Friday, February 09, 2007

The Trail of the Polish Emigrants in Michigan, Part 2

The Trail of The Polish Emigrants in Michigan, Part 2
by Dr. Stephen Wloszczewski from Poles in Michigan, Vol. 1

There are other traces of Polish settlements in Michigan in the first half of the 19th century. We shall deal with those in a special study devoted to the Polish Tailors' Corporation in Detroit.

The main question is: What were the trails followed by the Polish emigrants who came to Detroit before 1850?

Father Waclaw Kruszka, who was investigating the matter fifty years ago related on page 378 of his "History of Poles in America" (new and revised edition, Milwaukee, 1937) that during stay in Texas, which he visited in 1917, he had the following conversation with the children attending the Polish parish school Bremond.

Children: Have you come here from Poland?
Kruszka: No. From there. (Points to Lake Michigan on the map and to the neighboring states, Michigan and Wisconsin.)
Children: How far is this from Texas?
Kruszka: Over a thousand miles.
Children: Are there as many Poles there as in Texas?
Kruszka: Ten times as many.
Children: How long have these Poles been there?
Kruszka: Ever since there were any in Texas.
Children: Did they go there from Texas?
Kruszka: No, they came straight from Poland.
Children: Did they come through New Orleans?
Kruszka: No!
Children: Through Galveston?
Kruszka: No!
Children: Through New York?
Kruszka: No. The first Poles to come to the States of Michigan and Wisconsin arrived through Canada and the St. Lawrence River which flows from the Lakes of Ontario, Erie, Huron, and Michigan. This is the shortest way from Poland to Michigan and, at the same time, to California. The water route to Lake Michigan is only half as long as that leading to Galveston, Texas.

Polish diarists mention this route. See, for example, the "Diary of Maciej Wojda," an 800 page manuscript located in the Archives of the Polish Community in Chicago. On the basis of this and other documents it has been authoritatively established by the historians
-among others, by Father Kruszka himself - this to have been the route of the first Polish settlers.

Above all this was the trail followed by our Kashubian, Pomeranian, and Prussian Mazurian emigrants. Later, between 1850 and 1870, the inhabitants of Posen Province began to flock down the same route, especially since this trail was finally accepted by the Polish emigrants who joined in the mass California Gold Rush.

Polish emigrants embarked mainly at Hamburg and landed at Quebec. They then went along the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. Some of them, exhausted by the hardships of journeying, stopped as close as Lake Erie in Michigan. Others continued on their way up to Lake Huron, while some of the emigrants reached Lake Michigan, or Lake Superior, disembarking en route at Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Duluth.

Father Waclaw Kruszka, who for forty years tirelessly examined records connected with the history of the earliest Polish settlers, firmly maintains that "all diaries and chronicles bear witness that they arrived in this country (to the State of Michigan) through no other way, but straight from the Old Country by way of Canada. They remained here because they preferred to face the certain prospect of digging for fortune in this fertile soil to the uncertain one of digging for gold in California. At first they thought that California was near at hand, but only here did they learn how horribly far away these gold fields were."

Thus, many travelers took up residence in the Thumb of Michigan, which was conveniently located, being surrounded by the Lake on three sides. Others settled in Monroe and Detroit.
Still others landed at Alpena and a number of emigrants reached Bay City, Muskegon, and Grand Rapids.

All of them spent a short or long time in Detroit.

The first Polish rural settlement in Michigan still in existence was founded in the period 1850-1860. It was named Paris and later changed to Parisville.

The first Polish town quarter probably began to rise in Muskegon in the years 1830-1840.

The first Polish village in northern Michigan was founded in 1870's. It was named Posen.

In Detroit, the first Polish quarter began to rise in 1850-1860. all deal with its history in a more detailed manner in another study.

1. Records of the two oldest Catholic churches in Detroit.
2. Naturalization records of Wayne County, and Land Registry records.
3. Annals of the "City Directory" from the first years of its publication.
4. Annals of the "Catholic Almanac" ('later renamed the "Catholic Directory").
5. Annals of the "Detroit Tribune," "Detroit News," "Free Press," and others, and, among the Polish press, annals of "Swoboda," and "Polska Gazeta Katolicka."
6. Inscriptions on the oldest Polish gravestones in Parisville mid Posen.
7. Diary of Maciej Wojda.
8. Historical works by Father W. Kruszka.
9. Biography of Sister Napolska; biographical sketches by Wincenty Smolczynski.

This article was continued from The Trail of the Polish Emigrants in Michigan, Part 1.