James Witherell, a member of the Territorial Supreme Court, authored an education act on this day in 1809, according to the Historical Society of Michigan.
His effort ultimately helped to establish a compulsory education system for the young territory.
Witherell was born in Mansfield, Mass., in 1759. He served in the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783 during the American Revolutionary War and was elected to the U.S. House representing Vermont in 1807 and 1808.
While serving in Congress, Witherell supported a measure that abolished the importation of slaves into the United States. In 1808, President Thomas Jefferson appointed him to serve as Michigan’s fourth territorial secretary. Witherell remained in the post for 20 years.
During his tenure, he served briefly as commander of Detroit troops during the War of 1812.
Witherell died at his home in Detroit on Jan. 9, 1838, about one year before Michigan was admitted was admitted to the union as a state. He was buried in Detroit’s Elmwood Cemetery.
A downtown Detroit street is named in his honor.