Suzan Rose Benedict at Smith College

In my last post, we followed the dark–and tragic–path of Suzan Rose Benedict in her journey from Norwalk, Ohio to Smith College. In this post, we’ll see how she fared at Smith, and how her experiences with women’s athletics might have influenced Millie Cleghorn when she introduced girls’ physical education at Norwalk High School.

In the fall of 1891, at the age of eighteen, Suzan joined the Class of 1895 at Smith College. [1] The school already had a long tradition of  promoting women’s athletics, but physical education for women there was about to make a dramatic change. The year she arrived, the college had just opened the Alumnae Gymnasium, with Swedish gymnastic equipment and a swimming pool, and outside the gym, a tennis court. [2] Physical education was mandatory, so I expect that Suzan took part, despite her heavy course load in science, mathematics and foreign language (German).

But did she participate in organized sports? I have found no record in the college archives that she did, but do know that she played sports in Norwalk. In the photo below, clipped from the image in the header of this website of her home in 1881, she and her friends are playing croquet beside the house. From later diary entries of her niece Harriott Wickham, I believe Suzan also enjoyed tennis.

Suzan Benedict and Friends Playing Tennis

Suzan Benedict playing croquet with friends in 1881

Halfway through Suzan’s first year at Smith, the gymnastics teacher fell ill and had to leave. In her place, in January 1892 the college hired Senda Bernenson, a recent graduate of the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics. Senda was energetic and immediately became popular with students and fellow faculty at Smith. Her goal was to develop the best physical education program possible.

At that time, in addition to gymnastics, for many years students and faculty had enjoyed horseback riding, hiking, boating, swimming, bowling, fencing, roller skating, golf and other more individual pursuits. Tennis and baseball were also played, but the rules for those games did not allow for much competition. True competitive team sports were not considered proper for women at the school.

The same month Senda arrived at Smith, James Naismith, an instructor at the YMCA Training School at Springfield, Massachusetts, published an article describing the rules of a new game he had invented the previous year: basketball. According to her later account, after reading this article, Senda revised the rules Naismith described in his article to avoid physical roughness, and introduced the game to her students that spring.

Basketball was a big hit, and the freshman-sophomore match quickly became one of the most popular events of the year. A fellow student of Suzan Benedict’s in the Class of 1895 described one of these matches in her journal.

“The balconies were filled with spectators and the cheering and shouting was something tremendous. The Freshman held one side, decorated with lavender in every shade and shape, while the opposite side was radiant in the brilliant green of ’95 . . .  when Miss Martin [student captain] received the golden S the girls raised her on their shoulders and marched with her about the hall.” [2]

Suzan Rose Benedict

Suzan Benedict around 1890

I have found no record of who played for the class of 1895, so I do not know if Suzan Benedict was on the field. But I have no doubt that she was in the gymnasium the night of the game described above. After graduating in the spring of 1895 with a Bachelors in Chemistry, she returned to Norwalk and began teaching mathematics in the high school that fall. [3] Although she did not, to my knowledge, teach physical education, she must have remembered fondly those exciting basketball games at Smith, and shared those memories with her colleagues.

So, when Minnie Cleghorn arrived at Norwalk High School two years later, she had a source of inspiration to guide her as she introduced physical education there. We’ll see how that turned out in my next post: Minnie Cleghorn: Life in the Fortress – 1907.

 

Sources:

[1] “Suzan Rose Benedict,” Wikipedia

[2] Betty Spears, “Senda Berenson Abbott: New Woman: New Sport;” A Century of Women’s Basketball: From Frailty to Final Four, edited by Joan S. Hult and Marianna Trekel; National Association for Girls and Women in Sport, 1907, Reston, VA; 21, 27.

[3] Judy Green and Jeanne LaDuke, “Supplementary Material for Pioneering Women in American Mathematics: The Pre-1940 PhD’s,” 74:  http://www.ams.org/publications/authors/books/postpub/hmath-34-PioneeringWomen.pdf

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“Sufferers’ Land Post #36 – The Wickham Family

While staying with her husband’s parents at their home in Sodus Point, New York, Lucy heard many stories about the Wickham family.

The first of Frederick’s family to come to America was Thomas Wickham, who arrived in Wethersfield, Connecticut around 1648. His son Samuel was a prominent citizen of Warwick, Rhode Island. Samuel was a military leader and a representative to the General Assembly for many years, serving as clerk of that body for three years. He was a relatively wealthy man, and a slave owner. An inventory of his goods taken about 1712 included a Negro woman as his property.

