According to the book “Michigan Place Names,” China was first settled when Samuel Ward and William Gallagher built a dam in a grist mill here in 1825. On March 17, 1834 China became an organized township, named China by Capt. John Clarke, one of the area’s first settlers. He was born in Bath, Maine in 1797 and died in East China in 1876.
Capt. Clarke’s nostalgia for a town in Maine called “China” was apparently the reason for his choice of a name, according to a copy of an 1850 letter held by Agnes Griffor of East China. Griffor obtained a copy of the letter from a private collection from the Clarke family.
In the letter, Helen Clark, daughter of Capt. John Clarke, describes life in China, Michigan in 1850:
“China is a small town on the St. Clair River, almost 16 miles from Lake St. Clair. It was called China after a town in Maine. There are some very good gardens and houses there, one hotel, two school houses, two steam sawmills, and a number of groceries. There is no church, but the meetings are usually held in the schoolhouse. The inhabitants are generally very industrious. They are a tall and large-footed race. The soil is good and the principal productions are wheat, oats, and corn. They do not raise tea there, although you can always procure plenty of it in the groceries or stores. Steamboats stop almost every day on their way to and from Buffalo…There are three Chinese attending school at Newport (Marine City). China is my home and, of course, I think it is the best place in the world.”
So, if, as the letter correctly states, China Township, Michigan was named after China, Maine…what’s the story behind the naming of China, Maine? A commonly held belief is that it was related to the Orient, or perhaps the old vessels known as “China Clippers”, which early on sailed America’s coast.
However, a recent history of China, Maine tells a different story. A letter from Debra Fischer, Administrative Asst. of China, Maine noted that “the name of the town was chosen by Japeth C. Washburn, then representative to the Massachusetts legislature. The name originally selected was Bloomville, but the representative from Bloomfield, farther up the river, objected fearing that the similarity in names would create problems with mail delivery. So, Mr. Washburn chose instead the name China, which was the title of one of his favorite church hymns and not duplicated anywhere else in the U.S.”
(Above taken from news article from the Voice Newspaper; written by Pat Heck, Sept. 2, 1992)
Peter Carleton, 1835-36;
Thomas Dart, 1837;
Commissioners’ Board, 1838-41;
David Hart, 1842;
Samuel Carleton, 1843;
Alfred Weeks, 1844;
Lemuel Palmerlee, 1845;
John M. Oakes, 1846;
John Clark, 1847-48;
David Hart, 1849-50;
John Clark, 1851;
David Hart, 1852;
C. Lindsay, 1853;
T. C. Owen, 1854;
C. Lindsay, 1855;
Richard Kirk, 1856;
William Butlin, 1857;
C. Lindsay, 1858-60;
E. E. Carleton, 1861;
J. A. Hoffmire, 1862;
J. O. Robinson, 1863-64;
J. A. Hoffmire, 1865;
Chester Rankin, 1866-67;
Frederick Lindon, 1868;
Chester Rankin, 1869-71;
M. F. Carleton, 1872;
M. Haulpin, 1873;
Chester Rankin, 1874;
James Pourie, 1875-76;
John Chamberlin, 1877;
Frederick Lindow, 1878-82.
The Pioneers of China
At a meeting of the Country Pioneer Society, held at St. Clair a paper written by Samuel Carleton on the Pioneers of China was read. The following is Mr. Carleton’s account of the settlement of this township:
On the 21st day of October 1830, I landed near the mouth of Pine River, from the old schooner, Forester, after a two days’ trip from Detroit. I was one of a band of sixteen from old New England. Even in those early days, the West offered great attractions for the rising generation and in February 1828, at the age of 29 yrs., I left my native town of Bath, New Hampshire and started westward. After a stay of nearly 3 years in the town of Stillwater, NY, I pushed still further West and, with the band before mentioned, arrived at St. Clair when the prosperous city was yet in its infancy.
What now constitutes the beautiful town of China was, at that time, part of the town of St. Clair and, to the best of my recollection, contained the following settlements: at Belle River Mills, William Gallagher had built a saw mill, grist mill and dwelling house; James R. Wolverton lived on the place known as the Rankin Farm and Michael Duchene on the Balfour Farm. I know of no other settlement west from there this side of Romeo, then called the “Hocksie Settlement”. Below the mills John Robertson was clearing a farm. On the south side of Belle River, Daniel McQueen and Mr. Fargo owned farms.
