the flooring with a narrow axe. When this job was completed we went to work for the company (Mack, Conant & Sibley). They had not located the land yet, and could not until the middle of June, when it came into market. (The major evidently means they had not paid for the land.  It was entered November 6, 1818, and they were working on it.)  We went to cutting timber and getting out logs for the saw-mill they intended to build, and hewing the timber for the same.

"Father was not well, and I had all our provisions to bring from a distance on my back, which service I performed as often as once a week.

"We were able to procure only flour and white-fish for our larder, and our means were exceedingly scanty, as we had only the scanty wages we were then earning to depend upon. We went hungry many a day. I had only eighteen pence when I got to Detroit, and that was in silver. I worked for the company three years and gave all my earnings to father, who was sick much of the time. I received good wages for those days; but all I saved for the three years, besides my clothing and what I let my father have, was sixteen dollars to begin with at the age of twenty-three years.

"In May, 1819, I went to the Tucker settlement, three miles below Mount Clemens, the journey occupying a day; and the next day I cut and split one hundred rails, for which I received my board and one bushel of potatoes. The third day I returned, bringing my potatoes on my back. It would be thought at this time a hard day's work.

"I cut out the potato eyes and planted them on a lot a little east of the Congregational church. The potatoes themselves of course we ate.

"I obtained the use of a pony of a French Indian trader who loaned him to me a half-day. I cut an oak-tree which was full of limbs, trimming the branches so as to leave the stubs about six inches long. These I sharpened, and cutting the body about twelve feet long, I hitched the pony to the little end and started him. The contrivance worked well, making, no difference which way the pony went, the sharp limbs would some of them be always in the ground. With this invention I made the ground very mellow by noon. I then planted the potato eyes, and tended them night and morning, before and after working hours, and in the fall I harvested eighty-one bushels of potatoes. That was the commencement of my farming.

"In the winter of 1819-20 I worked the most of the time in the pinery, some six miles west of Pontiac, chopping logs, and when the weather was not too cold worked in the water, clearing the river for the sills of the grist-mill. I think the saw-mill was completed for use in March, 1820, and I cut the first saw-log that was cut in Oakland County, and, I think, in the State of Michigan, that was sawed by water-power. The log was cut, I think, on the late Prall lot, and a Mr. Cogswell hauled it to the mill, and Daniel Tuattle sawed it.

"In the summer of 1820 my work mostly consisted in scoring timber, and a Mr. Bonney hewed it. One hundred feet was our day's work. We hewed it by a plumb-line, and when it was turned down we hewed it by a square; so it did not need any counter-hewing.

"When not engaged at that work I was chopping saw-logs until fall, and then I tended the saw-mill with Daniel Tuttle until late in the spring of 1821. I worked from twelve noon until midnight, and Tuttle from that time until noon.

"In the spring of 1820, myself and three others rafted pine logs down the river, as far as where Dawson's grist-mill now stands. It took us one day to go from Pontiac to the pinery and get the logs in the river and build our rafts. We worked in the water waist-deep building the rafts, which contained twelve logs each. We camped on the ground in our wet clothes, which we had no time to dry, and our blankets around us. In the morning we ate our cold victuals and then started the rafts down the river, and when we came to the lake, we would get in where the water was shallow and shove the raft along by hand; otherwise we were obliged to use setting-poles. We usually accomplished about half the journey and then camped for the night, and arrived at Pontiac the next day. We slept on the floor when in Pontiac, and followed this business until the water became too low to float the logs. Then I would return to chopping, and continue until time to commence work in the saw-mill in the winter.

"In the spring of 1821, I entered eighty acres of land near Rood's corners, in Bloomfield, cleared about ten acres, put a good fence around it, and soon after sold it to Jacob N. Voorheis, and bought one hundred acres of David Stanard (my old homestead). In July, 1824, I purchased eighty acres of Judge Le Roy, giving him my notes for fifteen hundred dollars, in five yearly payments, and he gave me a warranty deed. I did not give him any mortgage. I paid the last note within two years.

"In January, 1825, I married Miss Chloe Matthews, a sister of Colonel Solomon J. Matthews' father. We raised a family of eight children,--five sons and three daughters, --six of whom are now (1874) living. One daughter died in Chicago, and one son in Iowa.

"I think that I have seen as hard times as any person that ever came to Michigan, and have done as many hard days' work. For four or five winters I got out timber for all the buildings that were erected in and around Pontiac. I had one horse-team and from five to eight head of cattle to take care of morning and evening, and I got out one hundred and fifty feet of square timber each and every day alone,-looked out my timber, cut it down, 'rossed, lined, and scored,' and hewed it alone. That was my day's work. Now it takes three or four men to get out that amount of timber. I got out one barn frame for Captain Hervey Parke, thirty-four by forty-eight feet. The sills were twelve by fourteen inches square; posts and beams, twelve by twelve inches; swing beam, sixteen by twenty-four inches in centre; plates, ten by ten inches; and girts, six by eight inches; and I averaged one hundred and fifty feet per day alone. I received two dollars and twenty-five cents per one hundred feet.

"I thrashed all my grain with a flail, and averaged from ten to twelve bushels per day, and cleaned it up evenings. I have cleaned up alone fifty bushels in an evening, and put it in the granary. I husked all my corn at night, and did other work in the daytime. I always raised good crops, and sold from twelve hundred to three thousand dollars' worth per year. Only one year reached three thousand.

"During hard times I sold on credit. Those who had money to buy I would not sell to. I never asked a person his name. I sold four hundred dollars' worth in one day to people that lived in Lapeer county, and took their notes. I sold at the same price as those who received cash. I had suffered from hunger myself, and I was willing to help all I could.

"I let Mr. Bishop have one barrel of pork and three barrels of flour on credit. He came to Pontiac when Asahel Fuller kept public-house, and said to Mr. Fuller that his family must starve to death, for he had no money to buy food with, and no one would sell without money. 'Oh,' says Mr. Fuller, ' go up to Mr. Todd's, and you can get what you want.' ' But,' says he, ' I do not know him.' 'It will be all the same; you will get what you need.' In the morning I heard a rap at the door, and said, Come in. I was not up yet, and at that time did not lock my doors. He came in and introduced himself, and said he had come to see if he could get some pork and flour of me to keep his family from starving. I asked him if he had the money to buy with. He said he had not a dollar to help himself with. ' Very well,' says I, ' then you can have what you want;' and then the tears ran down his cheeks, and he said he did not know how to thank me. Many others came in the same way, and I helped all that came."
Source:  History of Oakland County, Michigan by Durant, Samuel W. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & co., 1877.

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