Category Archives: Research

Program Announcement III

Quarrying the Stone

Masonic tracing board painted by Archibald Willard in the late nineteenth century, entitled “Quarrying the Stone.” Held in the collection of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum. Photo by author.

“To Devise Artistic Designs” | Archibald Willard and His Masonic Masterworks
Wellington Town Hall
Sunday, May 14th, 2-4PM

Archibald Willard is best known for his iconic painting, “The Spirit of ’76.” A prolific artist, Willard left behind an extensive body of work, including murals, portraits, comedic scenes and even decorated furniture. But when Wellington Masonic Lodge #127 discovered the existence of three enormous Masonic tracing boards signed by the artist, it began an historical investigation that shed light on a little known part of Willard’s life–his decades of membership in, and artistic contributions to, the Freemasons of Ohio. As Wellington prepares to celebrate 2018 as both the village’s Bicentennial and also the centennial of Archibald Willard’s death, please join us to learn more about this fascinating man and the spectacular artistic legacy he entrusted to our care.

All three panels will be on display during the event, and paintings conservator Heather Galloway will be on hand to address technical queries about the objects. The talk will begin ca. 3PM and be followed by a question and answer session.

About the speaker:

Nicole M. Hayes is an independent researcher who has lived in Wellington, Ohio since 2005. A native of Massachusetts, Nicole holds a master’s degree in American history from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. She has worked at cultural institutions including the National Museum of Ireland, Plimoth Plantation, Colonial Williamsburg, and Harvard University. Her blog “Nineteenth-Century Wellington” has had more than 40,000 visits from around the world since 2013.

“3 Paintings for Use of Lodge Room”


The signature “A.M. Willard” as it appears on the lower right corner of the masonic tracing board referred to as “Quarrying the Stone.” Photograph courtesy of Galloway Art Conservation.

Back in October, I wrote about the painter Archibald Willard and his relationship to Wellington’s Masonic Lodge #127. Willard was a member from 1867 until 1891 (more than a dozen years after he moved away from the village) and began his tenure there by decoratively painting the interior of their new hall on South Main Street, sadly no longer standing. I undertook this research nearly a year ago, at the request of the lodge, when they came into possession of three enormous painted panels, full of Masonic symbology and with at least one panel signed by Willard.

I have continued to research the provenance of these extraordinary objects. In the museum world, “provenance” is the term indicating the unbroken record of ownership of an object, which can be used to authenticate its origins (i.e. prove that it was created by a particular person, or in a particular region or time period) and that, in turn, may affect its value. It’s rather like a chain-of-deed on a house. In establishing an object’s provenance, the researcher builds a record of ownership with supporting evidence like bills of sale, letters, photographs, etc. The goal is to move backward in time, from the present day to the theoretical day the object was created. And it can be just as challenging as it sounds.

I debated how to construct this post. Would it be easier for readers to follow the thread of the narrative moving forward or backward in time? I decided that since the flow of the research progressed from present to past, that is how I would lay out the story. I hope that this structure will illuminate not only the timeline, but also the research process itself.


The Masonic tracing board referred to as “Quarrying the Stone,” the panel signed by Archibald Willard in its lower right corner. The photograph has been rotated to enable easier viewing of the scene. Photograph courtesy of Galloway Art Conservation.

Our journey backward in time begins in early 2016. Wellington Lodge #127 took physical custody of three oversized paintings on canvas, rolled together on one tube, from the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield, Ohio. Staff at the OMH knew that they had held the three objects for some time, but the Wellington Lodge was not immediately able to connect to anyone with first-hand knowledge of how long the panels had been in Springfield, nor where they had come from previously. The Wellington lodge reached out to me to ask if I would assist them in conducting historical research to try and answer those questions.

Over a process of many months, we were eventually able to speak with several past and present staff members of OMH, and learned that there was a folder of information somewhere within their offices, which was thought to hold the key to solving the mystery. The folder was eventually located, and though it did not contain everything we had hoped for, it did hold the clue that took us one step further back in time: thank you letters to members of a now-defunct lodge, West Mansfield #588, for donating “these absolutely beautiful, historical murals” to the Ohio Masonic Home. The letters were dated June 2004.

