Publication Information –
Nowlin, John. Edited by Quaife, Milo Milton.
Dearborn, MI: Dearborn Historical Commission. 6th Printing – 1992.
[Republication of an 1876 book. Footnotes and index added in 1937 by the Commission.]
Online at American Memory (Library of Congress) without the index or footnots
[from WorldCat, OCLC # 105626091]
“This first-person narrative of a pioneer boyhood is intended as a tribute to the author’s parents,
who emigrated to Dearborn, Michigan, from Putnam County, New York in 1834. William Nowlin
describes his father’s frustration with subsistence on a small, debt-ridden fruit farm and his
mother’s anguish at leaving her friends, church, and relatives. He recounts the family’s
adventurous journey on the Erie Canal, the dangers of a public house in Buffalo, the perils of
their steamship voyage across Lake Erie during a storm, and the trials of establishing a new
home. Wishing to memorialize the challenges of converting wilderness into what he sees as a
prosperous and civilized community, Nowlin describes building roads, clearing the land, building
a home, fishing and hunting, handling cattle, and warding off mosquitoes, snakes, and wild
animals, all in careful detail. He remembers uneasy relations between the white community and
Native Americans, and discusses the social, legal, and moral complexities of dealing with the
fugitive slaves and free African Americans who flowed back and forth across the Canadian
border in search of freedom or job opportunities. Nowlin is conscious of the impact of modern
technology, especially the railroads, and discusses both what was raised on the family farm and
where and how it was marketed. He describes his father’s long-range strategies to enhance the
family’s material welfare, and shows how family members collaborated as an economic unit.”
The author is a true storyteller. The book is a captivating story that really gives you a feel for what it was like
to journey up the Hudson River, across the Erie Canal and Lake Erie, and into the wilderness of Michigan.
Among the images that have stayed with me: description of clearing the “road” to get from town to their
property, visits by the Indians. The location where the Nowlin’s settled is not far from today’s Henry Ford
Museum / Greenfield Village – an area of dense suburban life.
Other Reviews –
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