On Jan. 15, 1818, Gov. Lewis Cass issued a proclamation naming the third and largest county in the territory of Michigan after his good friend, Alexander Macomb. At that time, Macomb County included all of Genesee, Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Oakland and St. Clair counties, as well as parts of Sanilac, Shiawassee, Ingham and Tuscola counties. On March 7, 1834, the Township of Macomb, also named after Alexander Macomb, was created by an act of the territorial legislature; it was originally composed of both the townships of Chesterfield and Macomb.
The son of a fur merchant, Macomb was born in British-held Detroit on April 3, 1782. He was commissioned first lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers and then established the military academy at West Point in 1802 where he was one of the first officers to receive formal training. Macomb married his cousin Catharine Navarre in 1803. He was the commanding officer for the garrison in Detroit after the War of 1812 but was best known for his heroic efforts that defeated the British at the Battle of Plattsburgh in New York.
Macomb was third in line for the position of commanding general of the United States Army when Maj. Gen. Jacob Brown died in 1828. In what was referred to as “petticoat influence,” Macomb was thought to have been selected over generals Winfield Scott and Edmund Pendleton Gaines due to the influence of the sister of the wife of Secretary of the Treasury Richard Rush, a close advisor to the president. Her sister, in an effort to have her daughter near her in Washington, had promised Macomb that if he would move her son-in-law, Lieutenant Cooper, to Washington, that she would in turn influence the president to secure the chief command for him.
Macomb was promoted to major general in May of 1828 and made commanding general of the United States Army from May 29, 1828 through June of 1841.
Macomb died in office on June 25, 1841 and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Attending the ceremony were President John Tyler, former President John Quincy Adams, congressional members and battalions of soldiers.
Macomb County has paid tribute to its distinguished namesake throughout the years. The Daughters of the American Revolution named a chapter after him in 1899, which is still in existence today. In 1972, the Macomb County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution proclaiming that every year from then on, Macomb County will celebrate Macomb Heritage Day on April 3, the birth date of Macomb.
In 1974, the Macomb County Historical Society and the Macomb County Bicentennial Committee presented the Alexander Macomb state historical marker that graces the land between the county and court buildings in downtown Mount Clemens. Under the guidance of the Alexander Macomb Memorial Committee Chairman Dr. Patrick Johnson, Grosse Pointe sculptor Frank Varga created the bronze statue of Macomb that stands in front of the courthouse today. Dedicated on July 1, 1977, the 22-foot-tall statue was funded by interested citizens and community organizations. In 2004, the Macomb County Historical Commission created the Alexander Macomb Historical Award which is given each year to recipients who have shown outstanding commitment to historic preservation.
On July 17, 2008, a second funeral was held for Macomb in Washington, D.C. The 13-foot-tall monument that marked the grave of Macomb and his first wife had started to lean, causing the brick vault under the monument to collapse. The couple were exhumed and kept at the Smithsonian Institution during the month-long restoration of the monument and tomb. The second funeral was attended by Macomb’s descendants, who placed their ancestors in new coffins. A bugler led the procession of National Park Service employees dressed in the military garb of 1812. The same bell that tolled for Macomb in 1841 again tolled for him in 2008.
Cynthia S. Donahue is a historian for Macomb County Facilities and Operations. This article was featured in Macomb Matters in January 2013.