Riley Township
Extracted From
History of St. Clair County
Chicago, 1883

[Transcribed by Jane Devlin]


Riley Township was settled by the Otchipwes of the Riley band of Indians originally. In 1836, the American land buyers flocked thither to purchase the United States lands then brought under notice. In 1835, the WELLS, MANSFIELDS & others located on the southern limist of the town and must be considered the pioneers of Riley. The equalized valuation of real & personal property, in 1882, was $477,280. The population in 1845 was 234; in 1850, 311; in 1854, 593; in 1864, 1,075; and in June a880, 2,002. The area of the township is 23,800 acres; number of school children, 596.

The land buyers of 1836 were Stephen H. WEB, William BLAKELY, Oliver TUTTLE, Supply CHASE, Theo. ROMEYN, George E. HAND, James EDGERLY, George WHITING, Jacob WINTERSTEEN, Moses N. GRISWOLD, John LOWN, Jeremiah THORP, Nathan THORP, Justin COREY, Charles SHERRITT, Ira BABCOCK, William BUTLER, R. SEAMAN, Edward SMITH, J.C. CHITTENDEN, Ruth & Elizabeth HUBBARD, Alex. HENRY, Ann M. KENDRICK, William DUNN, J.C. ROBERTS, Daniel MAGINNIS, Eliza Ann HART, Josiah SNOW, Julius DAY, John LeCLAIR, Andrew YOUNGS, A.D. WALSH, J. ELDRICK, David MANSFIELD, William WELLS, Israel AMSBOY, Jeremiah THORP, Jedediah WELDER, R. McMULLAN, Isaac GARFIELD, Delos CONKLIN, Charles CHARTRAND, Otho BELL, W.W. WILCOX, Lyman GRANGER, Andrew SUTHERLAND, Levi PARSONS, Charles COLLINS, A.G. VANDERBILT, W.H. WHIPPLE, J.E. LATHROP, William DAKE, Jacob WINN, N. TALLMAGE, Henry & V.R. HANKINS, Benjamin THORNTON, Sy. DeLAND, Susan THOMPSON, Sarah FRANCIS & Daniel HEWITT, E. CHAMBERLAIN, Ransome HULLIER, Lucius OAKES.


Oel RIX, 1842; Amasa S. WELCH, 1843; John lOWN, 1844-45; Amasa S. WELCH, 1846-47; John LOWN, 1848; John P. GLEESON, 1849; A.S. WELCH, 1850; Henry RIX, 1851-53; Oel RIX, 1854; Henry RIX, 1855; Oel RIX, 1856; Ezra HAZEN, 1857-59; A.S. WELCH, 1860; Ezra HAZEN, 1861-64; Henry RIX, 1865-66; Ezra HAZEN, 1867; William EATON, 1868; Ezra HAZEN, 1869; William EATON, 1870;, Constant SIMMONDS, 1871-82.


Daniel HEWITT, 1839; Hugh GREGG, 1840; John GRINELL, 1841; John LOWN, 1842; Daniel HEWITT, 1843; Erastus W. CROSS, 1844; John GRINNELL, 1845; John LOWN, 1846; Daniel HEWITT, 1847; Harry RIX, 1848; Nicholas MEYERS, 1848; Henry RIX, 1849; Robert STEWART, 1850; Azel DAY, 1851; George W. CHILSON, 1853; Henry RIX, 1853; Josiah G. GOODING, 1854; George W. CHILSON, 1855; Ezra HAZEN, 1857-73; E. RAMSAY, 1857; Henry RIX, 1858; John HOUSE, 1859-66; Frances HEWITT, 1860; George W. CHILSON, 1860-64; Sherman BISHOP, 1863; William EATON, 1868; Joseph H. DUTTON, 1868; Benjamin FILKER, 1872; Henry C. MANSFIELD, 1874; Aaron SMOKER, 1873-74; Peter cANTINE, 1875; Ezra HAZEN, 1877; Henry C. MANSFIELD, 1878; Peter CANTINE, 1879; Martin ELLENWOOD, 1880; Ezra HAZEN, 1881; Peter FOLEY, 1881; Constant SIMMONS, 1882.


