Warrior Son

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I am a Shawnee.

My forefathers were warriors.

Their son is a warrior.



Warrior Son

May of 1810 was momentous for David Gibbs of Norwalk, Connecticut: he passed the Connecticut bar and married Elizabeth Lockwood a lifelong resident of that town and daughter of Stephen Lockwood, a Sufferer, who had lost his possessions in the Battle of Norwalk over thirty years before. [1]

Although Stephen had been granted land in the Fire Lands, it had been only two years before that the Fire Lands of northern Ohio, set aside for the Sufferers had been surveyed and he was finally assigned his portion. [2]

Charles Robert Sherman

Charles Robert Sherman

The Ohio frontier was still a dangerous place for settlers, with frequent warfare with Native American tribes. But despite the danger, David decided to scout out his father-in-law’s land. The question was, whom should he ask to accompany him. His good friend, Charles Robert Sherman was an obvious choice. [3]

Charles Sherman was born and raised in Norwalk. Like David, in the spring of 1810 he had also passed the bar and married a Norwalk woman: Mary Hoyt. The two men had other similarities in their life histories: they were born within a few months of each other, had studied law together – and both had a personal interest in the Firelands of northwestern Ohio.

David’s father-in-law, Robert Lockwood’s home and business had been burned by the British during the Battle of Norwalk in the American Revolution. This made him one of the “Sufferers,” eligible for a portion of land in the Firelands. That land had been surveyed in 1808, and Robert had been assigned his portion in what are now Sherman and Norwalk Townships of Huron County. [2]

Charles was born in Norwalk, in on September 26, 1788 to Taylor and Elizabeth Stoddard Sherman. His father was a lawyer, and Charles studied law under his tutelage and that of a Judge Newman of Newtown, Connecticut.  Taylor was not a Sufferer, but while a trustee of the Connecticut Land Company, had purchased land in Sherman Township, which was named after him. [4]

The two friends departed Norwalk, Connecticut that summer and headed for the Firelands of Ohio. [3] However, in route, they had a change of plans. The Native American chief, Tecumseh, was threatening the frontier, a lead in to Tecumseh’s War, [4] so they diverted to Lancaster, near Columbus. Charles decided to settle there, and after acquiring land and building a cabin, returned for his bride. [5]

David did not settle in Lancaster with his friend. He returned to Connecticut and took advantage of an opportunity in Bridgeport, where he practiced law for two years. Then came the War of 1812.  He enlisted in David Captain Tilden’s Company, 37th U.S. Infantry at Fort Griswold, New Jersey on April 30, 1813, and was discharged on May 17, 1815. Apparently, he saw no action. [6]

At the conclusion of the war, danger from Native American’s had been removed and the frontier was open for settlement. David decided to visit the Firelands again, this time with his father-in-law and brother-in-law. That trip will be the subject of my next series of posts.



[1] The evening of July 10, 1779, British troops under the command of Brigadier General William Tyron landed at the mouth of the Norwalk River. The following morning, the troops moved up the river toward Norwalk, burning everything in their path. By the end of the “battle” eighty houses, two churches, eighty-seven barns, seventeen shops, and four mills had been destroyed worth an estimated 26 thousand British pounds (See the Wikipedia article Battle of Norwalk and W.W. Williams, History of the Fire-Lands, Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio, With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers; Leader Printing Company, Cleveland, Ohio; 1879, p 14. and Erie Mesnard, “Surveys of the Fire Lands, so called being a part of the Western Reserve, sometimes called New Connecticut,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society, June 1864; p 94.).

In 1792, the Connecticut General Assembly authorized compensation of over one-hundred sixty-one thousand pounds (New England currency) to about eighteen hundred seventy “Sufferers.” David Gibbs father-in-law Stephen Lockwood’s share was set at 18 pounds, 12 shillings (WW Williams, pp. 15-16).

[2] The Firelands was first surveyed in 1806, however, the results were challenged and deemed flawed. Another survey was required and was completed in 1808. A final apportionment to the “Sufferers” took place by lottery in November of that year. (WW Williams, pp. 23-25.) Stephen Lockwood was allotted land in Sherman and Norwalk townships. (WW Williams pp. 112, 284.)

[3] “David Gibbs,” Obituaries: The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume IX; The Firelands Historical Society; 1896; page 542 and “Incidents in the Life of Elizabeth Lockwood Gibbs,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Vol XI, October 1874, page 83.

[4] See Wikipedia articles for Taylor Sherman and Charles Robert Sherman, Also, “Charles Robert Sherman on the website: “Former Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court.” An account of the naming of Sherman Township is in Baughman, A.J., History of Huron County Ohio: Its Progress and Development, Volume I, The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago, IL, 1909; p. 284

[5] The Shawnee Chief Tecumseh was a thorn in the side of Americans for many years as leader of a large multi-tribe confederacy based out of “Prophetsville” in Indiana. In August of 1810, he appeared with a group of warriors at General Henry Harrison’s headquarters in  Vincennes with a list of demands, which the General immediately rejected. The situation quickly deteriorated and open warfare was narrowly averted by another Native American Chief. Tecumseh departed, threatening war. See the Wikipedia article Tecumseh.

News of this encounter terrified settlers on the frontier and caused many who were about to push into newly opened territories such as the Firelands to revise their plans, to include David Gibbs and his friend Charles Sherman.




Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and William Tecumseh Sherman


Although Tecumseh foiled Charles Sherman’s plans to settle on his father’s land in the Firelands, he was impressed by the man’s skill as a warrior. Charles remembered him through the years, and when Charles and Mary christened their sixth child in 1820,  they named him after the Chief. That child also became a renowned warrior. His name was William Tecumseh Sherman.

[6] “David Gibbs,” Obituaries: The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume IX; The Firelands Historical Society; 1896; page 542; William A. Gordon, A compilation of registers of the Army of the United States, from 1815 to 1837, inclusive. To which is appended a list of officers on whom brevets were conferred by the President of the United States, for gallant conduct or meritorious services during the war with Great Britain, James C. Dunn, Printer, 1837, page 38; and War of 1812 Pension Applications. Washington D.C.: National Archives. NARA Microfilm Publication M313, 102 rolls.



This is the second of a series of posts about the Lockwood and Gibbs families trek to the Firelands in 1816.


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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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Whitetail_doe.jpg

[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, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persistence_hunting

[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, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_Wikipedia#MLA_style

[4] “Old-growth Forests,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 April, 2018. Web. 29 April, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_Wikipedia#MLA_style

[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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