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]




[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.


This post was first published on this blog in 2009.


Previous Post: Future Warriors of Norwalk

Next Post: Last Reunion of the Pioneers


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Researching the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 – and Other Subjects


Firelands Historical Society Museum


If I had my druthers, I’d spend my free time in Norwalk, Ohio at the Firelands Historical Society‘s Laning-Young Research Center, the Norwalk Public Library and the Huron County Courthouse. But I’ve found it inconvenient to do so from my home in Colorado. What to do?

Fortunately, resources about Norwalk abound online. Beside, FamilySearch and other “normal” genealogical sources, here are a few others specific to Norwalk and the Firelands I regularly use to flesh out my Sufferers’ Land and Norwalk High School Class of 1907 series of posts on this website:

  • The Firelands Pioneer: The journal of the Firelands Historical Society was first published in June 1858. The “Old Series” of the-firelands-pioneernineteen issues ran from 1858 until 1878, followed by twenty-five additional issues in the “New Series” from 1882 to 1937. During the publication of the “Old Issue,” most of the original settlers of the Firelands were still alive, and many contributed eyewitness accounts of their experiences. In 1939, the Firelands Historical Society published an index to both series. This index has been invaluable to me in my research. Most issues of The Firelands Pioneer are now digitized and just a Google search away.

  • Another important source of information about the Firelands is History of the FirelandsW.W. Williams 1879 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. Mr.. Williams used The Firelands Pioneer as an important source for History of the Firelands; he also drew from many other  primary sources, to include court records and personal interviews with settlers still surviving in the 1870’s. The resulting book is a treasure trove of histories, biographies, and illustrations for the genealogist and historian interested in this region and the families that settled there. This tome is available online, and I have posted links to the Table of Contents of the book on this website.

  • Finally, another great source is the Huron County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society Website. Here you can find links to HCCOGS Logopublications of the society, and other sources: death indexes, cemetery and funeral records, indexes of probate and court records and more. You can also request assistance from society members for a fee. This is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in researching the Firelands.

So that’s it: a short list of the resources I’ve found most useful in researching posts for this website. But there is one more that only recently become available to me: newspaper archives. I’ll tell you about that source in my next post.



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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.



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.

The Temperance Movement in Norwalk, Ohio, 1907


In this post, we’ll continue our discussion of the temperance movement in 1907. Norwalk, Ohio was perhaps not a hotbed of probationary activism, but it did enjoy widespread support in the city. Here’s what my grandmother, Harriott Wickham, alumnus of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, wrote in her diary on Monday, November 15, 1910, several years after her high school graduation, when she was a sophomore at Wooster College.

Felt so sleepy after lunch, that I cut art and took a nap. When I woke up, wasn’t I sick. Joy got me some whiskey from Mother Walker and I am all right now, only pretty shaky. That settles it anyway, you’ll never catch me without my little flask again — that is until Norwalk goes dry, and I have to have a doctor’s prescription. [1]

Obviously, prohibition was a real possibility in Norwalk in 1910–and, I assume in the surrounding area as well.

The earliest record I have found of a temperance society in the Firelands was in 1830 in Lyme Township, located twelve miles west of Norwalk. [2] The next oldest record I could find, is of a temperance society organized on New Year’s Day, 1831 in Portland Township, which is now Sandusky. In the beginning, “in the spirit of the day,” this society only sought prohibition of “distilled spirits.” But within two years, in May, 1833, the society’s constitution was amended to prohibit the “excessive use of wine or any fermented liquors.” The following year, they adopted the principle of total abstinence. [3]

I would imagine that Norwalk also formed a temperance society about this time, but the earliest record I have of one is the formation of The Sons of Temperance in 1847. [4] This group got off to a good start, and by the time of the Civil War had over seven hundred members. But that war, coupled with a financial crisis that followed, caused interest to flag. In 1876, The Sons of Temperance gave up their meeting hall and suspended weekly meetings. A few members did not give up the fight, though, and continued to gather monthly in private homes. There persistence paid off, and over the next few years their numbers again began to increase.

wtcu-logoA renewal in interest in the temperance movement was also taking place around the country in the 1870s, and Ohio was among those states in the forefront of the movement. In 1873, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U) was founded in Hillsboro, Ohio, and quickly grew to be an international organization. The goals of the W.C.T.U were not limited to the prohibition of alcohol, but also included women’s suffrage, and other progressive movements of the time.

