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 20 – Recapture

Sufferers’ Land

Recapture

by Dave Barton

A day or two after the return of Negonaba, Sally and the other townspeople were relieved when Captain Burt, accompanied by Constable Charles Tupper of Danbury Township and several other men, walked into town, leading Negosheek by a rope tied around him.

Before putting him back into custody, the men searched the Indian and found a small knife secreted in his clothes. Captain Burt told them he had searched the Indian at the time of his capture, but that Negosheek’s squaw must have slipped him the knife before they departed the Indian’s village.

Pioneers and Indians

Rusler, William, A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 139.

After returning Negosheek to the makeshift jail with the wounded Negonaba, Captain Burt told his story to the assembled populace of the village. Arriving on the Miami River, the three men went to the Indian camp where Negosheek and Negossum lived. John Flemmond introduced Captain Burt, who had dressed in an impressive military uniform, as Governor of Ohio, and demanded that the chief turn over Negosheek and Negossum to him.

This ruse worked, and the chief brought Negosheek to them. The chief promised that he would have the boy Negossum brought to Norwalk in a few days, but also told them that Negossum was not guilty. Through the interpreter, the two captains assured the chief that the boy would receive a fair trial, and if the court found him innocent, they would release him.

Leaving Captain Boalt and John Flemmond behind to wait for the boy Negossum, Captain Burt led Negosheek north toward Lake Erie accompanied by a party of Indians. The weather had turned rainy, and the men slogged through the wilderness, cold, wet and miserable. After a day’s travel, the party stopped for the night and Captain Burt tried unsuccessfully to start a fire. He used sign language to ask the Indians accompanying him to do it, promising them a quart of whisky if they did. An Indian poured gunpowder on the wood, and used flint and steel to try to start a fire. The powder ignited suddenly in the Indian’s face causing him to jump several feet into the air.

When they reached the shore of Lake Erie, the Indians accompanying him turned back, and Captain Burt continued alone through the forest with his captive. Once, Negosheek tried to break away, but Captain Burt, who was a large man, grabbed him and shook him harshly. After that, he had no more trouble with him.

After going nine or ten miles along the lakeshore, Captain Burt arrived at Constable Charles Tupper’s cabin at the mouth of the Portage River. Charles was relieved to see him and his prisoner, and after hearing Captain Burt’s story, agreed to accompany him the rest of the way to Norwalk.

A day or two after Captain Burt returned to Norwalk with Negosheek, Captain John Boalt and John Flemmond arrived with Negossum, whom the chief of the tribe had turned over to them as promised. They put the boy into jail with his companions to await trial. [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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Sufferers’ Land – Post 19 – A Grim Comedy of Errors

Sufferers’ Land

A Grim Comedy of Errors

by Dave Barton

One night, a week after the prisoners came to Norwalk, gunshots and cries of alarm awakened the village. Platt Benedict rushed from his home, leaving Sally and the children to huddle in the cabin, wondering what was going on. When he returned, he had frightening news — the Indians had escaped.

It had been a comedy of errors. After midnight, Negonaba asked Charles Soules, who was on guard at the time, to remove his shackles and allow him to go outside to relieve himself. Charles did so, not realizing that somehow Negosheek and Negossum had managed to slip out of their shackles earlier in the evening. When Soules and Negonaba left the cabin, the other two Indians made their escape. Soules saw them and raised the alarm. Negonaba ran away and Soules shot at him, which woke the town. Although he could not be sure, he told the townspeople that he thought he had hit his target.

Platt and the other men of the village searched for the escaped prisoners, but they were gone. For the next several days, the inhabitants of the county were terrified, wondering where the suspected murderers might turn up. Then, several days later, an old hunter named Pumphrey came into town leading Negonaba, who had wounds to his hip and shoulder. Charles Soules had hit his mark.

Unbroken Forest

“Unbroken Allen County Forest,” Rusler, William, A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 227

Pumphrey told the assembled villagers that a young man named John Hawk, who was hunting on the western boundary of the county, saw a wounded Indian drinking from a pool of water. He captured him and turned him over to Pumphrey who brought him to Norwalk.

The townspeople placed Negonaba back in shackles in Daniel Raitt’s cabin, and sent for a Doctor Tilden to treat his wounds. When the doctor finished treating Negonaba, Daniel Raitt took charge of nursing him back to health, a task he performed so well that his neighbors from then on referred to him as “Doctor Raitt.”

Sally and the rest of the town were relieved that one of the murderers was back in custody, but were concerned that the other two were still at large. Immediately after the escape, Captain John Boalt, who had settled in Norwalk Township just before the Benedicts, started for the Miami River in company with Captain Henry Burt of Monroeville and the interpreter John Flemmond. However, so far, they had not returned.

