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Joseph Trombley (1809-1883)
Historical biographies, etc.

  • Historical biography - 1892 (added Nov. 2007)
  • Biographical sketch - Pioneer Society of Michigan
  • Death Notice - Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx (Mar. 2007)

    Historical Biography 1892. (added Nov. 2007)

    Portrait and Biographical Record of Saginaw and Bay Counties, Michigan.
    Portrait Publishing Co., Chicago (1892)


    The name and memory of this esteemed pioneer will be held in fond recollection as long as the citizens of West Bay City shall take pride in its growth and foster its leading enterprise. Mr. Tromble was one of the very first settlers who located permanently in Lower Saginaw, where he remained until his death April 21, 1882. He was born in 1809 in what was then the little hamlet of Detroit and as school advantages were meager, his education was self-acquired, entitling him to the honor of the title “a self-made man.”

    While still very young Mr. Tromble went out among the Indians as a trader, soon acquiring a knowledge of the Indian language and also gaining the confidence of the red men. One time when he went to Detroit he found among the Indians assembled two chiefs, with whom the whites were trying to negotiate for some land and who were crying at the time of his arrival. Upon seeing him, however, they immediately became cheerful, for they relied upon him to advise them as to what was right.

    When Mr. Tromble first came to Saginaw Valley in 1828 the primeval forests had remained untouched by the axe of the advancing civilization and Indians were numerous as well as wild animals. Mr. Trombley was in the employ of the American Fur Company, buying and trading in furs through Northern Michigan making his journeys on foot through the wilderness with furs packed on his back. During the early part of his connection with the company he bought some land in what is now Bay City, and in July, 1835, settled upon the place.

    About the same time Mr. Tromble purchased some goods in Detroit, which were shipped on the old “Savage” to the Saginaw Valley, and about the same time his brother brought some stock from the same city. The brothers built a log store, 20x30, and engaged in trading with the Indians. In 1837 they erected the first frame building in the county, known first as the “Big House” and later as the “Center House” and located near the corner of Water and Twenty-fourth Streets, where it still stands.

    About 1847 Mr. Tromble purchased a tract comprising two thousand acres of land in Bangor Township, a portion of which is now the First and Second Wards of West Bay City. A good hunter and trapper, he made considerable money in that way, and in connection with farming also had the first store in what is now West Bay City. Some years after locating here he platted the village of Bangor, which is name after the township. It has later received the name of Banks from the post-office established here. Subsequently he laid out Joseph Tromble’s second addition to Bangor or West Bay City.

    Mr. Tromble improved about two thousand acres along the river and in 1872 erected the large brick residence which stands on the corner of Sophia and Washington Streets, and is now the home of his son David. He was married in Detroit to Miss Sophia, daughter of Eustace Chapaton, an early settler of Detroit. Mrs. Tromble died in 1879, at the age of sixty-six years. Of their nine children five grew to maturity, as follows: Joseph M., James M., Adeline, (Mrs. Beebe), Theodore and David, all of who are presented elsewhere in this volume.

    Although by no means an office seeker, Mr. Trombley was a strong Republican and religiously was a member of the Catholic Church. The Tromble family is undoubtedly the best known of any in the county and its members are universally esteemed for their labors in the development of the community

    Historical Sketch, 1833.

    Pioneer Society of Michigan (Vol.VII, 1833)
    Bay County Memorial Report

    Joseph Trombley

    by William R. Mc Cormick of Bay City - May 21, 1883

    At the annual meeting of the State Pioneer society, held at Lansing, W. R. McCormick, of Bay City, read the following memorial tribute to Joseph Trombley, one of the earliest pioneers of the Saginaw Valley, who died in the first ward of West Bay City on May 21st, 1883.

    Joseph Trombley was born on Conner's Creek, three miles above Detroit, in May 1809; the day of the month cannot be ascertained, as the records have been lost. When a child he became very familiar with the Indian language; so much so that at the age of 20 he was employed by the American Fur company to take charge of an Indian trading post at the Indian village on the Shiawassee river, now in Shiawassee county, where he remained five years during the fur season. While at this place the Indians attempted to kill him; they selected one of their number, a large, powerful Indian, to do the act. He was to proceed to Mr. Trombley's tent in the night, and when he was asleep to strike him in the head with a war club, as they were afraid to attack him in any other manner, Mr. Trombley being a very powerful man. The Indian crept up to the tent, raised the opening, struck at Mr. Trombley and grazed his head, when the latter sprang to his feet, struck the Indian a terrific blow which felled him to the ground, senseless, and caused the flight of his companions. It was a long time before the Indian revived, and then he had to be carried to his wigwam. After this he had no more trouble, and the Indian he had nearly killed afterwards became his firmest friend.

