Out of all the stories and facts about early Great Lakes settler Joseph
Bailly, historian Richard Maroc said the thing he is most curious about is
how Bailly decided Northwest Indiana was a more beautiful place to live than
his native home in Quebec.
Whatever the reason may be, Bailly moved his large family here in 1822 and
played a significant role in the development of the Duneland area and
ultimately, the Northwest Indiana region. His story captured the attention
and imaginations of the Duneland Historical Society members who came to hear
Maroc, a Crown Point resident and former Lake County Superior Court judge,
shed light on Bailly’s legacy Thursday evening at the Westchester Library
Bailly was born in 1774 close to the time of the American Revolutionary War,
when very few settlers lived in Canada. There were about 90,000 Canadian
settlers compared to 2.8 million in the American colonies, Maroc said.
While Bailly’s French-Canadian parents held aspirations for him to live a
quiet life and marry “a nice Catholic girl from Quebec,” he turned to a life
as a fur trader, starting as a clerk for the North West fur trading company.
“He wanted to prove himself. He wanted to become ‘macho,’” said Maroc.
“During the fur trade, everybody wanted North American furs.”
Life as a fur trader was known to be adventurous, requiring its operatives
to stay outdoors for months at a time without taking shelter.
“It was one hell of a life and a brutal climate,” said Maroc.
Bailly became one of the most popular fur traders, was quite knowledgeable
and set up his own posts in Michigan near the intersection of the Grand and
Maple rivers and traded with the Ottawa Indian Tribes.
Maroc explained that fur traders, or voyagers as they called themselves,
would often “marry” Native American women and typically would “have a wife
on every river.”
Running a number of fur trading posts, Bailly married Angelique McGulpin in
1794, one of the daughters of an Ottawa chief, only to divorce her years
later when getting a divorce was virtually unheard of. Maroc said the two
“fought over religion, culture and how to raise children.” Together they had
four children, three boys and a girl, one of which was Alexis Charles Bailly
who was “every bit of his father,” Maroc said.
Bailly remarried in 1810 at Mackinac to Marie Lefevre de La Vigne, whose
mother had been born a member of the Ottawa tribe and whose father was a
Frenchman. She was called by those who knew her as the “Lilly of the Lake”
for her fair skin and “raven long thick” hair.
Bailly was taken by Marie’s beauty, Maroc said. “If it was not love at first
sight, it came pretty quick.” He “informally” adopted Marie’s daughters from
her previous marriage to an Ottawa medicine man.
Maroc said the tribesman of the Ottawa had difficulty pronouncing the “r” in
Marie’s name and called her Ma-nee. The town of Monee, Ill. is named after
her and that land was granted to her by the Treaty of Camp Tippecanoe.
Both Bailly and Marie followed the Catholic faith and encouraged their
children to do the same. Bailly cared deeply about his children’s education.
“Joseph was a good dad. He taught his children how to read and write,” Maroc
Then came the War of 1812 between the American settlers and the British with
their Native American allies. With Canada being ruled by the British, Bailly
was put in a “dangerous” position of being a Canadian trader doing business
on American soil. He was arrested by the United States Militia, charged with
being a spy and was thrown into a stockade at Detroit for several months,
where he lost much of his robust health, Maroc said.
Bailly returned to Mackinac Island in 1817 to establish U.S. citizenship and
was “back in business” by 1820 when he became the first European settler and
fur trader in Porter County, taking up residence on the Little Calumet River
near present-day Porter.
Construction of the Bailly homestead happened a short time before Joseph
Bailly’s death on Dec. 21, 1835.
Marie Bailly lived in the house the rest of her life until her death in 1866
after complications from slipping on ice.
Maroc said Bailly’s son Alexis Charles Bailly helped build the existing
buildings at the property.
Many of the Bailly children followed their own destinies. Alexis became a
fur trader in Minnesota and raised many children there, thirteen of whom
lived into adulthood. Daughter Agatha married a son of the wealthy Biddle
family from New York. Agatha remained a leader of the Mackinac Island
community and the Ottawa Native Americans.
Bailly’s daughter Eleanor became Mother Mary Cecilia Bailly of the Sisters
of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods near Terre Haute.
Maroc Bailly descendants, “or the Bailly Bash” are scattered throughout the
nation in the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho and Michigan. A recent “Bailly Bash”
gathering saw an attendance of 221 people, he said.
“It’s quite a legacy,” he said.
Maroc showed his appreciation for Historical Society Member Eva Hopkins,
whose collection of clippings on Bailly helped him with his research. He
surprised her with a bottle of Red Voyager Wine that came from the Alexis
Bailly Vineyard in Hastings, Minn.
Duneland Historical Society leader Ken Keller wished the group a pleasant
and safe summer. The Society will convene in the fall on Sept. 19.