Memphis was settled in 1835, and incorporated as a village in 1865. In 1878, its population was stated to be 800, while at present it is only 600. This village is prettily located on Belle River, on the line between Macomb & St. Clair Counties, twenty-seven miles northeast of Mt. Clemens, twenty-two miles south west of Port Huron, seven miles north of Richmond and about the same distance northeast of Armada. There are three churches in the village, viz.: The Congregational, Methodist and Adventist, with a graded school.

The first effort to reclim the land now occupied by the billage of Memphis was made by the WELLS family, one member of which still lives just north of the village. James WELLS, the father, was born in Albany, in 1772, a descendant of one of two brothers who emigrated from England and settled in New York shortly prior to the war of the Revolution. His family consisted of three sons & three daughters, of whom one son & one daughter are living. Their house, a comfortable log one, covered with shingles, was the first structure of any kind to succeed the wigwams of the Indians, and in good old pioneer style, for all purposes of hospitality or for meetings, the "latch string was always out." The family had dealings to considerable extent and learned much of their ways and bear testimony that in nearly all instances they were honest in their deelings and faithful in their promises. Especial mention is made of the good qualities of John RILEY, the Chippewqa chief. His family and that of Black Cloud with some others were leading spirits among them. At this time (1835), the former owned a tract of land granted by Government, at what is now Port Huron, on the south of Black River. Only two houses, one log and one frame, were to be seen at that point. John RILEY was born in the Mohawk Valey, of a German father & Indian mother, and possessed greater intelligence than the full Indian. He, with many of his tribe, made annual visits to the woods near the village, for the purpose of making maple sugar, coming in February or March and returning when the season was over. In the spring of 1836, he came early for this purpose, and one pleasant Sunday, as he would not allow any work to be done on that day, he took a walk in the woods, accompanied by a boy. Coming upon a large hollow log which had the appearance of being the home of some animal, he said to the boy, "Abs-co-in, Hash-a-Pun!" (John! a raccoon) directing the boy to crawl in the log and investigate. The young Abs-con-in soon came out with great speed shouting "mo-q-wash! mo-q-wash!" (a bear! a bear!!). RILEY drew his hatchet, and as the bear's head appeared, struck her a powerful blow with the edge of the weapon, burying it in her brains. She weighed over 400 pounds, and furnished material for a continuous feast. The Indians gave names to the whites to correspond with some habit or to commemorate some gift. The elder Mr. WELLS the called mo-quash (bear), because he was a hunter of that animal. Abram WELLS, was caw-ke-chee (porcupine), he had given them a porcupine, the flesh of which they relish. Anthony WELLS was mish-a-wah (elk); William WELLS, wah-wa-cash (deer); Mr. WELCH, mus-co-danse (Indian hole or clearing), from the fact that he bought land on which there was an Indian field, on which there were bearing apple trees when the whites arrived. RILEY afterward retired to the Saginaw country, where he died in 1862.

His first wife was buried on land since known as the "FITZ PATRICK" place, and as the roads came to be straightened and worked, her body was exhumed and stolen away. One of the chiefs of this tribe, MACOMPTE, went to England previous to this time and performed the feat of shooting an apple held in the fingers of one of the royal family, with his rifle. The bullet pierced the apple, and the hand was unhurt. TIP-SE-CO, an Indian well known to the settlers of Macomb, also made a visit to the same country. He was a man of great speed and skill in wrestling, his principal feat being to run to a stake ten rods away and return before a horse and rider could make the like trip. This Indian is still living in Isabella County.

The next family in this place was that of POTTER, then WELCH, MOORE, SLATER, etc. The first death was that of BIRD, the first school teacher, who was buried in a lot a little south of the Congregational Church which Mr. WELLS had designed for a cemetery. The wife of Joshua EATON was the next to be buried there. Her body was afterward removed, but that of BIRD still lies where it was placed.

