Bíonn Siúlach Scéalach

 

Ireland and its counties. Bridget O'Neil Hackett was from County Derry; Mary Callely Sweeney hailed from County Sligo. Map created by Irish-Genealogy-Toolkit.com.

Ireland and its counties. Bridget O’Neil Hackett was from County Derry; Mary Callely Sweeney hailed from County Sligo. Map created by Irish-Genealogy-Toolkit.com.

Wellington has always been a community of immigrants. A substantial portion of its nineteenth-century population–perhaps as many as one or two out of every ten residents–was born outside of the United States. I have noted before that one of my favorite things about writing this blog is the opportunity to recover stories that have otherwise been lost to the public at large. I recently ran across the following two obituaries in quick succession. I was struck by the commonalities between these two women: both born in Ireland, but dying in faraway Ohio; both spending four decades of their lives in rural Wellington; both passing away in the same year and each receiving front-page newspaper attention to her death; and both choosing to be buried, not in Wellington’s Greenwood Cemetery, but in “the Catholic cemetery” (today called Holy Cross Cemetery) in New London, Ohio. In honor of Women’s History Month and St. Patrick’s Day, I offer these brief remembrances of Bridget O’Neil Hackett and Mary Callely Sweeney.

Headstone of Bridget O'Neil Hackett at Holy Cross Cemetery, New London, Ohio. Image from website "Find a Grave.com."

Headstone of Bridget O’Neil Hackett at Holy Cross Cemetery, New London, Ohio. Image from website Findagrave.com.

MRS. EDWARD HACKETT DEAD. She Had Lived in Wellington Nearly Forty-five Years. Mrs. Edward Hackett, an old resident of Wellington, died at her home on Union street, this city, Wednesday noon of catarrhal pneumonia, aged 76. Bridget O’Neil was born in County Derry, Ireland, 76 years ago. At the age of 18 she, with a younger brother, emigrated to Canada. She was married to Edward Hackett May 24, 1849. They moved to the United States, living in Buffalo, Cleveland, Oberlin and finally settled in Wellington in the year 1857. She was one of those brave women, who, while her husband was at the front fighting for his adopted country, fought the battles at home. She possessed that strong Christian faith and courage, so rarely seen nowadays, which never left her to her dying moment. She was the mother of ten children, three of whom survive. She departed this earthly life Feb. 20, 1901. Funeral services were held at St. Patrick’s church Feb. 22, Father L. Plumanns officiating. The burial took place at the Catholic cemetery, New London” (The Wellington Enterprise, 2-27-1901, pg. 1).

Headstone of Mary Callely Sweeney at Holy Cross Cemetery, New London, Ohio. Image from website "Find a Grave.com."

Headstone of Mary Callely Sweeney at Holy Cross Cemetery, New London, Ohio. Image from website Findagrave.com.

Mrs. Martin Sweeney. Died, of consumption, at her home on Maygar street, June 12, 1901, Mary Callely, wife of Martin Sweeney. She was born in [the] county of Sligo, Ireland, March 20th, 1833. Mr. and Mrs. Sweeney came to America in 1865, and after a few months in New London they settled in Wellington, very near the site of the present family home. Of eight children, seven survive and visited their mother in her sickness or ministered to her in the last months of her life. She was confined to her bed since January, and in the last three weeks paralysis produced loss of speech but not of consciousness. She was of reticent habit and cheerful disposition, not given to harshness, censure or complaint. These qualities of the Christian mother which had enabled her to do her part in making her home happy, were manifest in the hopeful, patient spirit with which she bore weakness and suffering. Her sufficient and best monument is the character of her children, who truly ‘rise up and call her blessed.’ The funeral was held from St. Patrick’s church June 15th and the interment was at New London” (The Wellington Enterprise, 6-19-1901, pg. 1).

The title of this post is a Irish proverb meaning, “Travellers have tales to tell.”

Death of a Stranger

Cleveland Daily Leader, 2-27-1866, pg. 4.

Cleveland Daily Leader, 2-27-1866, pg. 4.

There once was a girl called Lepha. She was born into a farming family in a small, rural settlement in western Massachusetts. Like every other human being, she must have had hopes, dreams, and wishes for her future. I can tell you nothing about these. Sadly, the event that I can tell you about in the most detail is Lepha’s tragic death. I could tell you a great deal, too, about the man whose actions ended her life, his family history, his accomplishments in the thirty years that he went on to enjoy, years she did not have. But I am not going to do that. This is Lepha’s story, and out of respect for her, that is where my focus will remain.

Lepha Irene Sherman entered the world in 1843. She was born to Kelley and Susan Sherman, farmers in the tiny northern Berkshire County community of Florida, Massachusetts. Lepha appears to have been the youngest of eight children. The details of her early life are lost to us. Like another woman I once wrote about, even her name has not come down to us clearly. She appeared in birth, marriage and census records as: Leafy, Liefa, Leapha and Lepha. After her life was cut short, she appeared in print as Sepha, Aletha and Alepha; one paper claimed that she was “familiarly called LENA” (Elyria Democrat, 1-10-1866, pg. 2).

Massachusetts conducted a state census every decade on the five-year mark, i. e. between federal census decades. We can therefore see that sometime between 1850 and 1855, Lepha’s uncle and paternal aunt, William Towner and Phebe L. Sherman Houghton, moved from Pownal, Vermont to Florida, Massachusetts. They took up residence very close, possibly next door, to the Sherman family. They brought two sons. The eldest, Isaac, was five years older than his cousin, Lepha. By the Fourth of July, 1861, Isaac and Lepha were married. She had just turned eighteen.

Massachusetts, Birth Records, 1840-1915; Town of Clarksburg, 1862, pg. 38.

October 10, 1862 entry recording the birth of Carlton L. Houghton to Isaac R. and Lepha I. Houghton, nee Sherman. Massachusetts, Birth Records, 1840-1915; Town of Clarksburg, 1862, pg. 38.

