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Harsens Island

Harsens Island

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Harsens Island is a wet marsh
In geography, a marsh, or morass, is a type of wetland that is subject to frequent or continuous flood. Typically the water is shallow and features grasses, rushes, reeds, typhas, sedges, other herbaceous plants, and moss....

y location at the mouth of the St. Clair River
St. Clair River
The St. Clair River is a river in central North America which drains Lake Huron into Lake St Clair, forming part of the international boundary between the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of Michigan...

 in the U.S. state
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

 of Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

. Politically, the island is in Clay Township
Clay Township, Michigan
Clay Township is a civil township of St. Clair County in the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2000 census, the township population was 9,822. The township includes the inhabited Harsens Island.- Communities :...

 of St. Clair County
St. Clair County, Michigan
-Interstates:* I-69 enters the county from the west, coming from Lansing and Flint, terminating at the approach to the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron....



The Island was named for its first white settler, James (or Jacob) Harsen, a Dutchman, who came from New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 state in about 1779 with his son-in-law Isaac Graveraet (or Graveret). Harsen bought the island from the Indians
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 in 1783. It was also known as "Jacob Island" (also James or Jacobus Island) as late as 1809. The name of the post office, Sans Souci, was changed to "Harsens Island" in 1960.

The nation "owning" the island was a disputed matter for many years. The 1783 Treaty of Paris
Treaty of Paris (1783)
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain on the one hand and the United States of America and its allies on the other. The other combatant nations, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic had separate agreements; for details of...

 that ended the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 described the international boundary line with imprecise terms in several places, including the mouth of the St. Clair River. The area had not been surveyed at that time. In the most commonly known map of the area from that period, made by John Mitchell in 1755 and which was used in negotiating the treaty, the delta and all the islands at the mouth of the St. Clair River are absent. In the language of the treaty, the boundary line was to run through the middle of Lake Erie until it arrives at the water communication between that lake and Lake Huron, "thence along the middle of said water communication into the Lake Huron". Due to this vagueness, all of the delta islands, including Harsens and Dickinson, were claimed by the British, and some from the United States who did not want to give up their English citizenship following the war made their residences there. The area was administered by the Hesse District of Upper Canada
Upper Canada
The Province of Upper Canada was a political division in British Canada established in 1791 by the British Empire to govern the central third of the lands in British North America and to accommodate Loyalist refugees from the United States of America after the American Revolution...

, including the awarding of land grants. In 1809, surveyors for the British government placed the boundary line in the north channel, which placed all of the delta and islands under British control.

However, in the 1814 Treaty of Ghent
Treaty of Ghent
The Treaty of Ghent , signed on 24 December 1814, in Ghent , was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

, which ended the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

, the ambiguity of provisions in the 1783 were acknowledged: "And, whereas, doubts have arisen, what was the middle of the said river, lakes, and water communication, and whether certain islands lying in the same were within the dominions of his Britanic majesty, or of the United States." To decide these questions, two commissioners were to be appointed, one from each nation, to designate the international boundary. They executed their survey of the Detroit River
Detroit River
The Detroit River is a strait in the Great Lakes system. The name comes from the French Rivière du Détroit, which translates literally as "River of the Strait". The Detroit River has served an important role in the history of Detroit and is one of the busiest waterways in the world. The river...

, Lake St. Clair
Lake Saint Clair (North America)
Lake St. Clair is a fresh-water lake named after Clare of Assisi that lies between the Province of Ontario and the State of Michigan, and its midline also forms the boundary between Canada and the United States of America. Lake St. Clair includes the Anchor Bay along the Metro Detroit coastline...

, and the St. Clair River in 1819 and 1820 and issued their final conclusions on June 18, 1822. Their decision regarding the St. Clair River delta was that the boundary should run north through Lake St. Clair, entering "that mouth or channel of the River St. Clair which is usually denominated the Old Ship Channel; thence along the middle of said channel, between Squirrel Island on the southeast, and Herson's [sic
Sic—generally inside square brackets, [sic], and occasionally parentheses, —when added just after a quote or reprinted text, indicates the passage appears exactly as in the original source...

] Island on the northwest, to the upper end of the last mentioned island, which is nearly opposite to Point aux Chenes, on the American shore; thence along the middle of the River St. Clair, keeping to the west of, and near, the islands called Belle Riviere Isle, and Isle aux Cerfs, to Lake Huron." By this conclusion, both Harsens and Dickinson Islands were placed on the U.S. side of the boundary.

To further exemplify the somewhat loose awarding of the area in question, arose in 1870 involving Hiram Little of Wallaceburg a Captain who was given a contract to provide cord wood and supplies to a work crew. At the time, a ship canal was being dredged through the marshy areas near Lake St. Clair. By this time shipping was increasing and the need for a deep, free flowing canal was required. During one trip to the work area, Capt. Little's ship was seized by U.S. officials who claimed he was operating illegally since he was in U.S. waters. Little protested claiming he was in Canadian water, challenging U.S. officials to prove their contention. After searching of documents, including contact with Crown in England who supplied early charts, Capt. Little was ultimately proven correct. To avoid further embarrassement, the U.S. officials simply moved the international boundary east further infriging on Canadian (and native) land. The present St. Clair River from Russel Island to Lake St. Clair has been the International boundary line between Canada and the United States ever since, although who legally should own Harsen's Island and the St. Clair delta area remains speculative in some eyes.


