“Sufferers’ Land” Post #28 – Death, Education, and Responsibility

In the fall of 1826, Esther Preston contracted inflammatory fever. For fifteen days, Lucy, then age twelve, nursed her mother, hoping she would recover. However, it was to no avail. On Sunday, the third of September, Esther Taylor Preston died.

Samuel, grief-stricken, buried her in the Episcopal Cemetery near the grave of Susan Gibbs, and placed a notice in the Sandusky Clarion.

Died. – At Norwalk, on Sunday, September 3, 1826, in the 46th year of her age, after a severe illness of fifteen days, Esther Taylor, the wife of Samuel Preston, Esq.; leaving a husband and two children, Lucy B. and Chas. A., to lament her loss. [1]

Lucy was now responsible for running her home and caring for her father and brother. For one-and-a-half years, she had help from her mother’s sister, Fannie Taylor Knight, whose husband had recently died. Then Aunt Fannie remarried and left Lucy alone in charge of the household at the age of fourteen.

* * *

It took three years to build the Academy. The building was three stories, made of brick, built on the same site where the high school stands now. The Masons, who had contributed eight-hundred dollars for construction, occupied the third floor. Norwalk Academy opened its doors in December 1826 with ninety students. By the end of the year, there were one-hundred. The first Principal was the Reverend S.A. Bronson, who had served St. Paul’s parish as a deacon for several years. [2]

Even though she had a family to care for, Lucy’s father allowed her to attend the Academy. She became reacquainted with Mary Ann Morse, whom she had met at the first school she attended in the Firelands. Mary left the academy in 1828 at the age of eighteen and married George Kennan, an instructor at the school.

Lucy left Norwalk Academy in 1829 when she was fifteen years old and went to a private school taught by Miss Ware, where among other things she learned painting and studied music and French. This was rare for a girl in those days, an indication of Lucy’s talents and the desire of her father to give her a good education.

Those days were difficult for Lucy, full of hard work and heavy responsibility. However, they were also happy times. Her friends remembered her as a vivacious and witty girl, unselfish and popular with all. In addition to her father and her brother Charles, her cousins Jane and Julia Knight and Catharine Taylor lived with her for many years while they went to school in Norwalk. Lucy early on learned it was her job to care for others. For the rest of her life, she would be the responsible one. [3]

Even when she lived outside Norwalk, Lucy heard news of goings on in the village from her father, who lived and worked there during the week. From him, she learned of the arrival of new settlers who erected homes and businesses along the sand ridge. When her family moved into town in 1821, she was able to find out first hand when new settlers arrived. New arrivals meant new children to play with.

Soon after Lucy moved into town, a family arrived that would have a big impact on Lucy’s future — and the future of Norwalk.

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[1] From Obituaries – The Fireland Pioneer, January 1920, p. 2473.
[2] Description of founding of Norwalk Academy is from “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 21.
[3] Lucy Preston’s experiences at the Norwalk Academy are from “Memoir of Mrs. Lucy Preston Wickham,” The Firelands Pioneer, January 1920, p. 2399.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved


“Sufferers’ Land Post #15 – The Episcopal Church in Norwalk

As with everything else in the early days of the village of Norwalk, Platt and Sally Benedict were involved in the religious life of the community. Although they were not baptized when they arrived, they saw the need for a church in Norwalk, and decided to establish one.
In 1818, they hosted the first Episcopal service in their cabin, consisting of the reading of the Episcopal Church service, and a sermon by a layman. These lay meetings continued for years, first in private homes, and later in the Court House.

In 1820, Platt and Sally organized the first Sabbath School in the Court House. Most of the children of the town attended this non-denominational school. It would be years before a minister arrived in the village, but in the meantime, thanks to Platt and Sally’s initiative, a vibrant religious community developed.

Sunday, January 20, 1821, a minister named Reverend Searle visited the village for the first time and called a meeting to organize a new parish. Seventeen men attended, with Platt, of course, taking the lead. They decided to call the new parish, Saint Paul’s, and elected wardens and vestrymen. They elected Platt vestryman, and selected him to be a representative of the new parish to the fourth annual Diocesan Convention.

Reverend Searle could not stay in the parish, so he selected lay readers to carry out services in his absence. Platt, as usual, was one of those selected. Services continued every Sunday, with Reverend Searle occasionally attending to give Holy Communion and perform baptisms. The Bishop also visited the parish from time to time, so often that Sally’s son David ran away from home once because he was tired of polishing the bishop’s boots. [1]

During one visit, Sunday, February 17, 1822, Reverend Searle baptized Platt Benedict into the church. The next day, he held a meeting of the vestry in the Benedict home. He selected Rufus Murray to perform divine service in the parish once he became qualified. Reverend Searle continued to visit St. Paul’s parish occasionally, his last visit coming in 1826. [2]

During this time, a deacon by the name of S.A. Bronson also served the parish. He later recalled the religious life in Norwalk at the time. My first visit to this place was in 1825, to supply as far as a layman could, the place of a clergyman. No settled minister of any name had ever resided here, and only the Episcopal Church had attempted to keep up regular services. When, subsequently, a clergyman did become resident here, the regularity of the services depended upon the established forms of religion, as conducted by laymen. Many of you, no doubt, remember the old white court house, and cousin Ami Keeler with his tin horn, with which he used to call the people to worship — a horn more truly spiritual than some of more recent date. [3]

By this time, the parish conducted weekly services and had a strong Sunday school program for the religious education of all the children of the village, not just those of families in the parish. If not for Sally and Platt Benedict, none of this would have happened.

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[1] Story of David Benedict running away from home is from the undated text of an address given by Eleanor Wickham to the Sally DeForest chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
[2] First religious services in Norwalk and the early history of St. Paul’s Parish are described in detail by C.E. Newman in The Firelands Pioneer, Sept. 1876, pp. 45-47. The establishment of the Sabbath School is described in the above article and in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1867, p. 84.
[3] “Address of Rev. S.A. Bronson, D.D.” The Firelands Pioneer, November 1859, p. 7.

Note: Mary L. Stewart of Norwalk, a parishioner at St.Paul’s Episcopal Church, kindly assisted with this post.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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