Samuel’s son Thomas followed his father’s example as a soldier, prominent member of the community and a slave owner. In his will, he left to his wife Hannah a Negro woman named Bess.

Samuel’s grandson was born in 1736 and named Thomas, like his father. In 1762, he married Elizabeth Wanton, whose father was the Royal Governor of Rhode Island.

Like his father-in-law, Thomas Wickham was a loyalist during the Revolution and in 1781 went to prison because of his sympathies for England. He gained his release from prison by paying 5,000 silver dollars. He didn’t leave America as many Loyalists did, but spent the remainder of his life petitioning for the return of his and his wife’s lands and fortunes. [1]

Thomas and Elizabeth named their sixth child William. He was born on July 7, 1778 in Newport, Rhode Island. In his youth, William lived with the stigma of being a member of a loyalist family.

When he was a small boy, William was playing one day with a friend on the edge of an enclosed field. Two men were talking on the other side of the fence. One of them pointed to William and said to his companion, “That little boy is the son of a notorious Tory!” The other man laughed, patted William’s head and said, “Poor little Tory. We’ll have to teach him better.” Then he shook William’s hand and departed. William later learned that that man was George Washington. [2]

William left home early, going to sea at the age thirteen. In 1798, he was in the U.S. Navy during the War with the French. He also served with Decatur on the Tripoli expedition. He sailed all over the world, rising quickly in rank and becoming Captain of a ship at the age of twenty-one.

Shortly after he became Captain, William sailed to Philadelphia with a cargo. While there, he visited the home of Frederick and Elizabeth Christian, a prominent family in the city, in company with Frederick and Elizabeth’s son. As the two men entered the house, they encountered the Christian’s daughter, Catherine. Catherine later remembered the scene to her granddaughter.

There was a young man in Philadelphia who was attentive to me, and while I could not say I loved him, I thought more of him than of any other young man I knew. One day he invited me to go horseback riding and I felt that day he was going to ask me to marry him, and I had made up my mind to accept him. Just as I was coming downstairs in my riding habit, my brother came in the house with a young man whom he introduced to me as Captain Wickham. I knew right then I was going to refuse the other young man that afternoon, and I did. Later your grandfather asked me and we have been lovers ever since.

When she heard this story, Lucy must have remembered first meeting Frederick in her garden in Norwalk.

William and Catherine were married on Thursday, March 24, 1803 in Christ Church in Philadelphia. William wanted to go back to sea, which was the only life he knew, but Catherine adamantly disagreed. He had an opportunity to go on an expedition to the Pacific Northwest on the Astor, but Catherine was so much against it that he turned down the offer. The ship sailed without him and never returned. It reached Oregon, but Native Americans killed the entire crew.

After this, William abandoned the sea and moved to New York City, where he went into the shipping business in partnership with his brother Thomas. However, this was not a good time for the shipping industry. The brothers had a string of bad luck that ended in financial disaster.

Their ships often sailed to the West Indies, and one was lost on a return voyage, weakening the business. In 1807, President Jefferson placed an embargo on American shipping out of U.S. ports. The Wickham brothers had a ship loaded and ready to sail. Because of their earlier loss, they were in a bad financial situation. Taking a chance, they decided to send the ship out anyway. Authorities caught the ship and confiscated it and its cargo, which ruined the brothers’ business.

William and Catherine moved to Sodus Point in upstate New York, then at the edge of the frontier. They built a cabin and went into the fishing business on Lake Ontario. The future looked promising, but unfortunately, William and Catherine had gone from the frying pan into the fire. The War of 1812 had just begun, and in 1813, a party of British soldiers raided Sodus Point and burned the town, leaving only one house standing. Ironically, William, whose father went to prison as a British loyalist, had his house, boats and nets burned by the British Army.

Before the British arrived, William and Catherine buried their silver in the woods. This included a tea set given to William’s ancestors John and William Wanton by Queen Anne for service to the crown during Queen Anne’s War – another irony. [3]

Lucy spent several months with her in-laws, and learned much about her husband’s family. Finally, with summer ending, she bid them farewell, and departed for home.

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GO TO NEXT POST – Return to Norwalk and a Newlywed’s Life

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Footnotes:

[1] The history of the Wickham family in America is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, pp. 28-32 and a letter dated July 18, 1943 from Mr. Brunell E. Stanfin to Miss Elanor Wickahm.

