In the distant past, prehistoric Monroe County was the realm of small groups of wandering hunter-gatherers who made good use of the varied resources found in the marshes, prairies, and woodlands of the area. Culture and technology changed gradually over time until the French arrived in the 17th century, introducing the Native Americans to a host of European goods and ideas. Over the course of the 18th century, the River Raisin country passed from French to British and finally to American rule.
Francois Navarre is credited with sparking the surge of migration into the newly formed District of Erie from the Detroit River region in the 1780's. The incoming settlers often negotiated directly with the resident Potawatomies, Odawas, and Wyandots for the possession of the long, narrow ribbon farms that stretched outward from the banks of the River Raisin and other local streams.
Along with the French-Canadians came a mixture of old-time English, Scots, and Irishmen, plus some Yankees and Germans who presaged the massive immigration that would occur after the opening of the Erie Canal in the 1820's through the 1840's.
In 1817, Monroe was established as a county in honor of President James Monroe. Although Michigan was then just a territory, it was well on its way to becoming a state. Statehood was finally granted in 1837, but not before Monroe's southernmost township was ceded to Ohio as a result of the "Toledo War."
That conflict was relatively bloodless, unlike many of the wars that preceded or followed. During the War of 1812, French Town became the scene of the disastrous Battle of the River Raisin. On January 22, 1813, an American army under the command of General James Winchester was entirely destroyed by a combined force of British, Indians, and Canadians. The settlement was almost destroyed as well, resulting in years of near-starvation and rebuilding.
Fortunately, other wars were not fought in our backyards. A large number of Monroe men served in the Civil War, with Norman J. Hall and George Armstrong Custer being among the most exceptional. General Custer, of course, gained further fame by his extraordinary death at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.
As the 19th century turned into the 20th, Monroe County was still mainly agricultural, with pleasant hunting, fishing, and recreational resorts along the Lake Erie shores, and with a reputation for sponsoring public
muskrat dinners. The establishment of large paper manufacturing complexes, however, set the trend towards industrialization which brought more immigrants, particularly from the southern states and from Europe.
Today, Monroe County still sits happily on the shore of our big lake, celebrating our heritage, while looking forward and dreaming of the future.