My Family’s Iron Pioneers – The Bishop, Remington, and White Families
People frequently ask me about my own family. I have several different branches of ancestors who came to Marquette. Below is a discussion of one branch, an excerpt from my upcoming book My Marquette, to be published this Christmas.
The Remington, Bishop, and White Families
Marquette, or rather, the settlement of Worcester which would later have its name changed to Marquette, was established in 1849. The first census taken was in 1850. On that census are listed Edmond and Jemima Remington and their children, including their oldest daughter Adda, who was born in 1845. Edmond and Jemima are my great-great-great grandparents, six generations back. They came to Marquette from Vermont according to the census. Edmond was born about 1821 and Jemima about 1820. Although best guesses exist about Edmond and Jemima’s ancestors which include revolutionary war soldiers for grandfathers and Mayflower Pilgrim ancestors, we know few details about their lives before they came to Marquette. They were the first of my ancestors to arrive on Lake Superior’s shores.
My next ancestors to arrive in Marquette were my four greats-grandparents, Basil and Eliza Bishop. From one of Basil’s letters, we know he arrived on May 1, 1850. The 1850 census was taken on July 22, 1850, so Basil and Eliza should have appeared on it. Instead, the only Bishop listed has the first name of Beelzebub and he is thirty-five years old. Since no other record exists of a Beelzebub in Marquette history, it is fair to guess Basil was joking with the census taker, providing one of the Devil’s biblical names; the census taker apparently failed to get the joke. Basil also lied about his age—he would have been sixty-one at the time. However, Beelzebub is listed as a bloomer from New York, a job description and former residence that matches Basil Bishop’s true background.
Basil Bishop was born in Vermont in 1789. His Bishop family ancestors were Puritans who first settled in Connecticut in the seventeenth century—other branches of the family include colonial governors of Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay. Basil was the son and grandson of American Revolutionary War soldiers, and during the War of 1812, he served at the Battle of Plattsburg. In 1812, he also built a famous forge at Split Rock Falls in New York. His family prospered along with his business; his wife Elizabeth “Betsey” Brittell would bear him eighteen children. Then as the prosperous couple entered their golden years, they decided to move to the new settlement of Marquette, founded in 1849 by Amos Harlow.
The journey was arduous; the Bishops travelled through Ohio, where they contracted the ague, from which they would suffer the rest of their lives. Far from disappointed by the journey, Basil wrote to a friend of his arrival in Marquette (note, his original spelling, far from standard, has been retained):
“I heard of the iron Mountains on Lake Superior & that a Forge was going & I was wholly bent to Sea it & in April I Started & Reached hear the 1 day of May 1850 the next day I was on the Iron Mountains & Sea to Sea Millions upon Millions of the Richest ore I ever Saw piled up 200ft above the Laurel Maple timber land below it was the most delightfull Seane I ever experienced.”
Basil believed the iron ore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was the finest he had ever seen in forty years of working with iron. Although his original intention was to build his own forge, he ended up instead working in the one owned by Amos Harlow, the village’s founder.
The early years of Marquette were difficult ones of near starvation in winter, and little contact with the outside world due to no railroads and the short shipping season. Nevertheless, Basil continually wrote letters to praise Marquette. He convinced four of his adult children, Delivan, Lucia, Omelia, and Rosalia and his wife’s nephew, Daniel Brittell, to move to the new settlement. He proudly watched the little village grow, and in 1852, he wrote to a friend, “it is but 2 years last july that the first blow was Struck hear & now it is quite a viledge 15 large uprite houses 95 numerous log & Small ones a forge 130 ft long a machine Shop Shingle Mill Lath Mill & grist mill all under one Roof.” Today’s Marquette residents who grumble about short growing seasons will marvel when Basil declares the area has the best growing soil ever, and that visitors to Marquette find it a “great wonder” to see Basil’s “Beets Carrots Cabbage Cucumbers onions corn pumpkin squash sugar cane 9 ft hy and beans…narrow fat peas 2 roes 6 rods long that were 9 feet hy & loaded down with pods.” His visitors “expressed much astonishment to sea such crops heare where all thought this was a frozen reagion as I once did.” The visitors indeed would have been astonished were all this true—certainly, the sugarcane was an exaggeration.
Basil wrote of how rich everyone in Marquette was growing, and he was pleased to see his children prospering beyond their dreams. Writing to his other children back East, he remarks:
“I suppose you thought I was a visionary & too much taken up with this contry but experience now shows I was right in all my prodictions as far more has come to pass than I ever named in so short a time & now there is every indication of there being double of the business done hear next season than was done hear before in one year.”