    During the Black Hawk war he, with the late Capt. Joseph F. Marsac, raised a company of volunteers, composed chiefly of French, near Grosse Point, above Detroit, and started for the seat of war on foot. When they had got part way to Chicago news came that Black Hawk had been captured and the war ended, and they were ordered to return to Detroit. In 1834 he came to the mouth of the Saginaw river to trade with the Indians. He, with his brother Medor, purchased of the government 300 acres of land on the Saginaw river, which now comprises the fifth and sixth wards of Bay City, where he built a block house in which he and his brother kept an Indian Trading store in the winter of 1836 and 1837. The two brothers commenced the erection of the first frame house in Bay county. Part of the lumber was sawed by whip-saws, and the balance brought from Detroit. They lived in this house until 1843, when it was sold to James McCormick, Sr. It is still standing on the corner of Water and 24th streets, and is now converted into a public house, at the present time known as the Centre house. In 1843 he purchased one half mile of land on the west side of the Saginaw river, now opposite the northern limits of Bay City, where he soon removed. Here he platted out a city and called it Bangor, which is now within the corporate limits of West Bay City, and comprises the first ward of the same. Some years since, he here erected a fine brick mansion, in which he resided until the time of his death. Mr. Trombley accumulated a fortune, and left four sons and one daughter. His wife died last year, of which event a memorial has been already published in the Pioneer Collections of Michigan.

    It would be inappropriate to close this short sketch without giving some peculiar traits and incidents of this man. For his friends he could not do too much. He was charitable to the poor, and one of the most hospitable of men; he was also lavish of his money. He was a good neighbor, but a bitter enemy to those who he thought abused him.

    No man in the valley is so missed as Uncle Joe, as he was familiarly called. Peace to his ashes.

    Obituary, 1883 (contributed by Jim Petrimoulx, Mar. 2007)


    One of the Pioneers of the Valley
    Passes Over the River.

    Yesterday at 2 o'clock, a. m. Joseph Trombley, of the 1st ward of this city, whose decease has not been unexpected for several days, departed this life, the disease to which he succumbed being dropsy of the heart. Mr. Trombley at the time of his death was about 79 years of age, and was one of the first white settlers at this end of the river, or in fact in the valley, having resided here for over 40 years. Through the advance of property acquired when it was almost valueless he had attained quite easy circumstances, and up to a very short time since was hale and hearty, appearing much young than many men who had scarcely passed the age wherein they are considered in the prime of life. Mr. Trombley was one of the early French settlers, and first locat at the point where he resided at the time of his decease, in the 1st ward of this city, formerly Banks, and ever remained true to his first love. He built several years ago a handsome brick residence, the finest in that end of the city, thereby exhibiting his undoubted faith in the future of the locality which head seen advance from a dreary waste to a thriving, enterprising, business locality, with handsome residences, substantial business houses, paved streets, and other accessories of a ward in one of the most thriving cities of the valley. He was one of the most widely known residents of the vally, and enjoyed the confidence of the community in which he had so long resided, who will be pained at the announcement of his death.

  • Related Notes & Pages

    Joseph Trombley
    (aka: Tromble')
  • Joseph was one of the first pioneers residents of Lower Saginaw (now Bay City). He and his brother, Medor, built a log-cabin settlement. Later, he built the a "first framed" house here in 1837-38, which is still standing and located in Veterans Memorial Park.
  • Joseph married Sophia Chapoton in 1836.
  • Founded the village of Banks which later merged with West Bay City, and later yet, Bay City.
  • Along with Michael Daily, donated property to establish the former St. Joseph cemetery that was located on State street just south of Visitation church.
    Relatd Pages:
    Trombley, Adeline (dau.)
    Trombley, David (son)
    Trombley, James M. (son)
    Trombley, Medor (brother)
    Trombley, Joseph M. (son)
    Trombley (Chapaton), Sarah
    Trombley, Theodore (son)
    Trombley Genealogy
    Banks Vil., 1874 Directory
    St. Joseph cemetery
    {Trombley Plat Maps}
  • People Referenced
    Beebe, Mrs.
    Black Hawk
    Chapaton, Sophia
    Marsac, Joseph F. (Capt.)
    Mc Cormick, James Sr.
    McCormick, James R.
    McCormick, William R.
    Trombley, Adeline (dau.)
    Trombley, David (son)
    Trombley, James M. (son)
    Trombley, Joseph M. (son)
    Trombley, Medor (bro.)
    Trombley, Sophia (wife)
    Trombley, Theodore (son)
    Subjects Referenced
    American Fur Co.
    Bangor Twp., MI
    Bangor (village), MI
    Banks Vil. (aka. Bangor), MI
    Bay City, MI
    Black Hawk war
    Catholic Church
    Centre House (aka Big House)
    Chicago, IL
    Conner's Creek, MI
    Detroit, MI
    Grosse Point, MI
    Indian trading post
    Indian village
    Lansing, MI
    Lower Saginaw, MI
    Saginaw River
    Saginaw Valley
    Shiawassee County, MI
    Shiawassee River
    West Bay City
    1870 Michigan Census
    TROMBLEY: Bangor, Bay Co.:
    Joseph: 57,m,fisherman,Canada
    Sophia: 50,f,keep'g hse.,Canada
    Theodore: 23,m,?,MI
    David: 20,m,grocer,MI
  • {Roll 662, Page 372]
  • Internet References
  • None at this time.
  • WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.