Posted tagged ‘Sault Sainte Marie’

Visiting Sault Sainte Marie

July 4, 2017

Few cities are more closely connected to Marquette’s history than Sault Sainte Marie. Just as Negaunee and Ishpeming play a key role in Marquette’s history because they are the source of the iron ore shipped out of Marquette’s harbor, so the Sault is where the ore has to pass through the locks to reach its destination in the major cities on the lower Great Lakes. As a result, in 1855, the Sault locks began construction under the guidance of Charles Harvey, who would also found Marquette’s neighboring city, Harvey, Michigan.

Sault Sainte Marie’s history is long and fascinating. Marquette is not even half as old since it was founded in 1849, while the Sault dates to 1688 when Father Jacques Marquette established a mission there, making it the first permanent European settlement in Michigan. The Sault remained a significant gathering place for the Chippewa (Ojibwa) whom Father Marquette came to convert to Christianity throughout the eighteenth century, but its real history begins in the nineteenth.

I recently visited Sault Sainte Marie for a book fair at Island Books and Crafts where I got to spend time with ten of my fellow Michigan authors. I also used this trip as an opportunity to see the sites and do some research for an upcoming book I plan to write.

China from Ireland owned by the Johnstons.

One of the places I visited were the historic homes on the waterfront. The first of these homes belonged to John Johnston, an Irishman who settled in the Sault in 1796 as a fur trader. Johnston married Oshahguscodaywayquay, the daughter of a local Chippewa chief. She took the English name Susan and went to live in Johnston’s home but all her life she retained her Native clothing and she would only speak her native tongue, although she understood French and English. She and Johnston would raise a family of four sons and four daughters.

Johnston, being British, sided with the British in the War of 1812, leading a group of men from the Sault to Mackinac Island to aid the British. In retaliation, the Americans went to the Sault and burned down his home as well as the Northwest Fur Company offices. After the war, Johnston tried to receive compensation, but since the Sault became American territory and he had fought against them, he never received compensation. Not surprisingly, he also never applied for American citizenship.

Dining room of the Johnston home.

The Chippewa were not pleased by the Americans moving into the Sault and were planning to attack General Cass who was sent to Fort Brady to claim it for the Americans. He took down the last British flag to fly on American soil there. Fortunately, Susan Johnston was wiser than the Chippewa men and she persuaded them not to attack the Americans, thus saving many lives on both sides. Cass, who would later become Governor of Michigan, always afterwards said he owed her his life.

Spinning wheel in the Johnston home.

The Johnston’s daughter, Jane, was highly educated and made trips to Europe with her father. When Henry Schoolcraft came to the Sault as the Indian agent, he became familiar with the Johnston family and eventually married Jane. Schoolcraft had a job to do in treating with the Chippewa, but Susan Johnston took him under her wing, making him sympathetic and interested in the Chippewa and their culture. Schoolcraft would eventually write down many of the stories he heard from his wife Jane about the legends of Hiawatha, a book that would influence Longfellow’s famous poem of the same name.

Henry Schoolcraft’s Office

Of course, Bishop Baraga also resided in the Sault and would have known the Johnstons and Schoolcrafts. Baraga had come to Upper Michigan as a missionary to the Native Americans from his native Slovenia. He became known as the snowshoe priest because he would travel across the Upper Peninsula and even into Wisconsin and Minnesota by snowshoe to preach the gospel. After many years of missionary work, he was appointed the first Bishop of the Marquette diocese. The diocese’s see was Sault Sainte Marie, and there a house was built for Baraga which he called his palace since he had long slept in rude little huts or lived with fellow priests, but now he had his own house. He resided there for only two years, 1864-1866, before it was decided to move the see to Marquette as a more central location for the diocese. Baraga would die in Marquette in 1868 and be buried there in St. Peter’s Cathedral.

The Bishop Baraga Home as viewed from the Tower of History.

Overall, Sault Sainte Marie is full of history. There are many other museums to visit including the Valley Ship Museum, the Tower of History, the River History Museum, the Chippewa Historical Society, and the campus of Lake Superior State University, built where once Fort Brady stood.

I’m sure I’ll be making many more trips to this place where three Great Lakes meet and history is very much part of the present.