Basil foresaw a great industrial metropolis arising in Marquette, and his letters speak of early Upper Peninsula dreams of statehood. In a letter of December 1858, Basil notes, “a voat was passed in the legislature of this state last winter to let all of the Upper Peninsula for a new state & the first voat gave us a new state lacking but one & all believe we shall soon be set of & heare will be the capitol.” Perhaps Basil was too visionary in this respect, but his letters speak to the optimism and determination of Marquette’s first settlers, a spirit of survival that continues with today’s residents. When he passed away in 1865, Basil could feel proud of his contributions to the new community.
In 2001, a plaque was placed at Basil Bishop’s grave in Park Cemetery to commemorate him as a War of 1812 veteran. His letters are available at the Marquette County Historical Society. He was indeed, a great iron pioneer, perhaps not remembered in the history books, but one who intimately knew the early Marquette residents and their experiences.
While iron ore attracted the Bishops to Marquette, religious reasons inspired them once they arrived. Delivan, Basil’s son, was a founder of Marquette’s First Methodist Church and many of the family would be involved in church activities including the Methodists two primary social causes: temperance and the abolition of slavery.
Two members of the third generation of the Bishop family would serve in the Civil War. One of them would be Delivan and Pamelia Bishop’s son, Francis Marion Bishop. Francis was my great-great grandfather’s first cousin, and important to my family history because more than fifty of his letters he wrote home during the Civil War have survived. The letters allow the modern reader to understand what it was like to be twenty, brave, homesick, and frightened. His parents’ return letters have not survived, but his responses to them give insight into Marquette’s early years. He comments in 1863, after hearing of the burning down of the nearby village of Chocolay that he had warned people the fire would happen, and next time maybe they will be more careful. He constantly names relatives, friends, and church members, asking to be remembered to them. He asks his grandfather to write if he can, and he tells his father to thank Mr. Everett, presumably businessman Philo M. Everett, for the loan of thirty dollars.
Francis continually comments on the war, the marches, army food, and his fellow soldiers. The dramatic climax of the letters occurs when an army chaplain writes to Francis’ parents: “your son Marion still lives. He is in Washington, badly wounded, but will recover, so says his surgeon. The ball lodged in his shoulder blade has been extracted and he is doing nicely.” A few weeks later, Francis describes in near-epic prose how he fell at the Battle of Fredericksburg:
“At the time I received my wound we were advancing on the enemies works in double-quick time at charge bayonet. When within about 20 paces of our line I saw my Company were somewhat scattered by getting over a fence we had to pass and turning for a moment to my men I waved my sword over my head shouted “Come on Boys” Mind you I was not behind them but no sooner had I turned again to face the foe than I felt a stinging sensation pass through my left breast near the heart and I fell powerless to the Earth, turning as I fell striking on my back. I uttered a low groan and offered a prayer to God. [I fell] with sword unsheathed for the protection of our glorious starry Banner, whose gallent folds waved o’er my head as I fell, for you must know mine was a post of honor, as commander of the 1st Company I stood beside the good old flag of freedom [and I now have] an honorable scar and one received in the best cause for which ever man fought and died.”
Despite his wounds, Francis wanted to continue his service so he was transferred to be Adjutant at Rock Island, Illinois, a prison for Confederate soldiers in the Mississippi River. Here his duties were less rigorous, although he does mention a breakout when the prisoners dug a tunnel. Six rebels escaped and one drowned trying to get across the river, while an officer of the guard was also killed.
When the war ended, Francis remained in Illinois to study zoology at Wesleyan University. His interest in Marquette continued, and prior to an 1866 visit he remarks, “I expect I will scarcely know Marquette when I see it. It has grown so much if I am to judge from the [Lake Superior] Journal.”
In May 1871, Francis joined Major Powell’s second expedition down the Colorado and Green Rivers and through the Grand Canyon; today, the expedition is considered the last great exploration of the American West. Powell’s first voyage had been a disaster that included shipwreck and the murder of crew members by the Shivwits Indians. Francis, known by his fellow travellers as “Cap” for achieving the rank of captain during the Civil War, was ready for adventure and fame as the expedition’s zoologist and cartographer.
The journey was the adventure of a lifetime, marked by difficult work, rough rapids, and placid moments of floating down river while Major Powell read aloud from the Bible or Tennyson’s poetry. While the first expedition had been a travel into the unknown, this journey would be more scientific, as surveys were conducted and specimens gathered. Moments of excitement included Francis being attacked by a deer he had to wrestle by grabbing its antlers. The Fourth of July was celebrated by a simple shooting off of guns. At times, the men had to carry their gear overland when the river was too wild to be navigated. Most of the travelers kept diaries, including Francis, and hundreds of photographs were taken. Francis’ maps of the river and canyons would become the first official government surveys of the area. However, in the spring of the expedition’s second year, Francis’ war wounds became too painful for him to continue the journey; reluctantly, he left the party before the final stretch through the Grand Canyon. His companions sadly parted from him, and they named Bishop Creek in the Uintas Mountains in his honor.
