The Wisconsin Cartters - Chapter Eight
James Bruce (2) was only thirteen years old when his father died. His mother was not in good health at the time and it seemed wise that he go to live with his uncle James Bruce (1) who at the time was living in Churchville, near Rochester. Here James, the boy, became interested in the blacksmith and iron worker’s trade. He lived with his uncle for six years, turning down an invitation from his brother David to join him in the study of law. Law had been the path taken by his three older brothers.
In about 1834, at the age of nineteen, James joined his older brother Harleigh to travel westward into what was then Michigan Territory, it having been so declared by Congress in 1805. What attracted their attention to this area is not known. Perhaps it was the spirit of adventure or possibly it was the same pioneering spirit that had prompted their own father to move westward. McComb County, located directly north from Detroit and bordering Lake St. Clair became the third county organized in the Michigan Territory on Jan. 15, 1818. Shelby township, in which Utica is located, was authorized on April 12, 1827. It was here that the two brothers settled, Harleigh to practice law and James to join in partnership with James Covel Jr. to develop a company known as the “Utica Iron Works.” James became manager of this new company. In this capacity he further developed his skill in working with people, becoming tolerant and helpful to workmen, and appreciative of the problems of new immigrants arriving from other countries and searching out employment.
Just when the Utica Iron Company was formed is uncertain. Probably not until James Bruce returned from the Toledo war in 1837. One reason for this assumption is found in a clipping which appears in his scrapbook. This clipping, taken from a Utica paper, was evidently sent to James Bruce by Mrs. F. S. Church, daughter of Harleigh, along with a letter mentioning that a Mr. Alexander had inquired about him. This letter was written Jan. 18, 1888 and reached James Bruce forty five years after he had left Michigan. The newspaper item is written by a James Alexander, whose description of early experiences in Utica covers the period when James Bruce lived there and refers to his relationship with the Iron Company. The following is a quote from that clipping.
“In the spring of 1836, the 22 yr. Of my age, I left my native land (Ireland) for America. After a passage of six weeks and three days landed in Quebec. As I heard Michigan highly spoken of I bent my steps in that direction. Arrived in Detroit in the fall, I did not remain there long. A man from Utica named Holmes was in the city looking for a blacksmith, and left word to have one sent out. I started the next morning by way of Royal Oak with my pack on my back. There was no public conveyance and it took two days to get here, as I had to foot it. Hardly anyone knew of such a place as Utica --- but I found the way ---. This was December 12th, 1836.
I engaged to work for Mr. Holmes for five months at twenty dollars per month, board and washing. At that time I intended to go to Chicago. - - - In the meantime James Cartter returned from the west and with some others formed what was known as the “Utica Iron Company.” Mr. Cartter wanted me to work for him; they gave me one dollar per day. I worked for them as long as they continued in business. Mr. Cartter and myself were very warm friends; we boarded at the hotel; and as customary in those days for two to occupy the same room and bed Cartter and I slept together. I wish I knew where and how he is now. - - - There were but few places of business then. John James was the principle merchant, he is now living in Detroit. There was one grist mill and two distilleries. Twenty five cents would buy enough whiskey to keep a man drunk for two weeks. - - -
After the ‘Iron Company’ wound up I rented their shop for a few years then built a shop of my own.”
The building occupied by the Utica Iron Company stood where the Clinton House later was built. The upper floor of their building was for several years used as the Presbyterian meeting house.
In 1837 James Bruce was commissioned captain of a company of militia organized to participate, if necessary, in what came to be known as the Toledo War. His company was under the command of General Brown and was stationed in Toledo to guard the original boundary line with Ohio which had been established when Michigan was made a state earlier in the year. Ohio had laid claim to the Toledo Territory and Michigan resisted. After much negotiation and maneuvering the dispute was settled without bloodshed giving to Michigan that area known as “the upper peninsula,” and to Ohio a change in the southern boundary line including 470 sq. miles of territory in which was located the site of the city of Toledo. Thus ended the short military career of James Bruce.
