Sufferers’ Land – Post 54 – Last Reunion of the Pioneers

Sufferers’ Land

Last Reunion of the Pioneers

by Dave Barton

The Fourth of July 1857 was a Saturday. From all over Erie and Huron counties, people gathered for the reunion, an assembly of the early settlers and their descendants. The residents of Norwalk had prepared a celebration for the day, to include a sumptuous feast. [1]

Eleutherous Cooke

Portrait of Eleutherous Cooke from Wikimedia Commons

The speaker for the occasion was former U.S. Congressman Eleutherous Cooke of Sandusky, a sixty-nine year old lawyer who had come to the Firelands in 1819. A painting of him shows a handsome, strong willed man. Clean-shaven, as was the custom of that time before the Civil War, he had a resolute set to his mouth, and a determined gaze. From his speech and his letters, it is easy to see that he was a gracious and well-mannered gentleman.

In addition to serving in Congress, he was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives for many years and obtained the first charter for a railroad in the United States.

People of that day expected eloquence and inspiration from their speakers — and Eleutherous Cooke was a master orator. He once made a speech to over forty-thousand people to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Fort Meigs. A contemporary account said that he had a wonderful command of the language, (and) was an orator very flowery and imaginative. Today we would say he was long-winded. However, in 1857, his audience appreciated his comments, especially because he took pains to praise their accomplishments.

His speech was grandiose in parts, but it also demonstrated a connection with the men and women he addressed. Eleutherous counted himself among the pioneers, a point he made several times during his speech. He knew personally of the trials his audience had endured and the successes they enjoyed. He understood them. [2]

On the platform with Eleutherous was another man who understood the people assembled in Norwalk that day — Platt Benedict. He knew Eleutherous Cooke from the days when Mr. Cooke came to Norwalk to argue cases before the County Court. [3]

This celebration would never have taken place if not for Platt Benedict. He must have smiled with pride when he heard Eleutherous say, I am most happy to know — thanks to the excellent gentleman who first suggested the design — that a Historical Society has been formed, and I am now before you, in part, the selected organ of that society, to urge upon it, and upon all who approve its object, a searching and faithful fulfillment of its purpose.” [4]

Platt, and everyone else present, knew Eleutherous was referring to him. As in everything he was involved with, Platt had taken the lead. He was a leader in the settlement of the Firelands and had been involved in the political, social and economic development of the region.

As Eleutherous put it so eloquently, Platt had come “to build the cabin — to fence the crops — to open the roads — to lay out the towns and cities — to establish the schools for the education for the young, and to found the churches for worship of God.”

Platt had not only done all these things, he had been the leader in all these things. It only made sense that he should lead in preserving the heritage of the pioneers assembled here today — and the heritage of those who had already died.

Much of Eleutherous’ speech struck a chord in Platt’s memory. He told anecdotes of the early settlers’ trials and fears, successes and joys — some humorous to make his audience laugh, some tragic to make them weep.

Platt no doubt was moved when Eleutherous referred to “the little remnant of the old pioneers not yet fallen from around us but (whose) summer is past (whose) autumn has gone by.” Platt looked at the crowd and saw the faces of those he knew in younger days and recalled those who were no longer there — who could not participate in this celebration of their accomplishments.

“The images of the cherished dead,” Eleutherous said, present themselves before me. In such a presence, how can I conceal the feelings of utter desolation that overwhelm me, when I remember that I am the sole survivor, save one, of a family circle of fourteen who sought with me this land for their home, and whose ashes now repose in the soil of the Firelands.”

This was Platt’s experience as well. He came to this village forty years before with a wife and five children. Now only his eldest daughter Clarissa survived. The rest of his family was gone, most having died young.

How long ago that time over forty years before must have seemed to Platt, and yet so near. He came to this land seeking opportunity, for himself and his family. He achieved much — all his dreams came true.

At the close of his speech, The Honorable Eleutherous Cooke addressed the children and grandchildren of the pioneers. “You are now in the full possession of this priceless heritage,” he told them. “You need not be reminded of its cost. Its title was written by the point of the sword in the blood of our fathers — it was enriched and perfected by their toils and labors.”

