Brighton Named for Brighton, New York, Says Fitch[1]

Scion of one of very earliest settlers furnishes information for Argus.

A few years ago the city of Brighton, England, wrote to officials of Brighton, Mich., asking if they could furnish information as to how this city originally received its name.  Brighton, England, was anxious to learn if Brighton, Mich. was named for their city, in which case our town would be the recipient of some sort of memorial.

The letter from the English city was turned over to the Argus, then edited by S.B. Jacobs, who sought to obtain the desired information.  A series of articles connected with the early history of Brighton were published and a number of letters were written in order to obtain definite information on the subject.  From various sources came rumors which unfortunately were more or less conflicting and the exact truth of the matter was never arrived at.

Among letters written at that time was one to Representative Virgil A. Fitch, grandson of Elijah Fitch, one of Brighton’s very first settlers.  This letter after a period of about four years has been answered by his son Roscoe C. Fitch of Detroit, who after careful research furnishes information which seems to prove that our town received its name from Brighton, New York, a theory advanced by several at the time the investigation was being conducted.  The letter which also gives considerable space to the history of the Fitch family is published herewith:

The village of Brighton and Brighton township [sic] received the name of “Brighton” from the “Brighton House” which was built here in July, 1835, by Justice Elijah Fitch for whom Fitch street was named, according to researches conducted by Roscoe Conkling Fitch, of Detroit, great-grandson of the original founder of this place.

In support of this, Mr. Fitch presents proofs gathered from early histories of Livingston County on view in the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit, in addition to the stories that his father, Judge Virgil A. Fitch of Ludington, Mich., heard from the lips of his father, Malcolm Fitch, called the “Boy Orator of Brighton” who as a lad, helped his father, Justice Elijah Fitch, wait on travelers who stopped at the tavern for their mail and merchandise and to talk politics.

Mr. Fitch quotes the will of his great-great-grandfather, Elijah Fitch Sr., of Rochester in Brighton township, N.Y. to prove that his great-grandfather, Justice Elijah Fitch, who came to Michigan in 1830, named his hotel after his old home town in New York state.  Mr. Fitch who lives at 3000 East Grand Boulevard, Detroit, advises the Brighton Argus that he will be glad to answer any queries concerning his article.

Mr. Fitch’s letter to The Argus, follows:

“Justice Elijah Fitch in 1830 was one of the first purchasers of land in Salem township, Washtenaw County, Mich., and in 1835 was one of the first settlers and founder of Brighton, Mich., naming Brighton after the township of Brighton, Monroe County, N.Y., in which township, Rochester, N.Y. is located and where his father, Elijah Fitch, Sr., owned property and was living at the time of his death.

The “town of Brighton”, N.Y. is mentioned in the will of Elijah Fitch, Sr., a copy of which is given here.  Justice Elijah Fitch, Jr., was a true pioneer, ever pushing back the wilderness.  He was one of the first merchants to build and operate a log-building general store at Lansing as soon as the capital was laid out and the land offered to the public.  In his later years, he was one of the founders of the town of Ovid, Mich., where he died.

Justice Elijah Fitch was one of the foremost Democratic leaders in Michigan Territory who supported the movement to bring about the speedy admission of Michigan to the Union as a State.  Michigan framed its constitution in Detroit at a convention opening May 11, 1835, and adjourning June 24, 1835.  Fitch, although not a delegate to the Convention, conferred in Detroit with Stevens Thomson Mason, Secretary and Acting Governor of Michigan Territory, while the Convention was in progress.  Fitch and Mason were personal friends.  Fitch assured Mason of his support for Governor.

As an evidence of his regard, Governor Mason commissioned Fitch a Justice of the Peace “in and for the County of Washtenaw”. This was an office of considerable importance in those days.  Governor Mason wrote Fitch’s commission entirely in his own hand and sealed it at Detroit on May 22, 1835.  This original commission is now [i.e. 1929] owned by Justice Elijah Fitch’s great-grandson, Roscoe Conkling Fitch of Detroit.

Under the constitution framed by the Convention held in Detroit (May—June 24, 1835) Stevens Thomson Mason was inaugurated the first Governor.  The first legislature convened Nov. 2, 1835.  This is the date upon which Michigan became a state.[2]  It is interesting to note that Brighton was founded in July, 1835 at the time that the organization of the State of Michigan was being perfected.

