A Home in the Wilderness Revisited

Two hundred years ago today, September 9, 1817, Platt and Sally Benedict and their family arrived in the Sufferers’ Land of northern Ohio, ending a two month trek from their home in Connecticut. Over the next days and weeks, Platt and Sally would become the first permanent residents and founders of Norwalk, Ohio. To celebrate this event, I am republishing A Home in the Wilderness, the sixth post in my series Sufferers’ Land, which tells the story of the settlement of Norwalk from 1817 to 1857.

Happy Bicentennial, Norwalk!

 

Platt and Sally Benedict

Platt and Sally Benedict

 

A Home in the Wilderness

A day or so from their destination, Platt and Sally received bad news. Their cabin had burned down.

Mr. Stewart, whom Platt had hired to clear and fence four acres of land on the flats south of the sand ridge, had gone out of the cabin one morning, leaving a fire to dry his clothes. When he returned at noon for dinner, he found the cabin ablaze. He immediately left the area, not forgetting to take the provisions Platt had bought for him. [1]

The news devastated Platt and Sally. Footsore and weary, soaked and depressed by constant rain, they knew that they would have to get their family under shelter quickly before winter set in. They decided to stop at the home of the Gibbs and Lockwood families, located a mile and a half northeast of their land on the sand ridge; at the corner of what are now East Main Street and Old State Road. At four o’clock, Tuesday afternoon, the ninth of September, they came upon a cleared area in the forest where they found the Gibbs and Lockwood’s cabin and ramshackle barn. [2]

The two families lived in two one-room structures with a common roof and separated by a breezeway, one family in each cabin. David and Elizabeth Gibbs and their family had arrived in Ohio the previous year, accompanied by Elizabeth’s brother Henry Lockwood and his wife Fanny. The two families had a harder trip than the Benedicts and Keelers and each lost a child on the road. Looking at her own children, Sally must have been thankful that they had all made the trip safely.

John and Ruth Boalt and their eleven children had arrived several weeks previously. Ruth Boalt was the sister of Henry Lockwood and Elizabeth Gibbs. The Boalts were sick with malaria, or ague as the settlers called it. They lay in the Lockwood cabin, burning with fever, Fanny nursing them as best she could. [3]

The travelers crowded into the Gibbs cabin for supper. After eating, the unmarried men went to the barn to sleep and the families settled down in the cabin as best they could. As she lay in a makeshift bed on the floor of the crowded little cabin, Sally must have thought of her home in Connecticut and wished she were back there, safe and warm. During the night, a big storm blew through the clearing, rain and wind rattling the “shakes” that covered the roof of the cabin.

Dawn finally came, and the single men dragged into the cabin, exhausted. The barn had provided scant protection against the storm. Rain came through the roof as if it was a sieve, soaking their beds and making for a miserable and sleepless night.

After breakfast, the men shouldered axes and saws and trudged down the trail along the sand ridge to where the Benedict cabin had burned down. Sally helped Elizabeth take care of the children and prepare dinner for the men. Around noon, the women followed the men’s tracks along the sand ridge with their dinner. They found the work progressing well. Men had come in from the surrounding farms to help. Sally could see that by the end of the day they would finish erecting her new home.

log-cabin-imageThe log house was only twenty feet square, with no doors, windows or fireplace, but it was good enough to provide shelter. The next day, Platt moved in and Sally cooked breakfast for the men by a log next to the cabin. [4]

Over the next few days, the men continued to improve the cabin, building a fireplace and chimney with clay and sticks, chinking and mudding the cracks and cutting holes in the walls for two doors and two windows. They accomplished all this without a single nail or other ironwork. Platt had brought two sashes for the windows from Connecticut, but had no glass, so they used greased paper instead. They finished five days later, and Sally and the children moved in. Conditions were primitive. There was no furniture and no floor.

Mud spoiled the mattresses Sally had brought from Connecticut, so Platt made two bedsteads, one for him and Sally and the other for their daughters. They were primitive — frames attached to the walls of the cabin and webbed with basswood bark instead of cords. However, according to Platt, they were very comfortable, and after almost two months on the road, Sally probably agreed that they were a welcome relief from sleeping on the ground. [5]

With the Benedict cabin finished, the men moved on to the land John Boalt had purchased from Platt on Old State Highway, south-east of the Benedict’s cabin. They built a double cabin there and the Boalts moved down from the Gibbs and Lockwood homestead as soon as they recovered their health. [6]

Sally and Platt had established a new home on the frontier. Now they had to make it through their first winter.

