A Devout Christian Woman

On Sunday, the twentieth day of May 1810, in Norwalk, Connecticut, David Gibbs, a lawyer recently admitted to the Connecticut bar, joined in holy matrimony with Elizabeth Lockwood, a devout Christian woman. [1] He was less than a month shy of his twenty-second birthday.

David Gibbs portraitDavid was born in Windsor, Connecticut to Samuel and Nancy Gibbs. Of Scottish descent, his father had served in the Revolutionary War, and after the war was captain and part owner of a ship sailing out of New York in the European trade. David’s mother, born Nancy Hansen, came from a New York family of Dutch heritage.

The Gibbs family moved to Norwalk, Connecticut when David was about fourteen, and he grew into manhood there. He studied law, and was admitted to the bar in the spring of 1810, not long before he married Elizabeth. [2]

David’s bride was three years his junior, born in Norwalk, Connecticut on March 24, 1791 to Stephen and Sarah Lockwood. Elizabeth’s father was a successful merchant in the millinery trade, owning a shop in Norwalk that manufactured and sold hats. Like David’s father, he was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Elizabeth’s mother, born Sarah Betts, also came from well-off family; her father was a physician. From an early age, she was an active member of the Norwalk Congregational Church, and “was a firm belief in the Christian religion, having breathed no other atmosphere – a sweet and hallowed influence, pervading the whole of her childhood and youth.” [3]

One might expect that David, newly married, would begin practicing law to support his bride and the family they were sure to raise. But when he married Elizabeth, he became part of a family of Sufferers, who had been burned out of their homes during the American Revolution. Two years previously, land in the Firelands had been divided among these Sufferers to compensate them for their loss. [4]

For David, that changed everything. Opportunity on the frontier beckoned.

 

Footnotes

[1] “Descendants of David Gibbs and Elizabeth Lockwood of Norwalk, Ohio, 1816,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume IX; The Firelands Historical Society; 1896; page 546.

[2] “David Gibbs,” Obituaries: The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XII; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1899; page 542. I have been able to find little about David’s ancestry. I do not know if his parents were alive when he married, or anything else about them beyond the short description in this article.

[3] “Incidents in the Life of Elizabeth Lockwood Gibbs,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Vol XI, October 1874, pp. 83-85 and Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970. Louisville, Kentucky: National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. Microfilm, 508 rolls; number 23558.

[4] Baughman, Abraham J. (1909). History of Huron County, Ohio: Its Progress and Development, with Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens of the County, Volume 1; S. J. Clarke Publishing Company; p. 268.

The portrait of David Gibbs is from “David Gibbs,” Obituaries: The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XII; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1899; page 543.

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This is the first of a series of posts about the Lockwood and Gibbs families trek to the Firelands in 1816.

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And Now We Hunt the Doe

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And now We roam in Sovreign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe
Emily Dickinson

 

White-tailed Deer

White-tail Deer [1]

In my last post, Forest Primeval, I wrote that Native Americans would set fires in the forests of the Firelands. Today, we’ll find out why they did this.

Indians in canoes

Indians in Canoes [2]

Native Americans did not live permanently in the Firelands at the time the first pioneers arrived. Instead, Canadian tribes would cross the lake in autumn to hunt. To make it easier for them to spot game from a distance, they would start fires and burn off the underbrush that had grown up over the summer.

Why did they want to see prey from a distance? Can’t the animals see the hunter too, and run away? They can, but although we humans are not as fast as our prey, we can travel farther. In a technique that goes back to a form of hunting first practiced by our earliest ancestors on the plains of Africa, we can use our stamina to advantage, running or walking long distances to exhaust prey. Called “persistence hunting,” this strategy involves hunters keeping an animal, or herd of animals, in sight, pushing them along until they can go no farther. The hunters then can approach and kill their prey at close range. [3]

Settlers picked up this technique from Native Americans. According to pioneer John Niles “It was a maxim among deer hunters, that if a man could follow a deer at the rate of forty miles per day, the deer would tire out before night and lay down.” [4]

Forty miles a day seems a fast rate to maintain all day, but “a day” most likely meant from dawn to dusk. While hiking here in Colorado, I have on occasion kept up that rate for nine hours in fairly rugged terrain, so I can imagine maintaining that pace even longer on the flat-lands of northern Ohio.

