“Sufferers’ Land” Post#1 – Land of Opportunity

In his fortieth year, Platt Benedict left his home in Danbury, Connecticut and traveled to the Ohio wilderness in search of a new home for his family. It was September 1815 and the war with the British had ended a few months earlier, re-opening the frontier for settlement. [1]

An energetic man, Platt had a stern and businesslike visage, and, to judge from his writing, he spoke in a businesslike manner as well. Born in March 1775, only a month before the battles of Lexington and Concord ignited the Revolutionary War, his early experiences were of that war — he was eight years old when it ended.

He came from a distinguished family, a descendant of Thomas Benedict, who settled in New England in 1638 and established a clan of American Benedicts that number in the thousands today. A respected member of the Danbury community, Platt’s father Jonas Benedict served as the town’s representative to the General Assembly of Connecticut in 1809. Platt was also active in the town. From 1812 to 1817, he was collector of the port of Danbury. [2] He was active in the Masons, becoming associated with that fraternity in 1811. [3]

Platt was not what we typically think of as a pioneer, nothing like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. He did not own a rifle or any other weapon. Like many New Englanders of the time, he was a man of business and a farmer. His weapons against the wilds of the frontier were the axe and saw, the hoe and plow. With these, he and his fellow Yankees would clear the forests and till the fields, changing the landscape of Northern Ohio from wilderness to productive farmland.

Although he had been a successful man in Danbury, Platt wanted more than what was available to him in New England. In the west lay the opportunity to begin a new life — and establish a new town. No doubt, he considered the possibility for years, but the War of 1812 put a hiatus on westward emigration, stymieing his plans. At the war’s end, he took decisive action.

He was bound for the “Firelands” or “Sufferer’s Land,” a part of the Connecticut Western Reserve that had been set aside for nineteen-hundred residents of coastal Connecticut towns that lost their homes and property because of British raids during the Revolution. The settlers would use the names of those Connecticut towns — Greenwich, Norwalk, Fairfield, Danbury, New Haven, East Haven, New London, Ridgefield and Groton — to name the townships and villages of the Firelands. [4]

The Firelands was not large, only five-hundred-thousand acres, roughly consisting of what are now Erie and Huron Counties. The frontier was ending in Ohio and, except for the swamps of the northwest corner, the Firelands would be the last area settled in the state.

Platt did not go directly to the Firelands. He stopped first in Canfield, Ohio, a town founded by Connecticut Yankees years before. His cousin Eli Boughton introduced him to a leader of the Canfield community named Elisha Whittlesey, who had moved to Canfield from Danbury, Connecticut in 1806. [5]

A leader in state politics, Elisha served as Prosecuting Attorney for the Court of Common Pleas in Warren. [6] He also saw opportunity in the Firelands and had organized an expedition to investigate the possibilities. Recognizing Platt’s potential and desire, he invited him along.

They traveled to Avery, Ohio, two miles north of where the town of Milan is today. The earliest settlers to the region had recently chosen Avery, one of the few settlements in the Firelands, as the county seat of newly founded Huron County, which included present day Erie County. [7] Platt and Elisha stayed at the home of David Abbott, who had first come to the Firelands before the War of 1812 from Chagrin, Ohio, where he had settled in 1802. He was of an older generation of settlers of the Firelands, a generation that had experienced war, famine and hardship. [8]

The first County Court convened in David Abbott’s home soon after Platt and Elisha arrived, with about forty men attending. David Abbott served County Clerk, and one of the Associate Judges of the court was another early settler named Almon Ruggles. He owned land along the lake and had surveyed the Firelands several years earlier.

Many of the men attending voiced their dissatisfaction with Avery as County Seat. They favored a sand ridge south of town, but were concerned that water might be lacking. After the Court adjourned, Platt and Elisha went to the home of Abijah Comstock in Norwalk Township and asked him to guide them to the sand ridge. [9]

Abijah was from New Canaan, Connecticut. His father had received a claim from some of the original “Sufferers” of Norwalk, Connecticut who had been burned out of their homes during the Revolution. Abijah’s brother settled in Norwalk Township in 1809, but returned to Connecticut because of bad health. He turned his homestead over to Abijah, who came to the township in the summer of 1810. [10]

He guided Platt and Elisha to the sand ridge. They were pleased to find sufficient water, and a large meadow where nearby residents grazed their cattle. An Indian trail and several wagon tracks crossed the ridge. [11] It was covered with a few oaks, being what was then termed an oak opening — a sand ridge, with an undergrowth of whortleberry bushes. [12]

Elisha knew that the owners of the land — a man named Colonel Taylor and a woman named Polly Bull, both living in Connecticut — were willing to sell. The men agreed that Platt should start immediately for Connecticut to make them an offer. Time was short. The opportunity was now, and the men were determined not to lose it.

