Welcome to the Firelands History Website

“Sufferers’ Land.”

These evocative and descriptive phrases refer to a region in northern Ohio set aside by the state of Connecticut for “Sufferers” burned out of their homes by the British during the American Revolution. Part of the Western Reserve, it covered present-day Huron and Erie counties.

After the War of 1812, a flood of emigration erupted out of crowded New England, the result of a pent up desire for new land that had been held in check by the threat of Native Americans defending their homes, and the spur of economic hardship engendered by the catastrophic “Year without Summer” of 1816. Most of these pioneers were bound for the Firelands.

Thus began one of the great migrations of American history; a flood of humanity that poured out of New England and settled lands stretching along the southern shores of the Great Lakes from upstate New York to Illinois and across the Mississippi River into Iowa.

These settlers greatly impacted the history of the United States. In the 1850’s, some of them entered Kansas and clashed with the leading edge of another great migration that had settled the South — a tragic foreshadowing of the Civil War. The grandchildren of the settlers of the Old Northwest formed the backbone of the Union Army of the West during that war and made possible the Republican majority that ruled the nation the remainder of the century.

This website presents histories of the Firelands and genealogies of families that settled there.

  1. “Sufferers’ Land” is a history of the settlement of the Firelands from the founding of the town of Norwalk in 1817 by Platt Benedict to the final Pioneers Reunion and founding of The Firelands Historical Society in 1857. This story may be read by selecting any of the 53 episodes in the Sufferers’ Land Index of Posts.
  2. Genealogical information of families who settled in the Firelands is also included on this website. These include the Benedict, Wickham, Preston, Taylor, BuckinghamDeForest, Deaver, and Lockwood families.
  3. Little Doctor on the Black Horse is a memoir of Doctor David DeForest Benedict of Norwalk, Ohio, a Union Surgeon during the Civil War. It was written by his granddaughter Harriott Benedict Wickham, who included in the story excerpts of letters he wrote to his wife from the field and from Libby Prison, where he was a prisoner of war. See the Little Doctor on the Black Horse Index of Posts to read the entire memoir.

I would appreciate comments about this website. Please click on the comments button below and let me know what you think. Thank you.

The Firelands History Website had a great 2015. Thanks to all who visited the site this past year. Please see the stats at the 2015 in Review post.

© 2011 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

Homer Beattie – Post # 2 – Nickname?

Class of 1907: Homer Beattie Post # 1

homer-beattie-commencement-photoIn the post on September 18 celebrating the birthday of Homer Beattie, I mentioned that he might be a “Rastus” Beattie who is mentioned in my grandmother’s 1908 diary. A pejorative term today, it was not considered so in that day and age.

But is Rastus Beattie really Homer? Below are the diary entries that mention him. Let’s see how they might match with what the record says about Homer Beattie.

 Sunday, June 7 – . . . Oh! I forgot to say that Rastus Beattie is home. I was talking to him yesterday. I’m glad he’s home, he looks all done up, although he says he’s all right.

 Wednesday, June 10, . . . After dinner, Ed and I went over home to play tennis, but Billy had gotten ornery, and said they couldn’t use his net any more, so we couldn’t play. I had a date with Rastus Beattie to play tennis too, and he called up to see about it, but as we couldn’t very well play without a net, we called it off, and Ed & I went down town. . . .

 Rastus is home, but from where? I would think it was from college. Homer did go to college; at least later on. In 1913, he was a senior at the University of Michigan and a member of the Forestry Club (his career was in Forestry). [1] But if he was a senior, this does not equate with him being in school in 1908, but in the 1909 Norwalk City Directory, Homer Beattie is listed, with occupation student. So it is possible that he started college in 1907, straight out of high school, which would put him home for summer vacation in June of that year.

Saturday, June 27: . . . We got up home in time for supper and afterwards went down to the library. We were sitting on the steps with Rastus and Fred French when the Davidson’s walked the steps. Poor Rastus, he nearly fainted, and Fred almost went into hysterics. Then we all kindly adjourned and left Rastus to make his peace. . .

Friday, July 17 – We have had a terrible storm today: thunder and lightening, and a regular cloud burst. We were glad to see it though, for our cistern gave out a few days ago, and carrying water is no fun. I got a letter from Irene today, saying that they are going to have a progressive dinner party for Meg, as she is going away so soon. She wants me to join her in giving the fourth course. She said they would find a “grand” fellow to take me. I don’t see where they would find him, I’m sure, so that isn’t much of an attraction. Probably Ernest Rudolph or Rastus Beattie, and either one doesn’t come up to my conception of grand. . .

