Port Hope

Port Hope, Michigan, began as a lumber town. It is on Michigan’s Upper Thumb, situated on the shore of Lake Huron. It was a boom and bust town. The lumber industry created frontier millionaires and dirty towns sprang up around the mills. Salt blocks, were constructed to produce salt for export and utilized tons of debris from the sawmills as fuel.

Ruben Dimond invested in lumber tracts in what would become Port Hope. By 1851, William R. Stafford bought out Dimond and partnered with William Southard. They bought up 40 acre land warrants from the Us Government that were set aside as pension benefits for veterans of the War of 1812. Legend says Southard was coming to see what he bought. A storm arose, the schooner let them off and at night rowing in a boat against the wind he vowed he’d name the spot Port Hope if they reached it.

Stafford and Southard constructed sawmills and began lumbering operations. By 1858 a large dock was finished allowing ships to transport the finished lumber. There was an 80 foot chimney at one of the mills. The Bottom 9x 10 feet is built of sandstone with an open hearth. The upper portion of the stack is built of red brick and rises to gradually taper about another 60 feet. The Stafford dock extended into the lake from the saw mill, was a structure of timber cribs filled with stone. The great fires of 1871 and 1881 destroyed much of Stafford’s mills, docks and millions of board feet of finished lumber. The fires devastated the declining lumbering operations.

Port Hope, Michigan is the site of reconciliation for my family ancestors. A deep and painful chapter of Canadian and American history was played out in the Revolutionary War. The Gibbs family (Abraham and Keziah Atwood Gibbs children fought for the Revolution). The Miller, Bush, Weaver, Saxe, Leroy families were Loyalists and most escaped to Canada during and after the war of 1775-1783. After fighting for years in the Revolutionary War my 4th great grandfather, Isaac Gibbs, moved to Missiisquoi, Quebec amongst the loyalists by 1792. Here his sons, Abraham born 1806 and Hiram Gibbs born on February 2, 1812 at Farnham, Brome Missisquoi, Quebec to Isaac and Lydia Gibbs. Abraham Gibbs married Anna Sax on November 4, 1833 at Stanbridge, Quebec. This was the start of the reconcialation.

Abraham and Anna Gibbs had seven children. Their names will carry on for the next generations. And two of their children would marry into the Smith’s of Irish background who fought for the British army who had married into very Loyalist background families. I think they were tired of the wars! War seems to be part of our DNA, part of human nature. It is the consequence of religious, ethnic, economic, and political differences. It is part of a greed for land, oil, prestige and power. For a little while my DNA matches overcome all the reasons to go to war and united in love. They overcame the vicious cycle of war and I join their optimism that war is a choice and that these two families united and sought the alternative – to love.

The children of Abraham and Anna Gibbs James William and Mary Ann Wilson Smith

were named:

John Nelson Gibbs 1834-1891

Rachel Francis Gibbs 1836-1874 married John Nicholas Smith 1834-1920

they married in 1855 in Perth County, Upper Canada and immigrated with both families to Gore, Michigan to Port Hope where George A., Minerva Estella, named after Minerva Smith, Anna Jane and a baby were born. Rachel died in 1874 at age 38.

Caroline 1837-1891

John H 1840-1909

George Arthur 1841-1841

Peter Abraham 1842-1911

Hiram Garner Gibbs 1848-1913 married Mary Elizabeth Smith 1850-1940.

Mary Elizabeth’s father, James William Smith from Limerick, Ireland and her mother, Mary Ann Wilson, Selby, Ontario had married, and were some of the first settlers at St. Mary’s, Ontario. True pioneers of Upper Canada. They moved across the Huron Lake to Port Hope, Michigan around 1855, where their last child Lendley W. Smith was born there, December 10, 1858. I looked up the maritime history for the Great Lakes in 1855. It was a dangerous time with 362 disasters that year and 122 lives lost. It details a passenger steamer, the explosion of her boiler, schooners that wrecked in storms and sunk or wrecked by collision in a fog. The Smith’s made the journey and once again were the first pioneers in the area. The land listed under the name of James Smith, SW quarter of the SE quarter of Section 19, and the W 1/2 of NE quarter and the SE quarter of the NE quarter Section 30 in township 18 containing 160 acres bought in 1857, was fully paid and registered to him. Mary Ann gave birth to their last child Lendley W. Smith on December 10, 1858 in Huron Country, Michigan. By 1860 there was a post office listed as Port Hope. Mary Ann Wilson Smith died on January 31, 1867. She was 48 years old leaving my 2nd great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth aged 17, George 13 and a young Lendley only 9, with her husband 58 years. They’d been married for 38 years. James William Smith knew what it was like to be motherless and he remarried three years later to Amelia Wood. They were married for 25 years when she died in 1895.

Perhaps the couple dined out at the Pay Port Hotel built in 1886. It was for the times state of the art having 117 heated rooms, hot and cold running water bathrooms, bowling alleys, pool tables and electric lights, with highlights of a Casino and a barbershop. The culinary crew of six boasted the finest in Michigan.

James William Smith died 5 years later on December 1, 1890 at Gore, Huron, Michigan having reached the age of 83. The motherless lad from Ireland, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a voyage taking 12 weeks, learned to blacksmith to make a living, at St. Mary’s, Ontario. At the age of 50 he came to the shores of Lake Huron and used his blacksmith skills to build up Port Hope and become a farmer. After coming to live in the US from Canada he would read about Abe Lincoln’s anti slavery speech and live through the Civil War. He would discuss Thomas A. Edison’s first electric battery experiments erected at Port Huron. He lived through 2 of the worst fires in history in 1871 and again ten years later in 1881, facing nature’s frightening power. He and his family would receive help from the American Red Cross in its first disaster relief. In 1883, his grandchildren in the area would have compulsory school attendance. 1885, his sons would be in a lumber strike, the militia called out as temper flares and a ten hour workday law is passed. He would marvel at the tunnel being built under the St. Clair River linking foreign countries he had lived in when Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario are joined by the Grand Trunk R.R. tunnel; however he didn’t quite live long enough to see the first train come through. Imagine all James William Smith did see and live through! 1808-1890

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