Charles Blackmar (1784 – 1834) – First settler of Cambridge Twp., Lenawee County, Michigan

untitled-11874 Cambridge Township plat map (Blackmar’s property in blue)

Cambridge Township’s first settler, Charles Blackmar, age 44, built a log tavern in 1829, seventeen miles from the nearest settlement.  It was the only house between Tecumseh (Lenawee Co.)  and Jonesville (Hillsdale Co.) and in the middle of the forty-mile woods, so called by the pioneers of the day.   A mile to the east of Blackmar’s, the Monroe Trail (now M-50) met the Sauk Trail (US-12) in what would soon become known as Cambridge Junction, or simply the Junction.  Both trails were old Potawatomi highways.

Blackmar was very poor when he arrived in Cambridge and lived under a white oak tree for several days. In fact, he commenced “keeping hotel” under this tree the first night after his arrival when a wagon full of travelers, grateful for a make-shift roof, appeared from the east.

After a few days Blackmar rolled up a temporary log house, which he lived in and kept hotel for about five years.  He was described as an “intelligent, middle-aged, ragged haired, accommodating individual” who had spent the early part of his life among the Native Americans.  Most of his revenue was derived from the sale of grindstones he discovered in a quarry on his property.

The Potawatomi had great respect for him. On one occasion a Potawatomi Chief named Me-ta-aw  came to his house intoxicated and wanted whiskey.  Blackmar refused and Me-ta-aw tried to help himself to the spirit, anyway.  Mr. Blackmar quickly grabbed Me-ta-aw, gave him a good beating and threw him out of the house.  Me-ta-aw gathered himself up and ran away, whooping his loudest. In a few days he returned, sober, missing a finger and begged for peace and friendship.

Me-ta-aw’s missing finger was the result of his “taking the pledge”. After returning home drunk, beaten and without his pony or possessions (which he had traded for liquor) his squaw berated him unmercifully.  Me-ta-aw staggered over to a block of wood, laid his hand on it, picked up a hatchet and chopped off his finger as a pledge to never drink again.

In the spring of 1834 Blackmar commenced the erection of a frame house, but that summer, before the new building was completed, an ill traveler from Detroit arrived at the tavern.  It was obvious that the stranger had been stricken with cholera and Blackmar, knowing that he’d likely become sick as well, rather than turn the suffering soul away, took him in and nursed him during the brief illness. Shortly after the stranger’s death Blackmar caught the illness and died a day later, on Aug. 22, 1834.

Charles Blackmar and the stranger were both buried on high ground overlooking the homestead.   The hill that they are buried on eventually became the Cambridge Junction Cemetery.  Those burials are the earliest in the present-day Cambridge Junction Cemetery, located next to Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church.   Charles Blackmar’s gravestone, the oldest in the cemetery, is made of delicate sandstone.

12141668_10153676988267720_3747430196616000016_nCharles Blackmar gravesite – Cambridge Township Cemetery (Lenawee Co., Michigan)

Blackmar’s death caused general mourning throughout the entire settlement, and even the Indians, with whom he was very friendly, wept like children at the loss of their old friend.

The frame hotel building was finished by Mr. Blackmar’s wife and eight children, and was kept as a hotel for several years.

* * *

During August, 2011, a strong thunderstorm blew through southern Michigan, and caused a large oak branch to fall, nearly smashing the oldest, most delicate stone in the cemetery.

289356_10150291282407720_5854865_o-copyfallen oak limb next to the gravestone of Charles Blackmar – Cambridge Junction Cemetery (Lenawee Co., MI)

289894_10150291286942720_3023568_o-copy
fallen oak limb between the gravestones of Charles Blackmar (left) and his wife, Eleanor Rice (right) – Cambridge Junction Cemetery (Lenawee Co., MI)

289756_10150291284757720_7602366_o-copy

fallen oak limb smashing a Drake family grave stone – Cambridge Junction Cemetery (Lenawee Co., MI)




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© Jeff Westover and Ghost Highway Photography, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jeff Westover and Ghost Highway Photography with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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