When Marcus Swift came to the "Nankin" area in 1825, he reported that there were already two dwellings existing here. One of those belonged to Marenus Harrison. The Harrison family appear to be the first family to settle within the city limits of Inkster. It is likely that the Harrison surname is reported in Wayne County public records many times more than other surnames, as would be Smith or Johnson. However, Willis Harrison, who served 28 years as Justice of the Peace of "Nankin Township", was related to the original Joseph Harrison, who settled here.
Joseph Harrison was born in 1750, in England. At the age of 17, he had a chance to board a ship bound for the East Indies, which was docked near his home. The Captain allowed him a tour of the ship, but after his father found out about his interests in leaving, he was punished, and did not set sail on that ship. One year later, the young man, then age 18 years, left for America, landing in Virginia. His service of eight years in the Continental Army included a captaincy. Later he married a young lady, who had some connection with George and Martha Washington.
It is not known exactly when he came to Detroit, or why. The records show that he did take part in public affairs, and was a member of the Hook and Ladder Corps of the Volunteer Fire Department. He was chosen as a supervisor of Detroit Township, and later as Coroner of Wayne County. Having been a member of St. Patrick's Masonic Lodge in Johnstown, New York, he was accepted as a member of the Zion Lodge in Detroit on December 29, 1801. He also engaged in real estate and at one time owned 500 acres which later became part of the Ford property. He is also noted as a signer for the petition to the U.S. Congress to have Michigan organized into its own territory. This did not come about until 1805.
His death and funeral are recorded in February 1804, in the Annals of Masonry.
Of his three sons, Leonard (1791 - 1841) was an assessor in "Nankin Township" in 1832. Marenus Jr (1795 - 1849) and Charles (1799 - 1887) engaged in real estate and also farmed. The Wayne County Land Records abound with the names of Harrison's, however as mentioned above, being a common surname, proof of relationship that every Harrison was related, has not been proven.
Marenus Jr and Charles later married, sisters and each fathered 12 children.
The name of the other early settler was James Wightman, who purchased land on January 29, 1825, within the bounds of what is now the City of Inkster. Records show that Marenus bought and sold lands, and made his first purchase in 1822, at the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Inkster Road.
Marenus Jr and his wife, Hannah (1797 - 1869) are buried in the Union Chapel Cemetery, as are many of the Harrison's and early settlers. His stone is located as one enters the gate, on the left. Because its base has cumbled, the stone lies flat. Hannah's stone is upright incised with a verse, now illegible:
Our Mother's grave, our Mother's grave, This sacred spot is our Mother's. We'll drop a tear and heave a sigh, and weep around our Mother's grave. But she has gone: her spirit rests: Her home is still on Jesus's breast. Oh may her children meet above. To sing with her the Savior's love.
There were 4 decendents of the Harrison family living in the same general area who where sixth and seventh generation Harrison's:
Harold Harrison, of Inkster,
Howard Harrison, of Inkster,
Walter Harrison, of Garden City,
and Mrs. Mabel Bloxsom, of Plymouth.
Another early settler in the area, is probably even more so important, then the first settler. His name, Robert Inkster. Robert was born March 27, 1828, in Lerwick, Shetland. He was 4 years old when his father passed away, and in 1848, he and his mother took a ship to America. They ported in New York, and spent some time in Ohio and Illinois before coming to Detroit.
In 1853, he received his citizenship from he court in Detroit and in 1855, he bought a steam powered sawmill with a contract to furnish fuel and ties for the railroad. This mill was located on what became Inkster Road, just south of Michigan Avenue.
Robert Inkster had an unusual experience in his early days after arriving in Detroit. In the summer of 1856, while he was traveling from Detroit to the mill site, a wreck occurred on Michigan Central RailRoad. Several people were killed outright. Robert Inkster was removed from the engine area. (one report, from the top of the smokestack)
Workmen clearing the wreckage, assuming him to be dead, moved him to a row of corpses. Shortley thereafter, Charles H. White, the superintendent of repairs, inspecting the damage, noticed a movement in one of the "corpses" and ordered him removed to a nearby farmhouse. White visited daily, and later invited Inkster to recuperate in his home. The daughter of Charles White cared for him until he was fully recovered. On December 31, 1856, Robert Inkster and Cordelia White, married.
The Post Office, established in 1857, under the name "Moulin Rouge" (meaning red mill) was renamed in 1963, "Inkster". From 1866 - 1868, he served as postmaster.
He is also named as Secretary of the Building Committe of the Nankin-Dearborn Townline Methodist Episcopal Church.
Robert Inkster engaged heavily and widely in real estate, selling his land in Highland Park, to Henry Ford. He had dealings in Ohio , Illinois, Nebraska and Montana. As late as 1881, he was buying land on Jim Daly Road (now BeechDaly Road). In 1869 there was a Robert Inkster Dry Good Store at 97 Woodward Avenue.
When he moved his family to Kalamazoo in 1875, he had every variety of tree that could be grown in Michigan. His fruit trees were selected for special uses. His vegetable gardens yielded abundantly. He was a firm supporter of the First Presbyterian Church, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Of the 7 children Robert and Cordelia Inkster bore, 3 died in infancy, an three lived beyond the age of 80.
Robert Inkster died in Kalamazoo on September 7, 1914, and his wife, Cordelia had died in 1904.
African American History in Inkster
It is not known when the first African-American came to the area now called Inkster. Some may have set foot in this area as early as 1688, was they accompanied the Jesuit missionaries. However, many historians believe that the "black man" arrived in Michigan at or about the same time as Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac (July 1701).