At the close of the 19th Century, a new movement was established that anti-saloon_league_logo-211x96had the narrow goal of prohibition, the Anti-Saloon League. Organized in 1894, they soon became the most powerful prohibition lobby in America, eclipsing other groups such as the W.C.TU. They focused on legislation, using pressure politics, and the power of the pulpit, as they did in three churches on Sunday, January 14, 1907, to push their agenda.

So, when Harriott Wickham predicted that Norwalk would go dry–she was most likely thinking of the efforts of the Anti-Saloon League.





[1] This diary entry is from the unpublished 1910 to 1913 diary of Harriott Wickham which i have in my possession. The phrase “maybe I wasn’t,” was apparently slang meant to ironic. Harriott used it several times in this diary.

[2] “Memoirs of Townships – Lyme,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume II, Number 1, pages 24-25.

[3] “Memoirs of Townships – Portland,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume I, Number 3, pages 24-25.

[4] W.W. Williams, History of the Firelands, page 149-

It was Buried on the Banks of Mud Run

The first death in the township was that of ——, son of Wilder Lawrence, Feb. 19th, 1817, only 9 days after their arrival. It was buried on the bank of Mud Run, some twenty rods northeast of the present burying ground. Soon after, Chauncey Woodruff buried a son at the same place. These two children were both born in Trumbull County, while the parents were on their way from the State of New York. [1]

How chilling! Not only that these boys died so young-that is heartbreaking enough-but that the writer did not know the names of these children, and even more, the phrase “It was buried on the banks of Mud Run.”

As I wondered about the location of “Village House” in a previous post, I  wonder now about where these children were buried. The passage above provided my first clue: it says that “It” was buried “some twenty rods northeast of the present burying ground.” I jumped on Google Earth and searched the wooded area north of Village House. Lo and behold, here is what I found.


A cemetery! This could be the “present burying ground” described in the passage above. An internet search turned up a 1997 publication of the Huron Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, where I found this: “Boughton Cemetery, also called North Norwich Cemetery, is located on the east side of Section Line Road 30, just north of Boughton Road and about six miles north of US224 in Norwich Twp.” [2]


Boughton Cemetery in summer (from Find a Grave)


Boughton Cemetery in winter (from Find a Grave)

I wondered if perhaps the remains of the Lawrence and Woodruff boys had been moved to the “present burying ground” when it was established. The Huron County Genealogical Society publication has gravestone inscriptions for the cemetery, and no newborns who died in 1817 are listed. So are the infants graves in the woods northeast of the present cemetery? On the last page of the Huron County Genealogical Society publication we find this:

Rev. Norman Bowen searched the area [northeast of Boughton Cemetery] in 1992 and 1993 for this book and believes he found a spot on a bluff well above Mud Run that juts out quite a bit, and is a likely site for this cemetery, although no stone remains were found, if these ever were there.

It is most likely, then, that the remains of those two infants still lie in unmarked graves on the banks of Mud Run.  A rod is five-and-a-half yards, so according to John Niles article in The Firelands Pioneer, those graves would be a little over the length of a football field from Boughton Cemetery. Look at the map of Boughton Cemetery above and imagine where those boys were laid to rest two hundred years ago, and remain, unremarked today.

But if they are at that place, they are not alone. Others were buried beside them at a later date. Who might they be? We’ll learn that in the next post.


[1] John Niles, “Memoirs of Norwich Township,” The Firelands  Pioneer; Volume II, number 2; The Firelands Historical Society; March, 1860, pages 38-39.

