Pictured in this month's history graphic are James G. Birney II (top right) and his sons;
James III (top left), David B., (btm. left) and William Birney. The background image is from Pine Ridge cemetery.
The heritage of the Birney family is a unique inheritance of this community's history. From grandfather to grandson,
the Birney name has been a proud legacy on which we can look back on with a great deal of pride. Their collective
stories says a lot about strength of character that is a hallmark of their contributions to their time, and on which
we have built the present.
Perhaps, the most well known of the Birneys to contemporary citizens of Bay City is James G. Birney IV. For the
past couple of years his name has appeared in publication associated with his service in the Civil War. This
notoriety was created when it became known that a sword once owned by him was available for purchase. The Bay County
Historical Society Museum now has this sword which will become part of a special display.
However, James IV is not the most significant Birney in this community's history. That distinction belongs to his
grandfather, James G. Birney II. He was a leader in the abolitionist movement, and twice ran for president of the
United States. The second time as while a member of this community. James II was 49 years when in 1849, he made his
first visited this area. He was so impressed with the natural environment and its development potential that he
uprooted his family from their home in New York and moved here the following spring. After a brief stay in Saginaw,
he settled on Lower Saginaw (now Bay City) for his permanent residence. He went and a group of investors formed the
Saginaw Bay Company that platted the village of Lower Saginaw.
The Birney heritage goes much deeper than the two James mentioned. The eldest son of James II, also named James,
and the father of James IV, followed in his father's political footsteps becoming a local and state leader. He was
active player in the growth of this community. The historic Pine Ridge Cemetery on the north east corner of Trumbell
and Center was founded by him. And, is where he, wife Amanda (Moulton) and other family members are interned.
The Birney family legacy is one of God, country and community service. During the Civil War, five sons served as
officers in the Union army. James II's sons, William and David Bell were Generals; Dion a Lieutenant; Fitzhugh a
Major; and, grandson James II a Lieutenant. Dion, David and Fitzhugh did not survive the war.
Elizabeth (Fitzhugh) Birney, the second wife of James II, was a significant benefactor to needy causes after her
husband's passing in 1857. Her brother, Dr. Daniel Fitzhugh who was a close friend of James II. before Elizabeth
marriage, founded the village of Salzburg.
The Birney family and many other pioneer families that are a part of Bay City's heritage are worthy of greater
attention. It is unfortunate that there isn't greater awareness by the public of our wonderful history. Little has
been done by subsequent generations to appropriately honor our heritage. While some local streets and places carry
their names, few know why. Their contributions are stored away in local history books at the library or museum used
only by a small group of people who desire to understand our community's roots. There is no tucked away While their
surnames are used for streets and places, only understand why.
The answers are bundled away in books, micro-films of old newspaper and other documents at the local library or
museum. Only a small fraction of the public are even aware of their existence. While millions are invested in our
schools - local history isn't a part of the curriculum. That's a shame! I have yet to understand why? Because there
is so much that can be socially gained by our youth through an understanding of their community's roots.
The above lists only a few of the heritage surnames that have contributed to our community's well being. All outstanding examples that can be cited in educating our children in developing public and private social skills that instill community pride. Through an understanding of this history, students may develop the wisdom that their future will be the direct result of their own desires, capabilities, discipline and willingness to set goals. And, that their knowledge, effort and perserverance are the only limiting factors in achieving the future they dream for themselves.
You can learn a great deal more about the Birneys from their biographies and family tree at:
Heritage Library/ James G. Birney Family Heritage