In chasing down information about the now-defunct West Mansfield Lodge, I reached out to Knowlton Library in Logan County, in the hopes that they had a local history room. They forwarded my query to the Logan County Historical Society, which was incredibly fortuitous for me. Ms. Beth Marshall, the Archivist/Assistant Curator of the society, has been invaluable in her assistance and generous in the donation of her time. The LCHS not only maintains a local newspaper collection, but also holds a collection of local Masonic materials. And incredibly, one of Ms. Marshall’s most dedicated volunteers is a man named Donald Corwin, who was both a member of West Mansfield Lodge #588, and remembered the panels personally. Mr. Corwin provided a wealth of oral history leads to follow.

West Mansfield Lodge #588 merged in 1996 with East Liberty Lodge #247. Mr. Corwin informed me that in the interim period, between the 1996 merger and the 2004 donation of the panels to the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield, the panels “adorned [the] Harriet Chapter OES.” OES is the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic-style organization open to men who are Master Masons and female relatives, spouses, and descendants of Master Masons. Mr. Corwin was kind enough to send a few snapshots showing the panels hanging on the walls of the hall.


Image showing the panel referred to as “The Temple of Solomon” on display in the Harriet Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. Date unknown. Photograph courtesy of Mr. Donald Corwin.

We now take our biggest leap backward in time. Mr. Corwin recalled that the oral history of the panels within the West Mansfield Lodge was that they had been on display for “nearly a century” and had been given to West Mansfield by a lodge in nearby Bellefontaine. The transfer of the panels was accomplished using a horse and carriage, so the story said. Bellefontaine no longer needed the panels because they had supposedly acquired a state-of-art magic lantern for projecting images.


Map showing the relationship between Bellefontaine, West Mansfield and East Liberty, Ohio. Bellefontaine Lodge #209 donated “scenery” to West Mansfield Lodge #588 in 1906, and ninety years later West Mansfield merged with East Liberty Lodge #247. Approximately fifteen miles separate Bellefontaine from West Mansfield; approximately ten miles separate it from East Liberty.

In order to establish the provenance of the panels, we must try to back up each assertion with documentary evidence. Mr. Corwin was able to gain access to the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century meeting minutes for Bellefontaine Lodge #209, and found several entries that seem to substantiate the particulars of the story.

An undated entry from 1904 reads, “On motion, the Trustees of the Lodge were appointed as a committee to conf[er] with the Chapter, as to the purchase of the Stereopticon and views, and report to the Lodge.” (Stereopticon is another period term for a magic lantern.) And then on January 16, 1906, this: “Also moved + seconded that we present (with our compliments) such scenes of ours as would not [be] need[ed] in new lodge rooms to West Mansfield Lodge #588, West Mansfield, O” (pg. 274). One day later, a follow-up notice reads: “Transfer of scenery to West Mansfield 588 With compliments of the Lodge members” (Minutes of the Bellefontaine Lodge, 1897-1911, pg. 275).


In the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, stereopticons or “magic lanterns” were the state-of-the art in electric projection. Sets of Masonic slides were available for commercial purchase, some manufactured in Ohio.

The astute reader will note that we have not yet connected Archibald Willard to this narrative, nor have we definitively connected our written record to our physical objects. Though the 1906 entries I have just noted, coupled with the oral history of a lodge member, provide a strong circumstantial case, there is still work to be done to strengthen the chain of ownership.

Mr. Corwin was able to locate earlier entries within the Bellefontaine Lodge #209 minutes that also appear relevant to our story. On December 21, 1875, the lodge voted to donate “Twenty Five Dollars, towards buying 3 paintings for use of Lodge Room” (Minutes of the Bellefontaine Lodge, 1897-1911, unnumbered page). The following year, in April 1876, this note appears: “Broth[er] Elmer was granted an order on the Treas. for 5.00 for amount he had paid Mr. W.B. Soudare [sic] for work done on paintings” (ibid.). W.B. Soudaire was apparently a decorative painter and paperer who died in Toledo shortly after this entry was recorded.

What was Soudaire’s relationship to Bellefontaine’s interior decoration project? Did he know Archibald Willard? Were they working together, or at least during the same time frame, Willard on the panels (probably in his Cleveland studio; more on that below) and Soudaire on-site in the Bellefontaine lodge room? Was Soudaire doing the finish work on the rest of the room? Or was he in fact originally hired to paint the three massive panels, and his death left an unfinished commission that Archibald Willard eventually completed? At present, we do not know.

