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Our First Bicentennial

Our First Bicentennial image Our First Bicentennial image
Jeff Davis
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

As we begin 2009 it is time to celebrate the bicentennial of the original founding of what is now Ypsilanti. But a few mysteries have remained over the centuries. First of all, which Gabriel Godfroy built the trading post on this site in 1809? There were three generations of Godfroys named Gabriel. The first, Jacques Gabriel (called Gabriel because his father was also named Jacques), was born on November 10, 1758 in Detroit. He first came to this area as a guide and trader with the Native Americans in 1790, as mentioned in the journal of Hugh Heward. The entry for Thursday April 15, 1790 reads “…and by the assistance of Mr. Godfroy, who seemed very obliging, engaged an indian with two horses to go with me in the morning.” In 1809 this Godfroy was co-owner of a tannery and trading house in Detroit. In 1803 he ran a ferryboat that crossed the Huron River near Detroit. By 1805 he had become a Freemason in Detroit. By trade he was a fur trader and later an assessor of Detroit. In 1809 he poled his way up river from Detroit with a distant relative Francois Pepin, who was born in 1790 and Romaine La Chambre, who was born around 1785. An artist drawing of our founder is in a 1905 souvenir book which the Archives has a few copies of in its new library collection. He passed away in 1833. This was the Gabriel Godfroy that founded the trading post and the first mystery has been solved. The next Gabriel was his son. He was born on July 3, 1783 in Detroit. Between 1797 and 1808 he worked with his father at “Godfroy and Beaugrand” in Detroit. He had 20 siblings and 14 children. He married Elizabeth Ann May on April 27, 1808, and their first child Gabriel (III) was born on December 25, 1808. The next mystery concerns how long the trading post stood. It was located where the transformers are behind the Edison Building on North Huron. It was a log structure built in 1809 with a fence around it. According to “The Story of Ypsilanti” book by Harvey Colburn it had “a cellar.” It burned down around 1815 but was rebuilt and was doing well until the Native Americans lost control of the land in September of 1819 and slowly started to move west. Through the help of Virginia Davis-Brown it was determined that the post was still standing as of May 31, 1825, because Louis White listed it as being the polling place on that date. This information is listed on the obituary card of John Thayer in the Archives obituary collection. The post was abandoned around 1823-1824 and then burned down a final time between June, 1825 and 1829. In 1829, Godfroy came through again and saw that the post was gone. It is said that he took a piece of burned wood with him to what is now Mendon, Michigan in St. Joseph County where he set up another trading post along with one of his brothers, Pierre. A portrait of Gabriel (III) was discovered by George Ridenour, which is in the Godfroy family file in the Archives family collection. Our founder also owned trading posts in Mendon, Detroit and Monroe. He was a Colonel in the Battle of Raisin River in Monroe during the War of 1812, in which he burned down his own barn to prevent the British from using it as a hideout. He was taken prisoner during the war but was released. He was appointed Colonel by the then General and future U.S. President William Henry Harrison. The last mystery of Gabriel Godfroy is the location of his grave. In 1806 he helped plot out St. Anne Cemetery at the corner of Jefferson and Griswold in Detroit. For his payment he received a free grave. St. Anne Cemetery closed in 1827 and was moved to St. Antoine Street Cemetery also in Detroit. Gabriel Godfroy died in 1833 and was likely buried here. This cemetery closed in 1858 and the remains were moved to Mount Elliott Cemetery in Detroit minus the headstones. In 1865 Mount Elliott’s records were destroyed in a fire. After searching the records of nearly 200 cemeteries this is the most likely site of Gabriel Godfroy’s final resting place. The trading post “Godfroy’s on the Pottawatomie Trail,” as it was known, was the first non Native American structure in the Michigan Territory west of Detroit. As to the title of this article “Our First Bicentennial” it wasn’t until April of 1823 when Benjamin Woodruff started the first settlement in the location of what is now the area of Ford Lake. But that celebration won’t take place until July 4, 2023 when we dig up the time capsule in front of the Demetrius Ypsilanti monument by the water tower, which was buried there in July of 1973. But that is an entirely different story. Until then, happy 200th birthday “Godfroy’s Trading Post on the Pottawatomie Trail.” (Jeff Davis is a volunteer in the YHS Archives and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)
Photo 1: Godfroy’s trading post was the first non Native American structure in the Michigan Territory west of Detroit.

Photo 2: An artist drawing of Gabriel Godfroy from a 1905 Ypsilanti Souvenir Book.

Photo 3: A portrait of Gabriel Godfroy III is located in the Godfroy family file in the YHS Archives.