Fifteen months later, Carlton L. Houghton was born. The baby survived only ten months. The Pittsfield Sun reported that the death of the “son of Isaac Houghton” occurred August 20th, 1863. In the documentation bookending his boy’s brief existence, Isaac was identified as both a farmer and carpenter. (In 1855, there were fourteen saw mills in Florida, a good option for employment during the off-season.) I can find no record of Isaac serving in the Civil War, though The History of Berkshire County, Volume One noted that forty-five local men served and of those, eleven did not come back (pg. 700).

By the 1865 Massachusetts census, both Lepha and Isaac disappear from the rolls. Their respective families continued to farm side-by-side in Florida, but I can find no mention of either of them in all of Berkshire County. According to testimony offered after Lepha’s death, she relocated to Ohio early that year “for the purpose of procuring a divorce from her husband” (Elyria Democrat, 1-10-1866, pg. 2). If this statement is accurate, it obviously suggests that Isaac remained alive. But I can locate no further trace of him in the historical record.

Why did Lepha leave her husband? It is impossible to say. We can conjecture about her youth–she was barely twenty-two–and whether she had ever wanted to be married to her first cousin. Perhaps she did not wish to be a farmer’s wife. Her choice of comparatively urban Wellington as a new home is an interesting one. I was very curious to learn how she came to settle so far from her birthplace. Regular readers of the blog will no doubt be thinking of the many other families who emigrated from Berkshire to Lorain County. Given that Lepha’s married name was Houghton, I initially suspected she was related to the Houghtons of Wellington. But research revealed what I believe to be the more likely scenario, namely familial networks on her mother’s side.

Two clues survive in the testimony offered after Lepha’s death. Elyria papers reported that her body was taken to New London “by a relative” for interment. The Cleveland Daily Leader wrote, “The evidence given by Charles Hannenway, cousin of deceased, revealed no new facts” (2-27-1866, pg. 4). I could find no evidence of such a person as Charles Hannenway. It then struck me that the name in the testimony was reminiscent of ‘Hemenway,’ a family I have written about before. The Hemenways came from New London, and one of brothers was, in fact, called Charles. Further digging revealed that they originally emigrated from Berkshire County and at least two of the Hemenway siblings were born in Florida. Lepha’s mother’s maiden name is recorded in her marriage documents as “Hemingway.” Susan Hemenway Sherman died in October 1863, just weeks after her infant grandson, Carlton. Perhaps the loss of both her mother and child drove Lepha to leave Massachusetts behind and start over in Ohio with help from her maternal cousins.

Advertisement for Levi Bowman's clothing shop, still in operation nearly twenty years after Lepha Sherman Houghton's death. "The Wellington Enterprise," 5-21-1884, pg. 4.

Advertisement for Levi Bowman’s clothing shop, still in operation nearly two decades after Lepha Sherman Houghton’s death. “The Wellington Enterprise,” 5-21-1884, pg. 4.

Lepha boarded in Wellington and “ran a sewing machine” in Levi Bowman’s clothing shop. She lived in the village for a year, as the Civil War drew to a close. Did she attend the memorial service when President Lincoln was assassinated in April? Did she get up in the middle of the night to watch his funeral train pass by the depot in a driving rain? Did she stroll through the fairgrounds with friends that September? We have no way of knowing. The obliquest of mentions appeared in the Lorain County News, in a description of her workplace: “A look through the clothing establishment of L. Bowman, of this place, will satisfy any one that some things can be done in Wellington, as well as others. Mr. B. is manufacturing all his own clothing, and at the present time giving employment to four men and eight or ten women. He has a very large stock of clothes and gentlemen’s furnishing goods, which will be sold as low as similar goods can be bought in the state. Give him a call, and satisfy yourselves” (8-30-1865, pg. 3).

Among those “four men and eight or ten women” employed at Bowman’s were both Lepha and A. J. Brown. He is referred to as “Asa” and “Andrew” Brown in later reports, while the Lorain County News dismissed him as “one ‘Jack’ Brown” (1-10-1866, pg. 3). Jack was allegedly separated from his own wife by 1865. In examining the 1860 federal census for Wellington, I found three J. Browns. Two were named John, a thirty-eight-year-old unmarried shoemaker and a forty-six-year-old laborer with a wife and five children. The third man, Jackson Brown of New York, was a twenty-four-year-old tailor with a young wife (Marion, 22) and small daughter (Emma, 3). His name, age and profession lead me to believe that he is the person at the center of the calamity that followed.

1860 Federal Census for Wellington, Ohio showing Jackson Brown, tailor, and his family. Pg. 102, family #794.

1860 federal census for Wellington, Ohio showing Jackson Brown, tailor, and his dependents. Pg. 102, #794.

The two co-workers began a relationship and by early winter, Lepha was pregnant. Was the affair secret? The woman with whom Lepha boarded, Mrs. Amelia R. Herrick, claimed that she knew Lepha was expecting as she “had had morning sickness and had symptoms of approaching maternity” (Cleveland Daily Leader, 2-27-1866, pg. 4). As a side-note, I have been unable to find Amelia R. Herrick in Wellington records. There was an unmarried educator in town named Armenia Herrick; she was sister to Charlotte Herrick Howk. In 1860, Armenia was sixty years old and fostering a nine-year-old niece. By 1870, she had moved in with another sister and nieces–five unmarried women in a single household. Widely respected in the community, Herrick was the subject of a lengthy 1879 obituary in The Wellington Enterprise by co-editor Mary Hayes Houghton; not surprisingly, it says nothing about Armenia keeping boarders, nor hints at any connection to the 1866 scandal.

Trial documents tell the rest of the story. Jack approached Mary Mason, who resided in Wellington more-or-less continuously from 1853 until her death in 1903, but had moved for a brief period to Elyria that September. She later testified that she had known Lepha for nearly a year prior to the latter’s death. Did the girl send her lover to Mrs. Mason to ask for help or did he know, and apparently trust, Mrs. Mason on his own? There is a vague reference in the court transcript which suggests that Mary Mason had visited the same doctor on several previous occasions; it may be that she was known as an individual who would discreetly assist women “in trouble.” Regardless, it was eventually arranged that Mrs. Mason would meet Lepha in Cleveland after Christmas and escort her to a clandestine, illegal abortion.

