2017 Most Viewed Posts – Top 10 List

Norwalk Hitchhiking Map

2018 has been a good year for the Firelands History Website. Today, we’ll take stock of the year’s most viewed posts. With apologies to David Letterman, here is my top 10 list.

#10 – Sufferers’ Land – Post 10 – Women’s Life on the FrontierFrontier women endured a life of constant work, with no respite from dawn to dusk — and usually continuing after dark.

Cup and Spoon#9 – Battle of Chickamauga III – A Cup and a SpoonSomewhere on the fought-over ground, David found and carried away with him a coin silver spoon and a gracefully shaped pewter cup, lightly engraved with the Masonic emblem. On the back of the spoon is “Dr. Wm. R. Lemon, 82nd Regt., Ind. Vol.”

#8 – Norwalk Basketball Champions 1907: Who Were They? Who were these boys? Was the bespectacled young man sitting center front row a player, or the coach. And what’s with the teddy bear sitting on the basketball in his lap?

#7- A Wasted LifeI confess that my image of reformatory schools in the early 19th century was Dickensian: miserable inmates enduring harsh treatment inflicted by cruel guards and matrons.

#6 – Norwalk, Ohio in the Civil WarDavid Benedict had been with the Union army since the beginning of the war. Captured at Chickamauga, he was held prisoner at Libby Prison for a few months before being exchanged. He returned to his regiment before the Battle of Atlanta, then, after the fall of that city, participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea.

#5 – Temporary DerangementLaura’s mother dangled from the rafter, a noose tight around her neck.

#4 – Battle of Chickamauga I – Muskets and MedicineSuddenly, from beyond the road sounded the blood-curdling Rebel yell, and a group of horsemen burst from the woods. Hyde seized the sheet from the amputating table and waved a bloody flag of truce.

Nathan Bedford Forrest

Nathan Bedford Forrest

#3 – Battle of Chickamauga II – General Nathan Bedford Forrest Comes to BreakfastAt sunrise on Monday, two Confederate generals, Forrest and Cheatham, rode into camp, tied their horses and remarked casually that they had come to breakfast.

#2 – A Home in the Wilderness RevisitedTwo 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.

#1 – One Night in Norwalk, Ohio – A Hitchhiker’s TaleTo my knowledge I have spent only one night in Norwalk, Ohio: Thursday, September 27, 1973, forty-four years ago today. How do I know that, you may ask? I’ll tell you. 


That’s it. Thanks to everyone who visited this past year. Please return often in 2018 to learn more about the Firelands of northern Ohio.


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Temporary Derangement – Literary Nonfiction?

For Christmas last month, my daughter gave me a copy of Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. As most biographers do these days, Ms Goodwin writes in a genre called creative nonfiction, also known as literary or narrative nonfiction. [1] This genre describes real events in an entertaining way, using the craft of writers of fiction, especially the technique of point of view.

For instance, this is how Ms Goodwin begins the first chapter of Team of Rivals:

On May 18, 1860, the day when the Republican Party would nominate its candidate for president, Abraham Lincoln was up early. As he climbed the stairs to his plainly furnished law office on the south side of the public square in Springfield, Illinois, breakfast was being served at the 130-room Chenery House of Fourth Street. [2]

Ms Goodwin continues to describe Lincoln’s morning as she imagines he would have experienced it.

So, how did Ms Goodwin know what Lincoln saw and did that spring morning in 1860? From a variety of sources: newspapers, diaries and journals, letters, other document and accounts; and by personal observation, going to the square herself to get a sense of what it looked like that day.

I have used this genre (although not as skillfully as Doris Kearns Goodwin, of course) in the “Sufferers’ Land” story on this website, and more recently in last week’s post “Temporary Derangement.”

What did I use for sources for the latter story about the suicide of Calista Harris? Let’s take a look:

  • The title “Temporary Derangement” came from an obituary in the temporary-derangementNorwalk Daily Reflector article for April 24, 1906, the day after Mrs. Harris committed suicide.

  • The weather? I learned that from the Daily Reflector‘s April 23rd issue.

  • How about the address? Obituaries and other articles reported that Laura Joslin lived on Main Street, but I surmised the house number by consulting 1900 and 1910 Census records. Both had the Joslin’s living at 117 Main Street. I got an idea of what the house probably looked like in 1906 by looking at Google Maps. [3]

  • I learned what people in Norwalk were saying about the San Francisco earthquake from the Norwalk Daily Reflector and the Norwalk Evening Herald, and used the obituaries in those newspapers and the Sandusky Daily Register to piece together and account of how Laura Joslin found her mother’s body and her reaction (she fainted).

Is it a good idea to write nonfiction with the craft of fiction writers? It can get one in trouble if one plays too fast with the truth (David McCullough, for instance, has come under criticism for certain passages in his biographies: Truman and John Adams. And who can forget James Frey?).

What do you think of the literary nonfiction genre? Let me know in the comments below.


The “Temporary Derangement” post generated the most traffic to my blog since the “Sufferers’ Land” days. In future posts, I’ll do what my best to make this site as entertaining–and as accurate–as possible. If you think I’m going to far, call me out for it in the comments.

Thanks for visiting. I am thrilled when people actually read what I write.

This is the last of the Sarah Barnett posts. Here are the previous posts about her and her Tuttle, Joslin, Barnett and Harris heritage:

Next up: The story of how Myrtle Woodruff‘s pioneer family were among the first settlers of the Firelands.


[1] I prefer narrative or literary fiction. Creative nonfiction recalls to my mind that unfortunate term: creative accounting!

[2] Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2006, page 5.

[3] The house now standing on that lot is not the one the Joslins owned, it is too modern. But I can get an idea of the style by looking at the houses on neighboring lots from that era. When in doubt about the age of homes, I consult the tax records.

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Temporary Derangement

Laura Joslin went up the walk to her home at 117 Main Street, Norwalk, Ohio, after running errands uptown on a chilly Monday afternoon, April 23, 1906. Everyone uptown, it seemed, was still talking about the earthquake that had struck San Francisco last week. Fires still burned in that city, and the toll of death and injured continued to mount. Survivors, including some citizens of Norwalk, had been evacuated to Colorado Springs and Denver, Colorado.

It is likely that Laura’s thoughts were not on that tragedy as she mounted the porch steps, but were on her mother Calista Harris. Ever since her mother had arrived from Clyde last year, Laura had not thought of much else. Although Calista was only sixty-eight years old, she had had a rough life, growing up on a farm, raising two children, and then losing her first husband. All that had taken a toll on her health, and she now suffered from various aliments, including blinding headaches. Last year she had come to Norwalk so Laura, her eldest daughter, could nurse her.

Laura’s life had not been a bed of roses, either. She had suffered the loss of her first husband at an even a younger age than her mother. Faced with raising two young girls on her own after his death, she had married Augustus Joslin, a well-off widower over thirty years her senior. Although that marriage had given her the financial security she needed, it also saddled her with the responsibility of nursing him as his health became progressively worse. Augustus had died last year, relieving Laura of that responsibility. But soon after he passed, her mother came to live with her–and forced her once again into the role of a nurse.

She crossed the porch and went in the front door. Quiet met her. Where was her mother? Laura passed through the front room to the kitchen  and stopped short. A knife and a length of clothesline lay on the table.

The image of the outhouse came into her mind.  She darted out the back door and ran across the yard to the little building, jerked open the door–and screamed. Her mother dangled from the rafter, a noose tight around her neck.

Laura grew faint, and, as the ground seemed to rise to greet her, the whole world went dark.




Is this little story an accurate account of what happened that April afternoon in 1906? I believe it is close to the mark, and will tell you why I think that in a post next week. But next up–New Year’s Eve, 1906 in Norwalk, Ohio.


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Laura Joslin – Tales of Tragedy

As we saw in my last post, Laura Tuttle, mother of Sarah Barnett of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, lost her father Arad Tuttle when she was around twenty years old. Her mother, Calista Tuttle, remarried soon after Arad passed away. Calista’s new husband was Daniel Harris, eight years her senior, and a constable in the town of Clyde, Ohio. This was his third marriage. In 1880, Calista and Laura lived with him at 108 Vine Street in Clyde. Laura’s sister Melissa had left home in 1877 when she had married a man named Guy North and went to live with him in Bellevue, Ohio in Huron County.

On November 3, 1886, Laura married James Barnett in Sandusky, Ohio. By this time she was twenty-nine, much older than was customary for women to marry in those days. What was she doing in Sandusky? James Barnett’s family were in the fishing industry, so there would have been no need for him to visit Clyde. It is more likely that Sarah had left Clyde sometime between 1880 and 1886 and had found employment in Sandusky.

In August of 1887, a daughter was born whom James and Laura named Lelia. She was followed two years later by another daughter, Sarah, the object of all these posts. Now that we have reached Sarah, let’s take another look at her family tree.


Most likely, Sarah never knew her father. He died within a year or two of her birth, leaving her mother Laura a single mom with two young girls to care for. What could Laura do in this situation? In those days, there were not many options for young widows with children. She could move back to Clyde and live with her mother and stepfather. Or she could look for another husband. She took a cue from her mother and chose the latter option, In 1892 she married Augustus Joslin, the superintendent of the Norwalk Waterworks (or retired superintendent, he was sixty-seven years old when he married Laura).

Augustus had lost his wife only a couple years before, so he must have been lonely. However, it seems strange (to me, at least) for a sixty-seven year old man to marry a thirty-six year old woman with two young girls. And how did it seem to Lelia and Sarah, growing up with a father who could have been their grandfather. Because they were so young when their biological father passed away, Augustus was probably the only father they had ever known. What kind of father was he? Unfortunately, I have found nothing in the records that would allow me to make a judgement.

By 1902, Augustus’s health began to fail, and after suffering for two years, nursed by his young wife, no doubt, he passed away the day after New Year’s, 1906. Laura now had a nice home at 117 West Main Street for herself and her girls, and, one would think, sufficient means to last her the rest of her life. Fortune had smiled on her, but soon she would have another ailing elder relative to care for, and in a little over a year, she would be shocked by a terrible tragedy, right in her own home. We’ll learn about that in my next post, titled “Temporary Derangement.”


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Cousins on the Frontier – Calista and Arad Tuttle

My previous post concluded with the introduction of two of Arad Tuttle’s (1766-1825) sons. In 1850, Erastus, age 60, and Wolcutt, age 58, owned farms in close proximity to each other in Green Creek Township, Ohio, near the town of Clyde. Wolcutt had the largest family with nine children and grandchildren. One of his daughters was Calista Tuttle, who in 1850 was twelve years old.

Life in the 1850s in northern Ohio was still not easy, and especially for women. The main social events remained cabin and barn raisings, log-rollings, wood-choppings, corn-huskings, and sewing and quilting parties, as I described in the “Social Life on the Frontier” post of the “Sufferers’ Land” series on this website.

As with Platt Benedict’s daughter Clarissa, it was probably during one of these social occasions that Calista Tuttle fell in love: with a cousin, Arad Tuttle, son of her uncle Erastus. Although today, many people consider this to be incestuous, it is actually consanguinity. Many people of the time married their cousins (and still do today in much of the world). Charles Darwin, for example, married his first cousin Emma.

In any event, Calista and Arad married in 1855 and set up housekeeping on a farm near their families. They were both seventeen years old. The year following their marriage, their first child was born, whom they christened Laura. Four years later, they had a second daughter Melissa.

We’ve now come to Sarah Barnett’s mother, Laura, so before we go further, let’s take a look at Sarah’s family tree.


As you see, we still have a death and a marriage to get through before we get to Laura, so let’s continue with Calista’s story.

In 1860, Arad was farming land worth $2,000. But by 1870, he had left the farm and was working as a railroad conductor. The family’s net worth had also fallen by half during that period. What was the cause of this financial decline? Was Arad not a good farmer? Or was it because he had no sons to help him on the farm?

Arad did not have a long life. I don’t know how he died, or even when, but by 1880, Calista was married to Daniel Harris, a constable in Clyde, Ohio. Laura lived with her mother and stepfather at this time, but Melissa had married in 1877 and moved with her husband to Bellevue. Laura would not stay in Clyde much longer, as we’ll see in my next post, Laura Joslin – Tales of Tragedy.


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Arad Tuttle and the Settlement of Sandusky County, Ohio

log-cabin-image Sarah Barnett’s great-great-great-great grandfather Arad Tuttle , whom I introduced in my last post, was a contemporary of Platt Benedict, founder of Norwalk, Ohio in 1817. Their stories of settlement on the frontier of northern Ohio must have been similar. However, whereas I had an abundance of information to draw from about Platt Benedict for the series of “Sufferers’ Land” posts on this site, few details are available about the story of Arad Tuttle and his family.