What we do know about Archibald Willard is that 1875/76 was a crucial moment in his career. Since at least 1873, he had been working with a Cleveland photographer called James Fitzallan Ryder (1826-1904). When Willard painted his “Pluck” works that year, Ryder caused a public stir by displaying them in the newly-installed plate glass windows of his studio, and offering inexpensive chromolithograph versions for sale. Ryder encouraged Willard to create a work for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, to be marketed on the same model, and the iconic “Spirit of ’76” was the result. This is what Willard was working on during the period the panels were first commissioned.

Ryder’s studio was located at 239 Superior Avenue in Cleveland. Willard appears in the 1875 Cleveland City Directory, listed as a “Fresco Painter,” with a studio at nearby 205 Superior Avenue. By the following year he had relocated even closer to Ryder, into the second-floor commercial spaces of Cleveland’s City Hall, then located at 233 Superior Avenue (present-day location of the Cleveland Public Library main branch).


The Case Block, which was serving as Cleveland’s City Hall in 1876, when Archibald Willard rented studio space there. The building was demolished in the early twentieth-century and that block is now the location of the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library.

Also operating nearby on Superior Avenue that same year was a man called Max R. Cooks. He was part of several “fresco painting” firms before settling into a family business called Cooks Brothers. By 1883, his company had relocated one street over, to Euclid Avenue, which in that era was known as “Millionaires’ Row.” Cleveland was home to many of the nation’s most wealthy and powerful industrialists (including John D. Rockefeller), sustaining multiple interior design firms in operation in the city.

In his book, The Spirit of ’76…An American Portrait (1976), Willard F. Gordon–a descendant of the artist–asserted that Max Cooks was a close friend of Archibald Willard and considered him a “genius.” He employed Willard, presumably as a sub-contractor for the Cooks Brothers firm, to “paint frescos and stucco reliefs in many northern Ohio churches, homes of prominent citizens, and public buildings” (56). Gordon cites the painting of the New Cleveland Opera House and the creation of three murals in Washington Court House, Ohio in 1882 as specific examples of their professional partnership.

I was not able to learn much about Max Cooks, nor substantiate the business connection to Willard through other primary sources. In 1947, Cooks’ widow, Clara, was on a bus tour which passed through Washington Court House and asked to see the murals painted by Archibald Willard under her late husband’s employment. No one apparently remembered that Willard had created the murals, and the story proved so popular that it was periodically featured in The Plain Dealer over the following decades (for example, 2-24-1957, pg. 9 and 11-21-1976, pg. 38). Mrs. Cooks’ obituary noted her membership in the Alice Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Was Max Cooks a mason? Was he the conduit through which Willard obtained the commission to paint three enormous Masonic teaching boards? Did Willard execute the commission in his Cleveland City Hall Studio? How long did it take to complete? Were the enormous paintings shipped back down to Bellefontaine via train or wagon, or both? For every question that seems answered, five more crop up to take its place.

The three Masonic tracing boards currently housed at the Spirit of ’76 Museum in Wellington were apparently created at the request of Bellefontaine Lodge #209, sometime after 1875. We do not know how Archibald Willard came to be connected to the project; at present, only his signature on one of the three panels provides evidence of his authorship. Willard was operating out of studios in Cleveland from this time until the end of his life, so it seems most likely he painted the panels there, in the absence of any evidence of a protracted stay in Logan County. Given the evidence of the Bellefontaine Lodge minutes, I presume the “3 paintings” they ordered are the same three objects now housed 140 years later in Wellington. The work was therefore completed prior to 1906, when Bellefontaine donated them to West Mansfield Lodge #588. Archibald Willard died in Cleveland in 1918.

Three Cheers!

Masonic stained glass

Interior view of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Though I have not been able to post as regularly of late as once I did, I could not let this occasion pass without comment. Three years ago today I began this little blog. What an extraordinary experience it has been, with more than 35,000 folks visiting these pages to read about life in a rural Ohio village more than a century ago.