[2] This story is from undated notes about the Wickham family written by Harriott Wickham Barton

[3] The history of the Wickham family in America is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, pp. 28-32

NOTE: For genealogies of Frederick Wickham’s family see the following pages on this site: Genealogy Wickham; Genealogy Wanton; Genealogy Winthrop; Genealogy Sutton, Dudley and Winthrop.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post #29 – Henry Buckingham

In the spring of 1822, the Buckingham family arrived in Norwalk and built a house on a lot where the Roman Catholic Church now stands. One of the children of this family was Fanny Buckingham, who had just turned thirteen, near enough to the age of eight-year-old Lucy to be her friend.

Fanny’s parents, Henry and Harriet, were of old New England stock — their ancestry going back to the early days of the colonies, even to the beginning at Plymouth.

Harriet Talcott Buckingham, Fanny’s mother, traced her ancestry to the beginning of the New England colonies. Her father was George Talcott, whose family came to New England in 1632, and settled in Hartford, Connecticut. Harriet’s mother was Vienna Bradford, a descendant of William Bradford, who came to Plymouth, Massachusetts on the Mayflower in 1620 and was the colony’s second governor.

Henry Buckingham’s family settled in New England in 1637, when Thomas Buckingham arrived in Boston with his wife Hannah. He later moved to Milford, Massachusetts. His son, also named Thomas, moved to Saybrook, Massachusetts, where the family lived for many generations.

Henry’s father, another Thomas, was born in Columbia, Massachusetts. He later moved to Lebanon, Connecticut, his mother’s hometown. He was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and a leading member of the community. He married Triphena Hibbard and together they had ten children, with Henry being the eldest. Thomas Buckingham, was a strict disciplinarian, whose puritanical training made for an unhappy childhood for Henry and his nine siblings.

Born in Coventry, Connecticut on January 13, 1779, Henry did not have the opportunity for a good education as a child. At eighteen, he moved to New London, Connecticut and worked as a salesman for the mercantile house of George W. Jones, a leading businessman of the town. George Jones had a good library, which he allowed Henry to use. Henry took advantage of this opportunity to read and study history and general literature.

At the age of twenty-four, Henry married Harriet Talcott. Two years later, they left New London and moved to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, where Henry became a successful businessman, owning a large store and several mills. Henry was a tough businessman in those days, and did not always treat his business acquaintances well. Later in life, he remarked that at that time he was a “man of the world,” suing and being sued. By the War of 1812, he was probably the most successful businessman in the Susquehanna River Valley. Then the war came and ruined his prosperity. He was a patriotic man, and helped raise and outfit companies of soldiers at his own expense. One of these companies participated in the Battle of Put-in-Bay. Because of a drop in commerce after the war, he lost his businesses and almost all his wealth.

In 1820, he packed up what remained of his possessions and took his family to Ohio, settling in Putman, near the home of a distant relative. Henry was not happy in Putman. In 1822, he moved again, this time to Norwalk.

Henry Buckingham was forty-three years old when he arrived in Norwalk. He was of medium height, well built, with mild blue eyes and a pleasant expression. People liked him — the way he was always courteous and affable. Shortly after he arrived, the position of Huron County Treasurer came open and he received an appointment to the job. He did so well that the citizens of the county reelected him three times.

Henry’s fortunes had taken a turn for the better. But he wanted more. He saved his money and prepared to go into business, intent on rebuilding his lost fortune. By this time, he had changed his outlook on life and the way he approached his dealings and relations with others. The collapse of his fortunes after the War of 1812 had humbled him and made him more understanding of the needs of others. He also found religion, something that was lacking in his life previously.

This conversion appears to have taken place sometime after the war, but before he moved to Ohio. Not being religious, he was in the habit of taking his son George fishing on Sundays. One day, he was fishing under a bridge when an elderly Catholic woman passed by on her way to Mass with a missal in hand. The woman saw him fishing and said, “Mr. Buckingham, you ought to know better than to break the Holy Sabbath; see what you are teaching your little boy.” The woman’s remonstration embarrassed Henry. He hauled in his line so hastily that he broke the pole. He took young George home, and from then on never went fishing, or did anything else on Sunday.

