“Into the Wilderness”: The Life of Dean, Emancipated Slave and Early Settler of Wellington

1830 Federal Census, Wellington, Ohio,  showing one free woman of color living in the village.

1830 Federal Census, Wellington, Ohio, showing one free woman of color living in the village.

In the fall of 1818, a Dutch family completed the long journey to what is today northeastern Ohio. The Howks had left behind western Massachusetts—and before that, Kinderhook, New York—to start over in what they considered an uninhabited wilderness. The History of Lorain County, Ohio (1879) described their moment of arrival:

One morning the tinkle of a strange cowbell was heard from the direction of the center. Curious to see from what it proceeded, the sound was followed, and an emigrant’s team was found grazing, and the first shanty erected was found occupied, not by strangers, but by friends from their old Massachusetts home, Josiah Bradley and wife, John and Alanson Howk, and their mother, Miss Electa Howk, and [sic] a sister and ‘Dean,’ a female servant, a relic of Massachusetts slavery, who had continued to live with her old mistress after the adoption of the constitution of 1780, and had followed her into the wilderness (pgs. 348-349).

Nearly twenty years after The History of Lorain County was issued, a committee of local women formed to record the life stories of the “founding mothers” of Wellington, for inclusion in a multi-volume regional publication called Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve (1896). They conducted an early sort of oral history project, and solicited contributions both through the newspaper and via correspondence with those no longer living in the village. They, too, described the first settlers of the Howk family, and concluded a passage on one of the Howk daughters by noting, “With her mother came Granny Dean, a colored servant, who after the liberation of the slaves in Massachusetts chose to stay with the family of her old master” (pg. 312).

Who was Dean, this “female servant,” this “relic” of slavery? Her life story—like the stories of so many women, especially women of color—is difficult to trace in the written records of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But we can attempt to conjure an image of what her world was like by looking at the individuals and places she knew: the Howk family, farmers of Berkshire County, products of the Dutch culture on both sides of the New York and Massachusetts border; the black communities struggling in bondage and freedom across that same divide; the backbreaking work of carving a homestead from a forest in what we now call Wellington, Ohio. By studying each of these elements in more detail, we can perhaps hope to form a slightly clearer picture of the enigmatic Dean.

Life in Lee

Isaac Howk was a man of some standing in his eighteenth-century community. His father, Rykert Van Huyck (Anglicized as Richard Howk) had relocated his large family from Kinderhook, New York, thirty miles east over the border to Lee, Massachusetts around 1773, when son Isaac when a teenager. Kinderhook and Lee were each rural towns with Dutch inhabitants, situated on a river that served as a highway for both transportation and commercial exchange.

Richard Howk’s initial land purchase in Lee was some 170 acres in the area called “the Glass works Grant.” His overall holdings eventually grew to more than 1,000 acres, which were later divided amongst his five sons. The road along which Isaac and his brothers built their own homes over time is referred to as “Howk’s Hill” to this day. Period records and multiple later histories of the town make reference to a “large Dutch barn [which] from its conspicuous position on the top of the hill, came to be known far and wide as ‘Howk’s Barracks’” (History of Berkshire County, pgs. 127-128).

Side-by-side comparison showing (L) "County Atlas of Berkshire Massachusetts," J. B. Beers & Co., 1876 (R) GoogleMap of Lee, MA today. The land marked “T. Judd,” today part of a country club fronting West Park Street, was the farm of Isaac Howk’s family, including his slave-turned-servant, Dean.

Side-by-side comparison showing (L) “County Atlas of Berkshire Massachusetts,” J. B. Beers & Co., 1876 (R) GoogleMap of Lee, MA today. The land marked “T. Judd,” today part of a country club fronting West Park Street, was the farm of Isaac Howk’s family, including his slave-turned-servant, Dean.