Platt traveled by horse, spending many hours each day in the saddle. He reached Danbury in eleven days, an amazing feat for that time, and went immediately to Colonel Taylor’s home in New Milford, sixteen miles away. Colonel Taylor owned five hundred and sixty acres on the sand ridge and he agreed to sell it to Platt for $2.25 an acre.

Platt next visited Polly Bull, a widow who owned eight hundred and sixty acres near the ridge. She and her husband settled in the Firelands in 1811, but they fled to Cleveland at the beginning of the War of 1812. After her husband’s death in October 1812, Polly returned with her children to their home in New Milford. She did not intend to return to the Firelands, and agreed to sell her land for $2.00 per acre.

The following spring, Platt paid Colonel Taylor and Polly for their lands and sent the deeds to Elisha in Canfield. Elisha returned to the Firelands and contracted Judge Ruggles to survey a town plat with forty-eight lots. They named the town Norwalk. [13]
Platt prepared to move to the Firelands, arranging for the sale of his house and belongings and divesting himself of his businesses. However, something was about to happen in New England that would delay his plans, and change the lives of many in the region.

I would appreciate comments about this post. Please click on the comments button below or email me at dawbarton@aol.com. Thank you.

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Footnotes
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 16. & The Firelands Pioneer, October 1896, p. 108.
[2] Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes & Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, pp. 4-6.
[3] The Genealogy of the Benedicts in America, by Henry Marvin Benedict, 1870, p. 381.
[4] From the speech of the Honorable John Sherman, printed in The Firelands Pioneer, November 1858, p. 11.
[5] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 16-17
[6] Elisha Whittlesey’s story is from “Elisha Whittlesey,” by A. Newton, The Firelands Pioneer, June 1864, pp. 10-18.
[7] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk” by Samuel B. Lewis, The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, p. 33
[8] Story of David Abbott is in “Scattered Sheaves – No. 1 – By Ruth, The Firelands Pioneer, November 1859, pp. 21-26.
[9] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17.
[10] The story of the settlement of Norwalk Township by the Comstock family is from “Early Settlers of Norwalk,” by Philo Comstock, The Firelands Pioneer, June 1868, pp. 105-108.
[11] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17.
[12] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Henry Lockwood, Esq., The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 27-28.
[13] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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5 Responses

  1. Great blog, Dave. I have read that one of the Benedicts and a man whose last name was Platt formed the survey team that laid out Danbury, Connecticut. Did you find that?
    Also, it is Ian Frazier rather than Ian Farmer who wrote Family.
    Can’t wait for next week.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Ellen.
    I haven’t heard about a man named Platt laying out Danbury. I’ll check it out.
    I appreciate the correction about Ian’s name. I’ve changed the text. This is the major reason I’m presenting this history as a blog. It’s hard to be objective about one’s own work, and many times I find I make dumb mistakes that will jump out at others who are distant from the actual writing.
    I expect, and welcome, future kind corrections.
    Dave.

  3. Hey, you have taught me something new about using the computer! It’s a matter of learning what the words mean.
    I did know Hariott Barton, who came to Norwalk the last few years of her life, and we used a picture of her in costume at the museum at Christmas time, and Eleanor Wickham, who lived here all her life. They were both friends of my parents, and they always went to Eleanor’s house on New Year’s Eve, and my mother, who had played piano for silent movies, played piano for everyone to sing.

  4. Dave
    Not being an American, I know little of American History, but I was interested in the Buckingham connection. My Grandfather, Thomas Buckingham, came to Australia from Devon in England in 1874. He came from the village of Twitchen. I was wondering if you have any idea of where you Buckinghams came from. I have traced my family back to 1600 over there .
    Jill

  5. Hi Jill,

    Thanks for your note. Unfortunately I don’t have anything about where in England the ancestors of Henry Buckingham came from. All I know is that Thomas Buckingham arrived in Boston in 1637. If I find out anything more, I’ll let you know.

    Thanks again for commenting on my blog.

    Regards,
    Dave Barton

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