Eleazer Jewett’s powerful personality made him an important figure in the early history of Saginaw. A native of New England, Jewett came to Saginaw from Detroit with all his possessions in a backpack. That winter, he shared a cabin with Asa Whitney, who had reached the area a few months earlier.
Jewett was employed by John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company to buy furs from the Indians and set up a trading post at Midland. While Jewett was known for his integrity and honesty, not all of the fur traders shared those virtues and the local Indians, under the leadership of Ogemaw ke ke to, decided to drive him off. Jewett and his assistant found themselves surrounded by one hundred braves in full war regalia. They barred the door and put up a fierce resistance, but they fired over the heads of the Indians to make sure no one was killed. Jewett knew that any serious injury would infuriate the Indians. Furthermore, they were hopelessly outnumbered. Finally Ogemaw ke ke to, who greatly admired personal bravery, called a halt to the attack and eventually became Jewett’s firm friend.
Jewett later built a block house and took up farming at Green Point where the Tittabawassee meets the Shiawassee to form the Saginaw River. In 1830, he began operating the first ferry service on the Saginaw River using a dugout canoe to cross the river.
In 1831, as the only surveyor in the Saginaw Valley, he was appointed county surveyor and laid out most of the roads on the west side of Saginaw and Saginaw County.
Also, in 1831, he met and married Azubah Miller, a schoolteacher in Hartland, Vermont who came to Michigan with her mother and settled in Grand Blanc. Her brother, Albert Miller, later became a judge and a prominent citizen of Saginaw.
In later years, Mrs. Jewett reminisced about her week-long wedding trip and told how they travelled by wagon from Grand Blanc to the Flint River and then switched to a dugout canoe. In several places, their trip was halted because the river was choked with driftwood and branches. Friendly Indians helped them to portage around the debris.
As an old woman she wrote, “When I contemplate my social privileges in the midst of a population of 50,000, containing hundreds of friends and acquaintances, that I can visit any day I choose—for if they are too distant for a walk, streetcars will carry me to their residences or near them—and then I recall the time when my nearest neighbor two miles and a half away and with no means of travelling except by river, either on the ice or in a canoe: often many weeks would pass without seeing a female friend. We lived in a log cabin and nearly every stranger that visited Saginaw would come to our cabin for entertainment.”
In 1832, the Jewetts had a memorable party when they celebrated the 56th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Twenty people (all of Saginaw) came plus a number of Indians and visitors. The guests included Gardner and E. S. Williams, Col. W. L. P. Little and blacksmith Thomas Simpson and their wives. Highlight of the event was Eleazer Jewett’s reading of the Declaration. Mrs. Jewett—by herself—fed all the guests with a meal cooked in the fireplace.
Looking back, she wrote, “There were very few conveniences for cooking, no cookstove, coal range, gasoline stove, only an open fireplace with but few cooking utensils.” Jewett was often away on surveying trips and Azuba was left alone in a wilderness with wolves and bears nearby. Indians frequently dropped in unannounced. She continued, “Men always came in groups; one or two would seldom come through the woods from Flint to Saginaw by themselves. Our life began to grow wearisome from entertaining people under disadvantages and concluding that we could as well keep a hotel, in 1837, Mr. Jewett built one sufficiently large to accommodate the travelling public.” The Jewett House was located at North Niagara and Throop. They operated it until 1860 when they moved to Kochville Township.
They had one daughter, born in the log house at Green Point in 1834, and four sons, Lee, Alonzo, Oscar and Wallace. Wallace, the youngest, was killed in the Battle of Gettysburg.
Eleazer served as a justice of the peace and judge of probate and was hailed as Saginaw’s earliest permanent resident. He died in 1875. Mrs. Jewett died in 1889.
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