Martin Beaser

August 9, 2016

By Amorin Mello

Magazine of Western History Illustrated Volume IX No.1 Pages 12-17

Magazine of Western History Illustrated
November 1888
as republished in
Magazine of Western History: Volume IX, No.1, pages 24-27.

Martin Beaser.

Martin Beaser

Portrait of Martin Beaser on page 24.

On the fifth day of July 1854, Asaph Whittlesey and George Kilborn left La Pointe, in a row-boat, with the design of finding a “town site” on some available point near the “head of the bay.” At five o’clock P.M. of the same day they landed at the westerly limit of the present town site of Ashland. As Mr. Whittlesey stepped ashore, Mr. Kilborn exclaimed, “Here is the place for a big city!” and handing his companion an axe, he added, “I want you to have the honor of cutting the first tree in a way of a settlement upon the town site.” And the tree thus felled formed one of the foundation logs in the first building in the place. Such is the statement which has found its way into print as to the beginning of Ashland. But the same account adds: “Many new-comers arrived during the first few years after the settlement; among them Martin Beaser, who located permanently in Ashland in 1856, and was one of its founders.”1 How this was will soon be explained.

The father of the subject of this sketch, John Baptiste Beaser, was a native of Switzerland, educated as a priest, but never took orders. He came to America, reaching Philadelphia about the year 1812, where he married Margaret McLeod. They then moved to Buffalo, in one of the suburbs of which, called Williamsville, their son Martin was born, on the twenty-seventh of October, 1822. The boy received his early education in the common schools of the place, when, at the age of fourteen, he went on a whaling voyage, sailing from New Bedford, Massachusetts. His voyage lasted four years; his second voyage, three years; the last of which was made in the whaleship Rosseau, which is still afloat, the oldest of its class in America.

The journal kept by Martin Beaser during his voyages has not been immediately located by Chequamegon History.  Please let us know if you can identify where this valuable source of information can be found.

The young man went out as boat-steerer on his second voyage, returning as third mate. During his leisure time on shipboard and the interval between the two voyages, he spent in studying the science of navigation, which he successfully mastered. On his return from his fourth years’ cruise in the Pacific and Indian oceans, he was offered the position of second mate on a new ship then nearing completion and which would be ready to sail in about sixty days. He accepted the offer. They would notify him when the ship was ready, and he would in the meantime visit his mother, then a widow, residing in Buffalo. Accordingly, after an absence of seven years, he returned to his native city, spending the time in renewing old acquaintances and relating the varied experience of a whaler’s life. He had rare conversational powers, holding his listeners spell-bound at the recital of some thrilling adventure. A journal kept by him during his voyages and now in the possession of his family, abounds in hair-breadth escapes from savages on the shores of some of the South sea islands and the perils of whale-fishing, of which he had many narrow escapes. The time passed quickly, and he anxiously awaited the summons to join his ship. Leaving the city for a day the expected letter came, but was carefully concealed by his mother until after the ship had sailed, thus entirely changing the future of his life.

Martin Beaser appears to have worked with Charles Whittlesey for the Algonquin Company of Detroit during 1845, as featured in Two Months In The Copper Range:
“… Martin, a sailor just from the whaling grounds of the Northwest Coast …”

Disappointed in his aspirations to command a ship in the near future, as he had reasons to hope from the rapid promotions he had already received – from a boy before the mast to mate of a ship in two voyages – and yielding to his mother’s wish not to leave home again, he engaged in sailing on Lake Erie from Buffalo to Detroit until 1847, when he went in the interest of a company in the latter city to Lake Superior for the purpose of exploring the copper ranges in the northern peninsula of Michigan. He coasted from Sault Ste. Marie to Ontonagon in a bateau. Remaining in the employ of the company about a year, he then engaged in a general forwarding and commission business for himself.

"Algonquin Company of Detroit." ~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by T. W. Bristol, 1846, page 97.

“Algonquin Company of Detroit.”
~ Reports of Wm. A. Burt and Bela Hubbard, by T. W. Bristol, 1846, page 97.

“Among the very early settlers at this locality [Ontonagon County] were F. G. White, John Cheynowth. W. W. Spalding, A. Coburn, Abner Sherman, A. C. Davis. S. S. Robinson, Edward Sales. Doctor Osborn, Martin Beaser, and Messrs, Webb, Richards, Lockwood, Hoyt, Hardee, Anthony, Sanderson and Dickerson.”
A History of the Northern Peninsula of Michigan and Its People: Volume 1, by Alvah Littlefield Sawyer, 1911, page 222.

Mr. Beaser was largely identified with the early mining interests of Ontonagon county, being instrumental in opening up and developing some of the best mines in that district.