 

Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 17-18.
[2] The description of the arrival at the Gibbs and Lockwood cabin is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[3] “Incidents in the Life of Mrs. Elizabeth L. Gibbs,” The Firelands Pioneer, October 1874, pp. 83-84.
[4] The description of the first night at the Gibbs and Lockwood cabin and the raising of the Benedict cabin is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[5] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[6] “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, p. 17.

 

Click Here to read all fifty-three of the Sufferers’ Land series of posts.

 

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Hear the Chants Sung Once More

David DeForest BenedictI wrote this article about my great-great grandfather the summer of 2003, while I was living near Charleston, South Carolina. David Benedict was a Union surgeon during the Civil War. Captured at Chickamauga, he was held prisoner at Libby Prison for a few months before being exchanged. He returned to the army before the Battle of Atlanta, then, after the fall of that city, participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Years ago, my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham (member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907), wrote Little Doctor on the Black Horse, a short history about David Benedict based on her memories of him, and letters he had sent to his wife during the war. One letter that she included in her memoir, describes an excursion David Benedict made to Savannah, Christmas Day 1864.

Over fifteen years ago, I visited Savannah to retrace his steps, and wrote this article to describe my day, reliving history.

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Hear the Chants Sung Once More

by David Barton

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I thought I would go to church today and hear the chants sung once more. After breakfast and fixing up some, the chaplain and I started on foot for the city, 5 mile. We took what was once the R.R. track, as it was better walking.

With these words, David Benedict begins a description in a letter to his wife of his visit to Savannah, Christmas Day, 1864. Because I lived in nearby Charleston, one day I decided to visit Savannah and see if I could find the landmarks my ancestor described on Christmas Day, almost one hundred and thirty-nine years ago. I didn’t go on foot, of course, but did do some ‘fixing up’, putting on a suit and tie.

I wanted to go to St. Paul’s on Madison Square, but could find no one to direct me. Then I saw one that looked like an Episcopal Church but it was not open. Then someone came along, and I found it was the right place, would open soon and the sexton would give me a seat.

St. Johns ChurchI found an Episcopal Church on Madison Square, but it is called Saint John’s, not Saint Paul’s. Perhaps David Benedict got it wrong, or maybe it was a typographical error when the letter was initially copied.

In any event, I believe it is the church he visited. Next door stands the Green-Meldrim House, which is open for tours. General Sherman made this house his headquarters during his stay in Savannah, although I understand he did not move in until after Christmas Day. A tour guide in the house told me there was only one other Episcopal Church in Savannah during the Civil War, Christ Church. But when I told her that David Benedict described the church he attended services in as being Gothic, she said it must be Saint John’s. I went by Christ Church later, and I agree with her. The facade of Christ Church is Greek Revival style, not Gothic like Saint John’s.

It is a nicely furnished church, in Gothic style, inside and out.

Saint John’s is a nicely furnished church, and then church altarsome, with a wonderfully, intricate panel of Christ behind the altar.

The stained-glass windows are nice, although from the date on one, they apparently were not there in 1864 – at least not all of them.

There are great beams in the ceiling and the floors and pews are made of beautiful wood, stained a dark brown. All in all it is, in my judgment, more than simply ‘nicely furnished’.

A good organ and well played. Their singing was tolerable.

The organ was very good. I don’t know if it is the original, but it is large, taking up all of a good-sized gallery above the front entryway. I was impressed with the singing by the present-day congregation as much as David Benedict was of the singing of the congregation when he visited.

One lady tried to overdo herself, I suppose because the church was crowded with Yankee officers. Many citizens were present, both men and women, but not a pretty one amongst them. Perhaps the pretty ones would not condescend to show their graces to this mob of “Lincoln Hirelings” or “Mudsills”. Most of them were dressed in black.