Sally and Platt worried for their friend off on such a hazardous mission. Sally was also concerned about how Ruth Boalt was handling this. They were together often, and Sally and the other women of the village helped Ruth the best they could.

She and the rest of the villagers prayed that he would return safely. [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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Sufferers’ Land – Post 15 – The Episcopal Church in Norwalk

Sufferers’ Land

The Episcopal Church in Norwalk

by Dave Barton

As with everything else in the early days of the village of Norwalk, Platt and Sally Benedict were involved in the religious life of the community. Although they were not baptized when they arrived, they saw the need for a church in Norwalk, and decided to establish one.

In 1818, they hosted the first Episcopal service in their cabin, consisting of the reading of the Episcopal Church service, and a sermon by a layman. These lay meetings continued for years, first in private homes, and later in the Court House.

In 1820, Platt and Sally organized the first Sabbath School in the Court House. Most of the children of the town attended this non-denominational school. It would be years before a minister arrived in the village, but in the meantime, thanks to Platt and Sally’s initiative, a vibrant religious community developed.

Sunday, January 20, 1821, a minister named Reverend Searle visited the village for the first time and called a meeting to organize a new parish. Seventeen men attended, with Platt, of course, taking the lead. They decided to call the new parish, Saint Paul’s, and elected wardens and vestrymen. They elected Platt vestryman, and selected him to be a representative of the new parish to the fourth annual Diocesan Convention.

Reverend Searle could not stay in the parish, so he selected lay readers to carry out services in his absence. Platt, as usual, was one of those selected. Services continued every Sunday, with Reverend Searle occasionally attending to give Holy Communion and perform baptisms. The Bishop also visited the parish from time to time, so often that Sally’s son David ran away from home once because he was tired of polishing the bishop’s boots. [1]

During one visit, Sunday, February 17, 1822, Reverend Searle baptized Platt Benedict into the church. The next day, he held a meeting of the vestry in the Benedict home. He selected Rufus Murray to perform divine service in the parish once he became qualified. Reverend Searle continued to visit St. Paul’s parish occasionally, his last visit coming in 1826. [2]

During this time, a deacon by the name of S.A. Bronson also served the parish. He later recalled the religious life in Norwalk at the time. My first visit to this place was in 1825, to supply as far as a layman could, the place of a clergyman. No settled minister of any name had ever resided here, and only the Episcopal Church had attempted to keep up regular services. When, subsequently, a clergyman did become resident here, the regularity of the services depended upon the established forms of religion, as conducted by laymen. Many of you, no doubt, remember the old white court house, and cousin Ami Keeler with his tin horn, with which he used to call the people to worship — a horn more truly spiritual than some of more recent date. [3]

By this time, the parish conducted weekly services and had a strong Sunday school program for the religious education of all the children of the village, not just those of families in the parish. If not for Sally and Platt Benedict, none of this would have happened.

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] Story of David Benedict running away from home is from the undated text of an address given by Eleanor Wickham to the Sally DeForest chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
[2] First religious services in Norwalk and the early history of St. Paul’s Parish are described in detail by C.E. Newman in The Firelands Pioneer, Sept. 1876, pp. 45-47. The establishment of the Sabbath School is described in the above article and in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1867, p. 84.
[3] “Address of Rev. S.A. Bronson, D.D.” The Firelands Pioneer, November 1859, p. 7.

Note: Mary L. Stewart of Norwalk, a parishioner at St.Paul’s Episcopal Church, kindly assisted with this post.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 11 – Women’s Life on the Frontier

Sufferers’ Land

Women’s Life on the Frontier

by Dave Barton

Life on the frontier was not easy, but Sally and the rest of the Benedicts, like most settler families, adapted well. Later many of them would look back on those early days as an adventure. However, as good as those times may have seemed in memory, at the time,

1023264171478om802_001

Sally Benedict

most settlers found life to be sheer drudgery. Backbreaking labor and long hours of loneliness were the norm. Platt, his hired hand and the older boys worked outside the home, cutting trees and brush, planting, and working together with men of other families to raise houses, barns and other structures.

Travel was also difficult. What passed for roads were actually trails that meandered through the great woods, detouring around enormous stumps and fallen trees. They were rutted and dusty in dry weather and seas of mud in wet. A man on horseback was not unlikely to meet a foot traveler stalled, and was compelled to dismount and pry him out, one leg at a time. [1]

Travelers often became lost in the woods and had to spend the night on the ground — or in a tree while wolves and bears growled and howled beneath. Many settlers kept a horn handy to signal to family members who failed to return home from short treks into the forest. Becoming lost could be fatal. Several early settlers who wandered off into the forests were discovered dead months later or never found at all.

Wolves, bears, and panthers caused terror, and were a constant danger to livestock. Wolves and panthers went after sheep, bears after hogs. In 1823, a bear was shot in Wakeman Township, just east of Norwalk, while eating a hog alive. [2]

Fatal attacks on humans by these predators were rare. Falling trees were another story. Many men were crushed to death while clearing the land, or just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others died after being thrown or kicked by horses.

Another cause of premature death was illness. The early settlers were plagued with various illnesses, especially ague, now known as malaria. The settlers were native to New England and were not accustomed to this disease. Soon after arrival in the Firelands, many acquired a pallor and sickliness.

Women generally stayed at home, venturing out occasionally to visit other families or attend religious meetings on the Sabbath. Loneliness was a constant problem, especially on farms in the townships. That first winter, Sally had Clarissa, already a young woman of twenty, to keep her company. However, we can only imagine what she and her daughter thought of being so far from friends and family in Connecticut.

Many frontier women were extremely homesick. In the stark wilderness of Northern Ohio, the comforts of Connecticut and close relationships with relatives and friends seemed far away. Letters and journals passed between the two places as new settlers arrived and others returned to visit their former homes, but they were rare.

The isolation of women in the townships could sometimes bring disaster. In one often-told story, a hunter passing a cabin became concerned when he saw no signs of life. He knocked on the door and a weak voice asked him to come in.

Opening the door, he was startled by the appearance of a woman sitting by the fireplace, pale, emaciated, and holding in her arms a puny, sickly babe.

When he asked her what had happened, she told him that her husband had died, leaving her alone. She had become so feeble from hunger and sickness that she could barely sit in the chair. [3]

These frontier women endured a life of constant work, with no respite from dawn to dusk — and usually continuing after dark. Making, mending, washing and ironing clothes occupied an enormous amount of time. In this day of discount stores and washers and driers, it is hard to comprehend the sheer drudgery involved in keeping a family in clean and serviceable clothes.

Laura Clark, a young woman living in 1818 in Wakeman Township, just east of Norwalk, described a typical day in her journal. First did my housework, baked some bread by the fire, washed up all my dishes & scoured off my shelf, cleaned out my chamber, stewed some pumpkin, mended Doctor’s (her husband’s) striped linen trousers washed them & washed out the Crampton frock, got on pot for supper & boiled shell beans (first we had) made pyecrust, strained pumpkin, in the evening made bread. [4]

Food was scarce the first winter, but after that, the cleared land produced melons, pumpkins, corn and other grains and vegetables. The surrounding forests were a source of berries, nuts, honey and occasionally meat, mostly deer purchased from Native Americans. Sally’s husband, like most settlers in the Firelands, did not hunt.

Often, men would come from the surrounding farms to help with larger projects, such as raising buildings and husking corn. On those occasions, Sally and Clarissa would cook and deliver meals to the work site. Communal projects like these were also social occasions, and the pioneers sometimes took advantage of them to have a little fun.

 

Footnotes:
[1] This quote is from “Oration of Hon. Eleutherous Cooke” in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, p. 6.
[2] “Memoirs of Townships – Wakeman”, by Justin Sherman and Chester Manvil, The Firelands Pioneer, November 1859, pp. 39-40.
[3] This story is from “Oration of Hon. Eleutherous Cooke” in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, pp. 4-5.
[4] Description of the life of women settlers in the Firelands “The Original Diary of Mrs. Laura (Downs) Clark, of Wakeman, Ohio,” The Firelands Pioneer, January 1920, pp. 2308-2326.

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 10 – A Village is Born on the Sand Ridge

Sufferers’ Land

A Village is Born on the Sand Ridge

by Dave Barton

That fall, Captain Enos Gilbert and his family arrived in Norwalk. They bought the unfinished house started by Amos Abbott, and, until it was finished, lived in a shanty workers had constructed while making bricks for Platt. The court met while the Gilberts were still in the shanty, and they boarded several members of the court there. The rest of the court stayed with the Benedicts or with David and Mary Underhill in their house a few miles to the west in Ridgefield Township. The Benedict house was so crowded that the boarders lay spoon fashion on the floor. Even then, there was not enough room for everyone and one of the lawyers slept sitting in a chair.

Soon after the court met, Enos Gilbert finished his house and several other settlers moved onto the ridge. In October, a young woman passing through the village on her way to David and Laura Underhill’s homestead saw but a few buildings – one store, two or three dwelling houses, an unfinished court house, and a tavern, consisting of three or four rooms below, and a place to dance above. It was kept by Enos Gilbert. [1]

The rest of that year and early in 1819, new settlers moved onto the sand ridge, building houses and stores in the settlement.

Businesses also started on the outskirts of town. A gristmill was erected on Reed’s Creek, one and three-quarters miles south of the village, and Platt and a settler named Obadiah Jenney built a sawmill a half mile south of town. Captain Peter Tice started a distillery just south of where the Courthouse is now. These three industries were essential to the new settlement. The sawmill made lumber out of logs and the gristmill and distillery turned corn into a marketable commodity.

