Warrior Son

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I am a Shawnee.

My forefathers were warriors.

Their son is a warrior.

Tecumseh

 

Warrior Son

May of 1810 was momentous for David Gibbs of Norwalk, Connecticut: he passed the Connecticut bar and married Elizabeth Lockwood a lifelong resident of that town and daughter of Stephen Lockwood, a Sufferer, who had lost his possessions in the Battle of Norwalk over thirty years before. [1]

Although Stephen had been granted land in the Fire Lands, it had been only two years before that the Fire Lands of northern Ohio, set aside for the Sufferers had been surveyed and he was finally assigned his portion. [2]

Charles Robert Sherman

Charles Robert Sherman

The Ohio frontier was still a dangerous place for settlers, with frequent warfare with Native American tribes. But despite the danger, David decided to scout out his father-in-law’s land. The question was, whom should he ask to accompany him. His good friend, Charles Robert Sherman was an obvious choice. [3]

Charles Sherman was born and raised in Norwalk. Like David, in the spring of 1810 he had also passed the bar and married a Norwalk woman: Mary Hoyt. The two men had other similarities in their life histories: they were born within a few months of each other, had studied law together – and both had a personal interest in the Firelands of northwestern Ohio.

David’s father-in-law, Robert Lockwood’s home and business had been burned by the British during the Battle of Norwalk in the American Revolution. This made him one of the “Sufferers,” eligible for a portion of land in the Firelands. That land had been surveyed in 1808, and Robert had been assigned his portion in what are now Sherman and Norwalk Townships of Huron County. [2]

Charles was born in Norwalk, in on September 26, 1788 to Taylor and Elizabeth Stoddard Sherman. His father was a lawyer, and Charles studied law under his tutelage and that of a Judge Newman of Newtown, Connecticut.  Taylor was not a Sufferer, but while a trustee of the Connecticut Land Company, had purchased land in Sherman Township, which was named after him. [4]

The two friends departed Norwalk, Connecticut that summer and headed for the Firelands of Ohio. [3] However, in route, they had a change of plans. The Native American chief, Tecumseh, was threatening the frontier, a lead in to Tecumseh’s War, [4] so they diverted to Lancaster, near Columbus. Charles decided to settle there, and after acquiring land and building a cabin, returned for his bride. [5]

David did not settle in Lancaster with his friend. He returned to Connecticut and took advantage of an opportunity in Bridgeport, where he practiced law for two years. Then came the War of 1812.  He enlisted in David Captain Tilden’s Company, 37th U.S. Infantry at Fort Griswold, New Jersey on April 30, 1813, and was discharged on May 17, 1815. Apparently, he saw no action. [6]

At the conclusion of the war, danger from Native American’s had been removed and the frontier was open for settlement. David decided to visit the Firelands again, this time with his father-in-law and brother-in-law. That trip will be the subject of my next series of posts.

 

Footnotes

[1] The evening of July 10, 1779, British troops under the command of Brigadier General William Tyron landed at the mouth of the Norwalk River. The following morning, the troops moved up the river toward Norwalk, burning everything in their path. By the end of the “battle” eighty houses, two churches, eighty-seven barns, seventeen shops, and four mills had been destroyed worth an estimated 26 thousand British pounds (See the Wikipedia article Battle of Norwalk and W.W. Williams, History of the Fire-Lands, Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio, With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers; Leader Printing Company, Cleveland, Ohio; 1879, p 14. and Erie Mesnard, “Surveys of the Fire Lands, so called being a part of the Western Reserve, sometimes called New Connecticut,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society, June 1864; p 94.).

In 1792, the Connecticut General Assembly authorized compensation of over one-hundred sixty-one thousand pounds (New England currency) to about eighteen hundred seventy “Sufferers.” David Gibbs father-in-law Stephen Lockwood’s share was set at 18 pounds, 12 shillings (WW Williams, pp. 15-16).

[2] The Firelands was first surveyed in 1806, however, the results were challenged and deemed flawed. Another survey was required and was completed in 1808. A final apportionment to the “Sufferers” took place by lottery in November of that year. (WW Williams, pp. 23-25.) Stephen Lockwood was allotted land in Sherman and Norwalk townships. (WW Williams pp. 112, 284.)

