At Meek's Mills the "F.F.F.'s" "the first five families," included: William Meek, who came from Ohio in 1828-'9; Jacob Bonebright from Pennsylvania in 1829; Nathan Syas in 1830; and Charles B. Fitch from Ohio in 1830. Following closely thereafter were the Cathcarts, Hamiltons, Harwoods, Arnolds and others. It is said that Niles F. Smith, the proprietor of the first store at Meek's Mill, was responsible for its change of name to that of "Constantine" in 1831.
Meek's Mill was one of the pioneer mills of the county and had brought fame to the settlement. The new name of "Constantine" was ignored by the early settlers; especially those of rival settlements who remained oddly oblivious of any such place of high sounding name. When travellers asked about it they professed no knowledge of such a place.
Niles F. Smith built a small frame building on the banks of the river which he used as a store, 1830-1831. Its basement served for years as the first school room and there his clerk, Thomas Charlton, taught the rudiments of reading and writing and 'rithmetic. Charlton's real bid for fame came later as Justice of the Peace, in which capacity he served for many years.
St. Joseph county turns with pride to the records of Constantine men who have attained state and national fame: Governor John S. Berry, Governor John T. Bagley, Major General Frank D. Baldwin, M. H.; Major General H. H. Bandholtz, Provost Marshaall in the World War; his son Col. C. H. Bnadholtz; to judges, legislators, congressmen; and to the Rev. Edward Evans, "Soldier of the Cross and of the American Revolution."
In the Michigan Pioneer Collection, an incident concerning "Meek's Mill" in 1831, is given by Enos Northrup. Mr. Northrup wrote that his first crop of wheat harvested in Michigan was a grist of twenty-two bushels and the nearest mill, Constantine, fifty miles distant. He started with two yoke of oxen. He forded the Kalamazoo, Portage and St. Joseph rivers as he followed the Indian trail to the mill. When night came he tied a bell to the oxen and let them go untethered and he slept on the bare ground rolled up in his blanket. At daylight he began hunting for the oxen and continued to hunt all day, the next day he hired an Indian and for two days continued the hunt, then believing they had returned home, he turned back and reached home Saturday night, only to find that the cattle had not been seen.
Monday morning he started again, this time on horse back with more provisions, but at Prairie Ronde he hired some
one to take the grist to mill while he continued to search for the cattle. After sixteen days they were found in a marsh north of Kalamazoo. In his absence the family had lived on bread made from wheat ground in a coffee mill and sifted thru a hand sieve.
Among the many families of Constantine of whom interesting stories are on file, is that of the Caleb Arnold family, who came to St. Joseph county in the forties. Caleb was the son of Abimeleck Arnold, a soldier of the American Revolution, who served in the 13th New York militia under Colonel Cornelius Van Veghten for the full period of the war. One hundred and fifty years afterwards with a world at war, the name of his great-great-grandson, Geroge Otis West, was inscribed on the honor roll of American war records of heroes; a boy of twenty years, a first lieutenant in the 49th Air Squadron, who gave his life for his country, as his plane fell behind the German lines near Campaneau, France.
Caleb Arnold with his wife came to St. Joseph county in 1832. Among their children were Daniel, who later made Constantine his home; Otis, Orrin, and William F. of Three Rivers; and Mrs. Tracy of Constantine.
Caleb was twenty years of age when he settled in Fabius township. As the years went by he became one of the most influential pioneers. His integrity was unquestioned. He served for twelve years as a justice of the peace and as supervisor for 18 years. Otis Arnold, with his wife, were substantial members of the early Methodist church in Three Rivers. They were the parents of George H. and Edith (Arnold) West. In 1834 William F. married Rhoda, daughter of Deacon Churchill. They moved to Three Rivers in 1854. Of the children of William, Lucy became the wife of George W. Buck; the other children include Cornelia (Mrs. Alexander Ennis); Sarah (Mrs. William H. Gable); Philo; Edwin P.; and Frank M. In 1856 William Arnold married as second wife, Mrs. Margaret J. Green, had a son, Ira B. William Arnold, died in 1890.