That summer, Platt built a two story house in front of the cabin, using the brick he had had made the previous year. In July, he became Postmaster for Norwalk, and established the Post Office in his new home. The first mailbag he received contained only a single letter. [2]

Now the Benedict home would be the center of the social and business life of the community, the place where settlers in the village and nearby farms would stop for mail and news of the village and the outside world.

The town continued to grow. All the trades and businesses required to support the court and those who worked in it arrived — Druggist, Jeweler, Tavern Keeper, Baker, Carpenters and Joiners, Master Masons, Tanners, Couriers, Shoemaker, Cabinet maker, Hatter, Saddler and Harness maker. [3]

Around 1820, the first school in the village of Norwalk began in the shanty on Platt and Sally’s property, built two years before by the workers who made bricks for their new house. Eight or ten students attended, including Jonas and Eliza Ann Benedict. [4]

That same year, a man passing through town reported that Norwalk village was small, but appeared thriving, with one or two stores doing a fair business. Enos Gilbert, afterwards Sheriff, kept tavern in the frame building since occupied as a hotel by Obadiah Jenney, and now standing next west of Whittlesey block. – There was no church building. The houses were all on Main Street, and north of that was low, marshy ground with no settlers on it. Natural trees, chiefly oaks, were growing in Main Street, and after passing the center of the village the track became very narrow, worming among the trees. [5]

Norwalk had become a thriving village, but the level of growth Platt and Sally dreamed of had not materialized. After the initial burst of immigration, the flow of settlers dwindled as people bypassed the Firelands for lands further west.

Years later, an early settler explained what happened. About the time of the first settlements in this vicinity, in consequence of the favorable reports which the few who had got into the country made to their friends east to encourage them hither, the land owners got the impression that there was a great speculation to be made in their lands, they at once put them up to about double the price of government lands, and the result was to push the tide of emigration still farther West, where they could get lands for the sum of ten shillings per acre; this could be done by crossing the county line West into Seneca and Sandusky counties, yet the crowd was for Michigan. [6]

Norwalk would not grow as fast as Platt and Sally had hoped, at least not yet. For the time being, they would continue to grow their businesses as best they could, adapting to life on the frontier, and turning the little village on the sand ridge into a civilized town.

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] “Scattered Sheaves – No. 4, by Ruth – Maj. Underhill”, The Firelands Pioneer, September, 1860, p. 43.
[2] Descriptions of the first few years in Norwalk are from “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 20.
[3] “Memoirs of Townships – Portland,” by F.D. Parish, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1859, p. 21.
[4] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 21.
[5] “A Journey from New England to the Firelands 55 Years Ago,” The Firelands Pioneer, October 1874, p. 88.
[6] “Memoirs of Townships – Fitchville, by J.C. Curtis, Esq., The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 33.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 9 – Education on the Frontier

Sufferers’ Land

Education on the Frontier

by Dave Barton

Most settlers from Connecticut were well educated and interested in their children’s schooling. In those days on the frontier, classes were only in session during warm weather. Norwalk did not have a school, of course, so Sally and Platt had to look for something nearby.

One room school house

One-room schoolhouse attended by Abraham Lincoln in 1822. From Wikipedia Commons.

The first schoolhouse in the area had been built in the fall of 1816, a few rods from the township line between Ridgefield and Norwalk, on Lot No. 1. It stood upon the bank, on the left hand after crossing the bridge, upon the present road to Peru, about half a mile from the bridge.

It was made of logs, with a chimney of sticks plastered inside, the fire occupying nearly the whole side of the building. The seats were made of split logs, the flat side up, resting upon sticks, which were driven into them in a sloping direction. The desks were coarse, un-planed boards, running the whole length of the three unoccupied sides. The scholars sat with their faces to the wall.

The teacher of this school in the summer of 1818 was Ann Boalt, the daughter of Platt and Sally’s friends, John and Ruth Boalt. Jonas and Eliza Ann Benedict attended the school, along with other settlers’ children, to include Lyman and Manley Cole and David, Isaac, Aurelia and Louisa Underhill. [1]

Another student in the school was Mary Ann Morse. She knew the Benedicts well, recalling in later years going with my cousins to “The Oak Opening” or “Sand Ridge” as Norwalk was then called, to look for wild strawberries. We came in sight of Platt Benedict’s log house, then the only log house in Norwalk, and my cousins said the county seat is to be here. [2]

 

Footnotes:
[1] Description of the first school in Norwalk Township is from “Scattered Sheaves – No. 4, by Ruth – Maj. Underhill”, The Firelands Pioneer, September, 1860, pp. 43-44.
[2] Quote is from “Recollections of Northern Ohio,” by Mrs. John Kennan, The Firelands Pioneer, 1896, pp. 83-86.

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