Wednesday, Aug 12 – More arithmetic and grammar, etc., and the hall hotter than ever. We have a pretty good time though, looking at the people. It’s a regular menagerie. This evening Sara and I were going to the band concert, so I met her down at the library and we sat on the steps waiting for it to begin. Something happened however and the concert was called off, so we still sat on the steps. Quite a lot of kids had come down & we had a regular party there. About half past eight we went home and Rastus came along with me. I stayed all night at Grandma’s so we went down there and sat on the side steps. Rastus got very confidential, and we had a real “heart to heart” talk.

More encounters with “Rastus,” but nothing that indicates he is really Homer Beattie. But this is still summer vacation, so if Home were in college . . .

For the next four months, Harriott does not mention “Rastus” at all. Then, after Christmas, he reappears:

Dec. 28 – 1908 – Went shopping all this aft. I guess I am going to the dance with Charley Yanquell. Poor child, he might as well take his grandmother. Met Rastus downtown. He is looking for a partner to the dance. Hope he’ll come around my way. Went down to the Sunday School Christmas tree tonight. They always have it on this date, Holy Innocent’s Day. I got a box of candy and an orange, and had some ice cream and cake. After that we went to the play, a stock company show, – and a fair sample. Lots of Pi Kappa girls haven’t bids, even Milly Monnett. She and Harry are off, so I hear.

Dec. 29, 1908 – I have another bid and it’s about time. Rastus Beattie asked me to go with him, and I accepted. I guess Charlie Y. is going to take Edna now. Irene stayed all night with me and we have been together all day. In the afternoon we went downtown and met Rastus. He joined us and wandered around with us all the aft., even down to Grandma’s.

Dec, 30, 1908 – Well the dance is over, and I had an awfully good time, so much better than I expected that I am quite satisfied. I think almost every one had a good time. There were more boys than girls, so there weren’t a whole lot of wallflowers.

So here we are. “Rastus” Beattie, who does not exist in any source beyond this diary, only appears in the diary when colleges are not in session, then disappears when they are in session. Is this Homer Beattie? What do you think? If you have a clue, post a comment below.


[1] “Forestry Club,” The Michiganensian Yearbook, 1913, p. 298

[2] Norwalk, Ohio Directory: 1909 – 1910, Page #: 8; Publisher: The Williams Directory Company, 1909

Norwalk, Ohio High School Class of 1907


Norwalk High School Class of 1907: Front Row: Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff. Second Row: Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Harriott Wickham, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt. Third Row: Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French. Fourth Row: Homer Beattie, Florence Bascom, Alice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Cleo Collins.

How many times have you come across an old family photo, but have no idea of the identity of the people in it? Unfortunately, too often our ancestors neglected to scrawl identifying information on the backs of their photos. Fortunately for me, my grandmother Harriott Wickham (second row, third from left in the photo above) understood how important it is to record names of people in her photos for future generations. She not only preserved this photo of her graduating class, she also recorded her classmates’ names on an accompanying scrap of paper.


Old Norwalk High School

The members of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 are no more. But in their day, at the beginning of their adult lives, they were full of enthusiasm and hope for the future. As I gazed at their faces, so serious, yet so full of life, I wondered who they were and how they lived their lives? I decided to find out.

Not only had my grandmother recorded the names of her classmates, she kept a diaries during those years that describe many of them and tell of her interactions with them. Unfortunately, the diary for her senior year is missing, but she did preserve one for May 1908 to May 1909. From it, and from information I gleaned from research, I began to form a picture of these young people and their families; of where they came from and how they spent their senior year–and the rest of their lives.

What did they do? In small town America of the early 20th Century, young people went to balls, hung out at the library, formed societies, performed in plays and concerts, and played basketball (both boys and girls). They had séances and house parties and spent their summers in cottages on Lake Erie, lazing away the days and dancing at “The Grove” at Ruggles Beach at night.

Who were they and their families? What stock did they come from and how did they spend their lives after graduation? Because I have their names, I’ve been able to answer some of those questions. One of the young men in the photo became a U.S. Senator, but the rest of the the class led ordinary lives: some did not do well, some of them had successful careers. But each one of them has a story I want to tell.

Using my grandma’s diaries and research on the internet, I’m continuing to flesh out the stories behind these faces. Over the next year, I’ll post what I’ve learned–and what I don’t know. I ask your help as I take this journey: to correct my mistakes, and to add your stories to the tale of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907.


Class of 1907 – Cleo Collins

cleo-collins-commencement-photoToday we belatedly celebrate the birthday of Norwalk High School Class of 1907 member Cleo Collins, who, if she were alive today, would be 128 years old. But even if I would have posted in her honor last month, I would have hit the correct day only by chance. Although I know from the 1900 Census that Cleo was born in September 1888, I don’t have found no source that tells me the date—and precious little evidence about her or her family.