Isaac Howk’s maternal grandfather, Isaac Van Deusen—“Rich” Isaac, as he was characterized in a family history—had also emigrated from Kinderhook and become scion of one of the largest landowning families in western Massachusetts (History and Genealogy of the Van Deusens…, pg. 8). Perhaps as a means of keeping assets within the family unit, the Dutch community did not look far afield for marriage partners. In 1785, Isaac Howk married his first cousin, Fiche Van Deusen, of the Dutch community in nearby Great Barrington. Two of Isaac’s sisters also married two of Fiche’s brothers.

Most families of the Hudson River Valley, including the Huycks/Howks, were multilingual. “Dutch was the language spoken at home, even though English was the language of government and commerce.” The famous former-slave-turned-abolitionist Sojourner Truth was born into a Dutch household in Ulster County, New York, in 1797 and reportedly spoke English with a Dutch accent for her entire life (One Minute a Free Woman, pg. 37). It is likely that all of Isaac and Fiche Howk’s seven children grew up in Lee speaking both Dutch and English. It is equally likely that Dean was multilingual, but more on that below.

Berkshire County, Massachusetts. From website WorcesterMass.com.

Berkshire County, Massachusetts. From website WorcesterMass.com.

When Isaac Howk died in 1805, at just forty-eight years old, the inventory taken of his possessions gives us some clues as to his family’s financial and social status. There were linen and flannel sheets, pillowcases, coverlets and quilts to warm the six family beds on frigid Berkshire winter nights. A sugar box and three sugar bowls would have been replenished from the twenty-three pounds of sugar the family had on hand. Sugar would have been useful for sweetening tea, which the Howks prepared with two teapots and a set of silver teaspoons. Two looking glasses adorned the walls and at least one candle stand offered light in the evenings. A good deal of food and drink was laid by, including four barrels of meat, six gallons of molasses, two barrels of cider and a keg of methaglin, an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey with water and spices. The inventory even notes the hive of bees that produced the honey. In short, the family lived quite comfortably. This hillside farm, comprised of two barns, a cow house, a wood house, three outhouses and a “dwelling house” set on about one-hundred-and-twenty-five acres of land, encompassed the primary world that Dean inhabited in Lee (Berkshire County Probate Records, Vol. 12, Reel #6, pgs. 387-388).

How did Dean come to be a part of the Howk household? It is difficult to say. Both the Howks of Kinderhook and the Van Deusens of Kinderhook, and later Great Barrington, were slaveholders. Local lore holds that all the family slaves were buried just outside the fence encircling the Van Deusen burial ground in the latter town. Remember that Isaac Howk and his wife, Fiche Van Deusen Howk, shared the same grandfather. “Rich” Isaac Van Deusen had six people of color living in his household in the first federal census taken in 1790. In fact, of the forty-six black inhabitants of Great Barrington in that year, twenty-one were living in independent households, and more than one-third of the rest were living in Van Deusen households. These people were likely emancipated slaves still residing in the homes of their former masters after Massachusetts quietly phased out slavery. (There is some speculation amongst historians as to whether blacks were still being held as slaves in isolated cases, but were recorded in the 1790 census as being free regardless.)

1790 Federal Census of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, showing “Rich” Isaac Van Deusen and the six non-white inhabitants of his household. Above him is listed his son, John Van Deusen (father of Fiche Van Deusen Howk, father-in-law—and uncle—of Isaac Howk) with one non-white household inhabitant. John Burghardt, listed below, was also a relative by marriage.

1790 Federal Census of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, showing “Rich” Isaac Van Deusen and the six non-white inhabitants of his household. Above him is listed his son, John Van Deusen (father of Fiche Van Deusen Howk, father-in-law—and uncle—of Isaac Howk) with one non-white household inhabitant. John Burghardt, listed below, was also a relative by marriage.

