Daniel W. Coit, Adventurer and Artist
by Karen Grossman
published: December 4th, 2007
Before his arrival in Michigan, business had taken Coit to South America and Europe between the years 1819 and 1829. From 1829-1832 he traveled in Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and on the Rhine. He enjoyed the works of art he observed in these countries, and not only continued his pastime of sketching from nature, but pursued the study of art under the best teachers. His well-filled portfolios and the valuable paintings by old masters that he purchased and sent home brought life-long pleasure to himself and his friends. An event of 1833, which proved to be of great importance to Daniel Coit, was described by his brother, Joshua. (Find more information to your right in Related Items)
"[Daniel] went on a western tour for the purpose of grouse shooting, a variety of game which, under the name of prairie chickens, abounded in the then unsettled prairies of Michigan. He fell in with a commissioner of the United States who was engaged in locating some lands for the government offices and county seats in that state, then a territory. As the commissioner proved to be a brother sportsman, they partook of the pursuit of grouse together. His companion told my brother he could not do better than invest a few thousand dollars in government lands in well selected sites, which would at least serve to defray the expenses of his excursion."
After hunting with the commissioner in 1833, he took his advice and continued on to the rapids of the Grand River where he found Louis Campau, a French trader, who had long before settled in the wilderness and was the only landowner of note living in the area. Campau took great interest in Coit's skill in shooting and knowledge of wood craft, and consequently invited him to his house, pointed out the advantages the place had for settlement, and helped him in selecting desirable land.
Daniel Coit patented over 2000 acres in Kent County, most of it along or close to the Grand River. He also acquired patents in the counties of Calhoun and Ionia. Grand Rapids soon became the county seat and eventually an important manufacturing town. His shooting excursion led to a purchase which became the main support of his family. Coit did not escape the economic calamities of 1837 when he lost all his property investments in Europe.
He made several excursions to the middle-western territories which were then a wilderness, and among other ventures on the prairies of Iowa he began sheep farming in which he saw great potential for profit. More substantial, however, was the gradual development of his property in Grand Rapids which he was fortunate to retain although at times it was a financial burden.
After his marriage in 1834 to his cousin, Harriet Frances Coit, he spent the next fourteen years living and working in New York, New Rochelle and Norwich, CT. In January of 1848 business took him to Mexico City for the firm of Howland and Aspinwall, a New York shipping firm. The gold rush brought him to San Francisco in 1849 where, as purchasing agent for the Rothschilds, he bought gold dust from miners. In Mexico and California he continued to make sketches of the architecture and landscape. In 1852 he returned to Norwich where he spent his remaining years. He died there in July of 1876.
Even though Daniel Coit never lived in Grand Rapids, his eldest son, Charles Woolsey Coit, arrived here about 1870 and remained to oversee his father's interests and raise a family at 356 Cherry St. SE. Charles W. Coit died in October of 1901 and is buried with his family in Oak Hill Cemetery.
Today's Glance at the Past introduces an early Grand Rapids land owner, Daniel W. Coit.
Books available at the GR History and Special Collections, Grand Rapids Public Library
- Autobiography of Daniel Wadsworth Coit of Norwich Connecticut. Printed for the Family. Grand Rapids, MI: Eaton, Lyon & Allen Printing Co., 1887.
- Digging for Gold Without a Shovel, The Letters of Daniel Wadsworth Coit from Mexico City to San Francisco, 1848-1851. George P. Hammond (editor). Denver, CO: Old West Publishing Co., 1967.
- Gilman, William C. A Memoir of Daniel Wadsworth Coit of Norwich, Connecticut, 1787—1876. [Cambridge, Mass]: Priv. print. [The University Press], 1908.