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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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.

What to do on a Sunday in 1907?

Today is Friday the 13th.

Boo!

One hundred and ten years ago, this date fell on a Sunday. No newspapers were published in Norwalk, Ohio on Sunday, January 13, 1907. It wasn’t a bad luck day. It was a holy day. So, what did the citizens of Norwalk do?

Why, they went to church.

norwalk-church-announcements

The Norwalk Daily Reflector on the previous day, Saturday, January 12, 1907, ran an article announcing fifteen Sunday church services around town. In today’s post, we’ll look at a few of these announcements, with comments from you faithful reporter (blogger).

First on the list of announcements in the Daily Reflector were “Evangelistic Services” on Cline Street for the American Methodist Episcopalian Church.

ame-services

Now I must say, I was surprised to see this announcement. I lived in Charleston, South Carolina for many years, so I am familiar with the A.M.E., and I passed many times the Emanuael A.M.E. church where that horrific mass shooting occurred last year. What surprises me, is that there were enough African-American’s in Norwalk, Ohio in 1907 to support a church. I’m also a bit proud that the Daily Reflector reported their services, especially since my great-grandfather, Frank Wickham, was city editor for the paper.

Next up: the Presbyterians.

presbyterian-servicses

I am not a Presbyterian, nor have I ever been one. But my great-great grandmother, Lucy Wickham was. I mentioned her often in the Sufferers’ Land series of posts on this site. Lucy was a staunch churchgoer, and insistent that her twelve children (my great-grandfather Frank Wickham, mentioned above, was her youngest) attend Sunday School “and that they went properly attired. They each carried two handkerchiefs, one a “shower” and the other a “blower.” [1]

Also notice the address by Reverend Doctor Sanford of the Anti-Saloon league. Lucy Wickham was definitely “anti-saloon.” According to family lore, one day, Lucy was passing a saloon when a drunkard stumbled out the door and collapsed at her feet. She marched into the establishment, and informed the proprietor, “your sign just fell down.”

Two other another announcements for church services evoke my ancestry: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the Universalist Church.

episcopal-and-universalist-services

I was baptized in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. My god-mother was Eleanor Wickham, daughter of Frank and Agnes Wickham. It also was the first church established in Norwalk, in 1818, when Platt and Sarah Benedict (also my ancestors), held the first services in their cabin.

I also have connections to the “Universalist” church. Lucy Wickham’s husband Fredrick, was brought up an Episcopalian, but fell away from that church at an early age. He never could bring himself to join his wife as a Presbyterian, instead becoming a Universalist. As he later explained it to his granddaughter, Harriott Wickham (member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907), he “could not condemn one of his children to Hell, and he didn’t believe the Lord could either.”

[1] See Sufferers’ Land Post #47 – The Wickhams in the 1850s

 

Litany of Death in the Sufferers Land

In my last post, It was Buried on the Banks of Mud Run, I wrote about two baby boys, who in 1817 were buried in the forest on the banks of Mud Run north of Village House where the Woodruff and Lawrence families had taken up residence. The remains of these two infants were soon joined by the Dickinson twins: two boys who were the first children born to settlers in Norwich Township. They came into the world on October 24, 1817. One boy was stillborn, the other lived but a few hours. Both were buried on the banks of Mud Run.

gravestone-in-forestThe final burial in that place, according to the records, was in the fall of 1819, Richard Moon, a widower, left his children in New York and came to Norwich Township. He was taken ill with “the lung fever” and died soon after he arrived. His was the first funeral in the township. Richard Moon and the four little boys are not recorded as being interred in Boughton Cemetery, so it is likely that their remains are still buried along the banks of Mud Run. [1]

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Clearing the land in the Firelands was a generational task. Often, the first generation did not live to see the fruits of their labor. Such was the case with Chauncey Woodruff.

In order to make ends meet until they cleared enough acres on their land to be profitable, the first pioneers had to find work elsewhere. As I described in Sufferers’ Land Post #7 on this site, Platt Benedict, in his first winter on the frontier, earned sixty  dollars working on a crew that cut a road from Norwalk to Milan to buy enough pork to feed his family until spring.

snowy-woodsChauncey Woodruff faced the same dilemma. In 1818, he took a job grinding grain at a grist mill located between Sandusky and Venice and owned by a Doctor Carpenter. While there, he fell ill and was taken home to Norwich Township. His condition worsened, and he was moved to the more established community of New Haven Township, [2] where presumably, he could receive better care. But he was too far gone, and died a few days later. Were his remains brought home and buried along the banks of Mud Run, or was he buried in New Haven? I have found not found the answer to this question. [3]

Now George Woodruff had to shoulder the entire burden of supporting his family. We’ll continue his story, and of his descendants down to his great granddaughter Myrtle Woodruff, of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, in my next post.

Notes

[1]  The three sources I consulted for information about these deaths were: John Niles, “Memoirs of Norwich Township,” The Firelands  Pioneer; Volume II, number 2; The Firelands Historical Society; March, 1860, pages 38-39; Huron County, Ohio Cemetery Inscriptions, by the Huron Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, 1997, page 714;  W.W. Williams’ book History of the Fire-Lands Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers, Press of Leader Printing Company, Cleveland Ohio, 1897, pages 417-425.

[2] New Haven Township was one of the oldest in the Firelands. Although the township was not established until 1815, it was first settled in 1811 by Caleb Palmer and was a place of refuge during the War of 1812 for settlers along the shores of Lake Erie. Reference: A.G. Stewart, Esq., “Memoirs of Townships – New Haven,” The Firelands Pioneer, Volume I, Number 3, March 1859, The Firelands Historical Society; page 8-16; 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, Press of Leader Printing Company, Cleveland Ohio, 1897, pages 295-308.

[3] Story of the death of Chauney Woodruff is from “Memoirs of Norwich Township,” The Firelands  Pioneer; Volume II, number 2; The Firelands Historical Society; March, 1860, page 38.

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