St. Mary’s Church as viewed from the Tower of History. This church is on the same property where the proto-cathedral stood – the first cathedral of the Diocese of Marquette before the see was moved to Marquette and St. Peter’s Cathedral there.

View of the Saint Mary’s River taken from the Tower of History

Interior of the Baraga Home

Interior of the Baraga Home


Happy Birthday, Bishop Frederic Baraga

June 28, 2010

I can think of no better way to kick off my new blog than by celebrating Bishop Frederic Baraga’s birthday on June 29th.

Frederic Baraga was an integral figure in early Marquette and the Great Lakes region in general. Below is the passage in my upcoming book My Marquette, which includes a passage where Bishop Baraga is described in my novel Iron Pioneers.

            Bishop Baraga had been born in 1797 to a wealthy family in Slovenia, part of the Austrian empire. When Baraga entered the priesthood, he could have received a comfortable livelihood for the remainder of his days. Instead, at the age of thirty-three, he followed the Lord’s call to go to America. After four months in Cincinnati where he worked as a missionary and learned English, he traveled to Arbre Croche in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula to serve the Ottawa Indians. Lower Michigan had many missionaries, so Baraga soon felt called to spread the Word of God to the Chippewa of the Upper Peninsula. In 1837, he traveled to La Pointe, the first missionary to visit there since Father Marquette nearly two centuries before. Then he traveled on in 1843 to Keweenaw Bay to found another mission in L’Anse. After that, he never failed as a true missionary, constantly moving from one community to another; he preached and established congregations throughout the peninsula, often helping to build birchbark churches with his own hands; he converted the locals and said masses for them, then moved on to find new converts, but always he returned to help each congregation grow in its faith. When he made a trip to Europe, he found himself a celebrity; he held audiences with the pope, dined with royalty, and became the most talked about man on the continent, but his visit and all the attention it gave him only made him homesick for the natives of Michigan who needed him. He loved the Chippewa so much, he learned their language and wrote their first dictionary and a large collection of religious and moral instructions for them. After years of self-sacrificing dedication, he humbly accepted the title of Bishop in 1853 in Sault Sainte Marie. The title did not alter his determination; he continued to preach, to walk or snowshoe through all types of weather from one parish to the next, to spread God’s love to His people, now both the Chippewa and the white settlers who had arrived because of the iron ore. Upper Michigan’s fierce weather had worn his face until he came to resemble the natives; some said this change was a mark of his saintliness. Now this great man had decided to honor Marquette, centrally located and named for Baraga’s missionary predecessor, by building his cathedral there. — Iron Pioneers

 Bishop Frederic Baraga visited Marquette many times following the city’s founding in 1849. Then in 1864, with his laying of the cornerstone in Marquette for St. Peter’s Cathedral, the center of the new Upper Michigan Diocese was transferred from Sault Sainte Marie to Marquette as a more central location. Bishop Baraga soon after moved to Marquette and settled in this brick home just a couple of blocks south from the new cathedral, where he would live until his death in 1868.

Bishop Baraga Home - Marquette

One can imagine Bishop Baraga standing in the house’s little tower, looking out over the lake in winter or watching the residents bustle about the streets of Marquette. One wonders whether he ever felt like Moses seeing the Promised Land—marveling at how the Upper Peninsula had changed in the more than thirty years since he first arrived there, long before iron ore and copper led to the influx of settlers, and whether he felt satisfaction in all the good he had done for so many for so long.

Bishop Baraga Home Historic Marker

Today, Bishop Baraga’s home is the headquarters of the Bishop Baraga Association which has several thousand members worldwide. The association’s main purpose is to further the cause for the canonization of Bishop Baraga, an effort that has been in progress since the 1950s and which my cousin, Monsignor Joseph Zryd, played a major role in promoting as president of the association in 1955 when Bishop Noa set up the historical commission to begin the canonization process. Members of the diocese have fervently worked since then to achieve Bishop Baraga’s canonization based on his years of dedication to the natives and settlers of Upper Michigan as well as the miracles ascribed to him, including healings of different ailments and his intercession through prayer. The house is open by appointment for research into the association’s archives about Bishop Baraga and the Catholic Church’s presence in Upper Michigan.

For more facts about Bishop Baraga, see the Marquette Timeline at

Check back later this week for my posting on Marquette’s First Fourth of July celebration.