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Campau family papers

Identifier: Collection 214

Scope and Contents

This collection contains original, typescript and facsimile items in the form of public records, letters, reports and land deeds involving Louis Campau, Antoine Campau and other Campau relatives and associates.

Louis Campau's original land deed contracts include Campau either buying, selling or acting as a third party. A metal plate for printing a Campau land grant is also included. Other original documents include Campau’s last will and testament and the probate proceedings of his estate. A letter written by his nephew, Anthony Campau, describes his death, funeral and importance to the city of Grand Rapids. Letters written to a Mrs. Caroline Campbell of the DAR by Adolphe T. Campau of the Michigan Soldiers Home in Grand Rapids, or by E. Alice T. Miller of St. Ann’s Church (Detroit), contain valuable information about Campau’s past including military records, marriage and baptismal records. Other documents attempt to explain Campau’s role in Grand Rapids history. These include reports by James H. and Mrs. James H. Campbell on the history of Fulton Street Park and those by Albert Hyma on the account book of Louis Moran.

Eight original land deeds are handwritten or formatted types. Other legal documents include Campau’s last will and testament, written in his 78th year, outlining how his inheritance should be divided between his brother, Touissant, and his three sons. A Kent County document from 1871 appointed Julius Houseman as the administrator of his estate. A letter written by nephew Anthony Campau to his sister, Mrs. Martin Ryerson, describes Uncle Louis’ death and funeral and future plans to commemorate him. Attached to that letter are the proceedings of the Common Council from April 17, 1871, recognizing Campau as the founder of Grand Rapids and an important part of the city’s history. Eight later typed letters and copies of documents are those sent to Mrs. Caroline Campbell from St. Ann’s Church, Detroit. These include a Department of the Interior, Bureau of Pensions, describing Campau’s military service, and records indicating that Campau married Sophie de Marsac in 1818, before his first wife died. Another letter written to Mrs. Campbell describes the ancestry of Sophie de Marsac and includes the marriage and baptismal records. James H. Campbell’s 1922 report on Fulton Street Park explains the controversy surrounding the title to the Park. Based upon information in the April 11, 1963 report by Albert Hyma, it appears that the Louis Moran account book does not have information on Grand Rapids but does mention a Louis Campau in 1809, 1816 and 1817 entries. Campau apparently boarded with Moran, and may have worked for him.


  • 1830-1922

Louis and Sophie de Marsac Campau

Louis Campau (born August 11, 1791) is credited as the founder of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Campau grew up in Detroit in a French-Canadian family. He served as a private in the Michigan Militia in the War of 1812, where he was surrendered under General Hull. Campau married twice: his first wife, Anna (Kuggsbaum?) died in 1824. He then married Sophie de Marsac on August 9, 1825.

Louis learned business from his Uncle Joseph in Detroit, who was a fur trader and land speculator, said to be the territories first millionaire. Louis Campau was issued a license to trade with the Ottawa Indians on the Grand River. In 1826, Campau set up trade on the west side of the river, near the Baptist mission that had been founded by Isaac McCoy in 1824. In 1827 Leonard Slater came to the area to run the mission. That same year Campau moved his family to the area, including his wife Sophie and his brother Toussaint, and established his trading post on the east side of the river, in what is now Grand Rapids.

Louis Campau was not the first white man in the area, but apparently was the first who stayed, thus his credit as the first white settler in what is now known as Grand Rapids. In 1831, Campau purchased the land which became Grand Rapids, from what is now Michigan Street to Fulton Street and Division Avenue to the Grand River, with monies advanced to him by the surveyor and later Michigan Statesman Lucius Lyon. Lyon had expected that Campau would in turn sell him all but the plot on which the Campau’s resided. However, Louis evidently changed his mind, only selling Lyon the northern half of the tract. This ultimately led to a long-standing feud and irregularity in the directions of the streets of Grand Rapids which remain today.

In 1838, Grand Rapids was incorporated, and that year the Campaus built a large Greek Revival house on the soutwest corner of Fulton Street and Gay Avenue. About the same time, Grand Rapids fell on hard times and Louis lost most of his holdings to bankruptcy. However, he is said to have deeded the house to his mother earlier, so that the Campaus continued to reside in the house until they sold it in 1863. At that time they moved to a small house at Ellsworth Avenue and Elm Street. Sophie de Marsac Campau's brother, Daniel Marsac, was also an Indian trader. He came to the area in 1828 and had a camp on the river south of Grand Rapids. Later he was in Lowell and then at the mouth of the Flat River. Sophie died in 1869 at age 62. Louis Campau lived on, but in ill health, until April 13, 1871.

In the forty-five years that he lived in Grand Rapids, Campau was instrumental in transforming what had been a mission and fur trading settlement into a busy commercial center. Louis and his brother Antoine both served as city trustees. Although Campau at one time owned much of modern-day downtown, he died nearly penniless.

Antoine Campau

Antoine Campau was a storekeeper at the foot of Monroe in what became known as Campau Square, participating in his brother’s fur trading operation in kind for groceries. He came to Grand Rapids, along with his brother George, some time after 1827. Antione died in 1874 at the age of 77.


2.2 Linear Feet (Three boxes)

Language of Materials



Louis Campau (1791-1871) was a fur trader and is credited as the founder of Grand Rapids, Michigan. This collection contains documents by and about Louis and several other members of the Campau family. Included are documents associated with Louis; his wife Sophie; his three brothers, Antione, George and Touissant and his newphew Antoine. There is also some correspondence between Caroline (Mrs. James) Campbell and Adolphe Campau. The collection contains original, typescript and facsimile items in the form of public records, letters, reports and land deeds.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Unknown, accession number 1986.259

Related Materials

Information on the Campaus may be found in many collections, or published area histories. See staff for assistance.

Coll. 011, Louis Moran Account Book.

Coll. 263, Box 20, Campau Celebration brochure from Old National Bank. Illustrated a metal or coin with the Campau’s likeness.

Finding aid for the Campau family papers
Brian Anderson
May 1998
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Grand Rapids History Center Repository

Grand Rapids Public Library
111 Library Street NE
Grand Rapids Michigan 49503 USA