It is possible that Isaac Van Deusen “gave” Dean to his grandson Isaac Howk, or to his granddaughter, Fiche Van Deusen Howk. Note that the two Ohio histories with which I opened this piece tell different stories; one says that Dean “continued to live with her old mistress,” while the other claims that Dean “chose to stay with the family of her old master.” In the absence of a will or other legal document explicitly transferring ownership, we can only speculate. There is another more remote, but nonetheless intriguing, possibility with which I will begin Part Two.

Odds and Sods

The 1942 Wellington School Board; Winfield McConnell is seated at far left of frame. "The Wellington Hi-Times" (high school yearbook), 1942.

The 1942 Wellington Board of Education. Winfield McConnell is seated at far left of frame. According to his obituary, Mr. McConnell served on the board for sixteen years. “The Wellington Hi-Times” (high school yearbook), 1942.

“Odds and sods” is a my new favorite phrase. It’s the British equivalent of “odds and ends,” but somehow I find it so much more enjoyable to say. It seemed an appropriate title for this post, which is a bit of a catch-all of brief updates and a few quick announcements.

First, I wanted to write more about something I touched on in a post from early November. I noted that there is another house west of the village that is very similar to our 1917 bungalow on South Main Street, built by Fergus and Julia Camp. In trying to determine if there was a connection between the two properties, and whether they were both kit houses, I spent a lot of time this winter looking at catalogs from early twentieth-century mail-order house companies. Sears, Roebuck is the best known, but other such businesses included Aladdin, Wardway (the Montgomery Ward kit house division), Harris Brothers, and Gordon-Van Tine. You can find contemporary reprints of some of the more famous catalogs available for purchase or though library collections; digitized editions are harder to find, with the notable exception of the Aladdin Company. Nearly fifty years’ worth of its catalogs have been scanned and are freely available through the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.

I then reached out to three separate experts on kit houses in this region of the country. All three independently asserted that they did not believe the houses in question to be built from kits. And though certain isolated architectural elements of the bungalows are similar to items that could be purchased through house catalogs, I was told that was likely because these companies were intentionally modeling their products after the most popular and fashionable home-building trends of the era.

Interior view of leaded glass windows. 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Interior view of leaded glass windows. 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Detail from a reprinted edition of the 1910 Sears, Roebuck Catalog, pg. 51. Leaded glass windows could be purchased for a kit home for just $1.45 per foot. Photo by author.

Detail from reprinted edition of the 1910 Sears, Roebuck Catalog, pg. 51. Leaded glass windows could be purchased for a kit home for just $1.45 per square foot. Photo by author.

In the hopes of learning something more concrete about the bungalow west of Wellington, I manually went through more than two years of The Wellington Enterprise looking for any mention of its construction, or a connection between Fergus Camp and Winfield McConnell. I found only this: “Winfield McConnell is building a new bungalow on his farm northwest of town” (10-20-1925, pg. 5). I discovered nothing further on the status of the construction, nor any announcement of the house being finished. And that is where the matter rests, at least for now.

On to a few quick project updates and announcements: the Wellington Genealogy Group has recently completed the digitization of the Wellington Council Journals and Ordinance Records dating from incorporation of the village in 1855 through 1925. This was a significant undertaking that captured more than 3,300 oversized ledger pages of text. We are currently determining the best method for making all the information publicly available.

I am very close to completing an issue-by-issue inventory of every extant edition of The Wellington Enterprise published in the nineteenth century. I have been recording information on the publishers, subscription prices, printing locations, and title and formatting changes over time. It has been fascinating and I will be providing a copy of the final product to the Herrick Memorial Library should anyone be interested in working with it. The library has asked me to help them inventory and prepare a preservation plan for some historic, non-circulating materials within their collections later this spring. The Spirit of ’76 Museum has asked me to assist them in the spring as well, with an inventory and preservation project to rehouse their nineteenth-century newspaper collection.

