LIFE of the EARLY
SETTLERS of WEBSTER TOWNSHIP
AS TOLD BY ROBERT FENTON
Compiled by Harley Brueggemeier, 1996
Life of the early settlers of Webster Twp. As told by Robert Fenton
Fenton’s Reminiscences—The story of the emigration, arrival and settlement of the Scotch colony in Webster Township is valuable, not only in its descriptions of the trials and success of its personnel, but also for the lessons which it teaches. It is given here, as told by Robert Fenton, before the pioneers assembled, at Bowling Green, in September, 1883:
On the 19th day of April 1834, a hardy little band of Scotch people started from the city of Glasgo, Scotland, for America. A more robust, healthy, determined lot of people seldom have left Scotland. We took shipping at Greenock. As it was when Columbus started on his first exploring expedition in such small vessels, it does seem as though it was, too much risk to brave the Atlantic in such small crafts, so it was with some of the oldest residents of Webster. Our little brig when she turned her prow westward for the land in promise, registered just 284 tons. Vessels of far greater tonnage could be once seen at the dock at Perrysburg. After forty-two days buffeting the billows, we were brought safely into the bay of New York.
No person, unless one who has been similarly situated, can have any idea the anxiety the head of a family has in going to a land of strangers, and more especially a person in the situation of my father. He was a shoemaker by trade, not having done one day of out-door labor in his life with a family of small children and still smaller capital. I have heard him say that after out passage was paid he had one hundred sovereigns left—a sum equal to $484. As to matter of wealth, all of us were about on equal footing. As it now is, so it was then; every one is ready to take the advantage of emigrants. It was not as to the matter of comfort we had to consult, but the way we could be taken the cheapest. After two days we came to Albany. One incident occurred in that city, and I sometimes have to recall it, when I get in company with your townsman, Robert Stewart, and Robert Davidson, who were two of us. As I said before, emigrants have a great many tongues to deal with; so we had. It used to be a trick for three or four rascally canal boatmen to buy an old water-logged canal boat and get her afloat, and agree, at a cheap rate, to take a load of emigrants on the canal to Buffalo. They would hire some old canal livery horse and, after going a few miles on the canal, commonly in the night, abandon her, first getting mostly all the passage money. By such were we victimized. We called these fellows smoothe-tongued Yankees and so they were. One of the sailors who came with us across the ocean came with us to Albany, he having more knowledge of water-craft than we had. After our luggage was aboard we discovered that the boat was in a sinking condition, and only by vigorous pumping could she be kept afloat, and that she had no rudder that she could be steered by. He informed us that we had better get our stuff out, or we would soon lose all we had; and he was right. Now came the tug of war, when we began to get our luggage ashore, and the boatmen saw their plans to cheat us frustrated. Our sailor was a regular John L. Sullivan, and Hugh Stewart was a man whose rights could not be trampled on without testing them. I will say that I never saw two men defend their rights against so many and come off victorious. Any way, we got our luggage ashore, and some blood spilt. Then those fellows went and swore out a warrant, and most all the heads of the families were arrested.
We hired a pettifogger, and were cleared. We thought this a pretty rough introduction into this land of promise. We got along well enough on the raging Erie canal except the seeing of those what we thought monster snakes, and hearing the blood-a-nouns or the bull-frogs, something we had never seen or heard of before. So at length we arrived at Buffalo.
From Buffalo we came to Cleveland in an old steamer, “William Penn, “ that might have been built before the Revolution, and condemned as unfit for use. There was one incident happened in coming up the lake which I can never forget. A German woman, the mother of a large family while drawing a bucket of water from the lake, fell overboard and was drowned. The rascally captain did not try to stop the boat, which he could have done, and perhaps have save the woman’s life, but the heartless wretch actually wanted to know if the pail had been lost also. He seemed more concerned for the bucket than for the woman’s life. What became of the poor orphan children I never learned, but their pitiful cries haunt my ears to this day.