The average age of the present-day congregation is also not young, but the demographics are different than they were in 1864. There were several African American couples present, which I doubt was the case during the Civil War. I didn’t see many ‘pretty ones’. Everyone I spoke to was very friendly. I tried to imagine the scene Christmas Day, 1864. Bearded Union officers and men dressed in uniforms stained from days of marching and battle, sitting among citizens dressed in black. That must have been a stressful service.

The chants were good, the reading of the service good, but he left out the prayer for the president, prayed to it, and around it. I had a nice prayer book, and in the margin I wrote: “This prayer was omitted Dec. 25, 1864”. The preacher was very good.

The chants. I wondered what they were. The service I attended was Morning Prayer, and most of it was sung in a chant. There is more kneeling and bowing in the Episcopal Morning Prayer than in the Roman Catholic Mass. And Morning Prayer doesn’t even include the Eucharist. They have a communion service at noon, but I didn’t stay for that. After the service, a woman told me that St. John’s still uses the old Common Prayer Book. So the service I participated in was what David Benedict would have been familiar with.

The prayer for the president was not omitted from the service I attended. Of course, I did not write anything in the prayer book.

The Episcopal service reminds me of the Methodist Church, which I grew up in. John Wesley’s Church of England background is much in evidence in Methodism. An interesting side note, in 1836, John Wesley was pastor of Christ Church, the Episcopal Church I mentioned above. This was before he left the Anglican Communion and established the Methodist Church.

The preacher the day I visited the church was also good. He is The Reverend Gavin Dunbar, who is the vicar of the parish. He spoke clearly and persuasively – and long. I’m afraid I can’t remember all that he said.

After church I went to the Pulaski Monument, where I met the chaplain. The inscription reads: ‘Pulaski, the Heroic Pole, who fell, mortally wounded, while fighting for American Liberty, 9th Oct. 1779.’

Pulaski monumentPulaski Monument is not in Pulaski Square, that would make too much sense. It is in Monterey Square, which is an equal distance south of the church. It is an imposing monument: a tall, white obelisk, with a statue of a woman on top. The inscription is on the opposite side from Madison Square and reads just as David Benedict reported. I tried to picture him standing in front of it, carefully copying it down so he could enter it correctly in his letter to his wife.

The square would have been different one hundred thirty years ago, when David Benedict stood there. It was winter then, so the weather was much different than the stifling humidity I experienced. Also, the ravages and privations of war would have stripped the area of the many trees that now grace this pretty square.

After lunch, I drove back to Charleston, happy I had made the trip to Savannah. By retracing the steps of my ancestor and worshiping in the same church he had, I felt a connection to him and his time.

 

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Norwalk, Ohio in the Civil War

On this, the anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant, we’ll take a look at the role of soldiers from Norwalk, Ohio in that struggle.

Norwalk actually fielded a regiment in the Civil War, the 55th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (O.V.I), [1] which was organized from September to December 1861 at Camp McClellan in Norwalk. [2]

The 55th O.V.I. was not at Appomattox with Grant on April 9, 1865, though. The day of Lee’s surrender, they were in North Carolina with General Sherman’s armies. Their war would not end until April 25, with the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston’s army at Bennett Place in Durham County, North Carolina. [3]

 

Bennett Place

A restoration of Bennett Place, North Carolina, site of the surrender of the largest number of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War.

 

Another citizen of Norwalk with General Sherman’s armies on April 9th, 1865 was my great-great grandfather, David Benedict. But he was not serving in the 55th O.V.I. He was a surgeon with the 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. [4]

David Benedict had been with the army since the beginning of the war. Captured at Chickamauga, he was held prisoner at Libby Prison for a few months before being exchanged. He returned to his regiment before the Battle of Atlanta, then, after the fall of that city, participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea. The army finished their march across Georgia on December 21st, 1864 when they accepted the surrender of the city of Savannah. A few days later, on Christmas Day, David Benedict went into the city from his camp in the outskirts to attend church and do a bit of sightseeing. He wrote a letter to his wife that evening, describing his day.

 

David DeForest Benedict

Doctor David Benedict

 

Years ago, I visited Savannah, and, using his letter as a guide, followed my great-great grandfather’s steps as he travelled through the city that Christmas Day so many years ago. In my next post, Hear the Chants Sung Once More, I’ll describe what I found.