In 1832, a man by the name of Amos Wheeler purchased a tract of land on Pine River and built a house near the mouth of Cook Creek. The following year it was purchased by Henry Cook. The house is still standing, and I think I can safely say it is the oldest dwelling house in the town. It is now owned and occupied by a man who bears the same name, although not a relative of its original owner. About the same time, John M. Oakes and his father bought the adjoining tract of land up the river and erected a house. David K. Oakes, a son of John Oakes, owns and resides on the place at the present time. The same year, Peter Carleton and his son Edmond, settled on the farm now occupied by Edmund Stewart, and a little later William H. Carleton located on the place where William Parsons now resides. James Weeks settled on the farm now in the hands of Mr. Griffith and Thomas Dart near Belle River, on what is now known as the Barger place.
In 1833, I built a house on the farm where I now reside and moved there the following year. A little later, Peter Chamberlain located on the place where he now lives and Mr. Hertell, Henry Hammond, Mr. Latham, F.S. Douglass, and Clark Worden, in the vicinity of the Belle River. Myron Williams lived in the Gallagher place several years in the early days and owned a carding machine.
The Hart brothers, David and Silas, located in the northwestern part of the town. David is living on his farm. At the decease of his brother, his farm passed into the hands of his sons. John Conwell settled on the place now owned by John McMichael, John St. Clair at the place where his widow now lives, and James Low where his son Thomas lives. John Stewart lived several years in this vicinity, and Jacob McQueen located permanently in the same neighborhood. Richard Arlington settled further up the river. Near this period, Adaphus Smith moved to the place where he still lives, and Squire Gillam on to the farm now owned by Mr. Hewitt. Later, Parker Webster went on to his farm and Samuel Webster purchased his place of Mr. Morris. Francis Duchene and one of the Minnes had settled previously near the center of town.
In 1837 China became an organized township. The town meeting were held in different places, sometimes in one part of the town and sometimes in another, til the addition of a red schoolhouse near Belle River Mills when the town furnished $50 building funds for the privilege of holding elections there. The meetings were held there until the erection of the town hall a few years ago.
It would be impossible for me to give a personal sketch of each of these first settlers, therefore I have given merely their names and where they located. I think a majority of them were from the Eastern and Middle States.
Early Land Buyers
Among the patentees of United States lands in this township, previous to January, 1837, were James Fulton, Section 1; William G. Hathaway, L. J. C. Chatterton, George Smith, T. D. Babcock, Samuel Gardner, Richard Nelson, Thomas Palmer, D. F. Kimball, Lot Clark, S. Warren, J. M. Soverhill, M. Healy, B. B. Kercheval, Stephen Cornwall, David Hart, Richard Allington, Mary Hart, Silas S. Hart, Henry Baird, Andrew Westbrook, M. H. Sibley, J. W. Throop, Daniel Lockwood, James McClenan, Jacob Sims, Barzilla Wheeler, John Beach, Daniel McQueen, Jr., Joseph Pitcairn, Bowen Whiting, John Stewart, Chester Baxter, William Steele, William Sweat, Henry Hammond, Franklin Moore, Zachariah Chandler, T. L. Latham, Asahel Northway, Reuben Moore, Samuel Carleton, Edward C. Carleton, W. H. Carleton, Ebenezer Cole, Amos Wheeler, Clark Worden, P. Merrill, George Palmer, Matthias Rikert, Moore R. Barron, William Kingsbery, Mary M. Wheeler, Squire Gillam, Richard Gordon Morris, Henry B. Turner, Trumbul Granger, John Clark, Henry Agens, Joseph Boyton, Samuel Leonard, Miles V. Rood, Almeria Tuttle, Charles Hawkins, Porter Chamberlain, Cornelius Sullivan, Thomas Green, David Robertson, William Gallagher, Samuel Ward, Edward Axtell, Michael Delhene, Charles Cauchois, James H. Woods, W. Willson, Thomas Fargo, William Gallagher, Abram Bush, James Rooney, Charles Bovert, John Franz, Joseph Engert, F. G. Frank, Alexander Cummings, Nathan Clark, J. L. Atkins, C. H. Atkins, Joseph Wakerman, W. Franz, George Kraft, Godfrey Dien, Otto Dien, Joseph Noblet, B. W. Sharp, W. B. Wells, Perrine, Helm, John C. Wheeler, Jacob Warner, James Edwards, J. P. Delentash, Peter M. Dox, Adolph Coburn, Hugh Robinson, Josiah Snow, Benjamin Hager, L. Goddard, A. G. Peir, Jonas C. Brigham, Marcus H. Miles, Valten Sauer, Jonathan Kearsley. The private claims patented were Nos. 302, 303, 304, 306, 310, 358, and 243. – See general history for early sketch of these claims.