On December 30th, the two women went to the office of “Doctor” Hosea W. Libbey. I will spare you, dear reader, the gruesome details included in the subsequent indictment. Suffice to say that Libbey had no degree nor formal medical training of any kind, and was a charlatan even by the standards of his own century. The injuries he inflicted on Lepha in a locked office, away from Mary Mason’s eyes, led to the younger woman suffering severe internal hemorrhaging on the return train to Elyria. Mary brought Lepha to her house, where the girl was put to bed and never recovered. She died on January 4th, 1866. As mentioned, her body was taken to New London for interment. I have not been able to locate her grave, but I suspect she is resting among her Hemenway relations in the Grove Street Cemetery.

Ironically, the only person for whom this story’s ending is clear is the one who encountered Lepha Sherman Houghton for just ten minutes of her entire life. Jack Brown, father of the child, and Mary Mason, the woman who risked her own reputation to help, were both arrested for their complicity in the crime. I do not know anything further about Jack Brown’s fate; if I am correct in believing him to be “Jackson Brown” from the 1860 federal census, I also know nothing of what happened to the spurned Marion Brown or their daughter, Emma. Mary Mason continued on in Wellington until her death in 1903 and is buried with her husband in Greenwood Cemetery. What impact the scandal had on her interactions with her neighbors, we can only guess. (It is interesting to note that all mentions of the trial featured in the Lorain County News were submitted by the Elyria correspondent; not a single line was ever printed in the Wellington column, as if the village were trying to disavow any association with the shameful episode.) Hosea W. Libbey, just thirty-two years old at the time, was tried and convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years of hard labor; later documents show he served six weeks of that sentence before being released by the Pardon Board. He went right back to medicine. Though he periodically resurfaced in newspaper accounts of lawsuits, arrests for theft, and even the auction of his home and goods to settle debts, he continued with what seem to have been profitable practices in Cleveland and Boston. He secured patents and produced several publications. When he died in 1900, it was covered in both Ohio and Massachusetts newspapers; no allusion was made to his manslaughter conviction.

Hosea Wait Libbey (1834-1900). From "The Libby Family in America, 1602-1881," B. Thurston & Co: Portland, ME (1882), opposite pg. 254.

Hosea Wait Libbey (1834-1900). From “The Libby Family in America, 1602-1881,” B. Thurston & Co: Portland, ME (1882), opposite pg. 254.

How unjust that we should have a portrait of Libbey, but not of Lepha. She was “of attractive form and features, and…deported herself in a manner that indicated a good character and industrious habits,” we are told. Her landlady, even after Lepha’s public disgrace, characterized her as “steady, industrious, healthy, robust.” Whatever her sins, if sins they were, surely she did not deserve the excruciating, isolated death she received, surrounded only by acquaintances terrified that her end meant the beginning of their legal troubles. It is unclear whether even Jack was present when she passed. An editorial decried “the almost inhuman neglect of her body after life was extinct,” and indeed, we can only speculate as to where her body ended its journey.

That editorial, in the Elyria Democrat, delivered this scathing summation of the affair: “In all such cases, when woman yields to the more powerful influences of men, there is abundant cause for the exercise of two eminent virtues–pity, and contempt. Pity for the weaker and fallen one, and loathing and contempt for him who compassed her ruin by artful wiles, and then with cowardly instinct, seeks to hide his own shame by urging his victim to pursue a course that puts her life in peril” (1-10-1866, pg. 2). The assumption that Lepha was “weak” and seduced or coerced by Brown belittles her and negates her agency as a thinking, feeling person. In reality, we can have no idea of the true nature of the relationship between the two. Were they in love or lust, both or neither? Did they hope to marry or was the intimacy of a more casual nature? Did Lepha prefer to be independent, free of a father and husband’s control for the first time, or was she perchance hoping that sex would bind Brown more closely to her? It is possible she was entirely relieved to learn that an abortion was available in nearby Cleveland; but maybe, instead, she remembered little Carlton on the long train ride north and mourned the loss of a second, unmet baby. “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” the saying goes. Equally important to remember is that the simplified history we think we know rarely bears any resemblance to the complex and confused experience of actually living it.

 

Well-Behaved Women

Lydia Kellogg Boies.

Lydia Kellogg Boies (1815-1898).

The historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once famously observed, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” What she meant, in part, was that the construction of history texts relies mainly on written records. Until the modern era, most women were illiterate and so their stories could only be told through the writings of others, usually men. Those females most likely to make their way into the pages of history books were therefore those who ‘misbehaved’ and were consequently recorded in court cases, church tribunals, or the printed accounts of newspapers. “Those who quietly  went about their lives  were either forgotten, seen at a distance, or idealized into anonymity. Even today, publicity favors those who make–or break–laws” (Well-Behaved Women, pg. xxii).

Every so often, a woman of the past was able to compose her own narrative. Lydia Kellogg Boies was one such individual. She left to posterity ten sheets of paper (of which one is missing), written in her own hand, describing her life in Wellington, Ohio. That letter is now held in a private collection but I was privileged to obtain a transcription of it. It was addressed to Mrs. S. K. Laundon late in the nineteenth century, as Laundon gathered source materials for the Wellington section of Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve (1896), which I mentioned recently. The reminiscence allows us a small window into female relationships and activities that would otherwise be hidden from our view.

Dr. Eli Boies.

Dr. Eli Boies (1800-1863).

A native of Massachusetts, Lydia Boies came to Wellington around 1842 with her husband, Dr. Eli Boies. The couple built a small house just west of the village, and Eli worked with Dr. Daniel Johns in providing health care to the local populace. In the letter, Lydia noted that when the railroad began construction of a line through town in the late 1840s, the Boies family sold their property and briefly moved away (mss. pg. 4). They returned in time to be included in the 1850 federal census with four young children, three of whom would die within the span of just one year. Though this strikes the modern reader as an incomprehensible tragedy, it was distressingly common–though no less agonizing–for parents of earlier eras.