Finally, I want to make everyone aware of two special upcoming exhibits. Members of the Wellington Genealogy Group are finalizing displays in honor of both Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March) that will be shown at the Herrick Memorial Library. We will also be showcasing some of the content on the group’s Facebook page, so if you enjoy reading this blog and you enjoy Wellington history, please consider “liking” that group. This year, for the first time, I have selected special topics for the blog to coincide with the upcoming history months. I think it is fair to say that I have never done as much research for a single post as I have for my next one. I am very excited to share it with all of you and hope to have it up by early February.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please click the “Leave a reply” option under any post title.

“A Rare Chance for the Girls”

I have been doing a great deal of research into the earliest settlers in Wellington of late, which by necessity leads me back to Massachusetts in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I happened to run across the following letter to the editor, which was purportedly first directed to the Newburyport [MA] Herald in 1836. It then “went viral” and was republished in multiple other newspapers, including the Barre [MA] Gazette and the Newark [NJ] Daily Advertiser.

Letter from Luther W. Day of Wellington, Ohio published in the "Barre [MA] Gazette," 2-12-1836, pg. 4.

Letter allegedly from Luther W. Day of Wellington, Ohio published in the “Barre [MA] Gazette,” 2-12-1836, pg. 4.

Was Luther Day a real person? An (admittedly cursory) examination did not turn up any evidence of him in the 1830 or 1840 Wellington censuses. In 1830, Day would supposedly have been just sixteen years old. The census that year listed only the name of the male head of household; no one named Day is included, but it is theoretically possible that the teenager could have been living in another man’s home. By 1840, four years had passed since the letter was published. Day could have relocated, or died. He does not appear in the extant burial records of Wellington’s Pioneer Cemetery, nor those of Greenwood Cemetery.

Assuming for a moment that he was not the creation of an imaginative eastern newspaper editor, I love the idea that Day was living in rural Ohio, reading a Kentucky newspaper, and apparently saw a reprinted article from a Massachusetts periodical that inspired him to begin a quest for a mail-order bride. Also fascinating is his assertion that “there are no girls in this place.” Did Luther have any inkling of how widely published his earnest entreaty became? Did it lead to his finding “a good girl, not over 25 years of age” to marry? It seems unlikely, but I hope for his sake that it did.

UPDATE: I have been unable to locate anyone called Day in the Wellington corporation tax records for the years 1834, 1835 or 1836. I went so far as to spot check the surrounding communities. John Day of Pittsfield paid taxes on three head of cattle in 1836, but apparently owned no land. Someone who seems to be called Lucy Day owned more than 1,800 acres in Penfield. I found no Luther W., from Huntington to Camden to Brighton to Rochester. I think Farmer Day may be an amusing hoax.

Kykuit

Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate in New York's Hudson River Valley. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate in New York’s Hudson River Valley. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Kykuit, the Rockefeller family estate in New York, is a National Historic Landmark. Since 1994, it has been open to the public under the auspices of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Thousands of visitors tour its impressive buildings and spectacular grounds every year. It also has a little-known connection to Wellington, Ohio.

Collier Van Buren Hemenway was born in New London in 1837. He moved to Wellington when he was forty years old, and lived in the village for nearly two decades. Hemenway was a brick maker by trade, and a highly successful one at that. He invented a piece of equipment that he called the Quaker Brick Machine, which sold across the United States. At least one found its way to Canada, and is featured in the image below.

Iron Quaker Brick Machine, purchased by the Pittman Brickyard in Newfoundland, Canada. Image from "History of Brick Making and Brickyards in the Area."

Iron Quaker Brick Machine, purchased by the Pittman Brickyard in Newfoundland, Canada. Image from “History of Brick Making and Brickyards in the Area.”

I was familiar with Hemenway’s name because in early 1881, he sold his brick yard to Noah Huckins. I assumed that selling the brick yard must indicate Hemenway was ending his business. What I did not understand was that brick yard sites were selected for their natural resources, which were then consumed over time by the operation. “Mr. C. V. Hemenway having exhausted the clay on his brick yard has purchased of Dr. Johns six acres of land, north of Liberty St. fronting on a street running north from Mill St. west to east line owned by J. S. Case,” The Wellington Enterprise reported in November of that same year. The new land must have been very rich in clay, because the brick yard was still located there in 1896, when the map of Wellington shown below was published.