 

Footnotes:

[1] For a history of the 55th O.V.I, see 55th Ohio Volunteer Regiment, on Wikipedia. A comprehensive bibliography is at 55th Ohio Infantry, compiled by Larry Stevens.

[2] Camp McClellan was located somewhere on the banks of the east branch of the Huron River; exactly where, I do not know. See Camp McClellan (Norwalk, Ohio), at Ohio Civil War Central for a description of the history of the camp.

[3] An account of the Confederate surrender is at Bennett Place, on Wikipedia.

[4] A history of the 17th O.V.I is at 17th Ohio Infantry on Wikipedia. A roster listing David Benedict is online at The Civil War Index: 17th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry  page 537.

 

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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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Benedict Genealogy

platt-benedict-masonic

Platt Benedict in Masonic Garb

My last blog post featured a recent article in the Norwalk Reflector by Norwalk author and historian Henry Timman about  Platt Benedict and the founding of Norwalk in 1817. Platt and his wife Sally and their descendants were prominent in the community and the region for the next hundred years. Their story is told in the Sufferers’ Land series of posts on this site.

The current series of posts on this site are about Platt and Sally’s great-great granddaughter, Harriott Wickham, and her schoolmates in the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. We know all about Harriott’s heritage, but what about her great-grandfather’s?

Platt Benedict came from a long line of Benedicts in America. His forefather, Thomas Benedict (1617-1689) arrived in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637. Today, his descendants in this country number in the tens of thousands.

As is common with most families of Colonial settlers, descendants of Thomas Benedict have published various genealogies over the years. The most recent addition to this collection is on-line as the Benedict Generations Wiki. If your heritage includes Benedicts, I encourage you to check it out. I am confident you will find it well worth your time.

 

 

Norwalk Reflector Today

The Norwalk Daily Reflector has been a major resource for the stories I’ve posted to this site, especially since I began covering the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. But did you know that that newspaper, founded in 1830, is still published today as the Norwalk Reflector? That’s 187 years! 20 years longer than The New York Times, and 46 years longer than the Washington Post!

norwalk-reflectorThe Norwalk Reflector today still reports on international, national, and local news of the day, as it did in 1907 and throughout its long history. But that’s not all. In his weekly column “Just Like Old Times” author and local historian Henry Timman spins tales of Norwalk in days gone by.

An email from my sister yesterday reminded me of Mr. Timman’s column. She sent me a link to his latest column (thanks, Laura), “Home of Norwalk’s First Settlers Burns Down,” a report on the founding of Norwalk in 1817 by Platt and Sally Benedict. (In 2008, I posted about this very incident on this site in “A Home in the Wilderness.”).

Henry Timman is a talented and entertaining author, writing in the Literary Non-Fiction genre that I have tried–with limited success, I’m afraid–to emulate in this blog. His latest article does not disappoint. Please check it out.

 

The Firelands Historical Society Museum

On this date, one hundred and ten year ago, Caleb Gallup, grandson of Norwalk founder Platt and Sally Benedict, ran an article in the Norwalk Daily Reflector, requesting donations for the-firelands-pioneerthe new museum of the Firelands Historical Society. The society was the second oldest in Ohio, founded in 1857. Since then, the organization had held annual meetings and published the Firelands Pioneer to record stories of the settlement of the Firelands. Now they had established the first historical museum in the state to preserve the relics of those times.

The museum had been established in “fireproof rooms” in the Norwalk Public Library, and its display cases were waiting to be filled. Mr. Gallup, in his role as Custodian of Relics for the society, requested that descendants of the early pioneers comb their attics, basements and store rooms for portraits, papers, old furniture and anything else that harked back to those early days.

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firelands-historical-society-museum

The Firelands Historical Society Museum

The Firelands Historical Society Museum is still going strong. It is now quartered in the old Wickham home at 4 Case Avenue, directly behind library. The museum’s collection has grown in the last one hundred ten years, and contains many relics of the pioneer days, to include one of the most extensive collections of old firearms you will ever see.

Just down the street, at 9 Case Avenue, it the Laning-Young Research Center. With over 4,000 historical volumes, this is the go-to place to research about the history of the Firelands.

The next time you are in Norwalk, Ohio, be sure to visit this great museum and research center. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Source: “Historical Museum,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector,” February 5, 1907, page 2, column 3.

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