And Now We Hunt the Doe

And now We roam in Sovreign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe
Emily Dickinson


White-tailed Deer

White-tail Deer [1]

In my last post, Forest Primeval, I wrote that Native Americans would set fires in the forests of the Firelands. Today, we’ll find out why they did this.

Indians in canoes

Indians in Canoes [2]

Native Americans did not live permanently in the Firelands at the time the first pioneers arrived. Instead, Canadian tribes would cross the lake in autumn to hunt. To make it easier for them to spot game from a distance, they would start fires and burn off the underbrush that had grown up over the summer.

Why did they want to see prey from a distance? Can’t the animals see the hunter too, and run away? They can, but although we humans are not as fast as our prey, we can travel farther. In a technique that goes back to a form of hunting first practiced by our earliest ancestors on the plains of Africa, we can use our stamina to advantage, running or walking long distances to exhaust prey. Called “persistence hunting,” this strategy involves hunters keeping an animal, or herd of animals, in sight, pushing them along until they can go no farther. The hunters then can approach and kill their prey at close range. [3]

Settlers picked up this technique from Native Americans. According to pioneer John Niles “It was a maxim among deer hunters, that if a man could follow a deer at the rate of forty miles per day, the deer would tire out before night and lay down.” [4]

Forty miles a day seems a fast rate to maintain all day, but “a day” most likely meant from dawn to dusk. While hiking here in Colorado, I have on occasion kept up that rate for nine hours in fairly rugged terrain, so I can imagine maintaining that pace even longer on the flat-lands of northern Ohio.


As settlers arrived and pushed the Native Americans out of their traditional winter hunting grounds, these annual fires did not occur, and the forest soon became choked with underbrush, much as we see it today. [5]



[1] “Whitetail doe,” Wikimedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 29 June 2008. Web. 2 May, 2018,

[2] Rusler, William, A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 12.

[3] “Persitence hunting,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 28 March, 2018. Web. 3 May, 2018,

[4] John H. Niles, “Memoirs of Richmond,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society, June 1864; pp. 68-69.

[5] Marcus E. Mead, “Memoirs of Greenwich,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society, June 1864; p. 75.



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Forest Primeval

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,

Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,

Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,

Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie [1]


Unbroken Forest

The Forest Primeval [2]

When I was a lad, every spring, I would hunt for arrowheads at my grandparents’ farm in Fairfield Township of the Firelands. As I walked up and down the rows that Grandpa had recently plowed, I would imagine what the open fields had looked like back when Indians had hunted there.

Or, rather, I tried to imagine. I had never seen a Forest Primeval, and I would not until I was a college senior when, as a student teacher, I accompanied a high school class on a field trip to Goll Woods [3], an old growth forest west of Toledo. The only forests I had seen as a young boy consisted of younger, smaller trees, and were choked with underbrush.

The Forest Primeval “is a forest that has attained great age without significant disturbance and thereby exhibits unique ecological features and might be classified as a climax community.” [4] It has a lot of very old, very big trees.

When the earliest settlers arrived in the Firelands, most of the land was covered in old-growth forests, with enormous trees and a forest floor generally clear of underbrush. But it was not only the shade of the forest canopy that kept the forest clear of brush. It was the frequent occurrence of fires. Not naturally occurring fires, but fires set by man. Every autumn, Native Americans crossed Lake Erie from their homes in Canada and set fire to the forests. [5]

Why did they do this? I’ll explain in my next post.



[1] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, David Bogue, 1850; p. 2.

[2] Rusler, William, “Illustration: An Unbroken Allen County Forest,” A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 227.

[3] “Goll Woods State Natural Preserve,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 4 December, 2017. Web. 29 April, 2018,

[4] “Old-growth Forests,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 April, 2018. Web. 29 April, 2018,

[3] Marcus E. Mead, “Memoirs of Greenwich,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society, June 1864; p. 75.



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Born in Amherst

Like Emily Dickinson, I was born in Amherst – just not the one in Massachusetts. My birthplace is Amherst, Ohio, just over the county line from the Firelands, the subject of this blog. Born in 1830, when much of the Firelands remained a wilderness, she was a contemporary of many characters in my stories. And many of her poems fit well with the other name of that place: “Sufferers’ Land.”

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson Wikimedia Commons

Beside the names of our birthplaces, the only other similarity between me and Ms. Dickinson is that we both write. It is a slim comparison, however. I do not write anywhere near as well – and I stick to prose. And although I love poetry, I can’t write it to save my life.


This quiet Dust was Gentlemen and Ladies

And Lads and Girls –

Was laughter and ability and Sighing

And Frocks and Curls.

A chance encounter several years ago with that evocative stanza ensnared me.  It expressed so eloquently that poignancy I feel when I write about the lives of my ancestors, and others.  Within a short time I had read two anthologies of her poems, all her letters, and numerous commentaries and biographies. Many commentators seemed to find her poetry depressing, and some of it is. But much of it is not, especially her observations of nature:


A Bird, came down the Walk –

He did not know I saw –

He bit an Angle Worm in halves

And ate the fellow, raw,


And then, he drank a Dew

From a convenient Grass –

And then hopped sidewise to the Wall

To let a Beetle pass –


He glanced with rapid eyes,

That hurried all abroad –

They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,

He stirred his Velvet Head. –


Like one in danger, Cautious,

I offered him a Crumb,

And he unrolled his feathers,

And rowed him softer Home –


Than Oars divide the Ocean,

Too silver for a seam,

Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,

Leap, plashless as they swim.


I have committed to memory this poem, and others, and often recite them while I hike.

If you have not experienced the genius of Emily Dickinson, I encourage you to do so. You may be surprised by what you find.


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Sufferers’ Land – Post 54 – Last Reunion of the Pioneers

Sufferers’ Land

Last Reunion of the Pioneers

by Dave Barton

The Fourth of July 1857 was a Saturday. From all over Erie and Huron counties, people gathered for the reunion, an assembly of the early settlers and their descendants. The residents of Norwalk had prepared a celebration for the day, to include a sumptuous feast. [1]

Eleutherous Cooke

Portrait of Eleutherous Cooke from Wikimedia Commons

The speaker for the occasion was former U.S. Congressman Eleutherous Cooke of Sandusky, a sixty-nine year old lawyer who had come to the Firelands in 1819. A painting of him shows a handsome, strong willed man. Clean-shaven, as was the custom of that time before the Civil War, he had a resolute set to his mouth, and a determined gaze. From his speech and his letters, it is easy to see that he was a gracious and well-mannered gentleman.

In addition to serving in Congress, he was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives for many years and obtained the first charter for a railroad in the United States.

People of that day expected eloquence and inspiration from their speakers — and Eleutherous Cooke was a master orator. He once made a speech to over forty-thousand people to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Fort Meigs. A contemporary account said that he had a wonderful command of the language, (and) was an orator very flowery and imaginative. Today we would say he was long-winded. However, in 1857, his audience appreciated his comments, especially because he took pains to praise their accomplishments.

His speech was grandiose in parts, but it also demonstrated a connection with the men and women he addressed. Eleutherous counted himself among the pioneers, a point he made several times during his speech. He knew personally of the trials his audience had endured and the successes they enjoyed. He understood them. [2]

On the platform with Eleutherous was another man who understood the people assembled in Norwalk that day — Platt Benedict. He knew Eleutherous Cooke from the days when Mr. Cooke came to Norwalk to argue cases before the County Court. [3]

This celebration would never have taken place if not for Platt Benedict. He must have smiled with pride when he heard Eleutherous say, I am most happy to know — thanks to the excellent gentleman who first suggested the design — that a Historical Society has been formed, and I am now before you, in part, the selected organ of that society, to urge upon it, and upon all who approve its object, a searching and faithful fulfillment of its purpose.” [4]

Platt, and everyone else present, knew Eleutherous was referring to him. As in everything he was involved with, Platt had taken the lead. He was a leader in the settlement of the Firelands and had been involved in the political, social and economic development of the region.