My posts may be more infrequent, but that does not mean the research has ended. On the contrary, I have been working on several larger, more in-depth projects over the past few months. For example, I have spent over fifty hours to date investigating painter Archibald Willard‘s connections to the Freemasons, and hope to write up my findings on that topic in the next few weeks. (As part of that research, I visited archives and museums on a recent trip to Massachusetts, including the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, pictured above.) The Southern Lorain County Historical Society is planning to have three large-scale Masonic panels painted by Willard conserved and put on display, hopefully in time to commemorate the centennial of his death in 2018.

I am also in the early stages of putting together two print publications. I am cautiously optimistic that both will be available to the public by Wellington’s bicentennial celebrations, also in 2018. I will provide additional information via this blog as it becomes available.

One of the most wonderful effects of publishing on the Internet has been the wide reach of the posts. I have been contacted by readers from across the country, often descendants of the people profiled in these essays. It has been my pleasure to provide some of them with additional assistance in tracking down ancestral homes, and even providing photographs of what the properties look like in the present time. I am very pleased to report that at least three different individuals I have spoken with are planning a first or return visit to Wellington, inspired to pursue their own genealogy by the stories they encountered here. That is deeply rewarding.

I hope you all continue to enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing it. Here’s to many more years of discovery to come!

The Importance of Being Patient

Detail of Wellington 1857

Detail of “Village of Wellington” (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

The massively popular website GeneaBloggers has been running a program this year that it calls the “2016 Genealogy Do Over.” The basic premise of the program is to give oneself permission to set aside all previous assumptions made during years–if not decades–of genealogical research and start fresh. Reexamine your primary source material with clear eyes and see what new information presents itself.

I have often wondered what I would learn if I had the time to go back and reread all the materials I have gathered since 2005, in the larger context of what I (think I) know now. Through pure happenstance, in recent weeks I had two instances in which this very scenario occurred. I was looking at materials I had gathered for research on other topics, and found unrelated answers for which I had been searching.

The image above is a detail of Archibald Willard’s study, “Village of Wellington.” For ages I have been attempting to use documentary evidence to determine precisely what each of the depicted buildings was used for when the painting was made in 1857. Then, while gathering information for my recent post on Wellington’s Seminary, it suddenly struck me: the massive “Map of Lorain Co. Ohio From Actual Surveys by John F. Geil” was also created in 1857. And there, printed right on the map, is a clear set of labels indicating the purpose of every structure in the painting. The Wellington House hotel-later called the American House-sat on the intersection, with a book store and post office directly adjacent. Next came a store, followed by the Presbyterian Church, then the (second) town hall and finally the (first) Methodist Church.

Detail 1857 County Map

Detail of “Map of Lorain Co. Ohio From Actual Surveys by John F. Geil. 1857” showing the east side of South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio.

The second mystery I recently solved was perhaps of less general interest than the one described above, but was immensely satisfying for me. Early readers of the blog will recall that I began this research when my family bought an 1876 Italianate house on North Main Street in 2004, a house built by businessman Noah Huckins. Over the years I have learned an enormous amount about Huckins’ life story. I know that he was born in Canada; that he attended college at Baldwin University (now Baldwin Wallace University) in Berea, Ohio; that he enlisted in a Civil War regiment from Oberlin but only served three months; that he was a successful entrepreneur in both Wellington and Oberlin, where he died.

What I was never able to discover was what brought Huckins to Wellington after his military service. Then, again while reviewing materials for my recent post on the Wellington Seminary, I found a Lorain County News item on the state of Wellington schools during the war. Buried in seven paragraphs, I discovered eight words that answered my question. “Our schools for the past term, though taught in three different houses, have been managed on the plan of the ‘Union Schools,’ with a corps of four teachers, under the superintendence of N. Huckins of Berea, and it has proved a success beyond that of any former period in the history of Wellington schools” (emphasis added, 12-30-1863, pg. 3). So Huckins came to Wellington to serve as superintendent of the village’s educational system, and ended up staying for two decades. I had the answer in my grasp for who knows how long, but somehow missed it.

Speaking of the virtues of patience, I must beg the pardon of regular readers. I have been posting less frequently of late, but I hope for good reason. I have a few blog-related projects in the works at present, including two print publications and a possible exhibition. Most exciting, perhaps, is that my assistance has been requested on an upcoming conservation project involving three newly discovered panels painted by Archibald Willard. Local folks may have seen recent press coverage. All of that “tangential” research is taking a fair amount of time. But if the nineteenth-century history of Wellington is a topic that interests you, I trust your patience will ultimately be rewarded.

