Sufferers’ Land – Post 31 – A Terrible Tragedy

Sufferers’ Land

A Terrible Tragedy

by Dave Barton

On Wednesday, August 28, 1833, less than a month after the birth of David Benedict, Lucy Preston learned that there had been a horrible accident at the Benedict home on Seminary Street. Little Platt Benedict had been badly burned. Lucy hurried to the house to see if she could help. Now nineteen years old, she had the reputation of being a capable nurse.

Pioneer FireplaceWhen she arrived at her friend Fanny Benedict’s house, she learned that young Platt had come downstairs early in the morning and stood by the fireplace to get warm. An ember landed on the boy’s nightgown, catching it on fire and burning him badly. Fanny and Jonas were in terrible shock from the sight of their son running through the house engulfed in flames.

Lucy went in the bedroom where the boy lay to see if she could help. He was delirious and begged for water. The doctor refused to allow him any, a practice of that time. The boy’s plight moved Lucy, and later, when she was alone with him, she gave him all the water he wanted. Throughout the night, she and other women of the village kept watch over the boy, but they were not able to save him. He died the next day.

The loss of a young child is a terrible thing. Even in those days of high infant mortality, it caused immense grief in the family and the village. Jonas and Fanny would have two more children, both girls. However, their lives, scarred by the death of their firstborn son, were doomed to pass from tragedy to tragedy — disappointment to disappointment. [1]

 

 

Footnote:

[1] The story of the death of young Platt Benedict is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver (Unpublished), by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, p. 17.

The image of the frontier fireplace is from Rusler, William, A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 240.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 29 – Henry Buckingham

Sufferers’ Land

Henry Buckingham

by Dave Barton

In the spring of 1822, the Buckingham family arrived in Norwalk and built a house on a lot where the Roman Catholic Church now stands. One of the children of this family was Fanny Buckingham, who had just turned thirteen, near enough to the age of eight-year-old Lucy Preston to be her friend.

Fanny’s parents, Henry and Harriet, were of old New England stock — their ancestry going back to the early days of the colonies, even to the beginning at Plymouth.

Harriet Talcott Buckingham, Fanny’s mother, traced her ancestry to the beginning of the New England colonies. Her father was George Talcott, whose family came to New England in 1632, and settled in Hartford, Connecticut. Harriet’s mother was Vienna Bradford, a descendant of William Bradford, who came to Plymouth, Massachusetts on the Mayflower in 1620 and was the colony’s second governor.

Henry Buckingham’s family settled in New England in 1637, when Thomas Buckingham arrived in Boston with his wife Hannah. He later moved to Milford, Massachusetts. His son, also named Thomas, moved to Saybrook, Massachusetts, where the family lived for many generations.

Henry’s father, another Thomas, was born in Columbia, Massachusetts. He later moved to Lebanon, Connecticut, his mother’s hometown. He was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and a leading member of the community. He married Triphena Hibbard and together they had ten children, with Henry being the eldest. Thomas Buckingham, was a strict disciplinarian, whose puritanical training made for an unhappy childhood for Henry and his nine siblings.

Born in Coventry, Connecticut on January 13, 1779, Henry did not have the opportunity for a good education as a child. At eighteen, he moved to New London, Connecticut and worked as a salesman for the mercantile house of George W. Jones, a leading businessman of the town. George Jones had a good library, which he allowed Henry to use. Henry took advantage of this opportunity to read and study history and general literature.

At the age of twenty-four, Henry married Harriet Talcott. Two years later, they left New London and moved to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, where Henry became a successful businessman, owning a large store and several mills. Henry was a tough businessman in those days, and did not always treat his business acquaintances well. Later in life, he remarked that at that time he was a “man of the world,” suing and being sued. By the War of 1812, he was probably the most successful businessman in the Susquehanna River Valley. Then the war came and ruined his prosperity. He was a patriotic man, and helped raise and outfit companies of soldiers at his own expense. One of these companies participated in the Battle of Put-in-Bay. Because of a drop in commerce after the war, he lost his businesses and almost all his wealth.

In 1820, he packed up what remained of his possessions and took his family to Ohio, settling in Putman, near the home of a distant relative. Henry was not happy in Putman. In 1822, he moved again, this time to Norwalk.

Henry Buckingham was forty-three years old when he arrived in Norwalk. He was of medium height, well built, with mild blue eyes and a pleasant expression. People liked him — the way he was always courteous and affable. Shortly after he arrived, the position of Huron County Treasurer came open and he received an appointment to the job. He did so well that the citizens of the county reelected him three times.

