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Pioneer Women of Williamsfield

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Pioneer Women of Williamsfield

Posted: 10 May 2010 5:54AM GMT
Classification: Biography
From "Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve," Part III, Mrs. Gertrude Van Rensselaer Wickham, Editor [published under the auspices of the Women’s Department of the Cleveland Centennial Commission, December, 1896], p. p. 523-529:

PIONEER WOMEN OF WILLIAMSFIELD, 1804-1850

Williamsfield, named from Gen. Joseph Williams, is an exceptionally fertile township, forming the southeastern corner of Ashtabula County. It has two railroads and three villages, one at the center and one at each station.

Near the eastern and western boundaries, going directly west from the center, a distance of sixty miles brings one to Euclid avenue, Cleveland.

Williamsfield enjoys the distinction of being the early home of the Hon. Joshua R. Giddings, and the birth-place of the illustrious author, Albion W. Tourgee.

In the early days of slavery it was one of the regular stations of the underground railroad.

The first settlement was made in 1804 by Charles Case, of Simsbury, Conn., grandfather of the noted singer, C. C. Case. Judging from the character of her descendants, Mrs. Case belonged to nature’s nobility.

In 1808 came Mrs. John Cook [Eunice Morgan] from Preston, Conn., whose daughter, Pauline, was the first white girl born in the township.

In the early days girls did not scream at the sight of a mouse or a little garter snake, as is proved by the following:

One fine spring day three young ladies, Sally Case, daughter of the first settler; Anne Ford and Miss Randall, "went out for a lark" and found a fine parcel of rattlesnakes, in other words, a nest of them, in a stony place near the Morse farm, on the old salt road. They killed thirty-six, and how many escaped is not stated. It is told as solemn truth that now and then a snake was stuffed into a straw bed, and one woman actually sleeping on a newly filled bed all night with a live snake in it, not a rattlesnake, however. Milk snakes made themselves very annoying by crawling into the cellar or pantry and eating the CREAM FROM THE MILK.

Mrs. Josiah Smith [Sabrina Gardner] was one of the earliest settlers, east of the old Salt road, coming in 1816 from Berkshire, Mass. Williamsfield was then a dense forest, with few roads beside the Indian foot paths. She was widely known as an expert doctor and nurse, and cheerfully rendered, free of charge, services now demanding high fees.

She kept a bed especially for the class of wayfarers now called “tramps,” and was never known to send one away. She was a most worthy charter member of the M. E. church.

Huldah Smith came in a company of thirty, from Sandersfield, Mass., 1816. She married Gurden Leffingwell, and was a superior woman, beloved by all. She moved to Wisconsin, 1861.

Mrs. Bartlett Leonard [Hannah Chapman], from Berkshire, Mass., 1815, was a woman of lofty character and much culture, having taught school for several years in Massachusetts. She had also studied medicine and was a regular physician, going far and near on her errands of mercy. But these things did not unfit her for the more ordinary duties of home. Her industry, prudence and economy made her a royal help-meet.

Her father being a man of property, she brought with her an unusual supply of fine furniture and clothing, but the silks and muslins were all laid away as inappropriate, and she wore homemade linen and linen-woolsey like her neighbors. She went back to Massachusetts six times, the first time with a neighbor and his wife in winter, leaving two children, three and four years of age, in care of her husband and his sister, Olive Leonard. Being disappointed in returning as she went, she was almost WILD WITH ANXIETY about her family, Miss Olive having become Mrs. Reuben Phelps in the meantime. At last she heard of the Adamses, who were coming here, but they were twelve in number, heavily loaded, and could not take her in. She told them she would walk if they would carry her baggage. One of the Adams’ girls volunteered to take turns walking. She started with delight, but at Meadville, Pa., a thaw came and the family waited for more snow. Mrs. Leonard then pursued her way on foot and alone twenty-five miles. Arriving at Croytown, she found the Chenango bridge gone, but, nothing daunted, walked the “stringers,” which were under water, ankle deep, and arrived home at last with a joy in her heart that is better imagined than described, after walking more than half of seven hundred miles!

Her daughter, Charlotte [Mrs. John Barnes], is at the present time a remarkably well preserved great-grandmother, to whom we are indebted for this sketch. She is still able to fashion in the latest style many garments for her children and grandchildren. She weaves rugs and carpets of much beauty and raises more flowers than her neighbors. Among other plants she has over thirty rare chrysanthemums.

Olive Leonard married Reuben Phelps and spent the remainder of her life on a farm at the center. Her home was the regular station of the underground railroad, and many are the BROTHERS IN BLACK she has helped on their way to freedom. She was in peril of forfeiting her property if discovered, but with her right was might, and she never wavered from the path of duty.