Then Eleutherous challenged the younger members of the audience. “The great trust is in your hands. Let the solemn obligation it imposes sink deep into your hearts; and, as the old friend and associate of your fathers, seizing this last occasion to impart my counsel, let me charge you, as the heaven-allotted sentinels of your country — as the champions of her honor and the defenders of her liberties, to guard with eternal vigilance, this sacred deposit — to shield it alike from the assaults of the foreign foe and the mal-administration of the domestic enemy; and to hand it down unfettered, unencumbered, inviolate and unstained to your children, bright in all that beauty and splendor which ushered in the Glory of its first Morning upon the World!”  [5]

Little did Eleutherous Cooke, or Platt Benedict or any of the people assembled there that day know how great a challenge the children and grandchildren of the pioneers would face. A storm was gathering. Soon it would consume the entire nation in a great and terrible war — a war that would reach into the villages and farms of the Firelands and change the lives of all.

The children and grandchildren of the settlers of the Firelands would face a challenge that no one could imagine on that Independence Day, 1857. They would create a new heritage that would match — and eclipse — the heritage of the pioneers.

The End

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] Description of the Reunion of the Pioneers is from The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 30.

[2] Information about Eleutheros Cooke is from multiple internet sources: COOKE, Eleutheros – Biographical Information, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-PresentCooke House, Ohio Historical Society Website; and Eleutheros Cooke Collection at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. A portrait of Representative Cooke is at the Ohio Memory website.

[3] From The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 25.

[4] This quote from Mr. Cooke’s speech is from The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 9.

[5] Excerpts from the conclusion of Mr. Cooke’s speech are from The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; p. 12.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 53 – Pioneer Heritage

Sufferers’ Land

Pioneer Heritage

by Dave Barton

By the mid 1850s, the ranks of the early settlers of the Firelands were becoming thin. Many of the survivors, chief among them Platt Benedict, considered organizing a society to preserve the heritage of those pioneers before there was no one left to remember those days.

The pioneers of the Firelands were a literate and well-educated group, probably the best educated of any class of settlers before or after. They knew that the first settlers in the Western Reserve east of the Cuyahoga had left no record, and were determined not to repeat that mistake.

Firelands Pioneer June 1858 Cover

First Issue of The Firelands Pioneer

In New England, townships and towns were just now compiling and publishing their early histories. However, those events had occurred years before, and eyewitness accounts were rare. The settlers of the Firelands saw the opportunity to capture their own history while some of the players still survived to tell their stories. [1] Prominent people of the Firelands heeded the call to organize a society dedicated to the preservation of their history, and first among those was Platt Benedict.

In the spring of 1857, Platt and other leaders of the community sent out a notice calling for a meeting of the Pioneers of the Firelands to take place at the Court House in Norwalk on May 20. The meeting convened as scheduled, and, as usual, Platt Benedict took the chair.

Platt was now eighty-two years old, but possessed the vitality of a much younger man. He was still active in many societies, in business and in politics. The year before, he had remarried, taking as his wife Mrs. Lavinia Benton, a widow from Republic, Ohio. Also in the previous year, he had been elected Mayor of Norwalk, an office he had held many times in the 1830s and 1840s. He had seen so much of the history of the Firelands — he had made much of that history. It was inconceivable that anyone else could take the lead in preserving the heritage of the pioneers.

The attendees at the meeting formed a committee to draft a constitution for a historical society and present it at the next meeting. They also appointed two prominent citizens from each township in the Firelands to collect and record the histories of the early settlement of the townships, and present them to the society for inclusion in its journal, which would be called The Firelands Pioneer.

Finally, a proposal was made to hold a general reunion of the Pioneers of the Firelands — a final chance for the survivors of those early days and their descendants to gather in Norwalk and share in the heritage of the early pioneers, those still living and those departed. They decided to hold it on the Fourth of July, 1857. [2]

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] These sentiments were expressed in the speeches of Eleutherous Cooke in a speech recorded in The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858, p. 25; and by Elisha Whittlesey in a speech recorded in the same issue, p. 9

[2] Description of the formation of the Firelands Historical Society is from The Firelands Pioneer,  Old Series, Volume I, Number 1; The Firelands Historical Society; June 1858; pp. 29-30.