What was there in this isolated region to justify such toil and sacrifice? Why have men come from pleasant homes in the States – from gay circles which they enlivened and adorned – to contribute, perhaps, like the coral insect to its jeweled reef, their very lives in the splendid new civilization slowly building here? Ah, there was incentive! The stories of the woods had reached the ears of the restless and ambitious. The souls tormented with the perplexing problem of daily bread, and anxious to get on faster in the world, had heard of the rich forests. Poor, selfish human nature bowed to the god that all worship, and came to find his throne. The love of venture and the hope of gain – the old debated problem among the schoolboys, enjoyment of possession and pursuit – started the tide of emigration. Following the vanguard of prospectors to the new paradise, where, after all, fortunes are to be made only by toil, there is found a Columbus in civilization, tracking the wilderness, as the great discoverer did the sea to discover a new world. He finds, and tells the public; others come in and possess the land. They who bought the pineries and manipulated their properties, have grown rich, and gained lives not been a failure, seeing their results, and reflecting that history is impartial. And who knows by that land where every deed and thought is weighed, and all that each has stiven to do considered, a tardy recognition may not come to the patient prospector, and his be rich dividends, without assessment, through an unending term?
Justices of the Peace
James B. Wolverton, 1838; Silas S. Hart, 1838; Samuel F. Hopkins, 1839; Edmund E. Carleton, 1840; Seldom Freeman, 1841; L. B. Wolverton, 1842; Lemuel Palmerlee, 1843; William Fenton, 1843; C. Lindsay, 1844; Moses R. Carleton, 1844; William Fenton, 1845; C. Lindsay, 1846; Samuel F. Hopkins, 1847; William Cook, 1849; John Baird, 1849; George Clarke, 1850; Lambert Record, 1850; James T. Clark, 1850; Dolphus Smith, 1851; James S. Clark, 1851-53; Tubal C. Owen, 1853; George Clarke; 1854; Cortland Lindsay, 1856-57; Jonathan Whitcomb, 1857; Silas S. Hart, 1858; James O. Roberson, 1859; Porter Chamberlain, 1860; C. Lindsay, 1861; Dolphus Smith, 1861; J. O. Roberson, 1862; John Byrne, 1862; Peter Wood, 1863; John Byrne, 1864; Chester Rankin, 1865; J. O. Roberson, 1866; Thomas Trevis, 1867; David K. Oakes, 1868; Thomas Trevis, 1869; J. O. Roberson, 1870; A. W. Griffith, 1872-76; C. Chamberlin, 1873; J. M. Richards, 1874-77; Peter Wood, 1874; J. Riley Worden, 1874; N. Westrick, 1875; M. Schriner, 1875; L. R. Robbins, 1879; A. W. Griffith, 1880; F. Osborn, 1880; L. Chamberlin, 1881; Peter Wood, 1882; Jacob Westrick, 1882.
In China, two tickets were run in 1882. The following were elected: Supervisor, Frederick Lindow; Clerk, Peter Wood; Treasurer, William Duchane; Justices, Peter Wood, Jacob Westrick; School Inspectors, Nicholas Westrick, George Schriner; Highway Commissioner, Fletcher Osborne; Drain Commissioner, Thomas Wood.
China, in East China Township, was once a Post Office village. It is only three miles below St. Clair.
The Farmers’ Protection Society, of China, was organized in February, 1874, with W. A. Tripp, Dolphus Smith, John N. Kemp, J. McMichael, Calvin Chamberlin, Andrew Husel and Clement Duchane original stockholders. This society appears to have been re-organized May 9, 1874, with fifty-one shareholders.