Mrs. Asa Bridgman [Anna Avery], with her husband, moved from Dorchester, N. H., 1818. From Monroe to Williamsfield was an almost unbroken wilderness. Born of New England stock, Mrs. Bridgman was by nature well fitted for a life of earnest persevering industry, so essential in a new country. She was large-hearted, sympathetic and ever ready to “lend a hand.” She always kept open house for travelers, “a hotel gratis,” for no charges were made. They were a very important family in the township from the fact that they bought ashes, the only thing salable for money, to pay taxes, which were made into potash, taken to Pittsburg and sold to glass factories.

Mrs. Maria Ford, one of the daughters, says the girls always helped leach the ashes and boil the lye, which was done to a white powder or pearlash; this was their soda. Once when stirring the boiling mass after it became very thick, a “plumper” fell upon her hand. She plunged it into a pail of lye, thinking it was water. The first time the hand was dressed the skin and flesh came off with the cloth.

Mary Reid married Daniel Smith, a fuller by trade, and settled in the east part of the town. She was very skilful as a nurse, and understood the effects of the different roots and herbs,

She saved the lives of two boys at one time, who were poisoned by eating wild parsnip, which they supposed was sweet cicely. Their jaws were set, and life almost gone.

She was also extremely hospitable.

She remembered distinctly the journey from eastern Pennsylvania, when she was three or four years of age. She was tied on a mule’s back, which got into a “yellow jackets’“ nest, and ran kicking down the mountain.

When older, she was sometimes sent for the cows when, if detained till nightfall, the wolves would follow, howling on her track.

She sometimes visited, with her father, a tribe of Indians, called Cornplanters, who occupied Williamsfield at that time, and often used to speak of seeing a beautiful young squaw with a blanket wrapped about her, who was the chief’s daughter.

The squaws often used to call at Mr. Reid’s for food, leaving their papooses strapped to a board, leaning against the outside of the house. The Reid children would step out and lift the covering from their faces to look at them, but never heard a loud noise from them. An Indian wanted to buy an older sister of Mary’s, which gave the family some uneasiness.

One night they heard the pigs squealing and ran out with the lighted torches. An animal rushed past them too swiftly for a bear. The dog ran, barking up a tree, the women following. Presently, something jumped over their heads and they saw it WAS A PANTHER, which seemed glad to escape.

Miss Polly Tourgee, for many years past known as “Aunt Polly,” from Tyringham, Mass., 1822, married Ashael Leonard and settled on the farm two miles north of the center, where she has since lived, being nearly 88 years old. She was a strong, stirring woman, of the heroic sort; always up and doing “with a heart for any fate.” She was a power in prayer and one of the founders of the Sunday school, and is also one of the four living charter members of the Congregational church.

When her husband was sick at one time for four years, she managed the farm and did much of the outdoor work, even to building fences. Their barn was the first to be raised without whiskey. The carpenter said it would not go up without the customary treat. Mr. Leonard said: “Let it rot then!” Mrs. Leonard, however, managed the affair by making two barrels of beer, using thirty-two pounds of sugar. The barn went up with no grumbling.

Spinning and weaving and making butter and cheese for market were common duties. It was no uncommon thing for her to walk with others through the woods in the evening, with a torch to light the way, to prayer meeting. In pleasant weather she is now able to attend church service and her voice is often heard in prayer at the Women’s Missionary meetings. She is patiently waiting for the call to “come up higher.”

Mrs. Valentine Tourgee [Louise Wineger] was a gentle lady, of fine feelings and bright intellect. Her only son, ALBION W. TOURGEE, the celebrated author, was born in the east part of Williamsfield, but soon moved to the State road, where they lived on the farm now occupied by W. S. Leach and family, who use the same well sunk by the grandfather of the author. The also cherish a rose bush, no doubt planted by Mrs. Tourgee, who died when her son was only a few years old. Ann Wineger [Mrs. Cyrus Tourgee] was a woman of the same fine parts as her sister.

Anne Woodworth, of Essex, Vt., married Ezra Woodworth, and with him came to Ohio in 1808. They went on farther west, coming back through Cleveland, where the few residents were all down sick with fever and ague, and settled on the farm since occupied by Cyrel Woodworth.

Mr. and Mrs. Silas Babcock also came in 1808 and the latter taught the first school the following summer in the new schoolhouse on the Ford farm.

She had a child a few months old, which, by the aid of the big boys, was “toted” back and forth. A sap trough was improvised for a cradle. Total attendance at school, fifteen.

