Early American Detroit (1787-1820)

  • 1793: Jacob Young purchases land from a French settler and becomes the first black person to own land in Detroit.
  • 1794: American general Anthony Wayne defeats 50 British troops and Native Americans from Detroit at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, south of Toledo, Ohio.
  • 1796: July 11. An advanced detachment of a regiment under the control of Colonel John Francis Hamtramck reaches Detroit. Later, the British surrender Detroit to Captain Moses Porter of United States Army.
  • 1796: August 15. Detroit becomes a part of Wayne County, which includes nearly all of Michigan and parts of Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin.  It is named after General Anthony Wayne.
  • 1796: The Detroit stockade includes a wharf, fort and Citadel, 100 houses, shops, taverns and Ste. Anne’s Church. About 500 people live within the stockade, and another 2,100 live on nearby farms.  Two-thirds of Detroiters are French.  Dutch, Germans and enslaved African Americans also live in Detroit.
  • 1798: Father Gabriel Richard arrives in Detroit.  He becomes one of Detroit's most influential early leaders.
  • 1802: February 1. Territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair approves the city charter for Detroit.  It is incorporated as a city of about a third of a square mile, or 20 acres.
  • 1802: February 23.  The board of trustees for the newly created city of Detroit adopts a fire code that requires all residents and business owners to sweep their chimneys often.  It also provides buckets and ladders to residents, who are required to turn out to fight any fires.
  • 1804: The United States opens a land office in Detroit.
  • 1805: Michigan Territory is separated from the Indiana Territory, with Detroit as its capital.  William Hull is made territorial governor.
  • 1805: June 11. Detroit is destroyed by fire when baker John Harvey allegedly sets his barn ablaze with ashes from his pipe.  Territorial Governor William Hull and Judge Augustus Woodward decide to build a planned community.  Woodward creates a street plan based on the design of the nation's new capital, Washington, D.C.
  • 1806: The first post office opens in Detroit.
  • 1806: September 13. The city of Detroit is incorporated by the Michigan Territorial governor. Solomon Sibley is appointed as the first mayor.
  • 1807: Judge Woodward rules that all enslaved persons, except those owned by British subjects, are to be freed.
  • 1807: In a treaty with Native Americans, the United States purchases much of southeastern Michigan for 2 cents an acre, for a total of about $10,000.
  • 1808: Father Gabriel Richard starts a school at Springwells (present site of Fort Wayne) for both Native American and white children.
  • 1809: Father Gabriel Richard brings the first printing press to Michigan.  His newspaper, called The Michigan Essay or Impartial Observer, fails, but he prints a spelling book for students at his school.
  • 1809: February 24. The Territorial Governing Council repeals the 1806 incorporation of Detroit as a city.
  • 1810: Detroit’s population is 770, and the Michigan Territory has 4,762 residents.
  • 1812: The United States declares war against Britain over their interference with American shipping and westward expansion.  It is known as the War of 1812.
  • 1812: August 16. General Hull surrenders Detroit to a small British force supported by local Native Americans.  The British hold Detroit for a year.
  • 1813: September 10. Captain Oliver Hazard Perry and his fleet defeat the British during the Battle of Lake Erie.  The British retreat from Detroit two weeks later.
  • 1815: Looking for a way to reward veterans of the War of 1812 with free land, the United States sends surveyor Edward Tiffin north into present day Oakland County.  He reports that most of the land is swampy and uninhabitable, which hinders settlement in Michigan.
  • 1815: Detroit, with a population of 850, is incorporated as a city.  In addition to homes, the city now has churches, businesses, shops and schools. 
  • 1816: Construction of a road to the small settlement at Pontiac along a former Native American trail is started.  It becomes today’s Woodward Avenue.
  • 1817: The city’s first regularly published newspaper, the Detroit Gazette, is published in both French and English.
  • 1817: August 13. President James Monroe visits Detroit, the first U.S. President to do so.  Monroe city and county are named in his honor.
  • 1817: August 26. The Catholepistemiad or University of Michigania was founded in Detroit, initially offering classes in quarters on the corner of Bates and Congress streets. It moved to Ann Arbor in 1837 and was renamed the University of Michigan.
  • 1818: Walk-in-the-Water is the first steamboat on the upper Great Lakes. It makes water travel from Buffalo, New York to Detroit easier.
  • 1818: July 6. The first public land auction in Michigan takes place in Detroit.  The average price for land is $4 an acre.
  • 1819: Detroit’s population is 1,100.
  • 1819 – 1822: Lewis Cass negotiates a series of treaties with Native Americans that opens up Michigan for American settlement, but limits Indian rights.
  • 1820: The first brick building in Detroit is built by shop owner Thomas Palmer.