Gabriel Richard, the first priest to serve in the U.S. Congress, died in Detroit on September 13, 1832.
Richard, who was born in France, was known as the second founder of Detroit. He founded Detroit’s first news service, a town crier who read the news of the nation and the world in the town square. In addition he founded the city’s first library, brought the first church organ to Detroit, and started what later became the University of Michigan.
In the War of 1812, Richard refused to pledge his allegiance to the British and was locked up by the British (who had captured Detroit) for refusing to do so. He was finally released when Shawnee Chief Tecumseh demanded the British let him go. Richard was elected to Congress as a non-voting member when Michigan was still a territory — the first priest to serve in the U.S. Congress. As a delegate, he was instrumental in gaining support for the Territorial Road, which linked Detroit and Chicago, opening Michigan to settlement
Richard died from cholera, the final victim of an epidemic that started when a troop ship carrying soldiers to put down Blackhawk’s rebellion near Chicago passed through Detroit. Richard’s funeral took place at St. Anne’s Church, where he had been pastor since 1798.
Father Gabriel Richard’s death notice, which did not appear in the Detroit Free Press until September 27, 1832 (column 1) mentions that over 2000 people from all ranks and denominations attended his funeral.
Michigan Every Day
Detroit Historical Society
For more information, see “Father Gabriel Richard: Detroit’s pioneer priest”, Detroit News, July 20, 1997.