In December of 1818 three young men, Abner, Daniel, and Loren Rose, set out from Barkhamsted, Conn., with their axes and knapsacks, and traversed the six hundred miles on foot. The following spring their father and mother, Daniel Rose and Sarah Parker, with Cynthia Ann Simons, Abner’s wife, and two children, Louisa and Achsah, found their home in the wilderness all ready prepared -- a double log house with porch between, furnished with pole bedsteads, puncheon table, etc. Provisions were also ready, even to several tubs of maple sugar. Soon after becoming established in their new home they were honored by an evening serenade from a company of owls, who were attracted by the lights in the windows. No doubt the theme of the concert was “Hoo-hoo! Are these newcomers?”

Cynthia was delighted with the new home in the beautiful forest, and lived a quiet, patient, cheerful life of ninety-one years. She was a beautiful singer, which gift she bequeathed to her sons and daughters. She was never without her flower garden from the first.

Anne Russell, of Tyringham, Mass., became the wife of Daniel Rose, Jr. She was a woman of high moral qualities, and, being left a widow in the prime of her life, trained her six children to walk in the Christian way.

Esther Ball, of New Jersey, married Loren Rose, and the third home was established 1829. Aunt Esther maintained her bright, vivacious, witty ways and her GIFT AT REPARTEE to the end of her life.

The three families held their property in common for many years, and lived in peace and harmony.

Two valuable relics are cherished by the Rose family -- a large leather-bound account book, dated 1784, and a letter written during the Revolutionary war, dated July, 1776.

Mrs. Joshua Giddings [Elizabeth Pease], from Enfield, Conn., 1809, was descended from John Pease, who settled on Martha’s Vineyard, 1635. Gov. Pease, of Texas, is in the same line.

Her son, the famous J. R. Giddings, spent his youth and early manhood here, where his mother spun and wove the cloth and made the suit in which he first appeared as attorney at the supreme court of the state. Here he wooed and won his wife, Laura Waters.

Mrs. Elijah Morse [Mary Morse], an aunt of the great telegraph inventor, Samuel F. B. Morse, arrived in 1814. She was a very pious woman and talented in prayer and exhortation. She has many descendants still living here, who bear the impress of her character. Elijah Morse was also accompanied by his mother, Eunice Brown, wife of Gen. Samuel Morse, of Revolutionary fame, and sister of Joseph Brown, one of the large land holders of the town.

Mrs. Ezra Leonard [Dorcas Brown] came with her family from Worthington, Mass. 1810. They being in good circumstances, owned a span of fine black ponies, which Rachel, their daughter, and another girl were riding through the woods one day, when they passed a young man, a stranger to them, chopping wood. Rachel remarked playfully to her companion: “There is my future husband.”

Cupid thereupon smote the heart of the young man; in due time the prophecy was fulfilled, and Rachel became Mrs. Elias Fobes. She was mother of sons and daughters of the highest Christian character, one of whom has just passed away, at the age of eighty.

Her mother, Mrs. Ezra Leonard, bequeathed to her daughter two valuable relics, now in possession of Mrs. William Fobes, A RICH SCARLET CLOAK, in good preservation, which must be considerably over one hundred years old, and a quilt of home-made linen, richly embroidered with flowers and birds, in home-made colored and shaded worsted, as fine as Saxony. The quilt was originally a bed valance, with an embroidered ruffle across the top.

Mrs. Marvin Morse [Electa Loomis], from Massachusetts, 1813, was the mother of eighteen bright, comely children, all of whom were sweet singers [a Morse characteristic]. Like mothers of smaller flocks, she provided food and clothing with her own hands, including spinning, weaving, dyeing and making. She seldom missed attending church on the Sabbath, riding on horseback, carrying two or more with her, while the older ones walked. Fourteen of the eighteen children still live. Mrs. Morse herself lived to the ripe old age, healthy and happy.

Abiah Phelps, wife of the Rev. Elias Morse, of Worthington, Conn., came to the township in 1811, two years after her husband. He was the founder of Methodism in these parts, and the postmaster for thirty years after its establishment, but, as the postoffice was kept in a corner of the dwelling house, the lady of the house had the care, while her husband wore the honors.

One who has been through it all says; “With all our hardships we had many merry makings, quiltings, parties, etc. Many games played at these parties have been handed down to the present generation-- as snap up, roll the platter, etc., etc. In short, we had good times.

"The temperance sentiment was comparatively undeveloped; and it was extremely difficult to get men enough to raise a building without whiskey."

