Lost History VIII: The Fabulous Pioneer Woman - The Ones Who Made It Happen


The article below is the conclusion of a story on the Ferry family, written by the author of three books and more to come. WE have followed the Ferry family, their role in founding Grand Haven, and some of the lesser-known participants in the story of West Michigan. This is the last in this particular Lost History series, but watch the Examiner for more in the future.

We are drawing our series on Rev. William Ferry to a close with a fitting tribute to the women, “who made it happen!” We do not want the ladies who have been following our series to feel slighted after concentration on so many men: Rev. Ferry, his three sons, Rix Robinson, his son, Pierre Duvernay, and his three Civil War Sons. That is enough for the men.

It was good to find in my research the references to a number of “famous” ladies.  I would like to share a few with you. Most have never heard of some of these women – certainly, I had not.

History does not like to write about women much; you may recognize the men they are connected to, but generally not the women. It does not take much thought to be equally amazed at the strength, perseverance, and downright grit these women of the frontier had to possess. This area was not a very hospitable place at the time, and we will go more into this quote further on: “…[T]he fur trade would seem no place for a lady…” But there they were, and I’ve grown to a deep admiration for these partners in the frontier.

Let us start by filling in the blank that exists beside the men we have already written about.  First, the wife of Rev. William Ferry.  Annabelle White Ferry grew up in a village near where William was raised.  William came to teach at a school in her area of Ashfield, Massachusetts, and on July 8, 1823, were married.  They not only married but shared some missionary passion for the wilderness. Two months later they moved to be missionaries at Mackinac Island.  There in the rugged wilderness Annabelle bore five children, William, Jr., Thomas, Amanda, Noah, and Hannah.  Hannah was only a baby of about six months when they took the perilous journey to the new frontier of Grand Haven, arriving on October 31, 1834.  After they had successfully settled, she bore two more children, the twins, Lucinda and Edward.  Strong pioneer women alongside their pioneer men!

We spoke of the Duvernay family last week and their wonderful involvement in the Civil War.  Pierre and his Menomonee Indian wife, Julia Menedemoeyahj Duvernay, were married in Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, in 1818. Julia is one amazing woman. She bore seven children before they left Wisconsin to join the Ferry excursion to Grand Haven.  After settling in their new area, she bore seven more children!  The youngest, William Martin, was the eleven-year-old drummer of 1st Michigan Sharpshooters we spoke of last week.  Fourteen children from 1819 to 1850, and we men better rethink it if we think of women as ‘the weaker sex.’

There were many large families in the wilderness.  We have referred to Rix Robinson who named Grand Haven and met Rev. Ferry when his family arrived in 1834.  His parents were Edward and Eunice Robinson.  Rix was the first to come to this area; he was the third son in the family and many followed.  In total, Eunice Robinson had thirteen children. In all three of these cases, the families were large and most of the children lived to adulthood.

The last, and sadder, example would be Rev. William and Annabelle’s daughter Lucinda.  Lucinda was born in Grand Haven, sent back to Massachusetts to be educated by her grandparents, returned to Grand Haven to live.  She married Galen Eastman, son of the founder of Eastmanville.  Together they had twelve children.  Sadly, five of the babies died a very young age.

“Timing is everything,” some say. I want to share the introduction from an article on pages 34-37 in the May/June issue of Michigan History Magazine.  I had already written the text of this article on some ‘famous’ women, when I opened this new magazine and read: “An aura of romance surrounds Michigan’s Fur Trade Era, but the gritty realities of the business made for a dangerous life. Trappers and traders often died from injury, disease, drowning, or exposure.  Confrontations between Native American and Euro-Americans or between rival Native tribes could turn deadly. In twenty-first century parlance, the fur trade would seem no place for a lady. But it was into that turbulent life that Marguerite Magdalene Marcotte, a Michigan native with both Native-American and French ancestry, was born – and ultimately flourished as one of Michigan’s earliest business women.”

Of note, Madame Magdelaine LaFramboise was the first ‘famous woman’ I had included when I wrote the first draft of my article.  (As an aside, I strongly recommend the Michigan History article for your immediate reading.) I will not attempt to rewrite the article here, but will outline some details.

Magdelaine LaFramboise was the half-Native American wife of the French trader, Joseph LaFramboise. Her mother was the daughter of an Odawa chief. She married at the age of fourteen in 1794.  There is no agreement in the sources as to the spelling of her first name: Magdalene, Madeline, Madeleine, or Madelaine.

Magdeleine and Joseph LaFramboise traveled together around west Michigan managing fur trading posts, and would return the furs to their company base on Mackinac Island regularly. On one trip south to their tribal winter encampment at Crockery Creek (Nunica), their party was accosted by an irate Native man who thought he had been cheated.

Joseph was stabbed and died. One source says that it happened somewhere between Grand Haven and Muskegon in 1806. Another says it was while they camped on Muskegon Lake overnight on their way to Crockery Creek.

Madame LaFramboise was only 26 years old, but gathered the voyageur crew together along with her two young children (one a newly born baby), and transported her husband’s body to Grand Haven where Joseph was buried. (Later, his body was reinterred at Mackinac Island, another source claimed.)  She then stepped up ably and took over the supervision of their 15 trading posts.  She carried that on, and when retiring to Mackinac Island in 1821, she was a wealthy woman. 

She died in1846 and her home, her crypt, and her beloved St. Anne’s Church are necessary stops on your next trip to Mackinac Island. Also, remember to visit Rev. Ferry’s Mission House while there.


The next woman of note was Lissette, the daughter of Pierre Constant.  Around 1810, he staked out possibly the first fir trading post on Muskegon Lake.  It was near Bluffton and the family lived there until his death in 1829. 

Pierre had married a Native American woman, an aunt of Madame LaFramboise, and they had six children.  The oldest was Louise (known as Lisette), and was said to be “extremely intelligent, wholly capable, socially appealing, and of rare beauty.”  She took over her father’s business and ran it very successfully. 

To quote Rev. Ferry, of previous articles: ”Lisette was the most successful fur trader in Northwest Michigan and was often compared to Madame LaFramboise.”  A 1937 Muskegon Chronicle article wrote, “Clad in buckskins, the shapely figure of Louisa Constant gladdened the eyes of whites and Indians alike as she went about her duties at the trading post.” Wow! A bit daring for 1837, wouldn’t you say?  

Madame LaFramboise, and the ladies who followed her, bring up an interesting pattern among French traders. The French did much better relating to the Native Americans than did my kin, the British.  One simple aspect of that French advantage was that they would marry Native American women.

They had good logic. A Native wife:

--Was used to living in the harsh north,

--Gave the trader natural credence with the tribes,

--Gave the trader a natural interpreter, and

--Gave the trader an automatic customer base.

The next woman of note is Se-Be-Quay, Rix Robinson’s second wife.  His partner and coworker, both were admired by many, respected by all, for impeccable fairness to the Native people. The Native American chiefs in the area demanded that Rix Robinson be part of the treaty negotiations of 1836. That is how much they respected him.

Rix and his first wife, Pee-Miss-A-Quot-O-Quay, were married under a common contract for the time, that of being married for ‘100 moons.’  Do the math, divide by 12 and get 8 years 4 months.  After that time expired, she left, and Rix married Se-Be-Quay by a ‘Christian Ceremony,’ and she lived with him until he died in 1875.  She died soon after in 1877.

I conclude with a great respect for all the frontier settlers.  I am reminded that as a male, I too have gained a deeper respect for the strength of their companion wives.

“Lost History” would not be complete without the women, “who made it all happen.”