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As settlers arrived and pushed the Native Americans out of their traditional winter hunting grounds, these annual fires did not occur, and the forest soon became choked with underbrush, much as we see it today. [5]

 

Footnotes:

[1] “Whitetail doe,” Wikimedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 29 June 2008. Web. 2 May, 2018, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Whitetail_doe.jpg

[2] Rusler, William, A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 12.

[3] “Persitence hunting,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 28 March, 2018. Web. 3 May, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persistence_hunting

[4] John H. Niles, “Memoirs of Richmond,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society, June 1864; pp. 68-69.

[5] Marcus E. Mead, “Memoirs of Greenwich,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society, June 1864; p. 75.

 

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Forest Primeval

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,

Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,

Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,

Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie [1]

 

Unbroken Forest

The Forest Primeval [2]

When I was a lad, every spring, I would hunt for arrowheads at my grandparents’ farm in Fairfield Township of the Firelands. As I walked up and down the rows that Grandpa had recently plowed, I would imagine what the open fields had looked like back when Indians had hunted there.

Or, rather, I tried to imagine. I had never seen a Forest Primeval, and I would not until I was a college senior when, as a student teacher, I accompanied a high school class on a field trip to Goll Woods [3], an old growth forest west of Toledo. The only forests I had seen as a young boy consisted of younger, smaller trees, and were choked with underbrush.

The Forest Primeval “is a forest that has attained great age without significant disturbance and thereby exhibits unique ecological features and might be classified as a climax community.” [4] It has a lot of very old, very big trees.

When the earliest settlers arrived in the Firelands, most of the land was covered in old-growth forests, with enormous trees and a forest floor generally clear of underbrush. But it was not only the shade of the forest canopy that kept the forest clear of brush. It was the frequent occurrence of fires. Not naturally occurring fires, but fires set by man. Every autumn, Native Americans crossed Lake Erie from their homes in Canada and set fire to the forests. [5]

Why did they do this? I’ll explain in my next post.

 

Footnotes

[1] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, David Bogue, 1850; p. 2.

[2] Rusler, William, “Illustration: An Unbroken Allen County Forest,” A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 227.

[3] “Goll Woods State Natural Preserve,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 4 December, 2017. Web. 29 April, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_Wikipedia#MLA_style

[4] “Old-growth Forests,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 April, 2018. Web. 29 April, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_Wikipedia#MLA_style

[3] Marcus E. Mead, “Memoirs of Greenwich,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society, June 1864; p. 75.

 

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More Emily Dickinson – Much More!

My last post, Who is that Narrow Fellow, garnered more interest than I had imagined it would, so I thought I’d follow it with more about Emily Dickinson and her poetry, which I love.

Too say Emily Dickinson was prolific would be an understatement. Although few of her poems were published in her lifetime, she wrote 1,789 – that we know of. A herculean effort if there ever was one.

 

The Prowling Bee

Another herculean effort is underway by Susan Kornfeld in her blog the prowling Bee. Susan has taken on the task of writing and posting commentary for each of Dickinson’s 1,789 poems. Her latest post is number 637, a third of the way to her goal. The name “the prowling Bee,” comes from this poem:

 

to pack the Bud –oppose the Worm
Obtain its right of Dew —
Adjust the Heat — elude the Wind —
Escape the prowling Bee

Great Nature not to disappoint
Awaiting Her that Day —
To be a Flower, is profound
Responsibility —

Susan has not posted a blog about that poem – yet – but she has a post for this one, a favorite of mine:

 

I'm Nobody!

What do you think of this poem? I find the humor delightful. Susan is not as impressed as I. Check out her post here and find out why?

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That’s it for this poetic interlude. In my next post, we’ll return to the history of the Firelands.

 

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Who is that Narrow Fellow?

My last post about Emily Dickinson was so well received (thanks for all the kind comments) that I decided to run another one of her nature poems past you. I love this poem, and recite it to every “narrow fellow” I encounter when hiking.

