James Noyes Originally Owned the Land Upon Which is the University of Michigan

A mention of James Noyes is found in the History of Washtenaw County, Michigan” by Chas. C. Chapman & Co., published in 1881.

In August, 1827, Elisha W. Rumsey died in the house built by Mr. Osterhaut, and the tavern was occupied about this time by Oliver Whitmore. Mr. Rumsey was captain of the first militia company organized in this county, and the first training by the militia was in 1825. One small company then comprised the entire militia of this county. His brother, Judge Henry Rumsey, bought 80 acres of land from James Noyes, in 1825, including the grounds of the University of Michigan.”


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E. W. Rumsey was a co-founder of Ann Arbor, Michigan. But when I look him up I find that Elisha Rumsey was instead Walker Rumsey of Bethany, Genesee County, NY. And he was running from the law when he first arrived in Michigan.

…he bought pork at Canada and packed it. Rodney Taylor helped him cut and pack it, and send it to Albany. In this way he became acquainted with Trotter & Co., the firm in Albany who bought his pork, and who sent him $3000 to buy cattle with. He advertised for the farmers to bring in their cattle on specified days at the center of Bethany and Stafford, but he failed to appear. Some time before this his wife and he had become acquainted with Ann Sprague, a grass widow of prepossessing attractions. Now, Rumsey, after receiving the $3000, went with Ann Sprague to Canada with his pockets full of money. After getting there he found, if caught in that country, it would be worse for him than if caught in the states; hence, he now starts for Michigan.

Rumsey wasn’t committing bigamy, his wife had died by this time. He was found in Michigan and taken to Albany to jail twice before the matter was finished with. Because of this matter, he changed his name.

There’s an interesting bit on Judge Henry Rumsey from the website of the Ann Arbor Fraternity No.262:

Among the founding members of the Western Star Lodge was Mr. Henry Rumsey, the blood brother of one of the two men who founded the city of Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor was founded in 1824 by John Allen of Virginia and Elisha W. Rumsey of New York, who traveled from Detroit by one-horse sleigh with the purpose of establishing a town and selling land. John Allen sold the house he originally built in the area; at the corner of what is now Huron and First Streets, to his brother James in 1824. James Allen constructed on the log cabin home and increased its size to open it as “Allen’s Tavern,” which became well known as “Bloody Corners” because the building had a vivid red paint finish. It was in this very tavern that in 1827 the first Masonic Lodge in the area was formed by a number of local Freemasons including Henry Rumsey, brother of Elisha Rumsey. Western Star Lodge No. 6 received dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Michigan on January 16, 1827.

One thus can envision the bright red tavern of James Allen, who co-founded Ann Arbor with Elisha (nee Walker) in 1824.

I’m assuming that the James Noyes referred to here is the elder, born 1771, married to Rebecca Russell. They had settled in Michigan by 1824 with their family, and lived in Ann Arbor after its founding. His son James Noyes and Sally Marble had James Allen Noyes in 1826. I’m thinking that in all probability, the middle name of Allen was given James Allen in honor of the Allen family.

The following portion from a talk given to the Washtenaw County Historical Society, in 1997, by Dean Emeritus Russell E. Bidlack, School of Library Science at the University of Michigan, further reveals that the Allens were also on the run when they came to Michigan, and that Ann, the wife of John, didn’t think much of Ann Arbor.

John Allen was a widower with two children of his own which was fine except he was very much in debt as a result of some bad investments made by his father, Col. James Allen.

I can’t go into the story of John Allen today but debts that John assumed for himself for a while on behalf of his father amounted to $40,000, a horrendous amount of money.

Before the marriage, however, documents on file in the court records of Augusta County prove that John transferred the debts, along with his own farm his father had given him earlier, so that when the creditors foreclosed and took everything, it was the father that had owed the debts for the most part…

John, with Ann, moved to his unclaimed farm. His two children were with his parents, Col. James and Elizabeth Allen. Throughout their youth they were with their grandparents.

And, when Ann went with John to John’s farm, she left her two sons with James McCue, who had immediately declared himself their guardian, with a $10,000 bond, so they would be protected from their new step-father.

On May 10, 1823, Ann Allen gave birth to her only child by John, a daughter, Sarah Ann, the daughter whom I described earlier from the letter. She was named for her grandmother who happened to die the same year in Virginia.

That autumn Ann with her new daughter moved back to James McCue’s home, while John went on a money-making venture to Baltimore.

The stories passed down by different branches of the family vary somewhat. I have one written record along with the traditions but we know in any case that John took a herd of cattle to Baltimore.

That was the way you took cattle to market in those days. It’s 200 miles to Baltimore from the Staunton area yet to go to market you had to drive the cattle. He must have had some help, a boy or something. Of course these were not really his cattle. Either he had bought them on credit, which is one version, or the cattle actually belonged to the neighbors who couldn’t afford to take only one or two to market. According to the other version it was customary to get a herd together in the fall and somebody would volunteer to take them.

In any case everybody expected John to come back but he did not. Weeks, months passed. According to an account written by the son of James McCue, who grew up with Ann’s two sons, it became a general rumor that he’d been murdered.

Actually, he had sold the cattle for several hundred dollars. He was now 27 years old. He set out for Buffalo. He heard that you could buy government land for $1.25 an acre in such places as Ohio or Michigan Territory and somewhere he had read about how you could buy $1.25 land–lay out some lots, give some lots to merchants, mechanics blacksmiths and so on and start a town.

You could start a town and your property would increase in value so he had this in mind…

Meanwhile, back in Virginia, the rumor about murder had been cleared up. The tax collector in 1824 wrote one word after John’s name–absconded. That ended John’s career in Augusta County.

