Night Visitors


Between 1811 and 1831, Flint was nothing more than a few dwellings concentrated near the Flint river. The two most notable being Jacob Smith’s Trading Post and Todd’s Tavern. The dwellings were located on the best place to cross the Flint River on a traveler’s path from Detroit to Saginaw. Two such travelers on this route were Frenchmen Alexis De Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont on a voyage that would form the basis for De Tocqueville’s classic book “Democracy in America.” In July of 1831, De Tocqueville and his group were passing through the small unincorporated village of Grumlaw, or Grand Blanc, a former recently settled Indian campground. There, his horse lost a shoe. A farmer in the town was able to reshod the horse. Against the farmer’s warnings, the group decided to take a chance at getting to Flint before the night.  Unfortunately, as the explorers continued their voyage, they found themselves shrouded in darkness and soon lost each other.

As the group clambered alone through the woods, they soon found each other at a collection of two, or three cabins along the Flint river.  In one cabin burned a light. As they approached the cabin, the frightened woman inside directed them to the home of John Todd – a welcoming gentleman known to take in travelers. “Soon the barking of dogs echoed through the wood, and we found ourselves opposite a log house and only separated from it by a fence,” Tocqueville wrote. “Just as we were getting ready to get over it, the moon revealed a great black bear on the other side, which, standing upright and dragging its chain, made as clear as it could its intention of giving us a fraternal welcome. ‘what a devil of a country this is,’ I said, ‘where one has bears for watch dogs?’”

They called out to the cabin from beyond the fence. John Todd answered their call and called off his bear. He then provided accommodation to the weary travelers. They continued their journey the next morning.

For more information about John and Polly Todd read

For more information about Jacob Smith read




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