Willard panels

Candid snapshot of three oversized panels painted by Archibald Willard, on public display at Wellington’s Masonic Hall, May 22, 2016. Photo by author.


Contrabands, i.e. liberated slaves, farming Edisto Island, South Carolina, in 1862. From James M. McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" (illustrated edition, 2003) pg. 305. Original image in the collection of the U.S. Army Military History Institute.

Contrabands farming Edisto Island, South Carolina, in 1862. From James M. McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom” (illustrated edition, 2003) pg. 305. Original image in the collection of the U.S. Army Military History Institute.

WELLINGTON. CONTRABANDS.–One of our young men having purchased a lot of timbered land, and made a large contract to furnish wood for the C.C. & C.R.R., finding it difficult to obtain the needed help, went in search of it, first to Canada, where he could find help–but the pay must be in Canada money. That wouldn’t do. So he went to St. Louis and there made arrangements for Contraband help. To perfect the arrangement he was obliged to make a contract with the Government Agent, binding himself and the contrabands to a faithful performance of specified duties. When it was announced, on the arrival of the Saturday night train, that ‘Col Stark and his black brigade were coming,’ the four corners of the Centre were thronged with those who were curious to see the freshly arrived contrabands from Missouri. They were eight in number; five able-bodied men, one woman, and two children, the youngest a little girl say seven years old. They marched up, rank and file, (carrying their beds and baggage,) and took up their quarters over the Sabbath at the popular Wellington House, and thence have removed to a comfortable log cabin on Mr. Stark’s land, and commenced labor as freedmen for very liberal wages and a comfortable support” (Lorain County News, 4-15-1863, pg. 3).

The term “contraband” was first applied to human beings in 1861. According to James McPherson’s seminal study of the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom, General Benjamin Butler declared three slaves who escaped to his lines to be “contraband of war” and therefore not subject to return under the Fugitive Slave Act. It was a decision that infuriated both the South and also Democrats in the North who were not in favor of black emancipation. But the Lincoln administration allowed Butler to proceed with the policy and slaves were soon pouring into Union positions, pleading for a kind of asylum. Their legal status remained extremely murky; General Butler himself wrote to the War Department asking for clarification as to whether such people were, in fact, free (pgs. 291-292).

There were nearly four million souls living in bondage in the United States in 1860. Historians do not agree on how many eventually liberated themselves and became known as contrabands; certainly anecdotal information and estimates from several urban areas suggest a number in the many tens of thousands. As the war progressed, the army struggled with the question of how best to support and employ the swelling numbers. In 1863, the Freedman’s Inquiry Commission was established to address the most pressing issues. The army began to create “home farms” to employ former slaves, and then to relocate large groups around the country to work, including cotton harvesting for the benefit of Northern and British textile mills. McPherson wrote, “The quality of supervision of contraband labor ranged from the benign to a brutal paternalism, prefiguring the spectrum of labor relations after the war. Part of the freedmen’s wages was often withheld until the end of the season to ensure that they stayed on the job, and most of the rest was deducted for food and shelter. Many contrabands, understandably, could see little difference between this system of ‘free’ labor and the bondage they had endured all their lives” (pg. 619).

And so back to our 1863 notice. The mental image it conjured, of eight weary travelers carrying all their worldly possessions through a gawking throng of strangers, haunted me and made me yearn to know more. The most obvious path forward was to investigate the named employer, Mr. Stark. He was described as a young local man who had just purchased a tract of forested land. I looked at corporation tax records for Wellington for the years 1863 and 1864 and found nothing. I then broadened my search to include the seven Lorain County townships that border Wellington. I found a single tax payer called Stark: Julius P. Stark purchased one-hundred-fourteen acres of land in Penfield in 1863, then sold the parcel off in 1865.

Detail from "Atlas of Lorain County, Ohio" (1874), pg. 43. The circled lot belonged to Julius P. Stark in 1863. It was bordered on the north by what is today Route 71, on the west by Route 48, and the south by Route 45. Photo by author.