Francis then settled in Utah, befriending the local Mormons. He converted to the new religion and married the daughter of Orson Pratt, one of the original twelve apostles of the Mormon Church; one wonders what his staunch Methodist parents thought of his religious conversion and marriage. If only their letters to him had survived! Francis became Chair of the Natural Science Department at Deseret University, today’s University of Utah, where the originals of his letters currently reside. In later years, his companions from the expedition visited him and presented him with Major Powell’s special chair from the expedition. Francis would long remember his famous journey, and in his later years, he published an article on Major Powell’s life and his own journal from the expedition. He died in Utah in 1933, at the age of ninety.
Francis Marion Bishop is today one of Marquette’s famous, although forgotten sons, a pioneer of national importance.
Francis’ cousin, Jerome, also fought in the Civil War, but he was content later to return to Marquette to raise a family. Jerome Nehemiah White, my great-great-grandfather, came to Marquette in 1853 as a child of twelve. He was the son of Basil Bishop’s daughter, Rosalia, and her husband Cyrus Beardsley White. Jerome was one of several Marquette men to join the Michigan 27th. By the end of the war, his company had marched across the South, from Mississippi and Kentucky to Tennessee and Virginia. They fought at such significant battles as Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and the Battle of the Wilderness. The strenuous marching and Southern climate caused Jerome to suffer from sunstroke. At Petersburg, he was wounded by a ball entering his left and exiting through his right side. He was sent to a hospital in Washington where he recovered, although he would suffer partial paralysis the remainder of his life. He was released from the hospital as the war was ending, and family tradition states he was in the Ford Theatre the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, a possibility since he was in Washington D.C. at the time.
After the war, Jerome returned to Marquette and raised a family. He continued his Methodist association by serving as the Superintendent of the Chocolay branch of the Sunday School. He also farmed in Cherry Creek, where his house still stands today. In 1900, he died of wounds received from a runaway carriage accident at the Carp River Bridge.
Jerome’s wife was Adda, the daughter of Edmond and Jemima Remington. Jerome and Adda married in 1861, before he went away to the war. He was nineteen and a half, she a few months shy of sixteen at the time of the marriage. Adda’s mother, Jemima, had died two months before at the young age of forty. Her father, Edmond, remarried in less than four months to Hannah, an Irish immigrant. Edmond then joined the Michigan 27th with his son-in-law Jerome. Like Jerome, Edmond was wounded in battle and survived. After the war, he and his new wife and children left Marquette and moved to South Dakota. In 1882, Edmond would commit suicide by drinking strychnine, apparently because he could no longer tolerate the pain from his war wounds. His daughter, Adda, would remain in Marquette with her husband, Jerome; she would die in 1891 at the young age of forty-six. Jerome and Adda would have twelve children, the tenth of whom, Jay Earle White, would be my great-grandfather.
Readers of my novels will find that in the history of my Bishop, Remington, and White ancestors are sources for some of the characters in Iron Pioneers. The Bishop family influenced the Brookfields and the Whites influenced creation of the Whitmans. Lucius Brookfield is largely based on Basil Bishop from the information I have about Basil from his letters. Lucius’ wife, Rebecca, the staunch old Methodist, however, is completely based in my imagination. Nothing has been left to tell me anything about Elizabeth Bishop’s character other than Basil’s words of praise for her after her death. Rosalia Bishop was a source for both of Lucius’ daughters, Sophia and Cordelia. Like Cordelia, Rosalia owned a boarding house, and like Sophia, Rosalia was said not always to be a pleasant woman. She does not look terribly pleasant in the one photograph surviving of her. But that statement is based on what her grandson, Jay Earle White, told his children about her and it may or may not be true. Everything about Sophia’s social-climbing aspirations is completely my imagination. The Hennings in my novels are also completely made up. I knew so little about the Remington family that other than Edmond Remington remarrying and moving away from the area, nothing is based in fact there—the Remingtons certainly were far from being as wealthy as the Hennings. In Iron Pioneers, Gerald Henning marries Sophia after his first wife Clara dies. I have had many complaints from my readers about Clara’s early death, but please note Jemima Remington died at forty, a fairly young death as well. Jacob Whitman is loosely based on Jerome White, but I borrowed from Francis Marion Bishop’s Civil War letters to create the letters in Iron Pioneers that Jerome writes home to his family.
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