Henry’s fortunes had taken a turn for the better. But he wanted more. He saved his money and prepared to go into business, intent on rebuilding his lost fortune. By this time, he had changed his outlook on life and the way he approached his dealings and relations with others. The collapse of his fortunes after the War of 1812 had humbled him and made him more understanding of the needs of others. He also found religion, something that was lacking in his life previously.

This conversion appears to have taken place sometime after the war, but before he moved to Ohio. Not being religious, he was in the habit of taking his son George fishing on Sundays. One day, he was fishing under a bridge when an elderly Catholic woman passed by on her way to Mass with a missal in hand. The woman saw him fishing and said, “Mr. Buckingham, you ought to know better than to break the Holy Sabbath; see what you are teaching your little boy.” The woman’s scolding embarrassed Henry. He hauled in his line so hastily that he broke the pole. He took young George home, and from then on never went fishing, or did anything else on Sunday.

By the time he moved to Norwalk, Henry was a devout Presbyterian. He joined a church in Milan, and was active in the American Bible Society. For three years, starting in 1826, he was depository of the Huron County branch of that society. Religion shaped how he saw his role in the world. He opposed war and promoted universal brotherhood and the rights of man. Later he would put these beliefs in practice in the anti-slavery and temperance movements. [1]

As an officer of the court and man of business, Henry soon became acquainted with Platt Benedict, and engaged in various enterprises with him. Like Platt, he was active in the Royal Arch Chapter of Masons in Norwalk. The two men often met in each other’s homes. A few years later, a marriage of their children made the two men’s relationship even closer.

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] The story of Henry Buckingham and the Buckingham family is from the “Obituary of Henry Buckingham,” by Levina Lindsley Buckingham, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume V, The Firelands Historical Society, July 1888, pp. 159-161; “Henry Buckingham,” by Henry Buckingham (his grandson), The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume V, The Firelands Historical Society, July 1888, pp. 120-125; and Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes & Harriott Wickham, (unpublished), edited by Dave Barton, 2006, pp. 15-18.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 28 – Death, Education, Responsibility

Sufferers’ Land

Death, Education, Responsibility

by Dave Barton

In the fall of 1826, Lucy’s mother, Esther contracted inflammatory fever. For fifteen days, Lucy, then age twelve, nursed her mother, hoping she would recover. However, it was to no avail. On Sunday, the third of September, Esther Taylor Preston died.

Samuel, grief-stricken, buried her in the Episcopal Cemetery near the grave of Susan Gibbs, and placed a notice in the Sandusky Clarion.

Died. – At Norwalk, on Sunday, September 3, 1826, in the 46th year of her age, after a severe illness of fifteen days, Esther Taylor, the wife of Samuel Preston, Esq.; leaving a husband and two children, Lucy B. and Chas. A., to lament her loss. [1]

Lucy was now responsible for running her home and caring for her father and brother. For one-and-a-half years, she had help from her mother’s sister, Fannie Taylor Knight, whose husband had recently died. Then Aunt Fannie remarried and left Lucy alone in charge of the household at the age of fourteen.

* * *

It took three years to build the Academy. The building was three stories and made of brick. The Masons, who had contributed eight-hundred dollars for construction, occupied the third floor. Norwalk Academy opened its doors in December 1826 with ninety students. By the end of the year, there were one-hundred. The first Principal was the Reverend S.A. Bronson, who had served St. Paul’s parish as a deacon for several years. [2]

Even though she had a family to care for, Lucy’s father allowed her to attend the Academy. She became reacquainted with Mary Ann Morse, whom she had met at the first school she attended in the Firelands. Mary left the academy in 1828 at the age of eighteen and married George Kennan, an instructor at the school.

Lucy left Norwalk Academy in 1829 when she was fifteen years old and went to a private school taught by Miss Ware, where among other things she learned painting and studied music and French. This was rare for a girl in those days, an indication of Lucy’s talents and the desire of her father to give her a good education.

Those days were difficult for Lucy, full of hard work and heavy responsibility. However, they were also happy times. Her friends remembered her as a vivacious and witty girl, unselfish and popular with all. In addition to her father and her brother Charles, her cousins Jane and Julia Knight and Catharine Taylor lived with her for many years while they went to school in Norwalk. Lucy early on learned it was her job to care for others. For the rest of her life, she would be the responsible one. [3]

Even when she had lived outside Norwalk, Lucy had heard news of goings on in the village from her father, who lived and worked there during the week. From him, she learned of the arrival of new settlers who erected homes and businesses along the sand ridge. When her family moved into town in 1821, she was able to find out first hand when new settlers arrived. New arrivals meant new children to play with.

Soon after Lucy moved into town, a family arrived that would have a big impact on Lucy’s future — and the future of Norwalk.

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] From Obituaries – The Fireland Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January 1920, p. 2473.
[2] Description of founding of Norwalk Academy is from “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume I, No. 4; The Firelands Historical Society; May 1859; p. 21 and James Gibbs, “Academy, Seminary and Institute,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January, 1920, page 2295-2300.
[3] Lucy Preston’s experiences at the Norwalk Academy are from “Memoir of Mrs. Lucy Preston Wickham,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January 1920, p. 2399.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 27 – School and Tragedy

Sufferers’ Land

School and Tragedy

by Dave Barton

The year Samuel Preston moved his family to Norwalk, the men of the town, with Platt Benedict in the lead, established the Royal Arch Chapter of the Masons. Platt had been a Mason for over ten years, joining the fraternity when he lived in Danbury, Connecticut. On St. John’s Day the following year, the chapter planned to install officers, and looked for a place large enough to accommodate the audience. They decided that the Court House was too small, so they built a large bower of branches on Prospect Avenue. The next year, Lucy went to school in this bower. She thought it was a pleasant place, except when a shower came up, which later she said made the pursuit of knowledge very difficult. [1]

Starting in 1816, when the first school had opened on the border of Norwalk and Ridgefield Townships, private schools were the only educational facilities in the area. They were small affairs, funded by subscriptions of farmers in the townships or the tuition of tradesmen and professionals in the villages. [2] Teachers were generally young women, most working away from home. They often boarded with families of their pupils. Many met the men they would marry while living in their homes. [3]

After several years, the leading citizens of Norwalk decided to establish a more advanced center of learning in the village. They determined to build an academy, and formed a committee to oversee construction. On Wednesday, May 14, 1823, a notice appeared in the Sandusky Clarion, the only newspaper in the Firelands at that time.

Notice

The subscribers having been appointed a committee for the purpose of building an Academy at Norwalk, do hereby give notice that they will receive proposals until the second Monday of June next, for erecting and completing said building. Application may be made to any one of the subscribers.

“F. Forsyth, H.G. Morse, H. Gallup, Moses Kimball, David Gibbs, committee. Norwalk, May 6, 1823.” [4]

Work began that same year on a site between Main and Seminary Streets. By the fall of the following year, a man passing through town noted that the roof was almost completed. The unfinished building was three stories, with the third floor set aside for the Masons, who were a major contributor to the academy. The children of the village loved to play amid the construction, and Lucy Preston was no exception.

One day in early February 1825, she and other children met at the unfinished school to play. Among her friends was Esther Ann Gibbs, a girl of ten who was the daughter of Samuel and Debby Gibbs, relatives of the Gibbs who had sheltered the Benedicts when they first came to Norwalk Township.

Esther Ann had brought her four-year-old sister Susan Gibbs, with the admonishment to look after her by her mother. The children climbed to the third floor to play. They were in the middle of a game of “Ring around the Rosy,” when they heard someone cry out that a child had fallen. Crowding to the edge of the building they gazed in horror at little Susan Gibbs, lying on the ground. Passers-by rushed Susan home, where she lingered through the night. She died the following morning from her injuries and her family buried her in the cemetery behind where St. Paul’s Episcopal Church now stands.

How the loss of her sister affected Esther Ann Gibbs, we can hardly guess. It certainly must have been a blow to Lucy. She had lost a sister earlier in life, and sympathized with the grief of her friend now. However, she was soon to know grief herself, as death struck her own family. [5]

 

Footnotes:

[1] History of the establishment of a Masonic Chapter in Norwalk is from “Centennial of Norwalk Masonry,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXXIII; The Firelands Historical Society; April 1925; p. 448. Story of the construction of a bower for the installation of Masonic officers and subsequent use as a school is from “Memoir of Mrs. Lucy Preston Wickham,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January 1920; p. 2399.
[2] Quoted from The History of Norwalk Schools, prepared by the late Theodore Williams by request of the Board of Education in 1876.
[3] An example of a young female teacher marrying a man she met while teaching away from home was Harriett Underhill of Ridgefield Township daughter of David and Mary Underhill, who married Col. Nathan Strong in Lyme Township where she was teaching at the home of Col. Strong’s son. “Memoirs of Townships” by Charles Smith M.D., The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume II, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; November 1859; p. 12.
[4] Story of building the Norwalk Academy is from “Some Historic Facts About Ancient Norwalk’s Famous Academy, Seminary, and Institute,” by James Gibbs, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January 1920, pp. 2295-7.
[5] From “Memoir of Mrs. Lucy Preston Wickham,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January 1920, p. 2399.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 26 – To Canada and Back Again

Sufferers’ Land

To Canada and Back Again

by Dave Barton

Lucy and her family were overjoyed to see their relatives after a long separation. The trip from New Hampshire had been long and arduous, but they had finally arrived in the Firelands. Time would tell how they would adapt to life on the frontier.

They did not adapt well at all.

Walk in the Water

The Walk-in-the-Water Steamship. Illustration by Samuel Ward Stanton, American Steam Vessels, (1895), 24.

Samuel Preston became homesick for the east, and by spring of 1820, he had had enough. Once again, Lucy had to leave familiar people, in this case her grandparents, aunt and uncle. She and her brother followed their parents north to Sandusky where they boarded the Walk-in-the-Water, the first steamboat on Lake Erie, bound for Buffalo. The trip to Buffalo was uneventful. Upon arriving, they crossed into Canada and went to Waterloo, Ontario.

Lucy’s parents enrolled her in the local school. The other children made fun of her, calling her a Yankee. She became so upset that she refused to go to school. Instead, she and Charles spent the summer playing in an old fort, where they found cannon balls and other military things, and picking raspberries.

Lucy’s father found work as a carpenter, but he was no happier to be in Canada than she was. In the fall, he and Esther packed the family’s belongings and returned with Lucy and Charles to Black Rock, where they again boarded the Walk-in-the-Water and sailed to Sandusky.

After staying in Sandusky a few weeks, they returned to Uncle Benjamin’s farm and stayed through the winter. The quarters were tight, with three families crammed together in a little cabin. Lucy and the other children slept in a loft accessible by a ladder. One night, a big storm came up and tore the shingles off the roof and the rain poured in. The children were soaked, not to mention being scared half to death by the violence of the storm.

That winter, to give their families more room, Lucy’s father and her Uncle Benjamin built a new cabin. Come spring, Uncle Benjamin’s family moved into this new house, leaving the old one to the Prestons and Grandma and Grandsire Taylor.

The summer of 1821, Lucy’s father secured work as a carpenter in Norwalk. He lived in a boarding house in the village during the week, coming home on Saturday night to spend the remainder of the weekend with his family.

Lucy was seven now, and started school in an old log house near the Norwalk and Ridgefield township line, the same school Jonas and Eliza Ann Benedict had attended when they first arrived in Norwalk. Her teachers at this school were Tamia Palmer and Ann Boalt, daughter of John and Ruth Boalt. Mary Ann Morse was still a student there, and she and Lucy became friends. Lucy often rode home with her, riding behind her on her horse.

In the fall of 1821, Lucy’s father moved the family into Norwalk. They lived in a house at 11 West Main Street, and later moved a short distance down Main Street to Number 50. Finally, life appeared to have returned to normal. However, this would not last. In a few short years, Lucy would be shocked into adulthood by a series of terrible tragedies. [1]

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] The Story of the Preston family’s journey to the Firelands and first years living there are from the “Memoir of Mrs. Lucy Preston Wickham,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January 1920; pp. 2394-2399.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 21 – Trial and Punishment

Sufferers’ Land

Trial and Punishment

by Dave Barton

The Huron County Court of Common Pleas convened on Tuesday, May 18 at the Court House in Norwalk. A Grand Jury met the same day. Two days later, they indicted the three Indians for first-degree murder.

The trial began the day after the indictment. A crowd assembled, so many that a large number had to stand outside in the yard. Being a prominent member of the community, Platt secured a seat inside, and later gave Sally a first hand account.

He seemed to have witnessed a fair trial. After hearing only a portion of the evidence, the prosecutor dropped the charge against the boy Negossum and released him, to the applause of the audience.

The evidence against the other two Indians was compelling, however, and after a short deliberation, the jury found them guilty. The judge asked if they had anything to say before he passed sentence, but they refused to speak. He sentenced them to be hanged on Friday, July first, and had them led back to jail to await execution.

Sally and the other settlers were curious how the Indians were taking their impending deaths. They learned that the two men were particularly concerned about hanging, which they considered an ignominious death. To discover what it felt like, they practiced choking each other until they almost passed out. The results disturbed them and they became so depressed that the sheriff, in sympathy, gave them whisky to dull their anguish.

The day of execution dawned warm and sultry. Early that morning, settlers from all over the county assembled around the gallows, erected on a knoll behind where St. Paul’s Episcopal Church now stands. Seven or eight Indians from the condemned men’s tribe arrived to witness the execution, including several who had assisted in recapturing the prisoners after their escape.

At the appointed time, the condemned men approached the knoll, escorted by a rifle company commanded by Captain Burt. They were dressed in shrouds and were intoxicated, having begged for whisky earlier that morning. After mounting the gallows and having nooses placed around their necks, the men were asked if they wished to say anything. Negosheek mumbled a few words. The men dropped to their deaths and several women turned away and began to cry.

After they were dead, the authorities took down their bodies, placed them in coffins, and buried them on the knoll. The Rifle Company and civil officials marched to Captain Boalt’s house. He treated them to a big dinner, and they listened to a funeral discourse, a rather macabre scene to us, but probably considered appropriate at the time.

For months afterwards, the settlers of the Firelands worried that friends of the executed Indians would exact revenge. Platt, not having a gun, kept a sharpened hoe hanging near his front door against such an eventuality. However, perhaps because the court had found the boy Negossum innocent, the Indians felt that justice had been done. They never attacked.

As time went on, settlers cleared the forests and farms replaced the Native American’s traditional hunting grounds. In 1843, the remaining tribes departed Ohio for reservations further west. Their time had passed. [1]

Goodbye to Old Hunting Grounds

Rusler, William, A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 137.

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] The account of the murders of John Wood and George Bishop and the capture, trial and execution of their killers is from an article by W.C. Allen in The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume VI, The Firelands Historical Society, June 1865, pp. 43-52, and from Baughman, A.J., History of Huron County Ohio: Its Progress and Development, Volume I, The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago, IL, 1909; pp. 144-145. Platt Benedict’s reaction to this incident is described by him in “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume I, Number 4, The Firelands Historical Society, May 1859, p. 21.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 18 – Crime and Capture

Sufferers’ Land

Crime and Capture

by Dave Barton

The Portage River was a traditional passage for Indians traveling from the Maumee River to Lake Erie. Around the middle of April, three Indians, Negosheek (Ne-go-sheek), Negonaba (Ne-gon-a-ba) and Negossum (Ne-gos-sum), passed by John Wood and George Bishop’s cabin on their way down the river.

Negosheek was the eldest and the leader of the group. He had the reputation of not being able to handle liquor. Negonaba, also an adult, was easily influenced by his friend when drunk. Negossum, being only sixteen or eighteen, was afraid of his older companions, and inclined to do whatever they told him.

The three Indians continued to the mouth of the Portage River where they stayed for several days. They bought whiskey and started back up the river toward their homes. On the way, Negosheek decided they should attack and kill John Wood and George Bishop and steal their furs and other belongings.

log-cabin-imageJust before dawn on Wednesday, April twenty-first, while the boy Negossum waited outside, the two elder Indians crept into the trappers’ cabin and murdered them in their sleep with tomahawks. When the men were dead, Negosheek called Negossum into the cabin and had him strike one of the bodies on the leg with a hatchet so the boy would feel he had participated in the murders.

The Indians looted the cabin, and after hiding some of the murdered trappers’ possessions along a nearby creek and selling their furs, they started for home. On the way, they encountered a half-breed Indian named Chazee traveling down the river, and told him what they had done. Chazee stopped at Bishop and Wood’s cabin and found their bodies. He continued to the mouth of the river and told Charles Tupper, a constable who lived there, about the murders.

Judge Truman Pettibone, the Justice of the Peace in Danbury Township, issued a warrant of arrest for the Indians, and Charles raised a posse to pursue them. The posse tracked them to a village on the Miami River and the Indians living there turned the three suspects over to them.

The posse returned to Danbury Township, where Judge Pettibone questioned the Indians with the assistance of an interpreter named John Flemmond. Convinced of their guilt, he sent them on to the County Seat in Norwalk to stand trial.

The arrival of the Indians created quite a stir among the inhabitants of Norwalk and the surrounding vicinity. One can imagine Platt and other men of the village visiting the jail to see the prisoners. Seeing face to face these men who had committed murder raised fears of further raids, and enhanced the terror that Sally Benedict had felt when visited by an Indian late at night.

It is a testimony to the sense of fairness and the importance of the rule of law to the Connecticut pioneers that they did not attempt to lynch the three Indians. Many conflicts between Native Americans and settlers ended when mobs of angry men took the law into their own hands. In this case, however, the record is clear that the settlers were determined to give the prisoners a fair trial. There was no rush to judgment, and guilt and innocence was determined after careful consideration of the facts. However, before that could happen, the Benedicts, along with the rest of their neighbors, were in for a scare. [1]

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] The account of the murders of John Wood and George Bishop and the capture, trial and execution of their killers is from an article by W.C. Allen in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1865, pp. 43-52, and from Baughman, A.J., History of Huron County Ohio: Its Progress and Development, Volume I, The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago, IL, 1909; pp. 144-145.

 

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