UP Centenarians’ Club: Joseph John Croisitiere

Joseph John Croisitere is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

As part of the Marquette Regional History Center’s 100th birthday celebrations, we’re recognizing people who have also joined the “U.P. Centenarians’ Club” by reaching that milestone birthday.

Joseph John Croisitere’s claim to fame was living in three different centuries. He was born on July 4, 1799 in Quebec, Canada to Jean Baptiste Croisitiere and Marie Nault. Joseph married Marie Angelique or Angeline Rival dit Bellerose who was also known as Angele and together they had 20 children! Aside from the births of his children, not much is known about the first half of Joseph’s life in Canada, although late in life he described recollections of the War of 1812. In the 1850s Joseph immigrated to the United States, initially settling in Sault Ste. Marie before coming to Marquette in 1869.

Joseph worked as a laborer and as a fisherman. But as he aged, he wasn’t able to work as he once had and in the late 1880s although he still did odd jobs around town he began receiving aid from the county. The typical level of county assistance was $5 a month as well as wood for heating. About 1891 friends raised money to send him on a pilgrimage to a shrine in Quebec. While there, he was able to visit his birthplace and obtained a copy of his baptismal record from the parish register, confirming his advanced age.

Joseph’s wife, Angele, died in March 1895 at the age of 87. Following her death, he lived in a small shanty in south Marquette where he also cultivated a patch of potatoes, maintaining a precarious existence. One newspaper article in 1903 described “Crositiere is bent double with years… He has for some time been too feeble for work, but he is spry enough to be about.” Despite his age, Joseph’s health was quite good, he suffered little sickness and his faculties were considered to be “unusually good.” He was a familiar figure on the streets and frequently took long walks, even as far as the neighboring townships.

From time to time, his relatives made an effort to look after him and he lived for short periods with several of his surviving children. In the 1900 U.S. Census, he is living with his widowed daughter Mary Brisson and some of her children and grandchildren. But these efforts failed as “he has been intractable, owing to the infirmities of his years and has not been willing to do as he was told.”

At one point in the 1890s the sisters at the hospital also attempted to take him in charge, cleaning him up and getting him new clothes. During this period, he was described as looking the best he had in all the years he had been an applicant for county aid. The sisters offered to take good care of him for the remained of his days in return for a quit claim deed to his small property (where the previously mentioned shanty and potato patch were located). But he wouldn’t give it up and shortly afterwards he drifted away from the hospital.

Despite all of these efforts, eventually Joseph was placed at the County Poor Farm in April 1902. It was noted that the officials were powerless to restrain him from wandering and wander he did. After just 44 days he ran away. He returned to the Poor House two more times, in January 1903 when he stayed just over 5 months and again in December 1903. I noticed that Joseph seemed to go to the Poor Farm during the winter months and leave in the spring. This is speculation on my part, but I suspect the weather and perhaps the inability to heat his home played a role in his seeking help. We don’t know how long he stayed the third time at the Poor Farm, but at some point he left to live with his son, Napoleon Croschere, which is where he died.

At the time of his death on June 11, 1905 he was less than one month shy of his 106th birthday. Unsurprisingly his cause of death is listed as old age. The surprise comes from his obituary which says “His death was without warning and was a surprise to his family.” He was survived by eight of his 20 children and at the time, his lineal descendants numbered 103 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren. He was buried with his wife in Old Catholic Cemetery in south Marquette.

Shortly after his death, Joseph gained further notoriety based on his advanced age. In July 1905, he was featured in this Reinhardt’s Grocery ad in the playbill for “Miss D. Q. Pons” a comedic opera by Will Adams and Norma Ross, although the ad misspelled his name and incorrectly gave his age as 106.