“Sufferers’ Land” Post #6 – 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.

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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.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post #5 – The Trek West

The Benedicts traveled first to Norwalk, Connecticut, where they were joined by Platt’s cousin Jemima Keeler, her husband Luke, and their nine children. In addition to the Keeler and Benedict families, three single men, Seth Jennings, Burwell Whitlock, and Henry Hurlbut, were in the party, making a total of twenty-two. [1]

They continued on to New York City. On Sunday, July 20, they crossed the Hudson River to Jersey City and started west. Until now, Sally had been in familiar surroundings, having lived in New York City previously. Now, she would venture into unknown territory.

Passing through New Jersey, they crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania at Easton and continued through Harrisburg, Carlisle and Chambersburg. [2]

Emigrating to New ConnecticutHeavy traffic choked the road in both directions. Immigrants crowded westward, many of them destitute from the disastrous summer of 1816. Some persons went in covered wagons — frequently a family consisting of father, mother and eight or nine small children, with perhaps one a babe at the breast — some on foot and some crowded together under the cover with kettles, gridirons, feather beds, crockery and the family Bible, Watts’ Psalms and Hymn Book and Webster’s spelling book. Others started in ox carts and trudged on foot at the rate of ten miles a day. Many of them were in a state of poverty and begged their way as they went. Some of them died before they reached their destination. Broken wagons and discarded belongings littered the sides of the road. [3]

Produce of Ohio came from the west, pork and whiskey bound for eastern markets. Pork traveled on the hoof, herds of hogs fattened on corn. Whiskey was another product of corn — the staple crop of the day in the Old Northwest. In that time before canals and railroads, settlers could not transport commodities such as corn economically. However, corn fed to hogs or distilled into whiskey could. [4]

Long before they reached Chambersburg, Sally and the others were worn out. All day they trudged on, usually making only ten miles. At night, they competed with throngs of other immigrants for space at the miserable sheds called taverns with scenes of mother frying, children crying, fathers swearing. [5]  Sally and Jemima would cook supper while the men took care of the animals. In the morning, they would rise, stiff from the previous day’s travel, and start again.

The trip took a toll on the animals, also, especially the oxen. They were so footsore it took the men a half-hour to get them on their feet in the morning. The hardest part of the journey laid ahead, the trip over the Allegheny Mountains, a road rude, steep and dangerous. They pushed on — ever-climbing — suffering mishaps common for travelers of that time, broken wheels and axles and balky animals.

After what must have seemed an eternity, they crested the Allegany’s and started down the western slope. Near the end of their descent, Seth Jennings, one of the single men, upset the wagon he drove. His personal chest broke open and he lost all his possessions, to include the last of his money. For the rest of the trip, he had to rely on the Benedicts for everything.

The day after this mishap, they finally reached Pittsburgh, where they took a flatboat a short distance downriver to Beaver, and then continued on to enter the Western Reserve at Poland, Ohio, the first settlement by Connecticut pioneers and a long-time entry point into the Western Reserve.

They did not stop in Poland, but continued on to Canfield, where Platt and Sally had relatives and friends, among them Platt’s partner in this venture, Elisha Whittlesey. They rested in Canfield for several days, and then traveled to Hudson, Ohio, where they stayed in the home of Deacon and Mrs. Hudson, who had founded the town in 1799. [6]

Hudson was one of the most prosperous towns in Ohio, and probably the wealthiest in the Western Reserve, with a number of flour and lumber mills. Platt and Sally dreamed of creating a town like this in the Firelands.

Cattle formed the basis of Hudson’s prosperity, supporting the industries of hide tanning, dairy farming and cheese production. [7]  Mrs. Hudson took Sally and the other travelers to her cheese room, where she had over sixty large rounds curing. The Hudson family sold their cheese in Pittsburgh to distributors who sent it on to markets further east. [8]

By this time, the oxen were so footsore they could not continue. Platt traded them for new teams and purchased two cows, so the family would have milk when they arrived at their new home. The party made necessary repairs and prepared for the final push to the Firelands. [9]

They traveled north to Cleveland, at that time a settlement consisting of only a few houses, and then turned west, following a road that paralleled the lakeshore. Now there were no houses, only unbroken wilderness. It began to rain and the party slogged on through the mud. Sally looked forward to the end of their journey and the relative comfort of the cabin Platt had built in the spring.
Bad news would soon dash her hopes. [10]

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Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18, & The Genealogy of the Benedicts in America, by Henry Marvin Benedict, pp. 380-382.
[2] Story of the trip west is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[3] Description of the emigration from New England the summer of 1817 is from “Year without Summer”, by Dr. F.E. Weeks in The Firelands Pioneer, April 1925, pp. 416-419.
[4] From The Ohio Frontier, by R. Douglas Hunt, pp. 213-214.
[5] Description of the emigration from New England the summer of 1817 is from “Year without Summer”, by Dr. F.E. Weeks in The Firelands Pioneer, April 1925, pp. 416-419.
[6] The description of the trip west is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[7] The story of Hudson, Ohio is from The Ohio Frontier, by R. Douglas Hunt, pp. 203-204.
[8] Description of the Hudson’s cheese room is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[9] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[10] The description of the trip west is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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