Jackson’s Founding

Horace Blackman was a New Yorker who came to Michigan looking for a place to found a settlement. Arriving in Ann Arbor, he heard rumors that there was a place to the west where many trails met, and the land was good. He announced that he would go seek this place, and the folk of Ann Arbor thought he was mad. The land was too wild, they said, and too many Indians lived there. But Horace Blackman was undaunted. He hired two guides: an Indian named Pewytum and a white frontiersman named Alex Laverty. After two days of travel through forest and swamp, they reached the Grand River on the Fourth of July, and made their camp in what is now Jackson. Horace saw that the land was good for farming, that there was much timber to be cut, and that the river could support a mill. He resolved that here was where he would found his city. He returned to Ann Arbor, and registered his claim to 160 acres for two dollars an acre.

Horace Blackman

Horace returned to New York to gather his family and recruit his friends. But by the time he returned, other pioneers had settled by his claim, including his own brother. Horace discovered a mill already built, and that his town had been named Jacksonburg in his absence, after President Andrew Jackson. Though disappointed in his dreams of his own personal village, Horace remained in Jacksonburg and played an important role in its growth. He built a tavern, and eventually had a township and a road named after him.

At least nine Indian trails crossed at Jackson, and the land was fertile. There was a river that was used to run a mill, and, most importantly, Jackson was chosen as the site of the state prison in 1839, providing many jobs for residents as guards. It also meant convict labor could be used to do the hard work of clearing fields of trees and stones. This made Jackson an ideal city to settle in, and pioneers flooded in.

After the first wave of settlers from New York, the early immigrants to Jackson were mostly Irish, Germans, Poles, and Jews. They came to farm, or to work at the prison, or on the railroads, or, later, in the factories.