Detail from “Atlas of Lorain County, Ohio. 1874.” Pg. 43. The circled lot belonged to Julius P. Stark from 1863 to 1865. It was bordered on the north by what is today Route 71 and on the west by modern Route 48. Photo by author.

I had already examined the Lorain County News, looking at all Wellington notices for a year after the publication date of Stark’s mention. Now I returned to the newspaper and searched all issues from 1863 to the end of 1865 for any mention of Penfield. I soon stumbled on this: “A GOOD WOMAN IN TROUBLE.–A poor and worthy colored woman lost, near Penfield’s shop, on Monday of last week, a purse containing about three dollars.–The money had just come from her husband who is at work in a distant State and was about to be used in the purchase of winter stores, which the family sorely needs. The loss was a great one and cost the distressed family many tears. Will not the finder of the purse leave it at Fitch’s Bookstore and lest the money should not be recovered, will not those who have generous hearts hand to the post master, as they call for their mails, a contribution, in behalf of the suffering family, of a few pennies to each person” (Lorain County News, 9-30-1863, pg. 3).

Admittedly, Penfield was a family surname in the area. It is unclear from the article whether it refers to a shop in the village of Penfield, or simply a shop owned elsewhere by someone called Penfield. (The placement of the notice is also ambiguous; its nearest column heading is ‘Oberlin,’ but the piece immediately above it describes an incident that occurred in Amherst.) I decided to check federal census records to see if the Penfield post-war enumerations contained any reference to black residents.

In 1860, there was not a single person of color included in the twenty-two page listing of Penfield’s citizens. But by 1870, that had changed. Five years after the Civil War ended, there were two separate black households in Penfield, in which ten people lived. The first household was home to William Brown and his wife, Sarah, both aged thirty. Their daughter, Mary Ann, was listed as fifteen years old and the only non-white student in the township. William and Sarah were both born in Kentucky, their child in Mississippi. Though William owned no land, his personal estate had an estimated worth of $350. He was by no means the wealthiest man in his neighborhood, but neither was he the poorest.

The second household was larger and less well-off, with two families cohabitating. Jacob Brown, 68, and his wife Rena, 66, were originally from Georgia and North Carolina respectively. George Taylor, 29, was from Tennessee. His wife, Lucinda, 27, was from Georgia; two of her children, Betsy (3) and William (2) had also been born in Georgia. Baby Sarah Ann, just two months old when the census was taken on July 7, 1870, had been born in Ohio. No one in this household owned any real estate or personal property of note. Each of the three adult black men included in the census was listed as a “farm laborer.”

1870 Federal Census for Penfield, Ohio showing William Brown, farm laborer, and his family. Pg. 12, household #89.

1870 Federal Census for Penfield, Ohio showing William Brown, farm laborer, and his family. Pg. 12, household #89.

1870 Federal Census for Penfield, Ohio showing Jacob Brown, farm laborer, and his family. Pg. 16, household #117.

1870 Federal Census for Penfield, Ohio showing Jacob Brown, farm laborer, and his extended household. Pg. 16, household #117.

Were any of these people part of the group that traveled to Ohio from Missouri in 1863? It is tempting to note that the Lorain County News highlighted a “little girl say seven years old.” Seven years later, Mary Ann Brown was recorded as fifteen years of age in the Penfield census. Of course, that proves nothing. In the absence of further documentary evidence, there is no way to know what happened to the contrabands. Indeed, by 1880 Penfield again had zero residents of color. What became of the William Brown family, the Jacob Brown family, and the Taylors? Further research is clearly needed.

There is at least one more contraband connection to Wellington. In 1899, The Wellington Enterprise published a two-column obituary for David “Davy” Jackson, born into slavery ca. 1840 in Virginia. Jackson fled to General Philip Sheridan’s army as it moved through the Shenandoah Valley in the fall of 1864. Eventually, he fell into the service of then-Captain Albert C. Houghton (1841-1931), who later wrote Jackson’s obituary. When Houghton was severely injured at the Battle of Five Forks in 1865, Jackson nursed him back to health and returned with him to Wellington Township, living on the Houghton family farm for a decade. He attended the District No. 4 school one winter and Albert’s younger sister, Edith, attempted to teach him to read. “He took great pride and dignity in ”spounding the scriptures’ to the few colored boys in the village who had come from slavery land with their heritage of ignorance” (10-11-1899, pg. 4). David was not the only African-American man living in Wellington in the postbellum years; the 1870 federal census shows nine black residents and seven more classified as “mulatto,” i.e. persons of mixed racial ancestry.

