From the Wisconsin Historical Society Collection
The Biddle House on Mackinac Island
This is an excerpt from the book “Reminiscences of Early Days on Mackinac Island”
By Author: Elizabeth Therese Baird (24 Apr 1810 – 5 Nov 1890)
As she recalls the early days of Mackinac, which is about when a young Andre Morin and
his older brother Francois Benjamin Morin arrive (Before the war of 1812 and later).
The Book in general has great detail about the people and life that surround them
in and around Mackinac Island and Bois Blanc….and represents the close description to
the events of our ancestors that I have found.
This particular excerpt mostly focus’es on Joseph Bailey, his step daughter Agatha Bailey Biddle,
who marries Edward Biddle…and their daughter Sophia Biddle These are the families of famous fur traders who would have known our ancestors. Agatha Biddle later becomes chief of the Mackinac Island Band of Chippewa Indians.
At one time he had an Indian wife and two children, a son and a daughter. After a time he left this family and took another Indian wife: a widow with one daughter, the latter’s father being an Indian. Bailly had, by the second wife, four daughters, besides the step-daughter. All of
these children he had had educated except the step-daughter. The daughter of the first wife, and two of those belonging to the second wife, attended the school which my mother
opened for the children of the fur-traders. Bailly’s son was sent to Montreal to school, and returned a few years later a pompous man and a great dandy. He entered the American
Fur Company’s employ as a clerk, and lived at Prairie du Chien. He afterwards married a Miss Faribault, of a promnent family in Minnesota. All the children of the elder Bailly turned out well, and in the course of time he was legally married to the second wife. An Indian of unal-
loyed blood, who had been very little among the white people, she was a good woman, and possessed the gift so much prized among her people — that of a good storyteller. Her stories quite surpassed the ” Arabian Nights ” in interest; one could have listened to her all day and
never tired. They were told in the Ottawa language; perhaps they might not have been so interesting in any other. But it is of the step-daughter I have the most to tell.
She developed into a superior woman, and was pretty. She retained her mother’s style of dress. The step-father was kind to her, yet it never seemed to occur to him to
give her the education that was bestowed upon the others. She was fair-complexioned for an Indian, although her eyes were very black, and her hair equally so and of the thickest
and longest. She was about seven years of age when her mother married Bailly, and when she began to know people other than her own, Madame Laframboise converted
her to the Catholic faith. In the course of time there came to the island of Mackinac, a young man from the East, who was of an old and honored family of Philadelphia. He was
a brother of Nicholas Biddle, president of the United States Bank during the administration of Andrew Jackson, and a relative of Commodore Biddle.
Edward Biddle became very much attached to this Indian girl. The attachment warmed into a sincere love on both sides. He did not know her language, neither did she un-
derstand his; but love needed no tongue. In 1819 they were married at her step-father’s home. The ceremony was performed by the notary public, Samuel Abbott, who for years
was the only functionary there invested with the necessary authority for that purpose.
Would that my pen might do justice to this wedding! It was most picturesque, yet no one can fully understand its attractiveness and novelty without some description of the
style of dress worn by the bride and others of the women: a double skirt made of fine narrow broadcloth, with but one pleat on each side; no fullness in front nor in the back.
The skirt reached about half-way between the ankle and the knee, and was elaborately embroidered with ribbon and beads on both the lower and upper edges. On the lower,
the width of the trimming was six inches, and on the upper, five inches. The same trimming extended up the overlapping edge of the skirt. Above this horizontal trimming were rows upon rows of ribbon, four or five inches wide, placed so near together that only a narrow strip of
the cloth showed, like a narrow cord. Accompanying this was worn a pair of leggins made of broadcloth. When the skirt is black, the leggins are of scarlet broadcloth, the embroidery about three inches from the side edge. Around the bottom the trimming is between four and five inches in width. The moccasins, also, were embroidered with ribbon and beads. Then we come to the blanket, as it is called, which is of fine broadcloth, either black or red, with most elaborate work of ribbon; no beads, however, are used on it. This is worn somewhat as the Spanish women wear their mantles. The waist, or sacque, is a sort of loose-fitting garment made of silk for extra occasions, but usually of calico. It is made plain, without either embroidery
of ribbon or beads. The sleeves snugly fit the arm and wrist, and the neck has only a binding to finish it. Beads enough are worn around the neck to fill in and come down in front. Silver brooches are worn according to taste. The hair is worn plain, parted in the middle, braided down
the back, and tied up again, making a double queue. At this wedding, four such dresses appeared — those of the bride, her mother, Madame Laframboise, and Madame Schindler.
Bailly himself was more noisy than ever, over this marriage. He was a vain man, and proud of his step-daughter; such a marriage and connection was more than he could bear quietly. Not long after he removed from the island, but made occasional visits there.
The newly married pair settled at Mackinac. They occupied one house for a few months, then moved into that which was their home for about fifty years, and where they both died. Three children were born to them. The eldest child, a daughter, was a beautiful girl. When old enough, her father sent her to the home of his brother, Nicholas Biddle, at Philadelphia. There they took as much care in securing an education for her as if she had been their own.
She came home to the island, to spend her vacations. When she had finished her education, she returned to stay. Then the unhappiness of the family began. Miss Sophia
Biddle was handsome, with elegant manners. Her father was rich and she had many admirers; among them. Lieutenant Pemberton, who afterwards, as Lieutenant-general Pemberton of the Confederate army, surrendered to General Grant at Vicksburg. During the absence of Miss Biddle at Philadelphia, there arose on the island a most strange turmoil. In this wise it developed: in 1823-24, the Protestant Mission House was established as an Indian school, which many attended. Ottawa and Chippewa women were taken as servants and taught to work. The teachers were from the New England States. For a while the school seemed to prosper,
but soon the efforts of the teachers were diverted to another channel. Proselyting seemed to pervade the atmosphere of the whole establishment. Every one seemed to feel it her duty to make a convert daily. For a while the Presbyterians had full sway; then the Roman Catholics
took a decided stand against them. Certainly both denominations carried the feeling to great extent. It really seemed a religious war. One had to be either a Presbyterian or a Roman Catholic, in those days; nothing else would for a moment be tolerated. This state of things lasted for several years. Finally, annoyed beyond endurance, some of the military would no longer suffer this religious contention, and called an Episcopal minister to serve as chaplain.
Mackinac thereupon settled into a state of peace, and was again a pleasant place to live in and to visit.
It was during the height of this excitement that Mis* Biddle returned home. She had many friends on both sides; each felt sure of securing her, and between the opposing powers she was positively persecuted and rendered unhappy. The advantages she had received proved harmful. The foolish girl was ashamed of her blood and could not bear to have strangers see this dear, good mother of hers, because she was an Indian. Both father and mother perceived her feeling with pain. Mr. Biddle was strongly attached to his wife and children, and the unfortunate
mood of this daughter filled him with sorrow. At this time the Presbyterians felt that Miss Biddle would identify her self with them, as every one saw she would not walk to church with her mother, and felt confident she would go away entirely from her. But another force was now brought to bear upon the young woman. The Catholics had the best among the priests, that they could procure, come to the island and labor in earnestness with her. Her friends,
too, were powerful, and Madame Laframboise was one of those who worked hard to win her back. Their labors were not in vain, and the child returned to her mother’s church, greatly to the delight of all the Catholics and her family.