In the winter of 1836-37, an Indian went hunting and did not return. A heavy snow storm prevailing at the time, obliterated all trace of him, and although a thorough search was made, he could not be found. One day in the spring, 1837, as Hartford PHILLIPS was piloting a few lumbermen through the woods, a gun was discovered standing by a tree, and nearby the body of the missing Indian, crushed beneath the fallen tree, which he had chopped down. The Indians identifed the body and buried it. Three years later, the little settlement was called to mourn its first fatal accident - the death of Anthony WELLS. About this time Carleton SABIN purchaed of WELLS the 80 acre lot on which the southwest corner of the village is located, and lots were generally sold over the plat. It was discovered that an excellen water-power existed here, which was developed in 1840 by Oel RIX & Dr. SABIN. The latter built a saw mill, while the former built a flouring mill. The nearest post office was six miles distant, at Phillip CUDWORTH's; but now the Memphians sought for an office of their own, which they did not succeed in obtaining until eight years later. The naming of the village was then taken up. Belle River passes through the northern portion of the village, and so some of the inhabitants urged the adoption of the name "Belleview," others, who admired James G. BIRNEY & his party, desired it should be named "Birney," while others urged the name "Riley," in honor of the Indian chief who resided there. The name Memphis was suggested at length and adopted.

The first physician was Dr. SABIN, who came in 1844, and remained there until 1854. He was succeeded in practice by Dr. COLE.

The first religious services held in the "Wells settlement" was at the house of Mr. WELLS and was conducted by Mrs. CHILSON, whose son now lives in the village. This woman was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and having the ability to address an audience in public, she though herself called to preaching, which she did on many occasions. This was in the year 1837. Soon after this, Elder SIMONS also preached in the house of Mr. WELLS. In 1839, a Baptist Church was formed at the house of William SMITH, who lived south of the village. The members of the organization were William SMITH, William WELLS, George WILLIAMS & Deborah SIMMONS and their mother, Mrs. William SMITH, Johanna EATON & wife, Solomon EATON & wife, J. EATON, Jr., & wife, old Mrs. WELLS & Durfee SIMMONS, who was chosen Deacon. A house of worship was built for the church just formed in the south part of the settlement, on the east side of the street. This was a small building, and was afterward removed south and turned into a dwelling house. No other edifice of that denomination has since been erected. During the summer of 1837, a Sabbath School was organized, which was not under the care of any denomination, but joined in by all. Sabbath school exercises have been held almost continuously since that time. The Methodist class was the next to be formed, and in 1840, the Congregational Church was formed. This was effected at the house of Deacon A. GILBERT under the advice and direction of Rev. Seth HARDY, of Romeo. Seventeen members constituted the church at its organization, six of whom were from Romeo. Their house of worship was built in 1842. The Methodist house was erected a few years later. The first pastor of the Congregational Church was Rev. Charles KOLLOG, in 1841. He was succeeded by Rev. W.P. RUSSELL, who labored with the church for the welfare of the community from Jul, 1848, to the time of his death in 1880. The first school was taught by Mr. BIRD, in a small log schoolhouse which stood on the west side of the village in the town of Riley. This man was a great believer in the efficacy of the "birch" in subduing the total depravity of average chilhood, and perseveringly applied it on the slightest provocation. The first female teacher was Harriet STEWART. Marriages were undoubtedly celebrated at an early date, but who was first doth not yet appear. Miron SALLSBURY & Amelia S. ELLENWOOD were the first couple married by Rev. W.P. RUSSELL, and he did his work in so satisfactory a manner that he was called upon afterward to unite the fates of 396 pairs.

The first frame building was a barn erected for Anthony WELLS. The first house was a small frame one, by Mr. RIX, but the first substantial residence was that of Lewis GILBERT, in 1840, which is doing good service still. The first store was that of Oel RIX, who had a small stock of goods to meet the needs of his workmen. Among the first settlers of Memphis still living amoung us may be mentioned Hartford PHILLIPS, who was born in Chenango County, N.Y., in 1809 and came to Memphis in 1836, having lived here continuously since that time. His wife, Polly WADE, of Rhode Island, a descendant of Roger WILLIAMS, of Puritan fame, died in 1879, at the age of seventy-three years. There are others also who have given the helping hand to all the industries and improvements of our village, and to them all we say, peace to the closing days of life and joy in the bright hereafter.

