There were many farming families that settled in Grosse Pointe shortly after its discovery in 1679 by Father Louis Hennepin, but the first massive estate was built by Scottish Commodore roughly 100 years later.
He married a Detroit woman and commanded the Great Lakes from their home in Grosse Pointe along Lake Shore Road--and many people regard him as the founder of the Grosse Pointes.
Commodore Alexander Grant
Alexander Grant was the son of the seventh Laird of Glenmoriston and was born in Inverness-Shire, Scotland. He served with the Montgomery's Highlanders during the Seven Years' War eventually commanding a sloop on Lake Champlain.
He came to the Detroit area in 1774 and married Therese Barthe and settled in Grosse Pointe. Grant’s first claim to fame came a few years later when, in 1776, he became the Commander of the Great Lakes.
This appointment was reduced to three of the five Great Lakes, Erie, Huron, and Michigan, in 1778. As a senior member of the Executive and Legislative Councils of Upper Canada, he became Administrator-President for one year in 1805.
According to a time-line that was compiled by the , Grant “entertained the great Tecumseh and other Indian chiefs at his Grosse Pointe estate, and he was a member of the Governor's Executive Council, which for many years ruled nearly half the continent.”
Despite his titles and responsibilities, Grant was not exactly refined. An account compiled by the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, “The most vivid depictions of Grant emanated from the pen of George Thomas Landmann, a British military engineer. He commented on Grant’s ‘round, plump, pocked-marked face as red as a pomegranate’ and described him as ‘an old Scotchman, a large stout man, not very polished, but very good-tempered.’
He was only semi-literate and totally without pretence. According to an anecdote often related by his contemporaries, on being introduced to Prince Edward Augustus, Grant unabashedly exclaimed, ‘How do you do, Mester Prince? How does yer Papaw do?’”
The rescue of a little boy
The Grants had 12 children, and in his own words, his wife was at ‘the helme’ of the family. The devotion to family is perhaps best expressed through the story of the adopted boy. Indians had captured this boy and they had plans to burn him alive. Silas Farmer, who penned the first book on Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe on Lake St. Clair in 1886, writes “Grant purchased from the Indians a three year old boy stolen from his home in the Ohio Country.”
Farmer’s account of the little boy leaves out one particularly important person, Grant’s wife, who was instrumental in the rescue of the little boy.
The Ontario Historical Society’s Papers and Records, vol. IX published in 1910 documents the story of the little boy much more thoroughly:
“Shortly after one of the early Indian raids into Ohio and Kentucky, Mrs. Alex. Grant heard that a band of savages had camped at Belle Isle… the Indians were going to hold a Pow-wow to celebrate their exploits and to torture and burn a young white boy whose mother they had killed. The Commodore was away at York (now Toronto), but his wife’s motherly instincts were aroused, and knowing the love and esteem of the Indians for her family, she determined to make an effort to save the boy from so terrible a fate.”
The story follows that Therese Grant took a canoe to Belle Isle—although it is not documented, she most likely travelled with companions—and asked how much ransom the Indians would want for the boy. At first they did not listen, but she persisted. A combination of gifts and “threats that the black down (priest) would bring calamity on them.”
Therese Grant succeeded in rescuing the boy, he was adopted by the Grant’s and named him John Grant.
Grant had a large family and preferred to rule his territory from his home in Grosse Pointe, travelling as little as possible in his later years. His biography continues, “At the centre of Grant’s world were his wife and children, and their farm at Grosse Pointe. It was, in his words, ‘a very fine farm of excellent land with a good Mansion House & all other buildings–fine garden & a large orchard.’ ”
Michigan, a Guide to the Wolverine State, compiled by the Michigan Writer’s Project in 1941 details to his home and property, “During English occupation, Captain Alexander Grant bought a 640 acre Farm on the present sight of Grosse Pointe Farms. Grant, who was Commodore of the British Navy on the Great Lakes, erected a rambling hewn-log house, 280 feet long and two stories high known as Grant’s Castle. The castle was a favorite gathering place for British officers and Detroit society of that period, and the Commodore, first to establish an estate on this part of the lake shore, is regarded as the founder of Anglicized Grosse Pointe.”
Farmer also makes mention of Grant’s land. “It had a frontage of nine arpents (French acres), and contained about 400 acres.... Soon after acquiring the title, he erected a large manor-house, known in its day as "Grant's Castle." It was built of hewn oaken timbers taken from the surrounding forest. These were neatly dovetailed at the corners, and the interstices between the logs carefully filled with plaster. It was about 160 feet long, two stories in height, and surrounded on all sides by huge two story verandas or "galleries," as the French termed them, and, in shape, resembled a great barrack.”
There seems to be a discrepancy between Farmer’s account from 1886, and the research put together by the Michigan Writer’s Project in 1941 regarding the size Grant’s farm as well as Grant’s Castle was, but irrespective of these discrepancies, it was nevertheless a massive abode situated on a very large piece of land.
Grant died on May 11, 1813 in his home in Grosse Pointe Farms at the age of 79. Grant’s Castle was demolished in the early 1880s.
The legacy of Grant
According to the Loyalist Collection at the University of Newbrunswick in Canada, one of Grant’s daughters, Isabella, married William Gilkison (1777-1833). “He received a liberal education, and later served as a merchant sailor until captured and imprisoned by the French during the Napoleonic war. After his escape, he emigrated to America in 1796, and brought with him letters of reference to John Jacob Astor.” Astor, the German-American business man and first multi-millionaire in the United States, gave Gilkison the command of his schooner. In 1796, the schooner was in the service of the North West Company on Lake Erie.
There was another famous Grant who had a brief tenure in the Detroit region and is thought to have visited Grosse Pointe. In the mid- to-late 1800’s, long after Alexander Grant’s death, local folklore has it that Grant’s Castle was later owned by the individual. Are there Pointer’s out there who know to whom I am referring? This Grant will be the subject of next week’s column. Clue: he might be in your wallet.