The St. Clair River is an integral part of the Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

, draining water from Lake Huron
Lake Huron
Lake Huron is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. Hydrologically, it comprises the larger portion of Lake Michigan-Huron. It is bounded on the east by the Canadian province of Ontario and on the west by the state of Michigan in the United States...

 down, eventually, to Lake Erie
Lake Erie
Lake Erie is the fourth largest lake of the five Great Lakes in North America, and the tenth largest globally. It is the southernmost, shallowest, and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes and therefore also has the shortest average water residence time. It is bounded on the north by the...

. The river is the international boundary between the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. The river carries more freighter traffic than the Suez
Suez Canal
The Suez Canal , also known by the nickname "The Highway to India", is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Opened in November 1869 after 10 years of construction work, it allows water transportation between Europe and Asia without navigation...

 and Panama Canal
Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a ship canal in Panama that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Built from 1904 to 1914, the canal has seen annual traffic rise from about 1,000 ships early on to 14,702 vessels measuring a total of 309.6...

s combined. Over 1 billion USgals (3,785,412 m³) of fresh water per day flow down the St. Clair River, and through its delta
River delta
A delta is a landform that is formed at the mouth of a river where that river flows into an ocean, sea, estuary, lake, reservoir, flat arid area, or another river. Deltas are formed from the deposition of the sediment carried by the river as the flow leaves the mouth of the river...

 region, the St. Clair Flats. Harsens Island is the major U.S. island in the Flats. The Canadian side of the Flats has the largest islands in the delta including Walpole Island
Walpole Island
Walpole Island is an island and Indian reserve in southwestern Ontario, Canada, on the border between Ontario and Michigan in the United States. It is located in the mouth of the St. Clair River on Lake St. Clair, approximately thirty miles northeast of Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario.In...

, home to the Walpole Island First Nation of Native Americans. The St. Clair Flats is home to wildlife such as the great blue heron
Great Blue Heron
The Great Blue Heron is a large wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae, common near the shores of open water and in wetlands over most of North and Central America as well as the West Indies and the Galápagos Islands. It is a rare vagrant to Europe, with records from Spain, the Azores and England...

, snapping turtle
Chelydridae is a family of turtles which has seven extinct and two extant genera. The extant genera are Chelydra the snapping turtles, and its larger relative Macrochelys, of which the Alligator Snapping Turtle is the only species. Both are endemic to the Western Hemisphere...

s,watersnakes, muskrats, mink, whitetail deer, pintail, canvasback and mallard ducks, Canada geese and red-winged blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird
The Red-winged Blackbird is a passerine bird of the family Icteridae found in most of North and much of Central America. It breeds from Alaska and Newfoundland south to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, and Guatemala, with isolated populations in western El Salvador, northwestern Honduras, and...

s. The area is a popular fishing spot with yellow perch, large and small mouth bass, rock bass, carp, sunfish
The sunfishes are a family of freshwater ray-finned fish belonging to the order Perciformes. The type genus is Centrarchus . The family's 27 species includes many fishes familiar to North Americans, including the rock bass, largemouth bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed, and crappies...

, pumpkinseed
The pumpkinseed sunfish is a freshwater fish of the sunfish family of order Perciformes. It is also referred to as "pond perch", "common sunfish", "punkys", and "sunny".-Range and distribution:...

 fish, bluegill
The Bluegill is a species of freshwater fish sometimes referred to as bream, brim, or copper nose. It is a member of the sunfish family Centrarchidae of the order Perciformes.-Range and distribution:...

s, and silver bass available. The State of Michigan owns about 75% of the area of the Island, and has waterfowl and wildlife sanctuaries throughout.

Harsens Island is the only U.S. island in the Flats that can be reached by automobile ferry, and the only one with roads, an unincorporated community, Sans Souci
Sans Souci, Michigan
Sans Souci is an unincorporated community in Clay Township of St. Clair County in the U.S. state of Michigan at . Located on the eastern shore of Harsens Island at the mouth of the St. Clair River, it lies at the edge of the St. Clair Flats Wildlife Area. M-154 is the primary road on Harsens Island...

, a school (now closed, and has subsequently re-opened as the "Harsens Island Schoolhouse Grille"), and a small airport. All the other U.S. islands—there are scores of them—are accessible only by boat.


  • Bkejwanong Walpole Island First Nation website @ http://www-personal.umich.edu/~ksands/Warpole.html

By Alan Mann, based on a commentary aboard Hammond Bay Excursion boat ..Prepared by request of Reta Sands July 1996.

External links

Aerial views of Harsens Island http://www.aerialpics.com/H/harsensisland.html