The village of Memphis was incorporated in the south schoolhouse on the 4th day of April, 1865. The name was given some ten years previously. A portion of the citizens wished the young village to have the name Briney, after J.G. BRINEY; others wanted the name Belleview, as the Belle River passed through the place. The name Memphis, however, prevailed, which was given after the Egyptian city, and custom has made firm the name then suggested. An election was held on the date above given, at which the following were chosen: Sherman S. EATON, President; Lewis GRANGER, Linus GILBERT, Oel RIX, Solon SPAFFORD, Joseph M. BEACH, Hiram BURK, Trustees; L.G. SPERRY, Clerk; Orrin GRANGER, Treasurer.

The principal village officers from 1866 to the present time are as follows:

1866 - Sherman S. EATON, President; Clark B. HALL, Clerk; Orrin GRANGER, Treasurer
1867 - W.P. RUSSELL, President; Ezra HAZEN, Clerk; G. L. PERKINS, trs
1868 - R.B. KING, President; Joseph H. DUTTON, Clerk; Orrin GRANGER, trs
1869 - Lewis GRANGER, President; Joseph H. DUTTON, Clerk; H.C. MANSFIELD, trs
1870 - Augustus M. HODGES, President; H.C. MANSFIELD, Treasurer; J.H. DUTTON, Clerk
1871 - A.M. HODGES, President; H.C. MANSFIELD, Treasurer; J.H. DUTTON, Clerk
1872 - Hriam BURK, President; J.M. DUTTON, Clerk; H.M. MANSFIELD, Treasurer
1873 - Sherman EATON, President; J.H.DUTTON, Clerk; H.C. MANSFIELD, Treasurer
1874 - Sherman S. EATON, President; J.H. DUTTON, Clerk; H.C. MANSFIELD, Treasurer
1875 - George L. PERKINS, President; H.C. MANSFIELD, Clerk; Chester S. GILBERT, Treasurer
1876 - G.L. PERKINS, President; J.H. DUTTON, Clerk; H.C. MANSFIELD, Treasurer
1877 - Francis E. SPENCER, President; J.H. DUTTON, Clerk; H.C. MANSFIELD, Treasurer
1878 - Sherman S. EATON, President; J.H. DUTTON, Clerk; H.C. MANSFIELD, Treasurer
1879 - Sherman S. EATON, President; George W. CARMAN, Clerk; Chester S. GILBERT, Treasurer
1880 - Joseph H. DUTTON, President; George H. CARMAN, Clerk; C.S. GILBERT, Treasurer
1881 - J.H. DUTTON, President; G.W. CARMAN, Clerk; C.S. GILBERT, Treasurer

The Memphis Post Office was established in 1848, with Harry RIX as first Postmaster. His successors in office were: F.E. GILBERT, C.S. GILBERT, Thomas ROBSON, George ROBSON, S.P. SPAFFORD, Joseph M. BEACH, William JENKINON, Orrin GRANGER, H.C. MANSFIELD, & George W. CARMAN, the present Postmaster.


In the following sketches of pioneers and leading men of the township may be found many instructive and entertaining incidents of settlement. The forgoing historic sketch embraces much subject of a valuable character; but to prevent, as far as possible, the repetition of facts, nothing that has been fully treated in the biographical collection, is introduced into the historic sketch of the township.

William BURT, farmer, Section 17, P.O. Riley Center, was born in the county of Kent, England, near the great metropolis, Jan 28, 1821; in Jun 1827, he came with his parents to the United States, landed in New York City; thence to Wayn County, N.Y., forty miles east of Rochester, where for sixteen years he worked on the farm, after which he rented and worked a farm for six years. By this time he had gained capital, and in 1853 he bought a farm of fifty acres. In August, 1862, he enlisted, and served two years & eleven months in the war, and was wounded once at Cold Harbor & once at Cedar Creek. After he returned he sold his farm, and in 1866 he came West and bought eighty acres of wild land in the town of Riley, on section 17,where he still resides; since his first purchase, he has added forty acres and improved from eighty-five to 100 acres of land. Is a member of the Baptist Church in Riley, and has been Deacon since its organization. Was married to Miss Mary McMILLAN, of Wayne County, N.Y., on August 27, 1844, and is the father of six children - Elizabeth, John, Mary Jane, Jeanette, Margaret & Francis. Mrs. BURT & two of the daughters, Jeanette & Margaret, also belong to the Baptist Church of Riley, and are consistent and active workers. Mr. BURT, by his honest industry and careful management has places himself as a useful member of society, and is held in high esteem by all who know him.