Justice Fitch was an active supporter of Governor Mason in hip prompt action concerning the Toledo controversy and the Michigan-Ohio boundary line and in the establishment of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.  It is rather unique that almost a century later, Justice Elijah Fitch’s grandson, Judge Virgil A. Fitch of Ludington represented Mason County (named in honor of Governor Mason) in the Michigan Legislature for several terms.

Justice Elijah Fitch, Jr. (Justice Elijah (6) Elijah, Sr. of Brighton township, Rochester, N.Y. (5) Ebenezer of Salisbury, Conn. (4) Capt. John Fitch II of Windham, Conn. (3) Capt. John Fitch I of Windham, Conn. (2)  Rev. James Fitch, came to America, 1638, from Bocking, County Essex, England, founded Norwich and Lebanon, Conn. (1), was born Feb. 24, 1799, son of Elijah Fitch, Sr., and Mary Fitch.  He married June 1, 1826 in Pultneyville, N.Y., Hannah Hathaway, born March 29, 1809, daughter of Lieut. Joseph Hathaway who had a finger shot from his hand in the battle of Lundy’s Lane during the War of 1812.

Elijah Fitch Sr., son of Ebenezer and Chloe (Kingsbury) Fitch, was born Dec. 10, 1763 at Windham, Conn., and removed with his parents to Salisbury, Conn.  Elijah Fitch, Sr. in 1815 purchased a large farm at Victor, N.Y., and other property in Rochester, N.Y.  He lived in Victor and in Rochester where he died May 16, 1831.

Following is a copy of the will of Elijah Fitch, Sr., which is filed in the Surrogate’s Court of Monroe County at Rochester, N.Y.:

Copy of Record of Will

In the name of God, Amen.  I Elijah Fitch of Rochester in the County of Monroe and State of New York, being of sound mind and memory, do make and declare this my last will and testament in manner and form following:

First, I give and devise to my wife Mary Fitch all my lands messuages[3] and tenements Situate in the Town of Brighton in the Village of Rochester and County of Monroe and State of New York, that is to say all my interest in Lot number fifty-two on James Street on Manhattan Square articled by Josiah Bisset Junior to Thomas Mosier and assigned by said Mosier to my said wife Mary Fitch, and also Lot number five in the Sand Hill tract at the corner of Pittsford Road and Alexander Street and Articled by Gideon Cobb to A.B. Gray and assigned by him to my said Wife Mary Fitch.  The balance due on said lots to be paid by my said Wife and she is to receive deeds for the same to her and her heirs forever.

Also I give and bequeath to my said Wife, Mary Fitch all my land in the Town of Victor in the County of Ontario containing Eighty-six acres and thirty rods the same more or less being the Lot deeded to me by Robert Condon on the fourth day of November in the year one thousand eight hundered and fifteen.  And it is my will that my said Wife shall within six years from the date hereof sell and dispose of the said Lot in Victor at the best price which she can obtain for the same.  And out of the proceeds of said sale to the purchase of Land in the Territory of Michigan which said land, when so purchased, it is my will that it be conveyerd to and divided equally between the following persons.  My children that is to say, (Justice) Elijah Fitch, Junior, Boswell Fitch, Sally Fitch, Maria Fitch, Peter Fitch, Malcolm Fitch, Wesley Fitch, and it is further my will that out of the other half of the proceeds of the said sail my said wife Mary Fitch shall retain the residue of the said Money for her support and for the support of my said son Peter to be laid out and appropriated as she shall think best.

Item.  I give and bequeath to my said Wife, Mary Fitch all my personal property and all debts and demands whatsoever which I have against any property and all debts and demands whatsoever which I have against any person or persons whomsoever.  And I do further appoint and constitute my said Wife Mary Fitch my sole Executrix of this my last Will and Testament and it is further my will that the Surrogate do grant to my said Executrix letters testamentary without requiring of her any Bond or Security whatsoever.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 26th day of August A.D. 1830.

Elijah Fitch (seal)

Signed, Sealed and published in presence of us who have hereunder set our hands at the request of the said Testator and in the presence of him and of each other.