One of the people most frequently mentioned in the Boies letter is Jerusha Benedict Reed, wife of local merchant John S. Reed. An 1835 emigrant to Wellington, Reed hosted something called the Maternal Association at her home, a group of local women who met to discuss how best to raise children of Christian faith and strong moral character. Both Boies and Reed were dedicated members of the Congregational Church and ardent supporters of the Temperance Movement. Lydia Boies also noted that the ladies of Wellington had a sewing society and that at one point, she sought to have that society provide aid to fugitive slaves (mss. pg. 8). Boies shared anti-slavery sentiments with her spouse; Dr. Eli was known to be a member of the Underground Railroad and was held in county jail for twenty-one days for his participation in the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue.

Advertisement for John Reed's dry goods store. "The Wellington Journal," 4-1-1852, pg. 3. Photo by author.

Advertisement for John S. Reed’s dry goods store. “The Wellington Journal,” 4-1-1852, pg. 3. Original object held in the collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by author.

It is difficult to say from a reading of the text whether Mrs. Boies and Mrs. Reed were friends. Boies certainly wrote about Reed with a great deal of respect, especially insofar as Reed’s religious convictions were concerned. Lydia recalled in particular the tragic loss of Reed’s small son, who was apparently crushed to death. Rather than expressing sorrow, anger or regret, Jerusha claimed to be only grateful that she had time to offer one more prayer for her child before he passed (mss. pg. 17). By 1855, she had also lost a second young son and her husband, when John Reed drowned “while bathing in Black river at the sawmill near the Pittsfield line” (The Wellington Enterprise, 4-24-1895, pg. 5).

Jerusha Reed left Wellington in 1861 and moved to Oberlin. By 1862, the Boies family had also relocated there. Lydia Boies attributed that decision to her husband’s desire to see her comfortably settled before his own death; the text seems to imply that Eli Boies was ill and knew that his own time was short (mss. pg. 11). Whether his inclination to move his soon-to-be widow and two surviving children to Oberlin was in any part due to her relationship with Jerusha Reed is unknown. Mrs. Reed later moved to Michigan and then settled in Sandusky by 1870, remaining there in the home of a daughter until her death of heart disease in 1878. Mrs. Boies spent ten years in Oberlin before she, too, moved to live with one of her children in Michigan. If the two women ever saw each other again or exchanged correspondence after their Wellington years, it is not mentioned in the letter.

Headstone of Dr. Eli Boies in the Pioneer Cemetery, West Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Boies is laid to rest with three of his children and his father. Lydia Kellogg Boies is buried in the Fulton Street Cemetery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photo by author.

Headstone of Dr. Eli Boies in the Pioneer Cemetery, West Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Boies is interred with three of his children and his father. Lydia Kellogg Boies is buried in the Fulton Street Cemetery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photo by author.

Headstone of the Reed family in Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Jerusha Reed's obituary noted that "her dying request was, if it was best, to be carried back to her dear old home to be laid to rest beside her husband in the old cemetery" ("The Wellington Enterprise," 1-17-1878, pg. 3). Photo by author.

Headstone of the Reed family in Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Jerusha Reed’s obituary noted that “her dying request was, if it was best, to be carried back to her dear old home to be laid to rest beside her husband in the old cemetery” (“The Wellington Enterprise,” 1-17-1878, pg. 3). Photo from website Findagrave.com.

There is an interesting corollary to this story. When Jerusha Reed was widowed in 1855, her brother, Ethel Benedict, left the family homestead in Connecticut and moved to Ohio to “take charge of his sister’s business interests” (Enterprise, 11-1-1893, pg. 5). He eventually bought her Wellington property. In 1873, the Lorain County News reported that Benedict was relocating the wooden store and adjacent house that John and Jerusha had called home for two decades of their marriage. On the corner of Main and Liberty Streets, Ethel Benedict would instead erect an enormous brick business block. Jerusha Reed may have spent a third of her life on that plot of Wellington ground, quietly admired by other local women like Lydia Boies. But ultimately, the name written in stone in the town’s architecture and memory belongs to her brother.

The Benedict Block, on the corner of North Main Street and West Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

The Benedict Block, on the corner of North Main Street and West Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Benedict’s name and the year of construction are prominently displayed in raised stone characters on the cornice of the building. Photo by author.

“The Wellington Journal”

Main entrance of the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by author.

Main entrance of the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by author.

I recently visited the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio and was able to work with some of the wonderful materials in their History Center Research Library. The WRHS collects genealogy resources, unpublished manuscripts and printed items such as early newspapers. In addition to seeing hand-written documents related to the Wellington [Ladies] Literary Society, created in the 1840s and 1850s, I was also able to handle something very rare indeed: a mid-century newspaper called The Wellington Journal.

Fifteen years before the launch of The Wellington Enterprise–and nearly a decade before The Lorain County News was initially co-published in Oberlin and Wellington–the Journal was likely the village’s first printed news sheet. It seems to have started in March, 1852. The WRHS has only two issues in its possession; the earlier of the two is dated April 1, 1852, and enumerated as volume one, number four. The only other identified copy in existence (in an archival collection, at any rate) is held by the American Antiquarian Society in Massachusetts, which is renowned worldwide for its early American newspaper collection. That issue is also from 1852, though the newspaper is believed to have been in business until 1854.

Masthead of "The Wellington Journal," August 12, 1852. Original object held in the collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by author.

Masthead of “The Wellington Journal,” 8-12-1852. Original object held in the collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by author.

The Journal was a folio, meaning a large, single sheet of paper printed with four pages of text and folded in the center. The later issue in the WRHS holding is dated August 12, 1852 and was at some point torn completely down the fold, leaving behind only the first and second page of the paper for researchers. This is especially unfortunate given that page three of folio newspapers usually contained local news, and page four generally featured local advertisements.

