Looking for Miss Boizard

By Barbara Kelly
Sun contributor

Marietta Boizard, March 2, 1868, visiting Chicago, to Charles Fisher, her future husband, in Glen Arbor: “I have received Five very Pretty Valentines this year, but not one of them came from Glen Arbor.”

Charles Fisher, March 18, 1868, Glen Arbor, to Marietta: “My Dear, you spoke about getting some Valentines but not one of them came from Glen [Arbor.] I feel ashamed to ask you to Excuse me but there was not a Valentine to be got in the County nor at Traverse [City]…”

As we commemorate the 150 anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War I have been writing a series of articles about life and events in Glen Arbor during that period of time. The information I have been presenting comes from letters which were written by early white settlers of this town, especially those written by the three members of the Boizard family, but also including the couple who could be considered the mother and father of Glen Arbor: Harriett and John Fisher. These articles began in 2006 with a whimsical piece entitled “Looking for Mrs. Boizard,” in which I tried to marry history with imaginative story telling. That title, as well as the titles of the articles which followed, “Still Looking for Mrs. Boizard,” (June 16, 2011) and “Looking for Mr. Boizard,” (June 30, 2011), were intended to convey the joy of looking for — and delight in finding – signs of early life here.

Reading the Boizard letters from the mid- to late-1800s, it certainly becomes clear how the ways we live now are different from then, but there is also a realization that how we human beings live and love are remarkably the same over time, as the quote above may show. My hope is to infect you with the same joy in looking at Glen Arbor through the eyes of its early history.

In this article I will begin a series in which I bring into view the daughter of J. Oliver Boizard and Eleanor Boizard, who first moved to Glen Arbor for a short time around 1859. Until recently I hadn’t spent as much time over the years “looking for Miss Boizard” as I have in looking for her parents, but that may be because Marietta Boizard was there all along. Eleanor Boizard was not able to read or write until much later in her life, whereas Marietta was schooled and able to both read and write from an early age. From around the age of 11 or 12 Marietta becomes the writer of most of the Boizard correspondence, taking dictation from her mother — and frequently inserting her own first-person editorializing, such as when she wrote to her father that she no longer wanted to attend school as it was a three-mile walk one way! In later articles I will focus on what we know of Marietta as discovered in her correspondence with her friends and with a couple of men who are courting her, including her future husband, Charles A. Fisher, the hapless, Valentine-less, remorseful guy we met above.

Marietta Boizard was born in 1852 in Pittsburgh, Penn., and was nine years old when the Civil War began. This also makes her four years older than Glen Arbor itself, which was established in 1856. At the age of 12, in 1864, she and her mother located to Glen Arbor to live here full time. Oliver, who served three years in the Civil War and who met the gregarious John Fisher through their time of military service, continued to live in Chicago where he was able to earn a living mustering soldiers out of duty once the war ended and, later, by working for a paint company on LaSalle Street, Heath & Milligan Co. Oliver was enthusiastically persuaded by John Fisher to move to Glen Arbor and acquire property here. He decided to send his wife and young daughter to Glen Arbor in the hopes that he would be able to soon secure employment here and join them in short order. As it turns out, this never happened. For the rest of his life until his death in 1870, Oliver Boizard lived and worked in Chicago, often just barely scraping by and sending what supplies, groceries and spare money he could to support Eleanor and Marietta in Glen Arbor.

In fact, most of the Boizard letters are filled with the details of his wife’s and daughter’s needs during this primitive time in Glen Arbor’s history and his efforts to supply them from Chicago. As an example, in a letter dated November 4, 1864, Oliver wrote:

“I send you by the propeller [boat] Empire the following articles of provisions: 20 lbs. of Butter, 20 lbs. Lard, 3 lbs. Candles, 1 lb Yarn, 1 Shovel, 1 Rake, 2 yds. Flannel, 2 Cakes Chocolate, 1 dz. Extract Coffee, 1 Bll. Flour, 1 Bll. Corn Meal, 1 Broom, 100 lbs Pig Feed, 1 Hind Quarter Fresh Beef. You will also please find enclosed the sum of $10 Dollars, which will probably do for November. The boats are not insured for running later than November 15.”

This letter has an interesting clue about boats not being insured after November 15, when presumably a ship embarked on a Great Lakes voyage at her own peril. During the late spring into late fall, when the shipping season was open on Lake Michigan, all the Boizard correspondence and other items travelled by boats between Chicago and one of the several docks which were on the Sleeping Bear Bay, both in Glen Arbor as well as in Glen Haven (you can still see the remains of the dock pilings quite clearly in Glen Haven, as well as on a calm day in Glen Arbor, if you walk a bit to the left from the end of Manitou Street along the beach).

During the winter months, however, mail traveled by roads. It seems that it was not possible to send supplies to Glen Arbor over land however, or it was prohibitively expensive, as the Boizards mention not being able to receive goods from Chicago during this time. As Marietta wrote to her father in a letter dated November 11, 1864: “Mama says don’t be frightened because we ask for so much as we can’t get anything more until the first of May.” And on December 1, 1864, her father wrote: “Now the Boats stop. I will not be able to send you any more provisions, except your monthly amount of money.”

At the time Oliver sent all the supplies mentioned above, Eleanor and Marietta had just moved from a house they were renting from John Fisher near the intersection of what is now M-22 and County Road 675, near Fisher’s sawmill on the Crystal River, to a newly built 12-by 24-foot “log shanty,” as they called it, in the woods off of 675 about three miles east of town. (The sawmill was across from the Brammer gristmill on the M-22 bridge north of Glen Arbor. The gristmill is still standing.) As Eleanor and Marietta prepared for their first winter in their new home, and the closing of the shipping season, Oliver wrote to them on December 1, 1864: “I see the last boat started yesterday, the ‘City of New York.’ I sent you Apples and a Box of Sundries on the ‘Empire’ with a letter and Ettie’s [Marietta’s] thimble enclosed. I hope you will have enough provisions for Winter. The weather here [in Chicago] is very mild …”

As for the frequency of the mail in Glen Arbor during the winters of the mid-1860s, Marietta writes her father on January 20 of 1865: “The mail only goes out once every week and we write every other mail [once every two weeks].”

In future articles in this series I will continue to “look” for Miss Boizard through reading her correspondence to her father, friends, and to a couple of men she seems to have played off of each other for their affections. By the time 1868 rolls around, when Marietta is a ripe 16, a couple of her letters get downright steamy, at least to my old eyes! Stay tuned.

I am grateful for the three primary sources for these articles. First, the Boizard collection of letters and other items itself which were found in Marietta’s granddaughter’s house in Glen Arbor before it was demolished in the 1970s, and which has been preserved and kept at the Empire Area Heritage Museum, a wonderful public resource, curated by the generous, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic historian, David Taghon. If anyone will get you excited about history it is Dave. Please visit and contribute to this treasure of a museum.

Additionally, the letters I’ve cited were edited and published in two books: The Boizard Letters: Letters from a Pioneer Homestead and Long Distance Love: 1855-1870: 257 Letters from a Pioneer Homestead. Both books can be purchased at the Empire Area Heritage Museum in Empire or at the Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor.