“Sufferers’ Land” Post #6 – 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.

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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.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post #3 – Return to the Firelands

In January of 1817, Platt again started for The Firelands, traveling in a one-horse wagon. He stopped in New York, where his sister lived with her husband Samuel Darling. Samuel accompanied his brother-in-law west, driving a second wagon.

The two men traveled through driving snow to the Great Bend of the Susquehanna River, where they found a sleigh that belonged to a man by the name of Holley, who had left it there on his move to Florence Township in the Firelands. Leaving one wagon, they loaded the other on the sleigh and set out in extremely cold weather, traveling north and then west, bound for Erie, Pennsylvania.

A foot of snow covered the ground, excellent conditions for sleighing. In Erie, they left the wagon and headed south in the sleigh to Meadville, Pennsylvania. Here their luck changed for the worse. It began to rain heavily, melting most of the snow. They continued on to Canfield, Ohio in the sleigh, but upon arriving there decided to exchange it for another wagon.

They reached Norwalk Township in early March and boarded with the Gibbs and Lockwood families, who had arrived in the township in April of the previous year after a horrific journey, during which each family lost a son. Other settlers had arrived in the neighborhood the past couple years, and Platt set about recruiting them to help erect a cabin on the sand ridge. [1]

log-cabin-imageHe had no trouble finding willing helpers; most settlers looked forward to assisting new neighbors. In later days, one of them would recall — When the pioneer had been swinging his axe for weeks, and maybe for months, together, it is often cheering to hear that there is to be a log raising in the neighborhood. He anticipates at once the pleasure that is to be derived from meeting his neighbors, and having with them a little social chat, or the exchange of a few sprightly jokes. [2]

On the appointed day, the settlers assembled on the ridge. Snow began to fall and Platt suggested postponing the work to another day. However, Levi Cole, who lived in nearby Ridgefield Township, said that the snow would not hurt them, and the men pitched into their work. [3]

The meadow along the ridge had few trees, so the men went to a nearby lowland area to cut logs for the cabin. They stood in ankle-deep water while they worked — a miserable experience that begged for the relief of a libation. Usually the owner of a cabin being raised treated his helpers with whiskey, but Platt gave Jamaican Rum instead, which his new neighbors greatly appreciated.

They worked until mid-day when they broke for dinner, pork and potatoes prepared by Major David Underhill’s wife Mary that morning and brought to the site from their homestead on the border of Norwalk and Ridgefield Townships. It is easy to imagine the men clustered around the unfinished cabin in the snow, steam rising from their plates. [4]

After dinner, the men continued to erect the cabin, following a familiar pattern. Logs were cut, rolled up, and their corners notched together in a square form to a suitable height. For a roof, the gable ends were carried up to a peak, with logs or poles, from one end to the other, at suitable distances apart. — Their staves were then made, and layed (sic) upon the poles, each layer being well secured with heavy poles upon them. [5]

They finished building the cabin that evening. Although it was a rude structure, it would provide shelter for Platt’s family when they arrived. Satisfied with his progress so far, he made final preparations prior to returning to Connecticut to fetch them.

He hired a Mr. Stewart to stay in the cabin during his absence and clear and fence four acres of land on the flats south of the ridge for ten dollars per acre. Because Mr. Stewart had no provisions, Platt purchased a barrel of pork and a barrel of flour for him.

Platt also arranged for Lewis Keeler to fence an acre of land around the cabin and plant potatoes, corn, and other vegetables so they would be ready to harvest when he returned with his family. [6] Lewis had traveled to the Firelands in 1816 as teamster for David Gibbs and Henry Lockwood in order to prepare a homestead in advance of the arrival of others of the Keeler clan. [7]

Before he departed for Connecticut, Platt met a friend named Captain John Boalt, who also wanted to settle in Norwalk Township and sold to him one hundred acres of his land on Old State Road, about a mile southeast of the center of the proposed village of Norwalk.

Saturday, the fourth of April, Platt started for Connecticut in the same wagon he had brought to Norwalk. En-route he contracted dysentery, which made travel difficult. It took him a month to make the trip. As soon as he arrived in Danbury, he began preparations to move his family to their new home. [8]

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Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17.
[2] This description of how a cabin raising was a diversion to the early settlers is from “Memoirs of Townships – Clarksfield”, by Benjamin Benson, The Firelands Pioneer, November 1858, p. 21.
[3] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17.
[4] The story of the raising of Platt Benedict’s cabin is from “Scattered Sheaves – No. 4, By Ruth, Maj. Underhill”, The Firelands Pioneer, Sept. 1860, p. 42
[5] “Memoirs of Townships – Fitchville” by J.C. Curtis, Esq., The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp.31-32.
[6] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 17-18
[7] “Obituary of Lewis Keeler,” The Firelands Pioneer, 1882, p. 158.
[8] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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