Cleo first appears in the 1900 Census when she and her family were living on a farm in Boston Township of Summit County, Ohio, an incredibly rugged piece of real estate. Today, Boston Township occupies the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Sometime before the 1906/07, when Cleo Collins appears in the photo of the Junior/Senior study hall for Norwalk High School, the family moved to Norwalk, and lived at 8 Huron Street, which seems to have been a farm in 1906. In the 1910 Census, Cleo’s father, William Collins, is identified as a farmer, which makes sense. I don’t know where he was born: his parents came from England, but again I do not know who they were. Cleo’s mother, Ida Collins, nee Malhalm, was born in the U.S., but her parents had immigrated from Prussia.

So what I do know about her family in 1906 is this: Cleo probably lived on a farm on the outskirts of Norwalk with her mother and father, her younger brother Jay Collins and her younger sister Dorothy Collins. Her elder brother, Ray Collins, had probably left home by then, or perhaps he had never come to Norwalk when the family moved there from Boston Township.

There is another detail that Cleo’s classmate, my grandmother Harriott Wickham, wrote in her diary on June 7, 1908:

I simply couldn’t stand Norman. Why? He said ‘Yes ma’am’ to me. Just think of it. And Cleo says he wears girls’ stockings. That’s the limit. I get a lot from Cleo, via Irene. I learned recently that poor N. sits up in the clubrooms nights when the rest are off with their ‘Lady friends,’ all alone, with the lights turned out. I am sorry for him, but – he wears girls’ stockings!”

Was it Cleo Collins my grandmother referred to here? I don’t know. There was also a Cleo Price in the Norwalk HS study hall photo.

 So here is the second mystery in this series of posts. Do you know more about Cleo and her family? If so, post a comment below and let’s investigate together.

Class of 1907: Homer Beattie – Post # 1

Today we celebrate the birthday of another member of the Class of 1907, and uncover a few mysteries that need solving, as well.

homer-beattie-commencement-photoOn Monday, September 17, 1906, Homer Beattie celebrated his seventeenth birthday. Unlike his classmate Irene Eline, featured in my previous post, Homer’s family did not live in the blue collar section of Norwalk. They resided in the better part of town south of Main Street, at 137 Benedict Avenue [1]. Homer’s father, Albert Milo (A.M) Beattie, was a lawyer by profession, and had served as Clerk of Courts for Huron County in the 1880s before returning to his own law practice. He was a leader in the community, active in civic organizations and a member of the school board. In 1901, he was a founder of the Norwalk Steel and Iron Company, and became its first president. In 1906, he maintained an office in the Gallup Block on Main Street. Homer’s mother, Dora Beattie, nee Sullivan, had received a good education, not common for women in those days. [2]

Although more spacious than Irene Eline’s home, the Beattie’s residence on Benedict Street was crowded by today’s standards. Beside his


From “Find a Grave” article for Albert Milo Beattie.

father and mother, living in the house were Homer’s sisters Blanche, age 26 and Anna, age 22, and his elder brother, John, age 20. All three were teachers. He also had a younger brother in the home: Arthur, age 11, who like Homer was a student[3]. Now comes the first mystery. Although I can find no direct evidence that he resided at 137 Benedict Avenue, Homer’s maternal grandfather, Josiah Sullivan, who lived most of his life in Pennsylvania, died in Norwalk in 1907 [4]. From what I can tell, Josiah had no other family beside his daughter Dorothy living in Norwalk at the time.

Here’s the second mystery: In her 1908-09 diary, my grandmother, Harriott Wickham (a fellow classmate of Homer Beattie), mentions a close friend named Rastus Beattie [5]. I find many clues in her descriptions of this friend that make me think he is Homer.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will post at least three articles about Homer Beattie. One article will explore his heritage on his father’s side. Another will look at his mother’s line, with a special emphasis on her father’s final days. And I’ll post what my grandmother wrote about “Rastus” Beattie, and try to determine if she was really talking about her fellow classmate, Homer Beattie.

Stay tuned!


 [1] Huron County, Ohio. 1900 U.S. Census Population Schedule, Kenton Ward 2, Huron, Ohio; Roll: 1288; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 0031; FHL microfilm: 1241288., 1900

[2] Firelands Historical Society (Norwalk, Ohio). The Firelands Pioneer (new series). (Norwalk, Ohio: The Firelands Historical Society, 1882-1937), Volume 25, page 220-221, Jun 1937.

[3] My estimate of who was living at 137 Benedict Street in 1906 is based on the following sources:

(a) Huron County, Ohio. 1900 U.S. Census Population Schedule, Kenton Ward 2, Huron, Ohio; Roll: 1288; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 0031; FHL microfilm: 1241288., 1900

(b) Norwalk, Ohio Directory; Year Range: 1909 – 1910; Page #: 8; Publisher: The Williams Directory Company; Publication Year: 1909 – 1910

(c) Norwalk Ward 2, in Huron, Ohio, United States. 1910 U.S. Census Population Schedule, Norwalk Ward 2, Huron, Ohio; Roll: T624_1200; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 0036; FHL microfilm: 1375213., 1910

[4] Obituary, Norwalk Daily Reflector, Page: 3 Column: 4, 8 Jun 1907.

