Friday, October 27, 2006

First Polish Settlers in Detroit, Part 1 of 2

The following is excerpted from Poles in Michigan, Vol. 1:

By Dr. Ludwik Gozdawa

Grocery - First Emigrants.

Andrew Kaminski should be considered the first representative of the Polish intelligentsia who settled in Detroit, although “educated" Poles have preceded him and may have settled here at the beginning of the 19th century. The first Polish immigrant hailing from the working class to settle in Detroit and remain here until his death was Stanislaus Melin, the tailor, not the printer, Anthony Kaminski, although, other Polish emigrants of the "common people" must have certainly lived in this city and even settled permanently before his time.

Why Andrew Kaminski and Stanislaus Melin?

We mention them because we possess some reliable information about them and can say with certainty that they took up permanent residence in our city, working here until they died. We do not possess any such evidence about their predecessors and can not prove that they preserved their Polish national heritage while living here.

Andrew Kaminski was first "discovered" by George Catlin, the Detroit historian.

A reporter of the "Free Press" found Stanislaus Melin, who was still alive in 1906, and held an informal interview with him. (See the anonymous article in the "Free Press" of June 3rd, 1906: “Detroit's Polish Pioneers and their remarkable Progress; Colony small 40 Years Ago; It now represents about one-sixth of the Population of the City of the Straits: Dame Lukaszek's Life; Midwife has assisted at 11,674 Births In Last 35 Years; Many of Pioneers are Now Rich Citizens.")

Kaminski arrived in Detroit in 1837. In the office of Registers of Wayne County four lots are recorded as having been purchased Andrew Kaminski in 1845, seven years after his arrival in Detroit and one year before his marriage to Christine Gibels. Kaminski took out his second citizenship papers in 1847. He volunteered in two wars - the Mexican and the Civil Wars - and was killed in active service in the latter. He was a fine type of Pole who fought for his own and his adopted country, lived as a farmer and property owner, and was a self-made man in the fullest meaning of the term. His dogged, hard work enriched him and the town that gave him shelter, like many fine Polish soldiers - like 60-yr old Alexander Bielawski, President Lincoln's friend - Kaminski died fighting for the American ideal - died of a bullet through heart.

Stanislaus Melin was born at Bydgoszcz, Polish Pomerania in 1828. His father, a modest village teacher, gave his son a sound training as a tailor. His first post as master tailor brought Melin 40 dollars a year for a 12 hour work day. He also risked being drafted for compulsory military service with the hated Prussian Army.

After his father died Melin made up his mind to leave the country and with his mother emigrated to America. The passage took 8 weeks and four days. They arrived in Quebec, Canada.

We do not know the date of his arrival in America, nor do we know what became of his mother, since both Father Kruszka and Smolczynski agree that Melin came to Detroit on the 13th of August, 1857, alone. He married three years later when the Lemke family arrived here. His bride was the young Augusta Rohr, sister of "Patriarch" Lemke's wife. He was 32 at that time. His wedding was celebrated at the small, German church of St. Joseph's. This was the first purely Polish wedding in Detroit and Stanislaus Melin belonged to the nucleus of the community which later developed into Detroit's Polish colony.

Melin did not resume his trade at once. At first he worked in a foundry in Wyandotte for Capt. E. B. Ward. But in the last 45 years of his life he was rapidly becoming rich and, according to the "Free Press" reporter, "has long been regarded as a man of importance among Polish-Americans." He died at 78 in 1906.

Continued next Friday.