At Cleveland we chartered a small schooner called the “Rain Bow of Avon,” not finished or painted. One of the sailors, an old man, had once been up the Maumee river, all of the others knew no more about Perrysburg and the navigation of the Maumee than they knew of the course of the Nile. We sailed around half a day hunting to get into the mouth of the river. Finally we got to where Toledo about is; it was then Vistula and Port Lawrence. Between Toledo and Perrysburg, we were becalmed for one day, all of us being anxious to get to Perrysburg. Robert Stewart’s father, who was a carpenter by trade, suggested the idea that we go ashore to the woods opposite, where is now Toledo and he superintend the making of large oars or sweeps. This was carried out, and I think this was the first vessel ever propelled up the Maumee River by the strong arms of a lot of sturdy Scotchmen. We arrived at Perrysburg. Now “a friend in need is a friend indeed,” and this friend we found in honest Shibnah Spink, who always had a kind heart for the stranger. He befriended us in every possible way, but no house could be found in Perrysburg to rent. David Ladd had a log house with the walls up and the place for windows cut out, but no floor in or door on. With a few boards to put our chests on, four large families of us spent first night in Perrysburg, in this shelter, on the 26th day of June, 1834. We got work in a brickyard owned by James Stafford. I had worked nine days when I was taken with fever and ague. I recollect how terrified we were; not knowing anything of ague, they thought I had a fit of palsy. Robert Stewart says that one time he went into the house I have just mentioned, and saw thirteen shaking with the ague at one time; it was nigh nine months before I got better.
After being in Perrysburg a few weeks, we had to think of getting homes for ourselves. My father and the father of Robert Stewart, and the father of Robert Davidson, went into Michigan to hunt land; it must have been near where Adrian now is. In going through openings and swamps on the road they got parted from one another and each had to find his way home as best he could, one having to stay out all night. The father of Robert and Walter Davidson was restless, and was bound to find a home soon for his family; hearing of good land to be bought cheap in western Pennsylvania, he determined to go and see it. So he and the father of Robert Stewart, started on foot, saw land that suited and bought in Erie County, Penn. They returned on foot; the weather was very warm, and they wee anxious to get back to their families yet in Perrysburg. When a few miles west of Lower Sandusky, they went to a house to get some water, and being very warm and thirsty, drank freely and hastily. Davidson fell dead in the Yard; now imagine Mr. Stewart’s feelings; his comrade and friend, who a few moments before was strong, healthy man, yet in so short a time laying a lifeless corpse. But now to get the remains to his family; he had to get a rude box and hire a team to get to Perrysburg, and over the then almost impassable road, and as Davidson was in the prime of life, decomposition set in very quickly. I shall never forget that awful solemn evening, between daylight and dark, when a wagon drove up to the house through the brush with the remains of Mr. Davidson. I shall not attempt to describe that sorrowful scene. Mrs. Davidson’s situation and feelings, with a family of small children and in a land of strangers, can better be imagined than described.
Not very long after, my father and Robert Stewart’s father went to hunt land out on the McCutchenville road, which had been underbrushed on the winter before, William Muir, Sr., being one of the party, and living in tents while cutting the road, as far as the Portage river, now Householder’s Corners. They came to where Levi Loomis had just started in the woods and had made a small opening. He was a man who had a good knowledge of the woods and where the section lines were, the land having been but a short time before surveyed. Mr. Loomis showed my father and Mr. Stewart the land where Hugh Stewart now lives, and adjoining the farm that David Main now lives on, eighty acres each. Mr. Loomis gave them a description of the land, and the men had to go to Bucyrus to the land office to enter it at $1.25 per acre. The difficulty they went through in getting to and from Bucyrus to the land office to would take two long to tell. They got lost in what was known as the Indian Reserve, and had much trouble. In going through Rome (now part of Fostoria) they called in at Foster’s little grocery store, and got some crackers and cheese, and some whisky to wash it down with. For many years Mr. Stewart’s house was the only one between Perrysburg and the Portage River.