Detail of Wellington Village map showing the location of the Hemenway brick yard and surrounding Hemenway "additions" of land. The family lived on the southeast corner of Liberty and Mill Streets, just across from the brick yard. From "Atlas and Directory of Lorain County, Ohio. Illustrated. 1896." Pgs. 100-101. Photo by author.

Detail of Wellington Village map showing the location of the Hemenway brick yard and surrounding Hemenway “additions” of land. The family lived on the southeast corner of West Main (first called Liberty Street, now called West Herrick Avenue) and Mill Streets, just across from the brick yard. From “Atlas and Directory of Lorain County, Ohio. Illustrated. 1896.” Pgs. 100-101. Photo by author.

The business eventually added tile manufacturing to its brick production, and at peak demand times C. V. Hemenway & Co. reportedly employed as many as sixty workers, a large number considering Wellington’s size. In addition to owning a number of buildings on North Main Street and developing several “additions” of land to the village, Hemenway also served on the town council for four terms.

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, business seemed to be booming. Frequent notices were printed in the Enterprise of this flavor: “C. V. Hemenway, manufacturer of brick and tile, has an increased force and increased facilities over previous seasons as he expects to manufacture half a million more brick than ever before in the same length of time” (4-3-1889, pg. 5). Or this: “C. V. Hemenway informs us that he has sold more brick to be consumed in this place within the past three months than he has within the past four years” (11-27-1889, pg. 5). Hemenway tiles were used at the American House and Hemenway bricks built the Horr, Warner & Co. cold storage warehouse.

In 1896, however, a far better opportunity presented itself. Collier Hemenway was offered a job by the richest man in the world. John D. Rockefeller lived nearby in Cleveland–as did a significant percentage of all the world’s millionaires at the time–but his work increasingly drew him to New York. In 1893, Rockefeller had purchased nine contiguous properties on top of Kykuit Hill, overlooking the Hudson River. Kykuit (the historic site uses the pronunciation KY-coot) was an old Dutch name meaning “look out,” due to its commanding views some four hundred feet above the river. Rockefeller wanted to erect a house on the highest point, but the area was described as “a rocky crag–wild, beautiful, and utterly unsuitable for building on” (Kykuit, Ann Rockefeller Roberts, pg. 11). He needed as estate manager.

View of Kykuit grounds today with the Hudson River in the far background. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

View of Kykuit grounds today with the Hudson River in the far background. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

How Rockefeller and Hemenway met, I do not know. The oil magnate was famous for his love of what we would today call “home improvement” and Hemenway was a well-known brick and tile maker in the region, so perhaps the two had collaborated on a project at Rockefeller’s Euclid Avenue mansion. However they met, Rockefeller offered Hemenway the position, and his offer was accepted. In April 1896, Collier and his wife Orlina, together with their youngest daughter Mabel, relocated to Tarrytown, New York. “Mr. Hemenway has been employed by John D. Rockefeller to superintend an estate of over a thousand acres of land which he has recently purchased and which he is fitting up at a great expense for a family home” (Enterprise, 4-29-1896, pg. 5).

Work was soon underway. The Tarrytown Argus reported by December of that year that Kykuit’s “summit and slopes [are] alive with men and teams busy in the work of grading and preparation of the site and immediate surroundings, altogether about one hundred acres, which is to be laid out in a landscape of surpassing beauty. Over one hundred men and upwards of fifty teams are now so employed there, the former entirely of American citizens, residents of this vicinity being given the preference” (reprinted in the Enterprise, 12-23-1896, pg. 5). It is interesting that the article should focus on the ethnicity of the workers as being “American citizens,” since by the time Hemenway retired from the superintendent role in 1907, a local paper called The Sun noted that the estate employed some two hundred men, “mostly Italians,” on a campus that had grown by that time to several thousand acres (4-7-1907, pg. 1).

