“Sufferers’ Land” Post #9 – Education on the Frontier

Most settlers from Connecticut were well educated and interested in their children’s schooling. In those days on the frontier, classes were only in session during warm weather. Norwalk did not have a school, of course, so Sally and Platt had to look for something nearby.

The first schoolhouse in the area had been built in the fall of 1816, a few rods from the township line between Ridgefield and Norwalk, on Lot No. 1. It stood upon the bank, on the left hand after crossing the bridge, upon the present road to Peru, about half a mile from the bridge.

It was made of logs, with a chimney of sticks plastered inside, the fire occupying nearly the whole side of the building. The seats were made of split logs, the flat side up, resting upon sticks, which were driven into them in a sloping direction. The desks were coarse, un-planed boards, running the whole length of the three unoccupied sides. The scholars sat with their faces to the wall.

The teacher of this school in the summer of 1818 was Ann Boalt, the daughter of Platt and Sally’s friends, John and Ruth Boalt. Jonas and Eliza Ann Benedict attended the school, along with other settlers’ children, to include Lyman and Manley Cole and David, Isaac, Aurelia and Louisa Underhill. [1]

Another student in the school was Mary Ann Morse. She knew the Benedicts well, recalling in later years going with my cousins to “The Oak Opening” or “Sand Ridge” as Norwalk was then called, to look for wild strawberries. We came in sight of Platt Benedict’s log house, then the only log house in Norwalk, and my cousins said the county seat is to be here. [2]

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GO TO NEXT POST – A Village is Born on the Sand Ridge

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Footnotes:
[1] Description of the first school in Norwalk Township is from “Scattered Sheaves – No. 4, by Ruth – Maj. Underhill”, The Firelands Pioneer, September, 1860, pp. 43-44.
[2] Quote is from “Recollections of Northern Ohio,” by Mrs. John Kennan, The Firelands Pioneer, 1896, pp. 83-86.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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“Sufferers’ Land” Post #3 – Return to the Firelands

In January of 1817, Platt again started for The Firelands, traveling in a one-horse wagon. He stopped in New York, where his sister lived with her husband Samuel Darling. Samuel accompanied his brother-in-law west, driving a second wagon.

The two men traveled through driving snow to the Great Bend of the Susquehanna River, where they found a sleigh that belonged to a man by the name of Holley, who had left it there on his move to Florence Township in the Firelands. Leaving one wagon, they loaded the other on the sleigh and set out in extremely cold weather, traveling north and then west, bound for Erie, Pennsylvania.

A foot of snow covered the ground, excellent conditions for sleighing. In Erie, they left the wagon and headed south in the sleigh to Meadville, Pennsylvania. Here their luck changed for the worse. It began to rain heavily, melting most of the snow. They continued on to Canfield, Ohio in the sleigh, but upon arriving there decided to exchange it for another wagon.

They reached Norwalk Township in early March and boarded with the Gibbs and Lockwood families, who had arrived in the township in April of the previous year after a horrific journey, during which each family lost a son. Other settlers had arrived in the neighborhood the past couple years, and Platt set about recruiting them to help erect a cabin on the sand ridge. [1]

log-cabin-imageHe had no trouble finding willing helpers; most settlers looked forward to assisting new neighbors. In later days, one of them would recall — When the pioneer had been swinging his axe for weeks, and maybe for months, together, it is often cheering to hear that there is to be a log raising in the neighborhood. He anticipates at once the pleasure that is to be derived from meeting his neighbors, and having with them a little social chat, or the exchange of a few sprightly jokes. [2]

On the appointed day, the settlers assembled on the ridge. Snow began to fall and Platt suggested postponing the work to another day. However, Levi Cole, who lived in nearby Ridgefield Township, said that the snow would not hurt them, and the men pitched into their work. [3]

The meadow along the ridge had few trees, so the men went to a nearby lowland area to cut logs for the cabin. They stood in ankle-deep water while they worked — a miserable experience that begged for the relief of a libation. Usually the owner of a cabin being raised treated his helpers with whiskey, but Platt gave Jamaican Rum instead, which his new neighbors greatly appreciated.

They worked until mid-day when they broke for dinner, pork and potatoes prepared by Major David Underhill’s wife Mary that morning and brought to the site from their homestead on the border of Norwalk and Ridgefield Townships. It is easy to imagine the men clustered around the unfinished cabin in the snow, steam rising from their plates. [4]

After dinner, the men continued to erect the cabin, following a familiar pattern. Logs were cut, rolled up, and their corners notched together in a square form to a suitable height. For a roof, the gable ends were carried up to a peak, with logs or poles, from one end to the other, at suitable distances apart. — Their staves were then made, and layed (sic) upon the poles, each layer being well secured with heavy poles upon them. [5]

They finished building the cabin that evening. Although it was a rude structure, it would provide shelter for Platt’s family when they arrived. Satisfied with his progress so far, he made final preparations prior to returning to Connecticut to fetch them.

He hired a Mr. Stewart to stay in the cabin during his absence and clear and fence four acres of land on the flats south of the ridge for ten dollars per acre. Because Mr. Stewart had no provisions, Platt purchased a barrel of pork and a barrel of flour for him.

Platt also arranged for Lewis Keeler to fence an acre of land around the cabin and plant potatoes, corn, and other vegetables so they would be ready to harvest when he returned with his family. [6] Lewis had traveled to the Firelands in 1816 as teamster for David Gibbs and Henry Lockwood in order to prepare a homestead in advance of the arrival of others of the Keeler clan. [7]

Before he departed for Connecticut, Platt met a friend named Captain John Boalt, who also wanted to settle in Norwalk Township and sold to him one hundred acres of his land on Old State Road, about a mile southeast of the center of the proposed village of Norwalk.

Saturday, the fourth of April, Platt started for Connecticut in the same wagon he had brought to Norwalk. En-route he contracted dysentery, which made travel difficult. It took him a month to make the trip. As soon as he arrived in Danbury, he began preparations to move his family to their new home. [8]

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GO TO NEXT POST: Sally DeForest Benedict

Index of Posts

Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17.
[2] This description of how a cabin raising was a diversion to the early settlers is from “Memoirs of Townships – Clarksfield”, by Benjamin Benson, The Firelands Pioneer, November 1858, p. 21.
[3] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17.
[4] The story of the raising of Platt Benedict’s cabin is from “Scattered Sheaves – No. 4, By Ruth, Maj. Underhill”, The Firelands Pioneer, Sept. 1860, p. 42
[5] “Memoirs of Townships – Fitchville” by J.C. Curtis, Esq., The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp.31-32.
[6] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 17-18
[7] “Obituary of Lewis Keeler,” The Firelands Pioneer, 1882, p. 158.
[8] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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