On this day in 1809: Education act drafted

    Witherell Street in Detroit | Ken Coleman

    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.

    James Witherell

    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.

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.


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