The paper was edited by a man called George Brewster, and an associate, later promoted to “general agent,” by the name of L. S. Griswold. But ownership of the periodical appears to have changed hands fairly soon after its launch. The earlier issue proclaims the Journal to be “Published every Thursday morning by Brewster and Baker,” but just four months later the masthead instead lists “J. S. Reed & E. Boice–Proprietors.” John Reed was a local merchant who drowned in the Black River in 1855. Eli Boies was a doctor who practiced with Dr. Daniel Johns in the village; he was also deeply opposed to slavery and in 1858 participated in the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue. (I am working on a post right now about their wives, Jerusha Benedict Reed and Lydia Kellogg Boies, which will go up during Women’s History Month.)

"The Wellington Journal," 4-1-1852, pgs. 2-3. Original object held in the collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by author.

“The Wellington Journal,” 4-1-1852, pgs. 2-3. Original object held in the collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by author.

I was left with an interesting question after reviewing the contents of the papers. The April issue was printed and sold from an “Office over Barker’s Store, Corner of Broadway.” By August, the printing office was located on the “corner of Main and Norwalk Streets.” Are these the same location? The name Broadway, referring to a wide thoroughfare, was often used for the main street through a community. But clearly by August of 1852, Main Street was so-called. There is also a reference in an advertisement for E. S. Tripp’s business to his “Shop on Mechanic Street.” So the names of the two most prominent routes through Wellington seem to have been established by 1852. Certainly by the time of the earliest village map I have seen, dated 1857, those names were used. Where, then, were Broadway and Norwalk Streets in 1852?

Every question, even one that is answered, leads to another. It is, at once, the joy and misery of historical research.

One Hundred Years Ago Today…

Fire destroying the building known as the Rininger Block or the Horr Block, 1915. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, "The Spirit of '76" Museum.

Fire destroying the building known as the Rininger Block or the Horr Block, 1915. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

I’ve often joked on this blog that I stay as far away from the twentieth century as possible, but given the anniversary nature of this event, I felt safe. A century ago this very day, the three-story Italianate building known as both the Rininger Block and the Horr Block burned to the ground over the night of Wednesday, February 24th and into the early morning hours of Thursday, February 25th, 1915. It was one of the largest fires in the history of the village.

Papers in nearby Elyria and Medina reported breathlessly on the catastrophic occurrence. “WELLINGTON VILLAGE VISITED BY A DISASTROUS FIRE IN ITS BUSINESS SECTION” shouted the front page of The Elyria Chronicle on Thursday morning. The Chronicle noted that in addition to the destruction of the massive structures, “The wall of the Horr building fell into the street and heavily damaged the cable and wires of the Wellington Telephone Co., putting a large part of the village out of telephone service.” By the day after the fire, the front page of the Elyria Evening Telegram was dominated by photographs of the conflagration in progress, including the image at the top of this post.

Building known as both the Rininger block and the Horr block, which burned in 1915. Formerly located on the northern corner of Main Street and Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue). Image must have been taken after 1882, as the tin cornice of the second Rininger store is visible on the right side. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, "The Spirit of '76" Museum.

Building known as both the Rininger block and the Horr block, which burned in 1915. Formerly located on the northern corner of Main Street and Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue). Image must have been taken after 1882, as the tin cornice of the second Rininger store is visible on the right side. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

The Wellington Enterprise had published its weekly edition as normal on Wednesday, so it was seven days before the next issue featured local coverage of the fire. Given the passage of time, the reporting was a bit more subdued. An entire column of “Fire Notes,” published in the March 3rd edition, was simply a list of one-line observations on the scene. It feels rather stream-of-consciousness, as if the writer–or the town–was in shock. “For a day or so after the fire, East Main street as far as the postoffice [sic] resembled a foggy day in London as far as atmospheric conditions were concerned,” read one note. Another mentioned the truant officer pulling “fascinated school youngsters” away from the scene. A third line reflected on what might have happened had the fire occurred while the water supply was low. And so forth.

The damage was immense. In addition to the loss of the three-story block itself–as well as the inventories of the multiple stores that filled it–the wooden buildings on the east side of North Main Street were condemned, including the “old laundry building” formerly occupied by Wah Sing. Many nearby glass windows were shattered from the heat of the blaze. The telephone lines were damaged as noted, leaving the town without communication. Dynamite, and eventually the Interurban street car, was used to pull down the dangerously teetering brick walls still standing after the blaze. The work of cleaning up the downtown began immediately and the Enterprise was already reporting by March 3rd that “from its ashes there will arise a modern block of two stories in the near future” (pg. 2).

The two-story building that replaces the Rininger or Horr Block, currently standing on the northeast corner of Main Street and Herrick Avenue. Photo by author.

The two-story building that replaced the Rininger or Horr Block, currently standing on the northeast corner of Main Street and Herrick Avenue. Photo by author.

In the months that followed, the cause of the disaster became clearer. A local merchant, F. C. Bixler, confessed to starting the fire and was indicted in mid-April. He owned a store fifty miles to the southeast in Dalton, Ohio, that he was finding impossible to sell, and his Wellington store–located in the destroyed block–was not proving profitable. Early reports noted that Bixler had very little insurance, so his motive seems to have been to free himself from his legal obligations to the Wellington venture and return to his family and work in Dalton. It is likely that his intention was only to damage his own shop beyond repair. By early May, Bixler was convicted of arson and sentenced to “an indefinite term in the Ohio penitentary [sic]. If he behaves well, possibly he may be paroled or pardoned at the end of a few years servitude” (Enterprise, 5-5-1915, pg. 4).

The life of the village went on. The debris was eventually cleared away and plans were drafted for a new edifice. E. E. Watters was a businessman who suffered the heaviest losses in the fire, estimated at nearly $35,000. He had insufficient insurance to cover at least one-third of the reserve stock of his dry goods and general store, and had just received a new shipment of items for the spring selling season that was totally uncovered. But he vowed to reopen on the same site and by April 21st, the newspaper announced that he had leased the entire lot for twenty-five years, with an option to buy. From then on, the site became known as the Watters Block.

Detail of an advertisement for E.E. Watters' store, featuring a cartoon depiction of the Horr Block burning as firemen rush to save valuable Hoosier Kitchen Cabinets (the items being promoted). "The Wellington Enterprise," 6-9-1915, pg. 1. Photo by author.