Martin ELLINWOOD, farmer, Section 18, P.O. Riley Center, was born in 1836, in Jefferson County, N.Y. Here he resided with his parents until nive years of age, attending the common school; at the end of which time, his parents came West to Macomb County, Mich. In 1866, he bought 120 acres of partly improved land in the town of Riley, Section 18, and has improved fifty acres and built a fine brick residence. At one time, he was quite extensively engaged in the dairy business, but is now confining his farming operations to general farming. For sixteen years has been Postmaster, has been Town Clerk one year, Town Treasurer two years, Justice of the Peace eight years, and is at the present time Supervisor. Was married to Miss BEAMAN, of Shiawasse County, near Lansing, Mich., in May 1865, and has two children - Amanda & Stella. Mrs. ELLINWOOD and her eldest daughter are members of the M.P. Church, and both active workers. Miss Amanda is an accomplished musician, and leads the choir on the organ. Mr. ELLINGWOOD is a successful business man, having accumulated a competent fortune by honest, industrious efforts, guided by keen, shrewd preceptive faculties, and fine business qualities. He is public spirited, and makes liberal use of his wealth for the benefit of his community, he having contributed largely of his own means toward building both churches of his town. Such men everywhere do honor to themselves, and are an ornament to society.

Benjamin FELKER, farmer, Section 17, P.O. Riley Center, was born in the town of Salt Fleet, Ontario, Canada, February 19, 1837. He lived with his parents until he was nineteen years of age attending the common school winters. In 1856, he came to East Saginaw, Mich., where he worked two years learning the ship-carpenter's trade. From here he returned to Canada, where he worked at farming three years, at the end of which time he returned to Michigan, working at his trade in Detroit & Marine City, in the shipyard two years. From Marine City he came to Riley, where he bought forty acres of wild land, which he has improved. He himself inproved about 190 acres of land and is engaged in general farming, and raises horses and sheep of good quality. He has been School Inspector, Road Commissioner, and Justice of the Peace for four years, and at one time Town Clerk. He is a member of the Masonic fraternity, of the Royal Arch Chapter and has been Senior & Junior Warden of his lidge. He was married to Miss Mariett RAYMOND, of the town of Riley, St. Clair County, January 24, 1864, and has five children - Elnorah A., Amaretttie C., Mary A., Sarah A. & Ruth. Eva (deceased). Mr. FELKER is an honored and highly respected citizen. By his own efforts he has earned a handsome fortune, which will provide a solace in his declining years.

Mrs. Annie E. RIGG, Memphis, formerly Miss Annie E. HUBBARD, is a native of Schenectady County, N.Y. She was brought up and attended school there, and in the fall of 1845 came to this state. There were three covered wagons, and sixteen in the company she came with. She went to her Uncle James WELLS, at Memphis. He was the first settler there and took up a large body of land. She taught school. After her sisters & brothers came they lived together. In 1869, she married James RIGG, a native of England. He came to this country in 1834. He was a carpenter & builder and died in February, 1876. Mrs. RIGG lives in Memphis, owns property there and here. Her sister, Mrs. Amy STEWART, formerly Miss Amy HUBBARD, is a native of Schenectady County, N.Y., and came with her brothers to this county in 1847 and settled in the village of St. Clair and lived there five years, then moved out on the farm. In 1870, she married Daniel STEWART, a native of New York State. He came here in 1848, and died April 1875. Since then she has reside here. She owns ten acres where she lives and other property. The two sisters are the only members of the family now living here.

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