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Mason County Memories

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Burr Caswell, having the distinction of being the first permanent settler of European Ancestry in Mason County is spoken about often in our local history. Aaron Burr Caswell was born January 3rd 1807 in Glen Falls New York, the son of George Caswell and Sara Stephens. He learned the trade of cabinet making at a young age in his home village of Glen Falls and in 1827 at the age of 20 married Miss Hannah Green. Their first child, a son named George was born in 1829 in New York and passed away in 1868. A Daughter Mary E Caswell born about 1835 married another Early Mason County Pioneer by the name of Richard Hatfield at the Caswell Farm in 1854. This was the first recorded marriage amongst the new settlers in Mason County. Mary passed away in 1882 at the age of 46, the mother of 14 children, nine of which had preceded her in death. Helen Caswell born about 1837 married Sewell Moulton, their fourth child was Edgar B Caswell born in 1840 in Illinois he married Julia Genia in December 1871. Like many of the early settlers who hit the forest trail and river boats to find new land and new opportunities Burr Caswell also traveled and settled in several different areas before coming to Mason County. After leaving New York he tried trading on the lower Mississippi, and then purchased a farm in Lake County Illinois where he stayed for several years before going north in 1845 to fish and trap in the region of Pere Marquette. Burr continued with this trade for 2 seasons before making the decision to move his young family to the wild and untamed regions that we now call Mason County. His farm, located at the site of the present White Pine Village was just to the south of the old Filer Mill on the Buttersville Penninsula. Sand Sawdust and Sawlogs by Frances Caswell Hanna relates the story of their arrival here in 1847. "On a balmy day in the late summer of 1847, The Eagle, a sailing schooner northbound from Chicago, with a family of six aboard, stood off the entrance to Pere Marquette Lake. Unable to sail through the shallow channel, the captain sent the family ashore in the yawl. Their oxen, cows, and pigs were forced overboard, and after circling the schooner once or twice, swam ashore. A year's provisions for the family were brought to land in row boats. Such was the dramatic arrival of the Burr Caswell family, first permanent white settlers in the region about Pere Marquette Lake. Burr was forty years old, his wife, Hannah Green, a year or two younger. Of their four children, Mary was fifteen, George thirteen, Helen ten, and Edgar seven. The Caswell family lived for a time in a driftwood cabin which the father, who had fished in the adjoining waters the previous two summers, had built for them. The cabin was near Nin-de-be-ka-tun-ning, the Indian village of fifty " fires" and gruesome memory. These Indians lived in lodges, rectangular in shape, made of bark and covered with dome-shaped roofs. Later Caswell built a spacious house from lumber which had washed up on the beach" In describing what met the family on their arrival we quote from the 1882 edition of the History of Manistee Mason and Oceana Counties "Nothing could be wilder and more uncivilized then the surroundings of the first family of white settlers. Their home was in the midst of dense wilderness, their neighbors a tribe of Ottawa Indians. There were two or three white men at work up the river [making shingles] but there were no white settlers nearer then Manistee. The Indians introduced Mr. Caswell to the mysteries of their religious rites." In 1849 however he built the first frame house and in 1855 upon his election as Probate Judge the lower level of the house served as the courthouse until 1861 when it was removed to the village of Lincoln. Burr Caswell was elected both as Judge of probate and Fish inspector in the first election in 1855 having received 22 votes for judge and 15 votes for fish inspector. In 1870 His wife Hannah passed away and Burr moved into Ludington for a short time to manage a shingle mill. Prior to being named Lighthouse keeper for Grand Pointe au Sable [meaning big point of sand] in 1873 he was married on November 11th 1871 to Sarah Kellett. After five years as a lighthouse keeper he moved west to South Dakota to manage a hotel before moving back to Ludington at age 87, he passed away 10 years later. "Mr. Burr Caswell No More" headlined his obituary on September 17th 1896. The obituary read that the family is comforted by the knowledge that he lived a "sober industrious and useful life ending his journey an honor to his family."

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