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 50 – Norwalk, Ohio Life in the 1850’s

Sufferers’ Land

Norwalk, Ohio Life in the 1850’s

by Dave Barton

A new generation was growing up in Norwalk in the early 1850s, the offspring of the young people who had come to Norwalk with their parents in the 1820s. The Gallup, Wickham and Benedict children played together and with the other youngsters of the town. Boys and girls gathered at each other’s homes for parties where they played “kissing” and other games and enjoyed treats such as homemade ice cream.

The whole town was a playground for these children. They played “hide and seek” and other games around the distillery on the south side of Norwalk Creek, with its long rows of whiskey barrels and herds of cattle fattened on “slop” left over from the distilling process. In warm weather, they burrowed in the sand banks along the creek, sometimes digging so far that a “cave-in” would bury them. Winters, they sledded down the banks and skated on the frozen creek. [1]

In 1850, when the population of Norwalk reached about two-thousand, public schools opened in the village. Previously, a welter of private schools and the Norwalk Academy had met the educational needs of the community, but now public schools would provide a common experience for children. [2]

One public school teacher was Mary Janes, who boarded in the home of Mrs. John Vredenburg. Her roommate was Matilda Barrett, who afterwards married Charles A. Preston, Lucy Wickham’s brother, after the death of his first wife. In later years, Mary remembered the students she taught in those carefree days.

At twenty years of age, I was an assistant to the popular principal of the Norwalk Grammar School, Col. D. F. DeWolf. Hon. and Mrs. S. T. Worcester were really godfather and mother to this charming department in whose genial atmosphere the youth of the Village blossomed, shedding fragrance in all homes. There were Martha Worcester and Kate Wickham, Fanny Safford, Spencer Leslie, Vick McArdle and Augusta Carter, delightful Tina and Delilah Yale, Emma Wildman, Fanny Clark, Emma Husted, Mary J. Graves, Milo Cline, Lutheria Eichert, Caleb and Lizzie Gallup, Will Perkins, whom I recall as a specially lovely boy, and the Wickham brothers, with a host besides. I feel the thrill yet, experienced while the “Merchant of Venice” was acted by our amateurs, Charlie Wickham as “Shylock” and Emma Husted as “Portia”.

Can I cease to remember any of the carefree, laughing youth who trooped in the schoolrooms, all so bright, ambitious and diligent? Don’t I know how Delilah Yale came to my desk asking if she might go home, as it rained so that morning she forgot her slate pencil? Didn’t “Caley” Gallup take a very few of us out one evening to witness a séance when spirit rapping was a curiosity? Lizzie Gallup entertained me often over at her house, the hospitable board being presided over by her grandfather, Platt Benedict. [3]

One of Mary Janes’s students was Emily Wildman, known as Emma. She came to Norwalk from Clarksfield Township in 1852 when her father Frederick Wildman was elected to the office of Clerk of Courts for Huron County and moved his family into town. [4] She was a serious girl, with a piercing gaze.

Emma’s best friend was Kate Wickham who was the same age as Emma. Emma’s sister Mary Wildman, who was seven years old, became good friends with Kate’s sister Mary Wickham. The four girls spent much of their time visiting each other’s homes, often eating dinner together. Emma caught the attention of Kate’s brother Charlie, and they became sweethearts. [5]

Another of Emma’s friends was Lizzie Gallup, the youngest daughter of Hallet and Clarissa Gallup and granddaughter of Platt Benedict. She was born in her grandfather’s house on April 1, 1837, and spent much of her time there. [6]

Fanny Benedict Severance (Susan Orsini)

Fanny Benedict

A “Queen Bee” among the handsome girls was Lucy Preston, daughter of Lucy Wickham’s brother Charles Preston and his first wife. She was very intelligent and had an attractive personality. [7]

The most beautiful of the girls in Norwalk at that time was Fanny Benedict, Dave Benedict’s sister. She was a pure blonde in complexion; her features were a classic, her movement’s grace, her character an inspiration. She was considered the undisputed belle of the town. [8]

These girls had a carefree life in the early 1850s. They attended school together, gathered at each other’s homes and went to parties and balls with the boys of the village. Little did they know that in a few short years, this charmed life would end, and the boys they knew and loved would march off to war, leaving them to cope with the deprivations and uncertainties of life on the home-front.

