On July 10, 1849 Robert Graveraet and his men, which included the young Peter White, hiked down from the Iron hills of the north-central U.P. where they were preparing a new iron mining site. They were expecting the arrival of Amos Harlow, one of Graveraetâ??s business associates from Massachusetts. When they got down to the Lakeshore, they saw that Harlow had already pulled in with more men, equipment and money. His arrival boosted moraleâ??it seemed like a great future was before them.That same day, they began a dock near the site of the present-day Founderâ??s Landing in Marquette. The men began by cutting down trees and throwing them over the bank on to the lakeshore. Then under the direction of one of the foremen, Captain Moody, they carried the whole trees into the water and, according to Peter White, â??piled them in tiers, crosswise, until the pile was even with the surface of the water.â?? The crew then wheeled sand and gravel on top of the structure and spent the next two days improving it by â??corduroying the surface.â?? At the end of the third day, the men â??looked uponâ?|[the dock]â?|with no little pride.â?? Its east or outer end, recalled White, â??was solid rock, and all inside of that was solid dirt, brush and leaves. We could not see why it should not stand as firm and as long as the adjacent beach itself.â??
The next morning the men arose and could not believe their eyes. The dock was gone! The action of waves had floated away and apparently sunk the makeshift structure they had crafted with so much care. Not a trace of it remained. â??Not even a poplar leaf was left to mark the spot,â?? said White. â??The sand beach was as clean and smooth as if it had never been disturbed by the hand of man.â?? After the initial shock wore off the mischievous, young Peter White took a stick and wrote in the smooth sand: â??This is the spot where Capt. Moody built his dock.â?? The captain was not amused. He stomped and trod upon the announcement and told White he would get his discharge at the end of the month. Fortunately, according to White, â??he either forgave or forgot the affront. It was a long time before any one had the hardihood to attempt the building of another dock.â??
During the rest of the summer, cargo steamers would anchor as far as two miles from shore. The freight and passengers were then landed in small boats. Cattle and other livestock were always pitched overboard and forced to swim ashore.
Peter White had a knack for business and since he could read and write, an uncommon skill in the frontiersman of the day, he rose to prominence at an early age. He managed Graveraetâ??s general store. Later, he owned it. He then studied law in his spare time and he eventually opened a law office. Essentially, his practice dealt with foreclosures. White, in good measure, made his fortune off the misfortune of others. In time, he opened a bank and became well known to the big money interests in the big cities to the east. Money was in short supply in pioneer Upper Michigan. To remedy this, the mines issued their own currency, which the miners then exchanged for real money at Peter Whiteâ??s bank. The miners called his currency exchange department the â??shaving shop.â?? The derogatory name was given because the miners were â??shavedâ?? with a substantial currency exchange surcharge.Peter White turned to philanthropy and service in his later years. Marquetteâ??s library, Presque Isle and Northern Michigan University owe their existence, at least in part, to Peter White. He was a great promoter and story teller. In fact, if you listen to his version of the founding of Marquette, you may be led to believe that an 18-year old store clerk was the chief figure in the founding of Upper Michiganâ??s largest city. He was a tireless promoter of U.P. and this, along with his generosity, more than made up for his ruthlessness in the early days.