 

Grass

 

A narrow Fellow in the Grass

Occasionally rides –

You may have met him? Did you not

His notice instant is –

The Grass divides as with a Comb –

A spotted Shaft is seen,

And then it closes at your Feet

And opens further on –

He likes a Boggy Acre –

A Floor too cool for Corn –

But when a Boy and Barefoot

I more than once at Noon

Have passed I thought a Whip Lash

Unbraiding in the Sun

When stooping to secure it

It wrinkled And was gone –

Several of Nature’s People

I know and they know me

I feel for them a transport

Of Cordiality

But never met this Fellow

Attended or alone

Without a tighter Breathing

And Zero at the Bone.

 

Just who is that narrow fellow, anyway? Have you guessed his identity?

 

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Born in Amherst

Like Emily Dickinson, I was born in Amherst – just not the one in Massachusetts. My birthplace is Amherst, Ohio, just over the county line from the Firelands, the subject of this blog. Born in 1830, when much of the Firelands remained a wilderness, she was a contemporary of many characters in my stories. And many of her poems fit well with the other name of that place: “Sufferers’ Land.”

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson Wikimedia Commons

Beside the names of our birthplaces, the only other similarity between me and Ms. Dickinson is that we both write. It is a slim comparison, however. I do not write anywhere near as well – and I stick to prose. And although I love poetry, I can’t write it to save my life.

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This quiet Dust was Gentlemen and Ladies

And Lads and Girls –

Was laughter and ability and Sighing

And Frocks and Curls.

A chance encounter several years ago with that evocative stanza ensnared me.  It expressed so eloquently that poignancy I feel when I write about the lives of my ancestors, and others.  Within a short time I had read two anthologies of her poems, all her letters, and numerous commentaries and biographies. Many commentators seemed to find her poetry depressing, and some of it is. But much of it is not, especially her observations of nature:

 

A Bird, came down the Walk –

He did not know I saw –

He bit an Angle Worm in halves

And ate the fellow, raw,

 

And then, he drank a Dew

From a convenient Grass –

And then hopped sidewise to the Wall

To let a Beetle pass –

 

He glanced with rapid eyes,

That hurried all abroad –

They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,

He stirred his Velvet Head. –

 

Like one in danger, Cautious,

I offered him a Crumb,

And he unrolled his feathers,

And rowed him softer Home –

 

Than Oars divide the Ocean,

Too silver for a seam,

Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,

Leap, plashless as they swim.

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I have committed to memory this poem, and others, and often recite them while I hike.

If you have not experienced the genius of Emily Dickinson, I encourage you to do so. You may be surprised by what you find.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 54 – Last Reunion of the Pioneers

Sufferers’ Land

Last Reunion of the Pioneers

by Dave Barton

The Fourth of July 1857 was a Saturday. From all over Erie and Huron counties, people gathered for the reunion, an assembly of the early settlers and their descendants. The residents of Norwalk had prepared a celebration for the day, to include a sumptuous feast. [1]

Eleutherous Cooke

Portrait of Eleutherous Cooke from Wikimedia Commons

The speaker for the occasion was former U.S. Congressman Eleutherous Cooke of Sandusky, a sixty-nine year old lawyer who had come to the Firelands in 1819. A painting of him shows a handsome, strong willed man. Clean-shaven, as was the custom of that time before the Civil War, he had a resolute set to his mouth, and a determined gaze. From his speech and his letters, it is easy to see that he was a gracious and well-mannered gentleman.

In addition to serving in Congress, he was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives for many years and obtained the first charter for a railroad in the United States.

People of that day expected eloquence and inspiration from their speakers — and Eleutherous Cooke was a master orator. He once made a speech to over forty-thousand people to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Fort Meigs. A contemporary account said that he had a wonderful command of the language, (and) was an orator very flowery and imaginative. Today we would say he was long-winded. However, in 1857, his audience appreciated his comments, especially because he took pains to praise their accomplishments.