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] Description of life in Norwalk from 1840-1850 is from “Norwalk, Its Men and Women, and Some of the Girls I have Met,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XX; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1918, pp. 2073-2077.

[2] “The Maple City,” by P.J. Mahon, The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume XIII; The Firelands Historical Society; July, 1878, p. 90.

[3] Reminiscences of a school teacher in 1851 Norwalk from “Pioneer Girlhood on the Firelands,” by Mrs. Mary B. Ingham, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XIII; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1900, p. 621.

[4] From Obituaries – The Fireland Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXI; The Firelands Historical Society; January 1920, p. 2486.

[5] The friendships of the Wickham and Wildman girls is described in “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, p. 2097 & p. 2143.

[6] From Obituaries – The Fireland Pioneer, January 1920, pp. 2451-2.

[7] From “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XX; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1918, p. 2085.

[8] From “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XX; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1918, p. 2105.

The image of Fanny Benedict is from the collection of my cousin Susan Orsini.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 47 – The Benedict Family in the 1850’s

Sufferers’ Land

The Benedict Family in the 1850’s

by Dave Barton

The Benedict, Wickham, Preston, Buckingham and Gallup families had not lost anyone to the cholera in 1849. Samuel Preston had contracted it, but survived. They counted their blessings and returned to living their lives.

Business and marriage connected these families. They lived close together along the sandy road on the ridge and often visited each other’s homes.

The Benedicts lived in two households. Platt, seventy-eight years old and Sally, seventy-five, still lived in the brick house they built two years after they arrived in Norwalk. Platt’s occupation is recorded in the Census of 1850 as farmer, although he was involved in much more than farming. [1]

Platt and Sally Benedict

Down the street was the Gallup home, where Hallet lived with three of the Gallup children. He and Clarissa, who now lived with her parents and the other two children, had had a stormy marriage and lived apart off and on for years. In 1836, she moved to her parents’ home with her younger children. In 1843, she received land in her own name from her brother David Mead Benedict at his death, making her financially independent. In 1846, Hallet persuaded Clarissa to return home, but two years later she moved back to Platt and Sally’s house. Although they did not divorce, Hallet and Clarissa would never again live together.

On Seminary Street was the home of Jonas and Caroline Benedict. The census identified Jonas as a farmer with a net worth of $7,000. Fanny, now ten years old, was living at home and attending school, as was a five-year-old girl, Caroline Chapman, probably a niece of Fanny’s stepmother, Caroline Chapman Benedict.

Two other young women were members of the household. Jane Brown was a twenty-three year old schoolteacher boarding with the Benedicts. She probably taught Fanny and Caroline in one of the private schools for females in Norwalk. A young woman from Germany named Catharine Simmons also lived in the Benedict home and helped Caroline with the household chores. [3]

Dave Benedict was not living at home in 1850. Although only seventeen, he had left Norwalk and was living in Sandusky. In April of 1851, he wrote a letter to his friend and cousin, Caley Gallup.

Sandusky City Apr/51

Friend C.

I received your letter and now take the opportunity to answer it. You spoke about selling the lead for a set of Lathe irons. You may do as you please about it, anything that you do will suite (sic) me.

I have not much time to write.

Tell Joe & Hank & Fred that I should like to hear from them.

Write as often as possible.

Give my best respects to all the Boys & Girls, especially the Girls.

Excuse my poor writing, and I will remain your sincere

Friend,

D.D. Benedict

Sandusky [4]

Four months later, Dave received bad news about his father. Jonas died on Tuesday, July 29, 1851 and left his estate to Dave. Now the young man had a chance to further himself.

The following year, Dave used his inheritance to go to Kenyon College. Located near Mount Vernon, Ohio, northeast of Columbus, Kenyon was less than thirty years old when he matriculated. Founded in 1824 by an Episcopal bishop with the help of American and British benefactors, it was the first college established in Ohio. [5]

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] Information about Platt & Sally’s household is from The 1850 Huron County Census, page number 6b

[2] Information about the Gallup household is from The 1850 Huron County Census, page numbers 6b & 10a. Difficulties with their marital relationship are described in a petition to the Huron County Court of Common Pleas: “Clarissa Gallup vs Hallett Gallup, Divorce,” dated September 1, 1847.

