Photo of Peter Q. White

His Early Story

Peter Quintard White was born on October 31, 1830 in Rome, New York to Dr. Stephen and Harriett Tubbs White. Although educated as an Episcopal clergy-man, Stephen worked as an inn keeper and later as a book dealer.

White’s mother died when he was not yet nine years old. Shortly thereafter, the family and their new stepmother moved to Green Bay, WI. White attended school in Green Bay until he could no longer cope with the family circumstances and left home at age 14 to become his own “master & mentor.” He worked sailing schooners on the Great Lakes to make passage to the upper copper country.

The ships he choose had bad luck. One burned, another sank; then he nearly died from a broken arm. After working his way north from Detroit, White landed a job as a store clerk on Mackinac Island where he worked for two years earning $24 a month until Robert J. Graveraet sought him out with a new job offer. Graveraet offered White and nine other men a chance to go north. They would help establish the Marquette Iron Company. From Mackinac Island they traveled north to Sault Ste. Marie by steamer. Next they set out on barges loaded with equipment and supplies on the 8-day trip along Lake Superior’s southern shoreline to join the iron and copper excitement that would begin in “Indian Town.”

White in Marquette

Peter White was 18 years of age when he and the Graveraet party arrived at the waterfront town known as “Indian Town” in the spring of 1849 with a Mackinac barge laden with supplies. The travelers’ first night was spent with Chippewa Chief Charley Kawbawgam in his cedar wigwam.  A natural at languages, White learned Chippewa easily along with French and German.

When the Marquette Iron Company folded, White went to work for the Cleveland Company, the new owner.  He quit to open his own store in 1854.  As a store clerk, he continued his education. He studied and became a lawyer, opened a law office—White & Maynard, but quit practicing after ten years.

While his law office was open, White formed a lending library with his own books. By 1872 it had grown to 10,000 volumes. He approached

the Michigan Legislature to establish funding for a public library. In 1904 White and several other prominent people of Marquette donated land, money and books and opened the Peter White Public Library building on the corner of Front and Ridge Streets.

Other interests took precedence in his life.  He was instrumental in founding St. Luke’s Hospital. White and Philo Everett worked to form a separate diocese for the Northern Peninsula of the Episcopal Church. As Commissioner of Marquette’s Parks and Cemetery for over 40 years, White oversaw the landscaping and building of a pond in Park Cemetery. Elected as a State Senator in 1875, White wrote legislation and saw to its passage gifting Presque Isle’s 328 acres to the City of Marquette. He personally sponsored the paving of a road through swampy ground and donated monies to Marquette to maintain the island park for its first five years. The first 500 Lombardy poplars along the lakeshore came from White in 1877.

He again faced the Michigan State Legislature in Marquette’s behalf fighting to bring a college (today’s Northern Michigan University) to the northern peninsula in 1899.

Family Life

White married Ellen Sophia Hewitt, daughter of Dr. Morgan L. Hewitt on Sep 27, 1857. They had six children: Mary, Frances, Morgan, Sadie, Kirkland and Mark. Three died of diphtheria in 1878 within one month. Following the later death of his 12-year-old son, Morgan, White built the Morgan Memorial Chapel onto St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and placed stained-glass windows from the Tiffany Glass Co. in the chapel in honor of his other children. His eldest daughter Mary married Alfred O. Jopling, a mining man, in 1881. Frances married George Shiras III, a photographer and environmentalist, in 1885. After presenting the Whites with two grandchildren, Mary died in 1896.

Due to Mrs. White’s failing health and the related fact that they could not move their residence to Washington, D.C. as required, White declined President Grover Cleveland’s offer to appoint him as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Mrs. White died in August 1905. Peter Quintard White died on June 6, 1908 in Detroit, MI while on a business trip.

Peter White Firsts
  • Member of first group to clear birch trees along the waterfront at “Worcester” (now Marquette) when Gravereat, White and group arrived. They greeted the Amos Harlow group on June 10, 1849.
  • First steam boiler filled by White for $1.50. It took three days and two nights to fill.
  • Involved in the making of the first plank road from Negaunee to Marquette. Later converted to strap railroad.
  • Won his first election in 1851 as Marquette County’s first Register of Deeds.
  • First Postmaster to use dogsleds to deliver mail during the winter in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He held Carp River/Marquette postal position for 12 years.
  • Wrote first bill of lading for first shipment of 7 barrels of ore to leave the Northern Peninsula for B.L. Webb of Detroit.
  • First customs officer of Marquette office in 1857. Also Registrar at U.S. Land Office.
  • Formed first bank in Marquette. Incorporated the First National Bank of Michigan in 1863.
  • Member of first school board. Remained member for 50+ years.
  • Member of committee for naming Negaunee (means Pioneer in the Chippewa language) and Ishpeming (means Heaven).
  • Sold insurance for the Knickerbocker Life Insurance Company. Later White represented 17 companies selling fire and life insurance.

For more information about Peter Q. White, check out “The Legacy of Peter White” from Michigan History Magazine.