Detail of an advertisement for E. E. Watters’ store, featuring a cartoon depiction of the Horr Block burning as firemen rush to save Hoosier Kitchen Cabinets (the items being promoted). “The Wellington Enterprise,” 6-9-1915, pg. 1. Photo by author.

 

“Into the Wilderness”: Part Three

[Stockbridge] "Berkshire Star," June 6, 1816, pg. 3.

[Stockbridge] “Berkshire Star,” June 6, 1816, pg. 3.

Heading West

At some point after the death of Isaac Howk in 1805, his entire family decided to leave Lee and Kinderhook far behind and make a new start in the western territories. There are tantalizing hints in the historical record as to why they might have made that choice. In 1816, an advertisement in the Berkshire Star announced the court-ordered sale of “all the real estate of Alanson Howk and Electa Howk, Minor heirs of Isaac Howk, late of Lee, deceased” (6-6-1816, pg. 3). Another son, Isaac Howk Jr., had a biography included in Sketches of Prominent Citizens of 1876 that mentioned he had attended Williams College, “but his means were limited, and did not admit of his completing the full course of college studies” (pg. 291).

Did the family fortunes deteriorate after Isaac’s death? Farming was already on the decline as a viable means of supporting a family in post-Revolutionary Massachusetts. To make matters worse, the years 1815 and 1816 were some of the most terrible weather years ever experienced in the Berkshires; a destructive hurricane in the fall of 1815 was followed by snowfall and killing frosts the next summer. “The weather proved too much for some and led to a large migration to the Midwest from western New England” (One Minute a Free Woman, pg. 20). Whatever their reasons, the six living Howk children, two of their spouses and possibly two small children, family matriarch Fiche Van Deusen Howk, and the former slave called Dean left behind all that they knew and set out in 1818.

Wellington

Who made that long and difficult journey to the nameless swath of forest then classified in official documents only as Township 3, Range 18? Of Isaac and Fiche’s seven children, four came to this area. The eldest son, Richard Howk, seems to have settled elsewhere in Ohio with his wife, Electa Ingersoll Howk, and their two young sons, Henry (b. 1812) and George (b. 1815). Third son, Isaac Jr., continued on to Indiana and became a respected lawyer and state representative, but died just shy of his fortieth birthday. Eldest daughter Catherine, called Caty by her relatives, died of consumption at Lee when she was seventeen, and was left behind with her father in the family plot there.

Fiche Van Deusen Howk, widow of Isaac, was by 1818 probably in her mid-fifties. Her son John was twenty-seven. Her daughter, also called Fiche, was already married and so is included in The History of Lorain County passage as “Josiah Bradley and wife.” She was just twenty-three. Next came son Alanson, nineteen. And at seventeen, daughter Electa was the youngest immigrant in the family. We have no way of knowing Dean’s precise age, though her classification in later federal censuses suggests that she was of a similar age to Fiche Van Deusen Howk, her former owner. Recall also from Memorial to the Pioneer Women that by the time she lived in Wellington, she was referred to as “Granny” Dean.

1820 Federal Census for Township 3, Range 18, later known as Wellington, Ohio. Seven families lived in the area. The mark on the far right of the form shows one free female person of color living in the household of John Howk. Though the marks that presumably record both Fiche Van Deusen Howk and Dean are in the age categories of 26-45, this is inconsistent with later census records. It also does not make sense in the case of Fiche Van Deusen Howk, given the ages of her children.

1820 Federal Census for Township 3, Range 18, later known as Wellington, Ohio. Seven families lived in the area. The mark on the far right of the form shows one free female person of color living in the household of John Howk. Though the marks that presumably record both Fiche Van Deusen Howk and Dean are in the age categories of 26-45, this is inconsistent with later census records. It also does not make sense in the case of Fiche Van Deusen Howk, given the ages of her children.

While no known letters or other primary source documents have come down to us to describe the Howks’ journey into Ohio, we can get a small sense of what the destination was like. At the beginning of this piece, I quoted the passage from The History of Lorain County that tells the story of the Howks’ arrival in the fall of 1818. John Howk, a cousin who emigrated with his own branch of the family in 1834, later recalled that his father “had moved into this quarter when it was so new that a trail had to be chopped through the woods for his wagon” (The Wellington Enterprise, 9-12-1894, pg. 8). Henry Bradley, a nephew by marriage to Fiche Howk Bradley, also relocated from Lee to Wellington as a child in 1835. In his 1907 memoir he reminisced, “In going from the settlement through the dense forest to our new home, we found the roads hardly passable because of the swamps and the clouds of mosquitoes which seemed to be waiting to greet us as newcomers…The timber wolves, bears and deer were very numerous, often to our great discomfiture, and they were many nights troublesome” (A Brief Autobiography, quoted in Moving with the Frontier, pg. 37). Remember that these two narratives describe a period nearly two decades after the first Howks and Dean settled.

The 1820 federal census indicates that by that point in time, Josiah Bradley and his wife, Fiche, were living in one household with their new baby girl, while the rest of the Howks were living together in another place. Sometime in the early 1820s, according to local tradition, youngest Howk daughter Electa became the first bride in the new community when she married newcomer Amos Adams, Jr. Tax records from the 1820s and 1830s indicate that sisters Fiche and Electa lived close together on the west side of the township, while brothers Alanson and John lived on adjoining plots of land on the east side. By 1832, both men were paying taxes on a sawmill that they apparently co-owned with Amos Adams Sr. (their sister’s father-in-law) and Albert Adams. Since the Howk brothers were occupying two lots of land diagonally crossed by a river that is still there (albeit in diminished form) today, it seems likely that is where the sawmill stood.

