The following word portrait of Thomas B. Barnum was taken from a history of Calhoun County, Michigan which has not been specifically identified:
Thomas B. Barnum. In no better way can we learn the history of a county than by conning the experiences of those who shared in all that was necessary to reclaim it from its primitive wildness, and make it useful to civilized man, and whose example and precept have been such as to shed a good influence upon others. Not as empty words of praise, but as the plain statement of plain truths, we relate the following facts in the life of Thomas B. Barnum, who entered into rest July 3, 1887.
Mr. Barnum was born at Danbury, Conn., September 20, 1800, and was one of six children comprising the family of Asher and Rhoda (Burt) Barnum. He was a cousin of the Hon. P. T. Barnum [N.B., fourth cousin], whom he often met in childhood. He was left fatherless when quite young, and at the age of fourteen years began his apprenticeship to a hatter on whose instruction he became a master workman. He carried on the trade for twenty years, then traveled three years as a peddler, at first carrying goods in two tin trunks, one of which is now in possession of his daughter. He succeeded so well that after a year he was furnished a horse and wagon, and at the conclusion of the third year his employers, loath to lose his services, offered to increase his wages, although he was already receiving very large pay. In the pursuit of his occupation during the three years he had traveled through New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
In 1836 Mr. Barnum came to this State with a view to locating, and selected a place in Jackson County, receiving a promise that it would be held for him. The promise was broken and the place sold to another before he could claim it, and he was determined never to return to this State, but his wife, who was an able financier and economist, talked of this Eldorado by day, and dreamed of it by night. Yielding to her persuasions he made the removal, and reaching Lake Copnacon, which reminded the wife of a sheet of water she had seen in a dream, they pitched their tent July 2, 1837, on the farm now owned by Fay B. Green. On that tract they lived until March 4, 1858, when they changed their location to section 14, Leroy Township, which is still the family home. Mr. Barnum saw an opportunity to acquire more land here, and added to his acreage until he owned three hundred and twenty acres, representing years of toil and economy.
The present comfortable dwelling on the Barnum estate affords a striking contrast to the humble tent which was pitched when they first came here, and to the log shanty 12x20 feet which was erected soon afterward. A drenching rain fell during the first three days after their arrival, and the second being the tenth birthday of their daughter, she considers it the most memorable she ever passed. The log house which for some time sheltered the family was covered with bark which was taken from deserted wigwams, and held on by poles, the roof sloping but one way. For three months the cooking was done out of doors by a log fire. The nearest neighbor was three miles distant to the northeast. Eighty Indians were encamped on the farm or near by, among them one who was always spoken of as the friendly Indian, and who often came to the house, sometimes to obtain favors, but never betrayed a trust.
One time when the father was absent, this Indian obtained from the mother consent for the "papooses," Jane and Charles, aged eight and ten Years -- to go off with him. This was to the children a grand treat, and they were delighted when he soon started up a deer he had wounded and shot it. Just as he was dressing it Mr. Barnum came up, pale with fear that he should never see his children again, having tracked the party in the snow. The Indian noticed his fright and said, "Me no hurt em papoose; want em see. Shoot em succee (deer)." Although the name of the Indian was long ago forgotten by those in whose delight he took an interest, his words and deeds will ever be remembered. He was very friendly toward Mrs. Barnum whom he called "good squaw."
The Barnum family suffered much on account of the sickness of its members and the privations attendant thereon. At one time all but the mother were ill, and they were without assistance two weeks, when a hunter passing by learned of their condition and brought other pioneers to their relief. It was during a hard attack which incapacitated the father from getting about, that the wolf seemed actually to have gotten within the door. There was no bread in the house, nor anything from which to make it, and only a small piece of meat. In this extremity Mr. Barnum was placed on a bed fixed on a sled, and with his ox-team he drove three miles to obtain help. This seemed to be the climax of their trials, as from that time they began to see a change for the better in the health of the family, and in their surroundings. The land was gradually improved, better buildings erected, and the reward for privation and hardship realized.
It must not be understood that life was all shadow, as on the contrary the pleasures of hospitality and brotherly kindness were enjoyed among the people of that time more fully than in thickly settled regions. Material comforts also were to be met with. Wild strawberries of the finest flavor abounded, and at a later season the tickle berries and cranberries were plentiful together with wild crab-apples, while wild honey was an unfailing sweet, and maple trees furnished syrup and sugar of unsurpassed quality. There was no scarcity of meat, except when people were too ill to hunt, for quails, prairie chickens, turkeys and deer were numerous, and Lake Copnacon furnished fish. The name for this lake means "poison potato," and was so called by the Indians from a poisonous tuber which grew on its marshy borders, and which in times of destitution was used by them as a food after having been cooked three days to expel the poison.
The faithful wife who shared in the trials and hardships of Mr. Barnum, and to whose aid and counsel he owed much of his prosperity was united to him September 24, 1824. She bore the maiden name of Harriet Rose, and is a daughter of Mulford and Joanna Rose. She comes of a family noted for longevity, her mother having lived to the age of eighty-five years, and others to an equally advanced age. She, herself, is now ninety-two, but enjoys quite good health, and is remarkably well preserved. Mr. and Mrs. Barnum became the parents of two children, neither of whom married, but remained at the old home: Charles passed away April 19, 1889, and Jane has since had entire control of the estate, and the entire care of her aged mother; Miss Jane Barnum at the age of twenty years taught the first school in Wakeshma, Kalamazoo County, but being needed at home pursued the vocation but two terms. She assisted her father in his duties, which were many and varied, and as her parents advanced in years, took more and more of the burden from them.
The death of Mr. Barnum took place just a half century from the day on which he landed with his family on the banks of Lake Copnacon. During this long period he was one of the most prominent men of the township, as well as one of its best farmers. At the first election ever held in Le Roy, he was elected Justice of the Peace, and was twice reelected. He was Highway Commissioner eight years, and Supervisor two years, and in all his official relations gave satisfaction. In politics he was a Republican. When death overtook him he was the oldest Mason in the county. Although he had but a meager education, he, by subsequent study and practice, became competent and neat in all business records, and his affairs were carried on in the most systematic way.
Mr. Barnum kept a record of every event of note, the state of the weather and other items of interest, every entry being neat and legible. On May 25, 1887, is recorded at the end of the remarks regarding the day, "self sick," which is the last entry. Little more than a month later the life of one of Le Roy's true and worthy citizens was ended. Mr. Barnum was a believer in the Golden Rule, and during the last years of his life particularly, his great aim was to help others to help themselves. A typical pioneer, the latchstring was always on the outside of his door, and benevolence and hospitality were among his virtues.
In the 1850 US Census for Le Roy, Calhoun County, Michigan the family of Thomas Barnum was enumerated as follows:
Dwelling #759; Family #778
Thomas B. Barnham, 49, M, Farmer, Real property $400, b. Connecticut
Harriet Barnham, 51, F, b. New York
Jane Barnham, 22, F, b. Connecticut
Charles Barnham, 21, M, b. Connecticut