A Home in the Wilderness Revisited

Two hundred years ago today, September 9, 1817, Platt and Sally Benedict and their family arrived in the Sufferers’ Land of northern Ohio, ending a two month trek from their home in Connecticut. Over the next days and weeks, Platt and Sally would become the first permanent residents and founders of Norwalk, Ohio. To celebrate this event, I am republishing A Home in the Wilderness, the sixth post in my series Sufferers’ Land, which tells the story of the settlement of Norwalk from 1817 to 1857.

Happy Bicentennial, Norwalk!

 

Platt and Sally Benedict

Platt and Sally Benedict

 

A Home in the Wilderness

A day or so from their destination, Platt and Sally received bad news. Their cabin had burned down.

Mr. Stewart, whom Platt had hired to clear and fence four acres of land on the flats south of the sand ridge, had gone out of the cabin one morning, leaving a fire to dry his clothes. When he returned at noon for dinner, he found the cabin ablaze. He immediately left the area, not forgetting to take the provisions Platt had bought for him. [1]

The news devastated Platt and Sally. Footsore and weary, soaked and depressed by constant rain, they knew that they would have to get their family under shelter quickly before winter set in. They decided to stop at the home of the Gibbs and Lockwood families, located a mile and a half northeast of their land on the sand ridge; at the corner of what are now East Main Street and Old State Road. At four o’clock, Tuesday afternoon, the ninth of September, they came upon a cleared area in the forest where they found the Gibbs and Lockwood’s cabin and ramshackle barn. [2]

The two families lived in two one-room structures with a common roof and separated by a breezeway, one family in each cabin. David and Elizabeth Gibbs and their family had arrived in Ohio the previous year, accompanied by Elizabeth’s brother Henry Lockwood and his wife Fanny. The two families had a harder trip than the Benedicts and Keelers and each lost a child on the road. Looking at her own children, Sally must have been thankful that they had all made the trip safely.

John and Ruth Boalt and their eleven children had arrived several weeks previously. Ruth Boalt was the sister of Henry Lockwood and Elizabeth Gibbs. The Boalts were sick with malaria, or ague as the settlers called it. They lay in the Lockwood cabin, burning with fever, Fanny nursing them as best she could. [3]

The travelers crowded into the Gibbs cabin for supper. After eating, the unmarried men went to the barn to sleep and the families settled down in the cabin as best they could. As she lay in a makeshift bed on the floor of the crowded little cabin, Sally must have thought of her home in Connecticut and wished she were back there, safe and warm. During the night, a big storm blew through the clearing, rain and wind rattling the “shakes” that covered the roof of the cabin.

Dawn finally came, and the single men dragged into the cabin, exhausted. The barn had provided scant protection against the storm. Rain came through the roof as if it was a sieve, soaking their beds and making for a miserable and sleepless night.

After breakfast, the men shouldered axes and saws and trudged down the trail along the sand ridge to where the Benedict cabin had burned down. Sally helped Elizabeth take care of the children and prepare dinner for the men. Around noon, the women followed the men’s tracks along the sand ridge with their dinner. They found the work progressing well. Men had come in from the surrounding farms to help. Sally could see that by the end of the day they would finish erecting her new home.

log-cabin-imageThe log house was only twenty feet square, with no doors, windows or fireplace, but it was good enough to provide shelter. The next day, Platt moved in and Sally cooked breakfast for the men by a log next to the cabin. [4]

Over the next few days, the men continued to improve the cabin, building a fireplace and chimney with clay and sticks, chinking and mudding the cracks and cutting holes in the walls for two doors and two windows. They accomplished all this without a single nail or other ironwork. Platt had brought two sashes for the windows from Connecticut, but had no glass, so they used greased paper instead. They finished five days later, and Sally and the children moved in. Conditions were primitive. There was no furniture and no floor.

Mud spoiled the mattresses Sally had brought from Connecticut, so Platt made two bedsteads, one for him and Sally and the other for their daughters. They were primitive — frames attached to the walls of the cabin and webbed with basswood bark instead of cords. However, according to Platt, they were very comfortable, and after almost two months on the road, Sally probably agreed that they were a welcome relief from sleeping on the ground. [5]

With the Benedict cabin finished, the men moved on to the land John Boalt had purchased from Platt on Old State Highway, south-east of the Benedict’s cabin. They built a double cabin there and the Boalts moved down from the Gibbs and Lockwood homestead as soon as they recovered their health. [6]

Sally and Platt had established a new home on the frontier. Now they had to make it through their first winter.

 

Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 17-18.
[2] The description of the arrival at the Gibbs and Lockwood cabin is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[3] “Incidents in the Life of Mrs. Elizabeth L. Gibbs,” The Firelands Pioneer, October 1874, pp. 83-84.
[4] The description of the first night at the Gibbs and Lockwood cabin and the raising of the Benedict cabin is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[5] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[6] “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, p. 17.

 

Click Here to read all fifty-three of the Sufferers’ Land series of posts.

 

Thanks for visiting! Share and like this post below, and on Facebook. Let me know what you think in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

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11 Responses

  1. Can you imagine a 2-month trek from CT to OH? Yikes. I can not comprehend the team work that went into these homes – I sure can’t see people today working like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Can you imagine those circumstances when every.single.thing you needed had to be made yourself?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It took a special breed to be a Pioneer. Thanks for your comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It would be years before goods could be transported economically. Until the Erie canal opened, prices made most goods prohibitively expensive. Thanks for your comment.

    Like

  5. Well written story. Nicely bringing together the facts with recollections of those going through it. And you bring it to a nice resolution…until you threaten us with having to make it through the winter in those primitive conditions. Oh, no!

    Those pioneers were a hearty stock. It gives me angst reading this. Take that as a compliment!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for your kind words. It is hard to believe that the farms and towns of northern Ohio were once dense forests.

    Like

  7. Thank you for this reminder that counting our blessings is so much easier than in days of yore 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you, Jane.

    Like

  9. Wonderful retelling of Platt and Sally’s story. I like your concise style. You get right to the point and have just enough detail to communicate the hardships and the victories. I like writing like this. You let the reader have space to think and react. It’s one of the best ways to get the message across rather than piling so much into one posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for your kind words.

    Like

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