The Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Hour . . .

Veterans’ Day – originally called Armistice Day to mark the end of hostilities during World War I. Today is the one-hundredth anniversary of that day, so full of joy – for the Allies – but only the beginning of a twenty year interlude before the final settling of scores in the Second World War. 

Today, I remember an ancestor of mine who served in both conflicts – my great uncle Bill Wickham. In World War I, he served in France with the Engineer Corps. In the second, he stayed stateside and perhaps stayed on after the war. He died at Fort Lewis, Washington in 1947. [1]

 

William Wickham - WWI

William Wickham was brother to my grandmother, from whom I received the photo shown above. [2] In her diaries, Grandma mentions “Billy” often – during their school days in Norwalk, Ohio, and later when they both homesteaded clams in Wyoming during the 1920s. He died long before her, in 1947, and she was executor of his estate. In her papers I found her correspondence relating to that sad event – papers I will soon send off to his grandson. Although Grandma often told me stories of her long life, she never mentioned her brother to me. I wish she had.

So here is to you, Uncle Bill. Thank you for your service. I am sorry I never got to know you.  

 

Footnotes:

[1] “Hold Services for Maj Wickham,” Sandusky Register Star News, Sandusky, Ohio, 20 Feb 1947.

[2[ Papers Harriott Wickham Barton, in possession of the author.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 51 – Railroads and Cholera

Sufferers’ Land

Railroads and Cholera

by Dave Barton

For years, Norwalk’s prosperity depended on its position as Huron County Seat. The town of Milan dominated the commerce of the region with its canal connecting it to Lake Erie via the Huron River. Every summer and fall, huge wagons filled with grain converged on Milan, making it the largest wheat port of its time.

In the early 1850s, however, a new technology threatened Milan’s economic hegemony — the railroad. The citizens of Milan could have used their money and political influence to bring the railroad to their town, but they were so sure of the advantages of water transport that they spurned it. As a result, the “iron horse” passed north and south of them. The Conestoga Wagons no longer had to travel all the way to Milan, and the town went into a dramatic and irreversible decline. By the end of the decade, the once bustling port town was a sleepy backwater.

Railroad Locomotive

Rusler, William, A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 333.

Norwalk was one of the towns that profited from the railroads at Milan’s expense. The first train line in the village was the Toledo Norwalk and Cleveland Railroad, which started service in January 1853. [1]

The advent of the railroad was a great boon to the economy of the village, but it also brought danger to the unwary. In the early years, many people and livestock met an untimely end because of this new means of conveyance.

In November of 1853, less than a year after train service commenced, a number of boys found a handcar sitting unattended on a sidetrack and decided to take it for a joyride. They crowded aboard and were soon speeding down the track. One boy, Hezekiah Smith, accidentally caught his scarf in the crank of the car and was thrown to the ground with a broken neck. [2]

Accidental death was not the only tragedy brought to Norwalk by the railroad. Trains transporting passengers from place to place also caused the rapid spread of diseases like Cholera. In 1854, a year after the railroad came to Norwalk, the disease made its final and most deadly appearance in the village.

Deaths Dispensary

“Death’s Dispensary,” a cartoon by George Pinwell in FUN Magazine, August 18, 1866

William Wickham later described a deserted town, the inhabitants either gone to the country or hiding in their homes. Once again, the only sound in the village was the rumble of wagons carrying the dead to cemeteries. William recalled thirty-one names of those who perished from the disease, among this number were seven from one family. [3]

Another witness to those terrible days later remembered the valiant women who cared for the sick at great risk to themselves.     Cholera broke out virulently in Norwalk in 1854. The town was nearly deserted. But some there were who stayed; and some of these women made it their business to nurse the stricken ones. Some have been named to me: “Grandma Mason, mother of Sarah Mason the teacher; Mrs. John Green, mother of Miss Rilla Green; Lizzie Higgins and Mary Higgins Farr. They literally took their lives in their hands. Lizzie Higgins was very ill with it; Mrs. C.L. Boalt had her brought to her home and nursed her back to health. Mary Higgins Farr worked until worn out. The doctor said she must quit and go away. She replied that she was needed. I think she was dead the night of the next day. She was, even before the cholera, much beloved for her womanliness and her works. She was a daughter of Judge Higgins and the wife of Joseph M. Farr; Lizzie Higgins was afterwards his wife. [4]

With the coming of cold weather that autumn, the disease abated and disappeared. Never again would this contagion visit the Firelands. However, an even more terrible tragedy loomed on the horizon. The nation was less than ten years from a Civil War that would bring hardship and sorrow to the village of Norwalk.