Addison Collins
Lafayette Collins

Justice Elijah Fitch came to Michigan in 1830 in company with his father-in-law, Lieut. Joseph Hathaway.  Justice Fitch brought with him his wife, Hannah (Hathaway) Fitch and his two eldest children, Olive Caroline and Malcolm Fitch, both born in Rochester, N.Y.  He located in Salem, Washtenaw County, near Detroit.  He began in true pioneer style, cutting roads to his new home and with Lieut. Hathaway, built a double log-house.  Shortly after his arrival, Justice Fitch wrote to his father in Rochester, N.Y., telling him of the productive lands to be had in Michigan.  This influenced Elijah Fitch Sr. to provide in his will that after his death his lands in New York State were to be sold and his younger children were to follow their elder brother to Michigan.

Justice Fitch is listed as purchaser of the west half of Section 1, also the northeast quarter of Section 2 in Salem township, in the “History of Washtenaw County, Mich.” Published 1881 by Chas. C. Chapman & Co. (p.614).  In1835 he had his farm in Salem in fine condition.

After his visit in May to Governor Mason in Detroit which convinced him of the wonderful future for Michigan, Justice Fitch looked about to enlarge his activities.

In July, 1835, Justice Fitch purchased about 66 acres in what is now the town of Brighton in the township of Brighton in Livingston County, Mich.  He is mentioned in Everts & Abbot’s “History of Livingston County, Mich.”, published 1880, p. 201 as one of “the original purchasers from the government of lands lying within the present limits of the village of Brighton.”   On page 203 of this history, Justice Fitch is mentioned as an “early merchant” of Brighton who later removed and settled elsewhere.

After purchasing the land at what is now Brighton, Justice Fitch returned to Salem, sold his farm, and removed his family and all of his personal property by ox-team to the new log-home and general store building which he had erected at Brighton.  With the proceeds of the sale of his Salem farm, he completely outfitted his general store at Brighton.  His place was primarily a store but it also provided a stopping place for travelers.  He called it the “Brighton House”.     At Brighton, Justice Fitch continued to hold the position as magistrate under commission of Governor Mason but there were few lawsuits in those days.  He was also the first Postmaster at Brighton and the pioneers came to the Brighton hotel for their mail, provisions and supplies of all kinds.  Here the pioneers discussed politics.  Justice Fitch was the Democratic leader in the section.

He was also influential in the work of building corduroy roads[4] in Washtenaw, Livingston and Oakland counties.  Justice Fitch was not only a merchant but a large landowner as well.  He enlarged his holdings and cleared a farm of two hundred and forty acres in Brighton township.

Brighton township had at first no separate organization, but composed an important part of the township of Green Oak, and it was not until April of 1838, about three weeks after Justice Fitch had opened the “Brighton House”, that Brighton township was accorded a distinct existence.  Brighton became an incorporated village in 1867, comprising a part of Brighton township.

Justice Fitch’s daughter, Harriett, was born May 20, 1837, in Brighton, one of the first children born in this section.

Among the settlers who came to the village of Brighton before 1840 were Malcolm Fitch and Peter Fitch, brothers of Justice Elijah Fitch and both named in the will of their father, Elijah Fitch, Sr.  Malcolm Fitch was elected and served as Highway Commissioner of Brighton Township for the year 1838.  Malcolm Fitch was one of the resident taxpayers in the township of Brighton in 1843, according to the assessment roll for that year.

The early erection of a school-house in Brighton was brought about through the efforts and influence of Justice Fitch who was always a firm friend and advocate of education.  His name appears on page 213 of the history previously quoted as the first Moderator of the Brighton School district for the year, 1838.

A schoolhouse had been built in the upper portion of the village of Brighton prior to 1844, the building being still standing and used as a barn in 1880.  This schoolhouse was located on Fitch street which was named in honor of Justice Fitch and until recently retained the name.  This history states that the first schoolhouse was built before the organization of the school district which took place in 1838.

Justice Elijah Fitch was elected by popular vote Justice of the Peace for Brighton Township for the year 1840, which proves that his magistracy under his commission from Governor Mason met the public approval.