After spending November and December, 1823, in Buffalo and getting some advice there, John decided to go to Detroit. It was too late to cross on the lake so he hired a Frenchman to guide him through Canada.

…while in Detroit, I’m sure it was in a tavern–there were five of them in Detroit at that point–he became acquainted with another man who was also looking to buy land but definitely in Michigan Territory.

This was a man named Elisha Walker Rumsey…

…Governor Cass may have told him about a trip he had taken along the Huron River and he had discovered there was a very nice spot on the Huron with oak openings that would be a mighty nice place for a village.

I think that was exactly where Elisha and John set out for in their sleigh in February, 1824, to explore. I think they knew what they were looking for. In any case, they chose the spot that became Ann Arbor and began building.

How Ann and his parents learned of his whereabouts, I’m not sure when it happened. I know they received a letter in August 1824.

It happened that John had an aunt, Jane Trimble, his father’s sister. If you know your Ohio history, there was a Governor Trimble–that was her son. She was back in Virginia visiting relatives. She wrote her son back in Ohio on August 24, 1824.

She said that Col. James Allen had been to the McCue home where she was visiting. (Her daughter had married James McCue.) She said a letter had arrived directing John’s father which way to go to Ann Arbor. The wording suggests to me that this was not the first news the parents had about John’s whereabouts.

Ann, too, had received a letter, included in the one to his father, telling her he wanted her to come to Ann Arbor and bring their daughter. He knew very well that her two sons would not be able to come–the guardian would keep them in Virginia.

The parents were expecting to go because in the foreclosure of all James Allen’s land he had been given until October 1, 1824, to move out of the mansion. A colonel in the militia, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, had come to this bad end….

They went by covered wagon. Happily, Turner Allen kept notes and later wrote a detailed account of the journey, exactly how they went, difficulties they had–the wagon tipped over at one point. They had four horses to pull the wagon, three to drive.

Ann rode almost all the way according to her own statements, carrying her daughter in her lap. She was an experienced rider as were all Southern ladies according to Dr. Faust, primarily because the plantations were so far apart and horseback was the only logical way of transportation. How did they ride? Sidesaddle. Imagine Ann on this almost two-month trip riding side saddle.

Ann greatly feared Indians. Turner Allen told about one time when they were camping near Indians and Ann said, “Their cattle even low savage.”

They arrived in Detroit. John was there to meet them; then they went to the new settlement and they arrived October 16, 1824. (Once I wrote October 24 for which I apologize.)

John showed Ann around. I can imagine Ann’s shock. Perhaps the best way I can describe that is to quote from a lady arriving two weeks after Ann. This was Harriet Noble who came with her husband, her husband’s brother and his wife and nine children in all, from New York.

They had been there earlier and John helped them find land near Ann Arbor village. They came to take up their land and build their cabins.

This is what Harriet Noble remembered: “There were six or seven log huts, occupied by as many inmates as could crawl into them. It was too much to think of asking strangers to give us a place to stay in even for one night under such circumstances.

“Mr. John Allen, himself, made us the offer of sharing with him the comforts of a shelter from storm if not from cold. The house was large for a log one but quite unfinished. There was a ground floor and a single loft above. (John’s family was in here along with two or three men he hired in Detroit to help build the huts.)

“When we got our things stored in the place we found the number to be sheltered to be 21 women and children and 14 men. There were only two bedsteads in the house and those, who could not occupy these, slept on feather beds on the floor.

“When the children were put to bed you could not set a foot down without stepping on a foot or a hand. The consequence was we had music most of the time.

“We cooked our meals in the open air, there being no fire in the house except a small box stove. The fall winds were not very favorable for such business. We would frequently find our clothes on fire.

“We did not often get burned but when one meal was over we dreaded to start the next. We lived in this way until our husbands got a log house with a roof on. That took them six weeks.”

I imagine Ann was fretting during this period.

The cabin that had been built by John Allen lasted until they could build a cabin for his parents. Then John’s two children by his first wife moved in with their grandparents, as they had always lived with them. John built a fireplace and in February 1825 he wrote a letter to Aunt Jane Trimble, which happily survives.

I’ll quote a paragraph. As I talk about him imagine a man who is always optimistic, always striving to be a leader, dreaming great dreams, imagining he would be wealthy as his father once had been, confident.

“We live in a small log house, one room down, one room upstairs or rather up ladder, with a good fireplace and cooking stove by which Ann does the work of our family with ease and none to fret or put her out of temper. When the business of the day is through with and we’ve seated ourselves around the fire there is none to disturb us. We lie down and rise up contented and happy.”

I would love to have a letter written by Ann about this.

Ann was deeply religious. She was a Presbyterian. She read a great deal of Presbyterian literature along with other literature.

She was certainly ill-prepared to be a pioneer wife. She did not find any Southerners in Ann Arbor; the rest of the settlers came from New York and New England. Except for her mother-in-law, she was alone among Yankee settlers.

She was sometimes referred to in later years as being melancholy. I suspect she had good reason. She had never performed domestic labor before and here she found herself a pioneer among Yankee women who were accustomed to not only working in the house but outdoors as well.

Furthermore, she had a growing feeling of guilt that she had left two little boys, motherless, back in Virginia. As weeks and months passed she wondered whether they would even remember her. I suspect Ann Allen had relatively few happy days in her 18 years in Ann Arbor.

One time she wrote to her son, Thomas, when he had suggested he might come to Ann Arbor to live. She urged him not to. She said the settlers are nothing but scapegoats who have made their place as a refuge from creditors for unlawful deeds. Unprincipled, they live by art and cunning. He who can outwit his neighbor is the better man–her view of Yankees.

John Allen took up Yankee ways himself. He began condemning slavery. He had owned eight slaves that he lost in the father’s debts. I suspect Ann never saw the evil in slavery.

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