Although I have found no evidence, it seems that Arad Tuttle probably was among the first pioneers who in 1820 settled twenty miles west of Norwalk in Green Creek Township, located in Sandusky County, seven miles southwest of Clyde, Ohio. Many of his family came west with him, but  records are so sparse, I have not been able to figure out how many. Two of his children are important to Sarah’s family history–Wolcutt and Erasmus Tuttle–and we’ll look at them later in this and subsequent posts.

What was life on the frontier like for the Tuttle family? You can get an idea from the “Sufferers’ Land” series of posts on this website. But if you want an account closer in location to where the Tuttles lived, Sherwood Anderson, author of the novel Winesburg, Ohio, based on his youth in Clyde, gives the best account for my money. In Winesburg, Ohio he wrote this about a fictional family of early pioneers in the area where the Tuttle’s settled:

winesburg-ohio-sherwood-anderson-paperback-cover-artThe Bentley family had been in Northern Ohio for several generations before Jesse’s time. They came from New York State and took up land when the country was new and land could be had at a low price. For a long time they, in common with all the other Middle Western people, were very poor. The land they had settled upon was heavily wooded and covered with fallen logs and underbrush. After the long hard labor of clearing these away and cutting the timber, there were still the stumps to be reckoned with. Plows run through the fields caught on hidden roots, stones lay all about, on the low places water gathered, and the young corn turned yellow, sickened and died.

When Jesse Bentley’s father and brothers had come into their ownership of the place, much of the harder part of the work of clearing had been done, but they clung to old traditions and worked like driven animals. They lived as practically all of the farming people of the time lived. In the spring and through most of the winter the highways leading into the town of Winesburg were a sea of mud. The four young men of the family worked hard all day in the fields, they ate heavily of course, greasy food, and at night slept like tired beasts on beds of straw. Into their lives came little that was not coarse and brutal and outwardly they were themselves coarse and brutal. [1]

Arad Tuttle died in 1825 at the age of fifty-nine, perhaps worn down by the travails of life on the frontier. His sons continued the work he had begun, and by 1850, they owned several prosperous farms in close proximity to each other. [2]. And what was the reason for their relative wealth? A big factor had to be that they sired many children who could help work the land. According to the 1850 Census, Erastus, age 60, still had three children living at home, and his brother Wolcutt, age 58 had ten children and grandchildren. In my next post, Cousins on the Frontier: Calista and Arad Tuttle, I’ll focus on two of these men’s children, and explain why they are important to Sarah Barnett’s story.

[1] Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio,  1976, pp. 64-65

[2] U.S. Census, Green Creek, Sandusky, Ohio, 1850.

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Who Was Sara Joslin?

In my December 7 post, I celebrated the 110th anniversary of two intramural basketball games between the junior and senior classes of Norwalk High School. Newspaper articles in The Evening Standard and The Daily Reflector gave detailed accounts of the games, and the names and exploits of members of the boys’ and girls’ teams that played. One name on the senior girls’ team stood out to me. One newspaper reported a Sara Joslin, another Laura Joslin. But neither name appears in the commencement photo of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, nor in any newspaper accounts of the class. So who was she? In this post, I’ll explain how I solved this mystery, and how what it tells us about the institution of marriage, and the status of women, over a hundred years ago.


Sara Joslin in the Junior/Senior Study Hall, Norwalk High School, Spring of 1906

I began this series on the Class of 1907 by posting a photo dated 1906 of the Norwalk High School Senior Junior study hall that I had found ten years ago, in my grandmother’s (Harriott Wickham) papers. I had assumed that this was from the 1906-1907 school year, but looking at it again, I see names I recognize from the previous year, (Sophia Harkness, President of the Class of 1906, for one), so it must have been taken in the spring of 1906. Sara Joslin is in that photo, seated in the back of the room. I zoomed in on what I think is her likeness, and have tagged it with an arrow. Who was Sara and why doesn’t she appear in the commencement photo for the class?

Ancestry.com to the rescue. it didn’t take much digging to discover


Sarah Barnett

that Sarah Joslin was actually Sarah Barnett. She lived with her mother, Laura Joslin (which explains why “Sara” became “Laura” in the Evening Standard account of the December 7 basketball game), and her sister Lelia at 117 West Main Street.

The more I dug into Sarah’s family history, the more interesting it became, especially the stories of her mother, Laura Joslin and her grandmother Calista Harris. To begin the story though, we need to go back to Sarah’s great-great-great-great grandfather Arad Tuttle, an early pioneer of northwestern Ohio. He will be the subject of my next post.


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