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Jo Labadie and His Gift to Michigan

A Legacy for the Masses

Birth and Early Life




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  Leon Czolgosz (1873-1901)

The Water Board Incident

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  Agnes Inglis (1870-1952)
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Special Collections Library
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

Jo Labadie was both the great grandson and the great-great grandson of Antoine Louis Descompte dit Labadie, who was born in Montréal in 1730 and moved to the French fortress town of Detroit at the age of 10. He apparently sired 33 children among three wives, and with additional large families in the second generation, it became common for Labadie cousins in the Michigan-Ontario area to intermarry. Antoine Louis's second wife, Marie, said to be the daughter of an Ojibway chief, was Jo's great-great grandmother, and his third wife, Charlotte, was Jo's great grandmother.

Antoine Louis purchased a plot of land in Sandwich, Ontario in 1767 and moved there with his wife Marie, who died around 1784. This farm, with a windmill, stayed in the family until 1856, when a grandson representing the nine surviving children of Antoine Louis's first wife sold more than half the property to Hiram Walker, who built a distillery and mill there in 1857. The success of Walker's company town resulted in the naming of the area "Walkerville."

Louis Descompte dit Labadie, a son of Antoine Louis and Charlotte, had a daughter, Euphrosyne Angelique Labadie, who was Jo's mother. In 1849 Euphrosyne married her distant cousin Antoine (Anthony) Cleophis Labadie (great grandson of Antoine Louis and Marie), of Paw Paw, Michigan. Charles Joseph (Jo) Antoine Labadie, the eldest of their children, was born in Paw Paw on April 18, 1850. After the birth, the family moved to the Labadie estate on the Canadian side of the Detroit River where they lived in peace with the neighboring native people of Walpole Island. When Jo was six or seven, his family, being the dispossessed branch, was forced to move off the property in Ontario when it was sold to Hiram Walker, and they settled near his father's hometown of Paw Paw.

Jo's father, Anthony Cleophis, was most at home living in the wilderness, and was probably pleased to be made to vacate the Labadie estate and move his family back to the woods of southwestern Michigan. Having lived among the Native Americans in the forests of Michigan since the age of 14, he was uneasy with village life. He often took Jo on hunting expeditions or trips for which he served as interpreter between the Native Americans and Jesuit missionaries. This was the life that impressed young Jo, and that he remembered with fondness. Many of his poems ( 16, 17) and reminiscences reveal a passionate sentiment for this simple but fulfilling existence. Ultimately Jo's father could not subdue his wandering spirit and love of the wilderness, and in 1869 left his family and settled in Kalkaska in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan.

As the eldest child in a large and poor family, Jo became the mainstay of his mother and of his agreeable but feckless father. When adolescence neared, and with it the possibility of a more substantial livelihood, Jo was first sent to learn watchmaking with an uncle. After a year he left, being attracted to the hurly-burly of an apprenticeship in a printing shop with its lively discussion of the issues of the day. Printing was the profession he practiced for some twenty-five years, until ill health forced him to seek another livelihood. He remained a printer ( 34, 35) by avocation for the rest of his life.



"It's a hard matter to 'line up' the Labadies. I cannot make out your family to my satisfaction... I cannot find out where Mr. Francis Labadie of Macomb County comes in. He moved to Macomb County about 1814 or 1815, and as Father Richard excommunicated him, he sued the Priest and got a judgment for $1600. Much trouble followed."

C. M. Burton to Joseph Labadie, November 30, 1917



On Cranky Notions: "These notions will occasionally be to some people like stroking the fur of an animal in the wrong direction, but I shall ask no one's advice as to what to say or how to say it... I shall write to please no one but myself, and if it please others, well and good. I hope to be able to write only the truth and to reason well."

Jo Labadie, The Sun, date unknown