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] “When the ‘Iron Colt’ First Dashed into Norwalk,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XX; The Firelands Historical Society; December, 1918; p. 2065.

[2] From “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XX; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1918; p. 2077.

[3] William Wickham’s recollection of the 1854 Cholera outbreak in Norwalk is from “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XX; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1918; pp. 2099-2100.

[4] “Ancient Dames of Norwalk,” by Charlotte Wooster Boalt, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XX; The Firelands Historical Society; December, 1918; p. 1998.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 37 – The Wickham Family

Sufferers’ Land

The Wickham Family

by Dave Barton

While staying with her husband’s parents at their home in Sodus Point, New York, Lucy heard many stories about the Wickham family.

The first of Frederick’s family to come to America was Thomas Wickham, who arrived in Wethersfield, Connecticut around 1648. His son Samuel was a prominent citizen of Warwick, Rhode Island. Samuel was a military leader and a representative to the General Assembly for many years, serving as clerk of that body for three years. He was a relatively wealthy man, and a slave owner. An inventory of his goods taken about 1712 included a Negro woman as his property.

Samuel’s son Thomas followed his father’s example as a soldier, prominent member of the community and a slave owner. In his will, he left to his wife Hannah a Negro woman named Bess.

Samuel’s grandson was born in 1736 and named Thomas, like his father. In 1762, he married Elizabeth Wanton, whose father was the Royal Governor of Rhode Island.

Like his father-in-law, Thomas Wickham was a loyalist during the Revolution and in 1781 went to prison because of his sympathies for England. He gained his release from prison by paying 5,000 silver dollars. He didn’t leave America as many Loyalists did, but spent the remainder of his life petitioning for the return of his and his wife’s lands and fortunes. [1]

Thomas and Elizabeth named their sixth child William. He was born on July 7, 1778 in Newport, Rhode Island. In his youth, William lived with the stigma of being a member of a loyalist family.

George Washington

George Washington in 1774. Wikimedia Commons

When he was a small boy, William was playing one day with a friend on the edge of an enclosed field. Two men were talking on the other side of the fence. One of them pointed to William and said to his companion, “That little boy is the son of a notorious Tory!” The other man laughed, patted William’s head and said, “Poor little Tory. We’ll have to teach him better.” Then he shook William’s hand and departed. William later learned that that man was George Washington. [2]

William left home early, going to sea at the age thirteen. In 1798, he was in the U.S. Navy during the War with the French. He also served with Decatur on the Tripoli expedition. He sailed all over the world, rising quickly in rank and becoming Captain of a ship at the age of twenty-one.

Shortly after he became Captain, William sailed to Philadelphia with a cargo. While there, he visited the home of Frederick and Elizabeth Christian, a prominent family in the city, in company with Frederick and Elizabeth’s son. As the two men entered the house, they encountered the Christian’s daughter, Catherine. Catherine later remembered the scene to her granddaughter.

There was a young man in Philadelphia who was attentive to me, and while I could not say I loved him, I thought more of him than of any other young man I knew. One day he invited me to go horseback riding and I felt that day he was going to ask me to marry him, and I had made up my mind to accept him. Just as I was coming downstairs in my riding habit, my brother came in the house with a young man whom he introduced to me as Captain Wickham. I knew right then I was going to refuse the other young man that afternoon, and I did. Later your grandfather asked me and we have been lovers ever since.

When she heard this story, Lucy must have remembered first meeting Frederick in her garden in Norwalk.