We, as foreigners, had many difficulties to encounter that Americans had not, having no knowledge of chopping; but it was not long till some of the Scotchmen could be numbered with the best choppers in the county. But one other incident to discourage us was in the fall of 1834. Hugh Stewart’s grandfather lived in a house on the farm of Thompson, near the Parks place, three miles from Perrysburg; he used to come in the morning and go back home in the evening, over a trail, known as the Huey trail, til not many hears ago. One evening in going home he got benighted and had to stay in the woods, on a wet, cold night, caught cold and died not long after. That same winter Hugh Stewart moved all his household stuff on a hand-sled. Many a time I think how poorly clad we were to go through the cold winter, and some times our provisions very scanty, and at the same time I cannot but think what a merry lot we were. There was a lot of us boys just getting to be men; girls just growing into womanhood and we used to have lots of shindigs in the winter. I have known them as often as four in one week, and in those days, some of the grandmothers and grandfathers in Webster used to trip it all night. Not long after we came to the woods, some of the Scotch boys got married to some of the Scotch girls, and everything had to be done in old Scotch style, that was, the lad went to the home of the girl’s parents and there got married, and in almost every instance the wedding party would go a-foot to the home provided for himself and wife. Robert Davidson married a daughter of grandmother Forrester, living near Householder’s Corners, and he had a house prepared to live in at Perrysburg, which was nearly twelve miles. The Scotch boys and girls traveled those twelve miles on foot, and a more merry lot has not gone over the road to this day, and plenty of whisky, too, in the bargain, “and danced all night till broad daylight, and went home with the gals in the morning.” This is a sample of the many Scotch weddings that we had among us.
Our nearest mill was either Waterville or Bank’s mill, near Woodville, and the greatest difficulty was in getting to the mill. It was for a long time we had no team, and those we had were oxen, and in winter it was one continued sheet of ice, so that oxen, not shod, would slip, so we could not go. I recollect nearly all one winter we had to live wholly on potatoes, and as we had for many years, no wheat, the rest of our living was corn meal, and meal made from frostbitten corn. Sometimes our hogs used to be gone fro us for months, and sometimes we had big times hunting them. I and my brothers have many a time gone to the woods with a little sack of parched corn, to use when hungry. My father had heard that a man by the name of Painter, in Portage township, made hand-mills to grind corn, He went and got one, and hired a man and yoke of oxen to go after it. There never was anyone so glad to see the finest piano come into the house, as we wee to see that hand-mill. Every morning we had to grind one peck of corn; there were two watches of us—father and bother James, one; my brother John and myself, the other. We earned hard all the meal we got, but we ground it at home. The mill-stones are at the old house today. I think sometime I will bring the mill to the Pioneer meeting to show young America how things have improved. There was an Indian camp not far from us, on the Bellville Ridge, not far from the village of Dowling, on the T. & I. Railroad. Many a night the Indians used to sleep by our fireplace. After getting some clearing done, and putting in corn, we used to be greatly troubled with the raccoons eating it up for us. We had a good coon dog, and nearly every night we had to watch, or we would have had no corn left. In the fall, when the fur began to get good, as a matter of necessity we had to hunt nearly every night, and I have known us to catch from one to three coons of an evening. This money we used to buy our winter clothing with. Before going farther I will refer to the particular incident or cause which brought this little band of the sons of Scotia to this particular part of God’s vineyard. In 1832, just two years prior to the date which begins this story, Henry Hood, Sr., with his wife and daughter, Jand, and two sons, John and Henry; also John Muir, Sr., and wife, with his sons, William, James, Samuel and Joh, and daughters, Jean (now Mrs. Robert Dunipace of Webster), Maggie (now Mrs. John Fenton, of Fulton), and Fannie (now deceased), landed at Quebec, Canada. The cholera was raging, and they all left and went to Buffalo scarcely knowing whither they would go. Here they accidentally met that well-known lake navigator, Capt. David Wilkinson, of Perrysburg, then in command of the Schooner “Eagle,” who induced them to go with him to Perrysburg. They like the location so well, and wrote back so encouragingly to their neighbors in Scotland, that our journey hither was the result. The heads of families who followed in 1833 and ’34 are as follow: Alex Thompson, Robert Davidson, John Fenton, Hugh Stewart, William Muir, Thomas Forrester, William Hadda (removed to Cleveland), Robert Reed, William Dunipace, Peter Shanks, James Shanks, William Weddell and Alexander Vass, of Perrysburg.