When Collier V. Hemenway died in 1909, at age 72, his obituary highlighted his responsibilities at Kykuit. “[H]e had charge of all the improvements recently made. He planned and built a great many of the roads, put in the new water system, built the lakes and moved all the trees…He was highly regarded by Mr. Rockefeller who admired his ability and trusted his judgment” (Tarrytown Argus, reprinted in the Enterprise, 6-23-1909, pg. 3). The New York Tribune reported on Hemenway’s funeral, principally the fact that the Rockefellers personally attended. The family was not only present in the Hemenway home for the service, but also went to nearby Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to witness the interment. The article noted how “deeply affected” John D. Rockefeller appeared to be. “[T]ears were in his eyes all during the services. At the cemetery he remained to the last and helped to place flowers on the grave” (6-14-1909, pg. 3). As a mark of respect to their former estate manager, three hundred workers from Kykuit were said to have attended the burial.

Headstone of Collier Van Buren Hemenway at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York. Image from website "Find a Grave.com."

Headstone of Collier Van Buren Hemenway at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York. Image from website “Find a Grave.com.”

John D. Rockefeller was so notoriously detail-oriented and so intimately involved in planning the construction of the “Big House,” as the family called it, that Kykuit was not finished until 1908. Even then the billionaire was not satisfied, and immediately commenced on a series of renovations that left the house with a completely different facade. That work did not end until 1913. Collier Hemenway never saw the mansion as any member of the public may see it today. Many publications that discuss the history of Kykuit do not even bother to cover the period before construction of the house began, so Hemenway’s name is often omitted, despite his eleven years superintending the grounds of the estate. A single tribute remains. In 1914, the Rockefellers added three lakes to the property to help meet the increasing water needs of estate residents. They called them Hemenway Lakes.

The Day Long Anticipated

 

January 30, 1893 portrait of the choir of Wellington's First Methodist Church. Photo 970567 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

January 30, 1893 portrait of the choir* of Wellington’s First Methodist Church. Photo 970567 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

CHRISTMAS. Making that Sacred Day One of Giving for Everyone. The day long anticipated came tardily enough to little children waiting for luminous Christmas trees or stockings to be filled mysteriously at chimney corners. To those whose heads must plan and hands must execute the day approached with hurrying haste. And it now is all over; processions of children filing into decorated Sunday-school rooms, chanting of hymns in illuminated churches, with the joyous peal and clang calling from belfry and tower; voluntaries sweet, solemn and grand; the gladness of its giving and the happiness of its receiving, all commemorating anew the birth of the child at Bethlehem. Echoing through the centuries, rings the chorus of the angelic hosts, and believers in all nations have caught the glad refrain: ‘Glory to God in the highest! peace on earth, good will toward men.’ God grant that the fresh impulse of love and good will, inspired by the event of Christmas, may not fade and wither, like the holly and evergreen around the pulpit and altar…”

So wrote Mary Hayes Houghton, former co-editor of The Wellington Enterprise, on Christmas Day, 1895. Mrs. Houghton was a noted journalist in her own right, a woman of deep religious faith, and a beautifully accomplished and moving writer. I could find no better words to wish you all a joyous holiday season.

Mary Hayes Houghton (1837-1921). Co-editor of "The Wellington Enterprise" for nine years, though even her husband acknowledged, "She contributed the larger share of copy."

Mary Hayes Houghton (1837-1921). Co-editor of “The Wellington Enterprise” for nine years, though even her husband acknowledged, “She contributed the larger share of copy.”

*Two copies of this image are included in the Herrick Memorial Library’s “Wellington Family Album,” with differing sets of identifying information. I offer each below in its entirety, in case one of these individuals is a member of your family.

