Michigan History

Ann Arbor: Early History

Co-founder of Ann Arbor John Allen

Co-founder of Ann Arbor John Allen

Ann Arbor was founded in 1824 by John Allen and Elisha Rumsey.   Seeking to create a new community west of Detroit, both Allen and Rumsey left Detroit on a one-horse sleigh to try and accomplish their goal. It is believed that city was initially named Annarbour , and was named after both the two founders wives (both were named Ann), and for the grove surrounded by the many trees that they saw when they arrived. The name was eventually split into two words, and is currently the only city in the world with this name.

“When their wives came here, Mr. Allen and Mr. Rumsey … built an arbor out of small trees and bushes. [The] men put a sign upon the front of the arbor, naming it ‘Ann’s Arbor,’ and the village when organized was given that name.” (Cheever, Noah Wood. Argus 11 Aug. 1902)

Allen and Ramsey acquired the land (approximately 650 acres) for the city to be known as Ann Arbor at the federal land office of Wayne County. Money drove both men to found the city of Ann Arbor, they both hoped to become wealthy by investing in the establishment of a town. Because of government land laws passed in 1820, land could not be sold at more than $1.25 an acre, so the two men profited greatly when they bought the land that became Ann Arbor. John Allen additionally wanted to leave his hometown in Virginia to escape his debts and start a new life elsewhere, while Elisha Rumsey left his home in New York for similar reasons.

Although Allen and Ramsey had the land, they needed political influence in order for their town to become important in the Michigan political landscape. In order to increase the towns influence the two men purchased the honor of Ann Arbor’s selection for the county seat for Washtenaw County from territorial Governor Lewis Cass for $1,000.

As a result, Ann Arbor morphed itself from a frontier town to a mid size city. The majority of Ann Arbor’s citizens were initially farmers, with a few being merchants and artisans. There was no form of government initially, so co-founder John Allen settled any disputes that Ann Arbor citizens had until a system of law was put in place as the town expanded. The first charter for the town was created in 1833, and consisted of Township president and a council.

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