Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft was born March 28, 1793 in Albany County, New York, and died December 10, 1864 in Washington, D.C. He was the son of Lawrence Schoolcraft and Margaret Anne Barbara Rowe, and great-grandson of James Calcraft, an Albany, New York surveyor-turned-teacher who adopted the name of “Schoolcraft.”

Young Henry pursued the family tradition of glass-making, but after several years his interest in science, namely geology, intensified. After trips to Missouri in 1818 and 1819, Schoolcraft published a book identifying potential lead deposits in that state. His work was noticed by the U.S. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who suggested that Schoolcraft join Lewis Cass on an expedition to the upper area of the Mississippi Valley, in 1820. The goal was to identify the source of the Mississippi River, but that did not happen until a later expedition in 1832, which Schoolcraft led. Lewis Cass, governor of the Michigan Territory, was impressed by Schoolcraft, and helped him become the Indian Agent at Sault Saint Marie, Michigan in 1822.

During his work in the Lake Superior region, Schoolcraft met and married Jane Johnston, in 1823. Her maternal heritage was Ojibwe. Besides teaching her husband the Ojibwe language she helped him gather the legends of that tribe. Schoolcraft spent his adult life working on behalf of the Ojibwe or Chippewa people by documenting their origins, customs, legends, language, and manners. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sought out Schoolcraft’s research on the Ojibwe to use as a resource for his poem “Hiawatha.”

As Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1836, Schoolcraft became involved in negotiating various treaties and agreements with local tribes, bringing an estimated 15 million acres into the Michigan’s possession, about half of the eastern portion of the Upper Peninsula and about one third of the Lower Peninsula. The state purchased the land for about 12 ½ cents per acre. The purchase treaty also marked the beginning of Native American removal westward.

Although his most productive years were spent in Michigan’s wilderness, Schoolcraft made other contributions to the growth of the state including serving on the first Board of Regents for the University of Michigan and serving in the legislature of the Michigan Territory. He was instrumental in establishing the Journal of Education, first published in Detroit in March 1838. The Journal, the first on this topic in the U.S., was published over a two-year period and was effective in promoting public education and implementing school law.

Schoolcraft had a sense of the historic role he was playing as Indian Agent and ethnologist on the frontier during a critical period, and recognized the necessity of creating and preserving accurate records of his activities. His seminal work, commissioned by Congress and published 1851-57, is the six volume Historical and Statistical Information respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States. He wrote numerous other journals, diaries and monographs on the American Indian that document his work and travels.

Schoolcraft was one of the founders of the Michigan Historical Society, in 1828. He also created many of the state’s county names, in addition to having a Michigan county named in his honor.



Letter written by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1838 - 1948.050.008

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