[2] Huron County, Ohio Cemetery Inscriptions, by the Huron Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, 1997, page 714

[3] Further narrative about this story is in 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.


Village House: A Cabin at the End of Beall’s Trail


Myrtle Woodruff

In last year’s October 29 post, we celebrated three Norwalk High School Class of 1907 October Birthdays. One of the students who celebrated a birthday that month was Myrtle Woodruff. Today we begin a series of posts about Myrtle’s heritage. Her family was among that wave of pioneers that settled in the Firelands in 1817, following the disastrous “Year without Summer” of 1816. We begin with the story of Myrtle’s great-great-great grandfather Chauncey Woodruff, and his son George, who together settled in Norwich Township, in the southwest corner of the Firelands, in February of 1817, almost a year earlier than Platt and Sarah Benedict founded Norwalk, Ohio. [1]


The Village House

It was late afternoon, Monday, February 10, 1817 when George Woodruff spotted the “Village Cabin” ahead through the trees. His family and the rest of his party had made surprisingly good time that day on the twelve mile trek over the Beall trail [2] from New Haven township. A foot of snow covering the ground had made travel easy for the oxen pulling the sleds with their belongings.

snowy-woodsThe party consisted of him and his new wife Hannah, his father Chauncey and his sister Elizabeth, and Wilder and Roxanna Laurence and their nine children. A few friends rounded out the group. [3]

The Woodruff and Laurence families had arrived in Ohio from Saratoga, New York in the fall of the previous year, and had stayed in Trumbull County, while George and his father Chauncey had come ahead to scout the land and select lots for settlement. George had remained in the township of New Haven, while his father returned to Trumbull County for the rest of the party. Chauncey had returned with the others two days previously, and today they had finally completed the last leg of the journey to their new home.


While on their scouting trip to the region, unlike many pioneers, George and his father did not need to build the cabin they were about to occupy. It had been raised in the spring of 1916 by a man named John Williamson. Mr. Williamson had not occupied the cabin, nor had he stayed in the Firelands, so now it was open for use by the Woodruff and Lawrence families.

The cabin had a roof and walls with openings cut for a door and fireplace. A crib had been constructed as a frame for a hearth. George and his father remembered seeing split oak puncheons for a floor stacked next to the cabin on their previous visit, but the pile was now completely covered by snow.

George and the other men set to work digging out the puncheons and shoveling dirt into the crib for a hearth. They laid an improvised floor and hung blankets over the opening for the door, while Roxanna and Hannah built a fire on the hearth and made supper. Then the whole party crowded into the small space, and tried to make themselves comfortable.

They made merry as best they could that evening, helped along by a  jug of whisky they had taken care to pack on the sleds before leaving New Haven, then lay crowded on the puncheon floor, trying to ignore the howling of wolves in the surrounding forest.

So passed their first night in their new home on the frontier.

Next up: Do you find all these place names confusing? Would you like to have a map when reading accounts like these? Help is on the way tomorrow with my next post: Where was Village House?


[1] This story is based mostly on the accounts by John Niles in “Memoirs of Norwich Township,” The Firelands  Pioneer; Volume II, number 2; The Firelands Historical Society; March, 1860, pages 32-46, and by W.W. Williams in his 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] Beall’s Trail was cut through the wilderness from Wooster to Fremont, Ohio by General Reasin Beall and his army in 1812. It passed through what would become New Haven and Norwich Townships.

[3] George’s mother Eunice Woodruff, nee Hosford, was missing from the party. She had died in 1797, two years after George’s birth. Roxanna Lawrence’s maiden name was Woodruff, so she was no doubt related to Chauncey, probably his sister. I have found other examples of this; for instance, siblings Henry and Elizabeth Lockwood and their spouses settled just outside of what would become Norwalk, Ohio in 1816, and hosted Platt and Sarah Benedict when they arrived in the fall of 1817, as described in the Sufferers Land Post #6: A Home in the Wilderness on this site.



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