Sufferers’ Land Reboot

Because of the positive response to my recent post, A Home in the Wilderness Revisited, I have decided to repost the entire Sufferers’ Land series from 2008 and 2009. I begin with the inaugural post of the Firelands History Website, first published on December 14, 2008.


Sufferers’ Land


by David Barton


“Sufferers’ Land.”

The “Firelands.”

These evocative and descriptive phrases refer to a region in northern Ohio set aside by the state of Connecticut for “Sufferers” who were burned out of their homes by the British in the American Revolution. Part of the Western Reserve, it covers present-day Huron and Erie counties.


Emigrating to New Connecticut

Emigrating to New Connecticut 1817-1818 [1]

After the War of 1812, a flood of emigration erupted out of crowded New England, the result of a pent up desire for new land that had been held in check by the threat of Native Americans defending their homes, and the spur of economic hardship engendered by the catastrophic “Year without Summer” of 1816. Most of these pioneers were bound for the Firelands.

Thus began one of the great migrations of American history; a flood of humanity that poured out of New England and settled lands stretching along the southern shores of the Great Lakes from upstate New York to Illinois and across the Mississippi River into Iowa.

These settlers greatly impacted the history of the United States. In the 1850’s, some of them entered Kansas and clashed with the leading edge of another great migration that had settled the South — a tragic foreshadowing of the Civil War. The grandchildren of the settlers of the Old Northwest formed the backbone of the Union Army of the West during that war and made possible the Republican majority that ruled the nation for most of the remainder of the century.

I intend to tell the stories of those who settled in the Firelands: people like Platt and Sally Benedict, who founded Norwalk, Ohio; Samuel Preston, who founded the Huron Reflector, which became Norwalk’s present-day newspaper; Samuel’s daughter Lucy, who persuaded a ship captain named Frederick Wickham to marry her, leave the sea and become a newspaperman with her father; Henry Buckingham, a failed businessman who was a conductor on the Underground Railroad; and many more.

These men and women left their comfortable New England homes and traveled to the wilds of the Ohio frontier. They were ordinary people who persevered in an extraordinary endeavor. The fruits of their labor are on display throughout the Firelands today.

Thank you for reading this post. I hope you enjoy my story.

Dave Barton
Littleton, Colorado



[1] From Henry Howes’ book, Historical Collections of Ohio in Two Volumes, Volume II, 1900, page 668.


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Preston Family Genealogy


FIRELANDS CONNECTION: Read the genealogy of Lucy Preston, wife of Frederick Wickham, who came to the Firelands in 1819 with her parents Samuel and Esther Preston and her brother Charles. This is an excerpt from the transcription of a handwritten notebook found in the papers of Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton. The family history in this notebook was the work of Harriott and her mother Agnes Caroline Wickham, who separately researched and made entries in it over a period of seventy years.  Agnes Wickham wrote roughly half of the entries in the notebook from 1909 to 1915.  In 1915, she gave handwritten copies of her work to each of her five children: Eleanor, William, Lucy, David and Harriott.  Harriott continued her mother’s work off and on for the next sixty years, adding entries as late as 1977.


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“Sufferers’ Land” Post #49 – Norwalk Life in the 1850’s –

A new generation was growing up in Norwalk in the early 1850s, the offspring of the young people who had come to Norwalk with their parents in the 1820s. The Gallup, Wickham and Benedict children played together and with the other youngsters of the town. Boys and girls gathered at each other’s homes for parties where they played “kissing” and other games and enjoyed treats such as homemade ice cream.

The whole town was a playground for these children. They played “hide and seek” and other games around the distillery on the south side of Norwalk Creek, with its long rows of whiskey barrels and herds of cattle fattened on “slop” left over from the distilling process. In warm weather, they burrowed in the sand banks along the creek, sometimes digging so far that a “cave-in” would bury them. Winters, they sledded down the banks and skated on the frozen creek. [1]

In 1850, when the population of Norwalk reached about two-thousand, public schools opened in the village. Previously, a welter of private schools and the Norwalk Academy had met the educational needs of the community, but now public schools would provide a common experience for children. [2]

One public school teacher was Mary Janes, who boarded in the home of Mrs. John Vredenburg. Her roommate was Matilda Barrett, who afterwards married Charles A. Preston, Lucy Wickham’s brother, after the death of his first wife. In later years, Mary remembered the students she taught in those carefree days.

At twenty years of age, I was an assistant to the popular principal of the Norwalk Grammar School, Col. D. F. DeWolf. Hon. and Mrs. S. T. Worcester were really godfather and mother to this charming department in whose genial atmosphere the youth of the Village blossomed, shedding fragrance in all homes. There were Martha Worcester and Kate Wickham, Fanny Safford, Spencer Leslie, Vick McArdle and Augusta Carter, delightful Tina and Delilah Yale, Emma Wildman, Fanny Clark, Emma Husted, Mary J. Graves, Milo Cline, Lutheria Eichert, Caleb and Lizzie Gallup, Will Perkins, whom I recall as a specially lovely boy, and the Wickham brothers, with a host besides. I feel the thrill yet, experienced while the “Merchant of Venice” was acted by our amateurs, Charlie Wickham as “Shylock” and Emma Husted as “Portia”.

Can I cease to remember any of the carefree, laughing youth who trooped in the schoolrooms, all so bright, ambitious and diligent? Don’t I know how Delilah Yale came to my desk asking if she might go home, as it rained so that morning she forgot her slate pencil? Didn’t “Caley” Gallup take a very few of us out one evening to witness a séance when spirit rapping was a curiosity? Lizzie Gallup entertained me often over at her house, the hospitable board being presided over by her grandfather, Platt Benedict. [3]

One of Mary Janes’s students was Emily Wildman, known as Emma. She came to Norwalk from Clarksfield Township in 1852 when her father Frederick Wildman was elected to the office of Clerk of Courts for Huron County and moved his family into town. [4] She was a serious girl, with a piercing gaze.

Emma’s best friend was Kate Wickham who was the same age as Emma. Emma’s sister Mary Wildman, who was seven years old, became good friends with Kate’s sister Mary Wickham. The four girls spent much of their time visiting each other’s homes, often eating dinner together. Emma caught the attention of Kate’s brother Charlie, and they became sweethearts. [5]

Another of Emma’s friends was Lizzie Gallup, the youngest daughter of Hallet and Clarissa Gallup and granddaughter of Platt Benedict. She was born in her grandfather’s house on April 1, 1837, and spent much of her time there. [6]

A “Queen Bee” among the handsome girls was Lucy Preston, daughter of Lucy Wickham’s brother Charles Preston and his first wife. She was very intelligent and had an attractive personality. [7]

The most beautiful of the girls in Norwalk at that time was Fanny Benedict, Dave Benedict’s sister. She was a pure blonde in complexion; her features were a classic, her movement’s grace, her character an inspiration. She was considered the undisputed belle of the town. [8]

These girls had a carefree life in the early 1850s. They attended school together, gathered at each other’s homes and went to parties and balls with the boys of the village. Little did they know that in a few short years, this charmed life would end, and the boys they knew and loved would march off to war, leaving them to cope with the deprivations and uncertainties of life on the home-front.

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[1] Description of life in Norwalk from 1840-1850 is from “Norwalk, Its Men and Women, and Some of the Girls I have Met,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, pp. 2073-2077.

[2] “The Maple City,” by P.J. Mahon, The Firelands Pioneer, July, 1878, p. 90.

[3] Reminiscences of a school teacher in 1851 Norwalk from “Pioneer Girlhood on the Firelands,” by Mrs. Mary B. Ingham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1900, p. 621.

[4] From Obituaries – The Fireland Pioneer, January 1920, p. 2486.

[5] The friendships of the Wickham and Wildman girls is described in “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, p. 2097 & p. 2143.

[6] From Obituaries – The Fireland Pioneer, January 1920, pp. 2451-2.

[7] From “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, p. 2085.

[8] From “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, p. 2105.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post#48 – End of an Era –

From the time he established The Norwalk Reflector in 1830, Lucy Wickham’s father Samuel Preston had been senior proprietor and publisher of the paper. Possessing a vigorous constitution, he continued to work at the printing trade daily.

On Wednesday, March 3, 1852, he was setting type in the pressroom, on the second floor of the Wickham home. Finished with his work, he headed downstairs and suddenly fainted and fell, striking his head violently on the floor. He fractured his skull and died soon afterwards. It is probable that his fainting spell was the result of alcohol. Samuel was a heavy drinker, and it is likely he had a bottle for company that day. [1]

The death of another early pioneer came several months later. Sally DeForest Benedict died on Thursday, June 24, 1852 in her home. She had come to Norwalk in 1817 with her husband Platt Benedict, and had participated in the growth of the town. Platt grieved at her passing, and so did the rest of the village. Everyone remembered her as a good, religious woman.

Mrs. Gardiner, a friend of Sally, said of her, she was one of the first settlers in Norwalk and one of the sound women who came here at that early day. She was a very domestic woman; attended well to her household; a good wife and mother; a true friend; a help to all in time of need, a lover of her home and her church. When her strength would not permit her to walk to the two services (Episcopal), one in the forenoon, and the other, after a short intermission, she would take her lunch and remain in the church. She said to me, ‘I love to be here; there is no place that suits me as well.’ [2]

Sally joined a long line of original settlers of the Firelands who had passed on. The mantle of responsibility had already passed to their children. Now their grandchildren were growing up in the village.

The lives of these grandchildren were much different from the rough frontier lives of their parents and grandparents. Some of the old settlers considered them soft. However, they were growing into men and women who would soon face a terrible challenge, a challenge they would meet with the same courage their parents and grandparents had shown in conquering the frontier.

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GO TO NEXT POST: Norwalk Life in the 1850’s



[1] From the obituary of Samuel Preston, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, pp. 2187-8.

[2] “Ancient Dames of Norwalk,” by Charlotte Wooster Boalt, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, p. 1998.

NOTE: The Wickham home still stands and is today the Firelands Historical Museum. Visitors to the museum can see the steps at the entrance where Samuel Preston had his fatal fall.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post #37 – Return to Norwalk and a Newlywed’s Life –

Lucy returned to Norwalk in October 1835, and she and Frederick set up housekeeping at 61 West Main Street owned by the firm Wickham, Ailing and Christian. Her father and brother moved in with them. The following year, her father built a house at 38 West Main Street, and presented it to Frederick and Lucy as a wedding present. This house is now located on Case Street, and is occupied by the Firelands Museum. [1]

Frederick wanted to continue his life as a sailor, but Lucy, perhaps emboldened by her mother-in-law’s story of how she had convinced Frederick’s father to give up the sea, disagreed strongly. Frederick agreed to leave the maritime trade, but the question then became what he should do instead. His family had a store in Norwalk, and his brother John had a thriving business as a shipbuilder and merchant in Huron. However, neither of these careers appealed to Frederick. Instead, he decided to go into the newspaper business with his father-in-law and brother-in-law at the Norwalk Reflector.

Frederick was an unlikely candidate to be a newspaperman. Raised in the wilderness of Upstate New York, from an early age he spent much of his time on the Great Lakes, as a fisherman and later as a merchant seaman. His experience was in the rough and tumble world of seamen and ships, not in a newspaper office.

However, he was diligent, and threw himself into the task of learning the skills needed to get out a newspaper in a rural Ohio town. He often worked late into the night to meet deadlines, and developed the ability to compose articles and editorials at the case, composing in his head as he set the type. He rarely wrote out his copy. [2] About this time, the Reflector started to have competition. Samuel Hatch and Joseph Farr began publication of the Norwalk Experiment in August of 1835. Their paper was the exact opposite in philosophy and political leanings of the conservative Reflector. [3]

Lucy’s family, and her responsibilities running the Wickham household, increased quickly. Already her father and brother lived with her and Frederick. On Thursday, September 15, 1836, she had her first child, Charles Preston Wickham, named for her brother. A girl, Catherine Wickham, followed two years later.

In addition to the children, more relatives arrived in her home. In July 1839, her brother Charles married and brought his bride to live in Lucy’s house. In the summer of 1841, Lucy’s grandparents moved in with her as well. With cousins and other relatives, there were always a dozen or so people living under Lucy’s roof. [4] Space was scarce, especially since the offices of the Norwalk Reflector were on the second floor of the house. [5]

Lucy and Frederick had successfully established themselves in Norwalk. In addition to the paper, Lucy’s husband and her brother started a general store. The Wickham family became prominent in the community, working in close partnership with the Buckingham, Gallup and Benedict families.

The future in Norwalk looked bright for these families. But that would soon change. The last years of the 1830’s and the beginning of the following decade would bring tragedy and disappointment to all.

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[1] The story of Lucy’s return to Norwalk and housekeeping arrangements is from “Memoir of Mrs. Lucy Preston Wickham,” The Firelands Pioneer, January 1920, p. 2400.

[2] The story of how Frederick Wickham came to work at the Norwalk Reflector is from his obituary in The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, p. 2202.

[3] The story of the Norwalk Experiment is from “Experiment’s 100th Anniversary,” The Firelands Pioneer, 1937, pp. 205-6.

[4] Account of Lucy Wickham’s household is from “Memoir of Mrs. Lucy Preston Wickham,” The Firelands Pioneer, January 1920, p. 2400.

[5] From “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, p. 2135

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“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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[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 #35 – Lily of the Garden –

Lucy Preston loved flowers and often worked in the garden in front of her home. One day in the mid-eighteen-thirties, her love of gardening changed her life.

She was cutting flowers in front of her house when two men walked by, one of whom she knew. Her acquaintance introduced her to his companion, Captain Frederick Wickham, the skipper of a lake schooner. The rugged young man impressed her so much that she impulsively gave him a lily.

So began a romance that would span fifty years. Frederick and Lucy were in their early twenties, and both were responsible for their age. Lucy had been in charge of her family’s household ever since the death of her mother almost ten years before. Frederick had been a sailor since he was a boy, and commanded a ship while still in his teens. He was a strong-willed man, and soon won Lucy’s heart.

At the time he and Lucy met, Frederick was skipper of the schooner DeWitt Clinton, owned by him and his brother John, who had warehouses and a shipyard in Huron, Ohio. After he met her, Frederick spent winters in Norwalk, working in the family store, Wickham, Ailing & Christian.

The couple’s romance blossomed, and in January 1835, they married at her home on 50 West Main Street. That summer, Frederick went back to the lake and the schooner DeWitt Clinton. With her husband away, Lucy decided to visit his family in Sodus Point, New York.

The voyage was long and arduous, although not anything like her journeys to the Firelands as a child. She went by boat from Huron to Cleveland, where she met her husband and his ship. They traveled together from there on the DeWitt Clinton to Buffalo, New York. Being in that town brought back memories for Lucy of her voyages as a child to the Ohio wilderness. No doubt, she noted many changes, both in the town and in the means of transportation.

From Buffalo, she continued alone by canal boat along the Erie Canal to Lyons, New York, where she met the wife of her husband’s cousin Mrs. Rachel Christian, and her son Thomas. Together, they traveled overland north to Lucy’s in-law’s house on Sodus Bay.

William Wickham, then 57 years old, and his wife Catherine Christian Wickham greeted their daughter-in-law and welcomed her into their home. Lucy stayed with them until October, and during this time learned much about her husband’s family and their heritage. [1]

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[1] The story of Frederick’s courtship of Lucy, their marriage and Lucy’s trip to Sodus, New York are from “Memoir of Lucy Preston Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, Jan. 1920, pp. 2399-2400; the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, pp. 32-33.

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