Silent Story Tellers- St. Francis Xavier (Ecorse) Cemetery
In the Beginning Was Father Richard
St. Francis Xavier Cemetery is a prime example of a cemetery that began its life far out in the country, but after years of Ecorse village and city growth, people and houses eventually surrounded it. Today it is a square of grass and grave markers in the middle of rows of houses and between two busy city arteries, Jefferson Avenue and Southfield Road.
Father Gabriel Richard founded St. Francis Xavier parish as a mission of Saint Anne’s Church in Detroit for the early Catholics of the Downriver area. The only Catholic priest in Michigan Territory from 1806 to 1821, Father Richard pastored about 500 families spread out along the eastern shores of the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and Lake Huron from Ecorse to Port Huron.
When he was not saying Mass and fighting sin, Father Richard explored Wayne County. In fact, he was one of the earliest explorers of Wayne County. On January 15, 1818, Wayne County was platted and by 1826, Governor Louis Cass had divided it into townships. In 1827, Detroit, Springwells, Hamtramck, Monguagon, Brownstown, Plymouth, Huron, Bucklin and Ecorse Townships were created. For generations, the French and Native Americans had called a small river flowing into the Detroit River, Ecorces, after the white birch and other bark of the trees along its banks. Ecorces means river of bark and soon the township and the small village adjoining the creek were called Ecorse. Another part of the Ecorces story says that the Huron Indians wrapped the bodies of their dead in white birch bark and set them adrift toward paradise in their bark canoes.
As one of Detroit’s early historians, Clarence Burton noted in his The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, that the first settlers in Ecorse Township were French. For many years before the first white settlers came to Ecorse and Wyandotte Indian villages occupied the banks of Ecorse Creek. Important Indian trails intersected where Ecorse Creek meets the Detroit River and they led from the village of Ecorse in various directions. Indian tribes, including Huron and Ojibway, held councils on the banks of Ecorse Creek. Pontiac called several Indian tribes together near Ecorse Creek in the spring of 1763 to plan his war against the white man, and the echoes of war drums from this council reverberated far beyond the small village and township of Ecorse.
Michigan histories state that Ecorse was established on a Wyandot (earlier called Huron by the French) Indian camping site and burl ground at the end of the War of 1812, but Father Richard’s records indicated that Ecorse began nearer to Cadillac’s founding of Detroit in 1701.
Clarence Burton compiled a list of men who came to Detroit with Cadillac and rented land from him. Cadillacs rental land included tracts extending as far as fifteen miles down river as well as within the city limits. This range included the present day Downriver communities of Ecorse, Wyandotte, and Trenton. Historian Burton titled his list “Detroit’s Original Colonists.” Number eighteen ont he list is Michel Campo (Campau) who rented land from Cadillac on March 10, 1707, for five livres (worth about twenty cents) and six sols and paid ten livres for other rights. Number sixty on the list is Jacques Campo, who on March 1, 1709, rented land from Cadillac at four sols and paid ten livres for other rights. The Campau name occurred frequently in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery. Number 22 on the list is Francois Bienvenue, dit De L’isle, who on March 10, 1707, rented land for three livres and paid ten livres for other rights. Burton noted that “many descendents of De L’isle still live in and around Detroit and that they generally go by the name of Delisle.”
A walk through St. Francis Xavier cemetery reveals that the Delisle family has a military representative there. Oliver Delisle’s stone says that he was a member of Company C, but the rest of the information is buried in the ground. The historical record shows that Oliver Delisle, age 36, was a member of the First Michigan Cavalry from Monguagon – Ecorse-Trenton.
Number 38 on Cadillac’s list is Martin Srier, who on march 10, 1797, paid three livres rent and ten livres for other rights. Nicholas Rivard afterwards bought his parcel of land from Srier. The Rivard family is represented in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery as well. Angelique Rivard died in 1968 at 81 years of age. Louise Rivard, mother, was born in 1873 and died in 1956 and Paul Rivard, father, was born in 1872 and died in 1935.
The history of St. Anne’s Parish in Detroit emphasized the intermingled American-Canadian nature of the settlements along the Detroit River. The settlers arriving after 1749 “were granted strips of land along both sides of the strait. There was no distinction then between the Canadian and American sides of “Le Detroit.”
