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Capt. Joseph F. Marsac (1792 - 1880)
Pioneer of Lower Saginaw (Bay City).
  • by Marvin Kusmierz (2003)
  • Capt. Marsac

    Capt. Marsac came to Lower Saginaw in 1838 as an Indian farmer for the government.

    He was born in Hamtramck, MI, the exact date is unknown. He married Theresa Rivard and together they had six children: Charles Octavius, Mrs. Leon Trombley, Mrs. Wm. H. Southworth, Mrs. Thomas J. McClennen and Mrs. George Robinson, all lived in Bay City. Theresa was born on July 22, 1808 in Grosse Point, MI and died August 9, 1881 in Bay City.

    According to the accounts of W.R. McCormick printed in the Pioneer Society of Michigan, Vol. V 1882, Capt. Marsac was about 90 years old when he died at his home in Bay City. During Capt. Marsac's life, he himself was uncertain of his age as his records were lost. Other items of interest about Capt. Marsac from this accounting are:

    His was related to the noble family of De Marsac.

    As a young male, he was in the battle of Thames in 1812. He concluded his service in the army at Ft. Gratiot.

    His father was a farmer in the Hamtramck area.

    In 1816, he was employed as an interpreter by Kinzie Pritchard for a fur company in Chicago which sold goods to Indians. At that time Chicago was an infant community comprised of five houses and a trading post.

    In 1819, he was picked by his friend General Cass to accompany him to the Saginaw Valley to assist in a treaty with the Indians.

    About 1836, he was hired as an interpreter at the treaty in Flint whereby the Indians of the Saginaw River sold their reservations.

    The following is a reprint from, "General history of the state of Michigan: with biographical sketches, portrait engravings, and numerous illustrations", by Charles Richard Tuttle, published 1873. This material and others are a part of the collections housed by the Library of Congress under "Making of America", and is available online at MOA - University of Michigan

    Joseph F. Marsac was born in Hamtramck, Wayne county, in the year 1792. He was reared in that vicinity, spending most of his minority there, with the exception of the time he spent in St. Clair county, between the years 1807 and 1812.

    His parents were French, and emigrated from France about the time of the revolutionary war, and settled in Hamtramck. His father was appointed, by General Wayne, captain of the first company of the militia that was raised in Wayne county, and served in that capacity.

    While in St. Clair, young Marsac spent so much time with the Indians that he became familiar with their language. On this account, he was engaged to accompany an Indian delegation to Washington, in the year 1836, while General Jackson was President of the United States. He paid his respects to the President and was received very kindly by him. He assisted in making the treaty of 1836, and with the Chippewas. General Cass was then Secretary of War.

    Captain Marsac left Hamtramck in the fall of 1838, and removed to Lower Saginaw -- now Bay City.

    The captain, when removing, took passage with his family upon the first steamer that ever came into the Saginaw river, the Governor Marcy. To use his language, "she was as slow as a scow." She reached the Saginaw river on the 23rd of November, 1838, and became fast in the forming of ice about half a mile from the light house, and had to remain there all winter.

    He first rented the house in Portsmouth that had been built by Mr. Rice, and subsequently occupied by Judge Miller. In the spring of 1845, he bought land at the upper end of Portsmouth, and has lived there ever since.

    In the year 1848, Captain Marsac was appointed, by the Indian Department under President Polk, Indian farmer for the Chippewa Indians of the Saginaw valley. His duty, under this appointment, was to teach the Indians agriculture and buy implements for them. When General Taylor became President, he was removed, and James Fraser was appointed in his stead.

    Captain Marsac is still living, with a good degree of health for one of his extreme age. His sound constitution, good health, and long life, speak well for the good effects of the climate of central Michigan.

    There is no one in northern Michigan who has a wider circle of personal acquaintenance among those who have had anything to do with the Saginaw valley. In former years, no one came to this region without making the acquaintance, if not the friendship, of Captain Marsac. His jovial disposition and his genial humor made every one at home in his presence.

    In the book, "The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922," published in 1922, the following information of Joseph's family were recorded:

    Joseph was in the battle of River Thames in 1813, and was an ensign in the militia June 28, 1825. He his children were Charles Octavius Rivard Marsac, Mrs. Leon Trombley, Mrs. William H. Southworth, Mrs. Thomas J. McClennen, and Mrs. George Robinson, all lived in Bay City, where Joseph died June 18, 1880.

    A bit confusing is in the History of Michigan, by Charles Moore, published in 1915, it has a biography of Octavius A. Marsac, son of Joseph and Theresa, lists their children as Charles F., Mrs. M. Southwater (vs Southworth?), Mrs. G.H. Robinson, and Octavious A. Missing is Mrs. Thomas J. McClennen, while Octavius is added?

    I had limited success in attempting to identify the daughters of Joseph and Teresa:

    Mrs. Leon Trombley - the only Marsac that found married to a Trombley was that of Cicella (1768-1846), daughter of Francis Marsac and Charlotte Bourassa, who married Joseph Louis Tremblay (1770-abt 1837). Both were asssociated with Detroit, and not Bay City.

    Mrs. William H. Southworth - is Elizabeth M., found in the 1883 History of Bay County, Mich.

    Mrs. Thomas J. McClennen - is Mary M., found in biography of their son, Francis, last name spelled MacLennan. (View: {Francis' biography}

    Mrs. George Robinson - found no Marsac to Robinson marriage, but found George H. Robinson and Thomas J. McLennen as secretary treasure and vice-president, respectively, of the Robinson Salt and Lumber Co., on South Water street and Thirty-seventh in Bay City.(1890 Bay City Directory)


    Related Notes & Pages

    Joseph F. Marsac
    Click image to enlarge.

    Joseph Marsac family burial marker in Old Saint Patricks Cemetery.
    Related Pages:
    Bio, by Charles R. Tuttle
    Marsac, Octavius, son
    MacLennan, Francis, g-son
    People Referenced
    Cass, (Gen.)
    De Marsac
    Fraser, James
    Jackson, (President)
    MacLennan, Francis (g-son)
    Marsac, Charles O.
    McClennen, Thomas J.
    McCormick, W.R.
    Miller, (Judge)
    Polk, (President)
    Pritchard, Kenzie
    Rivard, Teresa
    Robinson, George Mrs.
    Southworth Wm. H. Mrs.
    Taylor, (President)
    Trombley, Leon Mrs.
    Tuttle, Charles R.
    Wayne, (Gen.)
    Subjects Referenced
    Battle of Thames
    Bay City, MI
    Chicago, IL
    Ft. Gratiot
    Governor Marcy (steamer)
    Grosse Point, MI
    Hamtramck, MI
    Indian farmer
    Library of Congress
    Light house
    Lower Saginaw
    Pioneer Society of MI
    Revolutionary War
    Saginaw River
    Saginaw Valley
    Secretary of War.
    St. Clair County
    Treaty in Flint
    Treaty of 1836
    Univ. of Michigan
    Wayne County
    Washington, D.C.
    Census Data
    1870 MI Census:
    - Joseph F., age 75, real estate
    - Teresa, wife, age 56
    - Charles, age 26, wkr. sawmill
    - Mary, age 23
    - Lulay(?), age 21
    - Augusta, age 17

    1880 Census:
    Bay City, MI
    - Joseph F., age 87:
    - Therasa, wife, age 69
    - Agusta O., son, age 26
    - Anna Keysnyer, servant, age 22 Noted - parents from France.

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