Keweenaw County Michigan

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John Senter


JOHN SENTER, the third oldest of the pioneers of the copper region along the southern shore of Lake Superior, now living, was born at Peterboro, New Hampshire, December 15, 1823, thus being, as might be said, almost a twin of the famous "Monroe Doctrine," which was presented to the world that year. Mr. Senter, whose portrait is herewith shown, is now an honored resident of Houghton, Houghton County, Michigan.

John Senter was reared and educated in his native town, which was a manufacturing place some sixty miles from Boston. In 1842 he came west to work in the office of Surveyor General of Iowa and Wisconsin, Gen. James Wilson. General Wilson, who was a relation of our subject, was an attorney-at-law, and at one time was a member of the United States Congress from New Hampshire. Mr. Senter acted as clerk in the Surveyor General's office from 1842 to 1845, making his home for the greater part of the time at Dubuque, Iowa. During the three years that he held this position he traveled much over Iowa and Wisconsin, visiting Iowa City, Iowa, in 1844, Iowa Falls and other places in that new country. In the fall of 1845, he returned to New Hampshire and spent the winter at the home of General Wilson. In the summer of 1846, he and General Wilson returned to Iowa, where they stayed a short time. General Wilson had become interested, as a director, in the Lake Superior Copper Company, the pioneer company of the copper district, which was then operated under the superintendency of Martin Coryell, of Pennsylvania. In the summer of 1846, leaving Iowa, General Wilson and Mr. Senter came to the Northern Peninsula of Michigan, locating at Eagle River, in the copper district. They came on the first trip of the second steamer—the side-wheeler "Julia Palmer"—that floated on Lake Superior. The first steamer, a propeller, had made one trip in 1845, reaching La Point on November 1st. In 1846, the year that Mr. Senter came to this region, General Wilson secured a lease in what was then a part of Houghton County, now included in Keweenaw County, Michigan, and our subject made his home there, at Eagle River, for a period of forty years. In addition to working in the Lake Superior Copper Company's office, Mr. Senter did some surveying and engineering in the neighborhood that season. Later in the year he was sent for by General Wilson, and as it was impossible to return to New Hampshire, in the spring of 1847 he went through to Dubuque, Iowa, returning to Eagle River the next summer, where he engaged in trade, at the same time serving as deputy to Postmaster Coryell. On September 28, 1847, Mr. Senter was appointed postmaster and served efficiently as such until 1855, also carrying on a mercantile business in the meantime. He remembers the first steamer, the side-wheeler "Illinois," to come through the canal, the date being July 17, 1855. After the close of navigation in the fall, the copper district was entirely cut off from the outside world, except for messengers on snow-shoes. Our subject continued in the mercantile business until 1856. In the meantime, in 1848, he had accepted the agency for E. I. DuPont, Denemour & Company, the largest powder manufacturers in the world, and at one time he had four stores in the Northern Peninsula, holding his connection with this company until about 1900. He also bought and sold some mining stock, and owns some still, as well as a large amount of real estate in Houghton and adjoining counties. He has some interesting records, and is conceded to be an authority on all matters of early history. For the past several years he has made his home in Houghton, in the eastern part of the village. He has been retired from business but three years, and despite his four score years is extremely active and in good physical health. Prior to the Civil War, he served eight years as treasurer of Houghton County, when it also included Keweenaw, Baraga and Ontonagon counties.

Mr. Senter's wife, formerly Lizzie T. Porter, came from Ypsilanti, Michigan. They have two sons and a daughter: Albert Wilson, assistant in the assay office of the Calumet & Hecla smelting works; Henry Mortimer, who owns and conducts saw and planing mills and is interested in a coffee plantation in Colombia, South America; and Mrs. James B. Cooper, whose husband has charge of the Calumet & Hecla smelting works. Our subject was formerly a Whig, and is now a stanch Republican. He was a member of the Mining School Board until he resigned. For upwards of 40 years, Mr. Senter has been a member of Ontonagon Lodge No. 67, A. F. & A. M. He is a man of the highest character, and is highly esteemed by his large circle of acquaintances in the Northern Peninsula.