Sufferers’ Land – Post 17 – Murder on the Portage River

Sufferers’ Land

Murder on the Portage River

by Dave Barton

In late April 1819, disturbing news reached the village of Norwalk. Indians on the Portage River northwest of town had murdered two men. Sally Benedict, along with all the settlers, was alarmed and anxious to know more. As the days went by, more news came in. The victims were two trappers, John Wood and George Bishop. John was a married man, a tavern-keeper in Venice, Ohio, and George was single, a sailor on the Great Lakes who lived in Danbury Township.

One room school houseAt that time, much of the Firelands was still wilderness and game was plentiful enough to make trapping and hunting a profitable enterprise. In early April, a company of men, including John Wood and George Bishop, had gone on a trapping expedition up the Portage River on the peninsula, in what is now Ottawa County. The others in the party soon went home, but John and George stayed on. They were relatively successful, and by late April had settled into a cabin on the Portage River where they continued to work their trap lines. It was in that cabin that their bodies were discovered.

For a few more days the suspense continued, then came the welcome news that authorities had captured the murderers. Three Indians had confessed to the crime and were on the way to Norwalk to stand trial.

When the Indians arrived in the village, authorities confined them in a log cabin belonging to Daniel Raitt, located just north of Main Street on what is now Hester Street. Mr. Raitt and another man named Charles Soules guarded them twenty-four hours a day.

With the Indians safely confined to the jail, Sally and the other inhabitants gathered around the men who brought them in anxious to learn the full story of the murder. [1]



[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.



This post was first published on this blog in 2009.


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Sufferers’ Land – Post 14 – The Gallup Family in Norwalk

Sufferers’ Land

The Gallup Family in Norwalk

by Dave Barton

In 1818, the Gallup brothers, William and Hallet, came from Avery to Norwalk when the County Seat moved there. They were cabinetmakers, originally from Pennsylvania. The brothers lost their father in 1807 when Hallet was only ten years old. He lived with an uncle in Philadelphia for six years and then joined the army during the War of 1812,

Battle of Put in Bay

Perry transferring from the Lawrence to the Niagara. In the Public Domain. From Wikipedia Commons

serving under Harrison in the artillery on an expedition through Northern Ohio. From shore, he heard the sound of guns during Perry’s victory over the British in the Battle of Put-in-Bay and afterwards saw wrecks of British vessels along the shore.

Hallet liked what he saw in Northern Ohio. After the war, he moved with his brother to Avery, determined to make his fortune.
After moving to Norwalk from Avery in 1818, Hallet quickly became involved in the life of the village and the county. In 1819, he became County Collector of Taxes, a thankless and dangerous job, especially in the northwest part of the county.

Because of his involvement in the political and social life of the village of Norwalk, he became acquainted with the Benedict family. He took a fancy to Clarissa, and in the end won her heart. In 1820, they married and built a house on the corner of Foster and East Main where they raised eight children. [1]

Hallet used his experience as a carpenter to go into the construction business, erecting many of the public buildings in Norwalk. He was an inventive man, constructing many useful machines and becoming involved in various manufacturing ventures, to include one producing chairs in a barn on Foster Avenue. [2]

Clarissa remained devoted to her parents. She spent much of her time in their home, and her children were born there. Clarissa became a pillar of the community, especially in her support of the Episcopal Church, which her parents founded soon after arriving in Norwalk.



[1] Descriptions of the birth, early life and marriage of Hallet & Clarissa Gallup are from their obituaries in The Firelands Pioneer, July 1878, pp. 103-4. Other details are from “Norwalk, Its Men and Women, and Some of the Girls I have Met,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, pp. 2110-11.
[2] From “Did You Know,” by James H. Williams, The Firelands Pioneer, June 1937, p. 172.



This post was first published on this blog in 2009.


Previous Post: Clarissa Benedict

Next Post: The Episcopal Church in Norwalk


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Transcribing: A Close Connection to the Past

In One Night in Norwalk – A Hitchhiker’s Tale, I told how I found entries in my grandmother’s diary of the night I arrived at her door after a failed attempt to hitchhike home from school.

I am lucky to have Grandma’s diaries, and other writings of hers. They have provided me an intimate window into her life – and told me what she thought of me. While transcribing them, I felt I became closer to her than I ever did while she was alive. And, while transcribing her words, I adopted a process that made her seem even closer; a process that is the subject of this post.


Harriott Wickham Memories

Photos: Harriott Wickham self-portrait, 1914; Commencement photo of the Class of 1907. Harriott Wickham earliest diaries: 1908-1909 (open); 1910 Tour of Europe (black cover); 1910-1914, Wooster College Years (red cover).

Early on, I formed the habit of transcribing Grandma’s letters, diaries, stories and other documents before I read them. Seeing the words for the first time as I typed them made it seem I was experiencing her thoughts as they had formed in her mind. Sitting at my desk late at night, or in the morning before dawn – my usual time for research and writing – I often felt as though Grandma was with me, directing my fingers as they moved across the keyboard of my computer.

Have you ever tried this technique? If you have not, I suggest you give it a try.



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One Night in Norwalk, Ohio – A Hitchhiker’s Tale

With all I have written about the history of Norwalk, Ohio, you might think that I grew up in that city and the Firelands. But I did not. I was born in Amherst, Ohio, and raised in Lorain and Avon Lake, all in the county east of the Firelands. In fact, to my knowledge I have spent only one night in Norwalk, Ohio: Thursday, September 27, 1973, forty-four years ago today. How do I know that, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

I had just begun my Junior year at Bowling Green State University, south of Toledo, and after two years in the dorms, had moved to an apartment on Napoleon Road, across the railroad tracks from a hog slaughter house.

I needed a car. A neighbor of my parents back in Avon Lake had a car for sale. I decided to hitchhike home and buy it. After all, it was only a hundred miles or so. No problem. So I walked to Wooster Street, hung out my thumb, and headed east. [1]Norwalk Hitchhiking Map

Rides were scarce that day, and those who picked me up did not take me very far. As dusk settled in, I found myself standing at the U.S. Route 250 exit of the U.S. 20 Norwalk Bypass. Continuing to hitchhike in the dark did not appeal to me (wisely, I think).

But, Grandma Barton lived in Norwalk. [2] She’d take me in. I abandoned my plans of getting home that night, and hiked north along Benedict Avenue toward town.

I arrived at Grandma’s home on Hester Street after dark. The lights were on. I knocked. She opened the door and stared at me with surprise.

What did she think of me showing up at her door after dark? I’ll let her tell you.


Thursday, September 27, 1973

Another warm day, but not as hot as yesterday. Late in the p.m. a knock at the door and there stood David. He had hitch-hiked this far on his way home, but did not want to try his luck farther, as it would soon be getting dark. I did not think he should either, so he called home to tell them he was staying here over night. Nice to have him for a little visit.

Friday, September 28, 1973

Just after we had eaten breakfast this a.m. Carrie [my mom] arrived to take Dave on to Avon Lake, where he is to finish his deal to buy a car there. Somehow it did not occur to me to lend him my car to go on to A.L.! But perhaps that would have been just as much trouble, as they would have felt it should be brought back.

Harriott Barton Christmas 1973 - Avon Lake Ohio (2)

Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton, Christmas 1973

That’s it, my one night in Norwalk, Ohio. And breakfast, too!

I had wondered over the years what Grandma thought about my little adventure. (I had learned my mom’s opinion of my “antics” on the ride from Norwalk to Avon Lake that morning). Finding these entries in Grandma’s diaries a decade ago was a blessing. I’m glad she was not upset with me. But what else could I expect from someone who had homesteaded in Wyoming as single young woman, married a rancher, and raised a family on the edge of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.

Grandma was not the timid sort.


Diaries from our ancestors are such a treasure. In my next post, I’ll tell you how I make the transcription of these gems into a deeply personal experience.



[1] To any children (in the unlikely event any children actually read this post), do as I say, not as I did: don’t hitchhike!

[2] Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton, Norwalk High School Class of 1907, whose stories of her life, our family’s heritage, and of the Firelands inspired me to publish the Firelands History Website. After my grandfather’s death, she had sold their farm south of Norwalk and moved into town.


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Researching the Norwalk High School Class of 1907: Newspapers

Huron Reflector 1st Issue

February 2, 1830 issue of the Huron Reflector, the forefather of the present day Norwalk Reflector.

In my last post, I discussed the sources I’ve drawn on to write about the history of the Sufferers’ Land and the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. One source I did not discuss was newspaper archives. There are many free sites out there: my current home state of Colorado has a wonderful collection at the Colorado Historical Newspaper Collection. But not all states and localities have these online archives. Which brings us to the two big pay websites: and

Now, I do not want to get into a debate of which of these are better. They appear similar in ease of use, and subscription price. What makes the difference, to me, is coverage. I subscribe to simply because its archives cover Norwalk, Ohio history – where I focus my research – for 149 years, starting on February 2, 1830 with the first issue of the Huron Reflector. I describe the founding of this newspaper (by my ancestors) in my Sufferers’ Land post, The Norwalk Reflector.

Here’s a list of what newspapers are available on


Huron Reflector: 1830-1862

Norwalk Daily Reflector: 1882-1913

Norwalk Evening Herald: 1902-1913

Norwalk Experiment: 1841-1844

Huron County Democrat: 1913 (May 22)

Norwalk Huron Reflector: 1830-1853 (same as Huron Reflector).

Norwalk Reflector: 1862-1863; 1964-1979

Norwalk Reflector Herald: 1913-1964

Norwalk Reporter & Huron Advertiser: 1827-1830.

How do I use newspapers? After exhausting all other resources available to me (including the gems in my grandmother’s papers), I search in by surname to fill in the blanks, and browse issues on, before and after important dates in my ancestors’ lives (birth, marriage, death, etc.). This latter tactic has been especially helpful in finding obituaries.

Newspaper archives are a great, and relatively new, resource. If you are not using them in your research, you are really missing out.


With all my writing about the Firelands and Norwalk, Ohio. You might think that I was born and grew up there. But you’d be wrong. My birthplace is Amherst, Ohio, and I grew up in Lorain and Avon Lake; all in three are Lorain County, to the east of the Firelands. Although I spent many Sunday afternoons with my family visiting my great-aunt Eleanor Wickham at the old Benedict mansion on Seminary Street in Norwalk, I never lived there.

In fact, to my knowledge, I have only slept one night in the city: Thursday, September 27, 1973. How do I know that exact date, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you that story in my next post: One Night in Norwalk – A Hitchhiker’s Tale.


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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.


[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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Nothing New Under the Sun

Great fire of 1908

Scene of the Devastation of the Michigan Fire of 1908 [1]

This year, it seems that the entire western U.S. is in flames. Although in Colorado, where I live, we have mostly been spared the fires, we have suffered through weeks of heavy smoke from conflagrations in Canada, Oregon and Montana that obscure the sky, burn our eyes, and weigh heavily on our spirits.

I hiked in the hills near my home south of Denver this morning. Normally, Pikes Peak, fifty miles to the south, stands out boldly against a blue sky. But this morning, I could barely make out the foothills of the Front Range, a little over ten miles to the west.

Fires like these are not new, however. One-hundred nine years ago, my grandmother, Harriott Wickham, wrote in her diary about smoke from faraway fires that blanketed Norwalk, Ohio. Here’s what she had to say:


Saturday, Sept 11, – The air is so full of smoke from the Canadian & Michigan forest fires that it is like a thick fog. The air is close & muggy, and the sun doesn’t even cast a shadow. It is only about four o’clock now, but you can scarcely see the sun although there is not a cloud in the sky, at least as far as I can see, which isn’t far, for I can hardly see across the valley. My, I’m glad we don’t have forests around here. It’s bad enough clear across the Lake. [2]

There is nothing new under the sun, according to the prophet. [3] And sometimes, there is no sun.

Something is different today, however – coverage of these events. These days, national and local news sources extensively cover wild fires, and cautions us of the health risks. But on September 11, 1908, the dense smoke Harriott Wickham described in her diary merited not even a mention from the Norwalk Daily Reflector or the Evening Herald. An article in the latter paper did report about a forest fire in Minnesota, but only because it threatened a town. [4] Property loss was news. The environment was not.



[2] From the unpublished diary of Harriott Wickham, Norwalk High School Class of 1907 covering May 1908 to May 1909 in the possession of the author of this blog. As it is today, there were no real forests around Norwalk in 1908. Pioneers like Harriett Wickham’s ancestors had cut them down over the previous century.

[3] Ecclesiastes, 1:9.

[4] “Forest Fires Do Great Damage,” Norwalk Evening Herald, page 3, column 5.

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