[3] “David Gibbs,” Obituaries: The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume IX; The Firelands Historical Society; 1896; page 542 and “Incidents in the Life of Elizabeth Lockwood Gibbs,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Vol XI, October 1874, page 83.

[4] See Wikipedia articles for Taylor Sherman and Charles Robert Sherman, Also, “Charles Robert Sherman on the website: “Former Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court.” An account of the naming of Sherman Township is in Baughman, A.J., History of Huron County Ohio: Its Progress and Development, Volume I, The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago, IL, 1909; p. 284

[5] The Shawnee Chief Tecumseh was a thorn in the side of Americans for many years as leader of a large multi-tribe confederacy based out of “Prophetsville” in Indiana. In August of 1810, he appeared with a group of warriors at General Henry Harrison’s headquarters in  Vincennes with a list of demands, which the General immediately rejected. The situation quickly deteriorated and open warfare was narrowly averted by another Native American Chief. Tecumseh departed, threatening war. See the Wikipedia article Tecumseh.

News of this encounter terrified settlers on the frontier and caused many who were about to push into newly opened territories such as the Firelands to revise their plans, to include David Gibbs and his friend Charles Sherman.

 

 

 

Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and William Tecumseh Sherman

 

Although Tecumseh foiled Charles Sherman’s plans to settle on his father’s land in the Firelands, he was impressed by the man’s skill as a warrior. Charles remembered him through the years, and when Charles and Mary christened their sixth child in 1820,  they named him after the Chief. That child also became a renowned warrior. His name was William Tecumseh Sherman.

[6] “David Gibbs,” Obituaries: The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume IX; The Firelands Historical Society; 1896; page 542; William A. Gordon, A compilation of registers of the Army of the United States, from 1815 to 1837, inclusive. To which is appended a list of officers on whom brevets were conferred by the President of the United States, for gallant conduct or meritorious services during the war with Great Britain, James C. Dunn, Printer, 1837, page 38; and War of 1812 Pension Applications. Washington D.C.: National Archives. NARA Microfilm Publication M313, 102 rolls.

 

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

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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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Happy New Year

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone!

2017 was the best year yet for the Firelands History Website. I expect 2018 to be even better.

What will I be posting this year?

Pioneer FireplaceFirst up, I’ll finish re-posting the Sufferers’ Land series, which will take me to the end of February. In March, I’ll begin posting new stories based on research from The Firelands Pioneer, the journal of the Firelands Historical Society, and from W.W. William’s book History of the Firelands. For the past couple months, I’ve been reading the nineteen journals that make up the  Old Series of The Firelands Pioneer, looking for stories that I think will interest you.

Here are some of the topics I’ll be posting:

  • The trek to the Firelands by Henry and Amelia Lockwood and David and Elizabeth Gibbs. These two couples played a huge role in the early posts of the Sufferers’ Land series. But I have not yet told the harrowing story of their trek to the Firelands. It’s a heartrending tale of suffering and tragedy,  but ultimately an uplifting story of perseverance.
  • The life of the pioneers on the frontier: how they lived, cleared the land, and the hardships they endured, focusing on stories of the first settlers of the Firelands, from 1808 to 1812.
  • The War of 1812 in the Firelands, how those early pioneers fared in what became a no-man’s land between British and American forces.
  • The history of the Civil War, especially the story of the  55th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Norwalk’s own regiment.

I appreciate everyone who has stopped by this site over the past year, and look forward to sharing more tales of the Firelands with you in 2018.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

Dave Barton

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 27 – School and Tragedy

Sufferers’ Land

School and Tragedy

by Dave Barton

The year Samuel Preston moved his family to Norwalk, the men of the town, with Platt Benedict in the lead, established the Royal Arch Chapter of the Masons. Platt had been a Mason for over ten years, joining the fraternity when he lived in Danbury, Connecticut. On St. John’s Day the following year, the chapter planned to install officers, and looked for a place large enough to accommodate the audience. They decided that the Court House was too small, so they built a large bower of branches on Prospect Avenue. The next year, Lucy went to school in this bower. She thought it was a pleasant place, except when a shower came up, which later she said made the pursuit of knowledge very difficult. [1]

Starting in 1816, when the first school had opened on the border of Norwalk and Ridgefield Townships, private schools were the only educational facilities in the area. They were small affairs, funded by subscriptions of farmers in the townships or the tuition of tradesmen and professionals in the villages. [2] Teachers were generally young women, most working away from home. They often boarded with families of their pupils. Many met the men they would marry while living in their homes. [3]

After several years, the leading citizens of Norwalk decided to establish a more advanced center of learning in the village. They determined to build an academy, and formed a committee to oversee construction. On Wednesday, May 14, 1823, a notice appeared in the Sandusky Clarion, the only newspaper in the Firelands at that time.