[5] Today Rastus has a pejorative and racist meaning that it did not have in 1906.

Class of 1907 – Irene Eline

Over the next year, I be posting articles about each member of the Class of 1907 on the anniversary of their birth. Today, we’ll begin with Irene Eline; her birthday is past, but because it was only last week, just before I began this series of posts, I hope you will forgive me.


Irene Eline Commencement Photo

Irene celebrated her seventeenth birthday on September 5, which fell on Wednesday in 1906. Two days previously, Norwalk had celebrated Labor Day, which was a big deal in those days.

 Hers was a laboring family. Her father Joseph was a cabinet maker at a piano factory in town, probably A.B. Chase [1]. Sister Lillian, age 19, was a stenographer at Pressing & Orr, a manufacturer of Wilton Brand Ketchup [2] and other food products. Irene’s Aunt Margaret, who was living with the family in 1900, was a seamstress.

The family lived at 180 Whittlesey Avenue, over seven blocks north of Main Street, in the blue collar part of town. The do not count among the Firelands Pioneers featured in The Sufferers’ Land which is posted on the Firelands History Website. Joseph and his wife Anne, were originally from Maryland, and moved to Norwalk from Pennsylvania sometime between the birth of their eldest child, Mary and Lillian.

 How did Irene spend her birthday? School had just begun, so we can imagine she spent the day in class. The high school in those days was at Main and Foster Streets, so she had a walk of almost a mile. What celebration could we imagine for her when she returned home. Her father and mother would be there, and her sister Lillian. Her eldest sister Mary was probably still at home, but by 1909 she was married to James Cooper, a boiler maker with the railroad. And there were three young children in the home: her brother Robert, age 6, and sisters Ruth, age 3 and Catherine, age 2.

 But what about friends? Who were they, and where did they live. Just as in any society and at any time, there are stratums of society that dictate whom we associate with. That would have been the case in 1906 Norwalk. In my grandmother’s diaries and other papers and photos from that time, she never mentions Irene as being her friend. But she moved in different circles from people in north Norwalk. In her diary entry for December 30, 1908, she wrote of meeting a young man named John Yerpe, who she liked. But, she added: “if he were only something other than a Swedish mechanic’s son from north of twon, he would make a hit, I’m sure.” We’ll further explore this social divide in future posts.


[1] A.B. Chase was founded in Norwalk in 1875. See the Antique Piano Shop Website for details.

[2] Andrew F. Smith, Pure Ketchup: A History of America’s National Condiment, with Recipes, University of South Carolina Press, 1996, p. 219.

Who Are They?

The Norwalk High School Class of 1907 included my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham, and twenty-five other students. Who were these other pupils? Well, here is a class roster:

Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff, Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt, Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French, Florence Bascom, Homer Beattie, Slice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Harriott Wickham, and Cleo Collins.

Just names–for now. Over the next year, I will endeavor to breathe life into them: to discover what kind of people they were, who their families were, and what world they inhabited one-hundred and ten years ago.

I have a small treasure of photos to get me started. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Like this image from a long ago theater production of the Class of 1907, for instance.


Who were these young people? What theater production were they in? I do not know the answers–yet. Let’s find out together.



Norwalk, Ohio High School, 1906-1907

Do you have old photos knocking around of your ancestors–and you have no idea who they are–or even if they are your ancestors?

Well I thought I had both problems when I found the photo below at my mother’s house a decade ago. I knew that one of the students was my grandmother. But which one? Then I turned the photo over and found what every genealogist and historian dreams of–my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton (descendant of Firelands Pioneers Platt Benedict and Frederick Wickham) had identified not just herself, but every one of her classmates.

Norwalk High School - Junior, Senior Study Hall

Junior, Senior Study Hall, Norwalk High School, 1906.

I was thrilled, of course, to identify my grandmother (tenth back in the far right column). But then I began to wonder: who are the rest of these people? Where did they live? What were their families like and when did they come to the Firelands?

So I began to research them,focusing on the Class of 1907: on Ancestry, in back issues of the  Firelands Pioneer, and any other source I could find. This was a homogeneous group, compared to schools today, but had their distinctions. And they grew up to have varied careers: some successful, some not–and some just seemed to disappear. Some of the men went off to war, others did not. Most of the women married and had families, others had careers. One of the men became a soldier-statesman: becoming a U.S. Senator, and not only serving in both world wars, but also on General Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa.

I’ve only scratched the surface in my research of the Class of 1907. But on this, the 110th anniversary of their senior year, I have decided to share what I’ve learned so far with you, visitors to this blog, and solicit you help in filling in blanks where you can.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey.