Village House: A Cabin at the End of Beall’s Trail

myrtle-woodruff

Myrtle Woodruff

In last year’s October 29 post, we celebrated three Norwalk High School Class of 1907 October Birthdays. One of the students who celebrated a birthday that month was Myrtle Woodruff. Today we begin a series of posts about Myrtle’s heritage. Her family was among that wave of pioneers that settled in the Firelands in 1817, following the disastrous “Year without Summer” of 1816. We begin with the story of Myrtle’s great-great-great grandfather Chauncey Woodruff, and his son George, who together settled in Norwich Township, in the southwest corner of the Firelands, in February of 1817, almost a year earlier than Platt and Sarah Benedict founded Norwalk, Ohio. [1]

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The Village House

It was late afternoon, Monday, February 10, 1817 when George Woodruff spotted the “Village Cabin” ahead through the trees. His family and the rest of his party had made surprisingly good time that day on the twelve mile trek over the Beall trail [2] from New Haven township. A foot of snow covering the ground had made travel easy for the oxen pulling the sleds with their belongings.

snowy-woodsThe party consisted of him and his new wife Hannah, his father Chauncey and his sister Elizabeth, and Wilder and Roxanna Laurence and their nine children. A few friends rounded out the group. [3]

The Woodruff and Laurence families had arrived in Ohio from Saratoga, New York in the fall of the previous year, and had stayed in Trumbull County, while George and his father Chauncey had come ahead to scout the land and select lots for settlement. George had remained in the township of New Haven, while his father returned to Trumbull County for the rest of the party. Chauncey had returned with the others two days previously, and today they had finally completed the last leg of the journey to their new home.

log-cabin-image

While on their scouting trip to the region, unlike many pioneers, George and his father did not need to build the cabin they were about to occupy. It had been raised in the spring of 1916 by a man named John Williamson. Mr. Williamson had not occupied the cabin, nor had he stayed in the Firelands, so now it was open for use by the Woodruff and Lawrence families.

The cabin had a roof and walls with openings cut for a door and fireplace. A crib had been constructed as a frame for a hearth. George and his father remembered seeing split oak puncheons for a floor stacked next to the cabin on their previous visit, but the pile was now completely covered by snow.

George and the other men set to work digging out the puncheons and shoveling dirt into the crib for a hearth. They laid an improvised floor and hung blankets over the opening for the door, while Roxanna and Hannah built a fire on the hearth and made supper. Then the whole party crowded into the small space, and tried to make themselves comfortable.

They made merry as best they could that evening, helped along by a  jug of whisky they had taken care to pack on the sleds before leaving New Haven, then lay crowded on the puncheon floor, trying to ignore the howling of wolves in the surrounding forest.

So passed their first night in their new home on the frontier.

Next up: Do you find all these place names confusing? Would you like to have a map when reading accounts like these? Help is on the way tomorrow with my next post: Where was Village House?

 Notes:

[1] This story is based mostly on the accounts by John Niles in “Memoirs of Norwich Township,” The Firelands  Pioneer; Volume II, number 2; The Firelands Historical Society; March, 1860, pages 32-46, and by W.W. Williams in his book History of the Fire-Lands Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers, Press of Leader Printing Company, Cleveland Ohio, 1897, pages 417-425.

[2] Beall’s Trail was cut through the wilderness from Wooster to Fremont, Ohio by General Reasin Beall and his army in 1812. It passed through what would become New Haven and Norwich Townships.

[3] George’s mother Eunice Woodruff, nee Hosford, was missing from the party. She had died in 1797, two years after George’s birth. Roxanna Lawrence’s maiden name was Woodruff, so she was no doubt related to Chauncey, probably his sister. I have found other examples of this; for instance, siblings Henry and Elizabeth Lockwood and their spouses settled just outside of what would become Norwalk, Ohio in 1816, and hosted Platt and Sarah Benedict when they arrived in the fall of 1817, as described in the Sufferers Land Post #6: A Home in the Wilderness on this site.

 

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“Sufferers’ Land” Post #2 – Year without Summer

The winter of 1815-1816 was normal, but that changed in late spring. In June, the weather turned cold and it snowed. The year 1816 became “the year without summer.” Through June and July — even into August — cold temperatures and heavy snows were the norm. In most cases, farmers were not able to get a crop into the ground, let alone harvest. People became desperate. No one knew what to do.

Conditions outside of New England were not as bad, but the primitive transportation system of the day could not move food easily from one region to another. Farmers ate whatever they could get out of the ground, not putting aside seed for the following year.

No one knew the reason for this sudden change in climate, although many theories circulated among the population. Some people thought a star had passed between the sun and earth, cutting off the light. Others attributed the change in climate to sunspots. [1]

Today, scientists believe the cold summer of 1816 was the result of the eruption the previous year of Mount Tamboro, in what is now Indonesia. This massive eruption, estimated by some scientists to be the largest in ten-thousand years, added to dust already in the atmosphere from two earlier volcanic eruptions, one in the West Indies in 1812 and another in the Philippines in 1814. [2]

No matter what caused this abrupt climate change, the people of New England began to look for a way out of their dire situation. Rumors circulated about the rich lands of Ohio, and people took notice.

Please like this post and let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you.

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Footnotes:
[1] The “Year without Summer” by Dr. F.E. Weeks, The Firelands Pioneer, April 1925, pp. 416-419.
[2] Wikipedia: Year Without a Summer

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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