By the time he moved to Norwalk, Henry was a devout Presbyterian. He joined a church in Milan, and was active in the American Bible Society. For three years, starting in 1826, he was depository of the Huron County branch of that society. Religion shaped how he saw his role in the world. He opposed war and promoted universal brotherhood and the rights of man. Later he would put these beliefs in practice in the anti-slavery and temperance movements. [1]

As an officer of the court and man of business, Henry soon became acquainted with Platt Benedict, and engaged in various enterprises with him. Like Platt, he was active in the Royal Arch Chapter of Masons in Norwalk. The two men often met in each other’s homes. A few years later, a marriage of their children made the two men’s relationship even closer.

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GO TO NEXT POST – Jonas Benedict

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Footnotes:
[1] The story of Henry Buckingham and the Buckingham family is from the “Obituary of Henry Buckingham,” by Levina Lindsley Buckingham, The Firelands Pioneer, 1888, pp. 159-161; “Henry Buckingham,” by Henry Buckingham (his grandson), The Firelands Pioneer, July 1888, pp. 120-125; and Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes & Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, pp. 15-18.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved


“Sufferers’ Land” Post #24 – Lucy Preston’s Long Journey West –

Lucy — with her father, mother, brother, Grandma Taylor, and her little dog Nero — departed Pepperell, Massachusetts for the Ohio frontier mid-October 1819, just as the weather turned cold. They had a seven or eight-hundred mile journey ahead of them, and hoped to arrive at their destination before winter set in. They traveled in a hired wagon packed with household goods they would need on the trip and later in their new home: beds, bedding, cooking utensils and the like.

Instead of following the route through Pennsylvania taken by the Benedict family two years previously, the Prestons took a northern route to Ohio, across the Green Mountains into upstate New York, then along the southern shore of Lake Ontario to Buffalo, where they would find a ship to take them up Lake Erie to the Firelands. They traveled slowly, plodding along rough trails, stopping at night in taverns where they slept on the floor. As they crossed the Green Mountains they encountered snow, but by the time they reached Burlington, Vermont, it had disappeared. A month after they left Pepperell, Massachusetts, they reached Black Rock, New York, near Buffalo, where they waited for a boat to take them the rest of the way to the Firelands.

While in Black Rock, Lucy heard stories that stuck in her head the rest of her life. The tavern where they were staying buzzed with news of a terrible tragedy that occurred a few days before the Prestons arrived. A servant girl employed at the tavern had sewn black threads in her nightcap before retiring. When her friends asked her why she had done this, she told them she was mourning her sins. During the night, the girl took an overdose of laudanum, and in the morning, her companions found her dead.

The story of another tragedy was making the rounds of the village. A little girl went out to play with her friends in the fields and woods. When she did not come home for supper, her parents sent her little brother to look for her. Hours stretched on, and when neither child returned the villagers turned out to search for them. They discovered them lying dead at the bottom of a cistern, clasped in each other’s arms. The boy had found his sister and they had started for home. However, in the dark, they had fallen into the cistern and died.

After waiting a few days in Black Rock, Lucy’s father sold their wagon and the family boarded a schooner bound for Sandusky. Among the other passengers on the boat was the Burns family, Irish Catholics who were very religious. Every morning and evening, the father took his daughters, who called him Dada, to the stern of the boat to pray.

However, pray as they might, bad luck dogged this family and all the travelers on the ship. It was already late in the season, and adverse winds caused the captain of their vessel to turn into Erie, Pennsylvania and refuse to go further. The Preston and the other families on the ship were stranded far from their goal. [1]

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GO TO NEXT POST – The Firelands at Last

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Footnotes:
[1] The Story of the Preston family’s journey to the Firelands are from the “Memoir of Mrs. Lucy Preston Wickham,” The Firelands Pioneer, January 1920, pp. 2394-2399.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post #22 – Lucy Preston

In 1819, five-year-old Lucy Preston lived in Nassau, New Hampshire with her parents Samuel and Esther Preston, her brother Charles, her grandparents Grandsire Timothy Taylor and Grandma Esther Taylor, and her little dog Nero. Lucy had lived in Nassau all her life and never thought about leaving. However, leave she would.

Lucy was precious to Esther and Samuel. She was their fourth child, but the eldest still living. Several years previously, her parents had lost two children to disease within four days, George Preston on January 14, 1815 at age ten and Charles Preston [1] four days later at the age of two. Lucy did not remember these brothers, but she did remember her older sister Catherine, who had died the year before at the age of eight. [2]

Early in 1819, Lucy’s parents began talking about opportunities in Ohio. They were disappointed with their situation in the east, and hearing stories about the richness of the soil and the moderate climate in Ohio, they decided to move there.

