The area of Marine City had been Ojibwa territory for centuries before the first European contact. Beginning in the 17th century, French trappers and missionaries entered the territory, followed by settlers in the colonial period on both sides of the Detroit and St. Clair rivers. Farmers developed long, narrow plots that were laid out in the typical rectangular shape of colonial French, with the narrow end along the riverfront. The first Catholic Church was built by French Catholics at Catholic Point, where they had bought land before the United States was formed. French Canadians also lived on the other side of the river in a small farming community known as Petite Côte.
It was not until after the American Revolution that European-American settlers arrived in any number. In the 1780s they obtained a deed for land from the Chippewa Indians. The Americans began to call the community "Yankee Point", because so many settlers came from the Northern Tier of states, with late 18th and 19th-century westward migration originating from New England and New York. They also called the settlement "Belle River" (Belle Riviere in French), as the French had; this later was applied as the name of a neighborhood.
The village was platted by Americans as Newport in 1835-37. Although never incorporated by that name, it was known as "Newport" for 31 years. In 1865, it was incorporated as the Village of Marine City. Thriving on lumber trade and shipbuilding, the village re-incorporated as a city in June 1887.
The second half of the 19th century was the period of great growth in the village, with many workers employed in the lumber and shipping industries. Rafts of lumber were moved down the St. Clair River in the spring to be worked at Marine City or Detroit. Shipyards built some of the many wooden ships that crossed the Great Lakes. Lake steamers linked passengers with small towns around the lakes. Their decks were full and their flags were flying. Marine City was centered on a park by the St. Clair River, where bands played in the bandstand at City Hall during the summer.