Memoirs of Doodooshaboo: Joseph Austrian’s migration to Mackinac 1850-1851

January 2, 2017

By Amorin Mello

This is the third installment of the Memoirs of Doodooshaboo series on Chequamegon History, as transcribed by us from the original handwritten memoir of Joseph Austrian at the Chicago History Museum.  This installment covers Joseph Austrian’s migration from New York City to Mackinac Island, where he is greeted by his sister Babette Austrian and her husband Louis Freudenthal Leopold.  The next two installments describe Joseph Austrian’s experience with his Leopold and Austrian relations on Chequamegon Bay during 1851-1852 (Part 1 and Part 2).


Memoirs of Doodooshaboo

… continued from Manhattan 1848-1850.


Started for Mackinaw Island. 1850.

"State-room saloon of the Isaac Newton (Hudson River steamboat)" ~ New York Public Library digital collection, image WWM9814-012008f

“State-room saloon of the Isaac Newton (Hudson River steamboat)”
~ New York Public Library digital collection, image WWM9814-012008f

Leaving my sister in New York, under the care of Uncle and Aunt, I left for Albany on the steamer Isaac Newton, then considered the finest steamer on the Hudson River.  A state room then was a luxury out of the question.  I sat up all night long in the engine room watching the machinery, which had a fascination for me.  There was aboard a young lady who had crossed the ocean on the same ship I had come over on.  She was all alone on her way to Joliet, she had been annoyed by some passengers, offering to buy a stateroom for her, and she was happy when she saw me, and as it were, put herself under my protection passing off as my sister, she also sat up all night with me in the engine room.  Many years later I met this young lady’s aunt in Chicago, she was a neighbor of ours and we enjoyed a pleasant chat over by gones.

"SS Atlantic, built 1848, courtesy of Institute for Great Lakes Research, Bowling Green State University." ~ Øyergenealogy

“SS Atlantic, built 1848, courtesy of Institute for Great Lakes Research, Bowling Green State University.”
~ Øyergenealogy

We reached Albany the following morning breakfasting at a restaurant, and early that afternoon started on our emmigrant car, arriving at Buffalo next morning.  The car was fitted with wooden benches running length wise, all we had to eat on the journey was apples, which I bought on the way from boys and girls who came into the train with baskets full at the several stations where we stopped.  This same evening we started on the side wheel steamer “Atlantic,” taking steerage passage for Detroit; we encountered a heavy storm on Lake Erie, it was very rough and we were tarted to a severe spell of seasickness.  I managed by tipping one of the cooks to get some coffee for my companion and myself as eatables were not supplied to steerage passengers usually, this was our breakfast.  After our long fast, with the exception of the apples, we arrived at Detroit at ten o’clock next morning, my travelling companion continuing her journey on to Chicago.

Rheinpfalz is a region in southwestern Germany near Bavaria.

I went with a tavern keeper, a Mr. Martin Fry, who had met our boat at the landing and solicited patronage.  His place was called “Gast Haus zu Rheinpfaltz” a cheap boarding house, the boarders were principally railroad laborers.  Mr. Fry was a kind man, he went with me the following morning to the river front, for the purpose of making enquiries regarding the leaving of the next steamer for Mackinac, which I intended taking.  Imagine my consternation, when I heard that the last boat of the season had left, there was no railroad connection between these two places, and it was too hazardous to try to reach Mackinac by sleigh on foot; under the circumstances I was compelled to face the only alternative of remaining in Detroit over the winter.


Compelled to Remain in Detroit. 1850.

Jacob Silberman and Adam Hersch are listed as Jewish cigar makers, and Solomon Freedman & Brothers are listed as retailers of dry and fancy goods, in the 1846 Detroit Directory.
~ Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points, by Wilma Wood Henrickson, 1991, page 114. 

I had taken but 15$ or 20$ with me on leaving New York, leaving the surplus with my sister, and I had no intention of calling on her or any one for more.  What to do now was the next question.  Mr Fry offered to board me during the entire winter for the sum of $25, but the amount looked so large to me, and I declined but arranged to pay him $1.75 per wk but had to share my room and bed with another party, a stranger to me.  Fry volunteered to assist me in trying to find employment and going with me to stores, and factories amongst others to Silverman & Co., a cigar factory and to Friedman & Co., a large dry goods store.  Mr. Friedman was a friend of Mr. L. F. Leopold who had written him concerning me.  In spite of all, although I was willing to do any reasonable work I was able to perform for my board, the general answer I got was “they had all the help they needed” then, and could not use me for anything I was suitable to do, which was a sore disappointment to me.


My First Business Venture:- Peddling. 1850.

There is a strong legacy of German Jews and Peddling in America.
“A haberdasher is a person who sells small articles for sewing, such as buttons, ribbons, zips (in the United Kingdom), or a men’s outfitter (American English). The sewing articles are called haberdashery, or ‘notions 
S. Benedict and Company is listed as a Jewish retailer in the 1846 Detroit Directory.
Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points, by Wilma Wood Henrickson, 1991, page 114.

One of the boarders, a young jeweller who had just returned from New York where he had been to buy goods to replenish his stock, found that in doing so he had failed to reserve enough cash to take him back to Chicago, and being short was forced to stop over to await funds to be sent him by his brother at Chicago.  He told me confidentially of his predicament, and I confided to him my plight.  I had 12$ in cash on hand, and he proposed that I should invest this in notions, he to assist me in selecting the goods, and to start out together in peddling while he remained in Detroit.  As he spoke English and I could not understand one word, I gladly accepted his proposition.  We started off at once, first to the market place, where we bought a cheap splint basket then to Benedict & Co’s Jefferson Ave. where we made our selection.