In a 1749 Proclamation, Governor Galissonniers of New France referred to the Canadian side as the south side and the American side as the north and the literature of the period reflects this distinction. Soon, Detroit began to resemble an agricultural community. The land grant terms and settlement prefigured the Homestead Act of the Civil War era in America by a century and was mostly responsible for the rise of Detroit’s population to about 500 by 1755.
By the mid 1770s, some 400 mostly French families lived on “French ribbon farms” extending Downriver to Ecorse and beyond. The farms were called ribbon farms because everyone’s land started at the Detroit River and extended back so that each farmer could take advantage of the water frontage. Ribbon farms also provided land owners mutual protection for the Indians and their raiding parties. When Father Richard took his census in 1808 and again in 1832, Ecorse was a thriving farm village. French descendants of Cadillac’s company lost their control of the fur trade, but these families – including the Labadies, Campaus, Rosseaus, Bondies, Goodells and Ripelles- remained the chief landlords and founding families of Ecorse.
Land Claims in Ecorse
The French land claims of Wayne County illustrate that many French and a few other ehtnic pioneers were settling in Ecorse several years before the War of 1812. Andre Viger filed Claim 121 of 250.82 acroes on June 8, 1808 in Ecorse. Arthur Visger, possibly his grandson, who was born in 1891 and died in 1943, is buried in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery.
Louis Leduc filed Claim 496 for 221.72 acres in Ecorse in 1808. His descendent Anna, Aurelia and Jacob repose in St. Francis Cemetery.
Charles Labadie filed Claim 25 for 197.80 acroes on July 16, 1807 in Ecorse.
On November 26, 1807, Ambrose Riopel filed Claim 61 for 430.26 acres of land in Ecorse.
On December 26, 1807, Marianne Delille filed claim 74 for 106.67 acroes of Ecorse land.
Charles Campeau filed claim 84 for 169.44 acres of Ecorse land on December 30, 1807.
The heirs of Joseph Bondi filed Claim 92 for 68.33 acres of Ecorse land on January 29, 1808.
All of these families are represented in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery.
Father Richard’s pioneer worshippers at St. Francis Xavier met in the home of the Leblanc family which was located between what is now Leblanc and White Streets on present day Jefferson Avenue in Ecorse. Father Charles DePreitre, the first resident pastor, was a nephew of Bishop Lefevere who had come to Detroit as a seminarian and was ordained there on May 31, 1848. Father DePreitre served as pastor of St. Francis Xavier until 1870, and also acted as a mission priest of parishes in Wyandotte and Trenton in Wayne County and Newport in Monroe County. Father Louis Baroux became St. Francix Xavier pastor in 1871 and remained there until 1882.
Father Richard had the last ecclesiastical laugh on one of the French families represented in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery. On December 8, 1820, during the presidency of james Monroe, Father Richard took his seat as the delegate from Michigan to the Eighteenth Congress. He was the first priest ever elected to Congress, but that distinction did not prevent him from becoming embroiled in a complex court case when he returned to Detroit.
The suit involve one of his parishioners, Francois LeBadie, who had divorced his first wife living in Montreal and remarried. Father Richard considered this second marriage adulterous. With the blessing of his bishop, Father Richard excommunicated Francois LaBadie. LaBadie sued and the court decided against Father Richard who was fined 1,116. Father Richard refused to pay and a long series of legal entanglements continued for years, ending only when Father Richard died.
Although Father Richard is not buried in the churchyard of his mission church, the descendants of Francois Labadie repose there. The Labadie family is one of the founding families of Ecorse and Charles, Henry, John, Alexander, Elizabeth, Florence and Michael are just a few of the Labadies in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery.
Louis Bourassa filed Claim #83 for 68.88 acres of land in Ecorse on December 30, 1807. At least fifteen of his descendents are buried in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery. Baptiste Rousson filed claim #85 for 70.68 acres in Ecorse on December 30,`1807. His descendents Clarence, Simon, Simon W. and Velera are buried in St. Francis Xavier. Angelique Cicot and children filed claim #114 for 385.82 acres in Ecorse on May 26, 1808. At least thirteen of her family lie in the cemetery.
The first St. Francis Xavier Church, the one originating the pioneer cemetery, was built on High Street in 1882. Father John Van Gennip served as a pioneer pastor and the parish record states that on May 20, 1882, Reverend J.T.Van Gennip blessed a cemetery known as Ecorse Cemetery, with a potter’s field in the northeast corner.