Harriet Cowell, the wife of Capt. John Stanhope, was born in Newport, R. I., of Welsh parentage. Her husband was a sea captain, and with him she visited many different ports and made a fine collection of natural curiosities. She lived in Kinsman one year and then removed to West Williamsfield, in 184--.

A beautiful face, a retiring nature, a fondness for reading and a great love for flowers were her distinguishing features. She had the first conservatory in this region.

In Tyringham, Mass., one Sunday morning in 1817, the marriage banns of John Russell and Dorcas Heath were published in this fashion:

Said John to Dorcas,
"If you and I can agree;
Your name shall Heath
No longer be."

The agreement was made, the nuptials celebrated, and then they emigrated to New Connecticut. Before starting she promised a well-beloved sister she would keep a daily record of the journey; and she did so, but her husband thought it foolish, and she, having high respect for the opinions of the bridegroom, destroyed the record and disappointed her sister.

After a time her heart beat high with pleasure on receiving word that there was a letter in the office for her from the dear old home. But, on inquiry, it was found the postage was unpaid, as was quite customary, and instead of a two-cent stamp, it required 23 cents to TAKE THE LETTER OUT. It was now her turn to bear disappointment, for the money was not to be had, and the missive went to the dead-letter office; nor did weeping or mourning avail to bring it back.

Mrs. Nathaniel Reed [Rhoda Sedjwick] came from Barkhamsted, Mass., at an early day. Her grandson, 77 years old [Sedjwick North], has a well-preserved Bible, which belonged to his grandparents.

The Reeds were very tall, and their descendants still rise above their fellow-men and women, one, a great-great-grandson, measuring six feet four inches.

Mrs. Anna Skinner Pratt settled here 1825, with her husband, Dr. Pratt.

Mrs. Candace Hale Pratt, from Tyringham, Mass., 1822, was a relative of the illustrious John P. Hale.

Mrs. Anna Pratt Rice came from Tyringham, Mass., 1835, with her husband and three daughters. Her husband was a skilful violinist. She was a gentle, lovable little woman. Her daughter, Orpha, married Sally Allen Heath’s son.

Mrs. Mary Boyd Reid was born in Pennsylvania, near the confluence of the Juniata and Susquehanna rivers, 1759.

During a great inundation by the Susquehanna, they gathered a few articles into a boat and barely saved their lives, while their house, cattle, and all other possessions were swept away.

Hearing glowing accounts of western Pennsylvania, they moved with five children, over the mountains to Hartstown, where they stopped until they could select their farm.

In 1797, while staying at Hartstown, Mrs. Reid and a neighbor, wishing to visit a family three miles distant, started early one morning and missed their way. Their hearts sank as they saw they were HOPELESSLY LOST in the vast wilderness. Mrs. Reid carried a heavy child two years old, but, unable to stand alone, Mrs. Bennet suggested laying the child down and leaving it, as they must die if they carried it. Of course, the mother’s heart refused to do so, and soon after they came across the track of a large wild animal, and spoke with a shudder of what would have been the fate of the child.

Night came on and they took lodgings in a tree. Mrs. Bennet fell asleep and Mrs. Reid had to hold on to her as well as the child. About midnight she heard the steps of an animal in the dry leaves. Holding tightly to her friend, she saw a large panther, which came up under the tree, stood a moment, gave an unearthly scream and went away. They claimed that their trembling shook the tree. This spot was afterwards a part of Mr. Reid’s farm, two miles south of Espyville, where P. P. Bliss spent a portion of his boyhood days.

Morning dawned and they resumed their journey. They soon struck the Shenango, and followed it in the hope of finding a settlement.

On and on they went, breaking a path through the tall wild grass, which often lacerated their flesh. Once they nearly stepped on upon a rattlesnake, but sprang over it unhurt. They were in constant fear, however, of others in the deep grass. Soon afterwards they came upon a big bear, which rushed headlong through the tall grass, more frightened than themselves, making a good path for them for some distance.

Night was again approaching and starvation or death by some wild beast seemed a certainty. But hark! Was not that the ring of a woodsman’s ax? Making for the sound they came upon two men rafting logs. Upon hearing their story gave them cake, baked in the ashes, which Mrs. Reid often said was the sweetest bread she ever ate. This was near the present site of Jamestown, Pa. These men guided them home to their despairing families, who were searching the woods for them.

Mrs. Reid’s later years were passed here. She was noted for her hospitality, always insisting on strangers and friends coming in to eat something as they WENT BY TO MILL. At the time of her death, by accident, at the age of ninety-one, she could walk a mile and back with ease.

