Burr Caswell

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Burr Caswell
Burr Caswell - 1845.jpg
Born 3 January 1807
Glens Falls, New York
Died 15 September 1896
Resting place Lakeview Cemetery,
Ludington, Michigan
Residence Mason County, Michigan
Nationality American
Other names Aaron Burr Caswell
Occupation lumberman, lighthouse keeper, civil servant for Mason County
Known for developing Mason County
Title Probate Judge, Surveyor, Coroner, Fish Inspector
Spouse(s) First wife Hannah Green, second wife Sarah
Children 4

Burr Caswell (1807–1896) was an American frontiersman,[1] being the first white man to occupy any part of Mason County, Michigan, arriving in 1845.[2][3][4] He built the first framed house, courthouse and jail in Mason County[5] and was the first Coroner, Probate Judge and Surveyor there. He was the progenitor of a prominent Mason County family.[6][7][8]


Caswell's activities were pioneering. He was the first white man to take a farm from the American government in the wilds of Mason County.[9][10][11][6][12][13][14] He constructed the county's first frame building.[15][16][17] It is the only surviving landmark of Mason County’s earliest history.[15] And he served as the county's first: Coroner, Probate Judge and Surveyor.[18][19][20][21]

Early life[edit]

Caswell was born at Glens Falls, New York, in 1807 with the given name of Aaron Burr although he always went by just the name "Burr."[22] As a young man Caswell learned cabinet trade skills. He practiced this business for several years in Glens Falls.

In 1827, he married Hannah Green. They were married in Glens Falls where they remained for a few years. Caswell and his family afterwards made several changes in the next few years like many of the early settlers. They even went to Mississippi and were employed on the river boats. In 1842, Caswell and his family moved to Barrington Station, Lake County, Illinois. Here he bought a farm where he lived for three years.

Mid life[edit]

Hannah Green, Caswell's wife

Caswell by himself then in 1845 went to Pere Marquette Township in Mason County, Michigan, for a while.[4] His nearest neighbor was some 30 miles to the north, Manistee.[23] There he spent most of his time fishing at Duck Lake. He was there to 1847 and then returned to Illinois and got his family of six and moved back to Pere Marquette Township. The children were Mary (15), George (13), Helen (10), and Edgar (7).[22] When arriving they realized the entrance channel to shore was too shallow for the ship so they came ashore in its yawl.[24] They threw their animals overboard, which had to fend for themselves to get ashore.[24] A distant relative, Frances Caswell Hanna, relates in her book Sand Sawdust and Sawlogs the story of their arrival,

His family was the first family of white settlers in the area which was then considered a frontier.[1][24] They lived in dense wilderness and rugged terrain.[1] Caswell got along well with the local Michigan Ottawa Indians.[1] He learned their customs and religion.[1] Caswell built a small two story frame house in 1849 out of old driftwood.[1] It was the first frame structure in Mason County which still stands at White Pine Village very near its original location as the Mason County Historical Society's outdoor museum's centerpiece.[17][25][26][27][A]

Burr Caswell house in 1865

In 1868, he was a delegate to the Republican party convention.[18]

An 1882 book titled History of Manistee, Mason, and Oceana Counties says,


He continually worked at improving his farm while working in the lumber industry.[1] In 1855, when Mason County officially became a county, Caswell turned over the first floor of his farmhouse for use as a courthouse and trading post.[1] The family moved upstairs. The Mason County Courthouse county seat was located at Caswell's house from 1856 to 1861. For many years, Caswell produced lumber from the local timber that was shipped to Chicago for construction.[1] The village which sprang up around the Caswells was then called Pere Marquette. This was in honor of the missionary whp died in the area in 1675.

