Program Announcement II

Preservation materials. Photo by author.

Preservation materials. Photo by author.

A brief programmatic announcement that may be of interest to local folks. For those who are not already aware, your humble blogger is the presenter…

“On Tuesday, January 26th at 2:30PM the Wellington Genealogy Group will offer a special ‘working session’ on appropriate housing for your treasured family keepsakes. Nicole Hayes will be the presenter. Hayes has fifteen years work experience in museums and archives, and in her last position was responsible for teaching workshops on this topic to museum staff. There will be free catalogs available but attendees are encouraged to bring laptops. Hayes will show some of the different vendor sites and explain how to identify and order what you need. Please DO NOT bring fragile or valuable items to the session. If you have something unusual that you would like to house, bring a digital photograph and measurements. The session will be held at the LCCC Wellington campus, and is free and open to all.”

A Journey to Lee

The Lee Congregational United Church of Christ, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

The Lee Congregational United Church of Christ, Lee, Massachusetts. Built in 1857. Photo by author.

For the past several years, as I made the journey home to Massachusetts from Ohio, I drove right by the town of Lee. Regular readers of the blog well know that many of Wellington’s earliest settlers came from Lee and surrounding communities in the Berkshires. I have long wanted to stop and take a closer look, and this year I was finally able to plan a visit.

I did a bit of preliminary research to try and identify eighteenth-century landmarks in the area. I was interested to see any buildings or structures that might have existed when the Howk family–1818 immigrants to Wellington–lived in Lee. There are not many left. The church at the center of the town was erected in 1857, though there is a marker on the adjacent green indicating where an earlier meeting house was built in 1780.

Marker indicating site of 1780 meeting house, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Marker indicating site of 1780 meeting house, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Illustration of Lee's first church, built in 1780. From "Lee: The Centennial Celebration and Centennial History of the Town of Lee, Mass," opposite pg. 226.

Illustration of Lee’s first church, built in 1780. From “Lee: The Centennial Celebration and Centennial History of the Town of Lee, Mass,” opposite pg. 226.

The church and town green are at the base of Howk’s Hill, and I was able to drive around the golf course that today occupies the 125 acres which once comprised Isaac Howk’s homestead. There is a lovely parsonage on the same road (now West Park Street) that the Howks would have passed on their way to meeting each Sunday. Hyde House was erected in 1792 and is still a private residence today.

Hyde House, Lee, Massachusetts. Built in 1792. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Hyde House, Lee, Massachusetts. Built in 1792. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

I then made my way to Fairmount Cemetery. What a strange experience it was, to wander around this Massachusetts resting place and and see so many familiar Wellington names: DeWolf, Foote, Bradley. I had no precise information on whether any stones stood for the people I have researched, but I was extraordinarily lucky. One of the very first markers I saw after parking belonged to Sarah Foote Sherrill (1808-1885).

Headstone of Sarah Foote Sherrill and her husband, Reverend Edwin J. Sherrill. Photo by author.

Headstone of Sarah Foote Sherrill and her husband, Reverend Edwin J. Sherrill. Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

As I made my way on foot further back into the cemetery, I passed further back in time. By the time I reached the area farthest from the street and main gate, I was in the eighteenth century. I discovered an older back road, now grassed over, that led to the oldest stones on the grounds. At first, I could not find any stones belonging to members of the Howk family. But I did discover a large marker for an Ingersoll relative of my husband’s. When I brought him back to show him the stone, I found to my astonishment that it was just feet from the final resting places of Isaac Howk and his daughter Catherine.

Headstone of Isaac Howk (1757-1805), Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Headstone of Isaac Howk (1757-1805), Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Catherine, called Caty by the family, died of consumption at age seventeen and is interred next to her father. Her stone is not as legible as Isaac’s. I could not help but imagine the rest of the Howk family taking leave of these stones before departing Lee for the Ohio country, never to return.