During the nine years that James Bruce lived in Utica there was little time for him to demonstrate his interest and participation in community or political affairs. Historical records do indicate that in 1839 he was active in helping to organize that Utica Lyceum Society and served as its first secretary. During the same year he was elected town clerk of Shelby Township. His role in local community affairs in Michigan and later in Wisconsin, seemed to be that of a stimulator and organizer, contributing to movements good for the community, and helping to see those movements soundly organized. At this point he was content to step into the background and turn leadership over to others, always being available for counsel.
In 1842 banks throughout the country were having difficulty. Many banks, organized by individuals, had been established in the years just previous. These banks were known as “wild cat” banks and many were in trouble. The Bank of Utica was one of these. The State Legislature of Michigan passed an act to annul the corporate rights of certain banks. Under this act the receiver caused an appraisal of assets to be made of the Utica bank April 29th by James B, Cartter, James Covel Jr. and C. B. H. Fessenden. The bank was found to be short of funds and was closed.
We know little of James Covel Jr., though assume him to be a young man about the age of James Bruce. Both men seem to have had the pioneer spirit and were looking westward. They were aware that when Michigan had been made a state in 1836, the Wisconsin Territory was created including at the time parts of present day Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. This area seemed to offer new opportunities especially after public land surveys, which had begun in 1832, were completed in 1840 for all territory southeast of the Fox-Wisconsin waterway in Wisconsin Territory.
The fact that government land sales were opened in 1834 for the Green Bay and Mineral Point areas began to attract permanent settlers and when in 1839 the lands along Lake Michigan in the Milwaukee area were opened for sale, migration began in earnest from areas bordering the Great Lakes.
It is not surprising therefore that we find recorded in Vol. 2 of Racine County Transcript, now housed in the Kenosha County, Wisconsin Courthouse, a transfer of some 77-66/100 acres of land from the U.S. Government to James Covel and James B. Cartter. This transfer is dated July 1, 1843 and covers property described as the: --
“W ½ - SW ¼ - Sec 19 – T (1) N – R (19) E” located today in the town of Randall, County of Kenosha. No consideration is shown in the records.
Further search in Kenosha County by the author uncovered in Vol. No. 2 of Racine County Transcript page 150 a deed granted by James Covel, Jr. and wife (Nancy) to James B. Cartter, both of McComb County, Mich. The deed is dated August 24, 1843. Consideration being $350.00.
This deed covers three parcels of land described as follows and located in present day Walworth and Kenosha Counties of Wisconsin:
Parcel I “E ½ - SW ¼ - Sec. 36 – T (1) N – R (18) E”
Walworth County – containing 80 acres
Parcel II “W ½ - SW ¼ - Sec. 36 – T (1) N – R (18) E”
Walworth County – containing 80 acres
Parcel III “W ½ - SW ¼ - Sec 19 – T (1) N – R (19) E”
Kenosha County – containing 77-66/100 acres.
This deed was signed in the presence of H. Carter and C.S. Madison, State of Mich., County of McComb and acknowledged by Harleigh Cartter, Justice of Peace of McComb Co., Mich. (Recorded Vol “G” of deed p 500-501 Racine Co.) Harleigh was James Bruce’s older brother, with a spelling he sometimes used.
It is very likely that this action was taken shortly before James Bruce left Utica, and very likely the transfer of land was part of the settlement of affairs in the Iron Company between the two partners. It is rather interesting to know also that James Covel Jr. in company with George Vinton repurchased the 77-66/100 acre tract from James Bruce on Dec. 2, 1850.
We know that James Bruce did leave Utica and arrived in Wisconsin late in 1843. It is here that we started our story in Chapter 1. James Bruce was twenty eight years of age, skilled in his trade, single, experienced in his associations with other men and respected by those who knew him. He was however a man still uncertain of just what further contributions he was to make as he continued his life in this territory known as Wisconsin.