(970567) “On the left in the photo foreground is M. W. Franks, choir director and on the right is Rev. E. Hagerman, pastor from 1892-1896. The men are seated on either side of the church pulpit. The choir is identified as: Front row: Grace Roedel, Edith Wickenden, Ann Lessott, Angie Metzger, Miriam Dirlam, Mary Nichols, Emma Lessott, Minnie Cleghorn, sopranos; May Blackburn, Millie Lessot, Bertha Cushion, Hattie West, Eda Zempher, May Pierce. Second row men: Bass: Arthur French, Hugh Allyn, Albert Peirce, Everett Barrick, Father Lissot, Gene McEntere, Peter Eidt, Mr. Cook, Herbert Durand, Will Zempher, Don Stroup, Walter Cole, Don Cushion. Orchestra: Chas. Furz, bass cornet, Gene Cushion, Carl Metzger, Clare Harvey, Win Franks, leader.”

(970470) “Seated in front, William Franks, choir director and Reverend Haggerman, minister. First row; Grace Roedel, Edith Pierce, Ann Tissot, Angie Metzger, Mayme Franks, Millie Tissot, Bea Howk Cushing, Hattie West, Eva Zimpher, Unknowns, May Pierce. Second row; Unknown, Hugh Allen, Albert Pierce, Lyman Barrick, Mr. Tissott, Mr. McIntyre, Pete Eidt, Mr. Cook, Herb Durand, Unknown, Unknown, Don Cushion, George Howk. Third row, orchestra; Charley Furze, Charlie Linder, Eugene Cushing, Claire Metzger, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown. Organist, Louella Hopkins.”

Here Comes Santa Claus

"A Joyous Christmas." Undated holiday card. From the website CardCow.com.

“A Joyous Christmas.” Undated holiday card. From the website CardCow.

I have nearly finished my issue-by-issue indexing of all the extant nineteenth-century editions of The Wellington Enterprise. This morning I ran across this charming little notice, nestled in amongst the regular community news items:

“Santa Claus has sent his reindeers into the country to be looked after, this winter, and will use a bicycle, this time, to deliver his presents. This indicates that even Santa is willing to adopt the improvements made” (12-5-1894, pg. 5).

Happy holidays, dear readers! I am presently working on a list of topics to research and write about in the new year. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. Just click on, “Leave a reply,” at the top of any post. Looking forward to hearing from you all!

Memento Mori

Memorial card. "IN MEMORY OF Mrs. A. W. Scranton, Who died at her home in Wellington, Ohio, Tuesday, the 15th day of December, 1885, AGED 50 YEARS." Author's collection.

Memorial card. “IN MEMORY OF Mrs. A. W. Scranton, Who died at her home in Wellington, Ohio, Tuesday, the 15th day of December, 1885, AGED 50 YEARS.” Author’s collection.

I love the idea of every object being the gateway to a story. At first glance, this small card is unassuming in every way. It is small, just three by five inches. The paper is not very sturdy, the edges having darkened and creased with age. The verso is blank. The black borders convey, perhaps even before one’s eyes reach the text, that this is a memorial card, a remembrance distributed to friends and family members after the passing of a loved one. This ephemeral article is a tangible reminder of a Wellington woman who died nearly thirteen decades ago.

Who was she? The card tells us only that she was the wife of a man called A. W. Scranton. I have found her recorded as Terissia (1880 federal census); Teressee (marriage record); Terressee (family genealogy); Terisa (obituary); and Terissa (nearly illegible headstone). I believe if she were alive today, she would most likely sign her given name, “Theresa.”

She must have been born in 1835, since she died at aged 50. The federal census of 1880 listed her age at the time as 45, and her place of birth as New York. Abel W. Scranton must have been at least her second husband, and the census household enumeration included a nineteen-year-old girl called Jennie Gardner, named as Abel’s stepdaughter. Jennie would have been born around 1861, when her mother was twenty-six. If Terissa Gardner Scranton had other husbands or other children, their names have not yet come down to us.