The African-American's status was probably that of a slave. The Pani Indians, faced with attempted enslavement by whites, had escaped. The need for replacements increased and the enslaved African's could be bought for approximately 20 pounds in European currency.
Slaves gathered in Detroit were used as dock laborers, carriage drivers, personal and household servents. Such prominet Michigan leaders as George McDougall, Joseph Campeau, James Abbott, and Steven Mason bought, sold, and owned slaves. When the northwest Ordinance of 1787, prohibiting slavery was passed, a limited number of Michigan citizents continued to hold slaves in spite of the law. However, slavery vanished by the early 1800's.
Detroit became an area where thousands of runaway southern slaves could find refuge. Fugistives fregquently fled to the Detroit area with the hope of crossing the river into Canada.
When the first settlers came to what is now Inkster, in the 1820's the slavery issue had begun to surface. The Compromise of 1820 had decided that slavery should ot be allowed norht of the 36' 30' line. Northern abolitionists espousing the cause of freedom for blacks, undertook a variety of techniquies to rid the nation of its delemma. The Underground RailRoad, a secret network of routes , people and locations to aid runaways in their quest for liberty, had many stations in Michigan. One such station was reportedly run by Rounds, a Wesleyan Methodist, at Michigan Avenue and Henry Ruff Roads.
By the middle of the 19th century, Michigan, because of its accessability to Canada, was the largest terminus point for slaves gaining freedom. Between 1840 and 1862, it is estimated that 30,000 slaved made their escape into Canada, via Michigan. Some of the fugitives surely passed through Inkster.
African American's however, did not settle in Inkster, until World War I.
The Ford Rouge Plant brought in an influx who found employment in the booming automotive industry. The population in Inkster grew from 150 in 1900 to 3,700 by 1920.
The first African American settler to move to Inkster on a permanent basis was Charles Lawrence, who moved to the southwest section where he purchased an eight-room house on a 4- acre plot in 1918. Prior to his arrival, two African American children who last name was Nelson, had attended the local school, but because their family did not remain here, there is little known about them.
Shortly afterwards, in 1919, the DeBaptiste family moved to the corner of Henry Ruff and Annapolis. By 1924, African Americans begain in large numbers to migrate to Inkster. Encouraged by the $5 work day innovated by Henry Ford, and the proximity of Inkster to their jobs, southern African American's through the help fo John Dancy, of the Urban League, found places to live south of Michigan Avenue and west of Inkster Road.
The first African American student to enroll in Inkster schools, other then the Nelson children, was Bill Heards, in 1924. By 1925/26, so many African American students had enrolled that half day sessions were necessary to provide space for more than 200 students.
By 1926, a modern brick 2-story, 8-room structure was completed at the cost of over $41,000.00 Although there was a majority of African American students, the first African American school teacher, Ruby Byrd, was not hired until 1933.
By the time the area was chartered as the Village of Inkster, in 1927, African American's totaled 90 per cent of the population. There were prominent African American's holding offices in city government. David T. Griffin, was elected as the first black councilman in 1927. Other office holders included Rev. O.B. Jones, Robert Simmons, Rev. Esias Lee, Hiriam McNeeley, Louis Demby and Lester Chensue.
Early Inkster Schools
By the middle of the 19th century, both the Chicago Turnpike (or Michigan Avenue) and the Michigan Central RailRoad were completed between Detroit and Chicago, making travel to Inkster comfortable and accessible. It was evident that schools were needed to educate the children of the many newcomers.
Three different one-room school houses have been erected at the site of the present day Daly School, on Beech Daly and Michigan Avenues. The first was built of logs in 1848, and was later destroyed by fire. About the time of the Civil War, a new school was constructed of lumber. Then, in 1896, on two acres f ground, a brick structure was erected at a cost of about $900.
Later, a farmer, Steinhauer donated land at Cherry Hill and Harrison Roads, on wich the first Hicks School was built. In 1897, it was recorded at 18 feet by 24 feet, and heated with a woodburning stove. There were classes provided through education level 10th grade.
In 1884, a new, one-room brick building was erected. In 1922, two rooms were added and still later, four more rooms. In the late 1940's and 1950's other additions were made.
With the invention and manufacture of the automobile, still more people were searching for work, and home sites in Inkster. The village proposed and additional room to the Daly School, which was opposed by residents who were reluctant to have their children crossing both the railroad tracks and Michigan Avenue, from the South side. In 1925, when Michigan Ave was widened, it was necessary to condemn the little brick school house, and a four-room brick building was erected on the property. A similar building , the Westwood School was build south of the railroad at Yale and Bayham Avenues.
Elva Galloway, a teacher in Inkster for many years, possessed a talent for music and producing plays that was unequalled. During the winter months there was music and often dancing through noon hour. Lunch included a bowl of hot soup provided by the Ford Motor Company.
The Union Chapel Cemetery
On Michigan Avenue, wast of Inkster Road, is the Union Chapel Cemetery, however there is no record of there ever being a "Union Chapel". There is a theory that there may have been a "union effort" around 1844, when the declaration against slavery was made, and the Methodist Churches of the area, Methodist Episcopal Church and Wesleyan Methodist Church, form a group project that may have been to bring order to the burial ground. This union however, must have dissolvd before 1859, for there are records from that year of a board meeting reclaiming the area as Dearborn-Nankin-Townline Methodist Episcopal Church Cemetery. The gate, however has never been removed, and still bares the name, Union Chapel.