His speech was grandiose in parts, but it also demonstrated a connection with the men and women he addressed. Eleutherous counted himself among the pioneers, a point he made several times during his speech. He knew personally of the trials his audience had endured and the successes they enjoyed. He understood them. [2]

On the platform with Eleutherous was another man who understood the people assembled in Norwalk that day — Platt Benedict. He knew Eleutherous Cooke from the days when Mr. Cooke came to Norwalk to argue cases before the County Court. [3]

This celebration would never have taken place if not for Platt Benedict. He must have smiled with pride when he heard Eleutherous say, I am most happy to know — thanks to the excellent gentleman who first suggested the design — that a Historical Society has been formed, and I am now before you, in part, the selected organ of that society, to urge upon it, and upon all who approve its object, a searching and faithful fulfillment of its purpose.” [4]

Platt, and everyone else present, knew Eleutherous was referring to him. As in everything he was involved with, Platt had taken the lead. He was a leader in the settlement of the Firelands and had been involved in the political, social and economic development of the region.

As Eleutherous put it so eloquently, Platt had come “to build the cabin — to fence the crops — to open the roads — to lay out the towns and cities — to establish the schools for the education for the young, and to found the churches for worship of God.”

Platt had not only done all these things, he had been the leader in all these things. It only made sense that he should lead in preserving the heritage of the pioneers assembled here today — and the heritage of those who had already died.

Much of Eleutherous’ speech struck a chord in Platt’s memory. He told anecdotes of the early settlers’ trials and fears, successes and joys — some humorous to make his audience laugh, some tragic to make them weep.

Platt no doubt was moved when Eleutherous referred to “the little remnant of the old pioneers not yet fallen from around us but (whose) summer is past (whose) autumn has gone by.” Platt looked at the crowd and saw the faces of those he knew in younger days and recalled those who were no longer there — who could not participate in this celebration of their accomplishments.

“The images of the cherished dead,” Eleutherous said, present themselves before me. In such a presence, how can I conceal the feelings of utter desolation that overwhelm me, when I remember that I am the sole survivor, save one, of a family circle of fourteen who sought with me this land for their home, and whose ashes now repose in the soil of the Firelands.”

This was Platt’s experience as well. He came to this village forty years before with a wife and five children. Now only his eldest daughter Clarissa survived. The rest of his family was gone, most having died young.

How long ago that time over forty years before must have seemed to Platt, and yet so near. He came to this land seeking opportunity, for himself and his family. He achieved much — all his dreams came true.

At the close of his speech, The Honorable Eleutherous Cooke addressed the children and grandchildren of the pioneers. “You are now in the full possession of this priceless heritage,” he told them. “You need not be reminded of its cost. Its title was written by the point of the sword in the blood of our fathers — it was enriched and perfected by their toils and labors.”

Then Eleutherous challenged the younger members of the audience. “The great trust is in your hands. Let the solemn obligation it imposes sink deep into your hearts; and, as the old friend and associate of your fathers, seizing this last occasion to impart my counsel, let me charge you, as the heaven-allotted sentinels of your country — as the champions of her honor and the defenders of her liberties, to guard with eternal vigilance, this sacred deposit — to shield it alike from the assaults of the foreign foe and the mal-administration of the domestic enemy; and to hand it down unfettered, unencumbered, inviolate and unstained to your children, bright in all that beauty and splendor which ushered in the Glory of its first Morning upon the World!”  [5]

Little did Eleutherous Cooke, or Platt Benedict or any of the people assembled there that day know how great a challenge the children and grandchildren of the pioneers would face. A storm was gathering. Soon it would consume the entire nation in a great and terrible war — a war that would reach into the villages and farms of the Firelands and change the lives of all.

The children and grandchildren of the settlers of the Firelands would face a challenge that no one could imagine on that Independence Day, 1857. They would create a new heritage that would match — and eclipse — the heritage of the pioneers.

The End

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] Description of the Reunion of the Pioneers is from The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 30.

[2] Information about Eleutheros Cooke is from multiple internet sources: COOKE, Eleutheros – Biographical Information, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-PresentCooke House, Ohio Historical Society Website; and Eleutheros Cooke Collection at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. A portrait of Representative Cooke is at the Ohio Memory website.

[3] From The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 25.

[4] This quote from Mr. Cooke’s speech is from The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 9.

[5] Excerpts from the conclusion of Mr. Cooke’s speech are from The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 12.

 

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This post was first published on this blog in 2009.

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