The Official Journal of the Cass 1820 Expedition
When the War of 1812 ended, the U.S. government decided to send an expedition along the border with Canada to make sure the Indian nations in the western Great Lakes understood who had won. They also wanted to quell any lingering British influence among the tribes and to learn whatever they could about the natural history and economic potential of this region which Americans had generally ignored until then. Between May 24 and Sept. 23, 1820, the people whose private notes are presented here went by canoe and shoe leather more than 1,000 miles into the wilderness, from Detroit, Mich., to northern Minnesota, and back again (map).
Michigan territorial governor Lewis Cass (1782-1866) led the party and chose 20-year-old James Doty (1799-1865) to be its official secretary. Cass would go on to a brilliant political career in Washington, where he served at different times as Secretary of War and Secretary of State and ran for president in 1848. Doty would grow up to become one of the founders of Wisconsin. He served as territorial governor and represented Wisconsin in Congress, and helped draft the state's constitution. Abraham Lincoln later appointed him superintendent of Indian affairs for Utah Territory, where he died in 1865 after having been promoted to governor.
Also along on the voyage was scientist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793-1864), who left his own account of the trip and returned three years later as U.S. Indian agent for Lake Superior (1822-36) and afterwards became Michigan commissioner of Indian Affairs (1836-41). His popular books about Indian life in the Great Lakes inspired the famous poem Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and made Schoolcraft a minor celebrity in mid-19th century America.
Doty kept his official diary in three pocket notebooks, making an entry almost every day. We present here each of those entries on the same day, this year, on which he wrote it in 1820. Due to their length, we have edited most entries; to see the complete text of any day's account, use the links provided in this box. Spelling and punctuation have occasionally been silently edited here to facilitate easy comprehension by non-specialists, but we have generally preserved Doty's archaic usage and idiosyncratic spellings.
With each entry, we also include commentary, quotes from other contemporary sources, links to a Google map showing the party's location each day, and links to images of the original manuscript and the 1895 printed edition of the diary. Readers wanting to quote from Doty's journal should verify their texts through these images rather than follow the electronic text on this page.
The original pocket-sized journal volumes are in Box 1 of the Papers of James Duane Doty (Wis Mss DD) at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The printed text is from Wisconsin Historical Collections, vol. XIII (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1895): 163-219.
Because Doty left two large gaps in his notebooks, we have quoted liberally from the journal kept by one of his companions on the trip, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. Excerpts from Schoolcraft are taken from his Narrative Journal of Travels through the Northwestern Regions of the United States… performed as a member of the expedition under Governor Cass in the year 1820 (Albany : E. & E. Hosford, 1821), as reproduced online at the Library of Congress American Memory Project.
Finally, you can have each day's entry delivered to your personal Web page through an RSS feed simply by clicking "Subscribe to This Feed."
View Doty's handwritten journal
View the printed 1895 edition
This Expedition is fitted out at the suggestion of Gov.Cass by the Secretary at War, Mr. Calhoun. Its objects are understood to be the attainment of certain information of the moral & physical situation of the Northern Indians, their divisions, names, important men, of what numbers the tribes are composed, the country and its extent which they inhabit, and their history, manners and customs, as also what their feelings and dispositions are as respects the United States & Great Britain.