He was elected county treasurer and served on the county board.[30]

Caswell and his eldest son were fishermen and trappers at first.[1] They later worked at Baird and Bean Lumber Mill in downtown Ludington.[1] Caswell was the first Mason County surveyor, coroner, probate judge and fish inspector.[B][1] Caswell's wife, Hannah Green, died in 1870 and he then moved to downtown Ludington. He became the manager of a local shingle mill.[1]

He operated the boat Ranger to deliver to Chicago shingles he made.[31]

Later life[edit]

Caswell's tombstone at Lakeview Cemetery, Ludington in 2008

In the 1870s, he worked as a foreman at Moulton & Flagg, a shingle mill in Ludington.[18]

In 1871, Caswell married again. His new wife's name was Sarah. They then moved into the Big Sable Point Lighthouse in 1873, where Caswell became its keeper.[31] He was the 4th Big Sable Point Lighthouse keeper for the nine years spanning January 9, 1874 to July 17, 1882.[6][32] They lived there for 5 years until 1878.

Caswell and his wife then went to Mitchell, South Dakota.[6] Here they operated a large hotel. They were there until 1886. Caswell then returned to Ludington and ten years later he died in 1896. He is buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Ludington beside his first wife.


His September 17, 1896 obituary reads:[14]

Further family history[edit]

Mary Caswell

Caswell's daughter Mary, who was born about 1835, married Richard Hatfield at the Caswell farmhouse in 1854.[1] This was the first recorded marriage in Mason County.[1][34] Mary died in 1882 at the age of 46 (if the birth date is correct). She was the mother of fourteen children, nine of whom preceded her in death. Helen, Mary's younger sister, was born about 1837. She married Sewell Moulton. Caswells last child was Edgar, who was born in 1840 in Illinois. He married Julia Genia 1871. Hatfield himself was notable.[35]

Caswell's son, Edgar B. Caswell achieved some fame.[31]

Caswell's home[edit]

Caswell's home was the site of the first Pere Marquette Township meeting by an act of the Michigan legislature.[36][37] The front half of his home was the site of the first county seat and first courthouse in Mason County[18][38][39][40] Mrs. Caswell’s kitchen served as the first store and post office in Mason County.[41] The site's basement served as a temporary jail as needed.[17][32][40] The Courthouse is recognized as a Registered State Historic Site,[42] The house was fully restored by the Mason County Historical Society between 1965 and 1976.[43]