Notice

The subscribers having been appointed a committee for the purpose of building an Academy at Norwalk, do hereby give notice that they will receive proposals until the second Monday of June next, for erecting and completing said building. Application may be made to any one of the subscribers.

“F. Forsyth, H.G. Morse, H. Gallup, Moses Kimball, David Gibbs, committee. Norwalk, May 6, 1823.” [4]

Work began that same year on a site between Main and Seminary Streets. By the fall of the following year, a man passing through town noted that the roof was almost completed. The unfinished building was three stories, with the third floor set aside for the Masons, who were a major contributor to the academy. The children of the village loved to play amid the construction, and Lucy Preston was no exception.

One day in early February 1825, she and other children met at the unfinished school to play. Among her friends was Esther Ann Gibbs, a girl of ten who was the daughter of Samuel and Debby Gibbs, relatives of the Gibbs who had sheltered the Benedicts when they first came to Norwalk Township.

Esther Ann had brought her four-year-old sister Susan Gibbs, with the admonishment to look after her by her mother. The children climbed to the third floor to play. They were in the middle of a game of “Ring around the Rosy,” when they heard someone cry out that a child had fallen. Crowding to the edge of the building they gazed in horror at little Susan Gibbs, lying on the ground. Passers-by rushed Susan home, where she lingered through the night. She died the following morning from her injuries and her family buried her in the cemetery behind where St. Paul’s Episcopal Church now stands.

How the loss of her sister affected Esther Ann Gibbs, we can hardly guess. It certainly must have been a blow to Lucy. She had lost a sister earlier in life, and sympathized with the grief of her friend now. However, she was soon to know grief herself, as death struck her own family. [5]

 

Footnotes:

[1] History of the establishment of a Masonic Chapter in Norwalk is from “Centennial of Norwalk Masonry,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXXIII; The Firelands Historical Society; April 1925; p. 448. Story of the construction of a bower for the installation of Masonic officers and subsequent use as a school is from “Memoir of Mrs. Lucy Preston Wickham,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January 1920; p. 2399.
[2] Quoted from The History of Norwalk Schools, prepared by the late Theodore Williams by request of the Board of Education in 1876.
[3] An example of a young female teacher marrying a man she met while teaching away from home was Harriett Underhill of Ridgefield Township daughter of David and Mary Underhill, who married Col. Nathan Strong in Lyme Township where she was teaching at the home of Col. Strong’s son. “Memoirs of Townships” by Charles Smith M.D., The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume II, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; November 1859; p. 12.
[4] Story of building the Norwalk Academy is from “Some Historic Facts About Ancient Norwalk’s Famous Academy, Seminary, and Institute,” by James Gibbs, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January 1920, pp. 2295-7.
[5] From “Memoir of Mrs. Lucy Preston Wickham,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January 1920, p. 2399.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 6 – A Home in the Wilderness

Sufferers’ Land

A Home in the Wilderness

by Dave Barton

 

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]

Lockwood Gibbs Cabin

“David Gibbs,” Obituaries: The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume IX, The Firelands Historical Society, 1896, pp. 544

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 Amelia.* 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.

Our Cabin - Historical Collections of Ohio I p 316

Henry Howe, History of Ohio, Vol I; Laning Publishing, Norwalk, OH, 1898; p 316

The 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.

* CORRECTION: The original post of this blog in 2009 identified Henry Gibbs wife as Fanny. When checking sources for this post, I found that her name was instead Amelia. Source: “Henry Lockwood,” Obituaries, The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Vol VII, June 1866, page 812

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 3 – Return to the Firelands

Sufferers’ Land

Return to the Firelands

by David Barton

 

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]

 

 

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

 

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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.

 

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