1832 Wellington Tax Duplicate showing John and Alanson Howk each assessed as the partial owner of a sawmill.

1832 Wellington Tax Duplicate showing John and Alanson Howk each assessed as the partial owner of a sawmill.

Aerial view of Wellington today. The red circles indicate the approximate locations of the Howk homesteads. The circle at the far left of the image shows the site of Josiah Bradley and wife Fiche Howk Bradley’s house. Sister Electa lived somewhere just west of that location with her husband, Amos Adams Jr. The two circles to the right of the image are the sites of brothers Alanson and John Howk’s homes. Census data shows that Dean lived with John, probably until her death. A sawmill likely operated on the Wellington River, which ran between the two men’s farms. Approximately two miles separate the furthest points. The Pioneer Cemetery is noted (small red square) as a reference marker.

Aerial view of Wellington today. The red circles indicate the approximate locations of the Howk homesteads. The circle at the far left of the image shows the site of Josiah Bradley and wife Fiche Howk Bradley’s house. Sister Electa lived somewhere just west of that location with her husband, Amos Adams Jr. The two circles to the right of the image are the sites of brothers Alanson and John Howk’s homes. Census data shows that Dean lived with John, probably until her death. A sawmill likely operated on the Wellington River, which ran between the two men’s farms. Approximately two miles separate the furthest points. The Pioneer Cemetery is noted (small red square) as a reference marker.

In some ways, we know even less about Dean’s life in this period than we could conjecture previously. Federal census records show one free female person of color living in John Howk’s household in both 1820 and 1830. Fiche Van Deusen Howk was also apparently living there. What sorts of work filled Dean’s days? Did she cook, clean, make candles, mend? Did she wash clothing in the river that ran next to the house? Did she play any role in agricultural functions? John Howk owned two horses and a steadily increasing herd of cattle during Dean’s lifetime (sixteen head in 1832, for example). Someone must have looked to their daily maintenance, particularly if John was operating a sawmill and cultivating crops. In both census enumerations, Dean was the only person of color residing in the township. In 1820, the white-to-black ratio was forty-four to one, but a decade later it had grown to two-hundred-twenty-three to one. Not unlike her time in Lee, Dean may have felt conspicuous in her “other”-ness.

We do not know when Fiche Van Deusen Howk or her slave-turned-servant Dean were born. Neither do we know when they died, nor where they are buried. Both women disappeared from John Howk’s household by the 1840 federal census. (John married in January 1838; he was nearing fifty years of age and his new wife, Mehitable Fox Couch, was a widow who was herself dead by 1843. Perhaps John felt the need to marry after the passing of the two other female members of his household.) All the Howk children who emigrated to Wellington in 1818 are interred in the so-called Pioneer Cemetery on West Herrick Avenue. John and Mehitable, Alanson and his wife, Theodocia Clifford Howk, and Amos and Electa Adams are lined up in a neat row. Fiche Howk Bradley is nearby, next to a damaged stone that was once likely that of her husband, Josiah. There is no surviving documentary evidence associated with the cemetery so we can only speculate as to the burial sites of Fiche and Dean, two women whose lives, while in obvious ways very different, were intimately entwined for perhaps half-a-century or more.

Three Howk siblings and their spouses; sister Fiche Howk Bradley (d. 1869) is laid to rest in the southwest corner of the burial ground. Pioneer Cemetery, West Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Three Howk siblings and their spouses; sister Fiche Howk Bradley (d. 1869) is laid to rest in the southwest corner of the burial ground. Pioneer Cemetery, West Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Did Dean and Fiche get along well? Did they like each other? They seem to have been of a similar age, and certainly shared a lifetime of common experiences, though not all of them positive. Did Dean travel with the Howks to Ohio because she had played a role in raising all of the children, and so was held with some esteem or affection within the family circle? It was certainly an arduous undertaking for a woman of her years, and one would like to believe that if she had preferred to stay in Berkshire County, she could have found a position as a servant within another household. Is Fiche buried near her children in a now-unmarked grave? Would Dean have been allowed burial in the same cemetery, even if the family had wished it? These are the unanswerable questions I continue to ponder.

Acknowledgments

I would like to acknowledge the contributions of several individuals to the research that made this article possible. Their efforts have only strengthened the work, but any errors that have found their way into the text are entirely my own responsibility.

Dr. Emily Blanck, Associate Professor of History at Rowan University and author of Tyrannicide: Forging an American Law of Slavery in Revolutionary South Carolina and Massachusetts (2014), offered me insight into the piecemeal process of slave emancipation in Massachusetts in the 1780s.

Ruth Piwonka, Town Historian for the Village of Kinderhook, New York, alerted me to the existence of larger black communities in western Massachusetts in the eighteenth century. She was also helpful to me in understanding Dutch naming customs and pointed me toward resources on the Van Deusen family.

Mal Eckert of the Lee Historical Society and Will Garrison, Curator of the Berkshire Historical Society, were generous with their time and energies in assisting me to more precisely locate “Howk’s Hill” and Isaac Howk’s homestead in Lee, Massachusetts. Richard C. Leab, Senior Assistant in the Local History Department of the Berkshire Athenaeum, found some period maps that also illuminated the answers to this question. Mary Morrissey, Co-Chairperson of the Lee Historical Commission, provided me with documentation on the home of John Howk (brother of Isaac) still standing in Lee today, though much modified over the years; she also kindly connected me with the Davidson family of Lee, present-day owners of the house.

Jennifer Fauxsmith at the Massachusetts State Archives, and Elizabeth Bouvier at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives, fielded several legal reference queries and facilitated my access to Isaac Howk’s probate documents on an all-too-brief research visit to Boston in December 2014.

Mick Howk and Robert McFadden, two descendants of the Howk family, kindly fielded questions about their family’s genealogy and pointed me toward helpful sources. I sincerely hope they are pleased by the “results” of their efforts.

“Into the Wilderness”: Part Two

Runaway notice for slaves Fortune and Dean. "Berkshire Chronicle," 7-31-1788, pg. 3.

Runaway notice for slaves Fortune and Dean. “Berkshire Chronicle,” 7-31-1788, pg. 3.

Runaway

On a summer night in 1788, a man and woman made a desperate bid to be free. The man was a forty-year-old slave called Fortune by his master. The woman, called Dean, was “about 28 years old, of a yellow complexion.” These two human beings were the legal chattel of Abraham Van Allen, a Dutch farmer living in Kinderhook, New York. In running for their lives, Fortune and Dean stole two kinds of property that night: themselves, and the two mares on which they fled.