1870 Federal Census for Wellington, Ohio showing David Jackson, farm laborer, living with the Houghton family. Pg. 14, household #108.

1870 Federal Census for Wellington, Ohio showing David Jackson (second line from bottom) , farm laborer, living with the Houghton family. Pg. 14, household #108.

1880 Federal Census for Wellington, Ohio showing David Jackson, laborer, living with the Vischer family. Pg. 30, household #359.

1880 Federal Census for Wellington, Ohio showing David Jackson (bottom line) , laborer, living with the Vischer family. Pg. 30, household #359.

Jackson saved enough money from his wages to both support family in Virginia and start a business (of lumbering, coincidentally). The business failed and David went to work as a coachman for Wellington organ and piano merchant William Vischer (1838-1914). For seven years, he lived in a small red house behind the Vischer residence, which once stood at 216 South Main Street but was demolished in 2009. All told, Jackson remained in Wellington for nearly two decades before relocating to Detroit, where he died as a result of an industrial accident at the age of fifty-nine.

Though Albert Houghton clearly felt affection enough for Jackson to write and publish such a lengthy tribute, his racial attitudes could hardly be characterized as enlightened. The obituary concluded, “To those who knew Davy Jackson thoroughly it was noticeable that his face, although black, his heart was white as his spirit that shone through it.” Contrabands may have escaped the institution of slavery during the war, but the movement to achieve true equality under the law, and end discrimination based on the color of a person’s skin, would sadly continue for many generations to come.

ETA: I have been informed by a knowledgeable local historian that there was a Fitch’s Bookstore in Oberlin in the 1860s. That suggests the notice about a woman losing her purse and money did occur in Oberlin, rather than Penfield.

By the Numbers

Cabinet card image of unidentified woman, taken by William Sawtell. Author's collection.

Cabinet card image of unidentified woman, taken by William Sawtell. (One of thirty such Sawtell images acquired during the researching and writing of this blog.) Author’s collection.

As I approach the second anniversary of this project, I have been considering how best to proceed moving forward. Should I continue to post ongoing research? Should I further develop the body of work on topics of particular interest to me? Perhaps I should stop posting regularly and instead focus on publishing a traditional, hardbound book? While I ponder these questions, I have been doing a great deal of behind-the-scenes work on the blog, structural and copy editing improvements that have almost certainly been invisible to the public.

In the course of that process, I have assembled some statistics and “fun facts” about the blog. I am the sort of person who loves a stats list–yes, please, do tell me precisely how many times my DNA would stretch around the equator if it were all unraveled! If that sort of exercise is not to your taste, dear reader, you may wish to give this post a pass.

This is my 120th post in just twenty-two months. By my calculations, I have already written over 101,000 words on the history of Wellington in the 1800s, excluding captions and comments. When that text is put into manuscript form–sans illustrations–it is just shy of 200 pages (in 12 pt font). Adding in the illustrations would extend the page count considerably, as I’ve used more than 430 of them.

Of the 101,000 words, more than 20% were written about just five subjects. They are as follows, in ascending order: William F. Sawtell (photographer and painter); Wah Sing (Chinese proprietor of a laundry business); Dean (emancipated female slave and one of the very first settlers of the village); Noah Huckins (Canadian entrepreneur who built a house my family once owned); and The Wellington Enterprise. I have written multiple posts on each of these topics, tallying in total 4,000 to 5,500 words each.

And you, the audience, have been more than generous in your support of this little endeavor. More than one hundred of you are subscribers to 19th-Century Wellington. Visitors to this page–and there have been upwards of 23,000–have come from 84 countries around the globe. (Top five countries in descending order: United States; Canada; United Kingdom; New Zealand; France.) You have offered more than one hundred comments, all of them kind, encouraging, and expressing a level of interest in the topic that continues to surprise and delight me.

Many thanks, as always, for your time and attention. If you have comments to make, or suggestions to offer, you can do so at any time by clicking, “Leave a reply,” under any post title.

“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.


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 new comers… 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.


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.