While making our purchases, I suddenly called a half and had the bill figured up, as the original bill I have among my papers in Chicago will [???] fearful that the order might over reach my capital, and found that there was still one dollar left to invest; after completing which we started for my room with basket and bundle, we arranged and assorted and rearranged the goods in the baskets to make the best possible showing, and my partner taking the basket and I throwing a dozen red woolen mufflers over my shoulder, we started out two days after my arrival in Detroit, on my first peddling expedition, and had fair success, selling a few dollars worth the first day, and reinvesting the amount in more goods the same evening.  Thus we continued for five days, when my partner received his remittance and informed me that he would start for Chicago.  We took inventory and found our profits had amounted to $2.00 in all.  As his share in the profits, he took a dozen brass seal rings as I found these articles with my limited English vocabulary difficult to dispose of.  He started for Chicago and the following morning I set out alone with my basket.  Not being able to speak or understand English, I felt a little timid at first, however I managed to get on with fair success.  I chose the outskirts of the city for my trade, the roads to the city were very bad, and I calculated the difficulty offered people in going to and fro, would be to my advantage.  I naturally suffered frequently from the could, on these long tramps.  I did not possess an overcoat, and only scant underwear, and no means nor inclination to incur further expense for clothing.


“Map from 1850 of the Michigan Southern and connecting railroads. The Michigan Central is also shown, with its then-western terminus of New Buffalo. The Detroit & Pontiac, soon to become the Detroit & Milwaukee, is not shown.” ~

The Michigan Central Railroad was being constructed toward Chicago, at this time there being no through communication.  Mr. Friedman had advised me to perfect myself in the English language and given me the name of a teacher who had instructed him on his coming to America.  I immediately, after I found myself compelled to remain in Detroit, made arrangements with the teacher to give me two hours lesson each evening, which I continued to take most conscientiously all winter.


Left for Mackinaw.  1851.

When Spring came I found that after having paid all my expenses, I had enough money left, (ten dollars) to pay for my ticket to Mackinaw, this was May 1851, and treated myself to first cabin passage, the first time I had traveled first class since leaving my home in Germany.  I left Detroit, March 28th. 1851 on the Propeller, Republic, on Lake [blank] and had a smooth passage, it was quite cold and a thin sheet of ice had formed over the lake, but not thick enough to retard progress.

"Woodcut engraving of the propeller REPUBLIC towing the Michigan Southern Railroad Company's steamboat NORTHERN INDIANA into Pigeon Bay as she burned on Lake Erie on 17 July 1856." ~

“Woodcut engraving of the propeller REPUBLIC towing the Michigan Southern Railroad Company’s steamboat NORTHERN INDIANA into Pigeon Bay as she burned on Lake Erie on 17 July 1856.”

Michilimackinac is derived from an Odawa name for present-day Mackinac Island and the region around the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.”
“Michael A. McDonnell’s Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America is a wonderfully researched microhistory of the Michilimackinac area from the mid-17th to the early 19th century.”

On April 1st. I arrived in Mackinaw (also called Mackinac Island) deriving its name from the Indian word Michili.  The Island at this time had about three hundred white inhabitants and there was also an Indian settlement there.  A government fort was located here on a high steep hill, surrounded by a stone wall, where a few companies of soldiers were stationed.  The Island was a beautiful romantic place, it had no telegraphic or railroad communication, consequently in the winter, with the close of navigation, it was entirely out cut off, and isolated from the rest of the world.  In the summer it was visited as a summer resort to some extent then, and has in later years become very popular as such.  Chicago at this time had no direct railroad connection with the East, all travel between there and the East was by water.


1843 Drawing of Mission Point Beach at Mackinac Island, Michigan
~ Historic Mackinac: Volume 1 by Edwin O. Wood, 1918, facing-page 367.

There was a fine line of large side wheel steamers, elegantly fitted up and furnished with a band of music aboard.  These steamers ran between Chicago & Buffalo, and always made stops at the Island on their regular trips and enlivened things there.

On my arrival there I received a most hearty welcome from my sister Babette and brother-in-law Louis F. Leopold, who had worried considerably over my having missed the last boat of the season and therefore having been obliged to remain all winter in Detroit.  Mr. L. F. Leopold was the oldest of four brothers Aaron, Henry & Samuel, they together with Mr. Julius Austrian had a dry goods store on the Island, and in addition to this were engaged in the fish business, furnishing nets, salt & barrels to the fishermen, who caught and packed the fish, the same being later on collected from the different fishing grounds by a small schooner sent out for that purpose.  Alternately the three younger brothers were sent in charge of these expeditions.  L. F. Leopold was naturally a bright man, but egotistical, and very visionary and with most unpractical business ideas, still he had complete influence and control over his brothers who implicitly obeyed his commands, often contrary to their own and better judgement.

The day after my arrival at Mackinaw Mr. Leopold took me to the warehouse and showed me his stock consisting of hundreds of barrels of fish.  The collection of the season.  I was told that I was expected to assist in repacking this fish, which is done before their being shipped to market.  I was eager to do so and went right to work and worked hard daily as I did not want to be under obligations for my board even for the short time I was to remain at Mackinaw.  I did not find the occupation enticing or agreeable, my principal lamentation was that the strong salt brine ruined my clothes, and my wardrobe had become sadly depleted by this time.

To be continued in La Pointe 1851-1852 (Part 1)

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