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Joseph Trombley flourished for some time in his trade with the red man, having dealt largely in the only commodity the Indian had, the lucrative fur trade. Sending to headquarters for his Indian supplies, getting them at low prices and selling them at the Frenchman's "one or two per cent," that is, what he paid one dollar for he was quite sure to get two dollars for, and what he took in barter was sure to get for half or less than its value, and selling it for several times its cost. These were the inevitable results of the pioneer Indian trade.

In 1834 the next house built on the present site of Bay City was a log house built by one John B. Trudell, an old Frenchman, near where the residence of the late James Watson now stands, in Fifth Ward, where Mr. Trudell lived a long time.

The next family fixing its residence in the limits of this county was another Frenchman, Benjamin Cushway, who built himself a house and blacksmith shop on the west side of the river, a short distance below the west end of Twenty-third street bridge, and for many years did the Indian blacksmithing and assisted the traders in their traffic with the Indians.

We find no more people locating here for some time. But in March, 1835, our thrifty friend Joseph Trombley becoming somewhat aristocratic in his notions, bought off of the government the land along the bank of the river from where W.R. McCormick's house now stands to the red salt works of Albert Miller, and commenced to erect the house known as the old Center House, by getting his timber hewed and on the spot at the same time. Mr. Trombley bought his siding and a quantity of boards and his lime and nails, hired carpenters and other help, and put them all on board the sloop, SAVAGE, a small vessel of 28 tons, and sent them to the Saginaw river, coming by land himself. After long delays the vessel arrived safely, when the work went on as rapidly as one slow carpenter could frame his oak timber. In the meantime the studding and joist, and other limber was being sawed with a whipsaw. The frame being completed the joiner came and finished the outside and inside, and the house was fully completed with two years after its commencement, being the first frame house in the limits of this county.

Subsequently in March, 1836, this land where the village of Portsmouth was subsequently laid out, was purchased by Benoit Trombley of Joseph Trombley, who subsequently sold it in July of the same year, to Judge Albert Miller, when in the same month the town of Portsmouth was surveyed and plated by Judge Jewett of Saginaw for Judge Albert Miller. After the outlines of the survey had been made the surveying party repaired to Leon Trombley's house for refreshments, when young Lewis Trombley, then a small lad, standing at the door, cried out "a steam boat."

The steamer, GOVERNOR MARCY, being then in sight, and the first steamer that ever entered the Saginaw river. The surveying party hailed the boat and put to her in canoes and took passage for Saginaw.

In the winter of 1836-37 Judge Miller sold out his interest in the plat of Portsmouth, reserving certain lots, to other parties, among whom was Henry Howard, the State Treasurer; Kensing Pritchet, Secretary of State; John Norton, the cashier of the Michigan State Bank; John M. Berrien of the United States Army, and Governor Stevens F. Mason, who individually purchased all the land subsequently included in the Portsmouth plat. These formed a stock company and caused the same to be resurveyed and replatted in 1837 by John Farmer.

A portion of this plat of Portsmouth was resurveyed and replatted by A. Miller's surveyor for Wm. Daglish in 1855, under the name of Daglish division, of Portsmouth.

Up to some time in 1836 all the lands purchased in the Saginaw Valley was in the land district of Detroit, and a trip to Detroit was then considered a fearful hardship for any one, and the land office was established in Flint.

In these early times much strife began to appear between parties purchasing United States lands, and then all purchases were made in gold and silver. It is said that more than $40,000 were frequently stored away in the little hotel at Flint, kept by one Bill Gifford, to be used for purchasing lands.


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[Index to People]
[Index to Places]
Names Referenced
Berrien, John M.
Cushway, Benjamin
Daglish, Wm.
Gifford, Bill
Howard, Henry
Farmer, John
Jewett, (Judge)
Mason, Stevens F. (Gov.)
McCormick, Wm. R.
Miller, Albert (Judge)
Norton, John
Pritchet, Kensing
Trombley, Benoit
Trombley, Leon
Trombley, Lewis
Trombley, Joseph
Trudell, John B.
Watson, James
Comments/Resources
Saginaw River Shipwrecks [Visit] Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Foundation, Inc. Scroll down to the field "Place of Loss" and type in "Saginaw River" to bring up a listing of these ships.

Lumber Industry
[Visit] MSU's site covers Michigan lumbering industry.


Judge Albert Miller
Albert Miller


William R. McCormick


James Watson
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HISTORY: Dense forests cover most of the land before the lumber boom began in the 1860s.