In 1848 he was married in Cattaraugus county, New York, in the town of Perrysburgh, to Laura Antionette Bebee. The husband and wife the next spring went west, going to Ontonagon by way of Detroit. The trip from buffalo lasted from the first day of May to the sixth of June, they being detained at the “Soo” two weeks on account of the changing of the schooner Napoleon into a propeller, in which vessel, after a voyage of six days, they reached Ontonagon.

Chequamegon History has not found another record about the 1853 Beaser/Coburn/Sayles expedition.  Please let us know if you know where more information can be found.

Here Mr. Beaser resided for seven years in the same business of forwarding and commission, furnishing frequently powder and candles to the miners by the ton. He was a portion of the this time associated with Thomas B. Hanna, formerly of Ohio. They then sold out their interest – Mr. Beaser going in company with Augustus Coburn and Edward Sayles to Superior, at the head of the lake, taking a small boat with them and Indian guides. Thus equipped they explored the region of Duluth, going up the Brule and St. Louis rivers. They then returned to La Pointe, going up Chaquamegon bay; and having their attention called to the site of what is now Ashland, on account of what seemed to be its favorable geographical position. As there had been some talk of the feasibility of connecting the Mississippi river and Lake Superior by a ship canal, it was suggested to them that this point would be a good one for its eastern terminus. Another circumstance which struck them was the contiguity of the Penokee iron range. This was in 1853. The company then returned to Ontonagon.

Martin Beaser’s apparent connection with Charles Whittlesey in the copper region suggests that he may have already been connected to Asaph Whittlesey before they co-founded Ashland together during 1854.

Closing up his business at the latter place, Mr. Beaser decided to return to the bay of Chaquamegon to look up and locate the town site on its southern shore. In the summer of 1854, on arriving there, he found Mr. Whittlesey and Mr. Kilborn on the ground. He then made arrangement with them by which he (Mr. Beaser) was to enter the land, which he did at Superior, where the land office was then located for that section. The contract between the three was, that Mr. Whittlesey and Mr. Kilborn were to receive each an eighth interest in the land, while the residue was to go to Mr. Beaser. The patent for the land was issued to Schuyler Goff, as county Judge of La Pointe county, Wisconsin, who was the trustee for the three men, under the law then governing the location of town sites.

Judge Schuyler Goff was issued this patent for 280.53 acres on May 3rd, 1860, on behalf of Martin Beaser, Asaph Whittlesey, and George Kilborn. ~ General Land Office Records

La Pointe County Judge Schuyler Goff was issued this patent for 280.53 acres on May 3rd, 1860, on behalf of Martin Beaser, Asaph Whittlesey, and George Kilburn.
~ General Land Office Records

Mr. Beaser afterwards got his deed from the judge to his three-quarters’ interest in the site.

Beaser named Ashland after the Henry Clay Estate in Kentucky. ~ National Park Service

Beaser named Ashland in honor of the Henry Clay Estate in Kentucky.
~ National Park Service

In January, 1854, Mr. Beaser having previously engaged a topographical engineer, G.L. Brunschweiler, the two, with a dog train and two Indians, made the journey from Ontonagon to the proposed town site, where Mr. Brunschweiler surveyed and platted2 a town on the land of the men before spoken of as parties in interest, to which town Mr. Beaser gave the name of Ashland. These three men, therefore, were the founders of Ashland, although afterwards various additions were made to it.

Many of our readers are familiar with Beaser Avenue in Ashland, Wisconsin, named in honor of Martin Beaser.

Mr. Beaser did not bring his family to Ashland until the eighth of September, 1856. He engaged in the mercantile business there until the war broke out, and was drowned in the bay while attempting to come from Bayfield to Ashland in an open boat, during a storm, on the fourth of November, 1866. He was buried on Madeline island at La Pointe. He was “closely identified with enterprises tending to open up the country; was wealthy and expended freely; was a man of fine discretion and good, common sense.” He was never discouraged as to Ashland’s future prosperity.

The children of Mr. Beaser, three in number, are all living: Margaret Elizabeth, wife of James A. Croser of Menominee, Michigan; Percy McLeod, now of Ashland; and Harry Hamlin, also of Ashland, residing with his mother, now Mrs. Wilson, an intelligent and very estimable lady.


1 See ‘History of Northern Wisconsin,’ p. 67.
2 The date of the platting of Ashland by Brunschweiler is taken from the original plat in the possession of the recorder of Ashland county, Wisconsin.

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One Response to “Martin Beaser”

  1. Doug Karttunen said

    A few years ago I inquired of the living descendants of Martin Beaser about his whaling journal. None of them seemed to be aware of its existence. It sure would be an interesting read if it could be found. However, the captain’s journal for the whaling ship Rousseau on which Beaser’s shipped out on his final voyage is available through the whaling archives in New Bedford, MA. Interestingly, the journal indicates there was a failed mutiny during the ship’s return trip from the South Pacific.

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