In 1788, slavery was still legal in New York. It had all but ended in neighboring Massachusetts, and Abraham Van Allen must have guessed that his fugitive slaves would head in that direction. In the runaway advertisement he placed for three consecutive weeks in the Berkshire Chronicle, published in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the farmer described his missing humans and horses at equal length, and concluded: “Whoever will take up the said man and woman slaves, and the mares, saddle and bridle, and bring them to me, or secure the slaves in some gaol [jail], so that the owner can have them, shall have THIRTY DOLLARS reward, and for the slaves only, TWENTY DOLLARS” (7-31-1788, pg. 3).

A brief word here about slavery in the northeast: Massachusetts is proud of its history as a so-called “birthplace of American freedom,” but is less vocal about its dubious distinction of being the first colony, in 1641, to formally codify the legality of owning another human being. Many of its earliest slaves were Native Americans taken as prisoners of war during multiple armed conflicts with English settlers. Over time, that demographic shifted so that more and more Africans were held in bondage. The total slave population of Massachusetts never exceeded three percent of its overall populace, but a slave census taken in 1765 still showed nearly 6,000 individuals held in lifelong service against their wills (Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North, pgs. 46, 181).

Contrary to what was stated in The History of Lorain County, the adoption of a new constitution in 1780 did not legally end slavery in the commonwealth. Massachusetts could claim that it was almost unique among the colonies in that slaves there had the right to own property, write contracts, sue, petition, and bear witness in a court of law. The fact that they had these “important rights of personhood” enabled slaves to begin using the courts to chip away at the edges of slavery for decades prior to the 1780 constitution being ratified. Seventeen slaves sued for their emancipation in just the decade between 1764 and 1774 (Tyrannicide, pg. 18, 34). In the end, it was these “freedom suits” and a series of judicial decisions that gradually eroded slavery in Massachusetts. There is no single piece of legislation to point to, no definitive end date, though the year generally cited is 1783. New York did not free all the slaves still held within its territory until 1827.

Elizabeth Freeman, also known as Mum Bett, who brought one of the most famous of the Massachusetts “freedom suits” against her master, John Ashley. Born into slavery on a Dutch farm in New York, she was given by her Dutch owner to his daughter—John Ashley’s wife, Hannah—in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and successfully sued for her freedom in 1781. Original watercolor on ivory belongs to the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.

Elizabeth Freeman, also known as Mum Bett, who brought one of the most famous of the Massachusetts “freedom suits” against her master, John Ashley. Born into slavery on a Dutch farm in New York, she was given by her Dutch owner to his daughter—John Ashley’s wife, Hannah—in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and successfully sued for her freedom in 1781. Original 1811 watercolor on ivory belongs to the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.

Was the woman called Dean who fled bondage in New York in 1788 the same free woman of color who was counted as living in the Howk household in Lee, Massachusetts, two years later, the Dean who emigrated with the Howks to Ohio in 1818? It is impossible to know without discovering further documentary evidence. The female name spelled “Dean” in Dutch (pronounced “deh-AHN”) was not especially rare among those assigned by Dutch slave holders. A 1755 census of New York slaves included the names Dean, Deana, Deen, Diean, Dien, Dijeen, Dijean, and Dyaen. (Documentary History of the State of New York…, pgs. 843-868). Given differences between Dutch and English pronunciations, and the fluidity of all spelling in the eighteenth century, many of these variations could have sounded so similar when spoken that they were used interchangeably in writing. It is equally likely that the authors of the two late-nineteenth-century passages I quoted in Part One were transcribing things in written English that they were told orally, in which case the former slave’s name was probably something like “Dien” (pronounced “DEEN” in Dutch).

Whether the woman Dean who lived with the Howk family in Lee was the same woman who escaped on horseback from Kinderhook, New York, or whether she instead passed through the ownership of the Howk or Van Deusen families (also of Kinderhook, then of Berkshire County, Massachusetts) we can offer some limited speculation about her background. She was likely born into slavery in the United States. In his examination of African Americans living in the mid-Hudson River Valley in this period, historian Michael Groth noted that “the vast majority of slaves and children of slaves in the mid-Hudson Valley in 1800 were almost certainly native born” (“The African American Struggle Against Slavery in the Mid-Hudson Valley, 1785-1827,” pg. 68). It should be stated that Groth was specifically looking at Duchess County, New York, but Kinderhook was located in the directly adjacent county of Columbia.

The counties of New York’s Hudson River Valley. From the website HudsonValleyTravels.com.

The counties of New York’s Hudson River Valley. From the website HudsonValleyTravels.com.

Groth further asserted that since most Hudson Valley slaves were raised and labored inside the homes of Dutch masters (as opposed to larger communities of field slaves, often housed separately from owner families in isolated slave quarters), many were “readily proficient in English or Dutch,” and he cited multiple examples of runaway notices that listed the number of languages spoken by missing slaves. It seems likely that Dean would have conformed to this pattern.

The 1790 federal census shows us that Kinderhook, New York, had 4,661 residents, of whom 638 were slaves. The History of Old Kinderhook helpfully informed its readers that this was “a total exceeding that of every other township in the county” that year (pg. 552). Lee, Massachusetts, was starkly different; in 1790, there were only 1,170 inhabitants in the village, of whom just three persons were classified as “other” than white. Despite the fact that slaves seem to have been permitted greater flexibility of movement and even work and living arrangements in Massachusetts than in the southern states, for example, Dean would still have found it difficult to connect to a larger black community living in Lee. We can only imagine how different her life would have been had she been in service in Great Barrington, just a few miles south but home to nearly fifty black inhabitants, almost half of whom were living in independent households. Stockbridge, too, due west of Lee, had nearly identical white population numbers as Great Barrington, but was also home to sixty-four black residents, of whom half were living in independent households. Ironically, Dean’s comparative isolation in Lee may have offered her some preparation for the next chapter in her life.

In Part Three, Dean emigrates to Ohio.