“Sufferers’ Land” Post #30 – Jonas Benedict –

After moving to Norwalk, Lucy Preston became involved in the social life of the town. With her friend Mary Ann Morse and other young people, she traveled around the Firelands to parties and other events.

One Fourth of July, Lucy, Mary Ann and other young people of Norwalk traveled to Milan to attend a party and spend the night at a house belonging to a Mr. Minuse. They started in beautiful weather, but on the way encountered rain. By the time they arrived at the farm where the party was to take place, the girls’ white dresses were wet and they presented a forlorn appearance. However, being young, the girls did not let this interfere with their fun.

Sometimes, Lucy, Mary Ann and their friends would go to Milan or Huron and stay in a hotel, coming back to Norwalk the next day. Once they went to Sandusky and took a sail across the bay to the islands, enjoying a moonlit night on the way back.

Jonas Benedict often drove a four-horse wagon on these outings. According to Mary Ann, he was a skillful driver, and although the roads were rough and dangerous he never had a mishap. [1]

Jonas was attractive and popular. An early portrait shows a handsome, clean-shaven young man with even features and large expressive eyes. As the son of the most prominent man in the village, Jonas had a bright future. His position in the Benedict family and in the community improved greatly when his two older brothers left Norwalk. In 1822, David Mead Benedict, his eldest brother, moved back to Danbury and wed Mary Booth Starr on September 24, 1832. They had one daughter, Mary Boughton Benedict the next year. His wife died on June 27, 1834 and their daughter followed six days later

Jonas’s second oldest brother, Daniel Benedict, ran away with the circus and went down the Mississippi. He died in New Orleans in 1827 at the age of twenty-four.

That left Jonas as the only son of Platt and Sally Benedict still living in Norwalk. With an eye to the future, his father took steps to involve him in the public life of the village and prepare him to be a leader of the community. [2]

Platt held many offices in the town, including Postmaster. First appointed on July 25, 1819, he held the office until 1828, when he lost it during a purge of government officials after the election of Andrew Jackson as president. Platt later said that the election of General Jackson “was when the nation was to date its downfall.” [3]

At first, Platt ran the Post Office out of his home, but later moved it to a building on West Main Street. Being busy with other affairs, Platt put Jonas in charge of the day-to-day operations.

Being responsible for the mail gave Jonas an excellent position to further his career. He met the inhabitants of the village regularly and stayed current on events in the outside world, not to mention every detail of life in the village. [4] However, these advantages never bore fruit. Unlike his father, he never gained prominence in the community. Unlike the children of other early settlers, he did not participate in the political and business life of the village and county. The offspring of the first settlers were now coming into their own. Charles Preston, George Buckingham, Gilpen and Benjamin Taylor and others were all engaged in the business and political life of the community. But not Jonas.

Perhaps the curse of alcoholism lay upon him. Many people of that day drank to excess to ease the pain of hard living on the frontier. According to later stories, Jonas’ lack of ambition was the result of alcohol. Mary Ann alluded to that in her description of Jonas squiring the young folk around in his four-horse wagon. “In those days,” she wrote, “he was a good companion.” [5]

On Thursday, October 8, 1829, Jonas married Fanny Buckingham, daughter of Henry and Harriet Buckingham. This union strengthened the ties of the two families and improved their standing in the community. In May of the following year, Jonas and Fanny had a son, whom they named Platt. A new baby is always a happy event, and Jonas’ father was especially pleased. This grandson would carry on the Benedict name in Norwalk, benefit from his work and justify the risks he and Sally took coming to the frontier.

Jonas and Fanny set up housekeeping in a one-and-a-half story house on Seminary Street, across the street from the Norwalk Academy. On Thursday, August 1, 1833, they had another son, and named him David DeForest Benedict. It was another joyous occasion for the Benedict clan, but one soon overshadowed by a terrible tragedy. [6]

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[1] Description of entertainments young people enjoyed at this time are described in “Recollections of Northern Ohio”, by Lucy Preston’s childhood friend, Mrs. John Kennan, The Firelands Pioneer, 1896, pp. 87-88

[2] The history of David M. and Daniel B. Benedict is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes & Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, p. 6; and The Genealogy of the Benedicts in America, p. 382.

[3] “Address of Rev. S.A. Bronson, D.D.” The Firelands Pioneer, November 1859, p. 1.

[4] Information about Platt Benedict’s career as Postmaster and the delegation of this office to Jonas Benedict are from “Local History,” The Firelands Pioneer, June 1937, p. 38.

[5] “Recollections of Northern Ohio”, by Mrs. John Kennan, The Firelands Pioneer, 1896, p. 87

[6] The stories of the marriage of Jonas & Fanny Benedict, and their early married life is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes & Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, pp. 6-7 & 17-18.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved


“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 #13 – Clarissa Benedict


Clarissa Benedict in later years

Clarissa Benedict came to Norwalk at the age of twenty. She was born in North Salem, New York in 1796, and although she spent much of her childhood and youth in Danbury, Connecticut, she and her family also lived for a time in New York City.
A photograph taken later in life shows a woman with regular features and a kindly expression. [1] Contemporary accounts described her as comely and compassionate.

Mary Ann Morse, who attended school with Jonas and Eliza Ann Benedict, recalled that Clarissa Benedict came down to watch with and take care of my mother, who was very sick. I looked upon her as some superior being, for I had never seen young ladies much, and she was so gentle and lovely that she won my heart at once. [2]

After moving so much as a child, the trek into the wilderness probably was not as wrenching for Clarissa as we might expect; certainly better than it was for young women like Laura Denton, who left lifelong friends, as well as family. Still, the adventure must have been trying for someone Clarissa’s age.

Life on the frontier differed greatly from that in settled communities of Connecticut. The first winter must have been especially hard, alone with her family on the sand ridge more than a mile from the nearest neighbor. However, starting in the spring of 1818, a community began to take shape on the sand ridge and opportunities for entertainment became available. Young men indulged in skating and swimming-races, foot races, huskings and shooting matches; gallantly accompanying the pretty girls in spring to the sugar camp, or in autumn along the river banks and hills to gather in the yearly supply of nuts and wild fruits. The more advanced and dignified indulged in hunting, fishing, cabin raisings, chopping matches, and rolling bees.

Women, young and old, found diversion and companionship while participating in the more elevated pastime of quilting, sewing bees, pumpkin pearings, singing schools and sleigh riding. [3]

Young men and women found these meetings a good place to get acquainted, and many of these liaisons blossomed into romance. Perhaps it was at one of these events that Clarissa Benedict met her beau.

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[1] Photograph of Clarissa Benedict is in The Firelands Pioneer, December 1899, p. 541.
[2] Description of Clarissa Benedict as a young woman are from “Recollections of Northern Ohio,” by Mrs. John Kennan, The Firelands Pioneer, October 1896, p. 85.
[3] Diversions for men and women on the frontier are described in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, p. 6

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“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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[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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