The Highland Township Historical Society
Highland, Oakland County, Michigan

Original Highland Township Landowner

Nahum (Naham) Curtis

E 1/2 of SE 1/4 of Section 36

Nahum a/k/a Naham Curtis - the first person to ever purchase land in Highland Township - was born 1784 in New Salem, Franklin County, Massachusetts, the son of Moses and Mary a/k/a Molly (Meacham) Curtis.  He married in 1809 Millicent Waite, the daughter of Phineas and Millicent (Stratton) Waite.  Note in this regard that Millicent (Stratton) Waite was the sister of Jonathan Foster Stratton, and thus aunt of the Stratton brothers - Jonathan Foster Stratton, Joseph Frost Stratton and Samuel Stratton - who were also early settlers in Highland Township.  The families became further related when Nahum's brother, Jeremiah Curtis, married Ruth Stratton, sister of the three Stratton brothers.

In or around 1815 the Curtis and Stratton families moved to Erie County, Pennsylvania.  The 1820 Census for Erie County shows both “Naeum” and Jeremiah Curtis living in Connaught, while Jonathan Frost Stratton is found in the city of Erie.  They made but a brief stay in Pennsylvania, however, coming to Michigan circa 1822.   But while the Strattons initially settled in Ann Arbor, Nahum Curtis settled in Waterford Township, Oakland County, on the shores of Silver LakeHere he made his first purchase of land on November 27, 1830, consisting of 80 acres described as the west 1/2 of the southeast 1/4 of Section 12, Waterford Township, for which a patent was issued on May 2, 1831.  The following year, on September 6, 1832, he acquired 40 acres more acres in Waterford described as the Northeast 1/4 of the southwest 1/4 of Section 12, as well as his purchase in Section 36 of Highland.  His brother Jeremiah Curtis had meanwhile purchased his own parcel, just over the line in Section 7 of Commerce Township.

While Nahum's status as Highland's first landowner is a matter of record, the date he actually settled on his purchase is less clear.  Durant's History of Oakland County, Michigan, p. 202, claims that:

…the first farm opened in Highland was that of Naham Curtis, who commenced clearing, fencing, and tilling his land immediately after settling on the same, in the early summer of 1832.  He sowed the first wheat the ensuing fall, which turned out advantageously, and tolerably free from smut…  The first log house was erected by Naham Curtis, in 1832.  It was built of round logs, he evidently not deeming it expedient to hew them, as he only occupied the house for about two years.  He built the first frame barn erected in the township, in 1833.  Its dimensions were thirty by forty feet.”

The "early summer of 1832" seems too early, however, since Nahum's purchase was not made until September of that year.  So too, it seems odd he deemed it not "expedient" to hew the logs of his home, yet would go to the expense of building a frame barn; presumably hauling the lumber in from the Ruggles sawmill at Milford.

Accounts of the Curtis family's conversion to Mormonism shed additional light on this question.  Taken together, they strongly suggest Nahum Curtis continued to live in the Waterford/Pontiac area through March, 1833, if not beyond.  One family history notes that:

In 1833 Elders Joseph [sic – actually Jared] Wood and Simeon Carter came to Michigan.  Later that year the Prophet Joseph [i.e., Joseph Smith], Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris, who had a brother, Seville, and a sister, wife of Ezekiel Kellogg, near there, also came.  They held a series of meetings in a building in Pontiac, Oakland County, Michigan, which later became known as the Old Mormon Schoolhouse…


The Curtis family attended meetings there and heard the Elders preach the gospel.  One night after retiring, the parents were conversing upon the principles they had just listened to, when they noticed the room begin to grow light.  It grew lighter and lighter until it was as bright as noonday.   Then they heard a voice say, "Nahum, the Book of Mormon is a true record of the people that lived on this continent."  Soon every member of the family joined the church.  Nahum, Millicent and the eldest daughter Sophronia were baptized about February of 1833.   Other children, Lyman, Moses, Mary and Joseph were baptized on 14 March of that year.  Soon the Pontiac Branch of the Church was organized in the Old Mormon Schoolhouse…


An autobiography dictated by George Curtis, another son of Nahum Curtis, is to the same effect:

 I George Curtis, was born 27 Oct. 1823 at Silver Lake, near Pontiac, Oakland County, Michigan.

When I was 10 years old, the Prophet Joseph Smith in company with Jared Carter, came to our place preaching the Gospel. Meeting was held in my father's house. There was quite a branch of the Church built up around this area. My people all joined the Church in 1833.


Other references help flesh out these accounts.  It is well documented, for example, that Mormon missionaries Jared Carter and Moses Daley came to Pontiac in December, 1832.  Then, in October, 1834 [Note 1], Joseph Smith himself visited Pontiac, accompanied by his brother Hyrum and other church leaders.  One of those who heard Smith preach was Edward Stevenson, then age 13, who promptly accepted the new faith.  Years later Stevenson – by then a prominent Mormon missionary himself - published his recollections of the event and its aftermath:

I allude to the promise which I heard Joseph Smith make when preaching in a building in Pontiac, Oakland County, Michigan, and which has since been known as the "Old Mormon Schoolhouse."… 

Not long after a branch of the Church was organized in the Mormon Schoolhouse, one of its members (and I believe the first one who received the gift of tongues) was a schoolmate of mine, Miss Mary Curtis [i.e., the daughter of Nahum Curtis, born May 15, 1821], a very nice little girl of only twelve years of age.  In one of our meetings Mary arose to testify of her good feelings and the goodness of God to her in bestowing upon her the Holy Ghost.  While thus speaking, she quite unexpectedly to herself commenced speaking in tongues…


Edward Stevenson, Incidents of My Early Days In The Church, originally published in the Juvenile Instructor; reprinted in The Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star, Vol. 58, No. 47 (Nov 19, 1896), p. 748 (Emphasis added)


Taken together, these accounts would seem to indicate that Nahum Curtis remained in Waterford at least through March, 1833, and perhaps as late as Joseph Smith's visit to Pontiac in October, 1834.

At some point, however, Curtis does seem to have settled on his parcel in Highland Township.  He was among those who attended the first township meeting on April 6, 1835, at which time he was elected both an overseer of the poor and overseer of highways for District 4.  His stay in Highland was brief, however, since he soon joined the Mormon migration to Far West, Missouri.  He eventually settled at Nauvoo, Illinois, where both he and his brother Jeremiah were prominent in the early history of the Church of Latter-Day Saints.


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