In Old Detroit

 

John Norvell (1789-1850) Editor, politician, co-founder of Philadelphia Inquirer, U.S. Senator

John Norvell (1789-1850) Editor, politician, co-founder of Philadelphia Inquirer, U.S. Senator

Detroit in 1833 was only a small village of about 1,800 residents; indeed, the census of 1830 showed only 30,000 in the entire territory of Michigan, but John Norvell quickly became involved in the political life of the area and territory. Norvell was already very astute when it came to political issues.

Norvell was described as a handsome, virile man in his middle thirties who was said to be married to “the prettiest woman who ever set foot in the Michigan Territory.” The Norvells quickly became friends with the Stevens Thompson Mason family. Mason’s sister wrote in her autobiography: “Mrs. Norvell … [was a] great addition to our circle. Mrs. Norvell was my best friend and confidant in my mother’s absences. She was as good as she was beautiful, and her husband was a senator of whom the country might well be proud.”

In a letter dated October 13, 1833, Mason wrote somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “Mr. Norvell is improving rapidly in his Christianity he has purchased a pew and goes to Church once every Sunday.” Norvell took this kidding quite good-naturedly and the regard that he felt for Mason evidenced itself fully in the names of his sons: Stevens Thompson Norvell and John Mason Norvell. The special relationship between the two men evolved into a deep friendship throughout this early period. They would go almost every night to a certain Uncle Ben’s taproom to talk with other friends about law, politics, and community life. This group became a sounding board discussing many points of frontier law.

 
Norvell actively involved himself frequently in the political life of the community. The May 15, 1833 Detroit Free Press noted that he had attended the annual examination of West Point along with Governor Yates, General Root, and Washington Irving. In June 1833, he became an officer of the Farmers and Mechanic’s Bank and also served as a trustee of the “English Classical School,” taught by George Wilson. Moreover by 1834 he had begun to dabble in real estate, purchasing several building lots around the city. He had clearly begun to build his political alliances.

Now in Detroit, on April 11, 1833, John Norvell assumed the duties of postmaster. On his arrival, Judge James Abbott, the outgoing postmaster, supposedly remarked: “I have heard of you, and I wish you were on the Grampian Hills, feeding your father’s flock.” To which Norvell replied: “I have read in the school books of Scott’s lessons of the Grampian Hills.” The old Postmaster replied: “you can take the office any day at your pleasure.”

Isabella Freeman Norvell portrait attributed first to artist Thomas Sully (1783-1872), a leading portrait artist of the time. Later,to  the artist Jacob Eichholtz (1776-1842).

Isabella Freeman Norvell portrait attributed first to artist Thomas Sully (1783-1872), a leading portrait artist of the time. Later,to the artist Jacob Eichholtz (1776-1842).

After becoming Postmaster, Norvell moved the office to a small brick building that had belonged to Mr. Hunt.  There the operations came frequently under the supervision of Isabella and son Joe Norvell. When Sheldon McKnight succeeded Norvell as postmaster the post office moved again. But for those few years, “when the . . . post office was moved into its new quarters, Mrs. Norvell and Joe were the captains. It is needless to say that the public were admirably served by this charming lady and the son Joe.”

Joseph Norvell would later join the U.S. Army and die of a young age of diptheria in 1850.

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About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, American Newpapers, Detroit, Detroit Free Press, Detroit History, Michigan History, Norvell Family History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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