Constantine Memorial Pergola
The Woman's Club of Constantine erected a pergola as a memorial to the pioneers who were buried in the forest burial grounds of Constantine, located at Mill street and Florence road. The columns of the pergola are the Doric columns which once adorned an old pioneer tavern, "The Homestead." On each of the center colums are bronze tablets on which are inscribed the names of the pioneers and the dates of their settlement in Constantine:
1829: Meek, Bonebright, Syas.
ST. JOSEPH IN HOMESPUN
1830-1840: Appleton, Arnold, Bagley, Barry, Bates, Briggs, Bryan, Cathcart, Chamberlain, Clinton, Crego, Driggs.
1830-1840: Francisco, Gladding, Hagenback, Hageman, Hamilton, Harrison, Harvey, Harwood, Hull, Jackson, Joss, Ketcham, Lintz, McEntaffer, Mitchell.
1830-1840: Patterson, Proudfit, Putman, Root, Smith,Stafford, Stears, Tuesdale, Thurber, Tracy, Watchterhauser, Welch, Wells, Williams.
1840-1855: Barnard, Bradshaw, Bush, Cotton, Coffinbgerry, Denco, Butch, Gibson, Hammond, Hotchin, Knowlin, Langley, Merrill, Moore, Riley, Thayer, Wagner.
A carved seat of stone near the pergola has a small bronze name plate inscribed, "In Memorium Marion Stafford Wooster".
ST. JOSEPH IN HOMESPUN
Among the villages platted in Constantine township was the village of Eschol. The records show that this, the deserted village of St. Joseph, was located on the Fitch farm, later the property of Charles Houser, three miles south of Three Rivers. It was platted by Judge Charles Fitch and Asa Wetherbee from a survey made by John S. Barry in 1833.
Concerning the platters, Judge Charles B. Fitch, was born in Connecticut, in 1774. He was the grandson of the famous Hon. Thomas Fitch, Governor of Connecticut under British rule. Hezekiah Fitch son of Thomas, served with the American forces during the Revolution, in the Seventh Connecticut regiment. He enlisted July 8, 1775. The family numbers among its prized possessions, his sword which bears the inscription: "Hezikiah Fitch, 1764" Charles B. Fitch was a son of Hezekiah, he served in the war of 1812 on Lake Erie. Charles and his son Samuel both served in the Black Hawk war under Captain Calhoun. Accompanied by his family Judge Fitch settled in St. Joseph county in 1830. He "entered five eighties of government land on Pigeon prairie, and the following year entered two hundred acres in Buck's township". For several years Mr. Fitch served as a circuit judge in St. Joseph county.
The partner of Judge Fitch, Asa Wetherbee (1800-1877), was the son of Richard (1768-1848) and his wife Susannah Sweet Wetherbee (1778-1813). Asa was descended from John Wetherbee who immigrated to Woburn, Massachussetts, from England, about 1680.
In 1832 Judge Fitch built a dam across the Prairie river (Hog Creek) near the outlet into the St. Joseph river. This
dam backed the waters of the creek until they overflowed the lowlands near the present location of the New York Central bridge. It made a millpond where now the river road crosses the marsh. The mill race flowed through the ravine which forms the approach to the Drumhiller bridge.
The mill race made an island of about sixty acres of highland, on which stood the hamlet of Eschol. "Where the race entered the St. Joseph, Judge Fitch installed a busy water wheel to drive a saw mill, later a shingle mill and two run of small gristing stones. In 1838 R. M. Welch added a carding machine.
For a time the little village flourisned and was a rival of the newly founded town of Three Rivers. In 1840 the dam went out, never to be rebuilt. Litigation followed. Buildings were vacated, the town deserted.
A few century-old apple trees, planted by Judge Fitch, a lilac bush growing on the high hillside which over looks the river, are all that remains of the little village of Eschol.
Stories of it's people, however, appeal to the imagination, especially those concerning Benjamin M. King, "Cobbler of Eschol." Benjamin King and his pretty young bride, in May 1832, made their home in the prospective village of Eschol. In that same year he was drafted for the Black Hawk war and with Samuel Fitch and others of St. Joseph county, served one month at White Pigeon. In 1833 Mr. King with Daniel Arnold, of the famous Hull and Arnold band, rented a room and worked at shoe making. He came to Three Rivers in 1834 and lived in the first house erected by a white man, that of Jacob McInterfer. In 1835 he built one of the first frame houses in Three Rivers. It occupied the site of the old Frye homestead, on 115 North Main Street. In 1836 he began clearing his farm land two miles southwest of town, giving his evenings to his cobblers trade. In the anti-slavery struggle he was an active participant.
Mr. King was born in Middleton, N. Y. and was christened after his grandfather, Benjamin Montayne, a Baptist minister, who served as a post rider in the American Revolution. "He was the trusted confidential agent of General Washington, and was employed to deliver dispatches to the commanders in different sections of the country. The following is his certified service. "When Gen. Washington resolved to destroy the army of General Cornwallis, he deceived the British General Clinton as to his plans by writing deceptive letters to General Green and forwarded them in such a way that they should be captured by the enemy. The letters were entrusted for that purpose to Benjamin Montayne. While traveling on horseback across Bergen County, N. J. he
ST. JOSEPH IN HOMESPUN
was captured by the British Rangers .. His horse was shot and he was hurried to the infamous sugar-house prison. The British considered the capture so important that they illuminated their houses. At the same time Washington was making the movement which terminated in the surrender of Corwallis. As a prisoner Montayne was exchanged for three British soldiers .. which the British considered a fair equivalent."
The following sketch is contributed by H. B. King concerning his grandfather Benjamin Montaign King, pioneer, of Eschol.
"Benjamin Montaign King, one of the early pioneers of St. Joseph county, came to Michigan in 1832. He was a descendant of Clement King who is first mentioned in Marshfield, Massachusetts in 1668. The line goes back as follows:
Clement King, Marshfield, Massachusetts;
James King, Providence, Rhode Island;
Thomas King, Ulster County, New York;
Samuel King, Sr. Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War;
Samuel King Jr.;
Benjamin Montaign King, (1806-1886), m, Martha Wetherbee)
Benjamin M. King related the details of his trip to Michigan, which has been recorded in Volume 5, Michigan Pioneer Collections, a summary of which follows:
He came to Detroit and then took the old Chicago road to Ypsilanti, thence to Saline, Clinton and on to Jonesville. At Jonesville the party was overtaken by General Jacob Brown and one of his aids traveling on horseback. General Brown was on a military expedition to muster together forces enough to fight Black Hawk. Mr. King then proceeded from Jonesville to Bronson, thence to Sturgis Prairie, White Pigeon, and then to Eschol. Mr. King with his bride spent the first winter of '32 and '33 in the village of Eschol. The next year he moved to Constantine. The following year he came to Three Rivers and lived in the first house that was built.
"Benjamin M. King lived in Three Rivers for two years and then purchased a hundred and twenty acres of land southwest of Three Rivers, which is now (1930) a part of Shafer Brothers farm. The brick house where Clinton Shafer, Jr. now resides was built by Mr. King just before the Civil War. Mr. King died September 15, 1886, aged seventy-nine.
"It is always interesting to know the moving cause of these pioneers coming to a certain location. The moving cause of these pioneers coming to a certain location. The moving cause in the case of Mr. King was a Martha Wetherbee, daughter of Richard Wetherbee. Richard Wetherbee had made his plans to immigrate to Michigan and the young couple concluded to cast their lot in the then wilderness of Michigan.
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