As Eleutherous put it so eloquently, Platt had come “to build the cabin — to fence the crops — to open the roads — to lay out the towns and cities — to establish the schools for the education for the young, and to found the churches for worship of God.”

Platt had not only done all these things, he had been the leader in all these things. It only made sense that he should lead in preserving the heritage of the pioneers assembled here today — and the heritage of those who had already died.

Much of Eleutherous’ speech struck a chord in Platt’s memory. He told anecdotes of the early settlers’ trials and fears, successes and joys — some humorous to make his audience laugh, some tragic to make them weep.

Platt no doubt was moved when Eleutherous referred to “the little remnant of the old pioneers not yet fallen from around us but (whose) summer is past (whose) autumn has gone by.” Platt looked at the crowd and saw the faces of those he knew in younger days and recalled those who were no longer there — who could not participate in this celebration of their accomplishments.

“The images of the cherished dead,” Eleutherous said, present themselves before me. In such a presence, how can I conceal the feelings of utter desolation that overwhelm me, when I remember that I am the sole survivor, save one, of a family circle of fourteen who sought with me this land for their home, and whose ashes now repose in the soil of the Firelands.”

This was Platt’s experience as well. He came to this village forty years before with a wife and five children. Now only his eldest daughter Clarissa survived. The rest of his family was gone, most having died young.

How long ago that time over forty years before must have seemed to Platt, and yet so near. He came to this land seeking opportunity, for himself and his family. He achieved much — all his dreams came true.

At the close of his speech, The Honorable Eleutherous Cooke addressed the children and grandchildren of the pioneers. “You are now in the full possession of this priceless heritage,” he told them. “You need not be reminded of its cost. Its title was written by the point of the sword in the blood of our fathers — it was enriched and perfected by their toils and labors.”

Then Eleutherous challenged the younger members of the audience. “The great trust is in your hands. Let the solemn obligation it imposes sink deep into your hearts; and, as the old friend and associate of your fathers, seizing this last occasion to impart my counsel, let me charge you, as the heaven-allotted sentinels of your country — as the champions of her honor and the defenders of her liberties, to guard with eternal vigilance, this sacred deposit — to shield it alike from the assaults of the foreign foe and the mal-administration of the domestic enemy; and to hand it down unfettered, unencumbered, inviolate and unstained to your children, bright in all that beauty and splendor which ushered in the Glory of its first Morning upon the World!”  [5]

Little did Eleutherous Cooke, or Platt Benedict or any of the people assembled there that day know how great a challenge the children and grandchildren of the pioneers would face. A storm was gathering. Soon it would consume the entire nation in a great and terrible war — a war that would reach into the villages and farms of the Firelands and change the lives of all.

The children and grandchildren of the settlers of the Firelands would face a challenge that no one could imagine on that Independence Day, 1857. They would create a new heritage that would match — and eclipse — the heritage of the pioneers.

The End




[1] Description of the Reunion of the Pioneers is from The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 30.

[2] Information about Eleutheros Cooke is from multiple internet sources: COOKE, Eleutheros – Biographical Information, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-PresentCooke House, Ohio Historical Society Website; and Eleutheros Cooke Collection at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. A portrait of Representative Cooke is at the Ohio Memory website.

[3] From The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 25.

[4] This quote from Mr. Cooke’s speech is from The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 9.

[5] Excerpts from the conclusion of Mr. Cooke’s speech are from The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 12.



This post was first published on this blog in 2009.


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Sufferers’ Land – Post 53 – Pioneer Heritage

Sufferers’ Land

Pioneer Heritage

by Dave Barton

By the mid 1850s, the ranks of the early settlers of the Firelands were becoming thin. Many of the survivors, chief among them Platt Benedict, considered organizing a society to preserve the heritage of those pioneers before there was no one left to remember those days.

The pioneers of the Firelands were a literate and well-educated group, probably the best educated of any class of settlers before or after. They knew that the first settlers in the Western Reserve east of the Cuyahoga had left no record, and were determined not to repeat that mistake.

Firelands Pioneer June 1858 Cover

First Issue of The Firelands Pioneer

In New England, townships and towns were just now compiling and publishing their early histories. However, those events had occurred years before, and eyewitness accounts were rare. The settlers of the Firelands saw the opportunity to capture their own history while some of the players still survived to tell their stories. [1] Prominent people of the Firelands heeded the call to organize a society dedicated to the preservation of their history, and first among those was Platt Benedict.

In the spring of 1857, Platt and other leaders of the community sent out a notice calling for a meeting of the Pioneers of the Firelands to take place at the Court House in Norwalk on May 20. The meeting convened as scheduled, and, as usual, Platt Benedict took the chair.

Platt was now eighty-two years old, but possessed the vitality of a much younger man. He was still active in many societies, in business and in politics. The year before, he had remarried, taking as his wife Mrs. Lavinia Benton, a widow from Republic, Ohio. Also in the previous year, he had been elected Mayor of Norwalk, an office he had held many times in the 1830s and 1840s. He had seen so much of the history of the Firelands — he had made much of that history. It was inconceivable that anyone else could take the lead in preserving the heritage of the pioneers.

The attendees at the meeting formed a committee to draft a constitution for a historical society and present it at the next meeting. They also appointed two prominent citizens from each township in the Firelands to collect and record the histories of the early settlement of the townships, and present them to the society for inclusion in its journal, which would be called The Firelands Pioneer.

Finally, a proposal was made to hold a general reunion of the Pioneers of the Firelands — a final chance for the survivors of those early days and their descendants to gather in Norwalk and share in the heritage of the early pioneers, those still living and those departed. They decided to hold it on the Fourth of July, 1857. [2]




[1] These sentiments were expressed in the speeches of Eleutherous Cooke in a speech recorded in The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858, p. 25; and by Elisha Whittlesey in a speech recorded in the same issue, p. 9

[2] Description of the formation of the Firelands Historical Society is from The Firelands Pioneer,  Old Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; pp. 29-30.


This post was first published on this blog in 2009.


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Sufferers’ Land – Post 52 – Future Warriors of Norwalk

Sufferers’ Land

Future Warriors of Norwalk

by Dave Barton

Dave Benedict was at Kenyon College during the Cholera epidemic of 1854. Some of the grandchildren of the pioneers were able to attend college, and Dave was one of the first to go.

David DeForest Benedict

David Deforest Benedict as a young man

Dave was popular and very active on campus. He helped start a fraternity, founded and was the first editor of The Collegian, the college’s first monthly magazine, and also started Kenyon’s annual, which was the third such publication in the country. [1]

Fanny Benedict still lived at home. Dave visited her and his relatives often, and it was probably during one of these visits that he met a young woman from New Haven Township, Harriott Melvina Deaver.

Harriott Deaver was born in Watertown, New York on May 4, 1835. Later in life, she told of seeing rafts of logs from the North Woods floating down the river and going end-over-end over the falls. She moved to New Haven Township in Huron County with her parents when she was five years old. At that time, New Haven was a busy town, a way station for wagons carrying grain to Milan. In later years, she remembered the wagons going past her house, drawn by horses with tinkling bells.

Harriott was educated in Cuyahoga Falls, where she learned French. She was a dignified woman, who stood erect and solidly on her heels, feet pointed straight ahead. That trait and her features made some wonder if she was descended from Native Americans. [2]

Harriott’s father James Deaver was a cabinetmaker. He was a man of modest means with a net worth of $1,200. In 1850, the Deaver household consisted of ten people — James Deaver, age sixty-five, his wife Harriott, fifty-five, one son and six daughters, of whom Harriott was the youngest. As was customary for a family of their means, a German woman named Margret Singer lived with them and helped Harriott’s mother with the chores. [3]

The Deaver’s son Oscar was crippled. He had lost both hands while attempting to push a friend from in front of a cannon on the Fourth of July several years earlier.

James Deaver was originally from Maryland, where he was born in 1782 as James Devier, his family having come to America from France. His parents died when he was young. Relatives raised him and changed his name to Deaver. In 1808, he married Harriott Shaon, the daughter of David and Eleanor Shaon, who were slaveholders in Maryland.

James and Harriott had their first child Ellen in 1808. Harriott’s mother presented the child with an African American girl for a body servant. James, who did not believe in slavery, was disgusted and moved his family to New York to get away from the institution. He took the girl with him and freed her when they arrived. [4]

Dave Benedict graduated from Kenyon in 1856 and in October he and Harriott married. They moved to Cleveland, where he attended Case Medical College. He was a sociable man. While at Case, he met a young man who would play a large role in his life and the life of his descendants, Louis Severance.

Louis was born in Cleveland on August 1, 1838 to Solomon and Mary Long Severance. Louis never knew his father, who died before he was born. After Solomon died, Louis’ mother moved in with her father, David Long, Jr., who was the first medical doctor in town, and founded the Academy of Medicine of Cleveland.

Louis attended Cleveland Public schools, and when he graduated in 1856, he went to work at the Commercial Bank of Cleveland. Louis may have met Dave Benedict at his grandfather’s house, or perhaps at church, both men being Episcopalians. Dave was twenty-three and Louis was eighteen when they met, but in spite of the difference in age and background, they became good friends.

Dave took Louis to Norwalk to visit his family, and introduced him to his sister Fanny. Fanny was seventeen at the time, and liked the looks of this young bank employee from Cleveland. The feeling was mutual, and Louis started to court her. [5]

The oldest Wickham son also left Norwalk to go to college.

Charles Preston Wickham as a Young Man

Charles Wickham as a young man. Clipped from family photo.

Charlie Wickham began studying law at Cincinnati Law School in 1854. Before leaving for college, he worked in the family business. He started at the Norwalk Reflector as a delivery boy when he was very young. He later remembered delivering the newspaper on New Year’s Day 1852 announcing the beginning of railroad service to Norwalk. [6]

Charlie remembered those days working at the newspaper fondly. In later years he remarked, I look upon the Reflector Office as my alma mater, from whence I have drawn, in great part, my sustenance, both physical and intellectual. At its reading table I received my first idea and knowledge of this world – its lights and shades – its follies and crimes – its men and women: indeed, of everything that I know; for at the editor’s table you may learn of everything and everybody – love and law – religion and reason – politics and politeness – statesmen and scholars – poets and professors – merchants and mechanics. There is hardly a limit to the knowledge which you may there obtain; it is a “Pierean Spring,” whose waters never fail. Author and statesman, philosopher and president, have breathed with the air of a printing office, an inspiration, and have gone forth to electrify and govern the world. [7]

Charlie’s high school sweetheart Emma Wildman also went off to college, a rarity for women in those days. After graduating from high school, she attended Oberlin College. [8] Oberlin was one of the first co-educational schools in the United States, accepting women in 1837.

The world was changing for this new generation, the grandsons and granddaughters of the pioneers. The struggles and hardships of the early settlers had created for these young people an opportunity unparalleled in the nation’s history. The pioneers’ grandchildren were proud of what those hardy people had accomplished, and would be active in preserving their heritage. Like their grandparents, they also would be tested, not by struggles and hardships of the frontier, but on the battlefield.




[1] Story of David Benedict’s life and accomplishments at Kenyon College are from Family, by Ian Frazier, Farrar, Straus Giroux; 1994; p. 82.

[2] The early life of Harriott Benedict is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, (unpublished) by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton; p. 10.

[3] Information about the Deaver family in New Haven Township is from The 1850 Huron County Census, pp. 192b & 193a.

[4] Information about the Deaver family history is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, (unpublished) by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton; pp. 9-10.

[5] Information about Louis Severance is from the American National Biography, Volume 19, p 662. Information about his grandfather, Dr. David Long is from The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

[6] “When the ‘Iron Colt’ First Dashed into Norwalk,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XX; The Firelands Historical Society; December, 1918; p. 2065.

[7] “History of the Firelands Press,” by C.P. Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume II, Number 4; The Firelands Historical Society; September 1861, p. 12.

[8] From Obituaries – The Fireland Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January 1920, p. 2486.



This post was first published on this blog in 2009.


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