When Lucy told her friends where she was going, they were horrified, and feared for her life. They told her fanciful stories about the wilderness and described the Indians living there as four-legged creatures, like bears and wolves, which would devour her. Lucy believed these stories and begged her parents not to take her. However, she had no choice. The entire extended family — her parents, grandparents, and her Uncle Benjamin and Aunt Juliet Taylor — were all going. In the summer of 1816, they sold their homes and household goods and left Nassau.

They did not go west together. Lucy and her parents, her grandmother and her brother Charles moved just down the road to Pepperell, Massachusetts to stay with friends. Grandsire Taylor, Uncle Benjamin and Aunt Juliet, who was pregnant, went west to prepare a home for them. [3]

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GO TO NEXT POST – The Preston and Taylor Families

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Footnotes:
[1] Lucy’s younger brother was also named Charles. In those days of high infant mortality, the name of a child who died young was often given to another child born later.
[2] Information about the deaths of Lucy Preston’s elder siblings is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, pp. 37-38.
[3] The story of the Preston family’s journey to the Firelands are from the “Memoir of Mrs. Lucy Preston Wickham,” The Firelands Pioneer, January 1920, pp. 2394-2399.

© 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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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

“Sufferers’ Land” Post #7 – The First Winter

For a few days, provisions were low. Then Platt bought a deer from an Indian for a dollar. Until then, the family subsisted on green corn and turnips from the garden Lewis Keeler had planted for Platt during the summer and milk from two cows they had purchased in Canfield.

Winter would arrive soon, and they needed to obtain enough food to last until spring. However, that took money, which after the expenses of land and travel was in short supply. To make up the shortfall, Platt took a job with a crew cutting a road between Norwalk and Milan. He earned sixty dollars which he used to buy enough pork for the family to make it through the winter. [1]

So far, no one else had settled in what was to become the village of Norwalk. In early November, a man passed the sand ridge on his way to his new home in Peru Township and wrote that the Benedict cabin was the only building there. [2]

Over the previous year, almost all the townships in Huron County had at least a few New Englanders settle in them, and many of the new settlers were acquaintances of Platt and Sally. On Christmas Day, the Benedicts and other Connecticut settlers gathered at John and Ruth Boalt’s house for a “Yankee” Christmas dinner. Although the feast was spare, the settlers had to be thankful. They had survived a long arduous trip, and had established themselves in their new homes. Over the next few years, they would build on this beginning to establish a life similar to what they had in New England.

After Christmas, five to six inches of snow fell and the weather stayed cold for the next six weeks, making for good sleighing. Platt and Sally took advantage of these conditions to visit friends who had also moved from Connecticut to the Firelands. One day they visited nine different families.

During the winter, Platt took many logs to Major David Underhill’s sawmill in Ridgefield Township, dragging them one at a time behind a team of oxen. Occasionally, Sally accompanied him, riding on a log, in order to visit Mary Underhill. [3]

The first winter in their little cabin was hard, but also had its good times. Years later, Sally wrote, many pleasant evenings we spent beside that fireplace, cracking nuts, and eating — not apples — but turnips. You need not laugh, these raw turnips tasted good, when there was nothing else to eat, and as the flames grew brighter, our merry party would forget they were not in their eastern homes, but far away in the wilds of Ohio. [4]

Even with these good times, winter must have seemed long and depressing to Sally. Finally, spring arrived, bringing the promise of better times. Flowers carpeted the ground beneath the bare branches of the surrounding forest. [5]

So far, the results of their move had not been encouraging. No one else had settled on the sand ridge. Without a town, the venture Sally and Platt dreamed of would come to nothing. But with spring, news came that changed their prospects for the better, giving them hope that the future would be as bright as those spring flowers on the floor of the deep woods.

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GO TO THE NEXT POST: Making a New Town on the Frontier

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Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[2] Mr. Pearley Sanders account of passing through what is now Norwalk in November 1817 is in The Firelands Pioneer, June, 1858, p. 42.
[3] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[4] Sarah Benedict’s description of early life in Norwalk is from Family, by Ian Frazier, pp.57-58
[5] “Historical Sketches – Townsend,” by Benjamin Benson, The Firelands Pioneer, March, 1860, p. 4.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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