Justice Fitch and his family lived at Brighton, Mich., until 1842 when he disposed of his interests here and built a hotel and general store at Novi in Oakland County.  He was also Postmaster and Commissioner of Roads at Novi.  Justice Elijah Fitch’s brother, Malcolm Fitch, left Brighton and died and was buried at sea in 1849 while aboard a sailing vessel on his way “around the Horn” to the gold diggings in California.  It is not known how long Peter Fitch remained in Brighton or where he died.  Malcolm Fitch had one son, Henry Fitch, who went to Chicago and became a wholesale jobber in coffee and tea and was elected a member of the Chicago Board of Aldermen.  Henry Fitch died without issue but had an adopted daughter.

At the time the Michigan State Legislature approved on March 16, 1847 an act to transfer and remove the state capital from Detroit to Lansing, Mich., then covered by a dense forest.  Justice Fitch invested heavily in land in Lansing and established one of the first general stores to open in the new capital.  In 1847 so few were the white people at Lansing on the Fourth of July that the Indians had to be called in to help raise the liberty pole.[5]

In 1849 he sold his store in Lansing at a good profit but retained ownership of certain real estate in the city.  He then purchased a farm of one hundred and sixty acres in Ovid, Clinton county, [sic] Mich.  He then entered another one hundred and sixty acres by land warrant and later added to it until he had four hundred and eighty acres in one body.  He had about one hundred acres of this improved at the time of his death in 1864.

Justice Fitch was County Supervisor of Ovid township at a time when there were but twenty-two voters in that township.  In his early life, Justice Elijah Fitch was connected with the Methodist Episcopal church and was a man who was straightforward and upright in his life, and with immense energy and enthusiasm.  He took pride in making fertile farms out of the wilderness and no man of his time in Michigan was more progressive than he or accomplished more in actual pioneer achievement.

Justice Fitch died at Ovid, Mich., on May 8, 1864 and was buried in the Fitch family plot in Maple Grove Cemetery, Ovid.  His wife, Hanna (Hathaway) Fitch died May 10, 1864, two days after the death of her husband, overcome by grief and nervous shock.  She was buried by the side of her husband, to whom she had been a wonderful helpmate through life.

Justice Elijah and wife had children, Olive, Malcolm Fitch, pioneer at Ludington, Mich., John M. Fitch, pioneer real estate dealer of Durand, Mich., Hon. Elijah Nelson Fitch, second attorney to settle in Ludington in 1871, Harriett S., Sarah M., and George Napoleon Fitch.

Malcolm Fitch and Hon. E. Nelson Fitch, sons of Justice Elijah Fitch, were pioneers at Ludington in Mason County, Mich., where “Fitch Shore Road” was named in their honor.  When but a lad, Malcolm Fitch, born June 22, 1830 in Rochester, N.Y., and brought to Michigan as a babe in arms, became known as the “Boy Orator” of Brighton and was complimented by leading men of the state who visited his father’s hotel.  Malcolm Fitch as a boy assisted his father in the conduct of the postoffice [sic] at Brighton and Novi.

Malcolm Fitch was the father of Hon. Virgil Adolphus Fitch of Ludington, noted Republican leader of western Michigan, who was given his second name after his second cousin, Brigadier General Adolphus W. Williams of Lansing, Mich., son of Mrs. Sally (Fitch) Williams, sister of Justice Elijah Fitch.  In April, 1861, Governor Austin Blair of Michigan appointed the then Colonel Adolphus W. Williams one of the four members of the State Military Board (Civil War Board) and he served until June when he left for the field at the head of the second Michigan Infantry Regiment.  He was brevetted Brigadier General, U.S. Volunteers, on March 13, 1865, “for gallant and meritorious service” during the Civil War.

[1] This article was published in the Brighton Argus on July 31, 1929. The author of the article is not known.  The article was transcribed in April, 2010 by Mark Mullinax, Genealogy and Local History Librarian at Brighton District Library. Although illustrations and explanatory footnotes have been added for clarification purposes, the text of the article is unedited and uncorrected.

[2] There is some discrepancy about this date. See The Toledo War by Don Faber and The Territory of Michigan (1805 – 1837) by Alec R. Gilpin.

[3] A dwelling house with its outbuildings and adjacent land.

[4] A corduroy road or log road is a type of road made by placing sand-covered logs perpendicular to the direction of the road over a low or swampy area.

[5] A liberty pole is a tall wooden pole, often used as a type of flagstaff, planted in the ground, which may be surmounted by an ensign or a liberty cap.