Even though the cemetery wasn’t blessed until 1882, church records indicated that the first burial in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery took place in 1848, when Charlotte Cook, wife of Moses Salliotte, was laid to rest on September 7, 1848. Only 33 years old when she died, Charlotte was born in Yorkshire, England Moses Salliotte also rests nearby. His epitaph reveals that he died on March 9, 1892, at age 85 years. He was born in Ecorse, Michigan, and was one of the earliest settlers in the territory.
Father Van Gennip’s tombstone can be found in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery. His stone reveals that he was born on July 2, 1818, and he died on September 9, 1889. It is noted on his tombstone that he was pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church. He was born in Heeze, Holland, on July 2, 1818, and he died in Ecorse on September 3, 1889.
The Bondie or Bondy name is also prominent in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery. Antoine Bondie and a host of other Bondy names appear on weathered markers. According to the historical record, Teresa Saliot Bondy should be there, but her marker has not survived. Perhaps weather or vandalism have shattered or buried the traces of her tombstone. Teresa Saliot was the daughter of John Saliot and Mary Magdelene Jourdain. She was born on September 9, 1782, and she married Dennis Bondie who was born on January 26, 1779, in Sandwich, Ontario.
Teresa was buried on February 9, 1858, at St Francis Xavier Cemetery in Ecorse. Teresa’s sons and daughters married into the Navarre and Leblanc families who are also well represented in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery.
The Campau family might have originated in LaRochelle, France, before early Campaus immigrated to Canada and then to Detroit. A June 1750, document describes Jacques Campau Senior as “a habitant living at Detroit.” The History of Wayne County states that Jacques’ children were “respectable citizens, honest and industrious people who left good names behind them when they died.”
Nicholas Campau was born to Jacques and Cecilia at the Niagara portage in July 1710. He became known as Nicholas Campau dit Niagara, because he was born at Niagara. Nicholas Niagara took charge of the Jesuit Mission’s farm on September 1, 1748, agreeing to share all produce with the mission fathers. In exchange, the mission furnished the seed, livestock and 150 livres to build a house and stable.
On July 11, 1751, Father de la Richardie wrote that “Nicholas Campeau, otherwise called Nigara, shall at the end of his lease return the seed which Father de la Richardie and he have agreed upon consisting of 15 minots of wheat, 6 of oats, and 5 of pease, less a quarter of a livre. The whole is to be taken from the share of the said Niagara.”
In September of 1751, a man by the name of Mr. James took over the mission farm, but the mission farm was not the only land that Niagara owned. On May 28, 1759, his widow, Agathe, as her children’s guardian, sought permission to sell land from Nicholas’ estate. His daughter Angelica Campau married Anthony Louis Decomps dit Labadie. After Angelica died, Anthony took a Chippewa consort, and later married Charlotte Barthe Reaume. From these relationships Anthony fathered 23 children.
The Campau plot in St. Francis Xavier is well populated. Louis Campau, 80 years old, died in July 1850 in Ecorse Township of old age. One of his descendents, another Louis, born in 1867 and died in 1939, rests in St. Francis Xavier. Ades was the wife of Alexander and came to the cemetery in 1923.
Alexander Campau, born on September 7, 1843, lived to a respectable age. He died on August 24, 1940. Archibald Campau died on October 26, 1897, at the age of 89 years. Bettie Campau was only a year old when she died on March 10, 1924, being born on October 6, 1923. Francis Campau is one of the older generation. Her stone is broken off, but it records her death date as October 8, 1859.
The Reaume branch of the Campau family tree is also represented in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery. Arthur and Sarah Reaume as well as Nellis, Elroy and Adeline Campau repose there.
The date disparity between the first burial in St. Francis Xavier-Charlotte Salliotte in 1848- and Father Can Gennip’s blessing of St. Francis in 1882- indicated that Saint Francis Xavier was growing along with Ecorse. Although St. Francis Xavier Cemetery had been established primarily as a church burial ground, if a family owned a plot it St. Francis, the family could permit anyone to be buried there even if they lived out of the parish. This paved the way for as diverse a cemetery population as existed in the living population of the village of Ecorse.
(continued , Part II)