Caswell's house as first Mason County courthouse



  1. ^ "The first frame house in Mason County was built by Aaron Burr Caswell in 1849. Six years later the two-story home was still the only frame building in an area that was trying to organize itself into Michigan's newest county. So that year, Caswell offered the front half of his home as the first courthouse and county seat of Mason. Today the preserved building is a state historic site and the centerpiece of White Pine Village, a museum complex operated by the Mason County Historical Society."[26][28]
  2. ^ "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."[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Hannah, Frances Caswell. Sand, Sawdust and Saw Logs Lumber Days in Ludington. pp. 4–11. Retrieved 2015-10-24. 
  2. ^ "Ludington". Michigan Living - Motor News. Automobile Club of Michigan. 29–30: 9. 1946. Retrieved October 27, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Ludington History". Ludingtoninfo.com. Retrieved October 25, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Anderson 1933, p. 31.
  5. ^ Peterson 2011, p. 14.
  6. ^ a b c d e Petersen, David K. "Mason County Memories". Retrieved October 24, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Burr Caswell Family History to be Presented". Ludington Daily News. March 7, 1950. p. 1. Retrieved October 27, 2015. 
  8. ^ Hawley, Rose D. (October 17, 1951). "Three Generations of Caswell Family Visit Local Museum". Ludington Daily News. p. 3. Retrieved October 27, 2015. 
  9. ^ Nixon, David D. (1985). "New Findings about the Marquette Deathsite". Proceedings of the Meeting of the French Colonial Historical Society. Michigan State University Press. 8: 23–37. JSTOR 42952126. 
  10. ^ Michaelson, Mike (July 20, 2003). "Dunes, Beaches and History Lure Travelers to Ludington, Michigan". Daily Herald. Arlington Heights, Illinois. Retrieved October 27, 2015. 
  11. ^ Johnson 1995, p. 1.
  12. ^ Petersen, David (July 9, 2005). "Early Mason County Settlers Faced Harsh Conditions". Ludington Daily News. p. A6. Retrieved October 25, 2015. 
  13. ^ "First Settlers Come to County to Establish Home in 1847". Ludington Daily News. June 17, 1946. p. 7. Retrieved October 26, 2015. 
  14. ^ a b Petersen, David (July 30, 2005). "Mason County Sesquicentennial Portrait: Caswell had many firsts in the county". Ludington Daily News. p. 4. Retrieved October 26, 2015. 
  15. ^ a b "Burr Caswell Home Oldest in County". Ludington Daily News. August 16, 1957. p. 5. Retrieved October 26, 2015. 
  16. ^ Cabot 2005, pp. 7, 11, 12, 14.
  17. ^ a b c Kramer, Tom (June 16, 2015). "Tourist Tuesday: Step back in time at Historic White Pine Village". Upnorthlive.com. Retrieved October 27, 2015. 
  18. ^ a b c d Cabot, James L. (September 14, 1996). "Caswell had Varied Career in County". Ludington Daily News. p. 5. Retrieved October 24, 2015. 
  19. ^ Page 1882, p. 5.
  20. ^ "Aaron Burr Caswell". Mason County History Companion: Old Places Familiar Faces. Retrieved October 24, 2015. 
  21. ^ Cabot, James (September 7, 1996). "Burr Caswell–first permanent settler". Ludington Daily News. p. 4. Retrieved October 24, 2015. 
  22. ^ a b Peterson 2011, p. 13.
  23. ^ Anderson 1933, p. 32.
  24. ^ a b c Petersen 2015, p. 12.
  25. ^ "Burr Caswell Home At Pioneer Village: Burr Casswell House; First County Courthouse". Ludington Daily News. August 1, 1974. p. 15. Retrieved October 26, 2015. 
  26. ^ a b Hawley, Rose D. (April 30, 1987). "White Pine Village Represents Early Days Museum". Ludington Daily News. p. 8. Retrieved October 27, 2015. 
  27. ^ "Rediscover small-town Michigan life in the late 1800s and beyond". Archived from the original on June 6, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  28. ^ DuFresne 1988, p. 64.
  29. ^ Petersen 2010, p. 9.
  30. ^ Williams, Lenore P. (March 7, 1950). "Mason County: 1855 to 1955—Old Record Show History of Growth". Ludington Daily News. p. Front page. Retrieved October 27, 2015. 
  31. ^ a b c Record Publishing Company 1895, p. 127.
  32. ^ a b Thornton, Geraldine (April 2014). "Robert & Rita Lowell (March 23, 2004)" (PDF). Hastings, Michigan: Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association. Retrieved October 24, 2015. 
  33. ^ Obituary (September 17, 1896). "Mr. Burr Caswell: No more". Ancestry.com. 
  34. ^ Hawley, Rose D. (March 11, 1952). "Dick Hatfield is First White Man Wed in County". Ludington Daily News. p. 3. Retrieved October 26, 2015. 
  35. ^ Page 1882, p. 70.
  36. ^ State of Michigan 1855, p. 425.
  37. ^ Page 1882, p. 70.
  38. ^ DuFresne & Finch 2013, p. 138.
  39. ^ "Ludington County Courthouse". Ludington Daily News. Ludington, Michigan. August 3, 1966. p. 2. Retrieved October 24, 2015. (subscription required)
  40. ^ a b "First Courthouse in White Pine: Burr Caswell’s House was Original County Seat". Ludington Daily News. February 17, 1987. p. 2A. Retrieved October 26, 2015. 
  41. ^ Cabot, James (August 10, 1984). "From Our History". Ludington Daily News. p. 4. Retrieved October 24, 2015. 
  42. ^ "Village Brochure" (PDF). Historic White Pine Village. p. 2. Retrieved October 24, 2015. 
  43. ^ Cabot 2005, p. 7.


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