September 8, 2010 by Amy Elliott Bragg
Michigan Governors: Epaphroditus Ransom
Epaphroditus Ransom arrived in what is now Kalamazoo* in November, 1834, after an arduous journey from Vermont by “wagon, canal, steamboat and wagon again,” according to Willah Weddon, author of an adorable book called Michigan Governors: Their Life Stories. (She is also the author of another book that I can only presume is even more adorable, Michigan Governors Growing Up.)
Epaphroditus (“Epaphro” as he sometimes signed his name) was born in Massachussetts and made his livelihood as a lawyer until he heard from his siblings that life in the Michigan territory was really great.
“They lived in a log cabin that first winter,” Weddon writes, “with snow drifting through the roof and wolves howling beneath the windows.” One can only imagine that it wasn’t the easiest season, nor the most confidence-inspiring. But Ransom established a law practice and set to work at building a career as the city of Kalamzoo steadily grew. In 1837, Governor Mason appointed Ransom the first Circuit Court Judge of Western Michigan. In 1843, Governor John Barry appointed him Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Epaphroditus was only 39 years old.
Epaphroditus ran for Governor in 1847 and, on January 3, 1848, was the first Governor to be inaugurated at the new State Capitol in Lansing. Major accomplishments of his term include the promotion of privately operated plank roads — which over the next decade or so connected growing communities like Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo and, of course, big crazy Detroit — and a campaign to attract more German immigrants to Michigan, for which Epaphro sent Edward H. Thompson to New York City, bearing copies of a 47-page pamphlet called The Emmigrant’s Guide to Michigan in German and English. And he was Governor when the first Michigan State Fair (the nation’s second State Fair) was held in Detroit September 25-27, 1849.
Epaphro’s term ended in 1850, likely due to distaste within the Democratic party for his anti-slavery stance; Ransom supported the Wilmot Proviso and no one was really very happy with that. Epaphro lost a ton of money during the Panic of 1855, then James Buchanan sent him to Fort Scott, Kansas, where he died in 1859. He’s buried at Mountain Home Cemetery in Kalamazoo.
In honor of gubernatorial season, we fondly remember the Michigan Governor with the best first name ever.
(*When Epaphroditus moved there, the town was called Bronson, after the settler Titus Bronson, who built the first cabin within contemporary city limits and platted the land. Titus Bronson was not well-liked, and after he was tried and convicted of stealing a cherry tree, the name of the town was changed. Titus Bronson later lost his fortune in a land swindle in Iowa.)
Our occasional biographies of Michigan Governors now have their own tag and a little home under the “People” category on the left sidebar.