Headstone of Catherine Howk (1788-1806), Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Headstone of Catherine Howk (1788-1806), Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

It was a too-brief, but nonetheless thrilling, visit. I hope to return again and delve deeper into the historical connections between these two towns.

Disused rear gate that leads to the oldest part of Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Disused rear gate that leads to the oldest part of Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

History Happening

The newly opened Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

The newly opened Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

There is an oft-repeated story which tells of Britain’s King George III writing in his personal diary on July 4, 1776, “Nothing important happened today.” The story is false; George never kept a personal diary and the anecdote probably has its origins in a similar sort of remark written by France’s King Louis XVI on July 14, 1789, the date of the storming of the Bastille. But still the tale is told, I think because people are drawn to the idea of a hated monarch not yet realizing that his world had changed so profoundly.

History is not the past. It is today. The seemingly inevitable events we read about in textbooks, carefully labeled and separated into neat time periods, were experienced by people as an ongoing series of small and chaotic moments. It was as impossible for them to judge what would be considered “important” in the future as it is for us.

I am reflecting on this because a small but historic event occurred in the village this morning. The Wellington railroad underpass finally opened, after several years of construction. This may seem unimportant, and unrelated to the subject of this blog. But consider that for the first time since 1850, vehicular traffic is tonight flowing through Wellington unobstructed by trains. Something that has been a norm of life for 165 years silently ended.

I find myself thinking about our mid-nineteenth-century counterparts, those who were here the day the first trains ran through. Did they hold some sort of celebration? Were remarks offered by notable townspeople, commenting on how the railroad would undoubtedly spur the town to grow and change? They had no way of envisioning what a Wellington of 2015 would be like, any more than we can foresee Wellington in 2180.

History is today. Remember that while you are living it.

Decorative vignette inset into the wall of the new Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

Decorative vignette inset into the retaining wall of the new Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

Our Great National Feast of Thanksgiving

"A Thanksgiving Toast." Undated holiday card (likely early twentieth century).

“A Thanksgiving Toast.” Undated holiday card (likely early twentieth century).

Thanksgiving is upon us once again. Hard to believe this is my third annual Thankgiving post. I want to start off with a heartfelt, “Thank you!” to all those who attended my recent talk. I was surprised and gratified by how many people attended, and by the kind comments of all who took a moment to speak with me after the program. You have inspired me to get back to work!

Often, when we read about the history of the American Thanksgiving holiday, the year that is offered as the “first” official Thanksgiving (after 1621 in Plymouth, of course) is 1863. We have all heard the story of how President Abraham Lincoln, at least partly in response to a twenty-year-long campaign by author and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a federal holiday of thanks for recent Union victories including the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg. What is less often noted, however, is that for decades prior, Thanksgiving had been proclaimed as an annual holiday by the governors of America’s individual states. In 1847, for example, twenty-four of the twenty-nine states celebrated on the last Thursday in November. Thanksgiving was by no means a novel concept in 1863.

The Lorain County News, which was Wellington’s only local newspaper at the time of the Civil War, commented on November 25, 1863 that Thanksgiving was “a venerable day of family reunions, joyous meetings and congratulations, tender reminiscences and emotions, praise and prayer.” The paper reflected on how especially sad this particular Thanksgiving would be in light of the year’s massive loss of human life, but added, “In all the past visitations of this joyous anniversary we have never had greater occasion than now for hearts full to overflowing with gratitude…since last thanksgiving [sic] day the rich prospect has dawned upon us of a redeemed nation, a people loyal and true to the government and a proclamation of freedom to millions of human beings” (pg. 2).