In 1817 Mrs. Sally Allen Heath came to Williamsfield from Tyringham, Mass., with her husband and two children. Her grandfather was major, her father a major, and she came of good Revolutionary stock, and was well fitted to brave a pioneer life. Her grandfather was a cousin of COL. ETHAN ALLEN.

In 1819 Mrs. Abigail Robins Heath arrived from Tyringham, Mass., with her husband and daughter Anna, who became Mrs. Benjamin Comstock. They wove cloth, also bed blankets, often keeping their loom going day and night.

In 1820 Timothy Heath, desiring a helpmeet, drove from Williamsfield to Tryingham, Mass., 700 miles, and brought back his bride, Polly Higgins. The prize was well worth the pain, for she was a very gracious, hospitable, kindly woman. An excellent mother and ever ready to do a neighborly kindness.

Jane Ewing, of New Jersey, married Jacob Bush and moved here in 1832, where she spent the remainder of her eighty-four years. She was a hard working woman, enduring many privations, especially during two years that her husband was disabled from a log rolling on him while building their log house.

Lorena Black [Mrs. Lyman Leonard] was a very beautiful woman and very tasteful in her dress, and was bright and amiable, all of which made her a general favorite.

Rebecca Williams [Mrs. John Simonds] was from near Baltimore, Md. Their covered wagon was canoe shaped and sixteen feet long, drawn by a yoke of oxen and span of horses. The wagon contained, besides the usual necessities, seven wide-awake boys. Mrs. Simonds was a bright, black-eyed business woman. She always sheared their own sheep from humane motives. The only daughter, Mary, married Dr. Giddings, a nephew of Hon. Joshua R. Giddings.

The Congregational church of Williamsfield was founded in July, 1839. 1840 finds Mrs. Rev. L. B. Beach [Aurelia White], a native of Meadville, Pa., as the first settled pastor’s wife. She was then twenty-three years of age, a tidy, winsome woman, with hair that would never assume a dignified straightness, but always persisted in closely curling about her face, even at the age of almost four score years. However, it well became her bright, lively, social ways.

Her husband’s salary could hardly be called munificent at this period, judging from the following record, from the old church book, read at the annual meeting in 1841. “One hundred and nine dollars was subscribed for preaching. Treasurer received eighty-five dollars and forty-nine cents and has paid Brother Beach $85.49.”

Meager as such figures look, no doubt there were real sacrifices made to pay even that amount in money. But people were generous and warm-hearted and many gifts and donations were made, so that by exercising her natural economy, ingenuity, thrift and industry, she kept the family comfortable and presentable.

Her children were carefully trained and strict obedience always required. The oldest son follows his father’s profession.

Mrs. Nathan Fobes [Urania Allen] tells the story of her family as follows:

"Mrs. Guilford Allen [Nancy Case] left Barkhamsted, Conn., in 1836, and with her husband and seven children, took up her abode in a log house, fourteen feet square, containing a table, two beds [which were turned up against the wall during the day], a spinning wheel and loom for weaving the cloth for family wear. But such was her Christian character that amid all these, and many more inconveniences, she was never heard to complain or SPEAK AN ANGRY WORD.

"As the older children were girls, much hard work in helping clear the land fell on them. As the trees were cut down we would trim them, pile the brush, help roll the logs, then, when burned, gather the ashes, leach them, and boil the lye for black salts, which was about the only thing that would bring money in those days. When the wheat was sown we took our hoes and dug around every stump, which were not a few, to cover the wheat the harrow could not. When the wheat was ripe father would take his sickle, the children their well-sharpened knives, and start for the field, when the wheat would have to come down. It was then threshed on the barn floor with a flail.

"The loom and the spinning wheel were indispensable. The flax wheel was hard to tread, so there was a little house built over a brook near by and the wheel run by water power. What an improvement was this!

“Cotton cloth was 50 cents and calico 40 cents per yard; therefore, we, like others, made our own linen for dresses; and when attired in our blue and copperas color checked dresses, there were some proud girls around.

"Girls who worked out got from three shillings to fifty cents per week, and nurses from 75 cents to $1.00.”

Many pioneer families worthy of mention, and no doubt, full of interesting history, have not reported. Among them are the following; Tidd, Allen, French, Mack, Tuttle, Harris.

MRS. MARY BEACH ROSE, Historian. Williamsfield Committee -- Mrs. Annette Smith Clark, Mrs. A. P. Heath, Mrs. Urania Allen Fobes, Mrs. Sarah Brooks Humphrey, Mrs. Rena Woodworth Leech.

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