[3] Information about Jonas & Caroline’s household is from Huron, Ohio, 1850 U.S. Census Population Schedule, Norwalk, Ohio; Roll M432, 697; Page 14A; Image: 234.

[4] The original of this letter is in possession of the writer, along with a note of explanation by Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton.

[5] Information about Kenyon College is from the Kenyon College Website, accessed on November 28, 2017.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 44 – Runaway Slaves in Norwalk

Sufferers’ Land

Runaway Slaves in Norwalk

by Dave Barton

In early November 1842, bounty hunters captured twelve runaway slaves in nearby Fitchville Township and brought them to Norwalk. The sheriff wouldn’t allow the slaves’ captors to keep them in the county jail, so they took them to the Gauff House and held them there for a week before transporting them back to Kentucky.

The Gauff House was a hostelry across the street from the Norwalk Academy, and had wide verandas on the ground and second floor. The slaves stayed on the upper floor, and Henry occasionally saw them on the veranda as he passed by.

Hallet and Clarissa Gallup lived just west of where the slaves were held. Caleb Gallup, their son, threw apples up to the slaves when they came out onto the front veranda of the house for exercise.

Just before the slaves left, Caleb was throwing apples to them when one of them tossed something into the grass near where he stood. Because guards and other people were nearby, Caleb didn’t react, but took note of where it landed. Later, he told his father, who that night went to the house and found a bowie knife in the grass.

After the slaves went back to their owners, some citizens formed a committee to raise money to buy their freedom. Henry Buckingham and Hallet Gallup were leading members. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much interest, and the idea was dropped.

Henry Buckingham was outraged by what he had seen. Afterwards he said, “Such a thing can never be done again in Norwalk.” He was finally convinced that gradual emancipation was too slow and that something more decisive was necessary to solve the problem. But his ability to be a part of that solution was about to end. [1]

Not long after the runaway slaves left Norwalk for the south, Henry was the victim of an accident that finally took him out of public life, something the financial and emotional blows he had received couldn’t do. A horse kicked him in the head, knocking him unconscious. He never fully recovered. The man who had been such an important part of the town’s life was helpless. [2]

A short time long after the Henry’s accident, the Benedict family received bad news. On Friday, June 16, 1843, Platt and Sally’s oldest son David died in Danbury. Now Jonas and Clarissa were the only surviving Benedict children, and young Dave Benedict was the only grandson left to carry on the family name. Then there was another death. Dave and Fanny Benedict’s sister Mary died at the age of eight, bringing more grief to the family. [3]

Henry Buckingham lingered for two years after his accident with the horse. On Wednesday morning, April 2, 1845, his grandson Henry noticed something was wrong with him. He told his father, who went to the old man’s bed and found his mind wandering. Soon Henry was unconscious, and at eight o’clock the next morning he passed away peacefully. The man who had been the conscience of the village was gone. [4]

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] From “The Ohio Fugitive Slave Law,” by G.T. Stewart, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society; July 1888, pp. 75-77.

[2] From “Obituary of Henry Buckingham,” by Levina Lindsley Buckingham, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society; July 1888; p. 161

[3] Story of the tragedies that befell the Benedict family in the late 1830s and early 1840s are from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, pp. 6-7 & 17-18 & “Obituaries – Benedict,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XIV; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1902, pp. 920-921.

[4] “Biographies and Memoirs – Henry Buckingham,” by his grandson, Henry Buckingham, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society; July 1888, p. 125.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 41 – The Benedict Family

Sufferers’ Land

The Benedict Family

by Dave Barton

Platt Benedict was not in as bad a situation as Henry Buckingham although the failure of The Norwalk Manufacturing Company must have disappointed him. Platt’s financial position was secure. As a farmer, tavern keeper, manufacturer, and land speculator, he was doing well. In his political life, he was also successful.

In 1840, the citizens of Norwalk again elected him mayor of the village, a position he had held in 1835. He was a leading member of the Episcopal Church and an active Mason. At the age of sixty-five, he was still robust and energetic, involving himself in every aspect of life in the community.