On that federally-appointed Thanksgiving of 1863, all Wellington businesses were closed and the village joined as one for a single religious observance at the Congregational Church in the morning, followed in the evening by a “well-attended thanksgiving [sic] prayer meeting at the M.E. Church.” The townsfolk had previously subscribed $50 to provide Thanksgiving food to soldiers’ families. Each of the twelve that had a young man at the front received “a good wheelbarrow load of edibles” including flour, potatoes, sugar, tea, crackers, beef, and “a pair of dressed chickens.” This admirable donation was valued at more than $4 per family. In addition, Rev. Mrs. Shipherd spearheaded the collection of “greatly needed articles” that had already been forwarded “to the suffering contrabands, the freedmen, women and children of the South” (LCN, 12-2-1863, pg. 3).

A very joyous holiday to you all. May we count our blessings and be truly grateful all the year ’round.

Farewell, Union School

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Back in January 2014, I wrote a post about the Union School, built in 1867. Over time, the stately brick Italianate was obscured behind multiple additions, and the overall structure is today known as McCormick Middle School. When I wrote that post nearly two years ago, plans were afoot to construct a new middle school and demolish this building. That plan has now come to fruition. The new building is complete on the north side of town, and the old one is due to be torn down by year’s end.

Today, the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, i.e. The Spirit of ’76 Museum, sponsored an open house at the school that they called, “The Last Lunch.” They opened the building up to the public for self-directed and guided tours, while serving a free final lunch to the community in the cafeteria. Tonight there is a farewell dance in the gymnasium. It was a wonderful event and the school was full of people, taking photographs of their former classrooms and reminiscing over childhood adventures.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

I am not a Wellington native and never attended McCormick. Instead, I was hunting for evidence of the nineteenth-century core of the complex. While the original Italianate structure is clearly identifiable on the exterior, there is virtually no evidence of it inside. All architectural details, including a central, curving wooden staircase, have been eradicated or hidden behind drop ceilings, drywall, and decades of paint.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Though the Italianate section of the building looks rather large from the outside, it is comprised of only two floors: the ground level is almost entirely filled by the cafeteria, and the second story has two large classrooms, with curving walls that proved impossible to effectively photograph. The central staircase was apparently entirely enclosed in stages over the course of the twentieth century due to fears of fire.

Former exterior wall of the Union School, now enclosed in the basement of a later addition. Photo by author.

Former exterior wall of the Union School, now enclosed in the basement of a later addition to McCormick Middle School. Photo by author.

McCormick Middle School is scheduled to come down in the next two to three months. For the first time since 1867, that plot of land on South Main Street will sit unoccupied. At about the same time, the new railroad underpass will open; for the first time since 1850, vehicles will move unobstructed by train traffic through the center of the village. It is the end of a Wellington era, in more ways than one.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Program Announcement

Winter image of the 1868 Methodist Church, located at 127 Park Place, Wellington, Ohio. This photograph must have been taken after the 1885 construction of the Town Hall and Opera House, visible to the left of the church. Note the wrought iron fence around the park, no longer extant. Photo 970089 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Winter image of the 1868 Methodist Church, located at 127 Park Place, Wellington, Ohio. This photograph must have been taken after the 1885 construction of the Town Hall and Opera House, visible to the left of the church. Note the wrought iron fence around the park, no longer extant. Photo 970089 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

I have been asked to deliver the talk at this year’s Annual Meeting of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, i.e. the Spirit of ’76 Museum. If you are interested in attending, it will be held on Thursday, November 12th at 6PM, at the First United Methodist Church of Wellington. There will be a dinner, a brief review of the year’s accomplishments, then…well, me. I’ll be speaking on the Howk family and their journey from Massachusetts to Wellington in 1818 with an emancipated slave called Dean. My working title is, “Into the Wilderness: A Massachusetts Household Emigrates to Ohio.”

Tickets are $12/person and that is for the dinner (your choice: chicken or pork with vegetables, salad and dessert). Reservations are requested no later than November 6th. Full details will soon be coming to museum members in their October newsletter, including a form to complete and mail in with check payment. If you aren’t a museum member but are interested in attending, contact the museum directly or leave me a message below and I will put you in touch with the appropriate parties. Hope to see you there!

Contrabands

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 taxpayer 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.