Terissa had married Abel in Lucas, Ohio on November 16, 1873. According to corporation tax records and a few newspaper notices, the Scrantons lived on a farm about a mile north of Wellington, on the west side of the main road to Oberlin, today called State Route 58. Two months after Terissa died, Abel held a public sale of “one mare, one pony, one Jersey Heifer, two wagons, double carriage, phaeton, double harness, Norwalk tanning mill, corn sheller, reaper and mower and other articles too numerous to mention” (The Wellington Enterprise, 2-17-1886, pg. 4). A few weeks later, he sold his farm to S. K. Laundon and moved to a property on Magyar Street formerly occupied by Caroline Wales Woodworth, longtime owner of the American House hotel.

I have been able to discover very little else about Terissa’s life. An unpublished Scranton family genealogy records that Abel had three wives and a child out of wedlock by a fourth woman (perhaps a contributing factor to his first marriage ending in divorce in 1866). His third wife was a widow named Eliza Kester from Chicago; the couple was married at her home in that city and Abel Scranton relocated there for some period of time, before returning to Ohio. He died in Dover in 1905 but his remains were carried to Wellington for burial next to Terissa.

Headstones of Abel W. and Terissa Scranton at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstones of Abel W. and Terissa Scranton at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Terissa’s daughter, Jennie Gardner, had an even briefer life than that of her mother. Jennie apparently continued to live with her stepfather in his new house on Magyar Street, until she moved to Cleveland and married Dr. Clinton E. Leland in 1888. (She visited Wellington frequently after her marriage and was often noted as being a guest of her friends, Peter and Minnie Eidt.) The Lelands had one child, a boy who lived only three days. Clinton died after just three years of marriage, aged thirty-five. Jennie then moved to Chicago, at the same time that Abel Scranton moved there, and remarried a man called Rotter. She died in 1895 at thirty-four years of age, and is buried with her first husband and infant son at Riverside Cemetery, in Cleveland, Ohio.

But what of Terissa? I’ve spent weeks trying to learn more about her. We have no known copies of the Enterprise from the period of her death. I have tried to determine her maiden name, in order to trace other census or marriage records, but to no avail. It began to feel as though the tiny card might truly be all that was left of her. Then I stumbled on a citation for an obituary that was printed in the New London Record. In the basement of the New London Public Library, I found this:

In Memoriam. Mrs. Terisa, wife of Mr. A. W. Scranton, died at her home in Wellington, Ohio, Dec. 15th, 1885, in the fiftieth year of her age. Her illness was occasioned by dropsy, resulting in blood poisoning. During the five months continuance of her fatal sickness she suffered severely. But she endured her distress with patience, not a murmur or complaint passed her lips. She possessed the affectionate esteem of the numerous friends with whom she became connected by marriage, and was beloved by her neighbors and associates. She was buried from the family residence on Thursday, Dec. 17th, the funeral services being conducted by the Rev. Mr. Brown of the Methodist Episcopal church” (12-23-1885, pg. 3).

Dropsy is today known as edema, a swelling of the soft tissues caused by an accumulation of excess water within the body. It is often related to congestive heart failure, but can also be caused by a severe sepsis of the blood (i.e. blood poisoning caused by an infection). In a pulmonary edema, the lungs begin to fill with fluid causing extreme difficulty breathing. If the fluids are not removed, the patient can literally drown in her own bed. Prolonged as Terissa’s sickness was, it would have been a highly unpleasant way to die.

Notice on the illness of Mrs. Abel Scranton. "The Elyria Republican," 9-17-1885, pg. 1.

Notice of the illness of Mrs. Abel Scranton. “The Elyria Republican,” 9-17-1885, pg. 1.

To which of her “numerous friends…neighbors and associates” was this little memorial card given after the funeral? How did it come to survive for more than a century? I’ll never know the answers to those questions. Regardless, the card has done its job beautifully. It inspired me–and through me, all of you–to once again honor the memory of Terissa Gardner Scranton.