William and Catherine were married on Thursday, March 24, 1803 in Christ Church in Philadelphia. William wanted to go back to sea, which was the only life he knew, but Catherine adamantly disagreed. He had an opportunity to go on an expedition to the Pacific Northwest on the Astor, but Catherine was so much against it that he turned down the offer. The ship sailed without him and never returned. It reached Oregon, but Native Americans killed the entire crew.

After this, William abandoned the sea and moved to New York City, where he went into the shipping business in partnership with his brother Thomas. However, this was not a good time for the shipping industry. The brothers had a string of bad luck that ended in financial disaster.

Their ships often sailed to the West Indies, and one was lost on a return voyage, weakening the business. In 1807, President Jefferson placed an embargo on American shipping out of U.S. ports. The Wickham brothers had a ship loaded and ready to sail. Because of their earlier loss, they were in a bad financial situation. Taking a chance, they decided to send the ship out anyway. Authorities caught the ship and confiscated it and its cargo, which ruined the brothers’ business.

William and Catherine moved to Sodus Point in upstate New York, then at the edge of the frontier. They built a cabin and went into the fishing business on Lake Ontario. The future looked promising, but unfortunately, William and Catherine had gone from the frying pan into the fire. The War of 1812 had just begun, and in 1813, a party of British soldiers raided Sodus Point and burned the town, leaving only one house standing. Ironically, William, whose father went to prison as a British loyalist, had his house, boats and nets burned by the British Army.

Before the British arrived, William and Catherine buried their silver in the woods. This included a tea set given to William’s ancestors John and William Wanton by Queen Anne for service to the crown during Queen Anne’s War – another irony. [3]

Lucy spent several months with her in-laws, and learned much about her husband’s family. Finally, with summer ending, she bid them farewell, and departed for home.

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] The history of the Wickham family in America is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, (unpublished) by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, pp. 28-32 and a letter dated July 18, 1943 from Mr. Brunell E. Stanfin to Miss Elanor Wickahm.

[2] This story is from undated notes about the Wickham family written by Harriott Wickham Barton

[3] The history of the Wickham family in America is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, pp. 28-32

NOTE: For genealogies of Frederick Wickham’s family see the following pages on this site: Genealogy WickhamGenealogy WantonGenealogy WinthropGenealogy Sutton, Dudley and Winthrop.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 36 – Lucy Visits Her In-laws

Sufferers’ Land

Lucy Visits Her In-laws

by Dave Barton

Frederick Wickham and Lucy Preston married in January 1835. That summer, Frederick went back to the lake and the schooner DeWitt Clinton. With her husband away, Lucy decided to visit his family in Sodus Point, New York.

The voyage was long and arduous, although not anything like her journeys to the Firelands as a child. She went by boat from Huron to Cleveland, where she met her husband and his ship. They traveled together from there on the DeWitt Clinton to Buffalo, New York. Being in that town brought back memories for Lucy of her voyages as a child to the Ohio wilderness. No doubt, she noted many changes, both in the town and in the means of transportation.

From Buffalo, she continued alone by canal boat along the Erie Canal to Lyons, New York, where she met the wife of her husband’s cousin Mrs. Rachel Christian, and her son Thomas. Together, they traveled overland north to Lucy’s in-law’s house on Sodus Bay.

Canal Boat

William Wickham, then 57 years old, and his wife Catherine Christian Wickham greeted their daughter-in-law and welcomed her into their home. Lucy stayed with them until October, and during this time learned much about her husband’s family and their heritage. [1]

 

 

Footnote:

[1] The story of Lucy’s trip to Sodus, New York is from “Memoir of Lucy Preston Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XXI; The Firelands Historical Society, January 1920; pp. 2399-2400, and the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, pp. 32-33.

Image of Canal Boat is from Rusler, William, A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 332.

 

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Wickham Family Cemetery – Sodus Point NY

The Wickham Family Burial Plot in Sodus Point, New York contains the graves of almost a dozen Wickhams to include those of William and Catherine Wickham, parents of Frederick Wickham, early settler of Norwalk, Ohio and longtime owner and editor of the Norwalk Reflector whose story is told on this website. Below is a letter from the Sodus Point Historical Society describing an initiative to place a plaque at the cemetery memorializing William Wickham. I  encourage all who are able to help with this project. Thank you.

DWB

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