Platt and Sally Benedict

Platt and Sally Benedict

However, in spite of his personal success, he and Sally must have been disappointed in most of their children. His eldest daughter Clarissa had married Hallet Gallup, a prominent citizen of the community who was involved in the construction of various public and private buildings in Norwalk, and they had many children. But their marriage was a rocky one.

Platt and Sally’s eldest son David had married in Danbury Connecticut in 1832, but his only child, a daughter named Mary Boughton Benedict had died in 1834, less than a week after her mother. Platt’s second son Daniel had died over ten years before in New Orleans.

Besides Clarissa, this left only Jonas and Eliza Ann in Norwalk. Eliza Ann had married in 1832 to William Brewster. She had two children, but they died young. In August 1840, less than six months after the death of her sister-in-law Fanny Benedict, Eliza Ann died at the age of twenty-seven. [1]

jonas-benedict-firelands-pioneer-001

Jonas Benedict

Of Platt Benedict’s sons, only Jonas remained in the village. He was the only male descendant of Platt to have a son — the only hope for the continuation of the Benedict name in Norwalk.

Jonas had every advantage in life, but while other men of his generation were active in the village, he was not. George Buckingham, Charles Preston, Gilpin Taylor, Frederick Wickham and Hallet Gallup were involved in the political and business activities of the town, but not Jonas. The records of the times rarely mention his name. By this time, it is possible he had succumbed to alcoholism. In any event, he never lived up to his potential.

Jonas grieved when his wife Fanny died. However, he had children to care for and a house to keep up. He started looking for another wife and soon found one. On Thursday, May 26, 1842, he married Caroline Chapman.

At the time of Jonas and Caroline’s marriage, Dave Benedict was eight years old, his sister Mary was six and Fanny was only three. Dave disliked his stepmother. In later years, he said that she was good to his sister Mary, who was crippled, but disagreeable to Fanny and himself. [2]

 

Footnotes:

[1] History of the Benedict children is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, p. 6, and “Obituaries – Benedict,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XIV; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1902; pp. 920-921.

[2] Story of the marriage of Jonas Benedict and Caroline Chapman are from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, pp. 6-7 & 17-18 & “Obituaries – Benedict,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XIV; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1902, pp. 920-921.

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 40 – Disappointment and Despair

Sufferers’ Land

Disappointment and Despair

by Dave Barton

Platt Benedict and Henry Buckingham founded The Norwalk Manufacturing Company in 1829, but it was never a great success. By the end of the 1830s, the company’s machinery was obsolete and it had lost business to its competition. Platt and Henry needed to do something to save their company.

Late in 1837, they decided to upgrade the paper-making machinery in the plant. Over the next year, they bought and installed new machines to make the operation more efficient. Now the work was almost complete and the partners were anxious to get the plant back in operation. A little over a month after Henry’s granddaughter Fanny Benedict was born, the factory was ready to go. They finished installation on Saturday, September 21, and planned to re-start the plant on Monday. Henry went to bed that night full of anticipation.

Then disaster struck.

At two o’cloBuilding Fireck Sunday morning, Henry woke to cries of alarm. A fire at the factory! Volunteers hustled the water-pumper out of its barn and rushed to the site. They were too late. Flames had engulfed the building and soon it burned to the ground. [1]

The loss of his factory was a crushing blow to Henry. However, his keen disappointment at the ruin of his business was soon followed by terrible grief from a more serious and personal loss.

On Wednesday, October 9, only a few weeks after the disaster at The Norwalk Manufacturing Company, his wife Harriet died. Perhaps the specter of financial ruin was too much for her to take. No matter what the cause of her death, she was gone. Henry had to face the future without his life partner.

More tragedy followed. The next year, on Wednesday, March 4, Henry’s daughter Fanny passed away. The death of his daughter so soon after the loss of his wife and business were a terrible blow, from which he never fully recovered. [2]

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] The account of the destruction of the Norwalk Manufacturing Company is from “Biographies and Memories”, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society; July 1888; p. 122.

[2] Record of the deaths of Henry Buckingham’s wife and daughter are from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, (Unpublished) by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, p. 17 & p. 21.

 

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