“Mr. Crabtree, I suppose it makes you almost think that God has forgotten you.”

Headstone of John M. Crabtree (1828-1901). Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio.

Headstone of John M. Crabtree (1828-1901). Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio.

“The desolation of that home could hardly be more complete, and tenderest sympathy with those stricken hearts could not be more universal throughout this entire community” (The Wellington Enterprise, 8-9-1877, pg. 3).

I wrote earlier about stumbling upon a description of John Crabtree’s butcher shop in downtown Wellington, and then finding the location of the building a few days later. Yesterday I was walking through Greenwood Cemetery and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the name “Crabtree” on a large marker. I wanted to determine if it was the same man, and indeed the first plaque I read was for John M. Crabtree, though there were no accompanying dates to further confirm his identity. Looking at the remaining plaques, I realized something startling: three of the other four people named on the memorial died within weeks of each other.

My first thought was that there must have been some kind of epidemic in Wellington at that time. I located obituaries for the Crabtree family, and found that the reality was even more distressing. But it also threw unexpected light on how people came to emigrate to this tiny rural town in the 1800s.

John M. Crabtree was born in 1828 in Nottinghamshire, England, just nineteen days after the birth of Ann Guy Wells, his future wife, in the neighboring town. A few weeks later, Edward F. Wells, Ann’s cousin, was born in nearby Willoughby; the three would be lifelong friends. John learned the trade of being a butcher from his uncle and was a well-respected businessman in his local community by the time Edward Wells decided to leave England for America in 1852. Wells returned home for a visit in 1868, and spoke so positively of the new place he called home–Wellington, Ohio–that the Crabtrees decided to cross the ocean themselves.

They arrived in Wellington in 1870. In the fall of that year, the couple’s eighth and final child, Eddie Wells Crabtree, was born but sadly died at age two and a half. Then, in June of 1877, tragedy struck the family again. This time, it was eighteen-year-old daughter Mary who died of “spinal fever.” The Enterprise reported, “She was severely ill less than a week, being at the tea-table on the Monday evening previous to her death” (7-5-1877, pg. 3).

Headstone of John (1854-1877) and Mary (1859-1877) Crabtree. Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio.

Headstone of John (1854-1877) and Mary (1859-1877) Crabtree. Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio.

Just three weeks later, twenty-three-year-old son John, who was living in Cleveland, contracted “dysentery of a typhoid character” and was dead within two weeks. The same issue of the Enterprise that carried his obituary also noted in a separate announcement, “Mrs. John Crabtree is dangerously sick with the same disease of which her son died, and the physicians regard her case as hopeless” (8-2-1877, pg. 3). Ann Wells Crabtree had been attending to her sick son in Cleveland, and accompanied his body home for burial; she took to her bed upon her return to Wellington, “never to rise again.” She died on August 6, 1877 at age forty-nine. “In the short period of six weeks, a daughter, son, and wife have been laid in the grave” (8-9-1877, pg. 3).

Headstone of Ann Guy Wells Crabtree (1828-1877). Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio.

Headstone of Ann Guy Wells Crabtree (1828-1877). Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio.

The description of Crabtree’s butcher shop, which I included in my previous post, was written in 1879. It indicates that “about two years ago he removed his market to Shelby, but after one year returned to Wellington, again locating on North Main St” (2-6-1879, pg. 3). Perhaps John Crabtree needed a change of scenery after such a devastating blow to his family, but eventually returned to the town in which his friend Edward Wells still resided. In 1890, his only living daughter died of consumption. Hattie Crabtree Murdock was just twenty-nine, and her brief obituary noted that “the end found her ready for the summons, and anxious to meet the sainted mother, brother and sister who have gone before” (4-2-1890, pg. 5).

John Crabtree seems to have tried a fresh start of sorts. In 1893, he married the widow Mary Ann Laundon of Elryia. He was then sixty-five years old. Two years later, he appears for the first time as a property owner and taxpayer in the Wellington Corporation tax records, a quarter-century after moving to the town. (Presumably he rented both his family residence on North Main Street and his shop on Liberty Street, now called West Herrick Avenue.) But when he died in 1901 at age seventy-three, his obituary focused at great length on his old sorrow, and on his struggle to retain religious faith in the face of such overwhelming loss. The remembrance delivered at Crabtree’s funeral by Reverend H. D. Sheldon was reprinted in full in The Wellington Enterprise. Sheldon recalled a conversation he had with the butcher in which he posed the very indelicate question I used as the title of this post; Crabtree’s response was that at times it did feel as if he had been forsaken. “In all his afflictions he was patient, although at times his faith was tried to the point of breaking. His was a Gethsemane experience” (3-27-1901, pg. 4).

Little did I suspect when I came across an amusing description of a butcher shop that I would uncover this life of deep sadness. Nor that I would find another family from England, moving like Joseph and Hannah Turley to a new world of economic opportunity in America. A trip to the cemetery is now like a visit with old friends, but also reminds me of how little I know about Wellington’s past, and how many more friends there are still to meet in the pages of its history.

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4 thoughts on ““Mr. Crabtree, I suppose it makes you almost think that God has forgotten you.”

  1. Tim Twining

    Hello,

    My name is Tim Twining and I am a brewer for Jackie O’s Brewery in Athens, Ohio. I was born and raised in Huntington Twp. and graduated from Black River. I am interested in finding out if Wellington ever had any breweries and I all I have been able to come up with is a “John M. Crabtree Brewery” under the ID number of “OH 325” that was open between 1874-1875. Do you know any information about this? I wonder if he housed it under the same building as his butcher shop or if he even ended up producing any beer. Any light on the subject or any ideas on different paths I can research would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Armchair Historian Post author

      Mr. Twining, it is a fascinating question but I am afraid I don’t know the answer. I don’t recall that I have ever come across anything about a brewery in Wellington. Have you tried searching through the 19th-century issues of “The Wellington Enterprise” available digitally via Chronicling America? I would be most interested to hear if you discover anything!

      Reply
  2. Armchair Historian Post author

    Mr. Twining, I did some further research into your question. I was not able to find any references to breweries in “The Wellington Enterprise” in the 19th century. I found two small articles in the “Lorain County News” that both describe troubles (“rowdyism”) at “Crabtree’s brewery” in Wellington. Both are dated late 1873. From the context of each piece, I would guess that the word “brewery” is being used in the sense that we would say “bar” or perhaps “grog shop.” It is not clear that any sort of beer manufacture was going on at the site. And in fact, Wellington at that time had a pretty robust temperance movement; its female citizens were engaged in an ongoing battle to shut down the local tavern scene. An actual beer manufacturer would likely have faced pretty strong popular opposition. If you would like me to send you the two small articles I found, just let me know!

    Reply
    1. Tim Twining

      Please do!

      I really appreciate you digging into this. I always find it amazing how society views change on what are acceptable practices from generation to generation. Even if there wasn’t any actual brewing happening, the history of taverns in the community are still interesting as they had to fight to stay open. Nowadays, you wouldn’t expect any public opposition so long as the establishment did not bring in too much riff-raff.

      Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

      Tim

      On Sun, Mar 19, 2017 at 6:48 PM, 19th-Century Wellington wrote:

      > Armchair Historian commented: “Mr. Twining, I did some further research > into your question. I was not able to find any references to breweries in > “The Wellington Enterprise” in the 19th century. I found two small articles > in the “Lorain County News” that both describe troubles (“rowdyi” >

      Reply

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