What was originally called the Perrysburg Scotch Settlement, where our little colony squatted for a time, some of them several years perhaps, was on land just above Perrysburg, on what is now the Michael Hayes place, not far from the present cemetery and possibly yet indicated by an old well dug there at the time.
As before stated, we had many problems. Death came among us to claim one of our band quite often. Besides Davidson’s and Stewart’s death, before alluded to, Dunipace died suddenly of bilious fever the same fall we came; and about the same time William Muir walked over to Ralph Keeler’s on the prairie to see his nephews, who were there, and on the road on his return, when near his home, he fell down to rise no more. The next year Thomas Forrester died, and so ti was our ranks were decimated. In 1836 Mrs. Stewart, Hught’s mother died the past spring, had her cabin and her little store of worldly effects all burned and herself and children were without shelter.
While the beasts of the forest, such as the coon, deer and turkeys were a great blessing to us, we found the sneaking, prowling wolves a great pest. They were very bold at times, and their dismal howling at night was terrifying to the uninitiated. Mrs. Robert Davidson had a fine heifer dragged down and killed by them. One night, when my father was gone, they came near the house, where two calves were penned up. The cows on the outside of the enclosure were nearly frantic, and bellowed until between wolves, calves and cows, there was a pandemonium of noises. The dog whined piteously at the door to get in; my mother expected every moment that the calves would be attacked, and she scarcely dared open the door. Finally she opened it a little and fired off the gun. The dog bounced in went under the bed and the wolves left. Shortly after Carter, the wolf hunter, came over and killed three wolves and the Howards killed three more. This was near where Fenton post office now is. Afterward an Irishman named Tom Flynn killed a full-grown wolf with an ox-bow. He got the wolf cornered in an old cabin or near a high fence, and knocked its brains out. Wild honey was quite plenty, but the plenties thing in the season was gnats and mosquitoes.
One year—my old Webster friends will remember it very well—porcupines were unusually plenty. It seemed as if, like the squirrels, they were migrating. Near the end of our cabin stood an old salt barrel, and every night there was a continuous grating, roping noise there. My sister, now Mrs. Robert Stewart, who was not as timid as some girls are, got up one night, and seizing a hoe, sallied out. Just as she turned the corner she saw a dark, clumsy animal spring past her and into the open cabin door behind her. She heard the uneasy animal under the bed, and by a dim light she run him out a nd dispatched him. He was a large, old fellow, and the quills and blood on the floor next morning sowed that he had not died without a desperate struggle for his life. I don’t think there are many of the Wood county belles of today would, barefooted, care to encounter an old “porky’ in the night time.
Deer and turkey were so plenty that we often had a bountiful supply for the table. William Davidson, while threshing oats with a flail in a field one day, noticed a deer followed by a swarm of mosquitoes, go into a little clump of brush near by and lie down. He approached cautiously, and as it sprang out, broke its back with his flail. My wife formerly Miss Ellen Forrester, one winter, at our place, trapped twenty-five wild turkeys, and Robert Davidson killed three deer and one turkey in his little clearing near the house one day. I mention these instances to show how plenty game was then. ere the ac
At the time of the death of Mr. Loomis, which was at a very early dayt, roads were nearly impassable, and settlement was without material with which to make a coffin for his burial. In this emergency, Alex Vass, of Perrysburg, a carpenter by trade, cut a straight green oak tree, split out slabs, dressed them nicely, and made a coffin. It was so heavy that it took the untied strength of all the men present to handle the coffin after the body was in it. Such were the rude devices which necessity forced u to. Still, we were happy, since we were all on about a common level, and exigencies of the situation made us alert, active and energetic. We had to be up and doing and we rather seemed to enjoy it.