1824 : Father Gabriel Richard Petitions Congress. First Michigan Earmark?

March 2, 2018 all-day

In his only recorded speech as territorial representative to Congress, Father Gabriel Richard asked for $1,500 to build a road from Detroit to Chicago on March 2, 1824. His appeal was so eloquent that Congress doubled the amount. Born in France, Richard served as pastor of Detroit’s Ste. Anne Church and spent one term as Michigan’s non-voting territorial representative. Until the election of Father Robert Drinan from Massachusetts in 1970, Richard was the only priest to serve in Congress.

Father Richard was born in La Ville de Saintes, France and was ordained a priest in 1790. In 1792, he emigrated to Baltimore, Maryland. He taught at St. Mary’s College in Maryland and then was to do missionary work to the Native Americans in the Northwest Territory. He first ministered in what is now Kaskaskia, Illinois, and later in Detroit.

Kay Houston of The Detroit News wrote an article on Richard titled Father Gabriel Richard: Detroit’s pioneer priest. She credits Richard with:

* He was considered the “second founder” of Detroit.

* He was the first priest to serve in the U.S. Congress.

* He gave Detroit its first library.

* He brought first printing press west of the Alleghenies to Detroit.

* He published Detroit’s first newspaper.

* He co-founded the forerunner of the University of Michigan.

* He helped Michigan get its first good road from Detroit to Chicago.

* He co-founded the Michigan Historical Society.

This is quite the resume! Father Richard was an extraordinary individual who accomplished a lot. However, it is that first Catholic priest in Congress piece which seems to be his biggest claim to fame.

Father Richard was elected as a delegate to the House of Representatives for the 18th Congress. He served a single term, 1823-1825. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1824 and he returned home to Detroit. Although as a one term non-voting member of Congress he probably had little impact, he nonetheless did something else no other Catholic priest had done before by serving in Congress.

Source : Michigan is Amazing

For more information about Father Gabriel Richard, see Kay Houston, “Father Gabriel Richard: Detroit’s pioneer priest”, Detroit News, July 19, 1997.

Dr. Miland Brown World History Blog

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